HC Deb 14 July 2004 vol 423 cc1431-52 1.30 pm
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on the report published by Lord Butler earlier today.

Lord Butler's report is comprehensive and thorough, and I thank the members of his Committee and their staff for all their hard work in compiling it. We accept fully the report's conclusions.

The report provides an invaluable analysis of the general threat in respect of weapons of mass destruction and the potential acquisition of WMD by terrorists. Although it devotes much of its analysis to Iraq, it also goes into detail on the WMD threat posed by Iran, Libya, North Korea and A.Q. Khan. Some of the intelligence disclosed is made available for the first time and gives some insight into the reasons for the judgments that I and other Ministers have been making. I hope that the House will understand if I deal with it in some detail.

The hallmark of the report is its balanced judgments. It specifically supports the conclusions of Lord Hutton's inquiry about the good faith of the intelligence services and the Government in compiling the September 2002 dossier, but it also makes specific findings that the dossier and the intelligence behind it should have been better presented, had more caveats attached to it, and been better validated. It reports doubts that have recently arisen on the 45-minute intelligence, and says that in any event that should have been included in the dossier in different terms. However, it expressly supports the intelligence on Iraq's attempts to procure uranium from Niger in respect of its nuclear ambitions.

The report finds that there is little—if any—significant evidence of stockpiles of readily deployable weapons, but also concludes that Saddam Hussein did indeed have the strategic intention of resuming the pursuit of prohibited weapons programmes, including if possible its nuclear weapons programme, when United Nations inspection regimes were relaxed and sanctions were eroded or lifted. and In support of that goal, was carrying out illicit research and development, and procurement, activities, to seek to sustain its indigenous capabilities. and Was developing ballistic missiles with a range longer than permitted under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions". Throughout the past 18 months, and throughout the rage and ferment of the debate over Iraq, there have essentially been two questions. One is an issue of good faith—of integrity. This is now the fourth exhaustive inquiry that has dealt with the issue. This report, the Hutton inquiry, the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee before it, and that of the Foreign Affairs Committee before that, found the same thing. No one lied. No one made up the intelligence. No one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services. Everyone genuinely tried to do their best in good faith for the country in circumstances of acute difficulty. That issue of good faith should now be at an end.

But there is another issue. We expected—I expected—to find actual usable chemical or biological weapons shortly after we entered Iraq. We even made significant contingency plans in respect of their use against our troops. UN resolution 1441, in November 2002, was passed unanimously by the whole Security Council, including Syria, on the basis that Iraq was a WMD threat. Lord Butler, in his report, says: We believe that it would be a rash person who asserted at this stage that evidence of Iraqi possession of stocks of biological or chemical agents, or even of banned missiles, does not exist or will never be found. However, I have to accept that, as the months have passed, it has seemed increasingly clear that, at the time of invasion, Saddam did not have stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons ready to deploy. The second issue is therefore this: even if we acted in perfectly good faith, is it now the case that in the absence of stockpiles of weapons ready to deploy, the threat was misconceived and therefore the war was unjustified?

I have searched my conscience—not in a spirit of obstinacy, but in genuine reconsideration in the light of what we now know—to answer that question. My answer would be this: the evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was indeed less certain and less well founded than was stated at the time. However, I cannot go from there to the opposite extreme. On any basis, he retained complete strategic intent on WMD and significant capability. The only reason why he ever let the inspectors back into Iraq was that he had 180,000 US and British troops on his doorstep. He had no intention of ever co-operating fully with the inspectors, and he was going to start up again the moment the troops and the inspectors departed, or the sanctions eroded. I say further that if we had backed down in respect of Saddam, we would never have taken the stand that we needed to take on weapons of mass destruction, we would never have got the progress on Libya, for example, that we achieved, and we would have left Saddam in charge of Iraq, with every malign intent and capability still in place, and with every dictator with the same intent everywhere immeasurably emboldened.

As I shall say later, for any mistakes made, as the report finds, in good faith, I of course take responsibility, but I cannot honestly say that I believe that getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all. Iraq, the region and the wider world are better and safer places without him. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House wants to hear the statement. I will move quickly on any Member who interrupts the Prime Minister. I say the same about the Leader of the Opposition—I will not tolerate any interference in his speech. Let us hear the statement; the House wants to hear the statement.

The Prime Minister

The report begins with an assessment of intelligence and its use in respect of countries other than Iraq. It points out that in respect of Libya, the intelligence has largely turned out to be accurate, especially regarding its nuclear weapons programmes. Those are now being dismantled. In respect of Iran, the report says that it is now engaged with the International Atomic Energy Agency, although there remain clearly outstanding issues about Iran's activities. On North Korea, the report concludes that it is now thought to be developing missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons as far away as the continental United States and Europe. The report goes on at paragraph 99 to say: North Korea is a particular cause for concern because of its willingness to sell ballistic missiles to anyone prepared to pay in hard currency. The report also discloses the extent of the network of A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani former nuclear scientist. The network is now largely shut down through US and UK intelligence work, Pakistani co-operation and the dialogue with Libya.

The report then reveals for the first time the development of intelligence in respect of the new global terrorism that we face. In the early years, for example, the Joint Intelligence Committee assessment of October 1994 said that the view was that the likelihood of terrorists acquiring or using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons was, while theoretically possible, highly unlikely. However, as the name and activities of Osama bin Laden became better known, the JIC started to change its assessments.

