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Pete Wishart (North Tayside): Can the hon. Gentleman explain what speculative intelligence is? Intelligence is either intelligence or it is nothing at all.

Mr. MacDonald: Intelligence can be a claim that is passed to intelligence services from a source within a country, and a judgment has to be made on its validity and plausibility. That happens with 99 per cent. of intelligence. If we could look the claim up in a book of statistics, or find some other factual evidence for it, it would not need to be based on intelligence.

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I mention the Niger intelligence failure from before the war, because I do not remember any demands for an independent judicial inquiry into the issue when it was exposed as a forgery and a false claim. Why has the 45-minute claim now assumed so much exaggerated and absurd importance? Why are anonymous sources in the intelligence services briefing the press? It should be noted, incidentally, that they are not approaching their local MP, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Defence Committee or the Intelligence and Security Committee. Who are these spooks who are briefing the press? Are they the same ones who used to spy on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s on the ground that advocating nuclear disarmament made people potential traitors? Have those spooks suddenly turned into pacifists, stricken by conscience? Is the source of the stories free from any political motivation? Anybody who believes that the stories are a disinterested attempt to serve the public good is much more gullible than anyone who gave credence to the 45-minute claim. For that reason, I hope that the House will treat the leaks and briefings with the contempt that they deserve.

4.14 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): It is a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald). He spoke with calm and reasoned good sense, and I hope that the House will heed what he said. It is a pleasure to follow him for another reason too, as he and I campaigned very strongly for justice in Bosnia. We were in a small minority, along with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who opened this debate. We wanted action to be taken there, and we were not especially bothered about UN resolutions. However, I must not digress on that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or you would rightly rule me out of order.

I am bound to say that I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary is not here. I appreciate the many demands on his time, but I am sorry that neither he nor my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, are present. They should have been here throughout this relatively short debate. That they are not is tantamount to an insult to the House.

I also think that it is greatly regrettable that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood should have exposed her conscience and then walked out. That is not the way to treat the House of Commons. In recent days, there has been some nauseating nitpicking by people who lost the argument and the vote on 18 March. They are trying to revisit the arguments and the debates, and it is important to put that on record.

I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) said, although he too has left the Chamber. He made the point that the Prime Minister had in effect connived at undermining his own credibility by the ultra-reliance on spin that he has displayed during his period in office. I made that point when I spoke in the first or second of the Iraq debates. It is, regrettably, true, although I do not doubt the Prime Minister's good faith or integrity on this issue.

The question at the centre of the debate is whether we believe that our Prime Minister was acting in the national interest and in good faith. Did he place before

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the House of Commons information that he believed to be true? Frankly, I accept that he did believe it to be true. Like the hon. Member for Western Isles, I always regarded the 45-minute claim with more than a pinch of salt, and I adopted a similar approach to some of the other claims too. However, I do not believe that the claims were made to dupe the House, nor that they succeeded in doing so. I doubt very much whether many of those who voted on 18 March would have changed their vote if it had been proved in that debate that the claims were false.

In parenthesis, if the vote had gone the other way on 18 March and the British Government had fallen and the Iraqi Government remained in office, would the world have been a better or safer place? Perhaps that is a subject for another debate.

What should be done by way of inquiry? That is the true subject of today's debate. Sadly, I could not attend the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday afternoon, as the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) knows. I did not therefore have the chance to participate in its discussion but, as a good democrat, I accept that a decision was made by my colleagues and of course I go along with it. However, on this occasion, I believe that it is right that the Intelligence and Security Committee should be given a prime role.

I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, who would prefer a long-winded judicial inquiry. Of course, it is possible in such circumstances for hon. Members of all parties to score points, as happened with the Phillips inquiry on BSE, and all the rest of it. However, what the House is considering today is how best to deal with a particular matter.

The best way to deal with the matter is quickly. Those of our colleagues who have been appointed to the ISC have the clearance that others do not have. We should entrust to them—

Andrew Mackinlay indicated dissent.

Sir Patrick Cormack: It is a sore point with me as well as with the hon. Gentleman, but nevertheless I am merely stating a fact. It is reasonable for us to call on those colleagues to examine the matter with rigorous impartiality and detailed scrutiny, and then to report on it. I believe the Prime Minister's assurance that the report will be published in full. That report must be given to the House as soon as possible.

Then we can see what it has said. It would be arrogant and presumptuous, as well as downright stupid, to anticipate what it will say. I do not know what it will say. If the report is very critical of the Prime Minister, I shall be surprised and distressed, and it will be a most serious matter. However, we need to know.

The Intelligence and Security Committee is the right body to conduct the investigation and report to the House. It is, after all, a committee of parliamentarians, and they, above all, are best able to judge the integrity of other parliamentarians. I do not believe for a moment that my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary meant to demean the House, but the logical consequence of his argument is that we cannot trust our fellow parliamentarians to report to us on what they

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have assessed and seen. That is very damaging, and adds to the erosion of the influence of this place, which has proceeded at alarming and disturbing speed in recent years.

