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Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the censored paragraph removed from Ms Wilmshurst's letter of resignation, and shown on Channel 4 yesterday, has now been revealed? Why was it covered up? Does he agree that it shows clearly that until 7 March, the Attorney-General held identical views to those of the Foreign Office legal team that the use of force against Iraq required a further UN resolution or it would be unlawful, irrespective of whatever previous resolutions there had been? What, then, made the Attorney-General change his mind? What change of law or fact enabled him to alter his stance?
Ms Wilmshurst's note further makes clear that the Attorney-General's position changed twice. Why did that happen? Why did his continuing doubts, which we now know were present in his letter of 7 March, as he believed that a decision to go to war might be challenged in the courts, change into complete certainty of legality, apparently following his meeting with Lord Falconer and Baroness Morgan on 13 March? What was said in the intervening period? What happened to enable him to alter his position?
Does the Foreign Secretary not realise how corrosive the entire episode is to trust in Government? It would be far better were the entire paper trail to be published, to reassure the public that the Attorney-General was neither leant on to change his views for party political reasons, nor deceived by the Prime Minister on the facts on which war might be justified.
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Mr. Straw: Let me deal with the hon. Gentleman's points in turn. First, on why we refused to publish those two sentences, I have set out the reasons. The issue for the whole House, and not least the shadow Attorney-General, is whether he and his party are now moving from a clear position that Law Officers' advice should not be published to proposing that Law Officers' advice, and that which contributes to it, should be published.
I draw the House's attention to the fact that when a similar issue arose, albeit in respect of a different subjectlegal advice in respect of the ratification of the Maastricht treatythe then Attorney-General set out clearly that he could not recall any occasion when the Law Officers' advice had been disclosed, and would not break precedent.
When we discussed the issue of the Freedom of Information Bill in the House, the House as a whole was absolutely clear that legal advice, and the background to that legal advice, should not be disclosed, for very good reasons. If the hon. Gentleman is now saying, on behalf of his party, that that should change, he had better say so; but the implications for good government are very grave indeed.
The hon. Gentleman then made a wholly tendentious claim based on his reading of Ms Wilmshurst's letter. He said that it showed clearly that the Attorney-General had one view on 7 March and a different view later. He asked what change of law or fact had taken place. The letter showed nothing of the kindbut yes, there was a change of fact, which was before the House on 18 March. I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman, who voted for the resolution in favour of military action on 18 March, seems to have forgotten that.
Throughout the period following the passage of resolution 1441, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I, every other member of this Government and, indeed, all the Governments who later formed the coalition were seeking to ensure that there was clear compliance by Saddam with the obligations imposed on him by resolution 1441 and the resolutions that preceded it. When it became clear that that was not the case, we worked night and day for a second resolution. We did not work night and day for a second resolution because it was required by the terms of resolution 1441: it was not. I can go into the negotiating history of resolution 1441 in very great detail. I can point out to the House that France proposed at one stage that there should indeed be a lock requiring a second resolution in resolution 1441, but backed off from that proposal. Everyone who knows the text of resolution 1441, and that of operative paragraphs 4, 12 and 13 in particular, will know that there was no requirement whatever for a second resolution. We sought a second resolution because we sought a consensus in the Security Council, and what changed between 7 and 17 March was this: it became very clear that that consensus was not possible.
The hon. Gentleman's last point concerned the effect of refusing to disclose the Attorney-General's advice. The Attorney-General's advice was before the Butler inquiry. The Attorney-General gave advice to the Butler inquiry, and so, as I have said, did Ms Wilmshurst. That was the appropriate setting in which to examine the advice in detail. Lord Butler concluded that the Attorney-General had given clear and categorical advice to the Cabinet, and that in his judgment it was lawful under resolution 1441 to use force without a
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further United Nations Security Council resolution. That was the position after full examination, and that is the position now.
Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): The Secretary-General of the United Nations himself has said that the war in Iraq was illegal, so it is hardly a surprise that the Attorney-General started from that point as well. It would not be the first occasion in history when a lawyer had changed his mind and his advice, but there was no change in the legal position during the period before the country went to war; nor was there a material change in the facts, such as evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction.
Can the Foreign Secretary tell us whether there is a formal written justification documenting the shift in the Attorney-General's position, which occurred not once but twice? Can he tell us whether the final advice of the Attorney-General was consistent with the independent external advice that the Government received? If not, is it not the case that the full text of Elizabeth Wilmshurst's resignation letter has now completely undermined the Government's position on the war in Iraq?
Mr. Straw: We are all aware of what the Secretary-General of the United Nations said. It emphasises the fact that on this issue there were disagreements about the legal position. That is well knownbut the truth is that there are often disagreements about legal positions and legal advice. There are disagreements in respect of matters of domestic law, on which the law is always more certain; still more are there disagreements in respect of matters of international law. These judgments were held independently, they were held honourably, and they were well known in advance of the debate on 18 March and the House's decision to take military action. With great respect to Ms Wilmshurst, what she has said in the letter and in the evidence that she gave to Lord Butler does not change that position one iota. It was a matter of debate. But, while I respect those people who took a different view, the truth is that the view of the British Attorney-General was widely shared across the worldnot just by the Law Officers' equivalent in the United States, but by many other Governments. There was just a genuine difference of opinion.
That answers the hon. Gentleman's first and third points. He also said that there was no material change in the facts. I am sorry, but he was not at the Security Council five times between January and March 2003, and I was. There was a significant change in the facts. We had hoped in early January was that there was going to be full compliance by Saddam with the terms of the resolution. He was given a very clear obligation to do so. It became clear, however, not least on 7 March in the 173-page document submitted to the Security Council at the end of that meeting by Dr. Hans Blix, with 29 separate respects, talking about unanswered disarmament issues. I put this before the House on 18 March. It spelled out in detail, if any were needed, why Saddam was failing to comply with his clear obligations. Those facts were on the record and they have never been contradicted since. That was the judgment of UNMOVIC, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. We did not need intelligence to make our judgment
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before the House on 18 March; we could see for ourselves that Saddam was in further material breach, and, as I pointed out to the Security Council on 7 March, there was not a single Minister around the table at the Security Council at that stageeven on 7 Marchwho was denying that Saddam was not fully in compliance with his obligations.
What also changed between 7 and 17 March, as I pointed out to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) a moment ago, was that we were hoping against hope for a second resolution and we did not get one. We still judged that Saddam was in material breach, and that was the basis on which the House came to its view on 18 March.
Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab): The Attorney-General said on 23 February this year that, in his parliamentary reply of 17 March, he had explained his "genuinely held, independent view" that military action was lawful, and that he had not been leant on in any way. If the critics are now saying that he was lyinga very serious charge to make against any Minister, particularly the Attorney-Generalthat his view was not independent or genuinely held and, indeed, that he had been leant on, let them say so openly.
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