Previous SectionIndexHome Page

3.32 pm

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury): Colleagues will know that I did not support the military action in Iraq at the time that it took place in the way that it happened for the reasons that were stated at the time and without proper international endorsement or support. I remain strongly of that view, but I cannot and will not support the Opposition motion in the Division Lobby tonight. I say that partly because it is a Tory motion, and I have never in my life been in the habit of supporting Tory motions. It is not just a Tory motion, but an entirely meretricious motion, coming from a party that offered slavish support for the military action in the first place. What is more, I am not sure that a further judicial inquiry is what we need.

We have had a thorough inquiry already, led by Lord Hutton, albeit one that examined a narrow point about the tragic circumstances surrounding David Kelly's death. In the process of examining that narrow point, Lord Hutton has unearthed a huge amount of revealing, sobering, illuminating and, at times, damning information about what went on in the run-up to war. What we need now is not a further inquiry, but a proper sifting, analysis and debate about what we know from the Hutton inquiry.

What we know is pretty clear. It pains me to say it, but we went to war—we were taken to war—on a deeply flawed basis. I do not doubt the bona fides of those who took those decisions. I even respect some of the underlying reasons, such as the passionate hatred of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime, although I would argue that that was not the right way to go about removing it. The facts remain, however. The intelligence was flawed, the dossiers were incorrect or misleading, the reasons given in speech after speech were invalid, and the weapons of mass destruction are nowhere to be seen. Surely we must now acknowledge, after all that we

22 Oct 2003 : Column 697

have learned and all that we know, that mistakes were made. Decisions, however difficult, were wrongly taken, and things should have happened differently.

Recognising that, we must look to the future and not simply dwell on the past. That means learning some lessons. Lesson one is that we need to find the right relationship with our friends and colleagues in the United States. America is a great country. It has sacrificed much, over many decades, for the greater cause of a wider humanity. It deserves our friendship and our support in times of difficulty in return. However, that does not mean that we should endorse every decision taken by every American President. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is right in his reporting of a Cabinet meeting early in 2002, it is very revealing. The desire to—I quote from his diaries—"stay close to America" to gain influence and keep it engaged with the world became the paramount factor determining policy. Surely the role of a candid friend, not always uncritical, would have been better than such a desire.

Lesson two is that the doctrine of pre-emptive action, supposedly to remove potential danger rather than actual, imminent or visible threat, must surely be reconsidered. Any such action will inevitably be based primarily on intelligence assessments, and we know a lot more now about their reliability than we did previously. Striking before one is struck may in some circumstances be the right course of action. Striking because one has been told by someone somewhere that at some unidentified future date one might be struck is surely more problematic.

Lesson three is that there may be times when a regime is so brutal, oppressive, genocidal or evil that its removal, even though it rules a sovereign state and poses no threat to other countries, may be a desirable objective. Any such decision, however, must be made

22 Oct 2003 : Column 698

under a proper framework of international law. It cannot be the province of one nation, however powerful, or even of two, to make such a decision and such an intervention. It can only be the international community as a whole, through its proper decision-making structures, that should make such a move.

That brings me to lesson four. There is now an urgent need for us to help to rebuild the shattered authority of the United Nations. We need the United Nations in this fractured world of ours. We need a body that establishes and sustains a framework of rules for international behaviour. That is especially true when world affairs are dominated so comprehensively by one superpower. It was not the French who broke the back of the United Nations before the war; it was the determination of the President of the United States to go to war whatever the United Nations decided. If we have any influence at all with that President as a result of all that has happened over the past eight months, now is the time to use it. Britain is in a unique position as a member of the Security Council to take a lead in the rebuilding of the United Nations, on which we all ultimately depend.

There should be no new inquiry but there are urgent lessons to be learned and followed from what we now know. Perhaps—just perhaps—there will be a recognition that we got some things wrong. That recognition is the starting point for understanding, for wisdom and, indeed, for moving on.


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I now have to announce the result of the Division deferred from a previous day.

On the question on the recovery plan for cod and the recovery of the northern hake stock, the Ayes were 251, the Noes were 168, so the Ayes have it.

