§ [Relevant documents: Third Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2003–04, HC 57, Lessons of Iraq, and the Government's response thereto, First Special Report of that Session, HC 635. Minutes of Evidence taken before the International Development Committee on 14th July, HC 918-i, on Iraq: the role of humanitarian agencies in post-conflict situations.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Margaret Moran.]2.29 pm
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)
I shall start with the Butler report and then move on to a more general discussion of Iraq.
I said at the outset last week that I fully accepted Lord Butler's conclusions, and there are now four things that I would like to announce as a result. First, there is an urgent need to fill the post of Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and I have therefore asked Mr. William Ehrman, currently acting as a deputy chair, to take over the chairmanship of the JIC on an interim basis. He is currently director general for defence and intelligence in the Foreign Office, but he is expected to take up a further ambassadorial appointment next year. Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office will set about the task of making a permanent appointment, to take effect during 2005. That will be done fully in accordance with Lord Butler's criteria.
Secondly, prior to the war, meetings were held with an informal group, including the Foreign and Defence Secretaries, the Chief of the Defence Staff, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, the chairman of the JIC and my foreign policy adviser. In any future situation, such a group, which brought together the key players required to work on operational military planning and developing the diplomatic strategy, will operate formally as an ad hoc Cabinet Committee.
Thirdly, the SIS has appointed a senior officer to work through the findings and recommendations of the Butler review, who will focus on the resourcing and organisation of the SIS's validation process, the relationship between the SIS and the JIC and its relationship with the Defence Intelligence Staff. We welcome the fact that the Intelligence and Security Committee will monitor progress in those areas.
Fourthly, any future presentation of intelligence will separate the JIC assessment and the Government case and import any JIC caveats into it. We accept those conclusions and will act upon them.
I want to move on now to the quite different point that by omitting the caveats, we set out to deceive people—[Interruption.]
§ Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)
Before my right hon. Friend moves on, will he pick up the points made by Brian Jones, the senior defence analyst, who said that he was not given the opportunity to see what was described as "compelling new evidence", which turned out to be extremely important? Presumably, as a result of that, my right hon. Friend was not given the chance to see Mr. Jones's objections. The responsibility for not showing the new evidence falls to the head of Defence Intelligence Staff and his deputy, 196 who presumably did see it. That information has since been withdrawn from the dossier, so should not the head of those services and his deputy now resign?
§ The Prime Minister
For the reasons that Lord Butler gives in his report, my hon. Friend is right in saying that the Defence Intelligence Staff should show such documents in future—and this may well be one of the changes that takes place. I would say to my hon. Friend that none of the disagreements that Dr. Jones had with specific items in the dossier actually came to the JIC or the Government. That is not to say that they were not important, but the fact is that they did not come before the Government. As a result of the changes that we intend to make, such a thing will not happen again in future.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall come to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment. Let me make one other point to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen), which I will elaborate in greater detail later.
The intelligence—I will take the House to the JIC assessments in a moment—really left little doubt about Saddam and weapons of mass destruction. That was the issue—[Interruption.] I am going to read the JIC assessments to the House. The intelligence left little doubt about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction and made it absolutely clear that we were entirely entitled to go back to the UN and say that there was a continuing threat from Saddam Hussein.
§ Mr. Beith
Dr. Jones minuted his concern on the matter that has just been referred to. The Intelligence and Security Committee recommended that there should be a clear and formal procedure to ensure that such a minute reached the Joint Intelligence Committee, which it did not do in this case. Will the Prime Minister go a little further than he did when he responded to the ISC by making it clear that there is such a procedure, that staff know what it is and that important notes of dissent must be seen by the JIC?
§ The Prime Minister
Without presuming exactly what the SIS and DIS will come to as an understanding of what should go to the JIC, I would have thought that what the right hon. Gentleman said follows naturally from the Butler report. In those circumstances, it would be sensible for such notes of questioning—it is important to remember that the whole of the dossier was not questioned by any means; only a particular part of it—to go to the JIC.
§ The Prime Minister
I am going to make some progress first.
Much has been made of the fact that one JIC assessment said that intelligence was "sporadic and patchy". Let me just take the House to the JIC assessment on page 163 onwards of the Butler report. Let me say first of all that this was the JIC assessment 197 of March 2002—in other words, six months before the dossier was actually produced, and there was, of course, more intelligence produced in the meantime. Let me quote the paragraph more fully. It states:Intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction… and ballistic missile programmes is sporadic and patchy.It goes on to say:Iraq is also well practised in the art of deception such as concealment and exaggeration. A complete picture of the various programmes is therefore difficult.That is true. It goes on, however, to say:But it is clear that Iraq continues to pursue a policy of acquiring WMD and their delivery means.The key judgments on the following pages can be read. I shall not list them all. Some of the judgments were that Iraq retained up to 20 A1 Hussein ballistic missiles, that it had begun development of medium-range ballistic missiles over 1,000 km, that it was pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, and so on and so forth in relation to chemical and biological weapons. Those are the key judgments that I received.
If we move on to the 9 September JIC assessment, we see precisely the same. Again, criticism was made of the fact that I said that it was "beyond doubt" that Saddam Hussein had WMD and that the intelligence picture in the dossier was "extensive, detailed and authoritative". I simply refer people again to those key judgments. The first judgment was:Iraq has a … chemical and biological weapons capability",and Saddam was prepared to use it. It goes on to detail in highly authoritative terms the various aspects of his weapons of destruction programme.
The point that I want to make is this. That was the assessment that we were getting from the JIC. To hear much of the talk now, we might think that it was a startling assessment which people found odd at the time. One might have thought that people would say that it was curious, that they did not know about Saddam and that type of thing. Actually, that was the view of the entire international community, then expressed in resolution 1441. It followed 12 years of Saddam Hussein's WMD programmes, defiance of the UN, concealment, discovery and military action—in 1998, for example. No one doubted that he had intent, programmes and actual weapons and was therefore in breach of UN resolutions.
§ The Prime Minister
I wanted to make some progress, but I will give way to my hon. Friend and come back to the hon. Gentleman later, if he will forgive me.
§ Lynne Jones
On the eve of war—not six months, nine months or 12 months before—the Attorney-General required the Prime Minister to be satisfied that there were strong factual grounds and hard evidence that Iraq was not in compliance with resolution 1441. Was the 198 Prime Minister in no doubt that such strong factual grounds and hard evidence existed at the time? If so, why?
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, I was, for the very reason that I have just given in citing the JIC assessments. I also have to say to my hon. Friend and other hon. Members that Lord Butler's report has been discussed as if he, Lord Butler, actually found that there was no WMD threat from Saddam Hussein at all, but he did not find that. I refer people to paragraph 41 of Lord Butler's conclusions, where it makes it clear that Saddam had the strategic intent and the illicit procurement of materials and was developing ballistic missiles in defiance of UN resolutions. In other words, it would have been entirely open to us, even on this evidence, to say that he was in breach of UN resolutions.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, then to my right hon. Friend, and then I am going to make some progress.
§ Mr. Cameron
In view of what the Prime Minister has said, why does he think that Lord Butler concludes in paragraph 465 that it wasa serious weakness that the JIC's warnings on the limitations underlying its judgements were not made sufficiently clear in the dossier"?Does the Prime Minister take responsibility for that?
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, of course I take responsibility for that, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that Lord Butler also finds that, in general, the dossier reflects the JIC assessments. I ask hon. Members to read those assessments, and to imagine for a moment that they are the Prime Minister receiving them—[Interruption.] I know that only a limited number of people will think in that way. On the basis of the assessments, it would be concluded, clearly, that Saddam Hussein was a WMD threat, and that he had intent, programmes and actual weapons. That much is clear from what is said in the assessments.
I give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short).
§ Clare Short
I am grateful to the Prime Minister, but the aim of the resolution was to secure disarmament, backed by the threat of force authorised by the UN. It was supported by the whole international community because there was a general sense that the regime was trying to acquire WMD and the means of their delivery, and that there was a threat that was so urgent that we could not allow Blix to complete his job. That divided the international community, with all the consequences that flowed from it. Where did my right hon. Friend get that information? Why was Blix not allowed enough time? Butler does not suggest that there was any reason for that judgment.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall deal with that point, which is important. Some of the discussion has proceeded on 199 the basis that we published the dossier on 24 September and went to war on 25 September. We did not: the dossier was not the basis on which we went to war, but the basis on which we went to the UN. That is what we did. As a result of going to the UN, we got resolution 1441—which, incidentally, accepted on behalf of the whole international community that Saddam Hussein was a WMD threat who had to be dealt with. People may ignore that now, but that is precisely what the resolution said.
In resolution 1441, we said that there had to be full compliance—I think that the word "unconditional" was used—with the UN inspectors. The plain fact is, there was no such compliance. To answer my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood directly, I agree that it would have been better to let the inspectors have more time, provided that we had a UN resolution for them to operate under which laid down a clear ultimatum to Saddam that action would follow if he did not comply with the benchmarks that I agreed with Hans Blix at the time. However, as I think I explained to my right hon. Friend at the time, the problem was that some other countries made it clear that they would not accept any resolution containing an ultimatum.
There is no way that Saddam would ever have allowed the inspectors back in without the troops down there. The House should recall that he refused to have inspectors in Iraq for four years, and only let them in because the troops were down there. We knew that he was not complying properly with the UN resolutions. How did we know that? Because that is what the UN inspectors told us in their reports to the UN.
I therefore pose this question: without an ultimatum that says, "Here is what you have to do. If you do not do it, action will follow", does anyone seriously think that Saddam would have complied? I strove hard to secure a second resolution, and thought that we could have got it. I tried to set the right benchmarks. I said to the Americans at the time, "We need more time to let Blix do his work, provided that there is an ultimatum." If we had had no ultimatum, the result would have been simply a continuation of what we had been doing for 12 years. That is, we would have allowed Saddam a certain amount of leeway, he would have made a few concessions and then carried on with his original intentions.
§ The Prime Minister
I will give way again to my right hon. Friend, as it is important to deal with the point that she is making.
§ Clare Short
In his book, Dr. Blix makes it absolutely clear that the majority of the Security Council, including the non-permanent members and France, Germany and Russia, were willing to have benchmarks and a deadline, and to say that inspections should not continue. However, they were not willing to accept a resolution that meant that Britain and the US would decide whether that resolution had been adhered to. My right 200 hon. Friend threw away the possibility of united international action on the request for automaticity. That is the reality of the situation.
§ The Prime Minister
I am always a little worried by what people say in books after the event, as opposed to what actually happened at the time. I have no doubt that I will repeat that on many occasions in the future. However, one thing that my right hon. Friend is saying is simply wrong. France would not accept any ultimatum. That was said to me on the telephone, and it was made clear publicly.
I think that I am right in saying that France did not agree the benchmarks at the time, but let us suppose that we had got over that problem. I agree that, with negotiation, we might have succeeded in securing the benchmarks. Yes, they might have contained a timeline for Blix to carry on his work, but without an ultimatum there was no real chance for people to believe that Saddam would have acceded to our demands.
I think that it would be instructive for people to go back and read the debate of 18 March 2003. That debate was not about the dossier, which was barely mentioned, but about the consequences of resolution 1441. At the time of the debate, we knew that Saddam was not complying with that resolution properly, and that we could not secure another resolution with an ultimatum in it. So what were we to do? We could have backed away—or we could have decided to make sure, this time, that Saddam was incapable in the future of developing WMD, as he had every intention of doing. I still think that we made the right decision.
§ The Prime Minister
I will give way to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), and then to my hon. Friend. Then I must make some progress, or no one else will have a chance to speak.
§ Mr. Hancock
I am grateful to the Prime Minister, who has been extraordinarily generous in giving way. Will he confirm that, between the dossier's publication and this country's entry into conflict, he was receiving ongoing intelligence assessments, on much of which there could be no collaboration? Did any senior member of the British intelligence service advise the Prime Minister that he should be cautious about the interpretation that he placed on the evidence of the intelligence community, in this country and the US?
§ The Prime Minister
The JIC assessments are set out in Butler. However, the UN resolution accepted as a fact that Saddam was a WMD threat. Once that was secured, the question was whether we would enforce the UN resolutions, or not. Our intelligence community—like the UN and, as far as I am aware, most intelligence services in the world—certainly believed that Saddam had WMD weapons, capability and intent.
§ The Prime Minister
I said that I would give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge), but then I must make progress. I am sorry about that.
§ Mr. Savidge
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Am I not correct in thinking that Dr. Blix communicated to the Prime Minister the fact that the inspectors believed that they were getting a far greater degree of co-operation than ever before? Admittedly that was under the pressure of a military threat, but does that not mean that it could have been worth giving the inspectors time to complete their job and to prove what we have now found?
§ The Prime Minister
At some point I may go into all the detailed conversations that I had with Dr. Blix. However, the basic position was that the inspectors told me that there was some co-operation, but that there was not full co-operation. The problem is that that is precisely what the Iraqi regime had offered before. If one goes back over the 12 years of Saddam Hussein and of the whole saga with the UN, one finds that it was not the case that he never co-operated with the inspectors. From time to time he would co-operate, usually when there was a threat of military action.
I remember that it was in February 1998 that we first gave Saddam a strong and clear indication that military action would follow if he did not co-operate. As a result, he started to co-operate a bit more, and there was an elaborate dance throughout the rest of the year. Finally, in December 1998, the inspectors were not able to get access to some of the places that they wanted to see. They left, and effectively we took military action to try and do what we could to deal with the threat that was posed.
Saddam Hussein, however, was never prepared to co-operate fully—and I think that the reasons for that are to he found in the Butler report. Whatever the truth in respect of readily deployable weapons was, part of the trouble is that people have gone to the opposite extreme. They say that there was nothing there at all and that there was no threat. That that was not the case is absolutely clear, and some of the intelligence remains entirely valid. It was absolutely clear that he had every intention of carrying on developing those weapons, that he was procuring materials to do so and—for example, in respect of ballistic missiles—he was going way beyond what was permitted by the United Nations.
I return to the central point. There was little doubt about the breach of UN resolutions, and in the debate on 18 March 2003 the House rightly took the view that there was no way that he would co-operate fully, and therefore that we had to take military action.
§ Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
The Prime Minister appears to be leaving the question of what he told the country about the intelligence. He has referred, briefly, to the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments. They all make it clear, in terms, that the intelligence on which they were based was sporadic, 202 patchy, little and limited. Why did the Prime Minister say that the intelligence was extensive, detailed and authoritative?
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. and learned Gentleman must have been asleep earlier in the debate, for which I apologise. The phrase "sporadic and patchy" appeared in the assessment dated 15 March 2002. He keeps trying to suggest that it appeared in the later assessment: it did not. It was in the earlier assessment. In the assessment of 9 September 2002, it does say that the intelligence remains limited, but the JIC then goes on to make its judgments. If necessary, I shall read them all out to the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] All right.
The first states:Iraq has a chemical and biological weapons capability and Saddam is prepared to use it.It continues:Faced with the likelihood of military defeat and being removed from power, Saddam is unlikely to be deterred from using chemical and biological weapons by any diplomatic or military means.I am going on and on—[HON. MEMBERS: "More."] Let me give two other judgments that are relevant:we judge that … Iraq currently has available, either from pre Gulf War stocks or more recent production, a number of biological warfare … and chemical warfare … agents and weapons",and thateven if stocks of chemical and biological weapons are limited, they would allow for focused strikes against key military targets or for strategic purposes (such as a strike against Israel or Kuwait)".The judgment then details that point over many pages.
I must say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it is absurd to suggest that anyone, given that JIC assessment, would have said, "Saddam Hussein? Weapons of mass destruction? I don't think that's much of a problem."
§ Mr. Howard
The Prime Minister knows perfectly well that that is not what I was suggesting. He has read out the conclusions of the assessments: I am asking about the nature of the intelligence on which those conclusions were based. The assessments were themselves stated to be on the basis of intelligence that was sporadic and patchy, little and limited. The Prime Minister told the country that the basis of the intelligenceis extensive, detailed and authoritative."—[Official Report, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 3.]That was wrong. Why did he say that to the country?
§ The Prime Minister
I do not accept that that was wrong. I do not want to read it all over again, so—even better—I shall read what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said—[Interruption.] Well, I have to say to Opposition Members that the judgments of the committee are the key things. If it judged that Iraq had a WMD capability and actual weapons, what Prime Minister would have said, "That may be what the committee judges and concludes, but I am going to come to a different conclusion"? Imagine what would have happened afterwards had the threat materialised.
203 I raise what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said because in the past few days he has tried to suggest that somehow the Conservatives—no, that is unfair, because many Opposition Members voted for the war on the basis that they did, and still support the war. I understand that, so I shall deal specifically with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I do not often read the Kentish Express, but on this occasion I have done so. On the day of the debate on the war, he said:Why is Saddam Hussein a threat to us here in the United Kingdom? Four years ago Iraq had tons of anthrax and the nerve agent VX. These deadly materials are easily transported and easily hidden. There has been no convincing explanation as to what has happened to them.He did not say that on the basis of the intelligence in the dossier: it was the same reason we had supported action the whole time.
I come to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said after the war. I read the other day some of the things that he said to the News Corporation in March this year—after the Hutton report and after all the issues had been raised. I have managed to find out a little bit more about that speech. He said:We must remember that it was not the overthrow of Saddam that spawned terrorism and instability. Quite the reverse. It was the failure of the West to act decisively again and again in the late 1990s, in the face of threats and provocation, that emboldened the terrorists and the rogue states. That failure must never be repeated … The war against Iraq was necessary. It was just. It was, indeed, arguably overdue. And, let us not forget, it was overwhelmingly successful—a judgement which subsequent difficulties do not change.He continued:Of course … Iraq has become the frontline in the War against Terror … I have no doubt that if the West maintains its resolution, Iraq will be a much better place than it was under Saddam.[Interruption.] I shall tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman what my point is. It is that we will not maintain our resolution by pretending that we would not have voted for the motion that saw us go to war. It is absurd to suggest that he or the shadow Foreign Secretary were in two minds about Iraq, were not quite sure, sat around scratching their heads wondering whether it was a threat or not, and were then persuaded by me that it was. To be fair, the previous Leader of the Opposition warned, in my view rightly, about the threat of Saddam Hussein long before I did.
It is time the right hon. and learned Gentleman realised that shabby opportunism is not the solution to his problem: it is his problem. The public will respect people who were honestly for the war and they will respect people who were honestly against the war: they will not respect a politician who says that he is for and against the war in the same newspaper article.
§ Dr. Lewis
I am one of those who supported the war before, during and after it, and I continue to do so. What 204 I do not support is the discrediting of our intelligence services by the exaggeration of the intelligence that was available. Will the Prime Minister tell the House why GCHQ, our largest intelligence agency, is barely mentioned in the Butler report? Was there any signals intelligence and, if so, what was it and why was it not mentioned in the report?
§ The Prime Minister
I cannot answer that last question, but I shall find the answer and tell the hon. Gentleman. It is unfair to say that of our intelligence services. They do a fantastic job for this country and the judgments that they made were thoroughly justified on the basis of the intelligence at the time. The hon. Gentleman rightly and fairly said that he would still support the war. So would I, because not all the intelligence has turned out to be wrong. If what Lord Butler says in paragraph 41 is correct, there is ample justification in the breaches of UN resolutions. In the light of what we know, is it really credibly claimed that it would have been better to leave Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq in circumstances in which—as we know perfectly well—he had every intention of carrying on with his WMD ambitions?
§ Mr. Bercow
Given the real statesmanship that the Prime Minister showed in March last year in recognising the need to combat Saddam and in prosecuting a necessary war—which is to his enormous and lasting credit—is he prepared to concede that he made any errors?
§ The Prime Minister
Of course, which is why I said, at the very beginning, these are the things the Butler report identified that we should change. I fully accept those things. What I do not accept is that it was a mistake to go to war. It was the right thing to do and I still believe it was the right thing to do.
