Butler Report

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 20th July 2004.

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Photo of Lord Owen Lord Owen Crossbench 2:30 pm, 20th July 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the withdrawal by the Secret Intelligence Service in July 2003 of two reports, as described in paragraph 405 of the Butler report, was revealed to the Hutton inquiry; and, if so, whether the inquiry was prevented from disclosing this withdrawal.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, the Hutton inquiry was not informed of the withdrawal of the reports. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, said, his remit was not to look at the wider intelligence picture. Paragraph 9 of his report states:

"The issue whether, if approved by the Joint Intelligence Committee and believed by the Government to be reliable, the intelligence contained in the dossier was nevertheless unreliable is a separate issue which I consider does not fall within my terms of reference."

It was precisely in order to meet the call for a look at the wider intelligence picture that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister set up the Butler review.

Photo of Lord Owen Lord Owen Crossbench

My Lords, is it not an indictment of our democratic procedures that not only was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, not informed about the matter—I gather from the newspapers that he has expressed some concern about this—but that two parliamentary inquiries were not informed about it, and above all, more extraordinarily, that the Prime Minister himself read about this only when he read the Butler report? Are we to assume that the Foreign Secretary was not told about this by the head of MI6?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, as the Prime Minister has made clear in another place, there are indeed criticisms in the Butler report that have to be addressed. However, I do not believe that one can go so far as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in saying that it is an indictment of our entire system. I would also not wish the noble Lord, Lord Owen, to run away with the idea that others were not informed about the withdrawal, because he would not be correct in drawing that conclusion from what I have said. What I have done is to answer his question about the Hutton report. Others were informed about the withdrawal.

Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it would be beneficial to the House if we knew who knew what, and when?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, I will do my best to give your Lordships a view on that, although I do not think that I can be absolutely exhaustive. The Office of the Prime Minister has already made clear that he knew about the withdrawal of the reports as a result of the Butler inquiry. My noble friend's question demands a slightly longer reply than normal, and I hope that your Lordships will bear with me.

On 17 July 2003, the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service told the Intelligence and Security Committee that the intelligence was being withdrawn, on the condition that they did not refer to it in their report. This was because the sourcing was still being investigated as a sensitive operational matter. The report was formally withdrawn on July 29 2003, and the investigation continued. But C pointed out to the ISC that he still believed the information was correct, although SIS could no longer substantiate the sourcing chain and hence the report was being withdrawn.

The Foreign Secretary first became aware of the withdrawal of this report when he agreed, in response to a request from the SIS on 8 September 2003, that the reports in question should be disclosed to the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, the other place is discussing the Butler report today. Can the Government give us an assurance that this House will also have an opportunity to discuss and debate the conclusions of this further inquiry? It has clearly not yet given the public reassurance that everything has now been uncovered.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, will expect me to say on these occasions, that is a matter for the usual channels. I understand the noble Lord's desire to have a fuller opportunity to discuss this as soon as possible in oral questions. No doubt the usual channels will have their usual discussions on that.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

My Lords, has the Minister has the chance to read the latest report of the Intelligence and Security Committee? Has she identified the most serious criticism by the all-party committee, that the Government's attitude towards the recommendations that it made—and their failure to respond to a number of points made in that report—is deeply unsatisfactory? Does she recognise that when the noble Lord, Lord Owen, talks about the democratic processes, that is one of them, which, in my view, the Government are treating with increasing contempt while failing to respond to sensible suggestions made by that committee?

I hope that she has read that report, and will make sure that her colleagues in government read it with far greater seriousness than to date.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord King, asked me a direct question about that report, no, I have not read it. I shall certainly do so as a result of the noble Lord's inquiry.

This matter has now been looked at by four different reviews. It has been looked at by the ISC, by the FAC, by the Hutton inquiry and by the noble Lord, Lord Butler. On all points, the Government have been acquitted of acting in bad faith. The noble Lord raises points which are perhaps more about the machinery of government, and some of them were addressed in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Butler. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, he accepts the findings of the Butler report.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Labour

My Lords, looking ahead to the future, can my noble friend say what lessons the Government have learnt from this episode about the way in which our intelligence sources operate?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, first, as any reading of the report of 195 pages will show, there are a number of important issues. My understanding of the important issues that have to be addressed certainly includes validation, particularly of human intelligence.

Secondly, there are issues of how one caveats anything which is put into the public domain, and the importance of applying appropriate caveats to intelligence is stressed in the Butler report. There were points made about the way in which the chairman of the JIC had authorship of the report. As your Lordships will know, that was also an issue that was questioned.

Lastly, and very importantly, there is the question of the co-ordination of the intelligence services. Again, those are issues that have to be addressed.

Noble Lords:

Time!