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Dr. Pugh: Adding to the confusion, though, must be the right hon. Gentleman's Front-Bench colleagues. I recall the shadow Foreign Secretary saying, in effect, that if we had not taken out Saddam Hussein this year we would have had to do so another year. That did not seem to be predicated on whether he had weapons of mass destruction; it seemed to insinuate that, since he was Saddam Hussein, at some time we would invade Iraq.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: It may well be that at some point we would have had to invade Iraq; that is not the debate. I do not have a crystal ball, and the Liberal Democrats are the last people to whom I would turn for one. I am talking about how we got where we are today, and why there is a mood of unease in my constituency and in the country more widely. None of that, and nothing that I am saying, undermines the support that my party has given to the Government on this issue. However, if the reason for going to war in Iraq is changed, without an explanation that the people can understand and identify with, the consequence is confusion.
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There is another confusion. My clear understanding is that one of the fundamental reasons for our going to Iraq is the fact that we, and the world, were threatened by weapons of mass destruction. There are many people who would like to move the discussion beyond that point, but I have to tell the House that I have not yet been able to get beyond that point. There is no debate about the fact that the Government said that weapons of mass destruction were at the heart of the policy decision, which I supported. I make no apology for doing so, and in the same circumstances, were they to be repeated, I would make the same decision. I will tell the House what was one of the key factors in my thinking.

My Prime Minister and my Foreign Secretary—I do not mean by that that I support them, but particularly in the context of war and peace they are my Prime Minister and my Foreign Secretary—two of the most senior Privy Councillors in the land, stood at the Dispatch Box and told me, a reasonably senior Privy Councillor, that we needed to go to war because of weapons of mass destruction. I am confused because I do not know how long I am supposed to give the Government before the argument based on weapons of mass destruction ceases to have any credibility whatever. I have put my case in careful terms because I am trying to give them as much of the benefit of the doubt as a senior Privy Councillor should give the Government in the context of war and peace.

I have shared that view with the House because I think that I am pretty normal. I think that I am a good representative of the British people at this time. The argument about weapons of mass destruction was made, and it is now being brushed under the carpet. A new argument is being made, and people are saying, "Excuse me, but that was never the basis on which we went into Iraq."

My party supported the Government. I say again that I believe it was right to do so and, in the same circumstances, I would vote again with the Government—and I believe that my party would. I am not trying to rewrite history; I am trying to get at why there is so much unrest and unhappiness in the country. Of course, it is in part because of the terrible attacks and the death and destruction, although I think that the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) was absolutely right to point out that there is a lot of good news, which does not, as we both know, always mean newspaper news. Much is being done that is good and to the benefit of the local people, yet there is a problem.

I say to the Government that sooner or later they are going to have to come clean with the British people. I say it in those terms because, unless and until they do, they will have great difficulty in putting together broad-based support for whatever will constitute the exit strategy: the role of British troops, coalition troops and others in an Iraq where the power has been transferred. These are serious matters, and I agree with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) that, just occasionally, we in the House need to understand that if we talk in one framework and the rest of the country is talking in a different framework, almost as though we were in parallel universes, we do no service to the country and to our constituents. It is for that reason that I have tried to get to the heart of what I believe is causing a lot of the confusion in our country.
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6.28 pm

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): Those of us who opposed this conflict before March 2003 foresaw and foretold a number of things that were undoubtedly right. There were things that we did not prophesy.

We foresaw—and we were right—that there were no weapons of mass destruction. That did not require the gift of prophecy; there was no evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction. We foresaw that thousands of Iraqis would die and that hundreds of British and American troops would die with them. That, too, was not difficult. We foresaw, and warned, that there would be no proper planning for an evacuation of Iraq in a post-Saddam world, and for that too the gift of prophecy was not necessary.

What none of us foresaw was the state of Iraq now, a year after the invasion. None of us foresaw that, after a year, thousands of Iraqis would be in prison with no civil liberties, no rights to a judicial process and no access to advice, and without their parents, children and families being informed of their existence in those prisons.

