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Mr. Kenneth Clarke: With the greatest respect, the Foreign Secretary is doing what the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House have been doing for the last two days: answering different questions from the ones that are being put to him. The Governments of France, Germany and China and the vast majority of the Government's critics in this House never denied Saddam Hussein's history of weapons of mass destruction. They never denied the need to disarm him. They never denied that it might eventually prove necessary to use military force to disarm him. That was never an issue at any time. On 18 March, the Government came to this place, saying, "The case is for war now," and critics said that more time should be given for inspection and containment to see whether that route might be successful. Does the Foreign Secretary think that if he had come here on 18 March and said, "We do not actually know whether Saddam has any weapons of this kind ready for immediate deployment; we are not sure whether we shall ever find any; and we are going to set up a whole new inspection system of our own to start looking for them eight weeks after the war is over," he would have got the House to give authority for the invasion that took place?

Mr. Straw: That was the speech that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wished to make. The speech that I made was a different one, and the speech I would make now, knowing what I now know, would have been the same speech as I made on 18 March. What the House was invited to agree was a resolution that we recognised that

a direct quotation from Security Council Resolution 1441—posed a

We noted that in 130 days since resolution 1441 was adopted, Iraq had not co-operated actively, unconditionally and immediately with the weapons inspectors and had rejected the final opportunity to comply and was in further material breach of its obligations. We said that, given that, we decided to approve military action. That was the basis on which we came to that decision.

Mr. Blunt rose—

Mr. Straw: No, I will not give way. I must make progress.

I am glad that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) made that concession, because one could be forgiven today for thinking that there are many people who opposed the war on one basis two months ago—that they thought more time should be given to the inspectors, and are now saying that they opposed it on a different basis, namely that Saddam did

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not have any weapons of mass destruction or did not pose a threat to international peace and security after all.—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order.

Mr. Straw: People should be absolutely clear about this. The whole issue and argument was whether it was appropriate to take military action at that stage or whether it would have been better to allow Saddam more time. I had come to the view, reluctantly, that we should support military action. I notice, by the way, since there have been some questions about the position of the French people, that Mrs. Therese Delpeche, who is the French UNMOVIC commissioner, appointed by the agreement of the French Government, said that having pondered the documents produced by Hans Blix's team on the unresolved issues—in particular, the 173-page report put before the Security Council on 7 March—she had come to the conclusion that an ultimatum with a 17 March deadline was

Thus it was not only people in the United Kingdom or the United States who were supporting the position that we were proposing and that I put before the Security Council; it was people including the French commissioner of UNMOVIC, with all her experience. Her patience, too, had run out.

David Winnick rose—

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent) rose—

Mr. Straw: Let me respond to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife and then I will give way. At the beginning of my remarks, which I shall conclude shortly, I dealt with the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) as to why I felt that the ISC was the appropriate body to undertake this inquiry. There cannot be any question about the independence, integrity or skill of the ISC, nor indeed any real objection—

Dr. Tonge: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: No. Nor can there be any real objection to the fact that the Committee would have to meet in secret. In a debate in 1998, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston spelled out eloquently, as he will recall, why it was necessary for the ISC to meet in secret, and the fact that it has to meet in secret, as he said on that occasion, makes its examination, particularly of Ministers, all the more testing.

Llew Smith: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

David Winnick: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: In one second.

Andrew Mackinlay: Will my right hon. Friend co-operate with the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry?

Mr. Straw: The truth is that any other inquiry, whether a judicial inquiry or even a congressional

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inquiry, would have to hold a large part of its proceedings in private. That is the reality. Alongside the narrow inquiry of the ISC, I also welcome the Foreign Affairs Committee's inquiry, and that will hold its proceedings mainly in public.

However, I say to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, as a member too of a fine and learned profession, although not as skilled or experienced as he, that we sometimes make a mistake in investing quite the faith that we do in appointing a judicial figure to chair an inquiry of this kind. I have been responsible for establishing some judicial inquiries. I think of one that was satisfactory and did the job pretty quickly: the Lawrence committee inquiry. However, others often take a very long time. Because of the Salmon rules—witnesses, lawyers and so on—large amounts of money can disappear. The Bloody Sunday inquiry is now costing scores and scores of millions of pounds—

Mr. William Cash (Stone): You set it up.

Mr. Straw: Yes, we did. I have been partly responsible for establishing such inquiries, so I can say with some confidence that I do not believe they are necessarily a satisfactory basis on which to proceed.

Mr. Winnick: Instead of the apologies that are expected today, would it not be more relevant if the international community apologised for the fact that it allowed Saddam and his thugs to rule and murder for years without taking any action until very recently? Is not something very wrong indeed with democracies if they could allow Saddam to murder thousands of people over the years?

Mr. Straw: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend on that point.

Mr. Menzies Campbell: I confess that I do not remember the Foreign Secretary objecting to the form of the Scott inquiry when the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was making such coruscating speeches in the House of Commons against the Government of the day.

The advantage of a judicial inquiry is that it brings total impartiality and a confidence in the public that political influence will not be brought to bear. That is why it seems, in the particular circumstances of this case, when 1 million people came out on the streets of London, that such an inquiry should be instituted.

Mr. Straw: I simply do not accept what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. There are on the ISC representatives of his party, representatives of the Conservative party and representatives from the other place—as well as very independent-minded Labour Members. The idea that those senior Members of the House will be suborned, subject to influence, is absolutely wrong. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not say such things when I asked for acceptance of the case for the ISC to look into the Bali intelligence. Its report, which criticised the Government quite roundly, was widely acknowledged as being entirely independent.

Llew Smith: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

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Mr. Straw: In the time available I will not accept any more interventions, but I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends this question. The Government believe that the decision that we took in March was entirely justified, and I have spelled out the reasons why. The reasons why we took that decision are not the reasons now being suggested. People need to look at the record. But I ask those supporting this resolution and our critics whether they seriously believe that when Saddam Hussein chose confrontation rather than co-operation, he possessed no weapons of mass destruction, following our decision on 18 March? Do they seriously argue that Saddam had disposed of all his poisons and toxins and missiles, and then deliberately chose not to prove their destruction but to go down a path that led to his downfall? Is that the proposition? If it is, people need to say that.

Even if we make the most extreme allowances for the warped mentality of a murderous dictator, how can we possibly believe that he cheated and deceived the international community year after year, until we had no option but military action, and yet that he possessed no weapons of mass destruction?

The set of propositions that lies behind the charges against the Government is frankly fanciful. Is it not more likely that Saddam, knowing that the game was up and realising that we meant what we said, went to extraordinary lengths to dismantle, conceal and disperse the weapons and any evidence of their existence? We warned about exactly that in the dossier on 24 September. Saddam had spent years perfecting the art of concealment and carried that out so completely that it will take us some time to search hundreds of sites, interview thousands of scientists and locate and evaluate what remains of the documentary and physical evidence.

I have made it clear that the ISC is composed of senior Members of all parties from both Houses. The Committee's report will be subject to its independent judgment and subject to debate in both Houses. There is no basis whatever for the Liberal Democrat motion. On the wider issue, I am wholly satisfied that the decision that the House took on 18 March, with a majority of 263, was correct and justified and that it remains as correct and justified today. I urge hon. Members to support the amendment and reject the motion.

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