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A later document, known as the Tariq Aziz memorandum, states:

A translation of the presidential response gives an order that the hon. Gentleman’s request be studied:

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The final document is the Izzat Ibrahim document. It recommends:

the Iraqi intelligence service—

If true, those documents have serious implications both for the hon. Gentleman and the House. My Committee and the commissioner have seen the documents in their entirety—all 2,500-plus pages of them. The hon. Gentleman has chosen not to do so, despite a range of opportunities during both the libel proceedings and our own inquiry.

The hon. Gentleman denounces the documents as fakes or forgeries. Let us examine that proposition. He asserts that some, or possibly all, of the Telegraph documents were not found in the burnt-out Foreign Ministry building in Baghdad, as the journalist David Blair described in sworn testimony during the libel proceedings and confirmed in evidence to the commissioner, and as has been independently confirmed by other witnesses. Instead, the hon. Gentleman asserts that they were handed to David Blair by agents of our intelligence service. On that scenario, those behind his alleged plot would have needed not only to have operated a shadow office over a period of some four years to create 2,500 documents of the wide-ranging appearance found by Mr. Blair, but also somehow to have stolen the various original documents in the files without arousing any suspicion from the Iraqi authorities who held them. This incredibly sophisticated, dangerous and expensive exercise would have been undertaken by the very agency whose energies at the time were primarily focused on a search to discover whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The House might agree that that seems to be a wholly disproportionate effort for our security forces to have expended to silence a Back Bencher, however troublesome.

The other proposition advanced by the hon. Gentleman is that the shadow office that produced the fakes or forgeries might have been run by someone within the then Iraqi regime, but that is even more far-fetched. Is it likely that at a time when the country faced the imminent threat of invasion so much resource would have been committed at the highest level to a plot using extraordinarily skilful forgery techniques, to bring down one of the few friends the then regime had—and a plot whose ultimate success, undertaken for motives never explained, depended on Mr. Blair or some other inquisitive journalist happening to come across the documents among a mass of files on the floor of one room in one specific Iraqi Government building following a successful coalition invasion, assuming of course that they survived the process? I have seen all the documents in the files—the several originals as well as the copies, including documents certified as true by the hon. Gentleman, and all the many post-it notes and annotations in Arabic on them, and the careful indexing—and I and the Committee were struck by the sheer implausibility of the forgery or fake theory.

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We then addressed the alternative theory: that the documents were authentic. We went to some trouble to do so. Mr. Oliver Thorne, the head of the questioned documents group at LGC, a leading forensic science firm, and also the man originally instructed by the hon. Gentleman’s legal representatives in his libel action against The Daily Telegraph, was asked to conduct a forensic analysis of the documents. His conclusions are to be found at document 32 in volume II of our report. They are as unequivocal as any careful scientist is likely to be. Mr. Thorne found that neither the possibility that all the documents are forged, nor the possibility that some forged documents were later seeded among genuine ones, is at all credible. In short, the hon. Gentleman’s various accounts of the origin of the Telegraph documents are not underpinned either by the evidence or by expert opinion. Indeed, as he admitted when he gave oral evidence to us—an exchange that was more productive than that with the Senate sub-committee—even he could not give us a reason why we should have preferred his version of events. He promised us proof of his case, but never provided it. He mentioned to the commissioner that he had information of nuclear importance. That information turned out to be a damp squib. So the commissioner and the Committee were driven to the conclusion that the documents were authentic and that the story they told was credible. I am not saying that every fact in every document is accurate, but—putting all the evidence carefully assembled by the commissioner together—a coherent, plausible and convincing sequence of events emerges.

Simon Hughes: Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Committee felt that it was able to come to its views on, I understand, a balance of probabilities, rather than the stiffer test that has been used in some other deliberations by the Committee?

Sir George Young: The commissioner, in his report, sets out why he chose the balance of probabilities. Unless one is involved in a criminal case, that is the criterion that is normally used, and it is the one that we used. Having said that, if I had to put the case on a spectrum, it would have been more than just the balance of probabilities. The Committee would take the view that it was nearer the top end than the middle end.

Our conclusion was underpinned by two further considerations. First, it was underpinned by other evidence. For example, the allocations by the Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organisation on page 75 of volume I show allocations in the name of the Mariam campaign, the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow and Mr. Zureikat. There was evidence from the United Nations that the oil allocated in those names had been lifted. All that and much other circumstantial evidence pointed to the conclusion that the hon. Member’s campaign against sanctions through the Mariam appeal was in effect supported for a substantial period by the former Iraqi regime, through Mr. Fawaz Zureikat and the oil for food programme. As the commissioner concluded, he chose at best to ignore what was going on, but more probably was complicit in it.

