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4.31 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): If nothing else, this afternoon's debate has illustrated that Iraq remains an issue of major public concern to hon. Members in all parts of the House. In framing our motion we might have focused on several different issues to do with Iraq, such as humanitarian issues or the governance of the country. Those two are important and no doubt in future we shall have an opportunity to debate them on the Floor of the House.

However, right now the public are mostly and properly concerned about the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction and the basis on which this country went to war. In the course of the debate a number of hon. Members have suggested that we are revisiting the arguments for or against the war set out as late as March. In so doing they tend to skip over many of the points that were raised by those Liberal Democrats who opposed the war at that stage.

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Moore: No.

Liberal Democrat Members never denied that there was a history of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We never denied the evil history of Saddam Hussein—we were hugely critical of it, as every right-thinking individual would be. We never argued that Saddam Hussein should not be disarmed. We were arguing that containment and deterrence should continue. We argued that we should take the United Nations route. As the weapons inspectors continued their work, we argued that they deserved more time.

The Government passionately and clearly argued a different case. They did so principally on the basis of weapons of mass destruction. They said that was the major reason why action was required. They did not

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advocate action mainly on the basis of the need for regime change, although they properly point out many of the benefits of the fact that Saddam Hussein has now gone.

The issue of its being possible for weapons to be fired in 45 minutes was at the crux of the Government's case—

Mr. Gardiner : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Moore: Just bear with me. I am afraid my time is rather short.

The issue was at the crux of the Government's case when they were arguing that we should be going into conflict.

Mr. Straw: That statement is demonstrably incorrect. I have been unable to find a single speech on 18 March that even mentioned the 45-minute point, still less made it the crux of the debate.

Mr. Moore: Well, the Foreign Secretary used phrases such as that time had run out, and in different parts of the build-up to the conflict—[Interruption.] The point I was about to make before the Foreign Secretary intervened was, whether or not one accepts what the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald) was saying about this being a literal truth or otherwise, it was symbolic. It was symbolic of the fact that Saddam Hussein had sufficient weapons of mass destruction, and a sufficient state of preparedness that they were a danger to those around him.

Mr. Gardiner: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Moore: No, I shall not.

The conflict is now well past but we do not underestimate the fragile nature of the situation in Iraq and the real danger in which the Iraqis and our armed forces continue to find themselves. There is no question but that the coalition partners are now in control and supported by United Nations resolution 1483. However, there is a serious question of why it has taken until now to establish the Iraq survey group that will attempt to map and discover where the weapons of mass destruction are.

We were told in advance of going to war that rogue elements in Iraq and elsewhere would use weapons of mass destruction and that the weapons would represent a serious terrorist threat if passed on to groups such as al-Qaeda or simply leaked out to other countries. Given that context, it is remarkable that we have not been in a position in which we were able to ascertain where the weapons of mass destruction might be until now.

The Government have argued that there is no need for an inquiry, but the continuing failure of the coalition to account for weapons of mass destruction raises serious questions not only for hon. Members and the millions of people who opposed the war, but for many who supported the Government in the House and elsewhere on the basis of the Prime Minister's assurances and the evidence offered by the Government at different times. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for

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North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) set out several key questions, including the specific question of the extent to which Downing street tried to change the dossier last September. Who was responsible for the final content of the so-called dodgy dossier? Who fabricated the assertion that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Africa? We now add questions about the extent to which the Government relied on Iraqi sources who were motivated by little else but a desire to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime, and the extent to which there was wholesale reliance on uncorroborated information from a single source. Other hon. Members have added to those questions.

The charge has been made that Parliament and Ministers have been misled, and there can be no doubt that we have not received sufficient answers to the questions raised today. Many of the issues go to the heart of government. The Government assert their case passionately and often raise issues that are not specifically relevant to the questions asked today. They have defended their case vigorously and will no doubt do so again during any inquiry.

The fact that the Government have started to raise questions of their own during the past couple of days is crucially important. They have questioned the loyalty of certain elements of the security services by calling them "rogue elements". Some of that was done on the record but other people, who were not attributed, talked to The Times about "score settling". As my right hon. and learned Friend said earlier, that echoes fears expressed under the Labour Government in the 1970s. There are fundamental questions that need answers and it is vital to hold an inquiry to find out those answers.