As for Iraq itself, let us agree on this: our armed forces have been superb. They fought the war brilliantly and they are conducting the peace brilliantly. Today, we should thank not only them but their families, who have supported them through these long months.
Never let us forget what Iraq was: a brutalised state, run by a mixture of terror and execution. Never let us forget either that, for all the difficulties, Iraq now has the prospect of progress. It is true that the terrorism continues. Incidentally, occasionally reports of civilian casualties read as though they were somehow caused by the coalition, but as far as I am aware the civilians who have died in Iraq in the past year have been overwhelmingly the victims of terrorist attacks. The terrorism is to an increasing degree, according to the Iraqi Government, the work of outside terrorists.
I draw the House's attention to paragraph 483 of Lord Butler's report, which I do not think got much publicity on the day, where he describes not active co-operation between al-Qaeda and Saddam's regime, but 205 links between al-Qaeda and Iraqi officials, as well as the fact that prior to Saddam falling, al-Zarqawi moved into Baghdad and set up sleeper cells with the possibility, as we now know, of conducting terrorist attacks. That much of the intelligence has been all too accurate.
§ The Prime Minister
Before the United States went to Iraq.
We know that Iraq's curse is terrorism and the battle for security, but given some of the coverage about what is happening in Iraq at present, we should also recognise that the blessings from the fall of Saddam are indeed great. The money from Iraq's oil, expected to be about $18 billion a year, now goes to help Iraq and not Saddam and his family and his WMD ambitions. There is a proper currency. According to the International Monetary Fund, the economy will grow this year by 33 per cent. Public sector salaries have trebled in many cases. The schools and hospitals are open, and are now not just for Ba'ath party members. There are free media.
It is also worth pointing out what our troops are managing to achieve in Basra. In Basra province alone, there will be about 35 local elections over the coming weeks. The first, in az-Zubayr last week, resulted in the election of three women to the council; that was a proper, democratic election.
A proper courts system is being introduced. Six Iraqi Ministers are women and one in four of the delegates to the Assembly next year will be female. There is freedom of worship. Shi'as formerly prevented from visiting holy shrines are now able to do so.
None of that means that Iraq will be built easily; of course it will take time, as it has done for any country in similar circumstances over the years. Today, however, Iraq at least has a future within its grasp, and although it is correct that the liberation of Iraq from Saddam was not the legal case for war, it was, as I said frequently at the time—indeed, most notably in the debate on 18 March—why we should go to war with a clear conscience and a strong heart. Removing Saddam was not a war crime; it was an act of liberation for the Iraqi people.
§ The Prime Minister
Of course, in the short term, the problem of security and of cleaning up the utterly degraded country that was Saddam's Iraq is a huge challenge, but one thing that people have missed is that the very scale of the challenge says an immense amount 206 about the scale of Saddam's misrule and the threat he posed. Such a country ruled by such a tyrant should never be allowed anywhere near weapons of mass destruction. Any risk of his developing or using them was a risk never worth taking, and in the conflict today I ask the House how there can be any scintilla of hesitation about which side—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The Prime Minister should be seated. I have already told the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) that the Prime Minister is not giving way.
§ The Prime Minister
That makes two of us.
I repeat that there should be no scintilla of hesitation about which side we should be on.
§ The Prime Minister
No, I am sorry. I am sure that other people want to speak in the debate.
On one side are assorted former Saddam gangsters, religious extremists and terrorists; on the other are the Iraqi people, the outside coalition and the United Nations. To me, the interesting thing is that the terrorists know what is at stake. Why do people think al-Qaeda is in Iraq? Why are al-Zarqawi and Ansar al-Islam there? I believe they are there because they know it is the front line in the war against terrorism today, and they know that for the same reason as we should know it: if they succeed, Iraq cannot prove to the world that democracy is for the middle east, too, and that religious tolerance is what most Muslims, as well as Christians, want. It cannot show that Arab and westerner can live in harmony. But the terrorists know also that, if they fail and Iraq succeeds, Iraq will hold out hope not just to millions of Iraqis but throughout the region and the wider middle east.
So whether we are for the war or against it—or even somewhere in between—today's struggle is one in which no one should be neutral. That is why the new Iraqi Government and our British troops and British civil and public servants, doing their job in Iraq alongside our allies from the United States and elsewhere, deserve our total support.
§ The Prime Minister
No, I am sorry.
207 If people read the letter from Dr. Allawi, published only the other day, they will see that he set out the authentic voice of Iraq and its future—what Iraq can now become.
Whatever mistakes have been made, my view is: let us rejoice that Iraq can indeed have such—[Interruption.] Yes, let us be pleased that Iraq is liberated and can have such a future and let us now work together, whatever the disagreements of the past, to help it secure that future.
§ 3.7 pm
§ Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
There is no more awesome responsibility for a Prime Minister than the decision to take the country to war, and that is what we are debating today. As we discuss these issues, I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the thousands of British servicemen and women who still face the daily challenge of bringing peace to Iraq. We are indeed all enormously proud of them and of their families. We remember those from our country, and from others, who were killed or injured, including the very many Iraqis who have suffered. It is part of our responsibility to ensure that those sacrifices were not made in vain.
There are three issues before the House this afternoon: first, the justification for the war: secondly, what happened after the war; and thirdly, what the country was told before the war.
On the justification for the war, there are many areas of agreement between the Prime Minister and me. We both believe it was the right thing to do. Saddam Hussein was a real threat to peace in the region. He had indeed acquired and used weapons of mass destruction in the past and he had the potential to do so in the future. He had flouted a whole series of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Many people in the House and in our country did not support the war. I respect their sincerely held view but ultimately I do not agree with them.
§ Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab)
Many of us who voted against the war certainly respect the views and good faith of those who voted in favour of it, but what are we supposed to make of someone who says he was, and still is, in favour of the war, yet wishes he had voted against it?
§ Mr. Howard
Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that he voted against the motion. Let me remind him and the House of what the motion before the House on 18 March said—[Interruption.] I voted for the motion, but as it may be some time since hon. Members read it, let me remind them of what it says. That motion began by recognising that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles posed a threat to international peace. It went on to support the Government's decision to use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Now, we know that those weapons were not there. The Prime Minister said so last week. So of course it is the case that, had I known then what I know now, I would not have been able to vote for that motion.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The Prime Minister got a proper hearing. Allow the Leader of the Opposition to get a hearing.
§ Mr. Howard
I am replying to the point raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan). I do not see how any hon. Member, had they known then what we know now, could have voted for that motion. I do not see how the Prime Minister could have voted for that motion. That does not mean that I do not think that the war was justified—I do, as I have repeatedly made it clear.
§ Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab)
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I commend the Leader of the Opposition for what he said on 19 March this year:Whatever my disagreements with Tony Blair, any government that I lead will not flinch in its determination to win the War against Terror, wherever it has to be fought.I commend him for saying that, but the word "flinch" is interesting for those who study linguistics. Its origins are French, and it can be used in the sense of to slink or to sneak away.
§ Mr. Howard
I stand by entirely what I said on 19 March. Indeed, I would not flinch, but I happen to think that the reasons why we vote in the House are of some importance. I happen to think that the wording of the motions on which we vote are of importance. That is why I have said what I have said about the motion that was before the House on 18 March.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Please allow the Leader of the Opposition to speak. Is he giving way to an hon. Member?
§ Claire Ward (Watford) (Lab)
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman believed at the time that he voted for the war that Saddam Hussein was a threat, had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and, given any opportunity, would do so again, why has he changed his view? Is it simply because the bandwagon of opportunism came along and he jumped on board?
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Lady ought to look at what the motion that I voted for said. That is the point that I am raising.
§ Mr. Sayeed
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. He knows that many supported the war in the belief that there was an imminent threat from missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction and that articles appeared in the Standard and The Sun supporting that interpretation. Indeed, The Sun headline of 25 September read, "Brits 45 minutes from doom." So, first, does my right hon. and learned Friend know whether anyone associated with the Government 209 briefed the Standard or The Sun on that interpretation of the dossier, and secondly, as senior Ministers knew that such an assertion was wrong before the debate on 18 March that authorised war, should not a Minister have come to the Commons and explained that that assertion was wrong?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Far too many hon. Members are standing. Allow the Leader of the Opposition to continue with his speech.
§ Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab)
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, but on the subject of the motion voted on in the House, does he accept that many hon. Members had a wide range of views on why we voted for war? On his view on WMD, does he accept that Butler himself said that it would be foolish to assume now that WMD do not exist?
§ Mr. Howard
Butler says that, but very few people—[Interruption.] Well, does the hon. Lady seriously think that weapons of mass destruction will still be found in Iraq? That is the question. Does the Prime Minister still think that weapons of mass destruction are still likely to be found in Iraq? Of course not. That is why I say that, if we had known then what we know now, we would not have been able to vote for the motion that was before the House on 18 March. I am now going to make progress. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I call for order once again. I may ask the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) to leave the Chamber. In fact, I might demand that he do so.
§ Mr. Howard
I have acknowledged that there are many people who do not share my view that the war was justified, but despite our differences, I think that most hon. Members agree that the people of Iraq—I agree with the Prime Minister—are far better off now that Saddam Hussein has gone. We know that we must now see this through, and the prize of a stable and sustainable Iraq is well worth striving for. Like the Prime Minister, I believe, too, that while enormous challenges remain, real progress has been made in Iraq, but we must all acknowledge that, since the overthrow of Saddam, mistakes have been made and some of them have been serious.
One of the most serious mistakes was the failure to prepare for the aftermath of the war. Six months before the war even began, we were pressing the Government to draw up a plan for post-war Iraq. Everyone knows that there was no such plan. The Iraqi army and police were disbanded with nothing to take their place; borders were not made secure; and there was a collapse of law 210 and order in Baghdad. No one is suggesting that there were easy answers to those very difficult problems, but it would have been less difficult if there had been a plan.
§ Clare Short
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I think that it is now a matter of record that there was a detailed plan in the State Department—very detailed, lengthy and considered—but it was swept to one side when responsibility was given to the Pentagon, which had made insufficient preparation. That is what really happened.
§ Mr. Howard
I quite understand the basis on which the right hon. Lady says what she says. It is certainly true that the responsibility for the failure to draw up a plan does not rest with the British Government alone, but in the run-up to the war, the British Government were in a position of great strength. We were by a long way the second largest contingent in the coalition forces. We had stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States. We were in a position to make our voice heard. We were in a position to insist, in the circumstances described by the right hon. Lady, that a proper post-war plan was prepared and put into action. We should have done so, but we did not. Had we done so, I believe that at least some of the difficulties that have arisen in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad could have been avoided.
§ Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con)
Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen the evidence of Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who says:with hindsight the proper preparations were not made for what evolved on the ground in Iraq … relative deficiency in analysis and prediction of what was going to happen created effects in the immediate post-conflict period which allowed a much worse security situation to evolve than should have been the case"?Of course, Sir Jeremy was, at the material time, our ambassador to the United Nations.
§ Mr. Howard
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that. He is, of course, quite right and so was Sir Jeremy Greenstock.
Few of us would doubt that the most appalling and deeply damaging thing that has happened since the fall of Baghdad was the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. It was deeply humiliating for the victims. It has done long-lasting damage to the reputation of the west and it has gravely undermined our moral authority. The circumstances surrounding the timing and extent of the British Government's knowledge of what had gone on are covered in confusion. Just over two months ago, when the story broke, the Prime Minister assured the House that neither he nor his Ministers were aware of those allegations. [Interruption.] Labour Members may not be interested in what went on in Abu Ghraib prison, but their constituents will be and those Members should be. The assurance that the Prime Minister gave was wrong. We now know that the Minister responsible at the Foreign Office was told about the allegations nearly two months earlier at a meeting with the president of the Red Cross, so the Foreign Office Minister knew but the Prime Minister did not know and was not told. Why not?
211 That was not the only issue that the Prime Minister did not know about. He did not know that vital evidence was kept from Lord Hutton's inquiry. In February, he assured the House:Everything that was relevant to the inquiry was made available to Lord Hutton … I do not believe that there is anything that we concealed from that inquiry".—[Official Report, 4 February 2004; Vol. 417, c. 768.]He said twice that Lord Hutton saw all the intelligence there was to see on the 45-minute claim. The Butler report makes it clear that those statements were not correct.
§ Mr. Howard
I want to finish this point.
We now know as a result of the Butler report that two crucial intelligence reports on chemical and biological weapons, to which the 45-minute claim related, had been withdrawn in July 2003. MI6 knew that, the Joint Intelligence Committee knew it, but Lord Hutton was not told. The Intelligence and Security Committee was not told and, apparently, the Prime Minister did not know. Why not?
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
In retrospect, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks about the intelligence, does he think about what Lord Butler said—that the intelligence services were totally under-resourced, that that affected their performance and that under-resourcing went back to when he was a member of the Cabinet in 1995, when the Conservative Administration cut the intelligence services' budget by 25 per cent?
§ Mr. Howard
I am afraid that the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supports have been in power for seven years. If there were anything that needed to be put right, they have had ample time to put it right. I do not see how that excuses the failure to tell Lord Hutton's inquiry and the Intelligence and Security Committee about the fact that the intelligence had been withdrawn, which we now know from the Butler report.
§ Mr. Howard
No; I want to make some progress.
MI6 knew that the intelligence had been withdrawn. The Joint Intelligence Committee knew that the intelligence had been withdrawn, but Lord Hutton was not told. The Intelligence and Security Committee was not told and again, apparently, the Prime Minister did not know. Why not?
Nor did the Prime Minister know that the 45-minute claim only referred to battlefield weapons and not to long-range missiles, a fact that we only discovered thanks to careful questioning by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway). The Prime Minister was forced to admit then that, unlike the Secretary of State for Defence, he did not know and had not been told. Why not? Why was it that the Prime Minister did not know and was not told any of those vital things?
212 Part of the reason for that serial ignorance stems from the way in which the Prime Minister runs things. On that issue, the criticisms made by the Butler committee are damning. As Lord Butler says, important decisions should be taken after "informed, collective political judgment". Lord Butler also points out thatwithout papers circulated in advance it remains possible, but it is obviously much more difficult, for members of the Cabinet to bring their political judgment and experience to bear on the major decisions for which the Cabinet as a whole must carry responsibility".Judging from comments by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) last week, when papers were prepared Cabinet Ministers were not even shown them. As he told the "Today" programme,I'm astonished to learn from the Butler Report that there were papers prepared for us but never circulated to us and I would like to know why".In the last paragraph of his report, Lord Butler concluded thatthe informality and circumscribed character of the Government's procedures … reduce the scope for informed, collective political judgment",or, in plain English, procedures in Downing street are such a shambles that proper decision making is impossible.
We should be clear about the implications of all this. This way of decision taking is not accidental. It is not a coincidence. It is the result of a deliberate set of decisions by a Prime Minister who thinks that he does not need, and certainly does not want, informed collective political judgment.
§ Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op)
I refer the right hon. and learned Gentleman to paragraph 611 of the conclusions of Lord Butler's report, which states:We do not suggest that there is or should be an ideal or unchangeable system of collective Government, still less that procedures are in aggregate any less effective now than in earlier times.Does he agree?
§ Mr. Howard
I think that if the hon. Gentleman reads on and comes to the last paragraph of the recommendations, he will find that the picture presented is somewhat different.
The consequences of all this are there for us all to see. That leads to the third issue at stake today: what the country was told in the run-up to the war. Last week, I set out in the House the contrast between the intelligence available to the Prime Minister and what he told the country. I did so in the context of what he said on 25 January:the issue vis-à-vis my integrity is: did we receive the intelligence and was it properly relayed to people?The intelligence he received was seriously flawed. Lord Butler made serious criticisms of the validation process of MI6. It is vital that the weaknesses that he identified are fully remedied. We shall study the decisions that the Prime Minister announced in his remarks earlier and see what assessment to make of the extent to which they are likely to remedy those weaknesses.
The other issue visa vis the Prime Minister's integrity, in his own words, is: was the intelligence "properly relayed to people"? In March 2002, as has been pointed 213 out, the Joint Intelligence Committee said that the intelligence was "sporadic and patchy". In August that year, the Joint Intelligence Committee said that it had "little intelligence". In September, it said that the intelligence was "limited", yet on 24 September 2002 the Prime Minister told the House that the picture painted by the intelligence services was "extensive, detailed and authoritative".
The Prime Minister read out from the conclusions of the reports. The question is: what was the intelligence basis for those conclusions? Was the intelligence on which those conclusions were based patchy, sporadic, limited and little, or was it, as he told the country, "extensive, detailed and authoritative"? There is an enormous difference between the two and he has yet to explain, and he certainly did not explain this afternoon, the basis for his statement. Nowhere in the reports of the Joint Intelligence Committee was there any basis for the Prime Minister's assertion that the intelligence was "extensive, detailed and authoritative".
§ Mr. Howard
That is why the Prime Minister's credibility is at stake today. As I said last week, I hope that Britain will not face another war in the foreseeable future but, if we do, and the Prime Minister identified the threat, the question remains: would anyone believe him?
§ Mr. Howard
We all know now that, when it came to the Iraq war, the qualified judgments of the intelligence services became the unqualified certainties of the Prime Minister. Last week, I asked the Prime Minister to explain exactly why. He studiously failed to answer that question and he has refused to answer it again today. I think that this House and the country deserve an answer. We are entitled to know why the Prime Minister said what he did.
The Prime Minister says that he accepts full personal responsibility for the way in which the issue was presented and for any errors that were made, but what does that actually mean? He still has not told us what errors he thinks he has made. He has not told us why he made them, and he has not told us what steps he has taken to ensure that they will not happen again. Without answers to those vital questions, how can this House be sure that those lessons will be learned and that the things that went wrong will be put right?
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con)
I am most grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. Is he saying to the House that he believes that he and I, and those who voted as we did on 18 March 2003, were deliberately deceived?
§ Mr. Howard
I will answer my hon. Friend. I think that the Prime Minister thought throughout that he was acting in the best interests of the country. I have absolutely no doubt about that, but what he told us about the basis for the intelligence was different from what the intelligence told him. Before I can answer my hon. Friend's question, I want to know how that difference came about and why it came about. When the Prime Minister has answered that question—I have put it to him several times and he has yet to answer it—I will be able to answer the question put by my hon. Friend.
It is now clear that, in many ways, the intelligence services got it wrong, but their assessments included serious caveats, qualifications and cautions. When presenting his case to the country, the Prime Minister chose to leave out those caveats, qualifications and cautions, and as a result the country was given a misleading impression of what the intelligence services had said. So why will he not just come clean? Why will he not tell us why he did it? Why will he not just give the country the facts?
The Prime Minister once said that he was a pretty straight kind of guy, but he has not been straight with the British people today. Why is it that, for this Prime Minister, sorry seems to be the hardest word?
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD)
The immediate background to both the Butler report and today's debate remains a war that we did not believe was necessary, that we could not support and that we believe has gone on to do lasting international damage to our country's interests. That is our fundamental starting point, however deep, but none the less principled, the disagreements may be with the Government.
Whatever our respective viewpoints were about this war, none of us can ever erase the fact that the lives of brave and loyal British personnel and civilians have been lost—and as we have seen again in the past day or two they continue to be lost, along with the lives of countless and, perhaps most disgracefully of all, uncounted, Iraqi civilians. That legacy will never be forgotten.
Our principal point of disagreement and departure from the Government's position over the war was clear from the outset, and remains clear. Our issue is: were the political judgments involved the correct ones and were we led into the war on what constituted a false prospectus? We believe that those all-important political judgments were the wrong judgments and that the case for war was fatally flawed. The justifications that were presented at the time, and the way in which they were presented, are the fundamental point of dispute. The central core is that issue of political judgment, and in the aftermath of the war we have all witnessed a profound loss of public trust in both the Prime Minister and his Government, very largely as a result.
