HL Deb 14 July 2004 vol 663 cc1253-71

3.26 p.m.

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, I should like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"Lord Butler's report is comprehensive, 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 WMD; of the potential acquisition of WMD by terrorists; and though it devotes much of its analysis to Iraq, it also goes into detail on the WMD threat posed by Iran, Libya, North Korea and AQ Khan. Some of the intelligence disclosed is made available for the first time and gives some insight into the reasons for the judgments I and other Ministers have been making. I hope the House will understand if I deal with it in some detail. "The hallmark of the report is its balanced judgments. The report 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 which have recently arisen on the 45 minute intelligence and says in any event it should have been included in the dossier in different terms; but it expressly supports the intelligence on Iraq's attempts to procure uranium from Niger in respect of Iraq's nuclear ambitions.

"The report finds that there is little, if any, significant evidence of stockpiles of readily deployable weapons. But it also concludes that Saddam Hussein did indeed have: first, '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'; secondly, 'in support of that goal, was carrying out illicit research and development, and procurement, activities, to seek to sustain its indigenous capabilities'; and, thirdly, 'was developing ballistic missiles with a range longer than permitted under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions'.

"Throughout the last 18 months, 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 this issue. This report, like the Hutton inquiry. like the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee before it and of the Foreign Affairs Committee before that, has 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 says in his report: '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'. But I have to accept, as the months have passed, it seems 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, in answer to that question. And my answer would be this: that the evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was indeed less certain and less well founded than was stated at the time. But I cannot go from there to the opposite extreme. On any basis, he retained complete strategic intent on weapons of mass destruction and significant capability. The only reason 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 had we backed down in respect of Saddam, we would never have taken the stand that we needed to take on weapons of mass destruction, never have got the progress, for example, on Libya that we achieved and we would have left Saddam in charge of Iraq, with every malign intent and capability still in place and every dictator with the same intent everywhere immeasurably emboldened.

"As I shall say later, for any mistakes made, as this report finds, in good faith I of course take full responsibility, but I cannot honestly say that I believe getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all. Iraq, the region and the wider world is a better and safer place without Saddam.

"The report begins by 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 in respect of its nuclear weapons programmes; and those are now being dismantled. In respect of Iran, the report says that Iran is now engaged with the International Atomic Energy Authority, though there remain, 'clearly outstanding issues about Iran's activities'.

"About North Korea the report concludes that it, 'is now thought to be developing missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons as far away as continental US and Europe'. The report goes on at paragraph 99: '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. This network is now shut down, largely 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 the intelligence in respect of the new global terrorism that we face. In the early years, for example, in the Joint Intelligence Committee assessment of October 1994, 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 assessment. In November 1998, it said this: '[UBL] 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 chemical and biological material—and that he is interested in nuclear materials'. And in June 1999: '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, this view hardened still further. Again, I quote: 'There have been important developments in [Islamist extremist] terrorism. It has become clear that Osama Bin Laden has been seeking 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, again in August 2000, and in January 2001.

"To anyone who wants to know why I have become increasingly focused on the link between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, I recommend reading this part of the report and the intelligence assessments received. It was against this background of what one witness to Lord Butler called the 'creeping tide of proliferation' that the events of September 11 2001 should be considered. As the report says, quite rightly, following September 11 the calculus of the threat changed.

"I said in this House on 14 September 2001: we know that 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. We should act on the warning'. 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 September 11 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 International Atomic Energy Authority 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 CW stocks remained hidden and that Iraq remained capable of a breakout chemical weapons capability within months, 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 the 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 (CW) and biological warfare (BW) capabilities'.

"In May 2001, the JIC assessed, in respect of nuclear weapons: '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'.

"In February 2002, the JIC said: 'Iraq … if it has not already done so, could produce significant quantities of BW agent within days'.

"The report specifically endorses the March 2002 advice to Ministers, which states that though containment had been partially successful and intelligence was patchy, Iraq continues 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'.

