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Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is making a preposterous suggestion. If the Attorney-General had come to a different view, it would have been communicated to the House and that would have been the end of the matter.
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is making the general suggestion that the position of the Attorney-General is not independent of Ministers and that if his advice is not acceptable Ministers require it to be changed, on threat of his being sacked. That is a preposterous statement and is utterly untrue and incorrectin respect not only of the present Administration but of any Administration. Peter Archer is a good friend and I should be happy to take him through the negotiating history of 1441 and explain why I think he erred, but if he had been the Attorney-General and had, finally, come to a different view, that would have been the end of the matter.
Mr. Salmond: The key word is "finally". One of the issues that we want to explore is whether the Attorney-General's advice went through a variety of versions before the Foreign Secretary published the final document in summary[Interruption.] The Foreign
My second quotation is from Hans Blix[Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary can listen to the quotation and then comment. Hans Blix is an international lawyer as well as a weapons inspector, and he said:
Another issue that has been raised in the debate is the Elizabeth Wilmshurst resignation, which has not been spoken of or debated publicly to the same extent perhaps as the Katharine Gun trial and other issues, but it is surely pertinent when a career civil servant, who, by all accounts, had a distinguished career and was near the pinnacle of her profession as deputy legal adviser in the Foreign Office, resigns on the eve of a conflict. At the very least, that gives us the strong suggestion that the arguments involving lawyers that the Foreign Secretary thinks take place outside the realms of the Foreign Office were taking place within the Foreign Office itself. I should like to know whether the Attorney-General weighed up those arguments and counter-suggestions before he finally decided to agree with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and give them the basis that they wanted for the legality of the conflict.
I also want to explore the development of Government thinking. The Foreign Secretary is very sensitive on this matter. He takes every opportunity, even when it is not central to the debate, as it is in this one, to tell us about his efforts on resolution 1441, but
The Prime Minister has never been able to explain the content of his interview on "Newsnight" on 6 February 2003, in which he was absolutely explicit that the only circumstance in which war would be sanctioned outwith a second resolution was if one country exercised an unreasonable veto. As we well know, it was a question not of one country exercising an unreasonable veto, but of the majority of the Security Council not being prepared to agree to that second resolution. We need to know how the Government's legal advice developed as events took their course.
The absolutely crucial aspect of the debate is the information allowed to those who make decisions. The Foreign Secretary has made great play of the fact that the House was given the unprecedented opportunity to make a decision on whether to go to war on a substantive motion. Despite all the points in the debate on which I disagree with him, I do not disagree with him about that. It was a good initiative and rightly something of which to be proud. However, if the House is to be called upon to make such a fundamental decision, surely the unavoidable conclusion is that the House, on behalf of the people whom it represents, should be given all possible advice on which to base its decision. The Attorney-General's advice has been described as a summary or a précis, and the Foreign Secretary earlier described it as a digest. If the House makes a decision, it is entitled to full information. If the public are called on to support a decision, we are entitled to full information.
The Prime Minister has set out his case, and I re-read the Foreign Secretary's comments from last year's debate in which he said that if we agreed to the motion the world would become a safer place and the authority of the United Nations would be upheld. As the Prime Minister pointed out on Friday, the world is still in deadly peril. Is Iraq a safer place? The Foreign Secretary was right to say that the removal of the dictator was a major gain. The passing of a draft constitution is a major gain, but it has not yet been put into effect. The gains are immense, but it can hardly be said that they were a bargain given that 10,000 people are deadBritish and American soldiers, and Iraqi civilians.
Even more tragically and importantly, the authority of the United Nations has not been upheld to consolidate its position. We have moved from the situation on 12 September 2001 when 100 countries came behind the United States of America in its moment of extremity to back an international war against terrorism, to a position in which the international community and the United Nations have been fractured to such an extent that the Prime Minister believes that there must be a new world order to reflect current realities.
The war in Iraq is haunting the Prime Minister and it will haunt the Government. The ghost will not be exorcised by telling journalists to write about something else or by saying that the solution is reform of the United Nations to make it conform to what he wants it to do. I honestly do not think that it will be exorcised by refusing to publishby keeping secretadvice and information to which the House, which was asked to vote on a war, and the people of this country, who were asked to support a war, are entitled.