215 In so many respects, Lord Butler's report has raised as many questions as it has answered. I do not find that highly surprising, given the very specific, tightly drawn remit that was set for Lord Butler by the Prime Minister. The fact that the Prime Minister specifically excluded a proper public assessment of those political judgments led me and colleagues to conclude that we should not participate in the work of the report. Indeed, the Prime Minister put it to me across the Floor of the House when he announced the setting up of the Butler inquiry thatto subcontract to some committee the issue of whether it was right or wrong to go to war is not merely wrong: ultimately it is profoundly undemocratic."—[Official Report, 4 February 2004; Vol. 417, c. 755.]In the absence of Butler and his colleagues being able to make such an assessment, the only outlet for public judgment thus far has been the ballot box. Both last month and in the two parliamentary by-elections last week, people have given their answers. Their verdicts must to a significant extent—although not exclusively—contain a public reflection on the merits of the war.
In the run-up to the war, I repeatedly asked the Prime Minister at Question Time what, if any, circumstances would lead him into support for, or indeed opposition to, a US-led invasion of Iraq that did not have the explicit sanction and mandate of the United Nations. As hon. Members of all parties will recall, he refused ever to address that question directly. Looking back over the events of the past 18 months and the various reports, including the Butler report, that the events have spawned, given the immense and unprecedented lengths to which the Government went to try to win over an understandably worried public, I find it hard to believe that the die for the war had not been cast a considerable time before.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op)
Does the leader of the Liberal party agree that failure to take action against dictators should come under equal scrutiny? Does he agree that if we had failed to take action, Saddam Hussein would still be there, murdering and killing?
§ Mr. Kennedy
I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the words of his leader on 25 February 2003 in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister spoke of the very regime to which the right hon. Gentleman referred and said of Saddam:I detest his regime—I hope most people do—but even now, he could save it by complying with the UN's demand."—[0fficial Report, 25 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 124.]That was the Prime Minister's and the Government's position. Saddam Hussein could have remained in place, so all this post-event moral justification does not square with what they were saying beforehand.
§ Mr. Kennedy
I shall leave Labour Members to square their own consciences with that of the Prime Minister.
We know from the revealing account given by the distinguished American journalist, Bob Woodward, that for the Bush Administration, the desirability of regime change in Iraq had been in place and much favoured since President Bush took office, so my first 216 question to the Prime Minister is quite simply this: did he advise President Bush privately—long before the United Nations route was formally abandoned—that if the President decided to prosecute an invasion of Iraq, the British would be in active military support, come what may? If he did advise the President to that effect, when did such an exchange take place? That was fundamentally important at the time, and remains so to this day.
At the time, the Prime Minister said that he reached the final conclusion that war had become inevitable only the weekend before the hostilities commenced.
§ Mr. Kennedy
The Foreign Secretary says that that is true and I do not doubt him. However, surely the extraordinary and prolonged build-up on all fronts over many months militarily and diplomatically—must suggest that other considerations were also in mind. Indeed, the Ministry of Defence, with its duty to the Government of the day, in addition to its duty to serving personnel, must calculate for all possible contingencies. It would be illogical, apart from anything else, to suppose that it did not have at the back of its mind the fact that the political die might well have been cast.
The second issue that arises in that context, as the Government moved towards preparing and publishing the dossier on weapons of mass destruction, is the blurring of roles, acknowledged by Butler, that took place between principal advisers to the Prime Minister and the then chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the person who had assumed ownership of the report's contents. As Lord Butler observed, assessment and advocacy became conflated as a result. That should never have happened and, given what the Prime Minister said at the beginning of his speech, one assumes that it will never happen again, either under the new interim chair of the JIC or, indeed, under any of his longer-term successors. I welcome that acknowledgment from the Prime Minister.
Butler goes on to say that all of that was shot through and compounded by the informality of style that is an apparent hallmark of the Prime Minister. That style may have served him well on many occasions, but it cannot have served him or the rest of us well on an issue of such profound importance as the decision to take this country into war. So again I welcome the return, which has been acknowledged, to a more formal, minuted and civil-service driven approach on issues of this nature in future.
We know that critical caveats were removed or altered for the dossier as a result of the interplay between No. 10 and the intelligence chiefs. The effect was to maximise the persuasive force of the dossier itself. At the beginning of his speech, the Prime Minister said that he wanted again to respond to the allegation that the Government had deliberately sought to mislead us. I hope that whatever our differences, as far as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), myself and other colleagues are concerned, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and others will acknowledge that we have never made that allegation, and we do not make it today. Our differences were distinct but open. We did not allege motives that we did not think were there.
217 On the patchiness and sporadic nature of the intelligence that Butler refers to—frankly, I shall leave the earlier exchanges on that to speak for themselves—it is clear that the ultimate responsibility for the final words in the dossier rest with the Prime Minister, even if, as the Government argue, it was not the case for war, but the case for drawing people's attention to the directness of the threat, although that does not look so direct now.
§ Mr. Kennedy
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I want to make progress.
Lord Butler was asked to conduct an inquiry into systems. As such, he concludes that the critical failings were of a collective nature, so he does not seek to apportion individual blame. Yet surely the court of public opinion is looking for something more definitive. When the Prime Minister made a statement on the Butler report last week, anyone who watched the evening news bulletins cannot have failed to be moved when they listened to the relatives of the forces personnel who have been killed in Iraq describe how people seem to carry the can in Washington, yet all these mistakes are made in all parts of our system—there is a big question mark over whether we needed to go into this war in the first place—and no one carries the can except those who have paid the ultimate price.
§ Kevin Brennan
The House is listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. He has been careful all along to say that he does not underestimate the good faith shown by the Prime Minister throughout the proceedings. Can I take it from what he says that that is still his position?
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
The right hon. Gentleman generously accords with the judgment of good faith, and I think that I am persuaded by it. However, does he acknowledge that good faith can involve a certain amount of self-persuasion that what is being done is in the legitimate public interest? Can he suggest what legitimate role Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell played when they discussed the presentation of the intelligence to the public, which was nothing other than presenting the world as policy makers would wish it to be, rather than the world as it actually was?
§ Mr. Kennedy
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in his various senior incarnations under various Conservative leaders, will have had more experience of the trials and tribulations of such conversations in and around No. 10 Downing street than myself. Where he and I share a direct experience with the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and, going back a number of years, Lord Heseltine, of the omnipresence of Mr. Campbell is in a meeting on the eve of the launch of Britain in Europe. On that occasion, we saw that Mr. Campbell was more than capable of a conflation of assessment and advocacy, which leads me to believe that that could well have fed through to another occasion such as the one we are talking about.
218 Last Friday, Dr. Blix said of the Butler report:My main reflection on reading the Butler report was to share its regret (termed surprise in the report) that the UK and other countries did not reassess their intelligence in the light of the inspection reports of UNMOVIC.Dr. David Kay, the former head of the Iraq survey group, said of Butler:I think the Prime Minister, as I would say the US President, should have been able to tell before the war that the evidence did not exist for drawing the conclusion that Iraq presented a clear, present and imminent threat on the basis of existing weapons of mass destruction. That was not something that required a war.Those are the considered, impartial assessments of the former head of the Iraq survey group and the former chief weapons inspector, acting with the authority of the United Nations. Their words are crystal clear, whatever the explanations and the spin put on them by those around the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Marshall-Andrews
Will the right hon. Gentleman attempt to answer a question that I was going to put to the Prime Minister, who can at least listen to it, even if he cannot answer? The right hon. Gentleman referred to a passage in Lord Butler's report that deals with the assurance given to the Attorney-General that the Prime Minister was certain that Saddam was in breach. The report records its surprise, which is mandarin for shock, that policy makers—or politicians, including the Prime Minister—and the intelligence community did not,as the generally negative results of UNMOVIC inspections became increasingly apparent, re-evaluate in early 2003 the quality of the intelligence. Will the right hon. Gentleman hazard a guess as to why the Prime Minister did not do so?
§ Mr. Kennedy
Following the surrogate question asked by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), I feel that I should send an invoice to the Prime Minister for having to answer on his behalf. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) is correct that the jigsaw remains frustratingly incomplete because we do not know what legal opinions were offered to the Government on the basis of the available intelligence. We know from the Butler report that the Attorney-General provided advice on a number of occasions, and it cites three in particular. However, Butler supports the view that publication of all the legal opinionsmight inhibit the provision of full and frank … advice.In normal times, that argument would be extremely persuasive, but these are not normal times, as the unprecedented decision to publish the dossier demonstrated. Such an event had never happened before, and the Government made great play of that.
Given the extent to which a considerable amount of legal opinion is already in the public domain, the case for full disclosure is surely overwhelming. As long as critical pieces of legal advice remain shrouded in secrecy, doubts and suspicions will linger and fester. If I were the Prime Minister, I would bite the bullet and publish in full.
§ Clare Short
I agree that it would be desirable for the legal opinions to be published, but we get new information in Butler that it was not the Attorney-General who decided that there was legal authority for war. He required the Prime Minister to give an unequivocal finding of fact that there was no way other than war to pursue 1441. Given what Blix was achieving in the Security Council, and the destruction of, for example, 70 ballistic missiles, is that not extraordinary? Does it not come back to the Prime Minister, rather than to the Attorney-General?
§ Mr. Kennedy
That is extraordinary. The right hon. Lady underlines the point that I have just made. It might appear less extraordinary if we had the evidence and those legal opinions in front of us, but we cannot know. It would be in the best interests of the Prime Minister, let alone the rest of us, to put the lot into the public domain, and the sooner the better.
§ Mr. Kennedy
No, I am sorry.
The dossier—the crucial case of a direct threat to the United Kingdom from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which came to underpin the subsequent case for the war—was subject to undue political input. A description was placed before the public to maximise the persuasiveness of the later argument mounted by the Government to pursue that war. At the time of the debate and the vote here in the House of Commons, we were not aware of that entire background. Today, given what we know now, surely it becomes increasingly likely that the Government would have been hard pushed, or would have found it mission impossible, to persuade a majority in the House for war at that time and on the basis of the argument that was advanced.
§ Mr. Kennedy
I have made it clear that I am not giving way. I am sorry.
The overwhelming mood would surely have been to allow the authorised weapons inspectors the further period of time that they had sought via the United Nations. There was one other casualty at that point, and my goodness, it would have been a welcome one at the time, given the benefit of hindsight today. I do not believe the House would have acquiesced in endorsing the Bush-led new doctrine, the policy of pre-emptive strike, in quite the way it happened.
Despite what he said last week and this afternoon, and despite the fact that I welcome the practical implications that he acknowledged flow from all this, the Prime Minister should listen and understand—I still honestly believe that he does not quite get it—what people in the country think about the matter. He must demonstrate a genuine contrition for the misjudgments that have undoubtedly taken place. Public confidence must be restored in the process of government generally and in the lessons to be learned from the sequence of events. The people of Iraq need ongoing reassurance, given the volatile and violent situation there.
220 Not least, the Government should announce the carefully planned and phased withdrawal of our troops from Iraq as a democratically elected Government become established. Other countries, including those in the region, should contribute resources and troops as necessary. Given what the Prime Minister said in his remarks, the existing coalition should account fully for the expenditures of the development fund for Iraq, particularly the unaudited Iraqi oil revenues. The clinching paragraph of the March motion in the House of Commons and the great prize that the Government held up for backing the Bush Administration have not been mentioned today. We must have some meaningful re-engagement with the road map and the wider middle east peace process, which has been an appalling victim of events.
§ Mr. Kennedy
No. I have reached the end of my remarks.
In his statement last week, the Prime Minister spoke of his pride in what had been achieved in Iraq. We can all feel pride in the courage and professionalism of our armed forces, particularly when they are asked by Parliament to carry out such a difficult and dangerous task. But we certainly do not feel pride in what they were instructed to do at the behest of the Government and, increasingly, not in the name of our country. In fact, we feel ashamed. I hope that in the years to come, in his most private moments as he reflects on these events and the well-documented litany of failures and political misjudgments that went with them, the Prime Minister might acknowledge a sense of personal shame.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
Order. I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a limit of eight minutes on all Back-Bench speeches and that that applies from now on.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) (Lab)
Perhaps I could help the leader of the Liberal party. When the Defence Committee visited the United Nations on the day before Dr. Blix's speech, we asked a very senior person how long Dr. Blix's group would need properly to evaluate whether there were weapons of mass destruction. He replied, "Twelve months if there is full compliance by Saddam Hussein's regime." When he was asked how long it would take if there was obstruction, he said, "For ever." I therefore have some reservations about the idea that Dr. Blix's view was necessarily sacrosanct. Having listened to the two Opposition party leaders, I remain as convinced and supportive as I was when I heard the speeches that the Prime Minister made at the time and subsequently.
However, I am not here to discuss Butler. Others will do that again and again until they eventually get the result that they require—if they ever do, and I suspect that it will take a long time. I want to talk about the report of the Defence Committee that is relevant to the motion.
221 In 1991, the Defence Committee produced an excellent report on the war. We visited Iraq before and after that war, which was termed Operation Granby. Following Operation Desert Fox, we spent a great deal of time examining the no-fly zones, into which we conducted an inquiry in 2000. We were very much involved in observing the events leading up to the war that we are discussing. We visited Kuwait beforehand. We held an inquiry that resulted in three volumes and 130 conclusions and recommendations. We held 19 public sessions. When British troops returned, we visited them all over the country and in Germany. We went twice to the United States. I believe that our report is well worth reading, and I hope that the Ministry of Defence reads it carefully.
We say in our report that we recognise how much we ask of our soldiers, sailors and airmen. For them, Operation Telic followed deployments to Afghanistan, the Balkans and Sierra Leone. Some of those who fought in the combat phase had already returned as part of the continuing stabilisation operation. We should remember that in Operation Fresco, 19,000 service personnel were committed to firefighting operations. One unit from the Army—16 Air Assault Brigade—was engaged in those responsibilities throughout December 2002, handed them over on 6 January, and began pre-deployment training on 8 January.
That cycle of excess stretch cannot be maintained indefinitely. When the Chief of the Defence Staff appeared before us in March, he said that it would be impossible to mount an operation of a similar scale to Operation Telic until 2008–09. I therefore look forward with great interest to tomorrow's Treasury-inspired Ministry of Defence response on the future size, shape and equipment of our armed forces. We must realise that when British forces go off to fight wars, be they popular or unpopular, they must be provided with the equipment that they need, when they need it. Too often in Operation Telic, equipment arrived late or was lost in theatre.
Those problems are well publicised in our report. However, having considered the deficiencies and strengths of our military effort, we felt on balance that the operation was well conducted by very well motivated personnel.
Iraq demonstrated that winning a war is relatively easy in comparison to what happens afterwards. Clearly, the planning in Iraq was inadequate. That was partly due to differences in the US Administration, but we would be deluding ourselves if we argued that things went wrong solely because the Department of Defence and the State Department fell out. There were many other reasons. First, enough troops to win the war might not be enough to win the peace. Secondly, failures of intelligence meant that we did not identify who our friends or our enemies were. We recall that the person chosen to lead the civilian Administration in Basra turned out to be a former brigadier in the Iraqi army and a Ba'athist, and that his successor was accused of being a confidant of Uday Hussein. Thirdly, language and cultural differences proved harder to overcome than was foreseen. If we contemplate more expeditionary operations further afield, those issues will be essential to the effectiveness of our forces.
222 The full Defence Committee went to Iraq last July, after the war, and six of its members went out last May. They visited the temporary divisional detention facilities, where those who had been interned by British forces under powers provided to occupying powers by the fourth Geneva convention were held. I am informed that those being held there were generally well treated. Many have now been released but some remain. The Committee is aware of the allegations of misconduct against a number of British personnel, and where there is evidence to support them, they are being investigated. I am confident that, if wrongdoing is found, the guilty will be punished. Some recent answers to parliamentary questions were very helpful in that regard.
A number of cases have already been referred to the prosecuting authorities. These incidents are serious and, if proven, would be a blot on the reputation of our forces, but they must not be allowed to overshadow the vast amount of good work that has been done and is being done. The Committee has requested a memorandum from the Ministry of Defence, and we will inquire into the allegations of misconduct of British forces. I can assure hon. Members and those outside the House that this will be a thorough inquiry.
The war has gone and, yes, there have been recriminations. However, I spoke yesterday to a fellow Defence Committee Chairman—of a NATO country that did not participate in the military action in Iraq. I said, "Now the war is over. There is a UN-endorsed programme to establish a democratic constitution and a properly elected and representative Government of Iraq. We may have had our differences before and during the war, but the situation has now changed." I just hope that those countries will follow UN Security Council resolution 1546, which requests member states to send military forces to assist in Iraq.
I encourage all colleagues to urge those countries that are being intimidated to remove their troops, as well as those that might be thinking of going and those that might not, to understand that our fight is now against the remnants of the Saddam regime, against al-Qaeda, and against all sorts of people who want to do harm to the new Government of Iraq. I very much hope that people will be prepared to—
§ 4.3 pm
§ Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con)
I am most grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. This is the first time that I have sought to speak on these matters since the debate of 18 March 2003, when the House made its principal decision on military action. I supported the Government's case for military action then, and I support it now for exactly the same reasons: that Saddam Hussein was a proven danger who had twice invaded other countries; that the alternative to taking action against him would have been to release him from a great deal of pressure, because sanctions and other measures would have been difficult to maintain; that there was a limit to the number of ultimatums that could pass without action being taken against him; and that international affairs had come to a point of decision at which the issue had to be resolved one way or the 223 other and it was in the national interest of this country to act in concert with our principal ally, the United States of America. Those were the reasons that I voted in favour of military action, and I believe that they are the genuine reasons that the Prime Minister was in favour of military action. Placing too much weight on the intelligence, which was not his real reason, has led him into so much of this difficulty.
There is now a chance, but only a chance, of a great improvement in Iraqi affairs. One of the most murderous and dangerous dictators in the world has been removed. There is a possibility of democracy, a possibility of an improved quality of life for the people of Iraq, and even the chance of greater prosperity in the years ahead. Therefore, while many observers are sceptical about whether western concepts of freedom can be brought into an Arab state, if they are wrong—and they might be—the politics of the middle east will be transformed, and transformed for the better.
I therefore still believe that it was the right thing to do. The trouble is that that is now a minority view in the country as a whole, as is clear from every survey, and possibly from recent election results. Experimentation with spin and public relations, even from a Government who are so skilled in spin and public relations, has led to a public relations disaster on the case for war.
We are all familiar with public relations disasters—I am familiar with more than most. But here we have a monumental failing of public relations, which now casts doubt on the credibility of the actions of the Government, on the international standing of this country, on the moral justification for the war, and on the basis for any future similar action by this country and the United States. Millions of our fellow citizens will now never believe that there was a good case for the war in Iraq, and millions of them will never believe that there is a good case for action in a comparable situation. To have created that situation is a serious responsibility for the Government.
Many errors in a run-up to war can be forgiven, and much that was in the dossier was moderate in tone, as the Butler report pointed out. But the Government have discredited much of their case for war, and damaged this country through mistakes in presentation that were unnecessary and for which they bear a serious responsibility.
The great mystery to me has always been the business of the infamous 45-minute piece of intelligence. My worry has always been not that it went into the dossier, because there was intelligence that mentioned 45 minutes, but that Ministers, including the Prime Minister, seem to have been consistently ignorant of what it meant, and of whether it was still true many months after it was reported.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice
When John Scarlett discovered in July 2003 that the intelligence relating to the 45 minutes was unreliable, should he have told the Hutton inquiry that the intelligence had changed, and should he have told the Prime Minister? Is it right that John Scarlett should now be appointed as director of MI6 in such circumstances?
§ Mr. Hague
John Scarlett should have told the Hutton inquiry, and he should have told the Prime Minister. I will come to that point in a moment.