"The report goes on: '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 report states at paragraph 310: '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'.

"It goes on to say: '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'.

"The report, at paragraph 333, states 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 that is wise, though I doubt 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 SIS to be in doubt. The chief of SIS, Sir Richard Dearlove, has told me that the SIS 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 made 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 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 September 11, it is now widely said that policy-makers should have foreseen the attacks that materialised on September 11 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 some will disagree with that. There are those who were opposed to the war, remain so now and will forever 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 other's 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 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 that inevitably going to be at some point a policy that failed? 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 September 11 we could no longer run the risk; that instead of waiting for the potential threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction to come together, we had to get out and get after it. One part was removing the training ground of Al'Qaeda in Afghanistan. The other was taking a stand on WMD; and the place to take that stand was in respect of Iraq, whose regime was the only one ever to have used weapons of mass destruction and was subject to 12 years of UN resolutions and weapons inspections that turned out to be unsatisfactory.

"Though 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 you will find an overwhelming majority in favour of the removal of Saddam is Iraq.

"I am proud and remain 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 who were 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".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde:

My Lords, first, on behalf of the whole House, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement.

It is a long Statement, and much of it deals with various generalities, as well, of course, as the outstanding performance of our troops and the justification for war. We agreed with the justification for the war, and we still agree with it. I reiterate our support for removing Saddam. However, the issue before us is not the war but the conduct of government and whether proper use was made of intelligence. I shall not respond to the rhetorical bulk of the Statement. Much of it smacked of the idea that the end justified the means. That is never a safe doctrine for a parliamentary democracy. The tragedy is that, although the Government had a good case for war, the way in which it was argued—as exposed, once again, in this outstanding report, which has found serious flaws in intelligence and its uses—has weakened that good case and damaged the credibility of the Prime Minister in the country.

I said that it was an outstanding report, and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, and his committee for their work.

The report demonstrates unequivocally—the Prime Minister has accepted this—that the Prime Minister went, in his certainties, far beyond what the intelligence would bear. I shall give one example. On 21 August 2002, the JIC said: We have little intelligence … and know little about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons work since late 1998". On 9 September 2002, it said, "Intelligence remains limited". That is what the JIC told the Prime Minister. However, in his foreword to the September dossier, the Prime Minister 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". Can the noble Baroness explain the contrast? What led the Prime Minister so to alter the emphasis? Was he told to write that, or were they his own words, written in full knowledge of the caveats and conditions surrounding the intelligence?

The conclusion reached by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, is stark: it was a serious weakness that the JIC's warnings on the limitations of intelligence underlying its judgments were not made sufficiently clear". Does the noble Baroness agree with that conclusion? The noble Lord suggested at his press conference this afternoon that the Government wanted the dossier as a document to back up their evolving policy. That put the JIC under what the noble Lord called "strain". He said that the 45-minute claim should not have been included in the dossier without qualifications. Can the noble Baroness tell the House who took the decision that it should be highlighted by the Prime Minister in that way? We were told time and again that the dossier attracted little attention. It is strange, then, that I am the only one who recalls the splashed headlines and the diagrams showing the great ballistic threat.

The Prime Minister has said that he did not know until later that Iraq did not have ballistic weapons. He said that he acted in good faith over the 45-minute claim. But he was preparing our forces for war. Why did he not know that the adversaries that they were being sent against did not have the capability that he had told the country they had? Did he not ask?

Like many others, I am concerned about the picture of government presented in the report and about the informal nature of this Government. There were meetings without papers and meetings without minutes or recorded conclusions. The noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, said that he had found no evidence of the Government planning to exaggerate the case for war. In such a context, is it possible that there may have been meetings and conversations of which no record was kept?

