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Tom Levitt: The intelligence to which the hon. Gentleman refers is not only that which existed in 2003, but that which informed United Nations resolutions over 12 years. There are differences of opinion about the intelligence. We can find out in retrospect that intelligence was wrong, but any decision on military action must be based on the best possible intelligence available at the time.

As an interesting adjunct to the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood might like to consider what would happen if the House thought that military action was justified, but the Government of the day did not. Should not that situation be addressed in the Bill? Let us consider the situation in Rwanda in 1994, for example. There might have been a majority in the House at the time in favour of military action or some kind of support for international military action to end the genocide in the country, but there was no mechanism—no mechanism
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exists at present or is proposed in the Bill—to allow the House to tell the Government that they should consider military action.

Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): I am enjoying my hon. Friend's speech. Will he comment on what would occur if peacekeeping or peace-enforcement operations were to be affected by mission creep and we found ourselves involved in armed conflict? What would happen if Parliament were required to give retrospective approval, and what would the consequences be if that approval were denied?

Tom Levitt: I am coming on to that point, but mission creep is almost inevitable under the Bill because of the way that circumstances in which military action can take place are prescribed. The question of what happens when orders are given under changed circumstances is an interesting one. The legitimacy of military orders is clearly based on instructions given through the proper channels to commanders in the field. Under the Bill, however, it would be based on information presented to Parliament, preferably prior to the engagement. I therefore envisage a number of difficulties when circumstances change, and they include the example that my hon. Friend gave of a peacekeeping operation going wrong and soldiers having to defend themselves and take out hostile forces that were not active at the time of the original commission.

Clare Short: I am afraid that my hon. Friend is misinformed, as there is nothing in the Bill that would prevent our armed forces from defending themselves if they were in danger.

Tom Levitt: I accept that defensive action may be taken as my right hon. Friend describes, but there may be situations in which a short period of escalation is necessary to eliminate a threat.

Mr. Dismore: I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short). If I construe clause 8 accurately, several conditions apply before self-defence is legitimate and permitted. Lawful command, for example, could be unlawful without a vote in the House, and rules of engagement may be inadequate to cover all eventualities facing the troops. One of those conditions must be satisfied as well as the condition of self-defence, so it is possible that people would be put in a difficult position.

Tom Levitt: I could not have put it better myself.

In all recent conflicts in which the United Kingdom has been involved, we have taken part in concert with other countries. How would we make preparations for joint action with our allies if we had to apply a brake but they did not have to do so?

Tony Lloyd : If memory serves, in the overwhelming majority of military actions in which the nation has been involved in recent years we have participated with the United States, which has the same kind of power that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) wishes to introduce. Why does that power not operate as a constraint against the US taking military action but would do so for the UK?

Tom Levitt: It is interesting to hear Labour Members suggest that we adopt an American model. Every
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country is different. For example, 31 countries were involved in military action in Iraq. Indeed, in the Balkans, the Americans arrived late and were not involved from the beginning. I accept that there is such a power in the United States, but that is the case only in a minority of countries. The fact that America has that power should not necessarily be a guiding light for us.

Mr. Gray: The difference is that the President of the United States is not answerable to Congress, so if he took the country into an unreasonable war he would not fall. By contrast, the Prime Minister is answerable to Parliament.

Tom Levitt: Indeed. The President is the Head of State and the Prime Minister is not, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out earlier.

If I participated in a debate that arose under the Bill I am not sure that I would feel competent to take on the responsibility that it imposes on Members. Members who took part in such a debate, preferably before military action, would be obliged to keep themselves fully informed of rapidly changing military situations and would have to be able to make decisions that were both militarily and politically sound. They would have to make objective judgments that were not clouded by political prejudices. As I said, some hon. Members would vote against war under any circumstances, irrespective of the arguments for and against. They would have to have the skills to analyse necessarily sensitive intelligence material. They would be party to discussions with our allies, and they would have to make assessments of legal opinions.

Without wishing to start a debate on the precedence of legal opinions, we all know that lawyers tell people exactly what they want to hear. They would give the case for intervention and they would give the case against it. I am happy to be informed by people I trust and to whom we pay an awful lot of money to come to the House and explain those issues, as happened in the run-up to the Iraq conflict. However, the Bill takes responsibilities away from Cabinet members, particularly the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister, when they should be called to account and should advise us of what the distillation of all those arguments leads them to believe.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): I understand the challenges that would face Members if they had to hold the Executive to account in a debate on whether or not we were going to war. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that members of the Executive, who are civilians too, are higher beings and therefore not so susceptible in the face of such challenges?

Tom Levitt: To be gentle to the hon. Gentleman, that is a parody of my argument. Ministers by definition have access to intelligence and information that it would not be possible to release to 659 Members, who would be unable to make the judgments made on our behalf by highly paid Ministers and their advisers. I accept that we can make a judgment on what we are told, and I believe that the right precedent was set in the debate before the Iraq war. Wherever possible, there should be a substantive motion, but I do not want to tie the hands of
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the Executive and make it compulsory in all circumstances with all the conditions that the Bill would attach.

Richard Ottaway: How would the hon. Gentleman feel if the evidence was made available to the Intelligence and Security Committee?

Tom Levitt: That should certainly be considered and discussed.

United Nations Security Council resolutions are not mentioned in the Bill, but there are circumstances in which proposed military action is sanctioned under those resolutions. Such action should be treated differently by the legislation if it completes its passage through the House.

Mr. Dismore: Intelligence is often gathered by special forces deployed well in advance. How would the Bill apply to the deployment of special forces, bearing in mind the need for them to be deployed in complete secrecy to do their job, obviously without parliamentary approval? It would be self-defeating if they could not collect intelligence evidence in the first place to inform Parliament.

Tom Levitt: I am not quite sure of the point that my hon. Friend is making. I do not think that the Bill would preclude the deployment of intelligence officers in such circumstances.

David Wright : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Tom Levitt: No, I want to draw my remarks to a close; plenty of other people want to speak.

Every time that troops have been deployed by this Government—whether in Kosovo in 1999, Sierra Leone in May 2000, Afghanistan in October 2001 and even Iraq in March 2003—the purpose has been to reduce the risk of death and the overall death rate. That may sound odd when one considers the fact that military action tends to increase those things, but in all those circumstances our intervention has aimed, over a period, to end injustice, genocide and mass murder. On that basis, I would argue that every one of those deployments has been justified.

It is extremely unlikely that the House would ever decide, after military deployment had taken place, to pull troops out on the grounds that their safety in those circumstances is paramount. I do not see that happening, even if the facility to do so is provided by the Bill.

There should be scrutiny of decisions on military action, as with anything else in this House, and that scrutiny should be timely. There should be a substantive vote wherever possible, but that should not be compulsory. It should not be put into law and it should not tie the Government's hands, as I believe the Bill would. The debate has been very interesting, but the Bill should not reach the statute book. It could, in some circumstances, be used as an indulgence to feed a bandwagon of anti-war sentiment, with no practical purpose. It might even be used by some to try to justify their support for military action in Iraq at one point, followed by a change of heart after the event.
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