In November 1998, the JIC assessment said that Osama bin Laden has a long-standing interest in the potential terrorist use of CBR materials, and recent intelligence suggest his ideas about using toxic materials are maturing and being developed in more detail… There is also secret reporting that he may have obtained some CB"— chemical and biological— material—and that he is interested in nuclear materials. In June 1999, its assessment said: Most of UBL's planned attacks would use conventional terrorist weapons. But he continues to seek chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material and to develop a capability for its terrorist use. By mid-July 1999, the view had hardened still further. The assessment said: There have been important developments in Islamist extremist terrorism. It has become clear that Usama Bin Laden has been seeking CBRN"— chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear— materials… The significance of his possession of CB materials is that, in contrast to other terrorists interested in CB, he wishes to target US, British and other interests worldwide. A series of further assessments to the same effect was issued in January 2000, and again in August 2000 and January 2001. To anyone who wants to know why I became increasingly focused on the link between terrorism and WMD, I recommend reading that part of the report and the intelligence assessments received.

It is against this background of what one witness to Lord Butler called the "creeping tide of proliferation" that the events of 11 September 2001 should be considered. As the report rightly says, following 11 September, the calculus of the threat changed. I said in this House on 14 September 2001: We know, that they the terrorists would, if they could, go further and use chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction… We have been warned by the events of 11 September, and we should act on the warning."[Official Report, 14 September 2001; Vol. 372, c. 606.] I took the view then, and I stand by it now, that no Prime Minister faced with this evidence could responsibly afford to ignore it. After 11 September, it was time to take an active, as opposed to reactive, position on the whole question of weapons of mass destruction. We had to close down the capability of the rogue states—usually highly repressive and unstable—to develop such weapons and the commercial networks, such as those of A.Q. Khan, helping them. Again, my clear view was that the country where we had to take a stand was Iraq.

Iraq was the one country to have used WMD recently. It had developed WMD capability and concealed it. Action by UN inspectors and the IAEA had, by the mid to late 1990s, reduced this threat significantly, but as the Butler report shows at paragraphs 180 to 182, by the time the inspectors were effectively blocked in Iraq, at the end of 1998, the intelligence assessments were that some chemical weapons stocks remained hidden, that Iraq remained capable of a break-out chemical weapons capability within months, had a biological weapons capability—also with probable stockpiles—and could have had ballistic missiles capability in breach of UN resolutions within a year.

This, of course, was the reason for military action, taken without a UN resolution, in December 1998. Subsequent to that, the report shows that we continued to receive JIC assessments on Iraq's WMD capability. For example, in respect of chemical and biological weapons, in April 2000 it said: Our picture is limited. It is likely that Iraq is continuing to develop its offensive chemical warfare … and biological warfare … capabilities. In May 2001, in respect of nuclear weapons, its assessment was that: Our knowledge of developments in Iraq's WMD and ballistic missile programmes since Desert Fox air operations in December 1998 is patchy. But intelligence gives grounds for concern and suggests that Iraq is becoming bolder in conducting activities prohibited by UN Security Council resolution 687. There is evidence of increased activity at Iraq's only remaining nuclear facility and a growing number of reports on possible nuclear related procurement. Then in February 2002, the JIC said: Iraq … if it has not already done so, could produce significant quantities or BW agent within days. The report specifically endorses the March 2002 advice to Ministers, which stated that although containment had been partially successful and intelligence was patchy, Iraq continued to develop WMD. It said: Iraq has up to 20 650km range missiles left over from the Gulf War. These are capable of hitting Israel and the Gulf states. Design work for other ballistic missiles over the UN limit of 150km continues. Iraq continues with its BW and CW programmes and, if it has not already done so, could produce significant quantities of BW agents within days and CW agent within weeks of a decision to do so. We believe it could deliver CBW by a variety of means, including in ballistic missile warheads. There are also some indications of a continuing nuclear programme. The point I would make is simply this: the dossier of September 2002 did not reach any startling or radical conclusion. It said, in effect, what had been said for several years based not just on intelligence, but on frequent UN and international reports. It was the same conclusion, indeed, that led us to military action in 1998, to maintain sanctions, and to demand the return of UN inspectors.

We published the dossier in response to the enormous parliamentary and press clamour. It was not, as has been described, the case for war, but it was the case for enforcing the United Nations will, In retrospect, it has achieved a fame it never achieved at the time. As the Butler report at paragraph 310 states: It is … fair to say at the outset that the dossier attracted more attention after the war than it had done before it. When first published, it was regarded as cautious, and even dull. Some of the attention that it eventually received was the product of controversy over the Government's further dossier of February 2003. Some of it arose over subsequent allegations that the intelligence in the September dossier had knowingly been embellished, and hence over the good faith of the Government. Lord Hutton dismissed those allegations. We should record that we, too, have seen no evidence that would support any such allegations. Indeed, the report says at paragraph 333 that in general the statements in the dossier reflected fairly the judgments of past JIC assessments.

The report, however, goes on to say that with hindsight making public that the authorship of the dossier was by the JIC was a mistake. It meant that more weight was put on the intelligence than it could bear, and put the JIC and its chairman in a difficult position. It recommends in future a clear delineation between Government and JIC, perhaps by issuing two separate documents. I think this is wise, although I doubt that it would have made much difference to the reception of the intelligence at the time. The report also enlarges on the criticisms of the ISC in respect of the greater use of caveats about intelligence both in the dossier and in my foreword, and we accept that entirely.

The report also states that significant parts of the intelligence have now been found by the Secret Intelligence Service to be in doubt. The chief of the SIS, Sir Richard Dearlove, has told me that it accepts all the conclusions and recommendations of Lord Butler's report that concern the service. The SIS will fully address the recommendations that Lord Butler has made about its procedures and about the need for the service properly to resource them. The service has played, and will continue to play, a vital role in countering worldwide the tide of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, its successes are evident in Lord Butler's report.

I accept the report's conclusions in full. Any mistakes should not be laid at the door of our intelligence and security community. They do a tremendous job for our country. I accept full personal responsibility for the way in which the issue was presented and therefore for any errors that were made.

