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Motorcycles (Bus Lanes)

Mr. Bill Wiggin accordingly presented a Bill to allow motorcycles to use bus lanes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 21 November, and to be printed [Bill 166].

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Opposition Day

[19th Allotted Day]

Iraq (Judicial Inquiry)

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): We now come to the main business on an Opposition motion. Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

1.38 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): I beg to move,

The purpose of the motion is not to rehearse the arguments for and against the war in Iraq; nor can the debate clear up the confusion that has grown since the beginning of the summer recess about the Government's handling of the run-up to the war and its aftermath.The House has many strengths as both a legislature and a forum for debate, confronting, testing and holding to account. I am the staunchest of supporters of the parliamentary process, but are we, who are so closely involved in the events surrounding the war, credible arbiters of the truth about them? Let us be frank. In the six months since the end of the war, particularly since the House rose in July, there has been a constant stream of charges against the Government. I do not seek to add to them today—they are there, and they are growing. They relate to the Government's handling of intelligence before the war, the case that they made for the war, the lack of planning for post-war Iraq and the legal advice that they received. They are serious charges made by serious people. They are highly damaging, and they strike not only at the Government's reputation, which I can live with, but at the machinery of government and the integrity of our intelligence services themselves.

Those charges should be fully answered, but they are not being answered and they are not going away. For all their excellent work and reports, neither the Foreign Affairs Committee nor the Intelligence and Security Committee has managed to make them go away. Indeed, in some areas they have raised new questions that in turn need to be answered. The charges will not go away until we have a comprehensive, independent judicial inquiry with the legal power to get to the very bottom of the facts and make a clear assessment and judgment of the truth. That is what the motion seeks, and that is what we have been seeking since the end of May.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough): For those of us, especially those on the Government Benches, who opposed the war and still feel that that was the right decision, is not the problem with the motion the fact that it abrogates our responsibility to establish the truth of what did or did not happen? I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's comments, but should we not table questions in Parliament, not give those

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responsibilities to an outside body? I fear that we have not learned a great deal from all the machinations of the past few months. It is for each and every one of us to keep making the case in the House, not outside it .

Mr. Ancram: I have nothing against Members tabling questions or asking the Government questions, but we need to institute a process that will satisfy the public that the truth has been established. Later, I shall refer briefly to the Falklands, about which allegations were made and questions asked, but as there was a full independent commission of inquiry the House and the British public were able to satisfy themselves that the truth had been fully examined and established.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): I have a factual question. How long does the right hon. Gentleman think that such an inquiry would last? I gave evidence to the Franks committee on the Falklands, which lasted long enough. However, the Saville inquiry shows that these things can go on for a heck of a long time. What is the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of the time that an inquiry on Iraq would take?

Mr. Ancram: I accept the point made by the Father of the House, but a judicial inquiry can take evidence under oath and can establish the truth in a way that many other forms of inquiry cannot. It can be asked to report within a given time, which would obviously be a reasonable period. Three months ago, I stood at the Dispatch Box making the case for a public judicial inquiry, and was told that that was not needed because parliamentary Select Committees would deal with the issues in a way that would satisfy the public. However, that has not been the case. As I said, those Committees have raised other questions that have still to be answered.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston): Is it not true that the House can carry out its scrutiny function adequately when the Opposition oppose, and has difficulty carrying out that function when the Opposition act as the major cheerleader for the Government? If the right hon. Gentleman wants us to take seriously his call for a judicial inquiry into whether the Government got it wrong on going to war, should he not be consistent and admit that the Opposition were wrong to support the Government in that very same decision?

Mr. Ancram: I shall come to that, but if the right hon. Gentleman reads the motion he will see that that is not why I am seeking to establish a public inquiry. A number of allegations have been made, including some by the right hon. Gentleman, about the way in which the Government conducted themselves in relation to intelligence that have not been fully answered—certainly, I gather, not to the right hon. Gentleman's satisfaction. Until they are, I suspect that he will continue to make them. I am proposing a means by which they can be answered satisfactorily, not only for the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman but in the public interest. The longer the allegations stay unanswered, the more damaging it will be to the national interest.

I want to make it clear that in moving this motion I am not in any way resiling from our support for the Government's decision to go to war. The war in Iraq

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was justified, and we were right to support it. Saddam Hussein posed a recognised threat to international peace and security—17 United Nations resolutions under chapter VII of the UN charter over 12 years attested to that. Failure to comply with all those resolutions justified military action to remove that threat. Legally, no new resolution is required for the use of force to implement resolution 687. I suggest that hon. Members read Professor Greenwood's article in The Times today, which makes it clear that the legal basis was there, and is still there.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): While the shadow Foreign Secretary is recommending reading to the House, he might also suggest that hon. Members read the opinion of Lord Alexander of Weedon, which is diametrically opposed to Professor Greenwood's opinion.

Mr. Ancram: I think I would prefer, because he is an old friend, to read the legal opinion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself. On 24 September last year, he said in the House:

He obviously agreed with Professor Greenwood, and I am not sure why he is disputing that now.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Surely we are not so much interested in opinions, which we can exchange and swap as much as we like, as in the facts? An inquiry is probably the best way of finding out the facts. Parliament is a very good place for political exchange, but not necessarily a good forum for finding facts.

Mr. Ancram: I agree with my hon. and learned Friend who, as usual, has put admirably succinctly the case that I am taking a little longer to make.

When considering the war, we should remember that, had we not taken action, Saddam Hussein, his sons and the whole vile regime would not have disappeared. They would have grown and armed themselves further until, inevitably, action would have had to be taken at far greater risk. I repeat that we were right to vote with the Government on 18 March.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made that point. Would we not have avoided all these charges if the Government had been honest from the outset and said, "This is a gangster regime holding its people in slavery. By the way, it is sitting on the world's second largest oil reserves. We are going to get rid of it and bring back peace and democracy"? They should have done that instead of raising the canard of weapons of mass destruction, which apparently were a threat to us. The Government are being assailed on all sides because they misled the public: why were they not honest in the first place?

Mr. Ancram: If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall touch on his valid point later.

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