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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. Salmond: So if Lord Archer were still a Law Officer in the Labour Government and had communicated his view, we should not have gone to war?

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 incorrect—in 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

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Secretary waves his hands, but earlier in the debate he implied that the veto over the publication of the advice was in the hands of the Attorney-General, so it is perfectly reasonable to ask him whether the Attorney-General's advice went through a series of drafts before it became the final advice that the Foreign Secretary deigned to give the House when he wanted sanction for the war. However, if the Law Officers have a veto over such action—as the Foreign Secretary says—I am very pleased to hear it. I am glad that someone has a veto over military action.

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:

I shall come in a few seconds to the questions of who owns a decision to go to war and who owns the advice of the Attorney-General, but the point of view expressed by Hans Blix is surely correct: ownership of the interpretation of what is sanctioned by the UN lies with its Security Council and not with individual countries in the Council, which might come to different conclusions.

In the lead-up to the war, Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, set out his position, saying that

of the United Nations. Those are not lawyers giving different legal opinions; they are the key players in an international framework of law—players whom the Foreign Secretary decided to bypass or ignore for the purposes of gaining legal sanction for the decision to go to war.

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

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we can be reasonably convinced—can we not?—that the Government's position on the central importance of that resolution was developing as events moved along. On 4 March, the Cabinet Secretary confirmed to the Public Administration Committee:

What advice was the Cabinet Secretary talking about? Had there been prior advice based on resolution 1441? Was it only after the desired outcome of resolution 1441 was not forthcoming that "advice was needed"?

The indication that the Government's advice was developing also comes from the comments of Admiral Sir Michael Boyce. For example, in The Herald on 8 March this year, he said:

Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the Chief of the Defence Staff, clearly believed on the eve of war that he had not been supplied with an adequate and clear explanation of the legal position, and he required one, quite rightly, because he was concerned about the implications for him and the armed forces under his command if one was not provided. I should like the Foreign Secretary to say whether the Attorney-General's advice evolved to meet the circumstances and when that advice departed from resolution 1441 and went outside that resolution's remit.

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.

As we have heard, there are several precedents for releasing an Attorney-General's advice: the Factortame judgment, the situation regarding the Commonwealth

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Immigration Act 1962 and the Scott inquiry. The precedents go right back to 1865 and Lord Palmerston and the Belfast riots. However, even if there were not a single precedent, it would be right fully to publish the Attorney-General's advice on this occasion because of the unprecedented and correct decision to allow the House a substantive vote on peace or war. It is a question of ownership. Just as the United Nations should own the right to decide whether to sanction action on its behalf, the House, on behalf of the people, should have ownership of any legal advice that informs a decision on whether to go to war.

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 dead—British 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 publish—by keeping secret—advice 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.

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