Thursday, June 14, 2007

Westminster Hall dossier debate

13 Jun 2007 : Column 288WH

Iraq Dossier (September 2002)

11 am

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): The September 2002 dossier, entitled "Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction", was central to the Government's case for war in Iraq. There is little doubt that the dossier was "sexed up"—that the balanced judgments and reservations of the intelligence community were transformed into near certainties—but we also know that Lord Hutton and Lord Butler ultimately cleared the Government of sexing up the dossier, because they believed that the Joint Intelligence Committee had authorship and ownership of the document.

However, I suggest that recent evidence casts doubt on that conclusion. Part of that evidence points not only to a hitherto unknown first full draft of the dossier, written by a press officer, but to its importance in the drafting process itself. Indeed, it shows that spin doctors were on the inside of the drafting process and were integral to it, and that the JIC did not approve or sign off the document in any meaningful way. That is contrary to what we have been told by the Government so far. It is therefore no wonder that the dossier was characterised by spin and exaggeration.


The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells):


As I told the House on 1 May, Lord Hutton had access to all documents that he wished to see, including the Williams draft. That document was provided to Lord Hutton’s team on 12 September 2003. It did not appear among the documents that Lord Hutton chose to make public on the inquiry’s website, but that was Lord Hutton’s decision. Next, the Government are asked why, if they have nothing to hide, they should refuse to release the draft in response to a freedom of information request. That is a very fair question, and it is currently the subject of an appealto the information tribunal over the Information Commissioner’s ruling that the document should be released. I am therefore somewhat constrained in what I can say.

I will, however, say that an important principle at stake: it is vital that we provide thinking space for officials and others who routinely draft policy documents. They should not feel constrained in presenting new or challenging ideas because they fear that they will be made public. That is specifically recognised in the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I can understand that the hon. Gentleman would press hard on the question, which is at the heart of his case. However, when I intervened on him he said that the document was of such importance that it should be published, which implies that judgments must be made about what things it is important, very important or vital to release. He is making that judgment without having seen the document. This is a matter that has never been easy for any Government. It is very difficult to decide whether the release of a document may in the future prevent the radical thinking that is sometimes needed to take policy forward.



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