224 Let me take a prior point: it has been reported clearly that the Prime Minister did not know that the 45-minute claim related to battlefield weapons. I find that extraordinary. Ministers ask questions all the time of their civil servants, about all kinds of things. One cannot picture most Ministers being told by their officials that lunch would be ready in 45 minutes without asking searching questions about the menu and by whom it was going to be delivered. The idea that someone can walk into the office or give the Prime Minister a document saying, "Our deadliest enemy has weapons of mass destruction that could be mobilised against us in 45 minutes", and that the Minister or Prime Minister does not say, "What sort of weapons?", is absolutely unimaginable. Can we imagine Baroness Thatcher being told at the time of the Falklands that the Argentines had weapons of mass destruction that could be used in 45 minutes? The official who told her would have been pinned to the wall until he had worked out and told her every last little bit of intelligence and any point of detail about that claim.
So how could this happen? The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), who just intervened, raised a parallel point, which is the incredible sequel, that key evidence identified in the Butler inquiry, possibly including the 45-minute claim, was withdrawn in July 2003—a year ago. And yet it turned out a few days ago, so we were told, that the Prime Minister was only aware of that withdrawal of intelligence as a result of the Butler inquiry—more recently. So on this major item of public controversy, on which the Government's whole credibility is at stake—with controversy raging about the 45 minutes and many other claims, in the press and among the public—MI6, and perhaps Government officials, knew that the evidence had been withdrawn, and no one told the Prime Minister. If it were in a novel, we would all say that it was ludicrous—that it could not happen. Of course they would tell the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Salmond
So the first item is unimaginable and the second is ludicrous. What conclusions did the right hon. Gentleman draw?
§ Mr. Hague
How neat of the hon. Gentleman to lead me to the conclusions—and I am most grateful to him for giving me an extra minute in which to explain them.
One conclusion I would have drawn had I been in the Prime Minister's shoes is that the officials or intelligence officers who had not told me were not doing their job, and should be part of the Chancellor's great redeployment to the regions—probably to the hon. Gentleman's constituency, which is a very long way from Downing street.
There are four possible explanations of how these things could be true. One, which I discount, is that the Prime Minister does not ask questions—that he is indolent or inattentive. Given my knowledge of the Prime Minister, I do not believe that that is the case. Another is that officials do not do their job properly in informing the Prime Minister. Perhaps there is a hint of that in the point that we have just been discussing, but I doubt that it is the case in general, because the British civil service is a fine machine and puts forward its very best cogs to serve the Prime Minister.
225 A third theory is that this has something to do with the criticisms of the culture of Government that Lord Butler and his colleagues identified: that informality can mean lack of rigour, that the blurring of the line between officials and political advisers can lead to mistakes—to the elevation of material to the public domain without adequate examination of it—and that people who only know politics dabble in intelligence, and people who only know intelligence dabble in politics, at their peril.
Let me respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Pendle about Mr. Scarlett. I think that he crossed that line at his peril. My personal view is that given the importance of restoring the public credibility of an intelligence service whose officials should never really become public figures, it is important for the senior official not to be someone who has been the subject of public controversy over the publication of intelligence that has subsequently been disproved. I have no doubt that he could serve the public in many continuing ways, but none of us is indispensable, and it should be possible for MI6 to he led by a different person. That is my honest answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.
Part of that culture of Government is that there are never any minutes of key meetings. At the time of the famous Formula I tobacco advertising outrage—as I would call it—of a few years ago, there were never any minutes showing who made the decisions. It is a culture of informality, but also a culture of deniability, in which it is hard to pin down who said what to whom.
There is, however, a final explanation. It is that the intelligence was never really an important factor in the Government's decision to wage war; that they waged war for precisely the reasons on which I agree with them, and precisely the reasons that I stated at the beginning of my speech; that they knew the history of Saddam Hussein, and knew that what little they would glean from intelligence on a shifting basis from month to month would not change their case for war. That, I believe, is the Government's central error, and one for which they must bear a heavy responsibility—because it means that they pursued the correct policy, but have ruined the case for doing so.
The Prime Minister says that he takes responsibility, but just shrugs his shoulders. It is a tragedy for him that this has done serious harm to our nation and its allies; and that, having pursued a policy that was essentially correct, the Government have ruined their case in the eyes of the country.
§ Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). One of the strengths of a party that experiences a long period in opposition—as his party is discovering—is that it accrues a large number of ex-leaders on its Back Benches. It appears that we shall hear from two of them today.
The only comment I would make on the speech that we heard from the Conservative party's current leader, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), is that it came a year and a half too late. This place works when the Opposition oppose, 226 but that did not happen in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Indeed, one reason why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister might not have asked enough tough questions of the intelligence agencies is that he knew perfectly well that when he came to the Chamber, he would never be asked any tough questions from the Opposition Dispatch Box.
I am grateful to the Butler committee—two of its distinguished members are with us today—for asking a lot of tough questions about the intelligence. Out of those tough questions emerged an alarming picture of intelligence that was overwhelmingly based on hearsay and second-hand information, and in one case on third-hand information; indeed, the ultimate sources frequently turned out to be unreliable. The Butler committee says in its report that it was struck by the thinness of the intelligence base. What is puzzling is that it was examining exactly the same intelligence that was available to the Prime Minister and to the Government, which the Prime Minister told us left no doubt about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, he repeated that point here today.
§ Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con)
Was the intelligence materially stronger when, as Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman consented to action in 1998 in Operation Desert Fox?
§ Mr. Cook
I am not surprised by that question because I noticed that such points were in the hymn sheet that was circulated last week. First, we took that action precisely because there was no co-operation with UN weapons inspectors at that time. If they had received the co-operation that Hans Blix has received, no such action would have been taken. Secondly, such action was a limited air strike against military targets only; I was never daft enough to suggest that we should launch a major armed invasion.
When I left office, we were pursuing a strategy of containment. I am bound to say, given all that we have learned since we went into Iraq, that that strategy was strikingly successful in denying Saddam Hussein a single weapon of mass destruction, without the need to go to war.
§ Mike Gapes
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. He talks about containment, but does he not accept that half a million Iraqi children died as a result of that policy, that Saddam was able to suppress his people and that there were 4 million Iraqi exiles? Does he not accept that further pursuing that policy would have led to the continuation of that situation? Was it not better to do something at last to get rid of Saddam?
§ Mr. Cook
I invite my hon. Friend to read the Butler report, because if he does he will find that it explicitly and correctly states that there is no basis in international law for regime change. Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly a brutal psychopath, and nobody has highlighted the scale of his evils and sins more than I 227 have. But my hon. Friend has to face the fact that he is making a case for which there is no basis in international law—if one acts without international consensus, as we did on this occasion. If we are to have a doctrine of intervention on humanitarian grounds—of which I am all in favour—it has to be acted on with international authority, not according to a unilateral decision taken by Washington and London. That is what went wrong in this case.
I saw many intelligence assessments when I was at the Foreign Office. Doubt and intelligence assessments go hand in hand; doubt is in the nature of intelligence work. One is trying to guess the secrets that somebody is trying to keep, so it inevitably follows that one is trying to carry out a task even worse than that of the Israelites: to make bricks out of straws in the wind. To be fair to the agencies, they were always absolutely frank about the limitations of their knowledge. That is why I was frankly astonished by the September dossier, which bore no relation in tone to any of the intelligence assessments that I saw. It was one-sided, dogmatic and unqualified.
The root problem is that intelligence was used in order to sell policy, so it was required to be much more firm and definite than intelligence can ever be. Intelligence was not used as the basis on which to make policy. Here, I totally agree with the point made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. I find it breathtaking that for six months—from September to March—the Prime Minister believed that he and John Scarlett were talking about long-range systems, while John Scarlett believed that they were talking about battlefield weapons. Apparently, they talked about that subject several times during those six months. I do not blame John Scarlett. I actually asked him whether we were talking only about battlefield weapons and he was quite frank and open in telling me—as he was subsequently in telling Hutton—that that is exactly what we were talking about. I find it strange that No. 10 did not show more curiosity about what those weapons were. The explanation for that absence of curiosity is precisely, of course, that it was not on intelligence that the policy was being formulated.
On that, I have to say, the Butler report is quite conclusive. For me, the most crucial passage in the Butler report is where it sets out the fact that when we took the decision to take stronger action against Iraqthere was no intelligence that Iraq was of more immediate concern.In other words, the intelligence did not change; the assessment of the picture inside Iraq did not change. The change that precipitated the movement away from containment to invasion was not a change in Iraq, but a regime change in Washington and the election of a Bush Administration with a commitment to invasion. The most embarrassing conclusion of all is that if those hanging chads in Florida had pointed in the opposite direction and A1 Gore had been elected, we would not have ended up committing British troops to military action in Iraq, but would have loyally stood by the transatlantic policy of containment.
We now come to the crux of the problem faced by my right hon. Friends in trying to find closure on Iraq as a controversy. If they are not candid on the reason why we got into the war, they will have a problem convincing the electorate why it will not happen again. The noises 228 currently coming out of Washington about Iran, which sound alarmingly similar to the noises about Iraq two years before the invasion, of course raise public anxieties.
I want to be helpful to my right hon. Friends, so let me make a suggestion about what they might do in order to reassure the public. First, they could formally and loudly ditch the doctrine of the pre-emptive strike, which Washington invented. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary could do so in his wind-up speech. I think that he would find it congenial, as I suspect that he never believed in it himself.
If we are to invade a country not because it is an imminent threat, but because—the basis of the doctrine of the pre-emptive strike—we want to pre-empt it from becoming a threat at some unknown and unspecified date in the future, we are placing an enormous weight on the capacity to have reliable and accurate intelligence. Yet what we have learned from the whole saga of Iraq—and what is spelled out in the Butler report—is that intelligence can never be that reliable. It would help if the Front Benchers could now say to the public that one of the key lessons of Iraq is that intelligence alone can never bear the weight of going to a war in which 20,000 people are killed in the carnage.
I will make a second suggestion. This may not be the right moment in history for John Scarlett to take up his post as head of the SIS. In saying that, I do not speak in any spirit of criticism of John Scarlett, whom I always found absolutely professional. He was quite frank and open with me when I asked him questions, and I am sure that he would have been equally frank and open with No. 10 if the Prime Minister had asked him the same questions.
If one looks at what happens in the private sector when a company is faced with corporate and systemic failure—effectively what is described in the Butler report—one finds that someone from outside is sought to come in and take a fresh approach. I do think that the SIS now needs someone from elsewhere in the public sector who can bring that fresh approach and put the difficult questions that the SIS now needs to face up to.
It may be a sign of the approaching general election that this debate has been the most partisan on Iraq that I can yet recall. I am not sure that this grave matter is an appropriate one for party political point scoring. Britain and British troops will have to live with the consequences of our decision for a long time to come. We were told that Iraq would be a victory over terrorism. We are now told that Iraq is the front line in the war against terrorism. The great irony is that it is precisely our intervention that has created the conditions—poor security, open borders and a population with a grievance—in which al-Qaeda is now thriving in Iraq.
My deep worry is that when Osama bin Laden struck the twin towers, he wanted to send the message that the only possible relationship between the west and Islam is one of violent confrontation. I fear that, by invading Iraq, we responded in precisely the way that Osama bin Laden wanted. As a consequence, we and the west will have to live with violent confrontations and the violent consequences of this strategic blunder for a decade to come.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)
On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I make a House of 229 Commons point of order, perhaps as Father of the House? The former Foreign Secretary has made a speech of great importance, whatever one may think about it. Why was not a single member of the Cabinet present to hear what he had to say? I am sure that 20, 30 or 40 years ago there would have been three, four or five Cabinet Ministers listening to him.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The Father of the House is well experienced in these matters and will understand that who will occupy the Front Bench is for the Government to decide, not a matter for the Chair.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)
The general message that I get from reading the Butler report is that the House of Commons, and the people, were misled. We have a duty to the JIC to try to use the material in the report to influence future policy.
I was in the minority of people who did not support the war in Iraq. I explained in the debate at the time that that was because of what I considered to be the near-hypocrisy of the western powers, and in particular of the US. Those powers complained that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world and to security, even though the Reigle report set out clearly that the US had openly supplied the most horrendous weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein to allow him to invade Iran.
Those weapons included anthrax, clostridium—a source of toxin—and histoplasma, which causes a disease resembling tuberculosis. There was also brucella, which damages major organs, another substance that causes gas gangrene, and seven other materials. People who talk about the threat to democracy that Saddam posed should remember the debt that we owe for the mistakes that we made. When I raised those matters, I was advised that France, Russia and Germany had also provided help for Saddam, but I do not see how that makes things any better.
My second reason for opposing the war was the military action in Afghanistan. Far from restoring peace and democracy, it has created a chaotic situation outside Kabul. The only obvious result has been to transform that sad nation into a massive producer of drugs—as can be seen all over the country. There also appeared to be an appalling lack of humility: far from improving the situation, we have simply helped the growth of extremists.
However, the majority of people supported the war. For them, the wise and sombre words of the Butler report should arouse concern. We should think carefully about three key passages in the report, which admit that an error was made. Paragraph 47 states:Intelligence merely provides techniques for improving the basis of knowledge. As with other techniques, it can be a dangerous tool if its limitations are not recognised by those who seek to use it.Paragraph 464 states thatthe language in the dossier may have left with readers the impression that there was fuller and firmer intelligence behind the judgements than was the case: our view … is that judgements in the dossier went to (although not beyond) the outer limits of the 230 intelligence available. The Prime Minister's description … of the picture painted by the intelligence services … as 'extensive, detailed and authoritative' may have reinforced this impression.Finally, paragraph 34 on page 154 states:We conclude that it was a serious weakness that the JIC's warnings on the limitations of the intelligence"—that was provided—
were not made sufficiently clear in the dossier.When we add those three factors together, it is obvious that we were misled. Unless we accept that, we will not learn lessons for the future. I hope that this debate will not descend into hon. Members shouting at each other, as we know that the same sort of opinions were held on both sides of the House. We must make up our minds not to make the same mistake again.
I believe that there is a terrible and real danger that we are about to go through exactly same process—of misrepresentation and not telling—the truth—in relation to Iran. For a start, a mass of distorted and misleading information has appeared on the front pages of our newspapers. The headline in the most recent edition of The Sunday Telegraph asserted that America was accusing Iran of complicity in the attack on the World Trade Centre. The newspaper stated that between eight and 10 hijackers had travelled through Iran, with the help of the Iranian Government, to play a part in the attack. The allegation was that they were to act as muscle. The CIA chief made a statement only yesterday that that was not true. There was no evidence of Iran's participation in that activity. On the other hand, the stories keep being published. Iran has been accused of participation with al-Qaeda, which those who know Iran know is complete nonsense. It was further reported that Bush officials were privately contemplating a possible military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, allegedly before the Russian fuel rods were delivered.
If we want to make progress with Iran and not to seek a diversion from the embarrassments over Iraq, we should do three things. First, we should recognise, with some humility, that we have a huge responsibility for what has happened, because of the arms we provided to Iraq—all the appalling weapons of mass destruction—when it invaded Iran and inflicted such terrible damage on its people. Secondly, we should appreciate that we have a duty to take meaningful and positive action in relation to the camp of 4,800 Mujaheddin-e-Khalq Organisation terrorists who have been dropping bombs in Iran for many years and killing thousands of people. That camp is in Iraq and is protected by American forces. What are we doing about it and what role do we think Iran should have? Thirdly, we should recognise that far from being an extremist nation, Iran is one in which those of the Christian and Jewish faiths have freedom to worship in their own churches.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab)
The hon. Gentleman appears to have exhausted the point about what should happen to Iran and our relations with that country. However, should we not do everything possible to get the Iranian Government to change their minds about their appalling human rights record? We now know that the trial of the person allegedly responsible for the murder of the Canadian photographer has been cut short, and that there has been no publicity about it.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
What we should publicise is the truth about Iran. The hon. Gentleman and I were there 231 together. Does he accept that Iran has freedom of religion? Does he accept that more than half of the students in the universities are women? Does he accept that Iran has a democratic base, as a Muslim country with an elected Parliament and an elected leader? I appeal to him to think about the matter. The one thing that we do not want to do is to spread the same kind of nastiness and untruths about that country, when we should be telling people the facts.
So far as Iran's nuclear activities are concerned, the attitude we are taking is the worst we could take—that Britain, France, the US and Israel have the right to have nuclear weapons, but nobody else has. Surely we want to get agreement on getting rid of nuclear weapons. We should be putting forward a plan under which every country will try to get rid of those dreadful weapons, in the right way.
I say in all sincerity that unless we are willing to treat Iran with courtesy and with dignity, to recognise that it is a democracy with an elected Government within a Muslim state, and that it has a positive role to play, we could end up with a great international tragedy. In the report, we saw how the Government—all Governments can do it got carried away and tried to justify their policies by stretching things. Surely we should recognise that truth is the best weapon in politics and that we should apply it in all our activities. If we achieve progress in that area of the world, the report that we are debating and the speeches made on it will achieve more than the usual political battles between parties.
I think that a great mistake was made, as I said at the time. Be that as it may, it is desperately important that we avoid similar difficulties in the future. That means ensuring that the truth is told and that we show more understanding of foreign countries. We should not build up the kind of hatred that lasts for years and years and simply will not go away. Many of us in Britain and the US are very nice people, but we are probably not the best people to be emperors of the world. If we want to be emperors of the world, we will have to show the dignity and truthfulness that is desperately important if we are to secure peace in the world and understanding between nations.
§ Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
I am greatly tempted to answer the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) on his point about containment. Containment did not work. Containment never worked and, Robin, if you had read the Select Committee on International Development's report on sanctions you would have known the answer. The Committee concluded that sanctions were not working, that Saddam Hussein was getting exactly what he wanted, that the sanctions were too loose and should be tightened, and that the person mainly responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people was Saddam Hussein himself. But that is a debate for another time.
§ Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con)
If the hon. Lady believes what she said, does she believe that the Prime Minister was right to say on 26 February—as quoted by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and 232 Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy)—that the removal of weapons of mass destruction would permit Saddam Hussein to remain in place?
§ Ann Clwyd
My view has been expressed often enough in the House: I believed in regime change and I wanted the regime toppled a long time ago. Whatever argument could be used to topple that regime, I would support it. That is still my view. I am certain that the people of Iraq are very pleased that Saddam Hussein has been removed. I do not know anyone who would care to refute that statement. I go often enough to Iraq and talk to enough people to be convinced that that is their view.
§ Mr. Salmond
The hon. Lady has been consistent in her view throughout. However, I have a certain memory of President Clinton, in a speech to the Labour conference in 2002, making exactly the same point about the success of containment, and every member of the Cabinet sitting behind him nodded vigorously.
§ Ann Clwyd
May I move on? I have given only a few lines of my speech. I shall give way later.
A few days ago, I received an e-mail from Baghdad confirming that the evidence collected by Indict over the past seven years would be used in the war crimes trial against Saddam Hussein and his regime, and that genocide is one of the many charges that he will face. For those of us who have campaigned on the issue for more than 20 years, Saddam Hussein's performance in the witness box the other week was predictable. He jabbed his finger at the judge, insisted that he was still President of Iraq and justified the invasion of Kuwait.
As the charges were read out, we were reminded that his was a regime that had complete disregard for human life. In 1987, the Committee against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq, which I chaired, published a pamphlet on torture in Iraq. It included the testimony of an Iraqi doctor, who said that he had been forced to take part in one of the more sinister practices that took place in Abu Ghraib—the forced draining of the blood of political prisoners before their execution, so that the reason for their death could be recorded as heart failure. Only a regime such as Saddam Hussein's could possibly think of turning a life-saving humanitarian practice into a cruel method of murder.
