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Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): I can give the hon. Lady one example of the Prime Minister's refusing to answer a question. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) repeatedly asked, in both oral and written questions, for the precise date on which the Prime Minister was told about the withdrawal of intelligence that the House learned about through the Butler review. He refuses to give the precise date and is prepared to say only that he learned about the withdrawal as a result of the review. Why, we ask ourselves, will he not give us the precise date?
Mrs. Browning: The hon. Gentleman properly identifies an important matter, but it is only onethere are many, many more questions to which hon. Members would like specific answers from the Prime Minister.
Having given way to the hon. Gentleman, I pay tribute to him for the work that he has doneand the way that he has gone about itto bring together the documentation, including legal opinion, that is encapsulated on page 309 of today's Order Paper. Motion 37, "Conduct of the Prime Minister in relation to the war against Iraq", has been signed by several Members of Parliament, some of whom are present this afternoon. I hope that the procedures of the House mean that, in due course, we will have an opportunity to discuss in some detail the contents of that motion. It seems quite improper that those events have passed yet the procedures of the House do not allow us to question the Prime Minister personally and get answers from him.
I wonder whether the hon. Lady recalls that on the occasion of the debate on the Loyal Address, my colleagues and I, supported by some of her
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colleagues, tabled an amendment that would have secured an inquiry into the Prime Minister's relationship to Parliament and his accountability on the very issues to which she very properly refers. I do not recall whether she voted for that amendment.
Mrs. Browning: No, I did not, because I was already in negotiation with other colleagues who felt that the procedure set out on the Order Paper was the best. That does not mean to say that I do not appreciate the frustration felt by the hon. Gentleman and others. It is evident that there is widespread concern because none of us has yet had this debate and none of us has been able to call the Prime Minister to account.
Mr. Salmond: I voted for the amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats, but it is surprising that their Front-Bench spokesman should question the fact that the hon. Lady did not vote for it when Liberal Democrat Front Benchers have not signed the motion to which the hon. Lady refers.
Mrs. Browning: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I live in the west country, where we are used to the funny ways of the Liberal Democrats. I do not hold it against the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler); I just share his frustration because, whether we take his amendment or the motion on the Order Paper, we have made no progress, and the purpose of my raising the matter today is to say that it is imperative that we make progress.
It is clear from the Butler inquiry that what needs to be investigated is not the Cabinet or the Government but the actions and words of the Prime Minister. During the lead-up to the Iraq war, matters in Cabinet were not dealt with by collective responsibility, which all of us in the House understand, but there was government by cabal. It would therefore be improper to have, for example, a motion of no confidence in the Government, because the responsibility lies with the Prime Minister personally. That is why I support colleagues throughout the House who seek, through the motion, to have the Prime Minister's conduct investigated with a view to seeing whether a Committee of the House believes that it is appropriate to impeach him.
That is the only option left to us because, under the rules of the House, it is not possible for any of us to challenge the propriety of what the Prime Minister said on the record in the House. The rules of the House work on the assumption that we are all honourable Members, but I am afraid that that leaves those of us on the Back Benches at a distinct disadvantage. We are dishonourable if we challenge somebody for not being honourable themselves, but there is no way in which we can call them to account if there is evidence that their conduct needs to be investigated.
There is a catch-22one that works against the ability of Back Benchers to call the Executive, the Government and the Prime Ministerto account. Let me quote from one effort made to sort out the situation, although it clearly has not been sorted out. On page 120 of "The Challenge for Parliament: Making Government Accountable" the Hansard Society Commission refers to a statement that was
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produced by the Public Service Committee in March 1997 and put into the ministerial code in May 1997. It emphasises that
"Ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments and . . . it is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister".
Well, I expect that to include the Prime Minister himself. Although he has the duty of ensuring that the ministerial code is adhered to, he too is bound by it and should be seen to be bound by it. There has to be some mechanism whereby the House can hold the Prime Minister to account.
To allow those events simply to pass into history would be to set a dangerous precedent for this country. The circumstances in which we went to war need to be fully investigated, because if we find ourselves in that situation again, it is imperative that the Government, and in particular the Prime Minister of the day, recognise that what happened before was not acceptable to the House of Commons and to many of its Back Benchers. We Back Benchers have to have a mechanism whereby we can call the Prime Minister to the Chamber to ask him or her straight questions and to receive straight answers in return, especially on matters of such importance. There seems to be no such mechanism at present.
I shall not discuss the detail of impeachment because I realise that it has not been used for a long time, but that does not mean that it should not be available to Members of Parliament. In our lifetimes, we have seen impeachment proceedings used against two American presidents, and those proceedings are based on English law. It is extraordinary that that should happen across the Atlantic but we in this Chamber are unable to exercise that right. I realise that people take a partisan attitude, but the issue is not only about the Iraq war and the present Prime Minister; it is about this Chamber, this Parliament and this democracy.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab): I, too, shall use this occasion to speak about Iraq. It is clear that the Government have not given us debates on the subject: we get statements and the opportunity to question, but not the opportunity to debate. When, at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party, I suggested that we have at least a two-day debate before the invasion of Falluja, I was, according to one colleague who ran to the press, "roundly booed". I shall therefore use the time available to me now. Although I would love to talk about Halifax, the subject of Iraq is more pressing. Incidentally, before anyone intervenes to ask, let me say that I shall not sign the impeachment motion on the Order Paper.
The war has united many people from different parts of the spectrum. One of the good friends that I have made is Mark Littman QC, who has written an excellent pamphlet on Iraq in which he sums up my feelings on the matter. He writes:
"The war was unlawful. It was launched upon an incorrect premise. It was and remains a high cost operation in both human and material terms. It has undermined the authority of the United Nations. It has increased the threat from terrorism."
I congratulate Mark Littman on that statement. Another group that I congratulate comprises the journalists of The Independent, including Kim Sengupta, Patrick Cockburn and Robert Fisk, who have given us honest and decent reports on Iraq. If anyone thinks that we should be complacent, I draw their attention to the headline in The Independent yesterday: "Six weeks from elections, 65 are killed on day of terror in Iraq"including three election agents involved in planning the elections.
Let me state for the record my view that there is no hiding from the issue. The Prime Minister is in Iraq today, but we in this place are having to debate the subject on a motion for the Adjournment. There is bloody chaos in Iraq. It seems to me that we pay no attention to the number of civilians killed, although we do count the shocking number of soldiers killed or injured. The Americans have lost 1,297 dead and, according to the Pentagon, nearly 10,000 badly wounded. Seventy-five Britonsmilitary personnel, not contractorshave been killed and a couple of thousand wounded. For the number of civilian dead and injured, we rely on organisations such as Iraq Body Count, to whose staff I pay tribute for doing their best to get the figures to us. The Iraq Body Count estimate is that about 16,000 people have been killed and many thousands injured. In The Lancet, the British Medical Association estimates that about 100,000 have died. The Government insist on quoting only the Iraq health service
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