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Oral evidence

Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday 24 June 2003

Members present:

Donald Anderson, in the Chair
Mr David Chidgey
Mr Fabian Hamilton
Mr Eric Illsley
Andrew Mackinlay
Mr John Maples
Mr Bill Olner
Richard Ottaway
Mr Greg Pope
Sir John Stanley


Witnesses: SIR MICHAEL JAY KCMG, Permanent Under-Secretary of State, and MR PETER RICKETTS CMG, Director, Political, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, examined.

Chairman: Sir Michael, may I welcome you and Mr Ricketts for the first part, which effectively is the spill-over of the proceedings from this morning, a matter which is particularly within your own sphere of knowledge and responsibility. I shall call a number of colleagues in respect of that. Then we will have a short break, when the proceedings there in respect of our Iraq inquiry will then be in abeyance until we meet the Foreign Secretary again on Friday morning, briefly, in public session, then in private session. We will move on then to the normal meeting with you and your colleagues in respect of the FCO administration, the Annual Report. So first then on to the Iraq inquiry. Mr Maples.

Q857  Mr Maples: Sir Michael, I wonder if you can help us with something that came up this morning, which I do not quite understand now. In answer to the different questions, the Foreign Secretary said that the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee last met on June 28, 2001, just after the election, and therefore it has not met since, in what is now two years, which included September 11, the Afghanistan war and the Iraq war, and the War Cabinet, which had a slightly different membership, met on 29 occasions, but apparently between 19 March and 28 April, in other words, when the war was actually on, which was what one would expect. So what I do not think I understand is, and, I think, several other members of the Committee, we used to understand the process by which foreign policy decisions were arrived at, through a Cabinet sub-committee meeting, with detailed papers, making a decision, reporting to the Cabinet and that being accountable to Parliament; how does that process work now, if OPD, or DOP, or whatever it is called now, effectively does not exist?

Sir Michael Jay: The main ministerial discussion which takes place on foreign policy issues is in Cabinet, and there is a Cabinet meeting, there are always foreign affairs on the agenda, and I think I am right in saying that Iraq was on the agenda of each Cabinet meeting, or virtually every Cabinet meeting, in the nine months, or so, up until the conflict broke out, in April. The main, formal ministerial forum for discussing foreign policy issues is in Cabinet.

Q858  Mr Maples: But those cannot be a meeting of 23 people, all with detailed papers, setting out military options and strategic options; presumably, there is some pre-meeting which brings to Cabinet, as OPD would have done, a policy suggestion?

Sir Michael Jay: There are informal meetings of ministers, which will be chaired either by the Prime Minister or by the Foreign Secretary, to discuss whatever the issues of the day might be, which will meet as necessary.

Q859  Mr Maples: So there is no formal structure, as there used to be with OPD, there is no formal channel by which matters reach the Cabinet, after having been considered in detail, as I say, with papers and options, and so on?

Sir Michael Jay: As the Foreign Secretary said this morning, OPD itself did not meet in that period.

Q860  Mr Maples: But there is no substitute for it, is what I am getting at?

Sir Michael Jay: There is no formal Cabinet committee substitute for it.

Q861  Mr Maples: So, if we take the fundamental decision about Iraq, which was, at some stage last year, the Government obviously took a decision basically to support the United States, maybe with some caveats and some exceptions, where would that decision have been taken and communicated to the Cabinet, because I do not imagine on each of these occasions the Cabinet discussed it and had the kinds of papers you would get at a Cabinet sub-committee?

Sir Michael Jay: I cannot myself go into the intricacies of what papers were or were not produced to Cabinet, but there would have been Cabinet discussion based on papers submitted to Cabinet and that would have followed meetings between the Prime Minister and other ministers meeting informally as necessary.

Q862  Mr Maples: Would the Foreign Secretary have been involved in all of those meetings, or would there have been meetings that took place in Number 10, in which, you know, for instance, that he was not involved?

Sir Michael Jay: I cannot imagine a serious meeting taking place on Iraq to which the Foreign Secretary would not have been invited had he been in the country.

Q863  Sir John Stanley: Sir Michael, you said this morning that Mr Campbell commissioned what has now become known colloquially as the 'dodgy dossier'; when was it commissioned?

