|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Ancram: Obviously, one cannot predict the outcome of a judicial inquiry, but that did not stop Lady Thatcher, after the Falklands war, setting up a commission of inquiry. She wanted to make sure that the truth was established. She was not afraid of the truth, so she called for a commission, and I am suggesting that the present Government do the same.
I have made it clear that in backing the Prime Minister's decision to go to war we were not signing up either to everything that had gone before or to everything that was to come after. We backed the Prime Minister because what he was seeking to do was right. Equally, I made it clear that we would not hesitate to criticise him when we believed that what he was doing was not right. The failure to plan adequately for the foreseeable problems of post-war Iraq was culpable. Whenever my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and I raised that before the war we were told that it was in hand. The Prime Minister assured the House on 3 February that
I am mystified by the Government's opposition to an inquiry. If they were confident of their position, they would support the motion tonight. An independent judicial inquiry would end the confusion and the rumours. Their rejection of such an inquiry can only suggest that they are less than confident in their case. The Prime Minister does not seem to understand the very real damage that the continuing allegations are doing to the reputation of this country abroad or to the reputation of our intelligence services at home. This should be a matter not of the Government's interest, but of the public interest, which would be best upheld by the sort of inquiry that we seek. It is still not too late for the Government to follow the example of Lady Thatcher.
The charges that are causing public confusion and concern fall broadly into four categories: first, the Government's failure to plan for the aftermath of war, which I have touched on already; secondly, the manipulation of intelligence and misrepresentation of what was intelligence and what was not; thirdly,
The most serious of those charges, to my mind, relates to the handling of intelligence. Parliament, particularly at a time of military threat, has a right to be able to trust the Government on that, and manipulation of intelligence is therefore an extremely grave charge. It is what the Prime Minister himself referred to on 28 August as a resigning matter. It is the charge that has been made in relation to the dossier of 24 September last year. What is unresolved and highly damaging is whether the evidence in that dossier amounted to evidence of a "current and serious" threat to this country. That was the claim made by the Prime Minister in his foreword to the dossier, against the advice of his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell.
There is evidence that the dossier was, at the very least and at the instigation of non-intelligence sources, considerably toughened up or, to use the word of one defence intelligence official, "over-egged". We need to ask why it was "over-egged". How could it be that a last-minute change to the dossier was made following an e-mail to John Scarlett of the Joint Intelligence Committee from Jonathan Powell? Should we believe that the JIC had "ownership", as was claimed by Mr. Scarlett, of the September dossier, when at the last minute a "problem" passage was replaced with a more helpful version, again at the behest of Jonathan Powell, apparently without the JIC even seeing the amendment?
What was the justification for that over-egging? In summary, was the September dossier a genuine intelligence resumé of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, as it was claimed to be, or was it a propaganda device to bring doubting Labour Members onside? These are serious questions, and they are surely best answered in the ordered environment of a judicial inquiry.
Alan Howarth (Newport, East): The right hon. Gentleman said that one should not prejudge the outcome of any inquiry. Will he therefore take the opportunity to repudiate the criticism of Mr. Scarlett's integrity reported to have been made by the Leader of the Opposition in The Mail on Sunday on 12 October? Will he acknowledge that if the Leader of the Opposition did indeed speak in those terms, he perpetrated an odious slur on a public servant of complete integrity and outstanding ability, honourably endeavouring to perform exceptionally difficult duties? If the Leader of the Opposition did say what he is reported to have said, the slur was as odious in its substance as it was in its language.
Mr. Ancram: I do not remember whether the report was in the Daily Mail or The Mail on Sunday. I read reports about things that I am supposed to have said. I do not believe everything I read in the newspapers, and I do not believe that.
Mr. Ancram: I say again what I said earlier. John Scarlett chairs an important Committee. That Committee has been called into question by the allegations that have been made in relation to the lead-up to the war. It is vital that any judgment is made not on the basis of speculation or press reports, but on the basis of a public inquiry that can properly assess the facts.
The charges relating to the second so-called dodgy dossier are, if anything, even more grave. The document was described by the Prime Minister in the House as "further intelligence". Those were his words. Two days later it was prayed in evidence by the United States Secretary of State in the United Nations Security Council, where he described the detail as "exquisite". We were all led to believe that it was an intelligence-based document. Certainly, nothing said by the Government suggested that it was anything less. The Foreign Secretary, astonishingly, confirmed to me at the end of July that he was not aware until three days after its publication that it was not an intelligence document. That was after the Prime Minister and Colin Powell had referred to it as such.
That raises extraordinary questions. Was the Prime Minister aware that the document was not "further intelligence", as he set it out to be, when, as the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded, he misrepresented to the House that it was? Did Alastair Campbell mislead the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary about the origins of the document? Why, anyway, was a spin doctor in charge of putting together such a sensitive document? Was the JIC equally in the dark about the dossier? In short, is this another tale of propaganda, or a saga of unutterable incompetence and chaos on a most serious matter at a most serious time? Either way, it is gravely disturbing, highly damaging to the credibility of the Government and another urgent reason for the inquiry that we seek.
Why, then, did the Prime Minister on 31 May tell Sky News that he was waiting to publish what he described as a "complete picture" of both intelligence gained before the war and "what we've actually found"? He went on to say in that interview:
We would all have a right to feel let down on a matter on which Parliament and the nation as a whole had the right to rely on the word of the Prime Minister on matters of intelligence. More seriously, it would suggest either that the Prime Minister received wrong intelligence from the intelligence services, or that heif I may put it politelygrossly enlarged upon the information that he had received in order to back up the case that he so passionately made to Parliament. Each of these possibilities would raise the gravest of questions, the first about the credibility of our intelligence services, and the second about the credibility of the Prime Minister. Either would have the most serious implications.
Once again, the most effective way of clearing this up, setting to rest the suspicions and restoring credibility is for the Prime Minister to submit the evidence and information that he had before the war, and that which he has now, to be assessed once and for all by an independent judicial inquiry.