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Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale, and to congratulate him on your Lordships' behalf on a fascinating maiden speech. He will be well known to your Lordships for his distinguished career in business, but I would like to single out the remarkable support that his foundation, founded in memory of his father Charles, gives to medical research. We all look forward with great anticipation to hearing his future contributions to debate in this House.
A number of us had the opportunity on 14 July to make some preliminary comments on the Butler report immediately after its publication and the Prime Minister's Statement. I would nevertheless like to add a few comments today, having now had the opportunity to read the report in full. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Butler and his colleagues for a clear and balanced report. It is no less than I would have expected from many years of working closely with him both in 10 Downing Street and later as respective heads of the Cabinet Office and the Foreign Office.
The Butler report was necessarily limited in scope, as was the earlier report by my noble and learned friend Lord Hutton, by its remit to exclude any questions related to political or diplomatic misjudgments or strategic assessments and priorities. I shall similarly avoid today repeating my earlier comments on the conflicting and dishonest reasons given by Washington for invading Iraq when we did, which has led to many
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thousands of deaths among Iraqis and members of the coalition forces, a toll that tragically continues to mount week by week.
Unlike the report by the committee chaired by Lord Franks following the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982, the report by my noble friend Lord Butler deliberately devotes no attention to the legal or politicalas opposed to the intelligencecase for going to war, beyond noting the view of officials frequently echoed by ministerial statements, that regime change of itself has no basis in international law.
The report does, however, contain some useful and pointed criticism of the machinery and processes of government, at least one of which, on the relative lack of use of established Cabinet Office machinery, echoes a point made by Lord Franks when he criticised the failure of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, to call meetings of the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee in the weeks preceding the Argentine invasion. When I asked a related Question in this House on 7 October last year, I was assured by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that there had been regular Cabinet discussion of Iraq and the Middle East from September 2002 until "after the conflict"if indeed the conflict can even now be said to be over. The Butler report makes it clear that those discussions in Cabinet were unscripted occasions without the benefit of the papers that had been prepared by officials for discussion in Cabinet Committee. The Prime Minister told Members of the other place that he accepted my noble friend Lord Butler's report in full, and I hope that, as my noble friend himself said today, he will have paid particular attention to that important procedural point in the conduct of governmenton which it would be difficult to find a more experienced exponent than my noble friend Lord Butler of Brockwell. I have commented before on the important point in the Butler report about the relationship between the political and press advisers in No 10 and the intelligence assessment machinery of Whitehall. As a former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, I have been shocked by accounts of discussions of intelligence assessments and of their public relations handling in apparently informal and unrecorded meetings chaired by the then Director of Communications and Strategy in the Prime Minister's office. I also find it curious that the Butler report states as a matter of fact that the dossier,
a point surely contradicted by Mr Jonathan Powell's e-mail, in which he complained that the draft was inadequate to support the Government's case for going to war. If the dossier was not designed to convince us that we should join those in Washington who had long been pressing for military action to remove Saddam Hussein, what on earth was it for?
I do not intend to waste your Lordships' time by rehearsing yet again the extent to which the decision to go to war in Iraq was based not only on what now
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turns out to be false intelligence, but on the inadequate use of diplomacy and regional and technical expertise. What I deplore is the extent to which the war in Iraq has diverted attention from the wider and more pressing priorities of the Middle East, including the appalling current situation in Israel and Palestine, where the prospect of creating a viable Palestinian state along side a secure Israel appears to be attracting no attention whatsoever in the White House.
I hope that there will be other opportunities before long to debate the problems of the wider Middle East. I ask again at this point: what has become of the road map and the hopes of negotiating a two-stage solution in the next year or two, and what has happened to the assurances that President Bush gave the Prime Minister in Belfast last year that he would put as much effort into trying to solve the Palestinian problem as the Prime Minister had put, was and is still putting, into the problems of Northern Ireland?
Like my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, I want to concentrate on one particular aspect of the Butler report: the light that it throws on the legality of the war. In fact, it throws a good deal of light on it. Until then, all we had seen in the way of legal advice to the Government was a one-page summary of the views of the Attorney-General published on 17 March 2003 and supplemented by a somewhat fuller statement from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office published on the same day. Both of those documents are set out in Appendix D to the report.