It has become commonplace to argue that the new Interim Government lack legitimacy. The words "quisling" and "puppet" are widely used, while anti-coalition violence is said to represent the real war of liberation. That ignores all the recent polls, which show widespread support for the Interim Government. In the last poll, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi had an approval rating of 73 per cent., while the President received 84 per cent.
I have known and worked with the opposition to Saddam for more than two decades, so I find the description of brave individuals as puppets deeply offensive. In 1978, Dr. Allawi was nearly killed in an axe 233 attack in London. The Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Barham Salih, whose family are in the House today, was imprisoned at the age of 16 for his political activities. The Deputy Foreign Minister, Dr. Hamid al-Bayati, was imprisoned in Abu Ghraib and five members of his family were killed by Saddam's regime. Some 8,000 members of Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari's family disappeared in 1983, and have never been seen since.
Every day, those individuals and others face the knowledge that they are targets for assassination, but they continue to work, just as the policemen return to their jobs every day, despite the suicide bombs targeted at them. One of them told a newspaper:Our job is to protect the Iraqi people. There are bombings, but we are not scared of these terrorists. These people are cowards, who are damaging our country.Those who champion resistance as the real voice of Iraq offer not an alternative political programme, but merely opposition to the existing strategy. They are silent about what they want for Iraq, apart from getting the Americans out. They are opposed by the emerging civil society in Iraq.
On 21 June, Abdullah Mushin of the Iraqi Federation of Workers Trade Unions addressed Unison's national conference. The IFTU had opposed the war. Last December, its Baghdad offices were raided by coalition forces. Despite that, he was clear that solidarity was required to defeat those who would deny Iraqis democracy. He said:It is only a few days"—he was talking just before the end of June—
and the IFTU and the Iraqis need your support and solidarity to make this happen, and stop attempts by terrorists and Saddam's supporters to derail the transfer of power to Iraqis. That is a crucial step forward to end the occupation, regain full sovereignty and enable the Iraqi people to determine their own political future through democratic elections.The alternative to the violence of the resistance is already in place. At the end of this week, there will be a national conference in Baghdad. That will be the starting point for a process that will conclude with the agreement of a permanent constitution and national elections. Do we really believe that that would be an option if the so-called resistance won?
§ Mr. Savidge
Surely, containment worked insofar as it stopped aggression against other countries and much more than most of us would have probably dared to believe in relation to weapons of destruction, but the international community should have given much higher priority to enforcing conditions in relation to human rights. I pay all credit to my hon. Friend for the campaign on that issue that she has run for such a long time.
§ Ann Clwyd
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. Clearly, there are lots of points of discussion, but the charge of genocide is very serious. Even in current humanitarian law, genocide calls for action by other countries. That is why the Secretary-General of the UN has started a big debate on the subject of genocide and how we should act when genocide takes 234 place. No one who remembers the events in Rwanda can argue that we should not have taken action. Genocide was an ongoing fact of life in Iraq as well.
Either we support those who offer the chance of a democratic Iraq, with laws that protect the rights of all Iraqis and a civil society that ensures that the country never returns to the days of dictatorship, or we embrace the gunmen and the bombers, who have already demonstrated their contempt for human life.
Although we can still argue about the reasons for the conflict, the more pressing argument is what we do now. Opinion polls have consistently recorded that the vast majority of the Iraqis want democracy. They also want foreign troops to leave. However, when asked what Iraq needs at this time, more than 70 per cent. of those who took part in the Oxford Research International poll said, "We want an Iraqi democracy."
The debate in Britain will be a reflection on us and on our values. Are we capable of the maturity displayed by the Iraqis, who are working in the most difficult circumstances to build a new democracy, or will we be represented by those who despise George Bush and the Prime Minister so much that they are prepared to offer support and succour to the resistance, which offers no alternative or agenda other than bloodshed and chaos?
§ Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
I was one of those on 18 March last year who voted for the war, and I feel deeply—I will not use the word "deceived"—let down by the Government. I feel let down not simply because the intelligence assessment has proved probably more wide of the mark than any other major intelligence assessment in recent times, or possibly since well back into the last century, but because the Government's justification for going to war since the war ended is totally different from the justification that was given to the House on 18 March last year.
Since the war, the justification that has been given again and again—it was given by the Prime Minister today—is the benefit of regime change, which I do not for a moment deny, but did he say on 18 March last year that that was one of the reasons that we were going to war? He said:I have never put the justification for action as regime change. We have to act within the terms set out in resolution 1441—that is our legal base."—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 772.]I would have no complaint if he had come to the Dispatch Box on 18 March last year and said, "This is the intelligence that we have, with all the caveats and all the uncertainties, that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, but we also are going to war to change the regime because, in human rights terms, it is abominable. Although it is illegal to go to war to change the regime, we ask the House to support our going to war on that basis".
My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) have raised the key unanswered question: was there a deal between President Bush and our Prime Minister that, come hell or high water, if the Americans decided to go to war to change the regime, 235 Britain and her armed forces would be there? I am no more clear as to what the answer is today than I have been for months past.
§ Sir John Stanley
Let me finish. If that was the deal that was done, that should most emphatically have been disclosed to the House of Commons on 18 March last year.
§ Mike Gapes
The right hon. Gentleman has said that going to war to change the regime would be illegal. Is he saying that, when this Government went to war in Kosovo, that was illegal without a United Nations resolution, that the Vietnamese intervention in Cambodia was illegal, and that the Tanzanian intervention in Uganda was illegal? Is it not more complicated than is being suggested?
§ Sir John Stanley
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's specific question on Kosovo is that the war in Kosovo was legal because it was justified in international law to prevent a looming humanitarian disaster—that is how it was justified by the Government. That was not the justification for the intervention in Iraq. I would have no complaint if the Prime Minister had come to the House and said, "We are seeking the House's approval for going to war to change the regime, even though it is not legal. We are seeing whether the House would support us on that basis."
I turn to the issue of the intelligence. The right hon. Member for Livingston said that we should never go to war on the basis of an intelligence assessment, but this is the one war in modern times in which there was no incontrovertible, factual event such as an invasion or looming humanitarian disaster. There was only the basis of an intelligence assessment.
The Government have exposed themselves to some genuine criticism on two scores in particular. First, this Government, for whom the Prime Minister ultimately has to take responsibility, have interleaved the machinery of intelligence with the machinery of presentation in a way that has happened under no previous Government, Labour or Conservative. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs highlighted that aspect at a relatively early stage, in our report of July last year. We drew attention to the fact that Alastair Campbell was chairing an intelligence committee, and we said that that was quite wrong.
In addition, it is extremely illuminating to see what has emerged from the e-mail traffic between No. 10 and the Joint Intelligence Committee that has now been publicised both in the Hutton report and the Butler report. Although sofa government has all the supposed benefits of no minutes and therefore not too much in the way of personal accountability for decision taking, the e-mail traffic has exposed in a real way how this Government have operated.
One of the most significant e-mails was sent on 11 September 2002 by a member of the JIC assessment staff, who sent the following to the intelligence agencies:Dear allWe have now received comments back from No 10 on the first draft of the dossier. Unsurprisingly they have further questions and areas they would like expanded.236 Those areas were listed. He then came to item No. 4—and I hope that the House will listen carefully, as this is meant to be a process in which the participation of No. 10 related only to presentation:Can we say how many chemical and biological weapons Iraq currently has by type! If we can't give weapons numbers can we give any idea on the quantity of agents available!I suggest that that is not presentation, but political pressure for intelligence information. In no circumstances should that be allowed to happen. The e-mail ends by stating:
No 10 through the chairman want the document to be as strong as possible within the bounds of available intelligence. This is therefore a last (!) call for any items of intelligence that agencies think can and should be included.When I read those words, they conjured up in my mind a slightly manic intelligence version of the parable of the rich man's feast, in which the intelligence agencies were asked to go out into the highways and byways to search for every available scrap of intelligence to be invited into the September dossier. That is no way to run the interface between Government and the intelligence machine.
I thought that Mr. Michael Herman, former secretary of the JIC, hit the nail on the head in that excellent "Panorama" programme that went out recently:I suspect that if the Joint Intelligence Committee gets too close to ministers, then there is this temptation of providing intelligence to please.I fear that that is what may have happened here.
Finally, on the question of ministerial scrutiny, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks. The degree of scrutiny of the intelligence leaves much to be desired, not least on the 45-minute claim. How extraordinary and reprehensible it is that the Prime Minister took this country to war without having asked to which Iraqi weapons system the 45-minute WMD claim related. That is unbelievable, and I would have to say that it is gross negligence. Talking about negligence, that information was known by the chairman of the JIC, Mr. Scarlett, back in September 2002, before the war started, and by the Secretary of State for Defence, and neither of them told the Prime Minister. I believe that that is very serious indeed.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)
On 26 September 2002, Peter Brookes, the cartoonist of The Times, depicted me in my place in my Chamber—as I am at the moment holding up a copy of "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government" and exploding:Why didn't it make the Booker fiction prize shortlist?I say that because there has been a great deal of hindsight. Some of us suspected the dossier from the word go. In my case, that was partly because I had been to Iraq in 1993 and 1998 and thought it impossible that that much run-down and disorganized community could offer any kind of threat.
It is also a matter of fact that I asked 133 questions—mostly attempted orals—of the Prime Minister between 1997 and the present day on Iraq. I say that not because I think that my views or those of my friends should have been accepted, but because surely that should have led 237 to proper scrutiny. One must ask oneself what is the effect of all the activity of Members of the House of Commons. There are two relatively junior Ministers, and not one member of the Cabinet, in the Chamber for what is billed as a key debate.
I suspect that part of the problem with the ineffectiveness of Parliament is to be found in paragraph 611 of the Butler report—my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) read out the first part of it, but did not complete the second part. The second part of the paragraph says:
However, we are concerned that the informality and circumscribed character of the Government's procedures which we saw in the context of policy-making towards Iraq risks reducing the scope for informed collective political judgement. Such risks are particularly significant in a field like the subject of our Review, where hard facts are inherently difficult to come by and the quality of judgement is accordingly all the more important.The fact of the matter is that it was the policy objectives that drove the intelligence, whereas the intelligence should have driven the policy objectives—the situation was wrong vice versa. The dossier was really part of a post-decision-making process, and the Prime Minister's statement on its publication simply reinforced the impression of more authoritative intelligence than that which in fact existed.
I fear that the situation in Iraq has become a war of liberation and that, for many, we are the enemy. I wish that I shared the Prime Minister's confidence in Dr. Allawi.
The question is what is to happen now. We cannot go on acting as if nothing has happened. The Butler report is almost like that onion that one peels—the more one looks at it, the more serious it becomes. We simply cannot have business as usual, and even if we wanted it, the daily news from Iraq would not allow it.
Ten years' leadership of the Labour party is enough for any person, so the Prime Minister should really consider making way for someone else in such circumstances, and against the background of Butler, and set in motion the due processes of the party.
I end by recalling when I sat in my place in the Chamber on 17 June 1963 and listened as a very young MP to the then right hon. Member for Flint, West—Nigel Birch was his name—offering Harold Macmillan the words of the poet Browning from "The Lost Leader":Let him never come back to us!There would be doubt, hesitation and pain.
Forced praise on our part—the glimmer of twilight,
Never glad confident morning again!That is the consequence of the Butler report.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD)
I shall not go further into the internal Labour party argument that has opened up and been acknowledged by the Father of the House.
238 I did not serve on the Butler committee because my party rightly took the view that it was not allowed to ask, and therefore would not answer, crucial questions about the political context within which the intelligence was considered and the political decisions that may effectively have been taken. Those decisions go back to neo-Conservative pressures on the Bush Administration, President Bush's false linking of 9/11 to Iraq and the Prime Minister's falsely implied linkage between al-Qaeda and Iraq. In so far as contacts were established, they do not bear the weighty substance put on them. Indeed, the Prime Minister has continued to use the argument that the need to attack Iraq was primarily based on the necessity to deal with a rogue state because of what he described as thenexus between terrorism and WMD".When the Intelligence and Security Committee quoted the JIC's assessment thatany collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology finding their way into the hands of terrorists",the Prime Minister said that he was aware of that:But he believed that there was an alternative risk of leaving a possible nexus between terrorism and WMD and made his judgment accordingly.That judgment was wrong, but it was part of the political context.
Let me put it this way: it is impossible to imagine the Prime Minister deciding not to participate when President Bush decided to launch an invasion of Iraq. Can anyone seriously imagine the Prime Minister saying, "No. I dissent. Britain will not join in"? Equally, it is impossible to imagine the Prime Minister deciding that the current threat to British interests which he perceived were such that we would have gone ahead if President Bush had decided not to.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether a British Prime Minister could say no if an American President decided to go into Iraq. Of course, Harold Wilson did say no over Vietnam. Indeed, Clement Attlee went so far as to see Harry Truman to prevent General MacArthur launching an attack on China way back in 1950.
§ Mr. Beith
I set great store by Britain's alliance with the United States in many respects. I am in no way anti-American. What I am saying is that our alliance with the United States has survived several fundamental disagreements over, say, Vietnam, Suez and the Falklands. However, I still cannot imagine our Prime Minister taking that course of dissent, which puts into perspective the way in which the intelligence was viewed.
On the intelligence, the Prime Minister wrongly quoted—or at least insufficiently quoted—paragraph 483 of the Butler report.
§ Mr. Beith
No, I want to deal with this point.
239 I interrupted the Prime Minister from a sedentary position and he started to respond to me. He quoted the report as saying:
senior Al Qaida associate Abu Musab al Zarqawi has established sleeper cells in Baghdad",but he did not go on to complete the sentence, which concludes:to be activated during a US occupation of the city.The following paragraph states:the JIC made clear that, although there were contacts between the Iraqi regime and Al Qaida, there was no evidence of co-operation.Again, the Prime Minister rested too much on very little evidence to suggest a linkage.
The way in which the Intelligence and Security Committee dealt with some of those matters fed into the Butler report. Indeed, much of what Butler says can be found in two paragraphs of the ISC report of September 2003. It goes into more detail than Butler, including into the intelligence chain. On the weapons of mass destruction and the intelligence that was subsequently withdrawn, intelligence on 11 September was introduced in great haste and provided some confirmation of the dossier already prepared in the minds of Ministers.
It is not necessary to say much about the Leader of the Opposition's contribution because he sowed the seeds of his own destruction, but I want to dissent from a specific point that he made. He said that the Intelligence and Security Committee had not been told that that intelligence had been withdrawn. That is not the case—the ISC was aware that it had been withdrawn, and the careful wording of paragraph 101, which was dictated by security considerations, states:We have seen that intelligence and understand the basis on which the CDI and the JIC took the view they did.That is Mandarin language, but it does not say that we agree with the intelligence, accept it or, indeed, endorse it in any way.
We were therefore told about that withdrawal of intelligence, but we were not told about the withdrawal of intelligence on the 45-minute claim. In the event, that is not terribly significant, because we demolished much of that claim in our report of September 2003, which stated:The 45 minutes claim, included four times, was … likely to attract attention because it was an arresting detail".We said, however, thatthe context of the intelligence and any assessment needed to be explained. The fact that it was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological munitions and their movement on the battlefield, not to any other form of chemical or biological attack, should have been highlighted in the dossier. The omission of the context and assessment allowed speculation as to its exact meaning.It was clear at the time that far too much confusion surrounded the claim, and it certainly did not mean what newspaper headlines suggested it did. I do not think that very much effort was put into discounting or dismissing those reports. Ministers have appeared on the "Today" programme a number of times to dismiss things that they believed were wrong and to stop their dissemination, but I do not remember any direct policy to do so in this instance.
240 I have some knowledge of, and considerable respect for, the work of the intelligence services, particularly the Secret Intelligence Service. During this saga, however, they were under considerable pressure to produce evidence on a very hard target. In my opinion, they became over-excited by intelligence that seemed to meet that demand from untested sources, some of which were second or third-hand, which is worrying.
§ Mr. Bercow
I have been listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. Given, however, that many Conservative Members believe—this is not intended in a spirit of malice—that naivety and a reluctance to act are defining features of Liberal Democrat foreign policy, does he accept that to many of us the idea that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) could ever exercise the statesmanship demonstrated by the Prime Minister is quite unimaginable?
§ Mr. Beith
The hon. Gentleman is trying to make this a partisan debate, unlike a number of hon. Members who have sought to prevent it from becoming such. If he wants the evidence, however, he should look at our support for the no-fly zone and the military action that the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) initiated to ensure that Saddam Hussein could not move into areas where he had previously shown his willingness to poison people with the chemical weapons then in his possession. We were in no doubt about the need for such action. Similarly, we believed that the threat of force was a significant factor, which we needed to retain.
§ Mr. Beith
No, I have given way twice, so I have reached the limit for which time is allowed.
I mentioned my concern about where the SIS went wrong, but I have a greater concern that for the Prime Minister the intelligence was only relevant insofar as it appeared to support a policy that did not depend on it but on a commitment already made to combine with the US in taking out Saddam's regime on grounds that could be applied to several dictators, proliferators, rogue states and failed states, including some of more immediate concern than Iraq, even on the information publicly disseminated at the time. Liberal Democrats have never challenged the Prime Minister's good faith or his conviction that what he was doing was right and in the country's interests. When considering whether to go to war, however, one needs more than good faith and self-belief. One needs good judgment and the determination to be as clear as possible about the evidence and the likely consequence. Both of those were lacking, because the Prime Minister had two overriding considerations. First, he did not want to be the person who might subsequently be criticized for not stopping Saddam Hussein in his tracks. That is a reasonable consideration, but it must be set in the context of what the consequences of military attack would be and what the grounds might be on which we would attack his regime, bearing in mind that there are a number of other evil regimes in the world, some of which present a more immediate threat. That was the first and overriding consideration, conscious or not, in his mind.
241 The second overriding consideration was that the Prime Minister did not want to go down in history as the Prime Minister who permanently and fatally fractured the alliance between Britain and the United States. That, I think, was a mistaken judgment, on the grounds that I gave earlier: that Britain and the United States have differed on matters of policy over the years, but there are features to the alliance that are so powerful and enduring that it will outlast particular decisions and particular Administrations. The Prime Minister should have taken more account of that.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North) (Lab)
Butler indicates that there was some recent new evidence suggesting an increase in Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, though it suggests that that later proved to be unreliable. However, paragraphs 427 to 428 of the report indicate that any UK policy change did not come about as a result of a new development in the current intelligence on Iraq, and that other countries would have been of more concern from the intelligence. It suggests two reasons for the change of policy.
The first relates to 11 September and views Iraq in a wider international context. That is an argument to which I shall return. The second reason the report suggests is that we were influenced by the concerns of the US Government. That, surely, is the overriding truth. The decisions of the Bush Administration, as so clearly spelled out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), were the decisive factor.
The leadership of both main parties wanted to be close to the United States, partly for honourable reasons—that we should stand by the US after the atrocity of 9/11, and that we should support the US against terrorism and in the action in Afghanistan. I believe there were other factors as well. The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), the then Leader of the Opposition, had close personal ties with members of the Bush Administration, and the Government have said repeatedly that they regard it as a major policy endeavour to stay close to the Bush Administration.
In the United States, after the war, Mr. Rumsfeld said that there was no new evidence really, but the Administration saw things differently through the prism of 9/11. I suspect that Condoleezza Rice told the truth rather more clearly when she told The New Yorker that after the atrocity she called together senior members of the national security council and said,
'How do you capitalise on these opportunities to fundamentally change American doctrine and the shape of the world in the wake of September 11?'Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney, Perle and the rest of the hawks had wanted a war with Iraq for years. Some of them had been arguing for it ever since they thought the first Gulf war had ended too early. That built up during the 1990s, with various reasons being given. It started to become part of the campaign to get rid of Bill Clinton, and it started to become an obsession and almost a shibboleth. It was the way one proved one was a good right-wing Republican. They gave many reasons, though human rights in Iraq was not one of them. 242 Wolfowitz told us that they chose one—weapons of mass destruction—because they could all agree on that. Then they produced a lot of false information to support their case. One thinks of the suggestion that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11 or that he was associated with al-Qaeda, or the lunatic suggestion that he had a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles carrying biological and chemical weapons with which he intended to attack the US. The Senate committee spelled out how false some of those claims were.