I want to bring back public respect for the integrity of Parliament. I want a report that is thorough and detailed that we can discuss and debate. It must be produced quickly and effectively. Producing it with true expedition is the best way in which we can serve the House and the cause before us. That must not, however, afford an opportunity to revisit outworn arguments, or to try to re-run a vote that was decisively carried on 18 March. Nor, above all, must the process distract us from the absolute priority of restoring Iraq and creating a stable democracy, which will take time. It must not take our eyes off the war against terrorism, in which we all have a truly vested interest.

Nor must we be distracted from the true priorities, and, perhaps above all, from peace in the middle east and the present process there. Let us not imagine for one moment that if we continue to snipe and to attack the Prime Minister on an issue on which many of us fundamentally agree with him, we will not undermine in the eyes of the world his credibility, and the credibility of the President of the United States, when it comes to the middle east peace process. I urge colleagues in all parts of the House to have a thought for such things. Perhaps some of my immediate colleagues may do what I do not often do, or particularly like doing, and join me in the Government Lobby this evening.

4.23 pm

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): I have been informed that I have only a few minutes, so I shall try to be brief.

The motion, which I shall support in the Division Lobby, outlines the reasons that we were given for going to war. One was the Prime Minister's assertion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was capable of delivering that weaponry within 45 minutes. Some people could not accept that explanation. Some of us believe that there were other reasons for going to war, including oil and the determination of the United States to control what happens in the Gulf.

Mr. Gardiner : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Llew Smith: No, I only have a few minutes.

Because of our opposition to the war and our refusal to accept the explanations put forward by the Prime Minister, several of us were accused of appeasing Saddam Hussein. That shocked, saddened and surprised us. Some of us opposed Saddam Hussein way back in the 1980s.

Indeed, some of us have been opposing the arms trade for many a long year. We opposed arms sales to evil regimes such as Iraq and many others. We still oppose the arms trade. We oppose the situation whereby, in 2002, the UK exported to more than 150 countries and licensed arms to 20 countries that had been engaged in serious conflict since 1997.

Some of us who oppose the war are the same people who have been opposing weapons of mass destruction for our whole adult life. We have opposed nuclear weapons in this country—the weapons of ultimate mass

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destruction. We opposed weapons of mass destruction being in the hands of Israel. For many years, we opposed chemical weaponry and the dropping of napalm on Vietnam by the United States, destroying the land and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese citizens.

Some of those who now accuse us of being appeasers are the same people who, in the 1980s, regarded Saddam Hussein as the friend of the west. They supported arms sales not only to Saddam Hussein but to many other evil regimes. They justified those arms sales on the basis that they were good for jobs, forgetting that while that may have been so, those arms were destroying many lives.

The same people who refused to join us in campaigning against weapons of mass destruction in this country told us that ours were friendly weapons of mass destruction that would defend western civilisation and keep back the communist hordes. One of those people was the Secretary of State for Defence who now says that he would be willing to press the button that would start nuclear confrontation—the ultimate act of madness.

We continue to be told that war with Iraq was necessary because Iraq had those weapons of mass destruction, which were a threat to the world, and because it was willing to use them and could deliver them within 45 minutes, yet we have still not found those weapons. Even if Iraq had those weapons, it certainly did not use them when the war was going on. We are now told that there is a good reason for that: the Iraqis destroyed their weapons of mass destruction a few minutes, or a few days, before the war commenced. I cannot accept that explanation. I cannot accept that a relatively minor military power such as Iraq would go into battle against the strongest military powers on earth—powers with nuclear weapons, the weapons of ultimate mass destruction—and throw away their most effective weaponry. That does not make sense.

In a press conference on Monday, the Prime Minister responded to the concerns and criticisms that no weapons of mass destruction had been discovered in Iraq. He said:

I agree with that. However, the Prime Minister has a similar obligation. If, as he says, there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he has an obligation to produce the evidence.

Before the invasion of Iraq, the Prime Minister referred to an interview with General Kamal about Iraq's attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction. The Prime Minister said that, in 1995:

However, the Prime Minister misled the House by omission because General Kamal also told his interviewers that Iraq had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction by 1995, as had been revealed by Newsweek on 3 March, only a few weeks earlier.

On page 13 of the transcript of the interview, which was posted on the BBC's "Today" programme website, Kamal is recorded as saying:

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On 26 March I asked the Prime Minister if he would place in the Library the text of the interview provided by Kamal on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The Prime Minister replied:

But the BBC had those transcripts. Why then were the Prime Minister, the security services and President Bush's Administration prepared to believe the defector Kamal's information on the extent of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction procurement and development network, but not to listen to information on the Iraqi regime's destruction of weapons of mass destruction?

I repeat that my opinion is that the war had very little, if anything, to do with weapons of mass destruction. I could never accept the explanation that Iraq not only had the weaponry but the capability to develop and deliver them within 45 minutes. I said at the beginning that I thought the war was about oil and about who controlled the Gulf. I thought it then, and I still think it.

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