As the report indicates, there is no doubt that at the time it was genuinely believed by everyone that Saddam had both strategic intent in respect of WMD and actual weapons. I make this further point. On the sparse, generalised and highly fragmented intelligence about al-Qaeda prior to 11 September, it is now widely said that policy makers should have foreseen the attacks that materialised on 11 September 2001 in New York. I only ask: had we ignored the specific intelligence about the threat from Iraq, backed up by a long history of international confrontation over it, and that threat later materialised, how would we then have been judged?

I know that some will disagree with this. There are those who were opposed to the war, remain so now, and will for ever be in that position. I only hope that now, after two detailed parliamentary Committee reports, a judicial inquiry more exhaustive than any has ever been in examining an allegation of impropriety against Government, and now this voluminous report, people will not disrespect the others' point of view, but will accept that those who agree and those who disagree about the war in Iraq hold their views not because they are warmongers on the one hand or closet supporters of Saddam on the other, but because of a genuine difference of judgment as to the right thing to have done.

There was no conspiracy. There was no impropriety. The essential judgment and truth, as usual, does not lie in extremes. We all of us acknowledge that Saddam was evil and his regime depraved. Whether or not actual stockpiles of weapons are found, there was not and is not any doubt that Saddam used weapons of mass destruction and retained every strategic intent to carry on developing them. The judgment is this: would it have been better or more practical to have contained him through continuing sanctions and weapons inspections, or was this inevitably going to be, at some point, a policy that failed; and was removing Saddam a diversion from pursuing the global terrorist threat or part of it?

I can honestly say that I have never had to make a harder judgment. But in the end, my judgment was that after 11 September, we could no longer run the risk—that instead of waiting for the potential threat of terrorism and WMD to come together, we had to get out and get after it. One part of that was removing the training ground of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The other was taking a stand on weapons of mass destruction, and the place to take that stand was Iraq, whose regime was the only one ever to have used WMD and was subject to 12 years of UN resolutions and weapons inspections that turned out to be unsatisfactory. Although in neither case was the nature of the regime the reason for conflict, it was decisive for me in the judgment as to the balance of risk for action or inaction.

Both countries—Afghanistan and Iraq—now face an uncertain struggle for the future, but both at least now have a future. The one country in which one will find an overwhelming majority in favour of the removal of Saddam is Iraq. I am proud—was proud and remain proud—of this country and the part it played, especially our magnificent armed forces, in removing two vile dictatorships and giving people oppressed, almost enslaved, the prospect of democracy and liberty. This report will not end the arguments about the war, but in its balance and common sense, it should at least help to set them in a more rational light; and for that we should be grateful.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)

In his statement, the Prime Minister relied on a finding in the report relating to the good faith of the Government in paragraph 310. The Prime Minister read it out, and it refers specifically to allegations that the intelligence in the September dossier had knowingly been embellished, and it agrees with Lord Hutton on those allegations. It does not refer to other findings in the report; it does not refer to what the Prime Minister said; it does not give the Prime Minister a defence. In January this year, the Prime Minister said: The issue vis-à-vis my integrity is: did we receive the intelligence and was it properly relayed to people? The question that arises from that statement is: was the intelligence given to the Prime Minister accurate, and did he give an accurate account of it to the country? Let us examine, on the basis of the Butler report, what the intelligence services told the Prime Minister, and then what he told the country.

On 15 March 2002, the Joint Intelligence Committee said: Intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction … and ballistic missile programmes is sporadic and patchy. I repeat, "sporadic and patchy". On 21 August 2002, the JIC said that we have little intelligence on Iraq's CBW doctrine, and know little about Iraq's CBW work since late 1998". I repeat: we have little intelligence … and know little". On 9 September 2002, the JIC said: "Intelligence remains limited." I repeat: "Intelligence remains limited." That is what the JIC told the Prime Minister, so let us look at what he told the country.

The Prime Minister, in his signed foreword to the September 2002 dossier, said: I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current. He also said that the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons. I repeat that the Prime Minister said that he was in "no doubt", and that the intelligence was "beyond doubt".

On 24 September 2002, the Prime Minister told the House that the picture painted by the intelligence services was "extensive, detailed and authoritative"—not "sporadic and patchy". Is that not why Lord Butler concludes that it was a serious weakness that the JIC's warnings on the limitations of the intelligence underlying some of its judgements were not made sufficiently clear"? Is that not why Lord Butler concludes that the failure to include the limited intelligence base on which some of those assessments were made was "significant"? Is that not why Lord Butler concludes, specifically in relation to the language used by the Prime Minister, that it may have reinforced the impression that there was fuller and firmer intelligence behind the judgements in the September dossier than was, in fact, the case.

I return to the central question: was the intelligence given to the Prime Minister accurate, and did he give an accurate account of it to the country? It is now clear that in many ways the intelligence services got it wrong, but their assessments included serious caveats, qualifications and cautions. When presenting his case to the country, the Prime Minister chose to leave out those caveats, qualifications and cautions. Their qualified judgments became his unqualified certainties, and the question that he must answer today is: why? He has said that mistakes were made and he accepts responsibility, but it is not a question of responsibility—it is a question of credibility. I hope that we will not face in this country another war in the foreseeable future, but if we did and this Prime Minister identified the threat, would the country believe him? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I want the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) to be quiet. If there is any breach of the rules of the House there is a danger that the House will be suspended, which means that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition will have to wait until I recall it, so bear that in mind. I do not expect the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) to interfere either.

Mr. Howard

If we faced such a prospect, and the Prime Minister asked the country to rely on intelligence, would it have confidence in him? If he said that in his judgment war was necessary, would the country trust him? The issue is the Prime Minister's credibility. The question that he must ask himself is: does he have any credibility left?

The Prime Minister

Let me first deal with the issue of good faith. The right hon. and learned Gentleman supported the war—indeed, he supports it still.

Mr. Howard

On the basis of what you said.