Sir Michael Jay: I think it was commissioned by the Iraq Communication Group meeting that he chairs, in, I think I am right in saying, earlyish January. I have not got the exact chronology, he will be able to give you the exact chronology, but early on in January there was a decision that it would be good to produce a briefing paper for use with the media which would describe the Iraqi regime's ability to hamper the weapons inspectors; that was the basis of the commission by the Iraq Communication Group.

Q864  Sir John Stanley: So it was commissioned, broadly, roughly two months in advance of it actually being published?

Sir Michael Jay: No, one month, it was commissioned in earlyish January and it was at the end of that month that it was published.

Q865  Sir John Stanley: Sorry, I apologise; so it was published around February 3, right. Could you tell us, within the Communication Information Centre, which was based in your Department, how many of your own officials were involved in the drafting of the document, what their positions were and to whom they reported?

Sir Michael Jay: I cannot, I have not got the details available of exactly what the membership of the CIC was. It was a Centre which originally was set up just after September 11, in order to bring together those concerned with the presentation of policy through the Afghan war, and then it went into abeyance, or became a sort of virtual unit, between the end of the Afghan war until the time when the Iraq issue clearly was going to become a crisis, and at that point it was thought sensible to revive it. And it had, I think, at its height, round about 25 members, who were drawn from a number of government departments, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, other departments too; those members would be allocated certain functions within it, as I understand, and some members of that group, and I do not know which members exactly, would have been involved in the preparation of the briefing note that we were concerned with. The head of the unit was from the Foreign Office, reporting to Alastair Campbell, in his capacity as the Director of Government Communications.

Q866  Sir John Stanley: So the head of the unit was a Foreign Office official, and if you could just briefly let us have a very quick note as to how many of your own officials were involved actually in the drafting of the document, if we could have that before tomorrow, I would be grateful?

Sir Michael Jay: I will try to do that, yes.

Q867  Sir John Stanley: Thank you. Can you tell us at what point your own officials first became aware that the material that was going to be incorporated into this document was going to be from open, public, printed sources?

Sir Michael Jay: I think what happened was that the CIC were asked, or tasked, by Alastair Campbell and the Iraq Communication Group to produce the briefing note; they then asked various government departments to produce for them background information which could go into the note. Some of that came from the Foreign Office, some of that came from other government departments, and some of that information was from Government sources and some of that information was from published sources, and that was then fed into the CIC. So I would expect that some members of the Foreign Office would have been aware, when they were passing information on, that some of it was published and some of it was not; which is what I would expect. If you are putting together a briefing note, you would expect that to be put together from a mixture of information which the Government had got, as it were, on its own authority and that the Government was getting from other sources; that would be the normal thing to do in producing a briefing note.

Q868  Sir John Stanley: At what point were your officials aware that other people's material was going to be used without attribution of sources?

Sir Michael Jay: As I understand it, the information was put in to the CIC; at that point, I think it was clear what the attribution was. At some stage during the compilation of the document itself within the CIC the attribution was lost; now exactly at what point in the preparation process, and how, I do not know, but the attribution was lost at that stage.

Q869  Sir John Stanley: Can we have a further note on that? Your officials inside the CIC must have been aware that the attribution, in your words, was lost, or was deliberately taken out, for whatever reason; could you tell us, please, in a further note, preferably before tomorrow's evidence session, at what point in January your officials became aware that public material was going to be used without attribution sources?

Sir Michael Jay: When you say my officials, Sir John, these were the officials working in the CIC, which is an interdepartmental unit, which was based in the Foreign Office.

Q870  Sir John Stanley: I am referring just to your own officials, your own FCO officials inside the CIC?

Sir Michael Jay: I think these are also questions which I imagine you may want to ask Alastair Campbell about tomorrow.

Q871  Sir John Stanley: It would be very helpful to have your answers to these questions before we see him?

Sir Michael Jay: Yes.

Q872  Sir John Stanley: Thank you. Can you tell us also when your own officials inside the CIC first became aware that the material being used from Mr al-Marashi's work was based on the structure and practice of the Iraqi intelligence services 12 years previously, and the fact that that 12 years previously material was not going to be disclosed but it was 12 years prior to the time it was published?

Sir Michael Jay: I think, in a sense, that is the same question as the previous one, that the attribution I think was there when it went into the CIC but the attribution was lost when it was in the CIC, or at some point when the document was put together there was no longer an attribution.

