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Mr. Grieve: They may be a long time ago, but one virtue of our parliamentary tradition is that what happens in Parliament is based on precedent. I hope that the Foreign Secretary is not about to consign that tradition to the bin, as it is very desirable. The problems faced by our forefathers tend to replicate themselves in the problems that we face. There is nothing new under the sun, so the past is a good place to look when one needs to know the best way to proceed.
The Foreign Secretary has argued that he does not want to publish the Attorney-General's advice in this case. I disagree with that decision. Before the right hon. Gentleman gets hot under the collar, I hope that he will listen to some straightforward arguments about why the advice should be published.
First, we must look at the circumstances in which the advice came to be given, and the use that the Government have made of it. Last year, the Government faced a difficult task. The Foreign Secretary restated a few moments ago what the Government believed at that timethat military action against Iraq was necessary and that Iraq had systematically flouted a series of UN resolutions. The Government also believed that Iraq posed a regional and even global threat; at least, that was how the matter was presented to the House when it was debated here. Finally, the Government wanted to ensure that Iraq was stopped. They took the view that UN resolutions already agreed allowed action to be taken and that there was no need to go back to the Security Council to secure a further resolution.
To achieve that, the Government put out a great deal of information. Instead of acting first and debating the result in Parliament afterwards, they decided to take the novel step of seeking Parliament's sanction and approval for the action that they intended to take. I thought that that approach was commendable, and I welcomed it at the time.
The Government put into the public domain a mass of information that, generally speaking, would not in the past have been seen by parliamentarians or the public. There were dossiers, and information about Iraq's capability in respect of weapons of mass destruction; also made available were assessments of the risks that Iraq posed, and of previous UN resolutions and the way that they had been broken, as reported by Dr. Blix. The Government also made it clear that they had gone to the Attorney-General before asking Parliament to come to this very important decision. Although the Government were not about to publish the Attorney-General's advice, they stated that they would publish a summary. That summary was published, and was available to hon. Members when the time came to make our decision.
Llew Smith : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we did not go to war because Saddam flouted UN resolutions? Had that been the reason, I assume that we would have gone to war with Israel many years ago, although I would not have supported that. We went to war with Iraq for one reasonbecause it had weapons of mass destruction. At least, that is what we were told.
Mr. Grieve: There lies the nub of the issue. When I came to consider whether it was proper to take military action against Iraq, I was not shadow Attorney-General. My assessment was influenced by Iraq's systematic flouting of UN resolutions, dating from the end of the Gulf war with Kuwait. The armistice at the end of that war contained conditions that were simply not observed. I was greatly influenced by the systematic violation of those agreements. However, for many Labour Back Benchers and other hon. Members, the critical questionand I accept that it was very importantwas whether the situation was grave enough to merit military action.
Clearly, the question of proportionality arose, and I remember the words "real and present danger" being bandied about. Was Iraq a real and present danger as well as being in breach of the resolutions? As the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) says, the issue
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): My recollection is that a number of senior Conservatives were extremely anxious to go to war, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will satisfy my curiosity about a particular question. It appears that publication in full of the Attorney-General's advice is now crucial for the hon. Gentleman. He is a lawyer, and he was considering these crucial matters very deeply, so why did it not occur to him, or any of his senior colleagues, to request full publication of the advice at the time?
Mr. Grieve: I had no reason to seek the publication of the Attorney-General's entire advice at the time, because the Government placed before the House a body of material that stated that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. However, two things have happened since then that have caused us to have this debate, which would not have happened otherwise. First, the weapons have not been found; and, secondly, evidence has emerged that calls into question the Government's competence in handling the intelligence material in relation to WMD. We know that because we discovered in the debate on Lord Hutton's report that the Secretary of State for Defence knew in March 2003 knew that the term "WMD" referred to battlefield weapons only, but that the Prime Minister apparently did not.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): My hon. Friend has offered two reasons why we should see the advice in full, but matters have moved fast. I remind him that there is another reason. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), the former Secretary of State for International Development, was a member of the Cabinet that took the decision to go to war, but she now says that there was something fishy about the decision. I cannot remember that happening in the past. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) wants to know what has changed, but he should ask those who sat around the Cabinet table at the time. Therefore, does my hon. Friend not agree that we are right to ask the questions that we are asking?
Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend is right. I was about to move on to questions about the actions of that former Cabinet Minister since her resignation. Moreover, we know that the legality of the decision to take military action appears to have been the subject of some controversy, to say the least. I do not mean that as a criticism of the Government, but we know that the second permanent legal adviser to the Foreign Office, Mrs. Wilmshurst, was so concerned that she resigned over the issue.
That is not to say that she was right and the Attorney-General wrong, as it is possible for people to have different opinions. However, we are entitled to ask whether the Attorney-General was given the right information on which to base his advice. That is the critical issue in this case, and the Government cannot avoid it. It may be that the Government were misled by the intelligence services. Their claim about WMD may have been made in complete good faith, As a result, the Attorney-General, again in complete good faith, may have based his advice on it. If that is the case, it may reflect on the competence of the intelligence servicesintelligence is a fairly murky areabut it would not necessarily reflect badly on the Government and it would not make the decision to go to war unlawful. We did not have the correct intelligence because Saddam Hussein consistently denied and obfuscated the true position over the previous months and years. It would be useful to have the entire picture because it might well exonerate the Government of anything more than making a mistake.
Alternatively, the conspiracy theory is that the Government knew that the evidence on weapons of mass destruction was nothing like as good as the way in which they presented it to the House, but chose for their own reasonsperhaps they were particularly concerned about their Back Benchersto deny their Back Benchers and, for all I know, the Attorney-General access to it. That is why the Attorney-General's advice, which the Government specifically relied upon to present their case to the House to justify the legal basis for military action, is so relevant.
I hope that the Foreign Secretary is willing to listen with an open mind. Subject to the problem that the Attorney-General's advice might contain either classified material, which would have to be edited, or references to secret material that the Government have still not been able to present to the public, it is entirely in the Government's interest to make the advice available. The Government used parts of the advice to persuade the electorate and Parliament. One year later, they have got themselves into a position where, possibly through no fault of their own, elements of the factual opinion that they gave have been called into question on valid grounds, and supplying the entire advice would provide reassurance. In that light, I must say to the Foreign Secretary that it strikes me as being fairly reasonable for the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) to table his motion.