The Prime Minister

Oh, is that reason? Let us just look at that for a moment. Was the right hon. and learned Gentleman duped into supporting the war by me? Let me quote something that the shadow Foreign Secretary said six months before the dossier was published: The Iraqi threat is indisputable. Horrific weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a despot who will use them or give them to others to use in every part of the world. A few months later, before the dossier was published, he said: We know there are weapons of mass destruction. The Leader of the Opposition made a speech to Murdoch's News Corporation in March this year, after the Hutton report, after all the arguments about the intelligence, and I managed to get hold of a copy. He said The war against Iraq was necessary. It was just. It was, indeed, arguably overdue. He went on: The British Conservative Party has been consistent in its support for the British Government"— that was in March this year, not March last year— and for our armed forces, over the war in Iraq. Indeed"— he went on to boast— Tony Blair would not have won last year's vote in the House of Commons … which gave him the mandate to go to war, without the support of the Conservative Party. So let us have no more of him being tricked into supporting the war by me. The fact of the matter is that he thought it was right then and he thinks even now, does he not, that it was right to go to war?

Mr. Howard

Answer the question.

The Prime Minister

Go on—just a nod of the head will do. The right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks even now that it was right to go to war, does he not? So let us leave aside his usual opportunism and understand that we both agreed that Saddam was a threat, we both still think Saddam was a threat and we both think the war was justified. Let us therefore concentrate on making Iraq better, not on point-scoring that has nothing to do with the central issues.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD)

As the Prime Minister rightly acknowledges in his statement, whatever views we all took about the war, there is no doubt, given the importance of this report and others and his statement this afternoon, that nothing will ever be able to erase the loss of British military life and the loss of life of innocent Iraqi civilians.

Our fundamental disagreement, as the Prime Minister knows from the time that he announced the setting up of Lord Butler's inquiry, remains. We argued from the outset that we wanted the political judgments that informed the decision that the Prime Minister took to go to war to be placed properly under the microscope. As we have seen from the very thorough and detailed piece of work that Lord Butler has produced, that was not possible within the remit set. However, what is possible within the remit and the words that Lord Butler has chosen to use in his report is to pose some direct questions to the Prime Minister arising from it, not least because the Prime Minister said in response to me when he made his statement setting up the inquiry that on the issue of political judgment to subcontract to some committee the issue of whether it was right or wrong to go to war is not merely wrong: ultimately it is profoundly undemocratic."—[Official Report, 4 February 2004; Vol. 417, c. 755.] Lord Butler states in chapter 5 on page 99 that from the evidence which has been found and de-briefing of Iraqi personnel it appears that prior to the war the Iraqi regime … did not, however, have significant—if any—stocks of chemical or biological weapons in a state fit for deployment, or developed plans for using them. As the Prime Minister says he accepts the report in full, he must accept that observation. Can he therefore square his acceptance of that observation with his own words in the introduction to the dossier, in which he wrote: I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons"? Does not Lord Butler's conclusion, which I quoted, reinforce what the Prime Minister had said much earlier, in 1998, when he argued that the policy of containment was working? In chapter 7, on page 141, Lord Butler points out: These international agencies"— that is, UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency— now appear to have been more effective than was realised at the time in dismantling and inhibiting Iraq's prohibited weapons programmes. He goes on: The value of such international organisations needs to be recognised and built on for the future, supported by the contribution of intelligence from national agencies. If the Prime Minister accepts the first part of that observation, as he has acknowledged, what steps will he take to make sure that the conclusion is followed, to underpin those international organisations for any similar events in future?

Moving away, as we did, from the containment policy at the time of the September 2002 dossier, huge focus was placed on the 45 minutes claim. I take issue with the Prime Minister when he says this afternoon that that dossier assumed importance after the event. Surely he, like the rest of us, remembers, for example, well-publicised events such as tanks being deployed at Heathrow airport and the newspapers being full of the 45 minutes warning. That was the context at the time.

Lord Butler says of the 45 minutes claim: the JIC should not have included the '45 minute' report in its assessment and in the Government's dossier without stating what it was believed to refer to. The fact that the reference in the classified assessment was repeated in the dossier later led to suspicions that it had been included because of its eye-catching character. If the Prime Minister accepts that conclusion, could he tell us who bears the ultimate responsibility for the claim's inclusion and its highlighting in that way?

Finally, in chapter 5 at paragraph 465, Lord Butler states: We conclude that it was a serious weakness that the JIC's warnings on the limitations of the intelligence underlying its judgements were not made sufficiently clear in the dossier. That goes to the heart of the matter for many, many people. The legality of the war was a key issue. The advice of the Attorney-General has been looked at, as well as the advice—at times conflicting—from within the Foreign Office. It is acknowledged that twice in the past such advice has been made public. Is it not time that all of us were able to see the full advice tendered by the Attorney-General?

Lord Butler speaks of a collective failure on the part of the Joint Intelligence Committee, but if that collective failure applied to the JIC, did it not also apply to the key political players in and around No. 10 Downing street at the time?

The Prime Minister presides, we are told, over a Cabinet process of informality on such important issues. If he accepts the report's conclusions and recommendations, does he have any procedures in place, or is he planning any changes to his management of Cabinet government for such an important issue as war and peace? Surely we have a right to be told that.

Inevitably, Lord Butler and his colleagues, deep and elaborate though their task has been, have not been able to address the fundamental question that many of us wanted to have addressed from the start: what was the key reality of the political judgments that led us to this war? When the Prime Minister now says that the outcome was desirable, albeit arrived at by insufficient conclusions and methodology, surely that is not a satisfactory way to proceed. Congress is continuing to try and get to the bottom of these matters. Surely the British Parliament should be seen to do better as well.

The Prime Minister

First, I shall deal with one or two of the individual points.

With reference to the tanks at Heathrow, I am not sure what point the right hon. Gentleman was making, but I can assure him that the reason we took that action, as has already been explained, is that we were advised to take that action. It was for no other reason than that. If we had ignored that advice, we would have been behaving very irresponsibly.

