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Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I have been listening carefully to my hon. and learned Friend. I am not an expert in international law, but surely we should take into account the context of resolution 1441. The American delegation to the United Nations said that 1441 would not lead to military action. Indeed, it would have been difficult to secure unanimous agreement for that resolution if the French or Germans had believed otherwise. It is odd to build an argument on the basis of what happened on that fateful day in the United Nations.

Ross Cranston: Resolution 1441 imposed a unanimous obligation on Iraq, saying that it was "in material breach", but had a final opportunity to comply with its obligations inter alia by co-operating "immediately, unconditionally, and actively". Paragraph 13 goes on to say that

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab): I think that my hon. and learned Friend is going to conclude that 1441 gave the green light to go to war. Why, then, did the much praised public servant, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, make a statement outside the UN in which he said that there was "no automaticity" about our going to war in that resolution?

Ross Cranston: I touched on that earlier, when I said that there was no automaticity, but that Iraq had to achieve compliance immediately, unconditionally, and actively.

Dr. Blix produced three important and detailed reports for the Security Council, the first of which was published on 27 January. One remembers that report in particular because in it Dr. Blix used the following expression:

He pointed out that the obligation in paragraph 9 of resolution 1441 was to co-operate actively. In his report of 14 February, he referred again to the need to co-operate and said:

Finally, in his March report, Dr. Blix said:

In other words, Dr. Blix was saying that Iraq had not complied with its obligations under 1441.

The issue of whether or not weapons of mass destruction existed is beside the point as far as 1441 is concerned, because under that resolution the onus is on

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Iraq to demonstrate that it does not have such weapons. I remind the House that in the preamble to resolution 1483, passed after the conflict had finished on 22 May 2003, the Security Council reaffirmed

Paragraph 11, the substantive part of that resolution, reaffirms

Even after the conflict, the Security Council said that Iraq must disarm. The fact that weapons of mass destruction have not been found so far is clearly beside the point.

Llew Smith: How can weapons of mass destruction be beside the point, given that they were the reason why we went to war?

Ross Cranston: It is clear, in terms of 1441, that we took armed action because Iraq had not demonstrated that it did not have weapons of mass destruction. That is the point. The onus was on Iraq to demonstrate that it did not have them, but it failed to do so.

I was sad to see that the other day the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, supported by the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price), signed up to the petition to the International Criminal Court on UK war crimes. That petition is entirely misconceived. It confuses the earlier notion of the illegality of the war with that of how any war is conducted in relation to the Geneva protocols, and also suggests that we in the UK are guilty of genocide because we acted in accordance with the sanctions resolutions imposed by the United Nations. That is completely wrong.

It is clear what the motion is all about. We cannot get away from the obvious fact that we have a legitimate disagreement in this House about the war in Iraq. The motion is one more weapon that is being used by those who opposed the war to further that cause. I completely reject the suggestion that the Attorney-General was suborned in terms of the opinion that he gave. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, the Attorney-General is a man of the highest integrity. Before he became Attorney-General, he was a leader of the commercial Bar and chairman of the Bar Council. He is a man of the highest intelligence and integrity, and the suggestion that he was manipulated to produce advice must be clearly and unequivocally rejected.

The motion represents one more attempt to go over very old ground. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, our major concern should be the future of a democratic state in Iraq.

4.3 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I regard it as a little odd, to say the least, that the Solicitor-General is not in her place to discuss these matters, given that she assumed such a prominent role in the Gun prosecution case and that the Attorney-General is the subject of the debate. A few days ago, I said in a letter to The Daily Telegraph that I deeply regret the fact that the Attorney-General is not in the House of Commons to answer for and to be accountable for the decisions that he takes on

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behalf of the nation, particularly in matters of this kind. Many people have the highest opinion of the Attorney-General, and I would concur. However, nobody is infallible. Moreover, under the conventions of the House, it is—or was, until this Government took over—always the case that the Attorney-General sat in this House, for extremely good and sound reasons. I shall revert later to the role of the Attorney-General.

I share or bear some responsibility for the Government's position because I repeatedly asked questions in the run-up to the war. I pressed especially for the Attorney-General's opinion on the legality of the war to be made available. Furthermore, on 14 March 2003, I specifically asked the Prime Minister in a parliamentary question whether he would make a statement on the legal basis for military intervention against Iraq. His initial answer was that there was a long-standing convention that legal advice to the Government remained confidential. That has often been repeated. He continued:

Towards the end of my remarks, I shall revert to that point and speak not only about dismantling the issue of the resolutions but the philosophy that lies behind the question of what constitutes international law, what the Prime Minister thinks about that now and what he thought about it then. His speech in Sedgefield on 5 March has a great bearing on the publication of the Attorney-General's opinion.