Q873  Sir John Stanley: I understand that, but it is a slightly different point. There is an issue about attributing its source, but there is another issue when you are producing a document not to be putting it on the face of the document that the material you are referring to relates to 1990, 1991?

Sir Michael Jay: I had assumed that if you were putting the attribution on, it would also be putting the attribution and the date and the source, and it would say by whom and such and such a date.

Q874  Sir John Stanley: If you could cover that point; the thesis, of course, was much later, as you will appreciate, the thesis was published, I think, in 2000, something like that, relating to a situation ten years previously. So that is why I am asking that as a separate question, and would like to know when your officials became aware, and they must have been aware at the outset, it related to the Iraqi security services in 1991? They must also have been aware that that fact was going to be expurgated and expunged from the document?

Sir Michael Jay: I am not certain that it was a question of expurgating and expunging it, and they are not sure this was a conscious decision to do it. I suspect it was more that this got left out in the process of putting the thing together in the final stages. But I will try to answer your questions by tomorrow.

Q875  Sir John Stanley: Thank you. Another issue that your officials, particularly FCO officials, most particularly, I am sure will have been conscious of, or certainly should have been conscious of, was that there was a very, very high probability, in fact, a total certainty, that the publication of Mr al-Marashi's text was bound to be identified as to what the source was, even though the source may not have been stated in the document. And your officials also should have been aware that that was likely potentially to endanger the lives of Mr al-Marashi's family in Iraq, and possibly himself, and he has given evidence to that effect to the Committee. Can I ask you, Sir Michael, whether at any point your officials flagged up to Mr Alastair Campbell that the publication of Mr al-Marashi's work and the racing certainty that it was going to be discovered where it came from and publicised was likely to endanger members of his family?

Sir Michael Jay: I am not aware that they did. But, there again, when you talk about my officials, you are referring to the officials within this interdepartmental unit, within the CIC, where, as I say, there were officials from a large number of government departments, there were some from the FCO. I do not know how far those ones from the FCO were involved in the preparation of the dossier. I do not know whether the particular point you mention was drawn to Alastair Campbell's attention or not, and, if so, whether it would have been by an FCO official or an official from another government department who was working within this interdepartmental unit.

Q876  Sir John Stanley: You have said that the head of the unit was an FCO official?

Sir Michael Jay: The head of the unit was an FCO person.

Q877  Sir John Stanley: And he, or she, must have been a person of some seniority, and one would have expected that that particular person would have been sensitive to this issue and should have made a warning to Mr Campbell. Perhaps you could respond to that when you give us the further answer?

Sir Michael Jay: Right.

Q878  Sir John Stanley: Can you tell us also whether there was a point prior to the publication of the so-called 'dodgy dossier', in the evidence we have it is not clear whether it was actually published on 30th, we have got two conflicting bits of paper, one that it was published on 3 February, the day of the Prime Minister's statement, and the other that it was published on January 30, but the dates do not matter very much, and I am going to come back to that in a moment. But, regardless of which date it was, can you tell us whether your officials, prior to the date when it was made public, became aware that the Government, and the Prime Minister, was going to present this document to the House as if it were a bona fide intelligence document, and, in the words of the Prime Minister, any questioning of it would call into question the integrity of the intelligence services?

Sir Michael Jay: As I understand it, as far as our officials were concerned, the document was intended to be a briefing document for the press, and it was in that capacity that it was taken and used as a briefing for the press and given to the press on, I think, 30 or 31 January, when the Prime Minister was visiting Washington. And the chronology after that was that, as I understand it, again, at a meeting on the morning of Monday, 3 February, which Alastair Campbell chaired, a decision was taken that the paper should be put in the Library of the House, and, in that sense, it was published then. We were made aware of that by the Foreign Office Press Office official who was present at that meeting, who came and reported back to my Director of Information, who reported that to me at my morning meeting that day, at which the private secretaries of ministers were present too, and in that way we, in the Foreign Office at senior level and at ministerial level, became aware that the document was going to be put in the Library of the House.