In the UK, as I said, there was a desire to be close to the Bush Administration. Hutton and Butler, in their own different ways, suggested that that desire influenced the desire for intelligence that would support a more aggressive policy. The September dossier the February "dodgy" dossier, debates, briefings and press conferences surely reflect what Butler said: the division was broken down between assessment and advocacy. Caveats and cautions were left out and risks were overstated.
In his speech on 18 March, the Prime Minister spelled out the reasons for war, including the breaching of UN resolutions. However, in response to the military threat, the inspectors had said that they were getting much more compliance, although Iraq was probably not, in the words of resolution 1441,co-operating actively, unconditionally and immediately".Nevertheless, surely that co-operation was greater than that which we accepted in relation to decommissioning by the IRA, for example. The WMD threat was overestimated and insufficient weight was given to the inspectors' questioning of British intelligence evidence.
It was suggested that WMD could be given to terrorists. However, the JIC report of 27 November said that there was no intelligence to suggest that Saddam considered using chemical or biological weapons in terrorist attacks. Its report of 10 February said that that threat would only be heightened by an attack on Iraq. I believe that the threat of terrorism has increased as a result of the attack.
§ Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
My hon. Friend outlined some of the reasons that the Prime Minister used for going to war, including weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and the breaking of UN resolutions. Could not the same argument be used against Israel? It, too, has weapons of mass destruction. It, too, attacks its neighbours on a daily basis. It, too, is guilty of many humanitarian injustices. It, too, has broken UN resolutions—probably more than any other country in the world.
§ Mr. Savidge
I agree with my hon. Friend. The answer that people usually give is, "Ah, but Israel does not have chapter VII resolutions against them", but they never mention the fact that the United States has always vetoed any possibility of that occurring.
The UK is probably now much more likely to be a terrorist target. Iraq was a hideous tyranny, but it was not associated with al-Qaeda. There is a risk that it could degenerate into the sort of anarchy in which terrorism could thrive. There is a danger that we have increased the appearance that "the west" is against Islam. The pictures from Abu Ghraib could be recruiting posters for al-Qaeda. I fear that the US neo-conservatives have been Osama bin Laden's useful idiots.
243 Last week, the Prime Minister said that Iraq is better off without Saddam. However, as the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley) tellingly pointed out, the Prime Minister said in his speech on 18 March:I have never put the justification for action as regime change."—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 772.]There are lessons that should be learned. First and foremost, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston said, containment was working—better, probably, than any of us suspected—in relation to WMD and the prevention of aggression. The neo-conservative agenda is wrong and dangerous. In particular, the concept of pre-emptive war should not set a pattern for the 21st century. We should also learn the lesson that we need more collective and more informed Cabinet government.
I would say to the Prime Minister that although I respect his strong convictions and his good faith, he misled Parliament and the people into war. Last week, he said that he took full personal responsibility. I hope, for the sake of his reputation, for the sake of the Labour party and for the sake of the British Parliament and the British people, that he considers very carefully the full implications of his own words.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con)
I am delighted that the Foreign Secretary has returned to his place. I know that he is extremely busy, but I want to draw his attention to remarks made earlier by the Father of the House, who rightly said that this is a very important debate. It is a pity that no members of the Cabinet have been present for much of it, especially given that there have been outstanding speeches by Members on both sides of the House with deeply held views.
The debate is not only important, but overdue. We would not easily have been forgiven had we broken for the summer recess on Thursday without having a full-scale debate, addressed by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, that gave Parliament the opportunity to reflect not only on why we went to war, but on what is happening in Iraq and on the implications of our actions for what is happening in the middle east and elsewhere. I shall dwell briefly on all those matters.
Exactly like my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), I feel let down by the Prime Minister. I voted for the war and I spoke in the debate before that vote, but I now feel that Parliament and the people have been misled. Like many, I had grave doubts.
§ Tony Baldry
Is it not a fact that, if hon. Members had known then what they know now, the Prime Minister would have had great difficulty in getting the House's approval for war in the way in which he did?
§ Mr. Mackay
My hon. Friend, with his considerable experience both as a Minister and as the Chairman of the International Development Committee, is absolutely right. If I may, I shall come back to the issue that he raised in more detail in a moment.
244 As I was saying, I had grave reservations about the war. In an earlier debate on the middle east, which took place on 16 April 2002, I said:But what has happened in the past two, three, six or nine months that requires military intervention to be considered that has not happened before? We are not told what weapons of mass destruction he has now that he did not have then."—[Official Report, 16 April 2002; Vol. 383, c. 506.]Those questions were never satisfactorily answered. In my opening remarks in the debate of 18 March 2003, I said:This is also a very close call for many Members."—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 803.]Many of us entered the Chamber unsure of which way we were going to vote. We could see obvious merit in Saddam Hussein's regime falling; nothing would have pleased us more. Indeed, I do not think that any Member—with the possible exception of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), whom we do not see these days—in any way supports Saddam Hussein or condones the dreadful things that he has done to his people.
§ Mr. Salmond
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right; the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) is not here. In fairness, I do not think that he has ever condoned the actions of Saddam Hussein.
§ Mr. Mackay
It is entirely up to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) whether he protects the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin. I would not withdraw a word of what I have just said about him.
§ Mr. Mackay
I would have to wait a very long time indeed. With the greatest respect, I do not think that that is a practical option.
§ Mr. Mackay
Let me return to the serious issue of whether we should have gone to war. I said at the time that it was a very close call. Many of us had serious reservations about doing so to achieve regime change alone. We also noted carefully that Ministers continued to say that in no circumstances would they go to war to achieve regime change. No matter how much I wanted the regime in Iraq to change, if we go to war for that reason alone, where do we stop?
Like many hon. Members, I passionately believe that there should be regime change in Zimbabwe. I equally believe that the world would be a much safer place if there were regime change in North Korea. Like all right hon. and hon. Members, I am following events in Sudan very closely, and I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that regime change would help to avoid a catastrophe in that country. But does that mean that we should go to war every time we passionately believe that it would be in the interests of other people to have regime change? I would need to think long and hard and often before being persuaded of that. Of course, the Prime Minister did not even try to persuade me of that in the debate on 18 March last year.
245 A second, and much more honourable, reason was put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), which was that the American alliance is hugely important to this country. I believe that my generation has lived in peace because of that alliance, I value it hugely, and I would not wish to undermine it. But I point out to my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, the Prime Minister and others that when one is a good and close friend, one occasionally says no, and one occasionally says, "You have it wrong." Previous Prime Ministers, both Labour and Conservative, have said that to Presidents to whom they were very close. That was not a sufficient reason alone for going to war.
§ Mr. Mackay
No, because I have taken two interventions and I will lose my time if I do so. I have spotted that.
Another reason given was the link with terrorism. Several Members, including the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) who spoke immediately before me, have mentioned that 11 September inevitably traumatised our American friends and allies, and perhaps even unduly influenced the American Administration. What I found reprehensible at the time was Ministers saying that there was a direct link between terrorism—[Interruption.] Let me say this before the Minister for Trade and Investment, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), leaves the Chamber, as I am referring to him. Again and again, I and other Members asked him at Foreign Office questions what links there were, and what proof there was of any links whatever between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. He responded—uncharacteristically petulantly—by asking how I could second-guess our intelligence services, and effectively told me to go away as my point was of no value. Neither he nor any other Member now believes that Saddam Hussein was linked to al-Qaeda. In fact, al-Qaeda only arrived in Iraq—
§ Mrs. Helen Liddell (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab)
Members have done a lot of rewriting of history this afternoon, and none more so than the Leader of the Opposition. Regrettably, he is not in his place. Leadership is about courage, conscience and consistency. What we saw from him this afternoon was opportunism driven by panic. We saw him denying the judgment of his two predecessors, one of whom spoke most eloquently, and we saw him insult the intelligence of the British people.
Four months ago, virtually to the day, the same right hon. and learned Gentleman said:What would have been the consequences if we had waited until a direct threat was real and imminent until we acted? Would we have been in a position, militarily as well as politically and diplomatically, to counter it? How could we take the risk that we would find ourselves impotent? The war against Iraq was 246 necessary. It was just. It was, indeed, arguably overdue. And, let us not forget, it was overwhelmingly successful—a judgment which subsequent difficulties do not change.That is what the leader of the Conservative party said on 19 March to the News Corporation conference in Cancun. That is not the mark of a leader, a statesman or a politician whom we can take seriously.
I make the point about others having taken the opportunity to rewrite history, and I refer the House to the motion that we debated prior to going to war. It was not about intelligence. It was about the breach of United Nations resolutions. It stated that the Housenotes that in the 130 days since Resolution 1441 was adopted Iraq has not co-operated actively, unconditionally and immediately with the weapons inspectors, and has rejected the final opportunity to comply and is in further material breach of its obligations under successive mandatory UN Security Council Resolutions".The debate that night was about the breach of UN resolutions, which had been going on for 12 years. It was about the intent that Saddam Hussein was known to have, as has been proved in the Butler report, to acquire further weapons of mass destruction, and it was about his history.
§ Tony Baldry
Is there not a flaw in the right hon. Lady's argument? The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, quite honourably and quite rightly, tried to secure a second resolution from the United Nations. When that failed, they simply sought to return to a previous resolution and say that there had been breaches of it, and to use that as a justification for war. One of the lessons that we must learn from this whole exercise is that we ignore the authority of the United Nations at our peril.
§ Mrs. Liddell
I reject the first part of what the hon. Gentleman has said. Resolution 1441 was, in itself, clear and unambiguous in the responsibilities that it placed on Saddam Hussein. I wholeheartedly agree with the second part, however. I believe that those who oppose the action taken in relation to Iraq must answer for what the consequences would have been for the United Nations had we yet again allowed Saddam Hussein to prevaricate. The Prime Minister, with the Foreign Secretary, came very close to securing that further resolution—I think it was the 18th, not the second. Another Government said that regardless of what was in that resolution, if there was a deadline they would not support it. Hence there was no chance of proceeding with the resolution.
It is clear and incontrovertible that Saddam Hussein was in breach of the United Nations resolution. In January and again in March, in the famous 173-page document, Dr. Hans Blix set out all that would be required of Saddam Hussein were he to comply. The international community united in resolution 1441—on the basis of broadly similar intelligence throughout the world—in saying that Saddam Hussein was in breach of resolutions, and was known to be seeking to develop his weapons of mass destruction even further.
As Lord Butler has said, it would be a rash person indeed who would conclude that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I must admit that for me there is a question mark over what happened between the carrying of resolution 1441 and the action that took 247 place the following March. What actually happened on the ground? In that connection, intelligence would be important. Much has been done to decry our intelligence services this afternoon, but they do an extremely difficult job in very dangerous circumstances. Those who did obtain intelligence—and it should be remembered that not all of it has been discredited—could have paid for it with their lives.
The reality is that the decisions made by the Government and the House in relation to the situation in Iraq were based on a breach of UN resolutions. At that time, we also debated intention. The Butler report makes clearer than even I had understood—and I was in the Cabinet at the time—the extent of Saddam Hussein's intention further to acquire nuclear weapons. Many of us discounted the whole issue of nuclear weapons because of an allegedly forged document that had originally come from a journalist. That issue went off the boil.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
Does the right hon. Lady believe that the concept of deterrence would not have worked? Whether Saddam Hussein possessed such weapons or not, if we had had the concept of deterrence he would never have been able to use them against us or our allies. On that basis, this was a wrong war.
§ Mrs. Liddell
The alleged deterrence had gone on for some 12 years. When would a line be drawn? When would we say that enough was enough?
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that the Prime Minister was undoubtedly doing a deal with President Bush. Let me draw his attention to what the Prime Minister said on 24 February 1998:We should never forget that if we do not stop Saddam Hussein acting in breach of his agreement on weapons of mass destruction, the losers will be not just those threatened by him, but the authority and standing of the UN itself.I understand that my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was sitting next to the Prime Minister on the Front Bench when he said that. Later in the same speech, the Prime Minister quoted Kofi Annan as saying:You can achieve much by diplomacy, but you can achieve a lot more when diplomacy is backed by firmness and force."—[Official Report, 24 February 1998; Vol. 307, c. 174–751.]I believe that if we had succeeded in securing a final resolution—if the international community had had the strength to stick together—Saddam Hussein could have been deposed in a peaceful way. Let me refer the House to what my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) has said again and again. She said that those who say that containment was working are ignoring its consequences for the people of Iraq on the ground. It is on the collective conscience of this House that year after year, we turned a blind eye to what Saddam Hussein was doing. Now, we have a responsibility to move forward.
We are debating, among other things, the fourth inquiry into the circumstances surrounding our taking action against Iraq. Four inquiries have proved that the Government acted in good faith. Lord Butler, in particular, highlights the extent to which Saddam was in 248 breach, had intention and had the history; and Lord Hutton has made it clear that there were no attempts to embellish the intelligence in the original dossier. I remind the House that when we debated that dossier, the feeling was that it was dull, contained no killer punch and was very low key. The reality was that it was not about proving a case for war, but about proving the arguments that we were taking to the United Nations. I further remind Members that during the discussions that took place in the House that night, the 45 minutes issue was never mentioned.
On that issue, perhaps I might be heretical and say that frankly, I do not care whether the weapons in question were battlefield weapons or long-range weapons. Would those who do care mind saying to the families and friends of those who died in the first world war as a result of the use of mustard gas that it was acceptable to use such a weapon because it was being deployed only on the battlefield? Sir Richard Dearlove, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, made it clear in giving evidence to the Hutton inquiry that he believed that the evidence in question had come from a credible source. The 45 minutes issue only became an issue after the notorious BBC broadcast.
We are dealing today with very serious issues, and the debate has become partisan, which I regret. [Interruption.] I should point out to Conservative Members that the Leader of the Opposition's speech was the speech not of a true leader, but of a man on the run who is seeking a bandwagon to jump on. It was unacceptable and it should not have been made in a debate of this seriousness.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)
I am sure that the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Mrs. Liddell) will acquire some diplomatic skills before she takes up her forthcoming post. She regrets the partisan nature of the debate; none the less, I am sure that that aspect of her speech will stand her in great stead in her new post.
Because of where I am located in the House, I am able to see the Prime Minister's face when he is present. An interesting if not particularly important vignette occurred today that the hon. And learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) should perhaps know about. When he tried to intervene to ask the Prime Minister a question earlier today, I looked at the latter's face as he turned down the hon. and learned Gentleman's request. There was a look of exasperation, consternation and dislike on the Prime Minister's face. If I were the hon. and learned Gentleman, I would not wait too long for preferment from this Prime Minister. However, I also detected a look of fear. The Prime Minister did not want to take that intervention because he knew that it would get to the nub of some of the questions that the rest of us want answered.
The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) asked the Leader of the Opposition whether he thought that we had been deliberately deceived. The answer was in no man's land, which is where the Leader of the Opposition spent most of his speech. None the less, I want to answer that question. I believe that we were deliberately deceived, and I shall present the evidence that leads me to that conclusion.
249 On the 45 minutes claim, a week before the dossier was published Jonathan Powell wrote to John Scarlett saying that the dossierdoes nothing to demonstrate a threat",never mind "an imminent threat". One week later, we had the Prime Minister's foreword to the dossier; and that day's Standard ran the headline, "45 Minutes From Attack".
Now the Government, the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers tell us that nobody was bothered about the 45 minutes claim: it was hardly reported at the time. I am sure that Alastair Campbell was on the phone immediately to the editor of the London Standard to correct the wrongful impression that somehow had been conveyed by the dossier. I believe that the 45-minute threat was presented in the unqualified way that it was to produce exactly that headline and exactly that result.
Then, of course, there is the "Panorama" programme, hardly spoken about these days, which perhaps touches on the point made by the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts a few minutes ago. It took place in February 2003 in the run-up to the second United Nations resolution. What the Prime Minister told Jeremy Paxman and a studio audience, not once but on four separate occasions, was that the only circumstances in which the country would go to war without a second UN resolution would be if the inspectors concluded that they could not progress their work and one country had an unreasonable veto. The inspectors actually asked for more time and the bulk of the Security Council wanted to continue the process. The Prime Minister somehow forgot his claims of February 2003.
Perhaps more serious are the questions aired by the right hon. Members for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and for Livingston (Mr. Cook). We are expected to believe that at no stage did the Prime Minister examine the 45-minute claim and that at no stage did it ever occur to John Scarlett or anyone else that somehow the question of the withdrawal of sources for WMD should be reported to the politicians who were under examination from a variety of Committees of the House. My colleague, the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price), received a parliamentary answer today from the Foreign Secretary on precisely that point. In that answer, the Foreign Secretary said:I became aware of the withdrawal of this reporting when I agreed, in response to a request from SIS on 8 September 2003, that the reports in question should be disclosed to the Intelligence and Security Committee.There is some confusion about that, because the ISC told The Independent a few days ago that a senior member was not aware of the withdrawal of the evidence. Can I ask the Foreign Secretary when he was intending to tell the rest of us about that? When was he going to tell the House—the hon. Members who, unfortunately, voted by a majority in favour of this conflict—that the clear, unmistakeable evidence sweeping across the Prime Minister's desk had actually been withdrawn by the Secret Intelligence Service?
§ Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con)
Does not the hon. Gentleman find it very peculiar that most people out there who supported the war thought that the 250 Government knew things that they did not know, but it turned out that the Government did not know things that they ought to have known?
§ Mr. Salmond
It is not so curious because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Prime Minister kept trying to give the impression that there was a mass of evidence, if only he could disclose it and not jeopardise his sources. The impression was conveyed that if only we were able to see what he had seen, there would be no mistaking the case for war. The reality is that the evidence was, at best, fragmented. As the right hon. Members for Richmond, Yorks and for Livingston both concluded—in a first-time and probably only historic agreement between those two right hon. Gentlemen—the intelligence, of course, had nothing to do with the causes and reasons for going to war. Unfortunately for the conscience of the Labour party, the Prime Minister's reason was not to depose Saddam Hussein either. It was to stay close, shoulder to shoulder, with the United States of America and pay the blood price for that alliance.
I accept that there could be an argument for staying close to a major ally, but not so close as we have reached in the current ridiculous position. The foreign policy of this country will not be decided in the general election next May, but in the American election this coming November. If "President Gore" had acceded to the White House and pursued what we know to be his policy, war in Iraq would have been viewed as a distraction from the war against terrorism. The policy of this Government would then have been fundamentally different. I do not believe in my country right or wrong, but the Government believe in another country right or wrong. It is a ridiculous, humiliating and thoroughly immoral position to be in.
Lastly, we in politics all play games about unemployment figures, health statistics and the rest. However, this is not the normal argy-bargy of politics; it is not about moulding statistics or presenting arguments in the best possible way. This is about 13,000 civilian deaths. Many British soldiers are dead, and American casualties are approaching 1,000. That is the blood price that is being paid for the Prime Minister's actions. He has played with other people's chips, and he has done so in a disastrous fashion.
When people examine the matter, they will know the reality. The vast majority sense the deliberate deception at the heart of the process. [Interruption.] Those on the Treasury Bench may laugh, but the people of this country will judge in a much higher court than that of Lords Hutton or Butler, and their judgment on the Prime Minister and his Administration will be much harsher.
§ Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West) (Lab)
I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in this most important and serious debate.
Those of us who opposed the war from the very beginning did not need a Hutton or a Butler report. We knew that this country was not under attack or in any imminent danger of attack, and that no ally of ours was either. Therefore, war was wrong.