On containment, yes, there was a policy of containment in respect of Saddam. People were always extremely doubtful whether it was working and became increasingly doubtful after the bombing of Baghdad in 1998. Yes, I and others wanted containment to work and at times believed it could work, but the evidence that we have now indicates almost certainly that it was not working. That is why I come back to the point about balance. At each stage, the right hon. Gentleman takes certain parts out of the Butler report and says that Lord Butler found that there was no threat from Saddam in respect of WMD. [Interruption.] That is what he tried to imply.

As I pointed out to the House, however, it is clear that Lord Butler reached no such conclusion. Indeed, he said that it would be rash to draw any conclusion, even about WMD missiles in Iraq at the moment. He said, first, that Saddam plainly had the strategic intention of resuming the prohibited weapons programme; secondly, that Saddam was carrying out illicit research, development and procurement activities in support of that programme; and thirdly, that Saddam was developing ballistic missiles with a range longer than that permitted under the relevant UN resolutions.

I shall quote what the right hon. Gentleman said in the Western Morning News two days after we published the dossier. He said that there was no killer fact"— in the dossier— more a confirmation of what we already knew. Everybody believed the same thing about WMD and it would be wrong to suggest that the dossier somehow altered his perception. He was not persuaded by the dossier and voted against the war, which is why I at least have some time for his objections, as opposed to those raised by the Leader of the Opposition.

On the basis of the Butler report, the right hon. Gentleman must accept that Saddam still remained a threat of some sort, and I think that he does accept that. I think that he accepts that it was important to put back the inspectors into Iraq, and I also think that he accepts that the inspectors would never have been anywhere near Iraq but for the presence of US and British troops. The issue is whether we should have waited longer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I shall deal with that head on.

In March 2003, I made strenuous attempts to get a second UN resolution. I did so on the basis that we had to go through all Saddam's areas of non-compliance—it was clear that he was not complying—set them out in the prescribed form in a UN resolution, and then combine that resolution with an ultimatum to Saddam that either he did those things or we would take action. If we had managed to secure that resolution, I agree that we would have had more time, but the plain fact of the matter was that we could not get agreement in the Security Council resolution to any form of ultimatum in any set of circumstances.

In March 2003, we knew that Saddam was a threat and that the troops were the only reason why he had allowed the inspectors in, and we were left in a situation in which we could not obtain agreement on an ultimatum to him to comply with the UN inspectors. As I explained to the House at the time, we had a choice: we could either back down and not have inspectors backed by troops with an ultimatum or stick with it and see it through, and I still believe that we did the right thing in seeing it through.

I want to make one final point. As many people do, the right hon. Gentleman talked about the murder of innocent civilians in Iraq. That point is occasionally presented as if the civilians who have died and who are dying in Iraq are somehow dying as a result of coalition action. We are not killing civilians in Iraq, terrorists are killing civilians in Iraq. What is more, thousands of people were killed in Iraq year in, year out under Saddam. The best judges of the best interests of civilians in Iraq are Iraqi civilians themselves, and they are the ones who congratulate us most on getting rid of Saddam.

Ross Cranston (Dudley, North) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that despite the speculation, the report does not criticise the Attorney-General or question the legal advice? He knows that there are disagreements among lawyers. In fact, the report notes that the deputy legal adviser at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office resigned—honourably—because she disagreed. At the end of the day, there was non-compliance over 12 years with UN Security Council resolutions. Security Council resolution 1441, which was unanimous, gave Iraq a final opportunity to comply, and Iraq failed to do so, which was the legal basis for what we did.

The Prime Minister

What my hon. and learned Friend says is absolutely right. As he pointed out, the Attorney-General's legal advice was not related to the intelligence.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Mailing) (Con)

Will the Prime Minister assure the House that the unprecedented degree of interleaving of the political presentation process with the intelligence process that took place in the lead up to the war in Iraq will not continue under his Government?

The Prime Minister

What I will say to the right hon. Gentleman is that we should accept entirely the recommendation of the Butler report that it would probably be better in future to separate the Government case and whatever JIC assessments are made. Had we done that, however, the effect would have been the same, and that point is very clear if one studies the Butler report. I remember—the right hon. Gentleman probably remembers this too—the enormous clamour at the time to provide the intelligence. The provision of intelligence in that way was unique but, given the different world in which we live and the different type of security threat that we face today. I suspect that it will not be the last time that we are called upon to do such a thing.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend is right when he says that it is the Iraqi people themselves who are most pleased by the removal of Saddam Hussein, whom they always saw as the biggest weapon of mass destruction. Over the past two days, I have been at my old university college, where I met a man who fled the regime some years ago and who has since become a fellow of the university of Wales, Bangor. In a newspaper article, he said: Millions of my people have been saved thanks to the downfall of Saddam. The article includes a photograph of a crowd of students who attended university with him in Iraq, all of whom were murdered by Saddam's regime or went into exile. I am glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that, even if we knew then what we know now, we would still have gone ahead with removing that awful regime.

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for that and once again congratulate her on the work that she did before Iraq was an issue for all of us. That work is an immensely powerful testament to her integrity and perseverance.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage) (Con)

As co-chairman of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, I chaired a meeting on Monday with the new deputy Foreign Minister of Iraq. The real progress that is being made in that country is not often acknowledged in our press, which sometimes gives the impression that it would prefer disaster, so that the war could be shown to be wrong. The deputy Foreign Minister's main point was that the country needs to learn the lessons from the past and tackle the problems that it faces in the future. Should we not draw the same conclusions for Britain? We in Britain should learn the lessons of the past, and put these inquiries behind us and we must get on and tackle the problems of the future concerning terrorism and proliferation.