I turn finally to the role of the Attorney-General, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who is in his place today. The noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, makes it clear that he did not examine the legal aspects of the noble and learned Lord's advice. How many opinions did the noble and learned Lord give? That matter remains obscure, even after the Butler report. Paragraph 374 says that, before Resolution 1441 was adopted, the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General said: on the basis of the information he had seen, there would be no justification for the use of force against Iraq on grounds of self-defence against an imminent threat".

Later, we are told that the noble and learned Lord had a meeting with the Prime Minister's chief of staff and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, about his view of the legal position. They asked him to provide a further assessment. According to paragraph 379, he said that, in the absence of a second UN resolution, the Prime Minister must be satisfied that Iraq failed to take the final opportunity to comply with Resolution 1441.

We read of a further meeting with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who was not, at that time, Lord Chancellor, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, on 13 March and then a formal request from the Attorney-General's office for the Prime Minister to say that it was unequivocally his view that Iraq had committed further breaches. On 15 March, No. 10 Downing Street replied: It is indeed the Prime Minister's unequivocal view that Iraq is in further material breach of its material obligations". In other words, it appears that the Prime Minister himself certified the legal case for war.

The noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, did not examine in detail the legal aspects of the case. Is there any reason, given the partial light thrown on this by the Butler report, why the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General should not come to the House tomorrow and explain the full background of the paragraphs? In particular, can the noble Baroness tell the House whether the intelligence evidence played any part in the Attorney-General changing the advice that he gave to the Government between January and March? If the noble Baroness cannot answer that today, perhaps she would help to persuade the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General to offer some clarification to the House tomorrow. I know that the whole House would find that most interesting and welcome.

3.57 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby:

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in another place by the Prime Minister. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, on a detailed and careful report. However, I must add, with regret, that once again, as with the Hutton inquiry, the terms of the remit given to the noble Lord's inquiry were so tightly drawn that the key questions that the House would like answered could not be answered by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, if he stayed within his remit. The key questions remain. Who made the decision to propose to Parliament that we should go to war? Who decided that shaky intelligence should be strengthened and firmed up, with all the conditions and qualifications left behind? Those are the key questions, and the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, was precluded from answering them, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, was before him.

First, I must draw the attention of the House to the remarkable change in the Prime Minister's stance between November 2000 and the autumn of 2002, a mere two years later. On 1 November 2000, the Prime Minister said: We believe that the sanctions regime has effectively contained Saddam Hussein in the last 10 years".—[Official Report, Commons, 1/11/2000; col. 511W.] A year and a half later—24 September 2002—the Prime Minister said: The policy of containment is not working".—[Official Report, Commons, 24/9/02; col. 3.] Between those two dates, two major things occurred: there was a report by UNMOVIC, the inspectors in Iraq, and a report by Hans Blix, both confirming that the threat had become less and not more.

Paragraph 427 of the Butler report states: The Government's conclusion in the spring of 2002 that stronger action (although not necessarily military action) needed to be taken to enforce Iraqi disarmament was not based on any new development in the current intelligence picture on Iraq".

First, what happened between autumn 2000 and autumn 2002? There was no change in Iraq's threat to the world or any change in the policy of containment. But, quite simply, there was a meeting between the Prime Minister and President Bush, of which we have not been told and of which we know little; either when it occurred or what occurred during it. Surely, that meeting must have had some influence on the quite remarkable change in the position not just of the Government but the whole of the government machine. Secondly, would Parliament have taken us to war in March 2003 if it had known that the intelligence was based on uncertain sources; if it had known that that intelligence was assessed in a very doubtful way; if it had known that some of those statements made on behalf of the Government were exaggerated and that qualifications and modifications had been removed? It is clear from paragraph 555 and other parts of the Butler report that those qualifications had gone.

Would Parliament have agreed to take us to war if it had known, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pointed out, that the Attorney-General produced new and revised advice on 17 March following an unequivocal assurance from the Prime Minister that Iraq was in material breach of Resolution 1441? Would Parliament have taken us to war if it had seen the assessments made by no less a body than the Joint Intelligence Committee? There was assessment after assessment between October 2002 and March 2003 indicating that Iraq was not a serious and current threat. There were reports that were never published, never shown to MPs and never shown to Parliament as a whole; reports that very clearly undermine the case for war.