The second consideration was the translation of the minute of the hon. Member’s meeting with Saddam Hussein on 8 August 2002, to be found on pages 61 to
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65 of volume II. That was not one of the Telegraph documents. The hon. Member is reported as saying:

The hon. Member has applied the same conspiracy theory to that document, whose provenance is explained in appendix 3 to volume I of our report, and has denied that that interview was ever recorded. However, as the appendix shows, we received credible evidence that the so-called private meetings with the President were routinely recorded and transcribed. The Committee concluded that this was important independent confirmation of the story that emerged from the Telegraph documents.

The hon. Member sought to portray himself as a passive spectator, neither knowing nor even asking where funds for the Mariam appeal came from. The House may well ask whether that was a wise stance for any hon. Member to take in circumstances in which £1.4 million was levered in largely to support campaigning for one of that Member’s political objectives. All the evidence, however, points in the opposite direction. The hon. Member was an active player on the field—complicit in the procuring of the funds and in covering up their provenance. In so doing, he deceived the public and he deceived this House.

I turn now to one other aspect of the hon. Member’s conduct that concerned the Committee—his habit of blackening the names of those who gave evidence against him. Using parliamentary privilege, the hon. Member in effect accused David Blair of perjury. In his Adjournment debate on 8 May 2006, he said that the claim

If the hon. Member was right, and his assertion had been proved to the relevant standard, David Blair could have gone to prison.

In the same debate, he attributed a claim to another journalist—Philip Sherwell of The Sunday Telegraph—which, if true, would have undermined Mr. Blair’s story. When approached by the commissioner, however, Mr. Blair insisted that everything the hon. Member had said about him was untrue. Mr. Sherwell said that his comments had been misrepresented during the hon. Member’s contribution to the Adjournment debate. The commissioner asked, as did we, the hon. Member for evidence to substantiate the serious allegations he had made about the integrity of Mr. Blair. He never provided it. He relied in making those allegations on second-hand evidence that he claimed to have received from another journalist whose name he has consistently declined to provide in a way that would enable anyone to attempt to corroborate his story.

The hon. Member has asserted on several occasions that we should award him a medal for his part in these events. That action was the action not of a hero, but of a bully. As the Committee pointed out, the hon. Member has given inconsistent evidence on a number
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of occasions in the course of this inquiry—including on important points such as whether he was ever a signatory of a Mariam appeal bank account. So he himself has failed to observe the standards that he demanded of others.

The hon. Member finally accepted in oral evidence to the Committee last month, that it would have been wiser to have registered the Mariam appeal, and individual donations above the registration threshold. He also accepted, and apologised to us for, his failure consistently to observe his obligations to declare his interest in the Mariam appeal. The Committee also felt that the extent to which resources provided by the House at public expense to assist the hon. Member in discharging his parliamentary duties were used to run the Mariam appeal was excessive.

The hon. Member’s partial apology for those more technical offences, although welcome, does not address the seriousness of the overall charges against him. The manner of his dealings with the Iraqi Government was such as to lead him to breach the advocacy rule and the Nolan principles of openness, honesty and accountability. That is why my Committee is recommending more than the apology to the House that the more technical offences alone would warrant. The hon. Member has fundamentally and consistently fallen short in a number of important respects of the specific standards the House expects of its Members. Perhaps most seriously of all, despite the lengthy inquiry, the overwhelming weight of the evidence and the unanimous judgment of colleagues drawn from four political parties, he still remains trapped in a fantasy world of conspiracies and victimisation for his political beliefs.

Today marks the end of an inquiry that began more than four years ago. It has been the subject of the most exhaustive and painstaking inquiry ever undertaken by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who is entirely independent of the political process. His findings that the hon. Member has consistently denied, prevaricated and fudged in relation to the now undeniable evidence that the Mariam appeal—and he indirectly through it—received money derived, via the oil for food programme, from the former Iraqi regime, have been upheld unanimously by a Committee that has interviewed the hon. Member, seen the evidence and cross-examined the expert witness.

The hon. Member is entitled to defend himself vigorously. What has sunk him is not his vigour, his oratory or his views. What has sunk him is the evidence. Neither he nor any other Member is entitled to abuse the privilege of free speech in this Chamber to malign those outside this House, to distort and manipulate the facts to suit his argument in an attempt to mislead the House and the public or to breach the integrity of the House’s conduct arrangements while doing so. We have recommended to the House a response, which lies on the Order Paper, that we believe to be fair and proportionate. I invite the House to endorse it.

