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Mr. Rammell: My hon. Friend and I took a different view on the case for military action. Even though we disagreed, I respected the decision that he took. He is right. He has been consistent in his arguments, in stark contrast to some of those on the Opposition Benches. He was right to say that the decision was a political judgment, not a decision for a judge to make at the time,

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and it should not be a decision for a judge to approve or disapprove in retrospect. The place for such debates and arguments is the House of Commons.

Mr. Cash: Does the Minister agree that there remain very serious differences between Cabinet Ministers and ex-Cabinet Ministers, and that these matters are therefore of such great importance that evidence should be taken on oath?

Mr. Rammell: We would be on a slippery slope if we were to say that there is a case for a judicial inquiry every time a Cabinet Minister disagreed with the Prime Minister and resigned from the Government. When Lord Heseltine left Lady Thatcher's Cabinet, having decided that he could not serve in that Government with honour, Conservative Members did not call for an independent judicial inquiry, nor should they on this occasion.

Let me deal with some of the points that hon. Members raised. The hon. Member for Stone made great play of the fact that the Attorney-General's advice has not been published. As he knows, there is a long-standing convention that such advice is not put in the public domain. However, on 17 March, the Attorney-General gave a reply to a parliamentary question that clearly set out the legal basis for taking the decision to commit to military action and go to war, so the hon. Gentleman's argument is somewhat lacking in that respect.

Tony Wright: The Government made a strong case for not having a judicial inquiry on an essentially political judgment, but why did they go further than that in their amendment by saying that they are against any kind of inquiry? That presumably includes an inquiry by this House, yet we shall no doubt want to inquire into matters such as the Intelligence and Security Committee's view that there was a lack of balance and qualification in the intelligence assessments and questions raised about the machinery of government by the Hutton inquiry.

Mr. Rammell: The Foreign Secretary has given me his permission to say that the amendment is infelicitous. We shall make a judgment about that at a later stage. The key point is that we have already agreed to two inquiries that were independent of Government and produced substantive conclusions. [Interruption.] If hon. Members are questioning the integrity and veracity of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which looked at the raw intelligence and concluded that the Government did not mislead the House and the country, they will find that argument difficult to uphold.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): The Minister said that in answer to a parliamentary question the Attorney-General published part of his legal advice. I entirely accept that Iraq was in breach of the revived ceasefire resolution and resolution 1441, but I have never understood whether it is part of the legal argument that one or two members of the Security Council can take it upon themselves to use military force to enforce a resolution without explicit authority from the Security Council. Can the Minister clarify that?

Mr. Rammell: In terms of resolution 1441, there was clearly no requirement to go back to the Security

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Council for further authorisation before undertaking military action. Some nations attempted to insert such a requirement during its drafting, but that was not agreed to. On that basis, there was a 15:0 vote in favour of 1441. With respect, that demolishes the hon. Gentleman's argument.

Although I disagreed with some of what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said in support of a public inquiry, he made a telling point when he underlined the disingenuousness of Conservative Members in calling for an independent judicial inquiry. He quoted the emphatic arguments cited by the Leader of the Opposition in an article published in The Times well before publication of the September 2002 dossier. If Conservative Members were convinced of the arguments prior to the publication of the dossier, they cannot claim that they were misled by it and should not call for an independent inquiry.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Mrs. Liddell) presented powerful arguments against premature judgments on the whereabouts of weapons of mass destruction. She also tellingly said that, even now, there were no answers to Hans Blix's 167-page report, which contained key questions to the Iraqi regime about their whereabouts. That argument was fundamentally right.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Pollard) took a different position from mine, but he has a respectable stance on the issue. Indeed, he travelled widely in Iraq before the conflict. He underlined the sincerity of the Prime Minister and the Government in reaching their conclusions even when he took a different view. I agree that we need to look forwards, not backwards at this stage. I was struck by comments from my hon. Friend's contacts in Basra that the position has improved greatly since the military conflict.

Mr. Cash: Of course it has.

Mr. Rammell: That is not the impression that much of our media give, and the debate is therefore especially important.

I welcomed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), who underlined his view that disagreements on the matter are essentially political and that resolving them is fundamentally a matter for Parliament, not judges. I agree that referring every disagreement of this nature to the judiciary is an abdication of parliamentary responsibility. I believe that that view is increasingly widely shared by Labour Members.

It is important to look forwards.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: The Minister argues that the House made a political decision, that we should move on and that holding a judicial inquiry every time such a situation arises would be pointless. However, two Cabinet Ministers resigned and one of them made it clear that she believed that the House had been misled about the origins of a war. Many people continue to assert that. It continues to be relevant because in looking forwards, one has to consider not only the important position in Iraq but the way in which policy will evolve towards Syria, Iran and the road map. We are not considering an ordinary political decision; it continues

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to be relevant both to whether the House was misled on the basis of our alliance with America and to future middle eastern policy. [Interruption]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The House must come to order. Many conversations are taking place in the Chamber.

Mr. Rammell: Although I have always had the greatest respect for my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), the former Secretary of State for International Development, I believe that her judgment was fundamentally wrong on the issue that we are considering.

It is important to focus on the successes that we have already experienced in reconstructing Iraq and to be candid about the challenges and problems, especially given the difficult security situation that we continue to face. Significant progress has been made in the six months since the cessation of hostilities. We have an Iraqi governing council, which has established, for the first time in a generation, a governing structure that is truly representative of the Iraqi population. Twenty-five Ministers intervene on a daily and weekly basis in the key political and economic decisions that are of interest to the Iraqi people.

Recently, we rightly argued strongly for the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1511. Many people believed that such a resolution would not be possible, yet owing to our efforts and those of others it was a significant and major achievement that strengthens the coalition, the United Nations and international support for Iraq. Crucially, it also enables a timetable for elections to be set in 10 weeks.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh): Does my hon. Friend agree that, in the real world in Iraq, as he rightly described it, it is disturbing that the United States military do not even attempt to record the number of Iraqis that they have killed since the end of major combat operations? Is that not another reason why the sooner coalition forces are replaced by a United Nations force, with troops from other nations, the better?

Mr. Rammell: I have not heard information to that effect and it must be substantiated if we are to respond to it.

The resolution that was passed in New York last week ensures a strengthened United Nations role in the partnership with the Iraqis and the coalition in underpinning the political process for a constitution and elections. It also gives UN authorisation to the multinational force that is helping to secure Iraq, which is a high priority for us. Security remains our No. 1 priority, and we are working hard to enable the Iraqis to play a greater role in assuring the security of their country. The recent injection of an additional 1,200 UK troops will provide significant support in tackling terrorism, but it is also critical that we build up the civilian support within the police force, so that the Iraqis can police their own people with consent. Nearly all Iraq's 400 courts are now functioning, and for the first

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time in more than a generation, the Iraqi judiciary is fully independent. That should be a cause for celebration in the House and across the world.

We are backing up our political support with significant financial support. The Secretary of State for International Development recently announced the £544 million that the Government have committed over three years from April 2003. I hope that, at the Madrid donors conference this week, similar contributions will be forthcoming from across the board.

There are difficulties in the security situation, but there has also been a great improvement in the delivery of essential services. Nearly 240 hospitals in Iraq are now open and functioning, and 1,500 schools have been rehabilitated. With the help of UNICEF, more than 22 million doses of vaccine have been provided, and health expenditure is now significantly higher than it was under Saddam's regime.

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