251 I shall quote what appeared on the front page of The Independent on Thursday 15 July. It summed up the headlines of the Butler report in a most apt and appropriate way. The newspaper stated that the intelligence was flawed, that the dossier was dodgy, that Dr. Brian Jones was vindicated, that Iraqi links to al-Qaeda were unproven, that the public were misled, and that the case for war was exaggerated. The newspaper asked who was to blame: its answer was no one. I shall return to that point later.
However, is it a coincidence that the US Senate Intelligence Committee produced exactly the same findings about the quality of US intelligence as did Butler about UK intelligence? What is going on? Was it agreed on both sides of the Atlantic that the intelligence reports should be spun and beefed up?
If we went to war in good faith, we must accept that that good faith was based on a complete misjudgment about weapons of mass destruction. That much is clear now, but there is a price to pay when a misjudgment is made, and the price for this war has been heavy. House of Commons Library estimates of 16 July show that 885 US and 60 British military personnel have died. There have also been 60 deaths among the other coalition partners.
Estimates of Iraqi casualties are difficult to obtain, because the Americans do not want to know. As a result, they do not know the figures, and the same is true for Britain. However, the website iraqbodycount.net estimated that between 11,164 and 13,118 Iraqi civilians had died up to 16 July. It puts civilian post-war casualties at between 9,015 and 10,503. In addition, there have been 111 deaths among foreign contractors, and nine such people are known to be missing. That is an appalling loss of human life, based on good faith—and on misjudgment.
§ Mr. Leigh
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that another price has been paid, and it is the devastating loss of confidence in the western world on the part of the Arab and Muslim world? Our Prime Minister was let down by the US Administration: he was promised progress on the road map, but it has not materialised.
§ Mr. Singh
I shall come to that point shortly. There is another price—the financial cost—although it is obviously much less than the human price. According to the Library, up to the end of March we had spent £2.5 billion, and another £1.3 billion was available from April. The US Congress has appropriated £100 billion to cover the US military operations in Iraq. The cost of operations to this country is £125 million a month. I cannot speak for the Americans, but I can speak for my constituents, who would rather have seen our billions of pounds spent on schools, hospitals or pensioners, not on bombs, bullets and bloodshed.
What about the war on terror? Every morning and every night we see on our screens the complete lack of success that the war had in the war on terror. A recent book by a CIA agent, entitled "Imperial Hubris", says:Bin Laden saw the invasion of Iraq as a Christmas gift he never thought he'd get.It also says that the invasion of Iraq was an
avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat.252 We will never win the war on terror by waging war against Muslim countries. The Muslim world is rightly bemused, both in this country and across the world. We have attacked Saddam Hussein for not following UN resolutions—
§ David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab)
If the accusation is that we are anti-Muslim, can my hon. Friend explain why we decided, outside of the United Nations, to liberate Kosovo to stop the killing of Muslims? We did not go in for Christians, Jews, Sikhs or Hindus. My hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) were so opposed to our action, but it was taken to stop the constant killing of Muslims. If we are anti-Muslim, how does my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) explain that?
§ Mr. Singh
I never said that we were anti-Muslim. I am trying to explain how the Muslim world sees our actions and the American actions. The Muslim world sees the west standing on the sidelines for five and more decades while the Palestinians have been persecuted by the Israeli state. Palestinian land has been under occupation for decades by the Israeli state, and we have turned a blind eye or mouthed platitudes as succour for the Palestinians. That is no succour for the Palestinians or the Muslim community.
§ Mr. Singh
For five and a bit decades, we have seen the Kashmiri people denied the right to self-determination, irrespective of UN resolutions. We have seen human rights abuses, murders and rapes in Kashmir, but the Muslim world sees the west standing idly by and turning a blind eye. We have said that we will do our best to promote our dialogue, but we have done nothing for the Kashmiri people.
While the Russians wage savage war against Muslim Chechens, the west and the international community stand idly by and turn a blind eye.
§ Mr. Singh
I do welcome that rapprochement, but as the Muslim community sees it—and as I see it—there has been talk but no action in all the areas I have mentioned. The way to win the war on terror is to let the Palestinians have their homeland, let the Kashmiri people have the right to self-determination and stop the savagery of the Russians in Chechnya. We have lost the trust of Muslims across the world. That is a heavy price for this country to pay. Indeed, we might have all our contractors in Saudi Arabia chased out by terrorists in months to come.
The war has not made the world a safer place: it has made it immeasurably more dangerous. What has been the cost to my party? Members have left in droves and 253 voters have deserted in their thousands. The evidence of that was here today in the person of the new hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Gill). Only the Prime Minister can draw a line under this affair for our party. Many of us who opposed the war believe that it has besmirched our beliefs, compromised our principles and disfigured our souls. The desert sands are stained in crimson, a crimson that will never be washed away. The souls of the dead and the consciences of the living cry out in anguish because of that premeditated, pre-emptive war, based on a lust for revenge by one leader and political vanity in another. Somebody is responsible for the carnage and waste of life. The buck, as we all know, stops at the top. It is time for the buck to stop and it is time for our troops to come home.
§ Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con)
There is no doubt that Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein. There is no doubt either that Zimbabwe would be better off without Mugabe and Burma would be better off without its murderous regime. We could change the lives of people in North Korea and the Sudan by regime change. But we have not chosen to do so, because the fundamental issue is that of the just war. Once one takes into one's hands the ability to wage war when it is not the last and only answer when one faces an imminent threat, one offers the opportunity to everyone else to do the same thing. We say we can do it because we are the sort of people who would not do it unless we had a very good reason. That is our argument, but it is not a true argument.
I am ashamed when people say that we could not continue with containment because it takes so long. Actually, that is the message. If we want a peaceful world, we have to go the extra mile. We have to go on and on until there is no alternative to force. Otherwise, we have no moral position to take. The Prime Minister let this nation down when he tried to pretend that his was a moral position. He was opposed by those who know a bit about morality—the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Dalai Lama and even the president of the Free Church Federal Council all said that he was wrong—but he had to say that, because otherwise he would not have received the vote of this House.
I voted against the war because I had heard the Prime Minister on such matters before. I pressed him again and again to give me a straight answer on the bombing of the aspirin factory in the Sudan. He never gave me that answer. He constantly refused to answer the direct question and finally told me that there were to be no more questions because it was a matter of national security. He was not willing to be straight, and the people of Britain know that.
We have to remember that the Prime Minister told us that we should judge his integrity not simply on the facts but on whether they were properly relayed. It cannot be said that the facts were properly relayed, nor can it be said that the Government, who took, and take, every opportunity to batter the BBC and the media, took any action whatever to counter the generally understood view that we were 45 minutes from disaster. In other words, there was an immediacy at the heart of their argument that did not exist.
254 The problem is that once one accepts the theory of the preventive war, one opens the gates for everyone to claim it in every case—India, Pakistan or any country with a long-standing grudge or a serious problem. All can claim that in their own case, although not in that of others, they are acting to prevent war. That is why the problem is fundamental. One of the most dispiriting and miserable moments I can recall was during Prime Minister's questions last week, when the Prime Minister, in a carefully prepared piece of theatricism, refused to answer the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and engaged in what can only be described as a knockabout affair. A knockabout affair—when we were talking about something that could lead to more and more cases of people taking into their own hands the decision to wage war on their neighbours.
§ Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles) (Lab)
The right hon. Gentleman refers to the notion that the Prime Minister used the concept of a looming threat as part of the case for war. Other Members have also cited that as part of the 45-minutes argument. However, the right hon. Gentleman will recall that during the debate on the dossier the Prime Minister said:'Why now?', people ask. I agree that I cannot say that this month or next, even this year or next, Saddam will use his weapons."—[Official Report, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 5.]The notion of a looming threat was never put forward as a case for war—[HON. MEMBERS: "Pull the other one!"] The Prime Minister's statement was that there was no looming threat in that month or the next, nor even in the next year. The case for war was based on the fact that Saddam was in contravention of UN resolutions. Containment was not a harmless or innocuous option to keep him on the hook; it cost much greater loss of life than the war.
§ Mr. Gummer
But the Prime Minister has now admitted that there was no such threat. That is what he said in answer to questions last Thursday. There was no looming threat and he said that it would have been perfectly possible to continue the policy of containment. Containment policies are long-winded and difficult and it is not easy to keep people on board, but they are the proper action of a nation that believes in peace.
The concept of a just war is crucial in our world, which is why I find it difficult that some of my hon. Friends, who are keen on the moral issue, do not recognise that no moral leader upholds the war as just—only politicians do that—and that should make mere politicians just a little wary of wearing the cope and garb of morality.
§ Mike Gapes
The right hon. Gentleman is hawking his conscience around and taking a position that implies that people who voted for the war are somehow responsible for an immoral act. Would he have been content for the policy of containment to continue and for half a million more Iraqi children to die? How would that go down with his conscience?
§ Mr. Gummer
If the hon. Gentleman had said we must launch a battle in Zimbabwe, if he had said that he wanted troops sent to Burma or Rwanda—of course, none of those countries are oil-rich nations—and if he 255 had said, week in and week out, that it was time we enforced UN resolutions in Israel, perhaps I would accept his words. I do not suggest that the Iraqi regime was anything but horrific. I am merely saying that for a country such as ours not to uphold the historic, moral standards of the just war is to open the gates to the most devastating and continuous use by others of our example for their behaviour in circumstances of which we, as yet, know nothing.
I want to suggest something very simple: everybody knows that we went to war because it was decided a long time ago, perhaps even before the election of President Bush, that the middle east was due for a reorganisation, and 9/11—that horrific occasion—provided, as Rumsfeld so clearly indicated, a new focus for decisions on such matters. The Government were looking for reasons to stand side by side with people who had already decided that, whatever the reasons, they would go to war.
That is why I want to return to the claims about battlefield weapons and 45 minutes. Of course, such weapons are horrific, but that was not the claim; it was that there was an imminent threat of that kind to us and our allies. That is why I think that the Prime Minister is guilty.
§ Mr. Gummer
Current is even more imminent than imminent. Current is now; imminent is tomorrow. The Prime Minister did not ask what that meant in the context of WMD. He failed to ask that question. I was a Minister for 16 years and I would not have asked so few questions about a new arrangement for dealing with chickens.
When the chairman of Shell used information that he was given about the company's resources and found subsequently that the information was wrong, he had to go—although he had misled no one in any way. The Prime Minister failed to give us the caveats. He told us that which misled us. That is why he has to go.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab)
It is for theologians to set out the broad principles of a just war, but it is for politicians to make the decisions, often in messy and uncertain circumstances. Even theologians recognise that there can be just wars, when everything else has been exhausted and when there is the capability to do something. It has been said that we will not go into Zimbabwe, but there are questions of capacity, bases and so on. Just war, yes; but the issue is more than a theological one—practical politicians have to do their best in difficult circumstances.
In the Foreign Office, Mandarin is classified as a difficult language. We have seen today that when mandarins speak, there can be very different interpretations, depending on one's starting point.
I was glad that the right hon. Members for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) and for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) mentioned the work of the Foreign Affairs 256 Committee, because we can at least agree that, by and large, our reports on Iraq have stood the test of time. I shall just give a flavour of some of the reports. Again, on an all-party, unanimous basis, we concluded:Iraq remains the greatest threat to a wider peace in the"—middle east—
region.We warned that,
if military action is to be taken against Iraq … the objectives will have to be … clearly defined, and a full justification will have to be provided".We said that the 24 September dossier as a whole
was probably as complete and accurate as the Joint Intelligence Committee could make it, consistent with protecting sources, but that it contained undue emphasis for a document of its kind.Clearly, at this interim stage, it is difficult to step aside and consider what future historians will make of the Iraq issue. Much will depend, in my judgment, on the way in which the current situation in Iraq evolves.
§ Donald Anderson
No, no. I have hardly started.
Yet the Iraq issue is clearly a defining moment for this Parliament, for our relations with the United States and for the Prime Minister's standing. Judgments had to be made on the basis of intelligence, which is naturally never conclusive; but what many commentators fail to appreciate is that there are consequences of action and consequences of inaction, as we saw in Srebrenica and in Rwanda. If no action had been taken, Saddam Hussein would still be in power. He would still be President. He would still be continuing, as the Butler committee concluded, his strategic intent to pursue banned weapons programmes, his illicit research and development and procurement activities and his development of ballistic missiles. By our action, in my judgment, we have led to certain other positive changes—certainly in Libya, probably in Saudi Arabia and possibly in North Korea.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab)
Has my right hon. Friend's Committee assessed the threat of Iraq against some of the other threats in the world, such as the continuing conflict in Israel and Palestine?
§ Donald Anderson
There is a very difficult balance to make. I would certainly ask my hon. Friend to await the publication of our next report, on the morning of 29 July, as it covers the Israel-Palestine situation. I look forward to seeing her there, during the recess, to hear our conclusions.
The truth is that the Prime Minister took a strategic decision to side with the US, both in principle and on the basis that the decision bought some influence with the US. That is clearly debatable, yes, in terms of the middle east and the UN course. An isolated and isolationist US would be a much greater danger to our interests than an engaged US.
§ Donald Anderson
257 That is the background to Butler, whose leitmotiv is clearly that the Government acted in good faith. The Butler committee had access to all the intelligence. It interviewed a large number of witnesses, including six former chairmen of the Joint Intelligence Committee. Of course, it had the benefit of hindsight, which gives 20:20 vision. The key conclusions exonerate the Prime Minister. It said that the dossier was not intended to make the case for war, that it was founded on assessments available at the time and that the intelligence in the dossier was not knowingly embellished. It effectively supported Hutton; it did not support the BBC and Gilligan. However, on page 86, the report says the dossier did not contain the health warnings that related to the limited intelligence that was available.
§ Donald Anderson
No, I want to move on.
If the Prime Minister is to be criticised, surely it would be on the basis that he did not sufficiently rigorously question the intelligence that was put to him. The report says that the dossier was an unprecedented exercise in public information, but that, in retrospect, it was probably misconceived and is unlikely to be repeated in that form.
On the intelligence, other countries shared the same broad conclusions. Butler concluded that the JIC assessments were not pulled in any direction to meet policy needs and that there was no deliberate distortion, and so on—save, of course, for the failure of the 45-minute claim—yet there were failures. Dr. Blix said in terms that the best information was given, but nothing was there.
On weapons of mass destruction, perhaps the Prime Minister now regrets putting so much emphasis on WMD, as opposed to the UN resolutions and human rights, but Butler is clear that Saddam Hussein had the strategic intent to pursue banned weapons programmes and was carrying out illicit research and development. Even now, in his judgment, it is premature—or "rash", as he says—to reach conclusions.
All that said, I remain personally puzzled by a number of questions. Why Iraq? Presumably the answer must relate to the UN Security Council resolutions. Was war inevitable? Clearly, if Saddam Hussein had at the last minute seen those forces massing at his frontiers and allowed full co-operation with UNMOVIC, there would not have been war—it would have been wholly impossible for the Government to persuade the British people to have gone in. Where have the weapons gone? Have they been looted or concealed? What is the sufficient explanation? Why did Saddam Hussein not come clean if he had no weapons when the US and the coalition forces were massing at his frontiers and the UN resolution 1441 said that it was his last chance?
Butler's key conclusion was that the Government acted in good faith, and the question for us now, after four reports, is whether we continue to look at the past, turning over stones in the hope that we might find something; or given that Iraq is now on a knife edge and 258 could go either way, do we therefore keep on looking as though, somehow, a silver bullet will be found that will harm the Government's case?
We have toppled a brutal dictator, who had been warned for 12 years by successive UN Security Council resolutions, culminating in resolution 1441, which gave him a last chance. Whatever may have been the decisions and divisions when we came to the vote, surely we now face the biggest historical task. Are we ready to meet the challenge of helping to create and build a better Iraq? That surely is the key question that should now face the House and members of the coalition.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con)
I hope that we can all at least agree with the concluding sentiments and remarks of the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
This has been the most sober, sombre debate that I can remember for a very long time. We have heard two members of the Prime Minister's party call explicitly for his resignation and another—the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), who made a very powerful speech that brought a new dimension to our debate—call implicitly for his resignation.
We have heard Conservative Members, who supported the war with the same degree of steadfastness as I did, regretting their decision and saying that, in fact, if they had known what we now know, they would have voted otherwise. Those of us who did support the war, and who do support the war, have a duty to examine our consciences and decide where we go from here.
I do not regret the vote that I cast on 18 March last year. I voted as I did for the reasons that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) gave in a very powerful and characteristically witty speech. I voted as I did because I wanted to see the end of a brutal dictatorship. I voted recognising that the fact that I could not ensure the removal of every dictator of whom I disapprove was no reason for not voting to remove one who could be removed.
As one who had ploughed a very lonely furrow over Bosnia, when the Government whom I supported were in power, and who felt deeply ashamed by the pusillanimous attitude of the then British Government, not supported by the then Opposition—save for a few doughty souls, such as the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald)—I felt that I did not want to repeat that mistake.
I also felt that the Prime Minister acted with extraordinary courage for the leader of the Labour party—a party with a very honourable tradition of pacifism and a less honourable tradition of anti-Americanism. I thought that the leadership that he gave was of a national character and that it deserved support. Nothing that I have heard or read since has persuaded me that I was wrong. Therefore, I still believe that the decision taken on 18 March last year was correct. I regret that there has been on the Conservative Benches a degree of nit-picking, although I absolve my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes 259 (Mr. Ancram), who is on the Front Bench. It is important that we now look at what happened and where we should go.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
I will in a moment.
There can be no hon. Member who voted for the war who is not deeply distressed and ashamed by the inexcusable, brutal treatment of prisoners. That defaces our cause and diminishes our stature. We all should feel a degree of collective shame about that. That most of those incidents appear to have been perpetrated by American troops does not lessen the anguish that we should feel.
We should all feel a degree of regret at the way in which the reconstruction of Iraq was perhaps not thought through as carefully as it might have been, although I believe that there has been much black propaganda and that things in Iraq are better than many would have us believe. However, we also have to address the fundamental ethos of Government in this country and why it is that the Prime Minister, who in my view behaved honourably and did not deceive the House or the country, is now held in much lower esteem than he was.
I offer the House an analogy. A little over a year ago, the Prime Minister, sitting in his room and thinking of his reshuffle, decided to get rid of the office of Lord Chancellor. He thought that he would like to do that because he is a broad brush man—he is not a man for detail. He did not realise the implications of that decision. I fear that, in the lead-up to war, he was perhaps a little careless when it came to the intelligence. He was passionately convinced of the need for war. He was absolutely convinced that it was right for this country to take the action that was taken, and I think that he was right. He was less than careful perhaps in the way in which he studied some of the intelligence that came before him. I believe that it is that cavalier disdain for the facts, that unwillingness to think things through in detail, that has landed him in the position he is in today.
§ Mr. Salmond
I understand that the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Prime Minister is a broad brush man, but Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell are not broad brush men. What exactly were they doing with their comments and interference in the dossiers with which we were presented?
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
It is all very well to criticise those below. We should all recognise that every Prime Minister, certainly in my time, has had a kitchen Cabinet or the equivalent thereof. Every Prime Minister has had a few people he or she has trusted rather more than others, and sometimes those people have been a bit strange. I will not give the House a catalogue because we all know what I am talking about, but the point implicit in the hon. Gentleman's remark is that he believes that the Prime Minister was far too informal. Indeed, I 260 believe that Butler does too, but the former head of the civil service would, would he not? We must look at the matter in perspective.
What we face as a House collectively is a serious situation. Our troops are still in Iraq. They have served the country with enormous bravery and distinction. They deserve our united backing. There is an interim regime in Iraq. It may not be perfect but it is infinitely better than what was there before and it deserves our backing. There are elections promised in Iraq. It is in all our interests that they should take place.