Finally, we turn to the question of who is responsible—that illusive question that the inquiry conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was unable to address. Who is responsible? Was it the virtual government of Mr Jonathan Powell and Mr Alastair Campbell? Was it the intelligence community? Was it perhaps the elected politicians in Cabinet, including the Prime Minister, who are meant to be responsible for the major policy decisions?

We still have not been told. To me it is a tragedy that we will now wait yet again on the Senate of the United States to show the clear line of accountability between how that decision to go to war was taken and how, thousands of lives and much destruction later, we have still not seriously addressed the question.

4.3 p.m.

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, first, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that I am aware that they did not have access to the report until 12.30 p.m. Some of what is being said today is, in my view, partial. A complete reading of the document demonstrates that the report is comprehensive, balanced and thorough. Some of the views that have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, are not borne out by a thorough reading of the report. I would recommend to all Members of this House that they read the report from beginning to end.

With respect to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in relation to the intelligence material and what had changed, the noble Baroness is well aware of what changed. The context in which we discussed those issues changed fundamentally after September 11. The Statement makes that absolutely clear. Indeed, a reading of the report and, in particular, the intelligence material in relation to that period makes that absolutely clear, as does the knowledge that terrorists were doing everything that they could to get hold of WMD. Again, that is factually borne out by the report.

The report and the Statement have tried absolutely clearly to put the discussions and decisions that were made in relation to Iraq in their proper context. That is something of which we should all be aware and something that we should all remember to do.

With respect to the issue of the legal basis for the war, I think that my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General has answered the questions that were asked of him in relation to that. I hope that in again asking those questions the integrity of my noble and learned friend was not being called into question.

To help the House, perhaps I may repeat where we stand. In the report, it is made very clear that the advice of my noble and learned friend was not based on WMD-related intelligence. I would direct noble Lords to paragraph 379 of the report. My noble and learned friend confirmed in this House, including on 21 March when he explained his view to the House, that it was his independent view that military action was justified.

The Butler report confirms, as my noble and learned friend has always maintained, that his advice, which the noble Lord's review saw, was based on the interpretation of relevant Security Council resolutions and negotiating history in the United Nations and, I repeat, not on WMD-related intelligence. So the lawfulness of the conflict is not undermined by the failure to find WMD or by any reassessment of the intelligence. It could not be clearer.

A question was also raised with respect to the use that was made of the dossier. When noble Lords look at the report in detail, I invite them to read the footnote on page 127 where the inquiry team makes it clear that it, wrote to some 60 Editors of national and regional print and broadcast media to ask them if they had been briefed by representatives of the Government about the dossier immediately prior to its publication or whether, post-publication, they were guided to report particular aspects, such as the '45 minute' story. All of those who replied said that they had not been guided to particular parts of the dossier prior to its publication … Some Editors noted that the '45 minute' story attracted attention because it was of itself an eyecatching item in a document containing much that was either not new or rather technical in nature".

Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that on 26 September 2002, in the Western Morning News, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in another place, said: There is no killer fact in the dossier. It is more a confirmation of what we already knew". Again, before the dossier was published, on 23 March 2002 the shadow Foreign Secretary said: 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. Our shared objective is the destruction of these weapons before they can be used. The means of achieving it must be effective and enduring. We cannot rule any option out". In conclusion, with regard to the comments which have been made about the nature of government, the so-called informality of the Government, and the fact that meetings are held which are not minuted, we all know that if you are to have effective government, you need to operate in a variety of different ways. Those noble Lords opposite who may remember a time when they were in government might recall occasions when it was necessary to hold informal meetings before they then had formal meetings.