My right hon. and learned Friend discussed the different types of inquiry that might be held. The Government are exercised by the form of the inquiry suggested in the motion and we must hope that they now see the sense of such an inquiry. Their amendment mentions their willingness to participate in an inquiry conducted by the Intelligence and Security Committee and I emphasise again that we do not question that Committee's independence of mind or integrity.

Perhaps the Minister will respond to one specific point raised by the Prime Minister's comments today. The Prime Minister mentioned that the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments would be made available to the ISC. Will the information on which those assessments are based also be made available to the Committee?

An inquiry could take a number of forms. Frankly, what matters is that the serious issues raised today by Members on both sides of the House, including Ministers, are tackled and resolved. We are not the only ones asking questions, however. People all over the country are asking them, whether or not they supported the war in the first place. We owe it to them to get the answers. We are pleased that the Conservatives will join us in the Lobby. We hope that Labour Members will do the same.

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4.40 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): We have had an excellent debate in which we heard good speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald) and for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes). I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) was not in the Chamber to hear those. Nothing new has been adduced in this debate that was not placed before the House over the past six months. On 18 March my right hon. Friend voted in favour of armed action, and if she now says that she was deceived and duped by the Prime Minister, I do not understand why she remained in the Cabinet during the long months since the dispute started.

I agree with the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who referred to the Prime Minister's total credibility. I hope that he will not join the Liberal Democrats in the Lobby. In the Prime Minister's speech in September when the document—

Mr. Blunt: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacShane: No, we have little time left.

The document is to be the subject of a public inquiry—

Mr. Blunt: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am concerned that the Minister has used my words selectively. I clearly commented on credibility on that issue alone—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to prolong the debate, not to raise a point of order with the Chair.

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) said that the Prime Minister has acted with integrity and that he will join the Government in what I call the right Lobby tonight.

I welcome the fact that we have debated Iraq today and that our Parliament has debated and voted on the matter consistently. No other Parliament, congress or national assembly has debated the subject so openly and publicly. I welcome the announcement that one of our great Committees of the House, and possibly a second, will investigate the matters under consideration and report to Parliament.

I wish that the House had been sitting last week so that we could have dealt with those newspaper reports, which said much more about the nature of journalism than they did about the facts. Who could not enjoy this morning's wonderful discourse between Mr. John Humphrys and the Leader of the House? Mr. Humphrys was a guest on the Leader of the House programme and extracted from him the remarkable confession that Mr. Humphrys had talked to sources in our intelligence services who had views that they wanted to express. So I hope that tomorrow Mr. Humphrys will interview himself about those sources and obtain more details.

We also had the delicious story in my favourite paper, The Guardian, alleging that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had been in the Waldorf Astoria in New York to have conversations with Secretary of State Colin Powell. The story was specific. Its reporter alleged

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that the secret meeting—how journalists love the words "secret meeting"—had been on 4 February this year, but that day meant something to me because I was with the Foreign Secretary in Le Touquet to meet Dominique de Villepin and President Chirac. Now, I adore the travel pages in The Guardian, but New York is in America and Le Touquet is in France.

In the short time left to me, I have had a chance to correct the distortions, half truths and the unattributed and unsourced allegations that have filled our newspapers and media in recent days.

We might have had a serious debate on the wider issues of Iraq. We might have had a debate on the fact that Chancellor Schröder and President Chirac, who did not support the line of the Prime Minister and President Bush, said in Evian at the weekend that the issue of weapons of mass destruction remained of high importance on the international agenda. Instead, we have had speeches from the Liberal Democrats designed not to place the House of Commons at the heart of policy debate on the future of the region and what we need to do to counter weapons of mass destruction, but rather to use the Commons for petty political point-scoring that is an insult to the people of Iraq, who have been liberated from the tyranny, terror and torture of Saddam Hussein.