[The Division List is published at the end of today's debates.]

22 Oct 2003 : Column 697

22 Oct 2003 : Column 699

Iraq (Judicial Inquiry)

Question again proposed.

3.41 pm

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): The seriousness of the allegations that the Prime Minister in particular and the Government as a whole would have to answer at a judicial inquiry is beyond doubt. Only a judicial inquiry will reveal the truth. Our constituents and the House are entitled to know whether we went to war because of an honest mistake or on a pretext designed to disguise a conspiracy.

This was never a national war; it was a ministerial war. However, did Ministers mislead the House and the country about the reasons that they gave to take us to war? Without clarification of that, a dark cloud of suspicion will always hang over the reputation of those in the Government and the intelligence services who led this country into an invasion of Iraq in which more than 50 British servicemen have already lost their lives, including my brave constituent Captain David Jones, who has left behind a newly married widow and heartbroken relatives.

The fundamental accusation could not be more grave morally, legally and in its constitutional implications. To trick the House of Commons and the country into making war on false pretences would be one of the most scandalous and wicked things that any Prime Minister could do. Yet that is the crime with which our present Prime Minister is widely charged. The majority of my constituents believe that to be the case.

It is no adequate defence of that charge to argue that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant and a mass murderer. The Prime Minister repeatedly assured us that regime change was not the purpose of, or justification for, the war. In his speech to the House on 18 March asking for parliamentary support for war, he specifically said:

He always knew that he was unlikely to gain a parliamentary majority for war on those grounds. So instead he relied emphatically and emotionally on the pretext of an alleged serious threat to Britain from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. At no time did the Prime Minister ever admit to any possible doubt about their continued existence or the seriousness of the threat that they immediately posed. As late as 30 April in reply to me at Prime Minister's questions, he said:

He predicted that I would have to eat my words. When is he going to eat his words?

The Prime Minister's only possible defence would be to claim that he was misled by the intelligence services, but even that would be a resigning matter. Prime Ministers who allow themselves to be misled on great national issues are not fit to hold their office. I do not believe that the Prime Minister was misled. We were misled; the country was misled. The Government reverted to an old trick that was often used in the past by disreputable foreign politicians who were looking for a casus belli. The so-called dodgy dossier was a rather clumsy update of Bismarck's doctoring of the Ems

22 Oct 2003 : Column 700

telegram. Both wanted to persuade Europe of the unavoidability of war that they had planned to wage for other reasons.

It cannot be argued—not that it would affect the issue in this debate—that critics of the Prime Minister are simply being wise after the event about the absence of weapons of mass destruction. As the Prime Minister said to me on 4 June:

Nor did he, which was why I voted on 26 February for the amendment that included the words

The reason why I voted for the amendment was not that I was relying on my undoubted psychic powers or even my long personal knowledge of Iraq and the middle east. Everyone with great knowledge of Iraq and the area whom I consulted in the run-up to the war, including professional Arabists of distinction and seniority, and former members of the Joint Intelligence Committee, told me most emphatically that they did not believe that Saddam Hussein still possessed weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to Britain. Several, including former British ambassadors to Baghdad, Damascus and Riyadh, wrote letters to the national press to say that. It is inconceivable that those doubts were unknown to the Prime Minister, yet in his war speech to the House on 18 March he made no reference to any possibility of uncertainty about the reality of the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He brushed aside warnings about the non-discovery of the weapons from Dr. Blix and the United Nations inspectors in Iraq. Indeed, a deliberate undercover campaign was mounted to try to discredit Dr. Blix as ineffectual and unreliable.

As long ago as 25 November 2002, which was four months before the start of shock and awe—words that were characteristic of the manic hysteria of the time—I said:

Well, it is difficult to explain it to the British people—indeed, it has become well nigh impossible. That is why we must have an independent judicial inquiry to give us the explanation. If that is denied, many of us will assume that the explanation is that, as part of our Prime Minister's vainglorious strutting of the international stage, he entered into a secret agreement with President George W. Bush at some time in 2002 to attack Iraq in the cool season and then cooked the intelligence books to justify the war to the House of Commons and the British people.

Next Section

IndexHome Page