Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, I hesitated over taking part in this debate because, if the review that I chaired has done its job, people will feel that they have enough evidence to form their own conclusions about the matters that it covered and can move on—as, indeed, this debate is rightly doing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said, we cannot wipe out the past; the present and the future matter more.

However, since some of your Lordships clearly want to refer to the review that I chaired, it may be useful if I say something about some of the comments made in its aftermath. I want in particular to thank my noble friend Lord Williamson of Horton, on this first occasion as Convenor, for waiving his high spot in the batting order to allow me to do so.

This is my first opportunity in the House to thank my colleagues on the review. Although our subject matter was such a controversial one, we were a congenial group, my noble and gallant friend Lord Inge being in the van. I particularly thank Mr Michael Mates for his courageous decision to continue serving on the review after the Leader of the Opposition withdrew his support from it. We would have liked to have had a Liberal Democrat representative, but if Mr Mates had withdrawn, the committee would have been politically unbalanced and, I believe, it would have collapsed. That would have been a pity because we have been able, I hope, to perform a useful role.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for her favourable comment on the thoroughness and detail of the report. That would not have been possible, particularly in the time given to us, without a first-rate staff, led by our secretary, Bruce Mann, for whose skill and dedication no praise of mine is adequate. I also want to point out that the members of the staff of the review were all civil servants, predominantly drawn from the departments and agencies which were the subject of the review and where their futures lie. Yet there was never any question in the mind of the committee—nor has any question been raised outside—about their objectivity and commitment. Similarly, the committee was entirely dependent on the co-operation and transparency of the government departments and agencies we were examining. They, too, took immense pains in providing us with a huge volume of documents. There are few countries in the world where such commitment could be so unquestioningly counted on; that is a great tribute to our Civil Service.

In the time remaining, I should like to comment on three aspects of the report which have received attention: first, the suggestion that no one was blamed for the shortcomings and the handling of intelligence; secondly, the report's comments in support of Mr John Scarlett; and, thirdly, the comments on Cabinet government.

On the first, we did not of course say that no one was to blame for the shortcomings. At the press conference, I said that no individual was to blame. Although none of us on the committee doubted, or doubts today, the good faith of the Prime Minister and the Government in concluding that Saddam Hussein
7 Sept 2004 : Column 463
had concealed stocks of chemical and biological weapons—and with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that view was shared by most other countries and by Hans Blix—the Government's dossier in September 2002 did not make clear that the intelligence underlying those conclusions was very thin, even though the JIC assessments had been quite clear about that. How grave a fault that was in the context of the lead-up to the war is a matter on which people will and should reach their own conclusions. But we regard it as a serious weakness—a weakness which subsequently came home to roost as the conclusion about deployable stocks of chemical and biological weapons have turned out to be wrong.

That brings me on to the position of Mr Scarlett. The committee was well aware that the consequence of our criticism of the September 2002 dossier, for which the JIC took responsibility, was likely to be—and indeed has been—demands that Mr Scarlett should not take up his appointment as chief of the Secret Intelligence Service. If the report had not said what it did, it now seems to me very likely, perhaps certain, that Mr Scarlett would have found himself unable to take up that post. Suppose that had happened. If so, he alone among the many people involved would have paid the penalty for the shortcomings we identified. That indeed might have satisfied the public's demand that some head should roll, but it would have been unfair in respect of what were collective shortcomings.

But, in my view, there is a wider point than fairness; that is, the national interest. The question whether Mr Scarlett should be the next head of the SIS—a hugely important post particularly in present circumstances—should turn on whether he is the best person for the post, taking into account all the circumstances. That was not a decision for our committee to take; but nor was it a decision which should have been determined by the public desire, however understandable, for some head to roll. If what we said in our report has helped to prevent that happening, I do not regret it.

With regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, among many generous comments on the review, by way of mild criticism about the case for removing Saddam Hussein—there were many aspects to the case for removing Saddam Hussein—the link between the Iraq regime and the spread of international terrorism was not supported by the intelligence. The intelligence, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, was not there on that and indeed the American Government have acknowledged that.

Finally, I come to the comments in the report about Cabinet government. As the report said, we were not suggesting that there is an ideal or unchangeable system of collective government; indeed, one of the glories of the British constitution is its flexibility. Still less were we suggesting that the procedures are in aggregate any less effective now than in earlier times. I would go further and say that, during my time as Cabinet Secretary, I do not think that we cracked the problem of adapting the systematic but somewhat ponderous procedures of Cabinet government set out
7 Sept 2004 : Column 464
in the ministerial code to the requirements of a faster-moving, more media-driven world. But the positive features of that system, designed to draw in the expertise available in all parts of the government in a systematic way, and to subject policy decisions to constructive criticism and challenge from those political colleagues with a wider perspective than those grappling with the issues day to day, are still worth pursuing.