I say this to the House: the Butler report makes it absolutely clear that the Cabinet discussed these issues on 24 occasions. As noble Lords know, the Cabinet is always minuted.

4.6 p.m.

Lord Lawson of Blaby:

My Lords, this is a sorry occasion. Reverting to the last reply given by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, I am among those who have been in government and served in a Cabinet for a considerable time. I can say that the strictures—which they are, albeit in restrained terms—made in the Butler report at paragraphs 6.06 to 6.11, although not exclusively there, on the way that this administration conducts the procedures and processes of government is something that did not apply to any administration in which I have served.

I ask the noble Baroness whether she is aware that this is a serious matter. Throughout the over-long Statement of the Prime Minister, repeated by the noble Baroness, there was no acknowledgment of that whatever. When is this very important issue going to be addressed, and how?

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord did not hear everything I said in the Statement, where it was made absolutely clear that we accept the report and the recommendations made in it. Perhaps I may also say to the noble Lord that at his press conference this morning the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was asked a specific question about the style of government. I watched it. The noble Lord said that the overall effect of the way the Government operated in no way made them any less efficient. Noble Lords should read what is in the report and listen to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Butler.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords—

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords—

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, there is plenty of time for everyone to speak.

Lord Archer of Sandwell:

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Can my noble friend confirm that the only substantive criticism of the dossier made in the report is that it failed adequately to emphasise, for the benefit of those who did not already know, that intelligence by its very nature is incomplete and frequently tentative? Can she further confirm that this is the first occasion ever on which a government have made public information from the JIC? Would it not be surprising if this first attempt at transparency did not give rise to some lessons?

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, my noble and learned friend is absolutely right. Perhaps I may say in relation to his final point about transparency that, having watched governments operate over many years, no government have sought to be as transparent and as open with their people as this Government have sought to be.

Lord Wright of Richmond:

My Lords, I have not yet had the opportunity to read the Butler report in full, but as a former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and as a Member of this House who has strongly questioned and still questions the case for going to war in Iraq, I should like to make a few brief points.

First, it is quite clear from what I have read of the Butler report that the process of assessing and publicising intelligence in the case of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and therefore of the imminence of an Iraqi threat, was flawed.

Secondly, the role and involvement of political advisers and No. 10 press officers in the process of intelligence assessment and in producing the flawed dossier was unwise and led to pressure, perhaps unconscious pressure or strain, on the intelligence services to support the case for war. I am surprised that neither the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, nor, so far as I know, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has drawn particular attention to Mr Jonathan Powell's e-mail, in which he is reported to have complained that the first draft of the dossier was inadequate to support the Government's case for going to war.

Thirdly, this House was repeatedly assured by Ministers that no decisions to go to war had been taken. Indeed, I was assured privately by a Minister, within weeks of military action, that we would not go to war without a second United Nations resolution. But it has long been clear from Bob Woodward's books, as I have reminded this House several times, that a decision had been taken by senior members of the United States Administration as early as four years ago, if not earlier, that an early and imminent invasion of Iraq was desirable and necessary, and that the events of September 11 in the following year were used improperly and dishonestly as a justification for going to war.

Little attempt has been made either by the United States Government or by the British Government to correct the widespread belief in the United States that Saddam Hussein was behind the attack on the twin towers. I share the regret expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Attorney-General's confidential advice has still not been published, when a great deal of information has been revealed which in my day would have been—

Baroness Crawley:

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Wright, could frame a question.

Lord Wright of Richmond:

My Lords, I beg the pardon of the House. I do not deny that Iraq may now be a better place without Saddam, but let us not forget that the removal of Saddam was never given by Her Majesty's Government as the justification for war. On the contrary, we were told again and again that it was not the policy of Her Majesty's Government to change other people's governments. Is that still the policy of Her Majesty's Government?