Q879  Sir John Stanley: So when the Prime Minister came to say, later that afternoon, as we have quoted before, referring to this document, "It is intelligence that they are receiving," that is the intelligence services, "and we're passing it on to people," conveying the clear impression that this was bona fide intelligence material, when it was not, you are saying, as I understand it, to the Committee, that your officials were not aware at any point that this was the particular spin that was going to be put on this document, and I assume therefore you are saying that the responsibility for this spin lies solely somewhere in Number 10?

Sir Michael Jay: As I say, those were the circumstances in which we learned that the document was going to be given to the House. I think, as I understand it, the rationale was that, since the document had appeared in the newspapers the weekend before, and since the Prime Minister was going to be speaking in the House, it would be courteous to the House if the document were made available to them.

Q880  Sir John Stanley: Thank you. And you said that the document was released to the journalists on January 31?

Sir Michael Jay: Again, Alastair Campbell, I am sure, will be able to go into this in more detail, but, as I understand it, members of the party gave it to some journalists during the course of the visit to Washington.

Q881  Sir John Stanley: Sir Michael, when did this document first come to your knowledge?

Sir Michael Jay: I was first aware of it on the Monday morning when there was the report back to my ten o'clock morning meeting.

Q882  Sir John Stanley: And did you have any comments to make to your Secretary of State about a briefing note which had no attribution of public sources, and in certain key respects had the wording changed in material ways?

Sir Michael Jay: We discussed it, as you can imagine, and agreed, as the Foreign Secretary said this morning, as I said this morning, that this was not an ideal way to have handled it, and we agreed thereafter procedures to ensure that in the future there were different ways of handling such documents.

Q883  Sir John Stanley: Did you have anything to say to your officials as to why you had not been informed earlier?

Sir Michael Jay: I would not have expected to have been informed about a document which was being prepared as a briefing document of that kind; there were briefing documents of this sort being produced several times every day of the week by the CIC, that was its purpose, its purpose was to produce briefing documents, those were then used by ministers or by Number 10 to brief the press, this was happening daily. So the fact that such a document was being produced as a briefing document I would not have expected, myself, to have been aware of or to have seen; this is all part of the give and take of business. What was different was when it became a document put into Parliament.

Q884  Sir John Stanley: Can I say to you, I assume this is not what you are saying to the Committee, you are not suggesting it is an everyday occurrence that the Government's briefing documents are based on plagiarisation of printed work, without attributing sources and with materially changing, or some would say, twisting, the wording to suit the political purposes of the Government?

Sir Michael Jay: No; no, I am not. What I am saying is that I would not have expected to have been aware of a briefing document. The question of how that briefing document was put together was actually a question which only arose later on, when we learned from the newspapers about the allegations of plagiarism.

Q885  Sir John Stanley: So you were not informed, on the morning of February 3, that the briefing document was based on plagiarised material?

Sir Michael Jay: No.

Q886  Sir John Stanley: You were not?

Sir Michael Jay: No. We were unaware of that until we learned - - -

Q887  Sir John Stanley: Are you not somewhat shocked that your officials had not told you?

Sir Michael Jay: I do not know that they knew. I do not know, at that stage, who did know or had focused on the fact that the attribution had been removed, and, therefore, as it were, the information, as the Foreign Secretary said this morning, was accurate, the sourcing was missing.

Q888  Sir John Stanley: But your officials in the CIC, including the Head of the CIC, who was an official of the Foreign Office, must at that point have known without any doubt that the material was plagiarised and unsourced?

Sir Michael Jay: Not necessarily, because it depends on exactly how it was put together at the time. There may have been, and I have tried to verify that, people who were aware at that stage that the document was not attributed. I am not certain that the non-attribution of the material was seen at that stage as a significant fact. I think what was seen as a significant fact was, here was material which was, as far as we were able to judge, useful and accurate material, which was germane to the case we were trying to make, or that CIC was trying to make. What became clear later on was that the attribution, which should have been on that document, was not on that document; that is the mistake that was made and that is the point that the Foreign Secretary was saying this morning should not have occurred, and that was the point that was made, certainly it should not have happened, it will not happen again. It is clearly necessary that any document of that kind, which draws on material from whatever source, public source, should have the attribution stated clearly on the document.

