Mr. McCabe: I respect my hon. Friend's view on the war, although I do not agree with it. Is he seriously suggesting that Ministers in this Labour Government deliberately set out to lie, distort and misrepresent the truth to con us all into a war? Is that really what he believes?
Llew Smith: Where I come from, we have a quaint tradition that if someone poses a question, someone else answers. You have both posed and attempted to answer the question. You posed the question and now I shall answer
Llew Smith: My hon. Friend posed the question and I shall answer it. My answer is that I cannot answer his question truthfully until we receive the information that some of us have demanded and is the reason for today's debate. If we receive the information in the weeks or months ahead, I shall be in a far better position to answer my hon. Friend's question, but until that happens I have to say that I just do not know.
The sequential refusals of the Attorney-General in the other place, and Ministers in this House, to release the full legal opinion have prevented both Houses of Parliament from finding the truth about how the war was started. I have tabled many questions on the legality of the warprobably more than any other Member, as the Minister will accept. I have requested that allI emphasise the word "all"the information that the Government received should be in the hands of Members of Parliament and the public. Sadly, a Labour Government who came to power in 1997 committed to open government have failed to keep their promise. The Government's responses to my requests for information have included "No" and "Information withheld". The Government have also responded that it is
Llew Smith: I assumed that my hon. Friend the Minister would have known without bothering to ask that I was referring to the information that the Government received from the Attorney-General. Indeed, that is the reason for the debate. I did not ask for intelligence information or any other information that would put national security at risk. I am referring to the information that the Attorney-General provided to the Government. I see no reason why Members of the House, and indeed members of the general public, should not receive all of that information in order to be able to pass judgment on whether it was right or wrong, legal or illegal, to go to war.
We also know from Anthony Aust, a former Foreign Office deputy legal adviser and visiting professor of international law at the London School of Economics, writing in The Guardian on 2 March, that legal advice to the then Tory Government was published in 1972
In an intervention I said that I could understand that if a private individual sought legal advice, that individual had a right to determine whether the advice would remain confidential. But I repeat that a Labour Government or any other Government are not a private individual. This Labour Government were democratically elected and are therefore accountable to the people. It is not possible to have that accountability if the peoplethose who put the Government into officeare prevented from having information that determines the most important of all decisions: whether the country should go to war. I believe that Members of this House cannot take that kind of decision unless we, too, are provided with that information.
While all this has been going on, a cloak of secrecy has been drawn over these matters. Despite the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been foundSaddam was supposed to have weapons of mass destruction that he could use within 45 minutes and that were a threat to the westno resignations have followed. Last December, I asked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister whether, if no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, we could expect resignations at the highest levels of Government. Unfortunately, he failed to answer.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): Were I winding up the debate, I should be compelled to describe it as wide-ranging. But in the time available to me I shall try to focus on the issue of publication, which I understand to be the gravamen of the motion in the name of Members of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party.
Let me remind the House that when General Galtieri invaded the Falklands, the legal position was clear and unequivocal. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, there could be no dispute about the illegality of that act. But the military action against Iraq 12 months ago had neither such legal clarity nor unanimity, then or now. The truth is that legal opinion was then, and remains today, as controversial and divided as public opinion.
The circumstances were and remain unique. The United Kingdom went to war on the basis of intelligence assessments, not because of an actual or even an immediately threatened act of aggression. It has been repeated again today that we went to war, the Government said, on the basis of the contention that Iraq was in breach of United Nations resolutions, and that that of itself justified military action to enforce those resolutions. That contention, if I have stated it both accurately and fairly, as I believe I have, seems to me to fail to take account of three significant legal principles.
The first principle is that war must always be the last resort when all other diplomatic and political alternatives have been exhausted. Yet at the time of our debate on 18 March, and the military action that followed it, inspections were still continuing, and in the opinion of Dr. Blix could usefully be allowed to continue. Diplomatic and political alternatives were still available.
The second principle is that when military action is taken, the use of force must always be proportionate to the political aims. The object of the resolutions upon which the Government rely now, and upon which they relied then, was to disarm Iraq, not to topple its Government. It is self-evident that military action for the first purpose is different in degree and extent from what is required for the second.
The third principle is that regime change is illegal under article 2, paragraph 4, of the charter of the United Nations. Yet which of us doubts that the clear objective of the United States, with which we were associated in alliance, was regime change? Last week in Sedgefield, in a speech whose second half in particular requires careful study and consideration, the Prime Minister distanced the Government from regime change. But it cannot be avoided that we acted in concert with the United States, for which regime change was a publicly stated justification for military action.
Those three elementslast resort, proportionality and regime changeall have legal consequences. I do not believe that any opinion seeking to examine and analyse the legal justification for military action could or should have ignored them. That is why I believe that the
It is said that convention precludes publication of the Attorney-General's advice, but that principle was breached when part of the advice was published. If the principle is of such profound significance, as soon as it is breached the argument that it must be maintained in all circumstances suffers at the very least considerable damage. That principle can have been breached only because of a recognition by the Government of the special circumstances of the timespecial circumstances reflected, as the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) has just said, in the Government's decision to put to the House a question seeking endorsement of the decision to take military action; special circumstances indeed. But that convention is not a statutory rule. The law is not broken by publication of the Attorney-General's advice, and it must be borne in mind that conventions in our constitution are conceived of in the public interest. It is not their purpose to protect parties or Governments from scrutiny or embarrassment. So, in this case, it is my conclusion that the convention does not serve the public interest and that the public interest is best served by full disclosure. That is why the House should support the motion.