We could not have foreseen that. I would not have prophesied it, because I would never have believed that it could happen during a British occupation.

Still less did we foresee that in those prisons there would be torture and abuse on a systematic scale. We did not foresee that naked men would be dragged by leashes and chains. We did not foresee that they would be chained to doors and beds and threatened with dogs. We did not foresee that our own prisoners would be hooded. None of that we foresaw. If we had said that that would happen, we would have been regarded—and I would have agreed—as ranting nonsense and attempting to stop a war by grossly overstating and overestimating the dangers. Yet all of that has come to pass, and it has come to pass on our watch.

There has been not one word of contrition in respect of what has happened on our watch. It was known to the Minister of State and to the Secretary of State for Defence for months. It was known that there were reports from the Red Cross. It was known that there was concern about the state of Abu Ghraib prison. Yet during all the accounts and the adulation of what happened in Iraq, nobody came to the House to tell Members that there was a problem that needed to be dealt with; nor has there been any explanation of the failure to do so.

Mr. Hoon: I have set out clearly and precisely when I first became aware of the Red Cross reports. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not challenging my word on that subject.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: The Government were aware of the matter at least as early as February, and probably as early as September last year. I have attended every single debate on the subject—more, I think, than the Secretary of State has—and I cannot remember one single occasion when the House was made aware of the problems that were coming before the Government at the time. When we did hear an explanation, it was an extraordinary one: the documents that were provided did not contain the necessary number of words and
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clauses or have attached to them the necessary appendices to enable them to be treated as dossiers or reports—whatever that may mean.

In truth, no ministerial responsibility has been seen in this House. It is a sad thing to stand here and say that. What we have seen, however, and one of the most distasteful things that have come before the House, is the use of the British Army. I genuflect to nobody in my regard for soldiers, many of whom come from my constituency. I shall always have high regard for them, but one thing that I will never do if we are criticised is enlist that regard as some sort of defence or alibi for my own failings. It is high time that Ministers understood that there is no crisis of trust in the British Army or in British troops, but that there is a profound crisis of trust in British politicians, and the permanent adulatory use of British troops to deflect that is one of the most tasteless parts of this debate.

Of course there is, I am sorry to say, a pedigree for such behaviour. Many of us remember the occasion on which the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) stood before a Tory party conference and rolled out the motto of the SAS. It was a deeply embarrassing moment, perhaps even for his own party. However, despite its pedigree, the practice should stop. Ministers need to answer without relying on the excellence of the forces who are there to do their bidding.

At the end of the day, responsibility is the word. The Secretary of State, the Minister of State and the Prime Minister have frequently taken credit for what has been done in the name of the coalition. They have taken credit for the successes of the Americans—credit for their military successes during the course of the war and credit for the manner in which they have set up administrations when they did so. Now, we must take responsibility collectively with them, because the world outside will never understand if we do not do so.

In free and democratic politics, there is only one way for those who lead to take responsibility. If they do as they should, the world will know that we in this House take our responsibilities seriously. That does not mean that Ministers knew, still less colluded, still less ordered, the torture of prisoners in jail. It means that they say, "When it happens on my watch, I take the responsibility for what has occurred." If they do that, it will send out a signal to the rest of the world, and it will do more than anything else can to remove the increasing threat to British forces from those who believe that we are synonymous with our American counterparts. If we take that responsibility, it will remove part of the shame that, as a result of the revelations, now sits upon the Government, the shame that sits upon this House and, one must unhappily acknowledge, the shame that sits upon our people.

Attempts are being made to relegate these events to a footnote. The mistreatment and torture of people in prison on our watch is not a footnote in history. Ministers cannot say to the House, "We accept that there has been systematic torture by coalition forces—but the water supply is getting better." Such a statement will be treated with the contempt that it deserves.

6.37 pm

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