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Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): I wish to focus on the state of the British constitution. It might seem curious for a Welsh nationalist to come to the defence of the British constitution, but desperate times need desperate measures, and this is a matter that goes beyond party politics and must surely concern us all. I refer to the ever-increasing concentration of power by the Executive in fewer and fewer persons' hands at the expense of the independence and authority of other institutions. It is what Lord Justice Woolf meant when he said earlier this year that some of the former Home Secretary's proposals were
As we have seen from the events of recent days, when the judiciary deliver the most damning indictment of this Government's erosion of the most basic liberties,
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they are told by the Foreign Secretary that they are simply wrongwhich is as close as one can get to the abolition of judicial review by ministerial fiat. As we have also seen, our civil service has become progressively politicised, so that its impartiality and independence are in danger of being sacrificed to Ministers' agendas.
With the erosion of those other institutions, the need for the House to act as a watchdog has never been greater, and neither has its inability to perform that role effectively, as we heard from the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), who has joined our campaign. As Lord Butler said recently,
The delicate system of checks and balances that was meant to prevent the abuse of power has been quietly eroded. It is ironic that that very principlethe separation of powersis the cornerstone of the new constitution being suggested for Iraq. I quote Paul Bremer:
"Since your Transitional . . . Law has deliberately placed those different . . . powers in multiple hands, the extensive rights guaranteed to each citizen are not dependent on the whims of one person or one small group."
The two conventions on which I particularly want to focus are the foundation of a parliamentary democracy: collective Cabinet responsibility and individual ministerial accountability. Let us, first, consider the formerCabinet Government. We now know that the Cabinet did not even see the Attorney-General's full advice. Notwithstanding that we still have not seen it, the Cabinet was not provided with it. On 17 March[Interruption.] If the Minister would like to contradict me, I shall give him the opportunity to do so, because the fact of the matter is that on 17 March the Cabinet was given only the summary. It is in the Butler report, and it was contrary to the ministerial code, which states, in paragraph 23[Interruption.] I will quote it to the Minister; perhaps he should read it more often:
That did not happen in the Cabinet meeting, so the Cabinet was also misled about the content, inasmuch as the caveats in the Attorney-General's final view were not there for it to see. [Interruption.]
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that the whole House is delighted that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) is back with us, but it would be appreciated if he were less vocal from a sedentary position.
According to the most important convention in the House, a Minister who is shown to have misled Parliament must resign, and the Prime Minister has responsibility for insisting on that resignation. However, a constitutional question clearly arises when the Prime Minister has misled Parliament. Who then should act to protect us? We have identified a curious gap in constitutional conventions because, as events have developed, a Prime Minister with a large enough majority can do pretty much what he or she likes. The Butler report highlighted substantial omissions of evidence on Iraq, but did not argue that the Prime Minister had given positively false information to the press or Parliament. On 18 September this year, however, The Daily Telegraph published extracts from a series of newly leaked documents from the Cabinet Office, which, with one exception, were not included in the Butler report. For example, two Downing street memos from mid-March 2002 describe meetings between David Manning, then foreign policy adviser to the Prime Minister, Christopher Meyer, then UK ambassador to Washington, and senior members of the US Administration. They show that the Prime Minister was committed to regime change as a policy objective a full 12 months before the war in Iraq and eight months before UN Security Council resolution 1441. In a letter to the Prime Minister, David Manning said that he told Condoleezza Rice that the Prime Minister
We were told by the Prime Minister all along that the Government's objective was disarmament, and explicitly not regime change by force. As late as February 2003, a decision had not been made to invade Iraq.
The documents also show that UN Security Council resolution 1441 and the inspection regime were designed to provide a trigger for war as part of an explicitly set-out sequence of actions by the coalition, thus creating the political and legal basis for the invasion. In his memo on his lunch with Paul Wolfowitz, Christopher Meyer reported to Downing street:
Other material in the documents points to an intention to use and arguably abuse the UN route to provide a legal pretext for a predetermined policy of regime change, not peaceful disarmament. In an interview on 14 November 2002, however, the Prime Minister insisted:
The documents provide further evidence about the advice on Iraq's weapons at the Prime Minister's disposal. For example, in a letter to the Prime Minister on 22 September 2002, the Foreign Secretary referred to a note by Peter Ricketts, the political director at the
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Foreign Office, which he attached to another letter to the Prime Minister. The note said of the threat:
"The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's . . . programmes, but our tolerance of them post-11 September . . . even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW fronts"
Mr. Salmond : For much of my hon. Friend's speech, the Deputy Leader of the House has been giving a running commentary of disagreement. Would my hon. Friend be interestedI wouldto learn which fact the Deputy Leader of the House wants to dispute?
On 24 September 2002, he told the House that Saddam Hussein's WMD programme was "active, detailed and growing". Yet the note from Peter Ricketts said that the programme was not growing. There had been no change in the pace of the programme and it had not been stepped up.
The Cabinet Office documents were leaked for a reason: so that Members and the public know the truth about why and how we were taken to war. Members of the senior civil service know that the penalty for inconvenient truth telling can be very severe. There is now a high-level investigation into the source of the disclosure of those documents, and it has all the hallmarks of a Clive Ponting-like witch hunt. It is a tragic fact that the only people in public life who have lost their jobs as a result of the Iraq war are people such as Andrew Gilligan, who "got it mostly right", to quote the former chair of the D notice committee, whereas those such as the Prime Minister got it mostly wrong and are still in post. That brings me back to the constitutional question.
If the collective Cabinet system is no longer functioning and if Parliament is impotent, we are nearer to the elective dictatorship that Lord Hailsham referred to more than a quarter of a century ago. We are trampling on the constitutional conventions. Parliament is being increasingly sidelined, ignored and treated with contempt. We believe that it is time that Parliament restored public confidence in our ability and responsibility to hold the Prime Minister to account. As "Erskine May" said, impeachment
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