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Mr. Straw: I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend about that. All of us have every respect for Members of all parties on both sides of the House who took a different view on the rightness of taking military action and who voted against the Government on 18 March. What is far less impressive is the position into which the official Opposition now appear to be manoeuvring themselves. They are using this entirely spurious issue as a smokescreen to avoid their own responsibility for the fact that they voted for this military action. They voted openly for it, and they voted on the basis of the clear and public information before the House that Saddam was in clear, fundamental material breach of his obligations. They might not like it, but it happens to be true.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): As one of those who did not vote for the war on Iraq, may I sincerely ask the Foreign Secretary whether he thinks that this disclosure will have a dreadful effect on the parents and relatives of those who have lost their lives in this conflict? Does not he genuinely believe that this problem of credibility will go on and on, unless the Government are prepared to publish all the documents involved? Would not that be the right way to deal with the problem, instead of letting it go on and on, as it inevitably will?
No, I do not, for this reason. The Attorney-General's legal advice was clear. It was known. It was reflected in the view of his advice, which he put before the House of Lords on 17 March, and which I repeated in this House, along with a longer explanation of the basis of his view in respect of the legality. His view was that it was lawful for us to take military action in respect of Iraq. That was the view that he came to at that stage. He was examined in very great detail by Lord Butler, and Lord Butler confirms his view. There is a very much wider issue about whether the House should go down the road of requiring the advice of Attorneys-General to be made public. As I have said,
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when the matter was debated by the House, and for very, very good reasons, not one Member of this House ever suggested that the exemption for legal advice proposed in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 should be removed. It is there for very good reasons and nothing material has changed. Indeed, just to underline the paucity of the view taken by the shadow Attorney-General, in this particular case, unusually, what was made known to the House was the view of the Attorney-General set out in that written answer of 17 March. When Lord Butler examined the Attorney-General in detail, he also confirmed that that was his view.
Ross Cranston (Dudley, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that no Attorney-General from either party will barter their integrity, and least of all this Attorney-General, who was a leader of the Bar, on such an important matter for purely party political purposes? Does he recall what the Bar Council of England and Wales said about this matter at the time: that the advice and the working papers should not be published because it would severely undermine legal professional privilege?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that. The Attorney-General is a man who all of us know is of the greatest integrity and also a very good lawyer. He came to his view for sound reasons. It was independent and it was genuinely held. My hon. and learned Friend is also right to draw attention to the fact that the requirement to protect the confidentiality of legal advice has been supported not only by successive GovernmentsI would be astonished if the shadow Attorney-General is now departing from that; if he is, perhaps he or his colleagues should say sobut by the Law Lords in a series of judgments, as well as by working barristers represented by the Bar Council. There is every reason for it, and it is good government that would suffer were we to remove that requirement.
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): After five years as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Law Office, I am of course very aware that there is a convention that the Law Officers' advice should never be revealed. However, it is open to the Government to waive that convention if they wish, and the facts in this case are unique. Do the Government realise that if they do not make full disclosure, they will have only themselves to blame if people continue to believe the worst of the Government?
Mr. Straw: I do not accept that, and the Butler inquiry set out in some detail the very rare circumstances in which, in the last 100 years, the advice of Attorneys-General has been released. I think that it pointed out that it has happened on only three occasions: two in respect of legal action and one, as it happened, in respect of the Westland affair where the whole of the advice was leaked by a divided Cabinet and it was made public in any case.
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab):
I am sure that my right hon. Friend would wish to agree with me that Elizabeth Wilmshurst was a distinguished legal adviser who did very valuable work in the international criminal court. Would my right hon. Friend confirm that, unlike
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those on the Opposition Front Bench, she was always consistent in her view that invasion of Iraq would require a second resolution? Would he further confirm that the Attorney-General shared that opinion, an opinion that he no doubt held genuinely and independently, from September 2002 until March 2003, when he changed that opinion? May I put it to my right hon. Friend, who is an experienced Member of the House, that perhaps the time has come for him to reflect on whether there is so much in the public domain that it would be better for the Government to let out the whole truth? The Government have published one opinion from the Attorney-General. Surely the less damaging course for the Government now is to publish both opinions and explain exactly what it was that persuaded the Attorney-General to change his opinion in-between.
Mr. Straw: On my right hon. Friend's first point, yes I accept, and I always have doneI have made this very clear very publiclythat Elizabeth Wilmshurst was a very fine legal adviser in the Foreign Office, she has acted honourably throughout, and it is certainly the case that her view about the potential legality of any military action without a second resolution after 1441 was well known to me, and I think to others within the Government. But as I have said, that was her view, and I think she acceptedcertainly it has to be acceptedthat the final arbiter of the Government's legal position is the Attorney-General and not any individual legal adviser, however distinguished.
On the second point that my right hon. Friend invites me to discuss, what is the case is that before the passage of resolution 1441, there was a widespread view that military action would at the very best be wholly ill-advised without what became the first UN resolution in 2002, and could be unlawful, but that was changed by the passage of resolution 1441. I simply invite my right hon. Friend to refresh his memory about the terms of resolution 1441, which set out clear obligations on Saddam Hussein. Operative paragraph 4 set out the terms of a further material breach; operative paragraphs 11 and 12 set out how any further material breach should be reported and considered by the Security Council; and operative paragraph 13 made it very clear to Saddam Hussein that "serious consequences" would follow in respect of a further material breach.
It was the judgment of the Attorney-Generaland I may say, although I am not the Government legal adviser, it was my judgment based on my intense knowledge of the negotiating history of resolution 1441that the effect of 1441 was to revive the authority of resolutions 678 and 687 and[Interruption.] Well, we did not get a second resolution because it was not possible, but it was never needed legally, and I made that very clear to the Housecrystal clear, on the recordwhen I reported the passage of 1441 to the House on 24 November 2002. [Interruption.] As someone behind me says from a sedentary position, the resolution is worthy of re-reading. It sets out clearly the position. The Attorney-General was in no doubt by the middle of March that Saddam, on the basis of evidence that we provided, was in clear further material breach, and that military action was justified.
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Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman, in justifying the legality of war, is resting his case on the three resolutions that he has cited. He has been reminded that the Secretary-General of the United Nations said that the war was unlawful. Would not the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Secretary-General is singularly well placed to advise as to the legal impact of Security Council resolutions? Is not the truth this: the Attorney-General, as a good House lawyer, came to give the best argument that he could in order to provide legal cover for a decision already taken when war was then inevitable and in order to provide the best justification that he could for a war that was being prosecuted for reasons outside those publicly stated by the Prime Minister?
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