7.38 pm

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): I shall be brief because I do not have much to add to the contribution of the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, on which I have sat since the general election of 2005, in terms of the conduct of the
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Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway). I wish to put into context his case for the defence. He brought up an event that occurred in 1990, when I spoke out having read an internal report of the National Union of Mineworkers about the misapplication of funds by its then president, Arthur Scargill. As a consequence of my speaking out and the internal report, nearly £750,000 was returned to the NUM, although many millions of pounds remain today in foreign bank accounts. I know not what will become of that.

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman brought that issue up. He suggested that I was some sort of emissary of Robert Maxwell. I met Robert Maxwell on two occasions, when I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition in the 1980s, and that was probably two occasions more than I would have wished to meet him. I have never been his mouthpiece, nor indeed anybody’s mouthpiece, in this place, and it is not worthy to make such a case for the defence. It is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman is not here to hear that.

None of us goes away without being touched by events when we are on Committees. I chair the Select Committee on Health, and Committee members are touched by events, by witnesses’ accounts and by the evidence that is given. Some of the case for the defence that we have heard today is not credible—it never has been—and I would urge hon. Members to read the evidence that was put before the Committee before reaching the conclusion that it was credible.

The hon. Gentleman brought in a series of events that had little to do with how we found against him in the report and what we found. The standard of proof was the right one, because the Committee is not a criminal court. This case does raise issues in relation to the criminal court, which those who investigate criminal matters ought perhaps to look at, but that is certainly not something that the Standards and Privileges Committee did, and nor did the commissioner—he does not work to that level. No matter what the standard of proof, however, there was no question but that the hon. Gentleman had got money indirectly from the oil for food programme, and I do not think that anybody can question that, given the evidence before us in the report. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman solicited that money from Mr. Zureikat—not Tony Zureikat, and I would agree with some of the hon. Gentleman’s analysis of him as an individual—but Fawaz, his brother, which was a different thing altogether—[Hon. Members: “Cousin.”] Sorry, his cousin. Fawaz Zureikat had a note of introduction from the hon. Gentleman so that he could go to Iraq and do the business as far as the Mariam appeal was concerned.

As the Chairman said, the hon. Gentleman said on two occasions that he was wrong not to register, and he clearly should have done that. However, although he said that he felt that he was wrong on two occasions, he has not done so since the report was published last Tuesday and he has not done so again in the House today. The Committee’s recommendation, which is before the House today, is that he apologise to the House and be suspended from its service for 18 sitting days. I have not yet heard whether we will get to vote on the 18 days now, but I would genuinely like to think
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that the hon. Gentleman will come to terms with the House and how it protects people’s freedom of speech. It has protected mine in the past and it will protect his if what he says is well intended, although I do not think that that we are there yet as far as he is concerned.

7.42 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I do not usually speak in debates such as this, although I am a member of the Committee. However, in the light of the attacks mounted by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway), I think that I ought to say a few words.

First, the commissioner had the patience of an absolute saint, given the terrible provocations that he was subject to during the inquiry. I have the utmost respect for the way in which he rose above them and conducted himself with complete dignity and objectivity in producing his report.

I should also like to say something about my Committee colleagues. Our Committee is set up with no party in the majority. It is chaired by an Opposition Member to try to ensure that we have a fair balance. The implication of what the hon. Gentleman says is that he should be tried by a Committee of his friends and, indeed, that any of us should be tried by a Committee of friends. That is not how it should be; the proceedings should be objective.

When I was first appointed to the Committee six years ago—I think that I am the longest-serving member of the Committee along with our Chair—I did not volunteer, but had my arm twisted. I was told that the Committee wanted lawyers because we could be seen to be objective and would follow the evidence because that is what we were trained to do. I am not surprised by the personal attack that we saw today, because it is typical of the hon. Gentleman’s bullying style. However, he seems to want to deny me my right to free speech and to speak for Israel in the House, while at the same time claiming his right to speak for Iraq—a right that I am prepared to defend, even if he is not prepared to defend my right to free speech, as our report says.

It is typical of the hon. Gentleman that he uses parliamentary privilege to smear those with whom he disagrees—whether it is a Telegraph journalist or those of us in the House—with allegations of bias, such as those against me. However, I would simply say one thing. Over the years that I have been on the Committee, we have had to decide many cases involving Members from both sides of the House, including from my own party. As a whole, members of the Committee tend to be harder on those from their own side than on those from the other side, even when we sometimes find ourselves having to judge those whom we might regard as friends. The fact is that I approached this case no differently from any other on which I have sat, and there have been quite a few. We follow the evidence, we follow the precedent and we go where the evidence takes us, as with the strong evidence in this case and the huge files of documents that we saw and examined in detail, with the benefit of expert advice and opinion—documents that the hon. Gentleman could not be bothered to view himself. We put our party politics and personal views to one side and make our views known, and our decision is made on the basis of the evidence. That is what we did in this case.

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