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Mr. Boswell rose—

Mr. Straw: I shall give way in moment.

There was Lord Merlyn Rees, a great friend of ours, but who never claimed to be a judicial figure. Another member was Patrick Nairn, a personal friend of mine, who was the permanent secretary at the Department of Health, but before that had spent his working life at the Ministry of Defence. The members of the Franks inquiry were fine upstanding individuals, but my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, who had some experience of it, complained in the House about its methods, which were not forensic. There was much criticism of its report, and the inquiry was accused of a whitewash by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). The ISC has done a far more thorough job than such an inquiry could ever do.

Mr. Ancram: I mentioned the Franks inquiry because it showed that when we were responsible for military action we were prepared to have an inquiry into its outcome as well as the reasons for it. If the Foreign Secretary reads the Order Paper, he will know that every day since our motion earlier in the summer we have tabled a motion calling for a tribunal of inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. That is the type of inquiry that we have sought all along.

Mr. Straw: I dealt with that point comprehensively last time. Such an inquiry would see us well past the next general election, so the idea that a conclusion could be reached on which the British public could come to a view in advance of the election is spurious.

Mr. Ancram: Not true.

Mr. Straw: Well, the scope of the comprehensive inquiry that the right hon. Gentleman seeks would go far beyond the Hutton inquiry, and even that has taken longer—

Mr. Ancram: The Hutton inquiry is very narrow.

Mr. Straw: I agree, and that is my point. The Hutton inquiry is very narrow in scope, but it will take at least six months. The right hon. Gentleman wants a

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comprehensive inquiry, but that would take years. The Bloody Sunday inquiry—on, I suggest, a rather less complicated issue, given the fact that it does not involve other sovereign states—has now been sitting for five years.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Oh, come on!

Mr. Straw: Well, one of the reasons why the Saville inquiry has taken so long is that the rights of individuals under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. All of us would have those rights. The Scott report, on which my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) did so brilliantly at the Dispatch Box, took three and a half years to do its work, and it stretched across a general election. It is extraordinary for the right hon. Member for Devizes to argue for a comprehensive judicial inquiry on the basis that it is the way to hold the Government to account, when the certain result of an inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 into the causes of war in Iraq would be to kick the issue into the long grass until well beyond the general election.

Sir Peter Tapsell: The Foreign Secretary started the present section of his speech by rubbishing the legal opinion of Lord Alexander of Weedon, a former chairman of the Bar, who said that resolution 1441, taken together with previous resolutions, did not provide a justification for war. That is why France, Germany and Russia did not support it at the United Nations. As the Foreign Secretary knows very well, resolution 1441 said that there would be "serious consequences" if Iraq did not comply. It did not say that the United Nations would go to war without a second resolution, and the Government failed to get that second resolution. That is the legal position and that is why the Attorney-General has been discredited.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman should calm down. Lord Alexander, whether he was chairman of the Bar or not, was wrong on this issue. The factual basis of what he said was wrong. He claimed on the radio that resolution 1441 required that the matter went back to the United Nations Security Council for decision, but that was not the case. He was wrong about that, and the hon. Gentleman should at least have the good grace to agree with that. Lord Alexander has many merits—I know and like him—but that was not the most impressive work that he has done.

Mr. Bercow : Curiously, I find it difficult to get worked up either way about the arguments for or against a judicial inquiry. I see no reason to disagree with the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he said:

I believe that statesmanship was required, statesmanship was delivered and statesmanship was welcome, so I have no regrets about voting for military action.

Mr. Straw: I am glad to hear that, and I know that the Leader of Opposition will take that intervention as a declaration of loyalty to him.

Mr. Dalyell: It may be my fault, but I have not heard an answer to the question posed about half an hour ago

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by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. It would be greatly helpful to the House if we knew the date on which the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister first knew that the reference to 45 minutes and weapons of mass destruction referred to battlefield weapons.

Mr. Straw: I cannot give my hon. Friend the exact date off the top of my head. I saw the JIC intelligence assessment, which we received in September, so I guess that it was around that date—but I will check that. Although the 45-minute claim became a huge issue following the Gilligan interview on 29 May, it was not an issue before that. Indeed, as I said at the beginning of my speech, in the whole period from the publication of the dossier until 29 May—my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) got the Library to analyse it—the issue was scarcely, if ever, mentioned in the House, and only once or twice outside it.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw: I have given way a great deal and I must now come to a conclusion. The House established the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee was established by parliamentary legislation. Both Committees made thorough reports, and those reports and the manner of the Committees' inquiries undermine the case now being made for a further judicial inquiry. The Committees were rigorous with their witnesses—some might say, too rigorous. The ISC was patently scrupulous with the intelligence material; and, where they felt it was warranted, both Committees were unsparing in their criticism of the Government. Let me remind the Opposition that both Committees also reached the same conclusion: that the claims made in the Government's September dossier were well-founded on the basis of the intelligence then available.

Given the fact that we have now had the ISC report, the case for a judicial inquiry is even weaker than it was on 16 July when the right hon. Member for Devizes last made the same speech as he made this afternoon. He made it then with rather more conviction. It is time for the House to move on. It is time that we devoted our time to the vital issue of building a secure, prosperous Iraq from the ashes of Saddam's dictatorship. That is the issue that has preoccupied the United Nations in recent weeks. It is also at the forefront of the minds of all Iraqi people, irrespective of their religious denomination or political leanings. They would, I am certain, find the Conservative motion somewhat bewildering and entirely irrelevant. We surely owe them better than that. I urge the House to reject the motion and to support the amendment.

2.48 pm

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The Foreign Secretary referred, I think in error, to Iran, which allows me the opportunity to express—it may be the only matter on which we agree this afternoon—relief and pleasure at the apparent outcome of his visit there with his French and German counterparts. The Liberal Democrats have consistently supported the principle of engagement, and we are aware that he has invested much time and effort in maintaining the opening with Iran. We hope that that continues to prove profitable.

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I hope that the Foreign Secretary will recollect that on one of our Opposition days we tabled a motion relating to the United Nations and we discussed the topic of how best the reconstruction of Iraq, and the imposition of stability on the country, could be effected.

We propose to support the Conservative motion, although not necessarily for the reasons put forward by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). He quoted from my speech of 24 September, and I stand by what I said wholly and completely, because—entirely inadvertently, I am sure—the right hon. Gentleman found himself guilty of selective quotation.

The point that I made in the House both then and subsequently is that the Security Council and its resolutions are not the only source of international law. Many people have argued correctly that resolutions 678 and 687 contained an authority for the use of military force, but in what other way was the bombing campaign—which began immediately after Richard Butler withdrew the UN inspectors in, I think, 1998—justified?

UN Security Council resolutions must be seen against the background of customary international law. It is illegitimate to use military force, except as a last resort when all other diplomatic and political resources have been exhausted. The Foreign Secretary and others may remember that the amendment moved and voted on on 18 March would have allowed the inspectors further time to complete their inspections. That is, it would have met Dr. Blix's request for some additional time to fulfil his mandate.

In my view, therefore, we had not reached the position of last resort. A further principle of international law, to which Lord Alexander refers, holds that the use of military force must be proportionate. As he points out, there is no justification for regime change. In particular, article 2.4 of the UN charter expressly forbids that. The military force proportionate to making a country fulfil its disarmament obligations may be—and in my judgment in this case was—significantly different from the military force expressly designed to achieve regime change. That was the avowed purpose in Washington, and the Government inevitably hitched themselves to it—albeit, after 18 March, with the authority of the House of Commons.

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