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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): As the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) has said, this has been a wide-ranging debate with some very good speeches. With apologies to those whose speeches I do not mention, I want to mention particularly those of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack).

Since a point of order was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), I should apologise for the fact that I was absent for some of the speeches. I am afraid that one has to blame Cabinet Government for that, and, I might add, without approval from the Cabinet, the new hours—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] On that, I speak entirely in a personal capacity. I had to chair an important Cabinet Committee, the timing of which had been rearranged twice to accommodate changes in the order of speeches and the timing of this debate. I apologise to those right hon. and hon. Members whose speeches I missed.

I want to begin this wind-up by paying tributes to two groups of people. The first group are our armed forces and civilians who have been working in Iraq over many months and who continue to do so. The reputation of British forces is second to none in the world: I do not happen to believe that that is a cliché; I happen to believe that it is true. All that I have seen of the British forces confirms the truth of that—they are the finest and bravest forces anywhere in the world. I have also had the privilege of going to Iraq three times and seeing the extraordinary work by civilians, too. Although they were not putting themselves directly in harm's way as our forces were, they too showed great courage in working in Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere. Our colleagues in the armed forces and civilian British officials are still there helping to rebuild a better Iraq.

The second group to whom I want to pay tribute are those who work in our intelligence and security agencies. Over the past seven years, I have had the privilege first of being responsible for the Security Service—MI5—and, for the past few years, for the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ. From my direct, day-to-day, comprehensive dealings with all three agencies, I have been profoundly impressed by their professionalism, by their commitment and, as questions have been raised about this, by their complete integrity.

As we spelled out in the dossier, intelligence rarely offers a complete account of activities, which, by definition, are designed to remain concealed. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelled out in his foreword that gathering intelligence—in this case, inside Iraq, but, I might add, almost anywhere—is not easy. Certainly, that is absolutely true. But in chapter 2 of the Butler report, the Butler committee spells out details of intelligence-led operations in respect of A.Q. Khan, the nuclear proliferator, Libya, North Korea and Iran. I
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have been familiar over the past three years, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been familiar over the past seven years, with the nature of those operations. We have had an opportunity more recently, certainly in respect of A.Q. Khan and Libya, and to a degree, in respect of North Korea, to make an assessment about whether that intelligence has turned out to be right or wrong. Butler and his committee say in terms that they have been very impressed by the quality of the intelligence and by its provenance.

In many circumstances, the only defect of that intelligence has been that it has underestimated the scale of what we have subsequently found, rather than overestimated that. I say that because Ministers and the intelligence services' assessment of the intelligence and developments needs to be seen in that context: it was the very same people who were supervising, and in some cases obtaining, the good intelligence in respect of Iran, Libya, North Korea and A.Q. Khan who were also doing the very careful assessment in respect of intelligence in the case of Iraq. They were doing their best, we had every reason to believe that they were doing their best, and their track record is one of the best.

Lynne Jones : Could my right hon. Friend explain why GCHQ intercept information, which we are told by the Intelligence and Security Committee existed, was not passed on to the International Atomic Energy Agency, as was required under Security Council Resolution 1441, whereby member states should pass on all relevant information?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend knows very well that we never, ever, give details of interception, and I would not begin to do so. As she also knows, or at least I hope that she does, I wrote to her and signed off this morning—so that she would get it in time for this debate—a detailed letter replying to her specific concerns. Her specific concerns related to uranium yellowcake, which has been the cause of controversy. As I set out in the letter, I invite her to examine the conclusions of the Butler inquiry in respect of uranium yellowcake from Niger. As to whether the claims made by British intelligence—not those made elsewhere—were well founded, as Butler points out, they were indeed well founded.

Mr. Salmond: What about the withdrawal by the Secret Intelligence Service in July last year of two reports, because the sources had been discredited, on WMD generally and on the 45-minute claim specifically? When were the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister informed of that withdrawal, and whom did they then tell?

Mr. Straw: The withdrawal about which I was informed in September, which took place in July, did not relate to the 45-minute claim but to other intelligence to which Butler refers in the body of his report, which had not been directly included in the dossier or the JIC assessment but, as he spells out, gave some comfort and backing to the assessments that had been made. I was informed about that on 8 September last year. On the next day, the intelligence reports were passed on to the Intelligence and Security Committee.
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The Intelligence and Security Committee had been told orally by the head of the Secret Intelligence Service in July about the nature of that intelligence and the fact that it was being withdrawn. What I was asked, on 8 September, was whether I agreed, as I am required to do by law, to authorise the passing of the intelligence to the ISC, and I duly did so.

Mr. Mackay rose—

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Straw: I want to answer some of the other points that have been made in this debate.

I have mentioned Iran. My right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston raised two key issues. First, he raised an issue about Iran and referred to an interesting report that appeared in the The Times on Saturday. All that I can say to him is that I do not believe that what is suggested in that is United States policy, but that is a matter for the United States Administration. Certainly, it is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

My right hon. Friend also raised the wider and critical issue of pre-emption. He asked for a commitment that we would never again agree to pre-emptive action. We did not, in my judgment, agree on 18 March last year to a pre-emptive action. Pre-emption implies rushing to judgment—I do not believe that 12 years involves rushing to judgment, and it took us 12 years in respect of Iraq. The truth is that since the United Nations charter and chapter VII—which is the chapter authorising military action—were drafted, circumstances have changed, and we in the House, and the international community, must take account of those changed circumstances. We faced that over Rwanda and Bosnia in the mid-1990s, and we did nothing. I applaud my right hon. Friend for the fact that by 1999, when we faced similar genocide and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, he took the lead—in the international community and the House—in arguing for action, although we did not have a Security Council resolution and could not get one because we knew that one country would veto it. Let me also say that the action that we authorised in the House on 18 March was no more pre-emptive than Operation Desert Fox in 1998, and was based in part on non-compliance with the same resolutions.

Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have taken a different view from the Government—and many Conservative Members—in respect of Iraq have said that containment and sanctions were working. It is extremely important—because it goes to the heart of whether there was a real alternative in March last year—to spell out the truth of that situation. Operation Desert Fox took place shortly after the inspectors had effectively been kicked out at the end of 1998. In 1999, we finally secured Security Council resolution 1284 to get the inspectors back in, but that resolution was not unanimous. Some of those who had said they would support it in the UN failed to do so. The resolution was wholly defective, in that it watered down previous requirements on the Saddam regime in respect of the
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admission of inspectors. The inspectors, for example, had no power to enter various key sites in Iraq, including vast presidential palaces, without the permission of Saddam Hussein himself.

Not only was the resolution defective, it simply had no effect. Despite the fine words of resolution 1284, Saddam simply thumbed his nose at the resolution and at the international community and refused to comply with any of the terms. In the intervening period, containment absolutely failed to work. Containment required at least some element of co-operation from Saddam, and he absolutely refused to co-operate at all.

Alongside that, it is said that sanctions were working. Sanctions were not working in terms of the objective set for them. Sanctions were hitting the poor of Iraq, making them poorer and less well. Sixty per cent. of Iraqis were on food aid. Sanctions were not working to hit the regime or to undermine its own capabilities and prominence. They did not hurt the rich and the powerful, who continued to be able to divert huge resources—which should have gone to the poor of Iraq—for their own ends.

A number of Members have referred to 11 September—

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