Not a word of thanks from the Liberal Democrats to our brave soldiers and airmen. Not a word of praise for our friends in Europe—in Poland and Spain, in Copenhagen and Prague—who have offered political and military support to the cause, first, of freeing Iraq, and today of helping to assure it security. No, this has been the Liberal Democrats bringing the House of Commons down to their level of opportunistic politics. Of course, they were joined by that new member of the Liberal Democrat party, the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who called for an open public judicial tribunal to sit for months, if not years, investigating every aspect of our security services in public. I can think of no more irresponsible suggestion to make at this time, when we need our intelligence services to get on with the high duties that we expect of them.

We would expect such opportunism from the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrat magazine, Liberator, stated in March 2003:

There we have it.

Three main charges were made against the Prime Minister—first, that there was always a programme for war; secondly, that the quotations from President Chirac were in some way misused; and thirdly, that the report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was doctored to include a reference to 45 minutes. From the time the crisis broke out, it was clear that the Prime Minister and the President of the United States sought to take it to the United Nations, but not at the price of leaving Saddam Hussein permanently in power in defiance of the international community.

President Bush's predecessor, President Clinton, authorised the use of force, along with Britain and other allies but without any authorisation from the United

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Nations, to bomb Belgrade and bring an end to the tyranny and terror of Milosevic. Many hon. Members opposed that conflict at the time, but then the Liberal Democrats were led by Paddy Ashdown, a man who has never appeared on, "Have I Got News for You", but who knew that fighting tyranny with or without a UN resolution was not something from which to flinch.

The second charge is that the Government mistranslated what President Chirac said in the week when British diplomats were trying in New York to fashion a resolution that could have provided a final chance for Saddam Hussein to avoid the conflict. I have the full text of what President Chirac said in his television interview. His position was consistent. He did not want to authorise armed action. I have not joined in the chorus of those denouncing him, nor do I challenge the sincerity of the positions of those in France and Germany and in my own country who were opposed to the conflict.

President Chirac said on Monday 10 March:

He was pressed again and again by the interviewers. He was asked whether using the veto would be an unprecedented act against the United States. He dismissed that, but no one reading the full transcript can be in any doubt that President Chirac made it clear that he would veto the efforts being made by British diplomats.

Finally, we have the charge that the dossier on Iraq entitled "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction" was manipulated in some way. The reference to a 45-minute warning was in the Joint Intelligence Committee report sent to Downing street. The allegation made by the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan that the 45-minute warning period was added to spice up the report was incorrect. The relevant sentence of the report says that Iraq has

That intelligence will come as no surprise to the people of Halabja. They did not have a 45-minute warning, or even a four-minute warning, when Saddam used these weapons to kill 5,000 of them. What the JIC reported on was the suffering that the people of Iraq already knew.

What is new is that anyone can question the clear record set out in the report of Saddam's past practice and future intentions. The report argues:

That threat no longer exists. The men and women of Iraq, and especially the children—they died by the thousands when, for his own evil ends, he stole the money that could have saved their lives—are now free.

Building on that freedom will be hard. Two months after the end of Hitlerism in Germany there was nothing but chaos, corruption, poverty and considerable violence. The Nazis were in power for 13 years. Saddam's Ba'ath party was in power far longer. We

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should not forget that its ideology was based entirely on European nationalistic, fascist politics. Every day we discover new horrors: the mass graves of the 300,000 murdered by Saddam Hussein are the latest example of his use of holocaust techniques against fellow Muslims whom he wanted to exterminate.

In the Balkans, four years after we got rid of Milosevic and despite the presence of scores of thousands of NATO soldiers, we still cannot lay our hands on Karadzic and Mladic, the butchers of Srebrenica. In Northern Ireland, we still cannot find the arms caches of the terrorists. But we will, and we will show to the world that for the most part the United Nations, the JIC and other bodies were right to draw attention to concerns about weapons in Iraq, and we were right to join our allies to rid the world of Saddam and his evil regime.

I am proud to be a member of a Government who have vanquished tyranny. I welcome the investigations that different Committees of the House will now undertake. I believe that the leadership shown by the House as it debated and decided that action should be taken was fully justified. I invite the Liberal Democrats even now to withdraw their opportunistic motion. They will get their headline in the papers tomorrow, but our intelligence services will continue to watch, guard and warn our nation of today's and tomorrow's dangers, and I hope that when the next threat arises the House will not flinch from doing its duty.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 203, Noes 301.

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