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wright, is correct. What the report does is to flag up places where the process is flawed. In his press report, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, spoke of the 45 minutes claim, saying that it was an uncharacteristically poor piece of assessment. The report makes it absolutely clear that there are some flaws in the process, that these need to be addressed urgently and that there is a great deal of learning to be done within that. The report goes into a great deal of detail. The four case studies used at the beginning of the report—in particular in relation to Iran, AQ Khan, Libya and North Korea—establish the context in which this work was being developed.

I cannot accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wright, as regards pressure being put on the intelligence community or on the Joint Intelligence Committee, and the Butler report is absolutely clear on that point.

Turning to the issue of the second UN resolution, at the time I was myself a Minister at the Foreign Office. We worked assiduously to get a second UN resolution, but it was absolutely clear that a resolution which contained within it any kind of ultimatum with respect to the length of time that was going to be available to Iraq would not pass. That was the point at which our strategy needed to be revised.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale:

My Lords, will my noble friend the Leader of the House join me in welcoming this very comprehensive and good report from the noble Lord, Lord Butler? In particular, will she join me in welcoming the fact that there was nothing in respect of this report which calls into question the legality of the war?

I draw attention to the fact that in paragraph 379 the report recognises that the Attorney-General's advice was, based on the legal interpretation of relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions and negotiating history in the United Nations, and not on WMD-related intelligence". If the violation of 16 Chapter 7 UN resolutions is not legal justification for military action, I do not know what is.

Does my noble friend agree that, although the report found deficiencies in the validation process of some Iraqi intelligence, the fact that it concluded that the four case studies made of Libya, Iran, North Korea and AQ Khan were all success stories for the SIS demonstrates that the doubts cast on the overall efficiency and performance of the SIS are misplaced? Certainly that is not the opinion of the report.

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, my noble friend is right. The report points clearly to the four success stories used as case studies. My noble friend is also right to point the House in the direction of recognising the professionalism and good work of our intelligence services.

Let me remind the House of UN Security Council Resolution 1441. It decided that, Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including resolution 687 (1991), in particular through Iraq's failure to cooperate with United Nations inspectors and the IAEA, and to complete the actions required under paragraphs 8 to 13". That resolution was passed unanimously by the Security Council.

My noble friend Lady Ramsay is quite right to say that the report in no way calls into question the legality of the war. Paragraph 379 sets out absolutely clearly the basis on which my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General gave advice.

The Lord Bishop of Salisbury

My Lords, if I am right about what the Minister said, the Prime Minister is quoted as saying, For my mistakes, I take full responsibility". In a case such as this, where a considerable amount of damage has been done to our credibility as a country in terms of truth telling and the public accountability of our institutions, it is quite important to have those words in the report. There clearly is more to be learnt; I hope that in due course we shall have answers to some of the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams.

However, at a fundamental level, it is most important that the House should hear unequivocal answers to major questions about the order in which events took place; just where people changed their minds and just where the Prime Minister was responding to invitations, not only from within our own intelligence services but from other parts of the world, to change his mind. I think it is always helpful if people can be persuaded to say whether they are going to change their minds. Can the Minister tell the House just when any of these changes of mind took place?

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, as has been said by myself and my noble friend Lady Symons on many occasions when answering questions on Iraq, we are well aware that there are differing points of view about the war. It has been made absolutely clear in the Statement that we need to respect the fact that people come to this issue from different positions. We have now had four reports and everyone is looking for something to answer the questions that they have in their minds which they feel have not been answered by the Hutton report, by the Butler report, by the ISC report or by the report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

It is clear from all four reports that there are lessons that the Government need to learn and take on board but, as regards the questions that have been raised about the integrity and honesty of the Government in respect of the case that we made to go to war in Iraq, it is absolutely clear that the Prime Minister and the Government acted with integrity. The Butler report and the Hutton report make that absolutely clear and the question was not raised in the parliamentary committee reports. When will the House and those who did not agree with the action that was taken accept that fact?