I listened with great respect and interest to what the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) said about his Muslim friends, but as one of those who led the battle to save Muslim friends in Bosnia, I think that I can say this to him: "Please go and talk to your constituents. Neither the British Government in particular nor the House of Commons in general is anti-Muslim, but it is in the interests of all who believe in freedom and democracy and a peaceful world that what is happening in Iraq should succeed and that terrorism should be defeated."
As we rise for the summer recess, I hope that we can exorcise the partisan spirit that has been present, perfectly understandably, for much of the debate. I hope that we can unite in supporting our troops and the people who are struggling towards a better system in Iraq. If we can do that, recognising and respecting the differences that divided us on 18 March last year and which have divided us since, we will not have served ourselves badly.
§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab)
The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) has anguished his conscience before us and has portrayed the process and the leadership that took us to war in a characteristically generous and magnanimous way. I am sure that he is deeply sincere, but we have been taken to war on grounds that many people now regard as deceptive. The issue in this debate more than in any other discussion that has taken place is accountability. That is now paramount.
The most striking characteristic of the Butler report, as many hon. Members have said, is the disjunction between analysis and judgment. It catalogues a litany of failures and then pulls all its punches by declaring that in effect no one is to blame. George Tenet was sacked as head of the CIA for intelligence failures over Iraq, but John Scarlett, who is responsible for exactly the same intelligence failures in this country, is still recommended by the report for promotion, despite all the damning evidence in the report to the contrary. It is a very British establishment charade, but as an exercise in accountability, which is the crux of what is needed, it is completely unacceptable.
The facts, which I think are no longer seriously in dispute, are stark. The United States went to war over Iraq both because of oil and for reasons of American control of the middle east region, set out clearly in a "Project for the New American Century" document published for the Bush election team in September 2000. As we now know from United States Treasury Secretary O'Neill, that war was planned from the first days of the Bush Administration. Then 9/11 provided the pretext for launching it, as the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said.
261 The United Kingdom went to war over Iraq because President Bush wanted British support. At the Crawford summit in April 2002, the Prime Minister in effect committed to providing that, publicly pledging to stand shoulder to shoulder with President Bush. From that point on, the assessment of intelligence data conflated analysis into advocacy in order to find a rationale for the war that had already been decided on for other reasons.
§ David Winnick
If my right hon. Friend whom I respect and he should not take this remark personally—felt so strongly at the time, the inevitable question, which he realises I am going to ask, is: why did he not resign from the Government?
§ Mr. Meacher
I believed what the Prime Minister said so categorically and authoritatively. I thought that he spoke with great authority, and like so many others in this House and the country, I thought that he had access to a repository of intelligence data to which none of us has access; and that if he was so certain and spoke with such assurance, we had to accept what he said. I am quite prepared to admit that I also supported the war because I have long believed passionately in the principle of military intervention for humanitarian purposes. Yes, I believe in that, but I am deeply uneasy, as I was at the time, that there are no international criteria that give legitimacy for taking such action in many other cases, as has been pointed out.
§ Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab)
The Butler report makes it clear that what are described as excellent papers were prepared with all the caveats in them for the Cabinet Committees and members of the Cabinet to see. Butler says that they did not see those papers, and that that impaired their ability to make a correct judgment. Obviously my right hon. Friend did not see the papers, but was he aware of their existence? Does he think that, if he had read them, he might have come to a different conclusion?
§ Mr. Meacher
We all have to assume that, if that material had been made available, a different judgment would have been made. There is no doubt about that.
§ Mr. Gummer
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that he, like many others, thought that the Prime Minister knew more than he was able to say? Is not the real problem that it all turns out that we knew more than he was able to say?
§ Mr. Meacher
I think that that is the case. Indeed, if I can develop my argument, I shall go on to say that that is exactly the point to which I think the House needs to give its attention.
The decision having been made to go to war, Whitehall provided a briefing that any rationale depended on being able to show incontrovertible evidence of "large-scale" activity by Iraq in weapons of mass destruction. However, because the UN inspectors left in 1998, the evidence was almost non-existent. That is the root of the problem. The CIA admitted that its resources on Iraq were "thin", and the JIC had already 262 concluded in March 2002, as has been repeated many times in the Chamber, that intelligence on Iraq's WMD and ballistic programmes was "sporadic and patchy".
The key point is that, in the evidence put together over the crucial five months from the Crawford summit until the publication of the September dossier to justify the war, we now know that all the specific data were flawed. As we now know, the inventory of chemical and biological weapons and weapons parts that the Prime Minister presented to the House dealt with weapons unaccounted for since the first Gulf war, 12 years before. They were not presented as weapons unaccounted for, however; they were presented as weapons that were believed definitely to be currently possessed by Saddam.
§ Mr. Meacher
I shall not give way any further.
The 45-minute claim referred to battlefield nuclear weapons, but the impression was given that the threat went much wider. Accordingly, when it was reported thus—this was exactly as we saw it presented—no attempt was made to correct the misreporting, despite the belief that it was wrong. The claim that Iraq tried to buy 500 tonnes of yellowcake from Niger was still included in the dossier, despite the fact that it was known that a visit made to Niger by a former US ambassador six months before had confirmed that the claim was completely bogus.
The Prime Minister claimed to the House in February last year—perhaps my hon. Friends will listen to this point, as I think that it is quite important, and it has received virtually no attention—that the defection of Hussein Kamal, Saddam's son in law, in 1995 had revealedthe offensive biological weapons and the full extent of the nuclear programme".—[Official Report, 25 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 123.]But as we now know from a Newsweek exclusive a few weeks later, what Hussein Kamal actually said in his debriefing was exactly the opposite:all weapons—biological, chemical, missile, nuclear—were destroyed.As Butler has pointed out so poignantly, all the ifs and buts, qualifications and caveats in the raw intelligence data were dropped from the dossier, while the positive allegations were distinctly over-hyped. Sources were treated as reliable when they clearly were not, and they were not checked with the expertise of intelligence staff.
Anyone who reads appendix B of the Butler report, which I think is excellently set out, can see set out step by step how the process of massaging and accretion steadily accumulated, until we were finally told in the September dossier that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programme was "active, detailed and growing", and that the intelligence on which that judgment was based was "extensive, detailed and authoritative", when in fact, Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction at all.
Nobody—and I think that this is true—is doubting the good faith of the Prime Minister or that he sincerely believed in the policies that he was pursuing. He believed in them passionately, and I think that everyone recognises that, but that is not the issue. The issue is his judgment and his over-eagerness to take us into a war on 263 grounds that far exceeded the available evidence. The issue now is accountability, and I think that that is now the issue for this House to exorcise. One cannot take this country into a war under false pretences and then proclaim, as Butler does, that nobody can be held responsible.
Over the Gilligan affair, which is utterly trivial by comparison, the Government made it clear that they expected heads to roll—and they did. On this matter, there are two central issues on which I think that those responsible must be held to account. One is the presentation of the evidence that persuaded the House to agree to war. Being sinuous with the truth may not be lying, but it is certainly not open or honest. Presenting a seriously misleading account of the facts may not be lying, but it is not truthful or straightforward either. The second central issue is the framework of governance that allowed the decision to be taken. Those are the key issues, and a debate on a motion for the Adjournment is not an adequate format—
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)
It is a pleasure to follow an extremely important and powerful speech by the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher). I agree with him in a number of respects, including on the importance of the meeting in Crawford, Texas, where I think that the course taken by the United Kingdom was set. I also agree with what he said about accountability, as well as about the Prime Minister's sincerity.
I do not think that there was any doubt about the Prime Minister's sincerity when he made the case for war. In the past seven years, this House and the country generally have been treated to one or two rather stomach-churning thespian performances from the Prime Minister, but anyone who saw his performance on 18 March last year will have known that it was of an entirely different quality. On Iraq, he has usually spoken with simple conviction.
My concern is the same as that of the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton—that it is the Prime Minister's judgment and the strategy that has flowed from the depth of his conviction that have proved flawed. As he was so convinced in the virtues of his actions and the United States was so focused on regime change, the necessary focus on post-Saddam Iraq was missing. A number of speakers have referred to the fact that Iraq was on the Bush Government's agenda before 9/11, as we have heard in comments attributed to Condoleezza Rice in her interview with The New Yorker. It was clear to informed observers that, in early 2002, the United States was set on this strategy, which was obviously made explicit to the Prime Minister at that vital meeting in Crawford, Texas. The Defence Committee heard evidence that British officers attached to Centcom were then privy to the planning for the operation in Iraq in early summer 2002. For the United States, Iraq was unfinished business from 1991. For the Prime Minister, it was about weapons of mass destruction—I think that that was his sincere belief—combined with the capacity of the suicide attackers demonstrated on 9/11.
264 The results of the coalition strategy have been disastrous in many respects. The collapse of the Prime Minister's credibility means that his ability to persuade Parliament and the country about the need for future war, should it arise, has been fatally undermined. Several Labour Members have called on the Prime Minister to consider his position, but if there is a need for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to come to the House of Commons to make a similar case to the one that he made—this was the fifth time that the country had gone to pre-emptive war under the right hon. Gentleman's leadership—he will have a serious problem persuading the House and the country. The leader of the United Kingdom should not carry such a handicap.
A further element of the problem is the demolition of the liberal west's moral authority, which is most graphically seen in the pictures that came out of Abu Ghraib prison. A further cause for Osama bin Laden and his zealots to exploit has been created through the collapse of a country that was diametrically opposed to them. Of course, there is a real risk of civil war in Iraq if a satisfactory federal settlement cannot be found, so we might find that statements about how fewer people are now dying in Iraq than was the case under Saddam Hussein could be completely reversed, with appalling consequences, if it falls into civil war during the months and years to come.
If I knew on 18 March 2003 what I know now, I would not have voted for the motion, but that is not because I would have thought that the resolution was unjustified. I agreed with the analysis of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who made his case extremely well. However, the problem is the way in which the policy has been acted out in practice and how the coalition has conducted operations because that has meant that the possible benefits of the operation have been overtaken by the costs.
The mistakes that were made have been rehearsed many times. The Pentagon was in charge, yet was not equipped for the more challenging role of rebuilding a state. Insufficient priority was given to the planning of post-conflict operations. Under the Rumsfeld doctrine, a military operation was conducted on the cheap with a lightening strike to take Baghdad—that was a brilliant operation—but insufficient forces were left on the ground to deal with the collapse of the government of Iraq. The army and other security forces were disbanded and, of course, Iraq was used as an experiment for transformative politics, as envisaged by Paul Wolfowitz.
The core strategic mistake was made because we should have been absolutely clear about the outcome at the outset: to remove the regime and produce a replacement Iraqi Government. The very moment at which we had leverage over people such as Ayatollah Sistani, representatives of the Shi'a community—both those in Iraq and in exile—and the Kurdish leaders, all of whom wanted Saddam Hussein to go and were desperate for the coalition powers to intervene, was before we intervened. We should have ensured that the post-war settlement of Iraq was clear because we now have the problem that we have to rely on the wisdom and leadership of Ayatollah Sistani more than anyone else. We need him to reach an agreement with the Kurdish leaders, in particular, that will meet their desire for a satisfactory element of self-government for that 265 part of Iraq, in addition to the desire of the majority of the Iraqi population for proper influence on the whole country's affairs.
We are now engaged in the difficult process of moving towards democracy in Iraq. Iraqi experts agree that the moderate middle in Iraq is weak and that political parties with appeal to the intelligentsia have neither organisation nor a significant democratic base. Given the way in which the United Nations elections are being set up, it is likely that individuals will be encouraged to run for elections on the basis of not party support, but personality. There is a danger that that process will by default lead to the mass support of demagogues who will attack the whole parliamentary and governmental system and try to sweep away such parties, as has happened all too often in modern Iraqi history.
Our real problem as a coalition is that we will not know what to do if Iraq begins to descend into civil war. If the security situation deteriorates and the interim Government cannot maintain the minimum level of legitimacy and control, what are British and American forces supposed to do? I do not know, and I am not sure that the Government do either.
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)
Two contemporaneous debates are being conducted as we speak. One is going on in the rather esoteric environment of the House of Commons, but to people inside the House, let alone those outside, it is riddled with pedantry and hyperbole and it often seems futile. A more important debate is going on outside the House in the minds and hearts of the British people and people throughout the world about the extent to which a decision taken long ago was right. I often wonder what people make of these debates—they are bad enough for the British public, so God knows what the international public think.
During today's debate, we heard a lucid and cogent speech from the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who has the added merit of maintaining a consistent position over time. The Leader of the Opposition displayed tautological contortions as he tried increasingly to justify the rather bizarre ambivalence of his position on the war. The Prime Minister's contribution contained elements of defensive sophistry, but it did not really add to the total knowledge of people outside the House, although the same problems keep reoccurring and members of the Government repeatedly maintain things that they know not to be true.
For example, two outstanding arguments were made in the run-up to the war, and they have been rehearsed consistently since. The first argument was about the legality of the war, although I am prepared to accept that a case for a legal war could be made under UN Security Council resolution 1441—I know that hon. Members could have a big argument about that.
Secondly, a political case was made and, to defer to the Foreign Secretary, I shall not claim that it was said that there was an "imminent" threat, but that a clear and present threat emanated from Saddam Hussein. The political argument won over many people in the political class and many outside the House. It was repeated ad 266 nauseam in the newspapers—of course, it was promoted on behalf of the Government because that is what Governments do. Nevertheless, it has been shown that the argument was wholly untrue. There was no threat and there were no weapons of mass destruction. I am not someone such as Lord Butler who cautiously says, "Don't close down the possibility", because we know a threat when a threat exists and know a weapon of mass destruction when it exists. Curiously, when Lord Butler wrote about the background to the weapons of mass destruction, he did not mention where they actually came from. He made a cursory mention of what Iraq had before 1990, but he did not refer to the countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, that provided the very weapons of mass destruction that would later become politically problematic.
People outside the House realise where we are today. They know that there was no threat, nor any weapons of mass destruction. It would be easy for those of us who voted against the war to say, "We told you so. We were right"—we were right, actually. However, the truth of the matter is that on 18 March 2003, we voted for the simple premise that the case for war was not proven. It is wrong and misleading to suggest that the people who voted for that were somehow condoning Saddam or, as the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) implied, that we were all pacifists, or that we took the view that would not resort to military action when that was appropriate. However, we found the case unconvincing on that occasion. We were able to argue that without the merits of Butler and Hutton because many of us thought that it was evident at the time that the Government's case did not stack up. Nothing has happened to change our view since then, although I hear people who took a different view trying to reconcile their consciences with what they now know. If they did vote for war on the basis of weapons of mass destruction, they did so because of a fallacious argument that should never have been made, but I can say that with hindsight.
People out there will still have a view on whether we should pursue this argument. I have a view on that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) again implied that we should draw a line under this and hope that the whole thing goes away. It may be an embarrassment to him and his Committee, the Government and the official Opposition, but the fact remains that many thousands of people have lost their lives, as we heard today, in an illegal and immoral war.
§ Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD)
The hon. Gentleman has spoken eloquently on this subject a number of times and it is a pleasure to hear him speak again. Will he expand on where he believes the evidence did not stack up? People say that the intelligence evidence is now disproved, but we never believed it because when the weapons inspectors went to places identified by the intelligence officers as having weapons, there were none. That undermined the argument that there was any real evidence in the first place.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I could wax eloquent all night on those points, but let me put it simply. On the night of the great debate in the Chamber, I and others made the point that inspectors were in Iraq dismantling the weapons of war that had been found. Hon. Members may recall the 267 Prime Minister referring to appeasement, as though those who were opposed to war were appeasers, akin to those in 1938—in fact, I think he actually referred to it in that way. I said that we did not have League of Nations inspectors dismantling the Panzers, but UN inspectors dismantling the weapons of mass destruction.
Anyone who knows anything about such things would wonder, as I did at the time, why we had spent so many years missing all the weapons of mass destruction when we had alleged precision-targeted bombing of every military installation in Iraq. Where were they? What about satellite reconnaissance and all the rest of it, which is supposed to tell us the location of a truck or, indeed, the man standing beside the truck? The case clearly needed more evidence than was available. We did not get that evidence and today certain views have been vindicated.
§ Mr. Bercow
The hon. Gentleman says that the war was immoral. Is he saying that continual breach of United Nations resolutions, massive human rights violations against the people of Iraq and the desire to disable the regime responsible for the latter, could never constitute justification for intervention? If he is not saying that, in what circumstances would he countenance intervention?
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I am not saying that at all. We are discussing an entirely separate set of circumstances. Nor do I agree, by the way, with some of my Back-Bench colleagues who would transpose the conditions raised by the hon. Gentleman into another set of geopolitical circumstances.
I am sure that I speak for most of those who were against the war when I say that we did not in any way condone either Saddam personally or the regime that he headed. However, those were not the explicit reasons for going to war. Regime change was never on offer, no matter how repulsive the regime might have been. To return to my theme about the British public, what was certainly on offer was the case that there was a clear and present danger—a threat—emanating from Saddam. That was demonstrably not the case then and is demonstrably not the case now.
Deciding to go to war will be a very difficult sin—to speak in my own terms—for us to eradicate as a party. We will be held to account as a party for this war whether we voted against it or for it. The morality of the case was put eloquently by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) was more eloquent than I could ever hope to be about the damage that the war has done to my party. More importantly, however, is the damage that has been done to our position in Europe and the United Nations and to our relationships with the Muslim world. I hope that that damage is not irreparable, but it is very great indeed.
§ Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle) (LD)
In following the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), I can only say how much I agree with everything he said.
The Butler report gives a useful overview of the use and role of intelligence, and I suspect that it is as much for the good of the House of Commons as it is for the 268 Government and perhaps the Cabinet. In his overview of the use and role of intelligence, Butler talks about the limitations of intelligence and the various types of intelligence—human, imaging and signals—and says how important corroborative evidence is when human intelligence is involved. It is not enough to have a single source or a single source at third hand who cannot be traced afterwards, which seems to be the case with the Iraq intelligence. He stresses the importance of assessment, a stage that was apparently missed out in the case of the 45-minute claim, which came at a late stage.
Butler also makes the point that it is necessary to challenge at every level. The intelligence services must be challenged. The Joint Intelligence Committee must continue to challenge information. On a political level, both the Prime Minister and the Cabinet must be challenged. It is important that we take all four reports into account. When I looked at the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee, as I did soon after its report came out, I was astonished to find at paragraph 73 of page 24 that of the seven Departments that acknowledged they had received a copy of the first draft of the September dossier, only one, to its credit, made any comment. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was, apparently, not sent a draft. The private offices of some Secretaries of State decided that their masters did not need to see it. However, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Trade and Investment at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office both commented on it.
Some of those Secretaries of States, some of whom have since left the Government, have commented on how Cabinet work lacks overall Cabinet responsibility because one person makes the decisions, but they did not even look at the draft. If they made it clear to their outer office that they did not want to be troubled with the information, how on earth can they complain afterwards that they were not involved?
I have been fascinated over the past couple of years to watch the Prime Minister. I have been trying to understand why he climbed out further and further on a limb. He clearly genuinely believed what he told us. I could not believe that someone would go so far out on a limb on intelligence that at best had lots of ifs and buts about it. Careful reading of the information issued and the statements made revealed that deniability was written into much of the phrasing. When deniability is put into almost every line, one begins to wonder why that deniability exists.
Butler talks about the backdrop and gives four case studies, including North Korea and Iran. He mentions the creeping tide of terrorism and the concern that the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the JIC clearly had. In paragraph 285, the Prime Minister is reported as telling the Butler committee thatthe place to start was Iraqout of all the various threats across the world
because you have the history of the United Nations Resolutions and you have the … fact that we'd taken action in respect of WMD in the aftermath of the Gulf War, then again in 1998".The Prime Minister saw Iraq within a context. He did not see it as an isolated case, according to what he told Lord Butler. Yet he was telling the House of Commons something different—
It being Seven o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.