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Gregory Barker : On the very eve of war, the Foreign Secretary was extremely clear about the reasons for committing British troops. He said that


That was it. No broader case was made; the object was to ensure the disarmament of Iraq's WMD. Given that not a single weapon of mass destruction has been found six months later, can the Foreign Secretary not understand why the British public are demanding a judicial inquiry?

Mr. Straw: That shows again how detached the Conservative party is. I do not deny that one or two people have adopted a completely honourable position in respect of the war. They, including many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and some Opposition Members, opposed it in the first place. It seems to me that they are entitled to say that they were right and they wish to find further and better particulars as to why they were right. But I find the official Opposition's position extraordinary. Far from being reluctant supporters of military action, about 18 months before the war they were trying to entice us to take military action without going anywhere near the United Nations, yet they now complain about finding no WMD. If the hon. Gentleman believes that Iraq was not a threat, I suggest that he examines not just Dr. Blix's last report, but all those before it and all the United Nations Special Commission reports before that. He should hear what President Khatami said to me and then said at a press conference held yesterday in association with Dominique de Villepin and Joschka Fischer in Tehran. He said, "We have every reason to know about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction: they have been used on our people." The British people understand that truth, even if the right hon. Gentleman and Conservative Front Benchers no longer understand it.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw: I give way to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond).

Mr. Salmond: Surely the Foreign Secretary does not want to be judged on his commitment to the United Nations by the standards of the Conservative party. If he describes the terminal torpor of the Tory party as a problem for the Tory party, is it not also a problem for

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democracy? I do not believe that the Foreign Secretary could get away with the convoluted nonsense about the reasons for war if there were an Opposition vigorously questioning and opposing the Government's underlying assumptions. Would not a judicial inquiry answer questions such as who forged the documents on uranium imports from Niger? Or is the Foreign Secretary pursuing that matter through other means?

Mr. Straw: I doubt very much whether an inquiry could get to that, and we already know that the documents were forged—[Interruption.] Let me tell the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan that he is not speaking very well of his own attempts at opposition when he says that it was so lousy.

Bob Spink rose—

Mr. Boswell rose—

Mr. Straw: No, I am going to make two final points, the first of which, as it has become current, is the issue of the legal basis for military action, which was raised by Lord Alexander of Weedon. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Devizes at least detached himself from Lord Alexander's profoundly weak argument. It is important for me to put on the record the Government's position on what Lord Alexander said. He claimed that the Government were scraping the legal barrel in relying on the legal authorisation for military action given by Security Council resolution 678. That authorisation was, however, revived by the failure of Iraq to comply with its obligations imposed under resolution 687, in respect of which the Security Council, when it passed resolution 1441, found Iraq to be in material breach.

To describe that as "scraping the legal barrel" and "risible" is extraordinary when successive Conservative and Labour Governments have taken the position that the authority of resolution 678 had only been suspended by the Gulf war ceasefire, and could be revived. That was the position when the Government of the day supported military action in Iraq in January 1993 and it was also the position when the Government of day—my Government—supported military action in December 1998.

It is for the Opposition to make their own judgment about the rightness or otherwise of military action pursued by Governments. As it happens, I sat for 18 years in opposition, and on most occasions—certainly in respect of the Falklands and the Gulf war—our Front Benchers decided to support military action. It was contentious in my own party, but I believe that it was right to do so, and I have never resiled from that view. I have never gone through the contortions that the right hon. Member for Devizes has gone through today in calling for a further public inquiry.

As to the legal basis for taking military action in the recent war, the Attorney-General answered a question in the House of Lords on 17 March 2003. Alongside that, in an official letter to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I gave more detail of our view of the legal position than has ever before been given in the run-up to military action. That shows very clearly the basis on which we took the decision to start military action. It was based on resolutions 678, 687 and subsequent

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resolutions, and on 1441, which confirmed that those earlier resolutions remained in force. Resolution 1441 also referred in operational paragraph 4 to circumstances in which further material breaches would occur: a failure to provide a full disclosure—which for sure there was, and no one ever disputed that—and any other failures wholly, completely and promptly to comply with the obligations of the United Nations. Again, that applied. Under operational paragraph 12, the matter had to go back to the Security Council for consideration, but not for decision. There was never a requirement for a second resolution.

Conservative Members should recall that, from the moment when I reported to the House on resolution 1441 on 24 November 2002, I made it clear that we did not believe we had to have a second resolution. We said that we wanted one, but that we did not believe we needed one. That was why we spent two months arguing with the French, among others, because we were not willing to sign up to a resolution that required it. Operational paragraph 13 made it clear that serious consequences would follow.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) rose—

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) rose—

Mr. Straw: I need to make progress, but I shall give way in a moment. I have already referred to the fact that there have already been two clear and very substantial inquiries into aspects of the war. The Foreign Affairs Committee had an inquiry into the decision to go to war and the Intelligence and Security Committee had a related inquiry into the intelligence and assessments. As I have already said, the ISC inquiry went into the intelligence background—it saw all the raw material on intelligence reports that it needed—in huge detail.

The House is part of the high court of Parliament. It is Parliament's job—not that of Ministers, but of every Member in the House—to hold Ministers to account. Of course there are occasions when it is right to set up judicial inquiries, as, for example, in the specific case of the death of Dr. David Kelly. However, in terms of holding us to account for what are palpably and essentially political decisions, the House is the right body. There has been a greater degree of scrutiny of our decision—and the background to it—than there has ever been before in similar circumstances.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) rose—

Mr. Straw: I want to make an important point.

The right hon. Member for Devizes shifted away from calling for a judicial inquiry and somehow elided that with saying—I took down his exact words—that we should have a commission of inquiry following the example of Lady Thatcher. I do not believe that any High Court judge or Law Lord would be an appropriate individual for holding an inquiry into what is essentially a political issue. It would be bound to involve questions as to why the United Nations came to the decision that it reached in November. Without that decision, no military action in my judgment would have been right or appropriate.

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The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Franks inquiry, so let me tell him who was on that commission of inquiry. In my judgment, the Intelligence and Security Committee was both better qualified and more up-to-date, and its methods were better than those of Franks. The Franks commission comprised Lord Franks, of whom my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said in a debate on 16 July that he was frankly—no pun intended—rather old by that stage. It included other individuals of known impartiality, such as the noble Lord Barber, a former Conservative Chancellor better known to some of us for his boom of the early 1970s. There was the noble Lord Watkinson, once—though not for long, which is why the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is furrowing his brow—a transport Minister, though less well known than one of his immediate predecessors, Ernie Marples.


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