Some of the decisions which turned out worst for the governments I served were, in my view, due to bypassing that procedure. I hope that this and future governments will take these points seriously, in the interests not of constitutional nicety but of effective governance.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, my overriding concern now is for the security, stability and renewed prosperity of Iraq. Whatever our views about the rightness and wisdom of the war and whatever lessons need to be learnt from the mistakes made in the early stages of the occupation we need at this stage to unite in a determination to bring order out of chaos and long-term stability out of the present turmoil. So I will not rehearse old arguments but will concentrate simply and solely on the present serious situation and on how we might move towards a more ordered, flourishing society.

The present instability and violence in Iraq is very serious indeed. So I would like to begin by paying tribute to all those who are putting their life at risk there in the name of a new, better order. First, our own service men and women, who continue to show their characteristic courage, together with their usual constructive approach to keeping order. Then there are the UN officials and members of NGOs and all those working in the areas of aid and reconstruction. Finally, and not least, there are the Iraqis who are exposing themselves to great risk by being associated with the new regime and by being willing to become policemen or administrators. A new and better Iraq is very literally dependent on the bravery of these and other such people.

The present situation in Iraq is fraught with danger for a number of reasons. There have been—and still are—most obviously, those whom the media have termed insurgents, many of them foreign, who are set on opposing the present Interim Government as an agent of the occupying power by every violent means possible, including suicide bombing. In addition to that, there are other elements that give rise to increasing concern.

First, there is the emergence of traditional tribal loyalties and feuds. It is widely recognised that the creation of Iraq in 1920, on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, was carried out along somewhat artificial lines and that Saddam Hussein's cruel and tyrannical regime battened down many potential conflicts. The situation now is not unlike the break-up of the former Soviet Union, with the eruption into the open of long-standing tensions, though on a smaller scale.
7 Sept 2004 : Column 465

Secondly, there is the rise of criminal elements, exploiting the present chaos, particularly through hostage taking. More than 150 hostages have now been taken in Iraq. Very often, they are taken by one group with a financial motive and passed on to other groups who wish to exploit the hostage for political purposes. I am afraid that the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein, with the anarchic aftermath, bears out a very Hobbesian view of society. But it is important not to despair and to remember that the Hobbesian view, according to which people can be held together only on the basis of strong government, is only half the truth. There is also our human capacity to see the wider good and our powers to persuade and be persuaded in the interest of that common good.

Here I draw attention to all those working with traditional tribal and religious leaders, as well as with potential new political leaders, to find a new consensus for a new Iraq. For good or ill, here religion has a crucial role to play. As is well known, Iraq is composed not only of different tribal and ethnic groups, but of different religious groupings—Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, as well as the 3 per cent of Christians and other minority groups.

People sometimes accuse religion of being the cause of conflict. Sometimes, sadly, it has been just that. But in the modern world it is true to say that religion is more often a marker of identity in a conflict which has begun for other reasons but which can, as such, be exploited by unscrupulous people to exacerbate that conflict. The religious dimension can also be brought into play to emphasise what is held in common between different groupings and what can unite them. Here in particular I draw attention to and commend the work of the Iraqi Institute of Peace and its international director Canon Andrew White of Coventry Cathedral, who has been spending much if not most of his time in Iraq, liaising with different tribal and religious leaders to encourage a common religious vision for the future of Iraq. Through a major conference for religious leaders this month and by setting up six fora dealing with different aspects of society in which religion has a key role to play, that is, I believe, a crucially important element in work for a better future.

It is also highly dangerous work. When Baghdad airport was closed recently and Canon White had to get into Iraq across the borders, his journey involved some 27 security men. I was particularly disturbed yesterday to receive an e-mail which seemed to indicate that a significant section of the Iraqi police force was in fact out of control. In relation to all that, I pay tribute to Her Majesty's Government, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for the strong moral support that she has given to this work as well as the financial backing for it. The work has recently been evaluated by the Foreign Office and is, I know, well thought of. It has the potential to make a crucial commitment and contribution to that area because religion can divide or unite. It is desperately important that in such a fraught security situation it is a force for unity and healing.
7 Sept 2004 : Column 466

I make one further point. It is a mistake to believe that western-style liberal democracy can simply be imposed on a country with a very different culture and religious tradition. We may believe, as I do, with Reinhold Niebuhr and Sir Winston Churchill, that,

In that spirit I would like Iraq to be a democracy, but Iraq's traditional tribal and religious forms of government cannot simply be ignored. The hope must be that within Islam there are seeds of democracy, as we understand it, through the traditional emphasis on consensual government and through the traditions of creative interpretation of the Koran, which are there together with the literalist ones. A friend said, not long ago, that what we needed were,

Those can be congruous with, and perhaps develop into, western-style liberal democracy, but the task has to begin with recognising a very different cultural and religious context. So I express the hope that the emergence of democracy in Iraq will develop in close consultation with religious leaders in particular, so that what emerges may not be regarded as alien to the culture, but compatible with and, indeed, a flowering of it. But it is clear that, if democracy is to have a long-term future in Iraq, it needs to be appropriated in Islamic terms, not simply imposed in Western, secular ones.

Over the west door of Staunton Harold Church is the following inscription:

So I end by commending the efforts of all those in Iraq who are seeking to do the best things in the worst times and, through their day-by-day activities, giving expression to their hope in what is, for many Iraqis, still a very calamitous situation.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page