Q889  Sir John Stanley: But would you not agree that every bit as important as the attribution is the fact that not merely was the material lifted but the material was significantly and materially changed, as we heard from Mr al-Marashi, in his evidence to us, a reference to 'opposition groups' was turned into 'terrorist groups', which has a completely different meaning and a completely different association? Most people in the House, when they read that, would have said, "This is further, clear evidence of links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda"?

Sir Michael Jay: Yes. As the Foreign Secretary said this morning, the preparation of the document was not satisfactory, although, as he also said, that change did not make the document inaccurate, because, in fact, it was correct, although it was not the language which it had inherited from the earlier document.

Q890  Sir John Stanley: So, finally, you are saying to us that the Foreign Secretary, like yourself, became aware both of the plagiarisation and also the changes of wording that had taken place only after February 3?

Sir Michael Jay: Yes. The Foreign Secretary and I were aware of the document's existence for the first time on the morning of February 3, and we were aware of the problems which had occurred in putting it together when those were the subject of press attention and interest a couple of days later.

Q891  Chairman: Thank you. The Head of the CIC was from the FCO and a number of members also were from the FCO?

Sir Michael Jay: There were some other members from the FCO.

Q892  Chairman: Were they, in fact, responsible to you, or were they responsible to Number 10?

Sir Michael Jay: The unit and the head of the unit, interdepartmental unit, were responsible to Alastair Campbell, in his capacity as Head of Government Communications. As far as their own line management, and so on, was concerned then they would report to my Director of Information.

Q893  Chairman: I did not understand one response. You said that when you and the Foreign Secretary were made aware, on 3 February, of this change from a briefing document to a document for publication, you said this was not, and we agreed, I think, this was not an ideal way to handle it?

Sir Michael Jay: I think I misspoke slightly there, Mr Chairman. In a sense, I was answering what I thought was going to be Sir John Stanley's question, which was how we reacted to the knowledge that the document which had been put together had been put together without attribution. It was at that point that the Foreign Secretary and I accepted, or realised, that there needed then to be new methods, we needed to make certain that any further documents put together by the CIC were put together with greater care, that anything which came from intelligence sources should be cleared by the JIC, and that all information made available should be properly attributed to its source.

Q894  Chairman: But that recognition on both your parts did not come on 3 February but at a later stage?

Sir Michael Jay: No; it came afterwards, if I may just correct that.

Q895  Andrew Mackinlay: A thing which has occurred to me, listening to both this evidence you have given and the backdrop of the wider stuff, is, how are we going to avoid this happening again? Hopefully, mercifully, we will not have a comparable crisis and subsequent conflict for decades to come, if at all; but, nevertheless, it seems to me that is not this indicative of the shift of foreign policy from the Foreign Office to Number 10? You must have thought, as a manager, as the principal person at the top of the Foreign Office, "We must avoid this," or, "We must at least agree guidelines"? It is a Machinery of Government issue, and clearly it is a dog's breakfast. So, one, have you taken any initiatives to say, "Let's get lines of communication correct in the future;" two, what is your thinking?

Sir Michael Jay: I think, as I said, that the way in which this particular document was prepared was faulty, and I think we all accept that, and we have taken steps and done all we can to ensure that that does not happen again, and, in a sense, it is always useful to learn lessons from mistakes.

Q896  Andrew Mackinlay: But it might not be a document next time; a document is indicative, is it not, of who does what, who is in charge of pursuing foreign policy?

Sir Michael Jay: If I can just say that I think that the concept lying behind the CIC is a perfectly sound and rather good one; there are all sorts of ways now in which we have to join up government, because so many of the issues with which we deal cut across departmental boundaries. In Afghanistan and in Iraq there were issues which cut across the interests of the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, agencies, other government departments and, of course, Number 10. Now rather than have each government department presenting things in its own way, separately, it made a lot of sense to try to combine that in one unit, which then ensured that there was a coherent presentational strategy across government. So I think that the logic of the creation of the CIC is perfectly sound. So I think what we need to focus on is not so much should that sort of interdepartmental unit exist, it seems to me that, the way in which government is evolving, that sort of interdepartmental unit does need to exist, but that when it exists it handles itself in a proper fashion; that was what went wrong on this particular occasion, in this unit.

Chairman: Sir Michael, you have been extremely helpful. Mr Ricketts, I think that covers also your part of the operation. So perhaps we can have a five-minute break now before we move on to the examination of the Annual Report. Thank you.

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