The Prime Minister

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. I explained in some detail the intelligence that we received not only on Iraq, but on Osama bin Laden and that particular type of terrorism to try to explain to people why I believe that there is a link between those two issues, and why going after the issue of WMD is not a diversion from pursuing global terrorism. 1 agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I have spoken to the Foreign Minister of Iraq. The Iraqis face the prospect of becoming a stable partner in the region, which will make a huge difference to the stability of the region and the world.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, perhaps justifiably, never has a Government decision been so deeply inquired into? At the end of those inquiries, two conclusions cannot be doubted: first, the security services acted with integrity; secondly, the Government acted in good faith and with integrity. Is not the proper response now for all of us to get behind the effort to build a democratic, secure Iraq and to stop the inquiries, because we now know what took place and why?

The Prime Minister

I do think that it is time that we recognised that the goal now is to make Iraq a stable country. I also emphasise once again that, as I said at the very outset of my statement, the key to this report is balanced judgments. People can pick out one part of the report or not, but the plain fact is that although it does indeed cast doubt on some of the intelligence that was relied on, it most certainly does not conclude that Saddam Hussein was not a threat in respect of WMD.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con)

Will the Prime Minister bring himself to accept that Lord Butler has shown more clearly than ever before, in annexe B and elsewhere, that time and again the Joint Intelligence Committee's first publication used language to describe the threat that did not match the language of its own assessments by its own officers?

Can the Prime Minister think of any explanation for the removal of all the caveats and doubts in producing that publication other than that John Scarlett had been persuaded, by the Prime Minister's press secretary and others, to remove all the cautionary words and to stiffen up the case?

Most importantly, does the Prime Minister believe that if, when he came to this House and made the case for war, he had used the actual language of the intelligence assessments that he had read, he would still have won the vote that carried this country into war? I must tell him that I do not think that he would have done.

The Prime Minister

I totally disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He, of course, opposed the war, and was perfectly entitled to do so. He opposed the war at the time and opposes it now. I have absolutely no doubt at all that had the caveats been put in about the limits of intelligence and so on, the essential fact would have remained—that there was the clearest possible evidence on Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. Resolution 1441, which was passed subsequent to the dossier, was a resolution of the entire international community.

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman looks at Lord Butler's report as a whole, he will find that the allegation that there was a knowing embellishment of the intelligence is refuted. That is precisely what Lord Hutton looked into, and precisely what Lord Butler, along with everyone else, finds is not right.

I suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, like others who opposed the war, should recognise that he simply made a different judgment as to what we should do in the light of this threat. The argument was not over the details of the threat. The argument was: is the judgment that the best way of dealing with this threat is to get the inspectors back in and leave them there for a period of time, or to continue the sanctions regime, or do we recognise that the only way of dealing with this threat is to remove the person constituting it? That is the difference of judgment between us: it was then and it is now. Nothing will change that, but I am afraid that I disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's judgment.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab)

May I welcome the Prime Minister's frank acceptance that there were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction at the time of war? He is entitled to argue that that does not mean that there was no justification for the war, but it does surely mean that there was no urgent necessity for the war, because there was no imminent threat. Will he now recognise that there was time for Hans Blix to finish his job and to confirm through the process of UN weapons inspections that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and that, had he done so, we might have been spared the unavoidable conclusion from the content of the Butler report—that we committed British troops to action on the basis of false intelligence, overheated analysis and unreliable sources?

The Prime Minister

I know that my right hon. Friend has always taken the view that it would have been better if we had proceeded with the second UN resolution. I know, too, that he believes that we should have allowed Hans Blix to remain there for a longer period of time. I simply have to say to him that, as I said to the leader of the Liberal Democrats, if we had secured the second resolution, with a series of conditions and an ultimatum, then yes, there would have been more time. As I used to say at the time, it is not a question of a specific amount of time, but a question of Saddam fully complying, because that is what resolution 1441 says—that Saddam had fully to comply. I think that my right hon. Friend would accept that there is no way the UN inspectors would ever have been back in Iraq without the troops being there. And there is no evidence that Saddam was ever complying fully—indeed, the evidence points the other way.

The problem is this. I agreeߞand I thought that my right hon. Friend put it, at least in the first part of his question, in a moderate way—that we have to put this in a different way with hindsight. I also say that, if it is correct, as Lord Butler also finds, that there was a clear strategic intent, that there was the illicit procurement of material in order to develop WMD, and that Saddam was carrying on developing ballistic missiles in breach of UN resolutions, there is no doubt that he was indeed in breach of those UN resolutions. So the question is this: if we had left the inspectors there longer, with the troops still down there, would they, in the end, have discovered, not that there were no stockpiles, but that there were actual breaches of the UN resolution, as Lord Butler finds?

I have to say to my right hon. Friend that, ultimately, I do not believe that even if we had left the inspectors thereߞwith the troops, because he acknowledges, as I do, that the troops would have had to be there to keep the inspectors thereߞfor three months, six months, or even nine months, Saddam would ever have complied, because he never had any intention of giving up his WMD ambitions. In the end, therefore, we faced the choice of whether to take this on and deal with it or not.

Incidentally, I would also say to my right hon. Friend that that is the reason why he and I, without a UN resolution, took military action in December 1998. We did not take that action because we had some doubt about Saddam and WMD—we took that action because we were certain of it and believed that it was the right thing to do. I know that there was a difference between us on the second resolution, but I believed that it was the right thing to do in December 1998 and I believed that it was the right thing to do in March 2003.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP)

I wonder if the Prime Minister would agree with the following summary, as we stand back from things and look at them. There was, and continues to be, a very good case for the action that was taken with regard to Iraq, but the Government, in their anxiety and eagerness to get the widest possible support for that action, oversold the case, and the reaction from that has led to an undermining of the good case and results in a situation whereby it is now more difficult for us to make progress. Does the Prime Minister remember once making a similar mistake?