Thanks to the report, we now know a lot more about the legal advice given to the Government before 17 March. I start with the legal advice given to the Government in March 2002 by officials from an unidentified department, presumably the FCO. That is covered in paragraphs 266 to 269. That advice said that neither regime change nor self-defence was a justification for action. Military action could be justified only if Iraq was in breach of Security Council Resolution 687. The advice was that at least one of three conditions must be satisfied before the Security Council could take the view that Iraq was in fact in breach.
The second condition was a refusal by Iraq to re-admit inspectors after a clear ultimatum from the Security Council. The third condition related to a situation in which inspectors were re-admitted to Iraq and found sufficient evidence of weapons of mass destruction activity or were again expelled trying to do so. In the event, none of those conditions was satisfied.
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Resolution 1441 followed, and the inspectors went back into Iraq in November 2002. They found only one significant breach of the restrictions put on Iraq following the first Gulf War. That was the construction of al-Samoud missiles and the engines for them, with a range somewhat greater than the permitted 150 kilometres. Most of those missiles were destroyed by March 2003. It is not suggested that they in themselves justified the war on Iraq.
We next discover from paragraph 378 of the report that the Attorney-General expressed his views of the legal position in a meeting with three senior members of the Prime Minister's staff on 28 February 2003 and put his views in writing on 7 March. The Butler committee saw that advice, and in paragraph 379 it summarised the crucial part of it as follows:
"It did, however, require the Prime Minister, in the absence of a further United Nations Security Council resolution, to be satisfied that there were strong factual grounds for concluding that Iraq had failed to take the final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Security Council and that it was possible to demonstrate hard evidence of non-compliance and non-co-operation with the requirements of Security Council Resolution 1441, so as to justify the conclusion that Iraq was in further material breach of its obligations".
"The Attorney-General decided that it was in the interests of public servants, both civil and military, who would have to carry though any decision to take military action, that a statement should be made in clear and simple terms as to his view of the legal position".
The Attorney-General's office then wrote to the Prime Minister's private secretary asking confirmation that it was unequivocally the Prime Minister's view that Iraq had committed further material breaches of Resolution 1441. The private secretary replied that it was. That was the wrong question for the Attorney-General to ask. The right question was raised in his advice of 7 March: did that hard evidence exist?
As a result, the Attorney-General's published statement of 17 March was too clear and simple. It did not repeat his call for hard evidence of non-compliance and non-co-operation; it simply assumed non-compliance. That assumption was based on intelligence, and in that context I believe that paragraph 362 of the Butler report is of critical importance:
"we are surprised that neither policy-makers nor the intelligence community, as the generally negative results of UNMOVIC inspections became increasingly apparent, conducted a formal re-evaluation of the quality of the intelligence and hence of the assessments made on it. We have noted in departmental papers expressions of concern about the impact on public and international opinion of the lack of strong evidence of Iraqi violation of its disarmament obligations. But those involved appear to have operated on the presumption that the intelligence was right, and that it was because of the combination of Iraqi concealment and deception activities and perceived UNMOVIC weaknesses that such evidence was not found".
The committee was saying that, following the failure of the inspectors to find hard evidence of mass destruction, the validity of the intelligence should have been reconsidered. Had it been reconsidered, the Government would, in all probability, have been
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forced to the conclusion that the evidence of serious breaches of Resolution 687 and 1441 was at best equivocal. That would have been insufficient to justify the war. Why, therefore, did not the Government do what the Butler report says that they should have done? I believe that the GovernmentI borrow a phrase from the Hutton reportmay have been subconsciously influenced by the fact that a change of view would have been extremely embarrassing for them. By March 2003, logistics had taken over from legality. It is plain that the American Government were unwilling to leave their troops sweltering in Kuwait through the summer while the inspectors were given the time that they needed to come to a final conclusion. If the Government had backed out in March, they would have lost all influence with the Americans, who would have gone it alone, while a last-minute conversion by the United Kingdom would not have restored our credit with France and Germany and the other advocates of delay. Politically, we would have been left with the worst of both worlds, and the Government would have had a great deal of egg on their face.
The Butler report does not expressly draw those conclusions from its own findings in paragraph 362, but I believe that those conclusions are inescapable and devastating. Had the Government done what they should have done in reviewing the validity of the intelligence, the Attorney-General would, in all probability, not have been able to advise that the invasion of Iraq was legal, and we would not have gone to war.
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