Lord Garden:

My Lords, does the Leader of the House accept that, while we do not necessarily question integrity, we do question judgment? There is now an excellent report from the noble Lord, Lord Butler, which shows that containment in March 2003 was operating satisfactorily; Iraq was not at that time a threat to the United Kingdom, its citizens or even to the region. And yet we sent everything we had—

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, I really do feel—

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Garden:

My Lords, we sent 43,000 of our soldiers, sailors and airmen to kill or be killed into—

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Order!

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen:

My Lords, noble Lords do intervene. I feel strongly about this issue.

Baroness Crawley:

My Lords, as the House will know, it is absolutely in order to make a brief comment, followed by a question or a number of questions. I am sure that we shall be as brief as we can be.

Lord Garden:

My Lords, we sent 43,000 troops to kill or be killed and yet the report makes it clear that we did not look again at the intelligence when Hans Blix was in the country and able to give us up-to-date information. Does the Minister think that we should have reassessed the intelligence before the eleventh hour in March 2003?

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the JIC makes reassessments of its intelligence all the time. That is the way in which it operates. As to the wider question raised by the noble Lord, I draw his attention to paragraph 474 on page 116 of the report, which refers to the validation of the intelligence. The report states: we have reached the conclusion that prior to the war the Iraqi regime … Had 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 … In support of that goal, was carrying out illicit research and development … Was developing ballistic missiles with a range longer than permitted under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions". That is the conclusion of the Butler report on the validation of intelligence.

Lord Judd:

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that paragraph 584 of this excellent report deserves careful consideration? It states that, much of what was reliably known about Iraq's unconventional weapons programmes in the mid- and late-1990s was obtained through the reports of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and of the International Atomic Energy Agency". That paragraph goes on to say that the work of those agencies has perhaps been underestimated in the past and that due weight should be given to it in future. More support should be given to them with the support of our intelligence agencies. Does not my noble friend agree that that paragraph gives ground for considerable reflection on just how seriously we took the work of Hans Blix and the UN inspectors at the time or how far, rather, we chose to push it to one side because of our own priorities in government?

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, I agree with one part of my noble friend's comment, but not with the other. I entirely agree with him about the importance of the UN mechanisms. The Government have always upheld them. However, I must tell my noble friend, with respect to the judgment made about containment, that it was at the time and remains our firm view—indeed, in the light of the paragraph from the Butler report that I cited about the validation of intelligence, it is clear—that containment was not working. Concern was being expressed not just by our Government or by that of the United States but by others around the world about what Saddam Hussein intended to do. In that respect, I do not agree with my noble friend.

Lord King of Bridgwater:

My Lords, does not the noble Baroness recognise that her plea for the matter now to be closed will simply not be recognised by the general public, especially because of the limited, restricted terms of reference, to which the noble Lord, Lord Butler, properly stuck? I did not hear a clear answer to my noble friend's question from the Front Bench about whether the Attorney-General would come to make a statement on the matter. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, made clear that he had not pursued that matter; the committee did not consider the question of the legality of the war. Likewise, the role of government was likewise more circumscribed in the terms of reference.

Even given his limited terms of reference, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, found that there were serious failings for which there was collective responsibility. Who takes collective responsibility in this Government?

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, first, I think that the noble Lord, Lord King, cannot have heard what I said. I in no way said that the issue is closed. I said that those who had not been in favour of action—indeed, even some of those who had been in favour of action—wanted any number of inquiries to address the particular points that they considered relevant, which they did not consider had been answered in the reports. The reports have collectively made it absolutely clear that in no sense did the Government act in bad faith. So those who are looking for some kind of ammunition will not find it. I did not say that the case is closed. I said that there have been four reports on the issue and that at some point we have to agree, when considering what has been said collectively through the reports, that the questions raised have been addressed.

I think that we have addressed the specific point about my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General. My noble and learned friend made a written Statement. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs elaborated on that Statement in another place, and that was repeated in this House. There will not be a further Statement from my noble and learned friend.