The Prime Minister

No, I am afraid that I do not; and I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I do not agree with him. Even if one put in all the caveats, as the report suggests, the fact is that what we said at the time, back in September and in March, is that Saddam Hussein is an active WMD threat and has actual deployable weapons. That was the effect of the intelligence. No matter what changes we made to the way in which it was put, that fundamental thing would have remained. I say to the right hon. Gentleman, as I have said to others, that the fact is—this is why I am afraid that I cannot say that we were wrong in taking the action that we did—that even if we accept what is in Lord Butler's report now, that does not mean going to the opposite extreme and saying that there was no threat at all.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab)

Is it not the case that the policy of containment could be said to have been working only if we accepted people's containment in a situation of despair and mass graves? Is it not also the case that weapons of mass destruction, and the belief in them, were vital to the Saddam regime to maintain that state of despair? If we are to continue in this way as an international community, should not we now consider redrawing international agreements to ensure that when similar situations arise the case for action is absolutely clear?

The Prime Minister

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says. There is a very strong case, in the different world in which we live, for recognising that there may be circumstances in which we have to take such action in future. There is clear evidence of bin Laden, al-Qaeda and this new form of terrorism trying to acquire WMD. The best account of that, strangely, is in the statements made by Dr. David Kay, who was with the Iraq survey group. He says that, because of the nature of Saddam's regime—its instability and the way in which people were treated—the threat may have been different from, but greater than, the threat that we anticipated. That is why I believe that in future we will be placed in a situation where we have to calculate whether we need to take such action.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con)

Does the Prime Minister agree that it would be unjust for any public servant to take the rap today? What steps will he take to shoulder the blame, which, he admits, rests with him, when the main reason for the failure that the report uncovers and outlines largely on page 147 is the Prime Minister's circumvention of all the decencies and formalities of a proven system of government, and his replacement of it by informality. chumminess, distorted lines of communication and the concentration of all power around him and a small coterie in No. 10?

The Prime Minister

I do not recognise that quote from the report, unless I missed something. Apart from the fact that regular, minuted meetings of the relevant Cabinet Ministers took place, the Cabinet discussed the matter in detail on no fewer than 24 occasions.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, at the relevant time—before the publication of the September dossier—the then Leader of the Opposition had full briefing from the intelligence community and did not try to play politics with the matter, impugn my right hon. Friend's credibility or criticise any loss of caveats when the relevant debates took place? Will he also remind hon. Members that we are considering the fourth such report on the issue? Of course, some will never be happy because they want my right hon. Friend's scalp, which, again, an inquiry has denied them Is not it important that we now concentrate on the genuine consensus on the reconstruction of Iraq so that it does not pose a threat to the world community, its neighbours and, most of all, its own people?

The Prime Minister

I entirely endorse my right hon. Friend's comments about the previous Leader of the Opposition, who supported us strongly throughout and acted somewhat in contrast to the right hon. and learned Gentleman who now occupies his place.

It is important that we concentrate on the future in Iraq, while recognising that its history is one of trouble not only for its people but for the region and the wider world. That is why it is important that it becomes a stable partner for peace.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)

I am sure that the Prime Minister recognises that many hon. Members voted for the war on the case that he made so passionately and assuredly, and that, in the light of the material that became available through the Hutton inquiry and now through Lord Butler, they would not have voted for it. Is not it even more alarming that, after the Prime Minister based his case for war so narrowly, clearly and vehemently on the threat of weapons of mass destruction to the country, he now extends the basis for going to war and thus justifies it?

The Prime Minister

We went to war to enforce the UN resolutions that were outstanding in respect of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. I have had to concede, as the Butler report finds, that some of the intelligence cannot be relied upon, but the hon. Gentleman goes to the other extreme and says that, in that case, there was no problem. There was a problem: our evidence, which the Butler report details, is about breaches of UN resolutions. If that information had reached the inspectors when they were in Iraq, it would have constituted a breach of resolution 1441.

It is not a matter of my extending the case; there is a genuine issue, and that is why I went into such detail in my statement. It is my belief, which many people dispute, that there is a different sort of security threat today. It comes from the combination of the new form of global terrorism—terrorism is always evil, but we are considering a different sort, which is without limit—and the development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in unstable, repressive states or the commercial networks that live off them. That possible combination is the security threat that we face.

My thinking has changed after 11 September. I am prepared to take all the criticism and so on because I know that, in future, people would look back and want to know why, if we were given information about the actions of terrorists after 11 September, and we knew about the trade and development of weapons and that terrorists were trying to get hold of them and unstable countries were proliferating them, we did not do anything to stop that. I therefore believe that we have to take an active rather than a reactive position. That is why we are in the current situation. I do not regret it.

If the Butler report had found that Saddam and weapons of mass destruction were all a hoax, that would he different. However, no one seriously claims that. The issue is the extent to which readily deployable stockpiles existed. There is no question about the threat that Saddam posed because he used the weapons. There is no question about the intent, because the report found that. The question is what action to take—that judgment had to be made. Some people take the view that action was not necessary because the threat was not strong enough, but my view is that it was powerful enough. That is the difference between us. It is not an issue of integrity or good faith; it is just a disagreement.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)

The Prime Minister said that everyone genuinely believed that Saddam had both strategic intent for WMD and actual weapons. That is a classic definition of a threat: capability plus intent. However, I remind him that many of us took issue with that at the time. We voted for an amendment that said that the case for war was not proven—it was as simple as that.

On intent and the way in which the imminent threat has long been the key to trying to convince Parliament and the people of the Government's case, I refer the Prime Minister to paragraph 374 of the Butler report—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must remember that a supplementary question should be brief. Other Back Benchers wish to speak. Perhaps he could ask the question succinctly.

Mr. Kilfoyle

The Attorney-General said that there would be no justification for the use of force against Iraq on the ground of self-defence against an imminent threat.

