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Mr. Cash: I was coming to that. I am not going to criticise the Attorney-General. Once he formed his opinion, no doubt in good faith, based on the facts provided, the responsibilitythis is where it becomes uncomfortable for the Governmentfell to Ministers, in particular the Prime Minister. Let us bear it in mind that the former Secretary of State for International Development said that the Prime Minister deceived her on one opinion, so she resigned.
Mr. Blizzard: How does the hon. Gentleman square his concerns about the legal basis for war with the position adopted by his Front-Bench spokesmen in the months leading up to it? They wanted Parliament to support the President of the United States in a war against Iraq whatever the UN said and before any dossiers or legal opinions were put in the public domain.
Mr. Cash: I have made it clear that I do not dispute the legal basis as such; I am talking about the process. The key question is the breach of the resolutions. The weapons of mass destruction issue and the dossier are important, but the constant breaches of the resolutions are vital. The former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Livingston resigned over that matter, and gave similar reasons in December 1998 for the basis on which it was right and legal to take action on the no-fly zone.
Sir Peter Tapsell: By far the most helpful precedent for the Opposition is the fact that when the opinion of Sir Patrick Hastings, the Attorney-General, on the Zinoviev letter was made public, it brought down the first Labour Government.
Mr. Cash: Absolutely. That was in 1924, and the Ramsay MacDonald Government fell because the Cabinet effectively pressurised the Attorney-General into giving advice that altered the basis of his previous advice.
Mr. Cash: That is exactly what I said. My hon. and learned Friend may not have heard me correctly, as I said that the instructions and the facts on which the Attorney-General, no doubt in good faith, arrived at his conclusion were the key issue. We cannot simply dismiss his opinion as though it does not matter, because it does. However, the basis of that opinion is crucial.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke: I do not want my hon. Friend to retrace his argument, because he has demonstrated exhaustively that the Government have complete discretion about whether to waive their privilege and publish the opinion or keep it confidential, but does he not agree that the real choice is whether to disclose the opinion in full or say that it is confidential and not disclose it? On this occasion, we have the worst of all worldsa selective, edited version of the opinion has been produced, and requests for the opinion, because it has been cited, to be put before the House in its entirety have been refused.
Mr. Cash: As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, that is exactly what I have been saying. It is extremely important that the full opinion be made available, and there is ample opportunity under the rules and conventions of the House for that to take place. Indeed, I would go furtherthe responsibility for deciding whether or not the opinion should be made available in full is the Prime Minister's. The Government do not want to reveal it in full because there is something in the instructions, the dossier or whatever that would show that the Attorney-General was relying on facts that may not have been what other people were told. The fact that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood accused the Prime Minister of deceiving her and Parliament in an article is evidence of the problems that the Government would face if the whole thing were revealed.
As regards the time scale of a judicial inquiry, many matters have already been investigated, but a number of residual questions remain. There is no reason why such an inquiry should take an undue length of time. Analogies have been made with the Bloody Sunday inquiry, its costs and time scale, but there is no reason why an inquiry on Iraq should not be completed in a relatively short period. We have suggested six months, but it may take a little longer. This is an important matter, about which Labour Members felt so strongly that they rebelled against their own Government. However, when it comes to the question of whether or not it is legitimate to investigate the process and the facts behind the events leading up to war, in one speech after another they funked the opportunity to demand an inquiry, simply saying that they want to move on. That is a massive collective funk on the part of Labour Members. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply. The bottom line is that the Government are condemned by the attitude of their own Back Benchers.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): We have had an instructive and worthwhile debate, but I am not sure that anyone in the House or outside has changed their view in the course of it. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who summed up for the Opposition, for giving us an advance taste of the legal clarity that would be brought to these matters if we had an independent judicial inquiry. That is meant light-heartedly, but there is a serious point behind it.
If the Opposition were genuine in the position that they took in March this year when they supported the case for military action, and if they truly want to focus on rebuilding Iraq, I do not understand why the motion was tabled. I shall start by explaining why there is no case for a judicial inquiry. I shall then move on to the real issuewhat we are doing to help develop a stable, prosperous and democratic future for Iraq and all its people, which should properly be the priority and the responsibility of the House and the Government.
The Opposition say that we need a judicial inquiry, yet the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee have already undertaken substantive and detailed investigations. Both inquiries, on a cross-party basis, concluded that the claims that were made in the Government's September dossier were well founded on the basis of the intelligence that was then available. Crucially, given that this is the key accusation that has been made against the Government, they concluded that the Government did not, in the current terminology, sex up the dossiers. In light of those conclusions, the Opposition are struggling to make a case for an independent inquiry.
The question whether we were right to take military action involved, for me, a balance of political judgmentsweighing up the pros and cons. I acknowledge that it was the most difficult political decision to which I have ever been party. But it was a political decision, which was rightly taken by the Government and endorsed by a vote in the House.
Mr. Reed: Those of us who opposed the war respect those who had to make such difficult decisions. It was a political decision based on a wide range of facts. We have heard the arguments rehearsed once again today. I do not think that anyone has changed their mind. I do not suggest that the Tories tabled the motion just to cause some distraction on a difficult day for them. We made a decision based on hundreds of factors before us, and we have all come to different conclusions. We as parliamentarians should rehearse those arguments time and again as to why we opposed the war, not leave it to judges and, with all due respect, to the lawyers who dominated the Benches this afternoon.