In the run-up to the debate on 17 March 2003, the Attorney-General published an opinion in summary, which was given to Parliament. As I said in an intervention on the Foreign Secretary, I was clear about the reason for that. It was partly pragmatic. I believe that the Labour Government were legally justified in going to war. I approved of the war, and I believe that the decision has been proved correct. As history unfolds, despite the difficulties, of which there will be more, the moral, political and legal justification for the war will become apparent. However, a veritable deluge of opinions poured out of all the international law chambers of the Middle Temple, Gray's Inn and so on. They dominated the airwaves. Professors of international law gave interviews on every television and radio station and said that the war was illegal. We also knew that our debate would be broadcast to the nation. A million people or thereabouts had marched against the war, which was a matter of intense controversy. The question that was asked most often was whether the war was legal.

I believed—I emphasise that I express a personal opinion, although others share it—that it would be highly undesirable if proceedings in the House were dominated by a deluge of opinions on only one side—that the war was illegal. It appeared to me that it would therefore be wise for alternative opinion to be presented to the House to rectify the imbalance that would have been broadcast to the nation. Furthermore, from the Government's point of view, that would have influenced those hon. Members who were prepared to vote for the war only reluctantly and who could be persuaded if the deluge of opinion from international lawyers were counterbalanced. Those Members had a difficult choice—I am not in any way cynical about that, or unfairly critical of them—and I believe that the

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submission of the Attorney-General's opinion in summary form had an enormous influence on the debate. I think that I am right in saying that the legality of the war was not challenged during the course of that debate. That may seem curious in retrospect, but on the whole, the fact that the Attorney-General's summary opinion had been put before the House laid the matter to rest for the time being.

As we know, however, that has not been the case since then, and the debate on legality rumbles on. For many reasons that I have often stated, from the Front Bench during debates and in correspondence in the national press, I have repeatedly called for publication of the full opinion. The Prime Minister apparently understands the basis of that argument, because in my exchanges with him during his statement to the House on the setting up of the Butler inquiry, I explicitly suggested that the Butler committee should have a copy of the full opinion from the Attorney-General. The Prime Minister replied that it could have anything it wanted, and the Foreign Secretary had said as much to me the previous day in reply to a similar question. On that basis, we know that the Butler inquiry will have access to the full opinion. We also know that the ombudsman has called for it. As I said in my exchanges with the Solicitor-General at the time of the dropping of the Gun prosecution, it would be in line with the ministerial code for the matter to be put before the House to be cleared up.

The Government amendment repeats the mantra, which the Foreign Secretary has repeated today from the Dispatch Box, that under the so-called

I do not mean this offensively, but, as a point of factual correction, that is not true. In all fairness, I think that the Foreign Secretary admitted as much in our exchanges, so we have cleared that up. However, it is intolerable that for several weeks—even several months—millions of people in this country have been subjected to yet another propaganda outburst, in which that convention was claimed to exist. In fact, that was not properly challenged at all until last week.

I became so frustrated with that that I wrote a very plain letter to The Daily Telegraph setting out, in terms, the precedents for disclosure. I also spelled them out on the "Today" programme. Given that there is no rule of absolute confidentiality—I go further, and say that no rule of confidentiality exists at all—it is intolerable that the nation was deluged with so much propaganda and was led to think that disclosure of the Attorney-General's opinion would contravene some constitutional principle of the highest importance.

The Foreign Secretary simply could not deny that many of the opinions previously disclosed by an Attorney-General related to state policy and questions of war and peace. That has happened on many important occasions, not all of them in the mists of antiquity, although some go back to 1865. They include the Belfast riots case, in which Palmerston made it explicit that there was no reason why the Attorney-General's opinion should not be made available to the House of Commons; he based that decision on the Cagliari case of 1858. Subsequently, along came Balfour in 1901, who, for reasons of political convenience, tried

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to change the rules. However, Edwards—the great authority on these matters—makes it clear that we cannot say dogmatically that there have been no occasions on which the Attorney-General's advice has not been made available, and there are so many instances when it has been, that it would be utterly absurd to cling to the idea that, in matters of great controversy and dispute involving state policy, as in the case of the Iraq war, the Attorney-General's opinion should not be made available this time.

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