The Prime Minister

With the greatest of respect, that was not the issue. Indeed, on 24 September, when I presented the dossier to the House, I said that I could not say that Saddam would use the weapons this year or next year. The dossier was the reason why we went back to the UN. If I believed that there was an imminent threat to this country from Saddam, we would not have waited for the UN but would have taken action immediately. I came to the view, which I still hold, that the potential combination of global terrorism and WMD meant that we had to act on WMD. That is what we did. As to the belief about Saddam and weapons of mass destruction, I simply refer my hon. Friend back to resolution 1441, which clearly stated that he was a threat in respect of the weapons.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)

I am pleased to say that we on these Benches were not duped into supporting the war, and we remain of that view. The Butler report refers to strains, mistakes, misinformation and the resultant carnage. Somehow, no one is to blame for all that. Why does not the Prime Minister take responsibility and do the honourable thing?

The Prime Minister

First, Lord Butler does not use the words that the hon. Gentleman did. Secondly, let us consider the judgment at the heart of the matter. The hon. Gentleman says that he is glad that he was not duped into supporting the war, but if he had his way, Saddam Hussein would continue to run Iraq. [Interruption.] I have to deal with the consequences of my position, and he must deal with those of his. Would Saddam Hussein's continuing to run Iraq mean that the world and the region was a safer place? I do not think so.

Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)

In the press conference that launched the report before the statement in the House, Lord Butler said, in answer to questions, that there was no evidence to question the Prime Minister's good faith. The report states: We have no evidence of deliberate distortion or culpable negligence … Government believed the assessments it was putting forward to the British people … There was no intention to mislead. How on earth can we listen to the Prime Minister's integrity being traduced by the Leader of the Opposition and others? They are not reading the same report.

The Prime Minister

What my hon. Friend says is absolutely right. The disagreement that we should have is about the judgment over whether it was right to go to war. That is a disagreement that I can have with the Liberal Democrats. The problem for the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) is that he supported the war and, truthfully, he supports it still. He therefore has to rerun the allegation of bad faith because he cannot make the case against the war.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con)

As one who voted on 18 March to support the Prime Minister, who does not regret that vote and who recognises that the consequence of a different vote would have been a shattering of the alliance, the remaining in power of Saddam Hussein and the fall of the British Government, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he accepts that the Butler report underlines the fact that intelligence is an inexact science? It does not endorse or whitewash everything that the British Government did, but nor is it an indictment of the decision that the House took.

The Prime Minister

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that; I agree with Him entirely. We should study the recommendations of the report carefully and implement them. As he rightly says, this is not an issue of integrity or good faith. It is about trying to deal with difficult decisions in a difficult world.

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what Lord Butler said in his press conference this morning? He said that intelligence gathering in Iraq was very difficult because of the closed regime. He also said that intelligence gathering had been made more difficult by the cuts in the 1990s following the end of the cold war. What is my right hon. Friend going to do about that aspect of the report?

The Prime Minister

What we are doing already is increasing significantly resources for the intelligence services. There has been criticism of some of the people concerned, but I think that the intelligence services do a fantastic job for this country—I really do. They have been an invaluable support to me as Prime Minister and, I am sure, to many Prime Ministers before me.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD)

What about the question that Butler did not answer and could not really ask, which is: how far was the Prime Minister's willingness to act on very uncertain intelligence the result of a belief that he had already formed that Saddam Hussein had to be dealt with, and a belief that, because the United States was moving inexorably towards an invasion, it was in Britain's interests to try to influence the United Nations in support of that and to be a partner in it?

The Prime Minister

That is not what Lord Butler has found. The plain fact is that we did not go immediately to war. We went back to the United Nations to get resolution 1441. That was the whole purpose of what we were doing. One of the many things that has been exaggerated in retrospect is the idea that, when we presented the dossier, we were saying, "This is the case for war." We were not saying that; we were saying, "This is the case for dealing with this issue, preferably through the United Nations."

As I said a moment ago, if I had thought that Iraq was a direct threat to this country, I would have taken immediate action. I did not do that, but I did think that the WMD issue had to be dealt with. September 11 meant that we could not wait around for it to materialise; we had to get out and get after it now. So that is what we did. We started with Iraq because of the history of UN resolutions. We then went to the United Nations. I believe that UN resolution 1441 was very clear: Saddam had to comply fully and totally. Through all the conversations that I had with Hans Blix, he never once suggested to me that Saddam Hussein was complying fully. He used to say, "Well, he's co-operating a bit", and I would say, "That's not enough", and he would say, "Well, you know—". Then came the argument that we should give him more time, and I said, "Okay, let's give him more time, but tied to an ultimatum. If we don't tie it to an ultimatum, he's never going to do it." That is why the decision had to be taken on 18 March, as opposed to some weeks later, as it could have been if an ultimatum had been agreed to. France and other countries made it clear that, whatever happened, they would issue no ultimatum. That was their decision, but it meant that, on 18 March, we were faced with either another UN resolution that would have been meaningless, or taking action. That is what we did.

> Mr. Speaker


Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I say to any Members who are complaining that Back Benchers have had half an hour.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will note that many Back Benchers on both sides still have questions to ask the Prime Minister. You have been in the House a long time, as have I, and you will know that it was the practice, certainly of past Governments, whenever legitimate questions were tabled for written answer, to say, "I refer the hon. Member to the statement that was made on this issue" and to give that as a reason for not providing any further answers. If that happens in regard to the statement that the Prime Minister has just made, will you have a look at the matter, to ensure that any further legitimate questions that are tabled get a proper answer?

Mr. Speaker

As always, the hon. Gentleman helps me out. This gives me an opportunity to say that a Committee of the House recommended to the Speaker that an hour should be given for statements. Because of the circumstances of this statement and the fact that the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Front-Bench spokesman took longer—I make no criticism of them for that—I gave exactly half an hour for Back Benchers' questions. As to questions being answered, I have said to the hon. Gentleman before that I am not responsible for the quality of ministerial answers. I thank the hon. Gentleman again.

Back to