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Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I will not take up the remarks of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones). Instead, I will revert to an issue that has been touched upon this afternoon by the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning).
On 23 November, the first day of the Session, I and a number of other right hon. and hon. Members tabled a motion calling for a Select Committee to examine the work and conduct of the Prime Minister that led to the decision to invade Iraq in March 2003, with a view to considering his impeachment. We intend to keep the motion on the Order Papermotion 37 on today's Order Paperuntil the matter is resolved by debate on the Floor of the House. It is a process that survives the general election and one that focuses more accurately on particular conduct of the Prime Minister for which he personally must answer.
For a cross-party group of Members to contemplate the impeachment of the Prime Minister is to invite derision from Government loyalists, pitying but concerned smiles from self-proclaimed political realists and yawns from those who believe that there are many more interesting things for grown-up Members to be getting on with.
The first reaction is understandable. The paramount rule in the political jungle is survival, and any available weapon is a good one. Ridicule is the most effective tool, even when borrowed by those way down the political feeding chain. It brings with it a sense of moral and intellectual superiority. In 21st-century Britain, the very word "impeachment" suggests the troubles of the favourite of Charles I, the Duke of Buckingham, or men in 18th-century wigs spending almost a decade arguing over Warren Hastings's life of luxury in far-off India. It is a process lost in the mists of history with no purpose in our advanced parliamentary democracy, which is sustained by universal suffrage and the discipline of general elections.
The Prime Minister's sexual morality is unimpeachable, so the Clinton example has no relevance to us. "Go ahead, make my day," says the Blairite, with the confidence that comes through sticking his thumbs into his belt loops. For the realist, one has only to ask, "Can we impeach the Prime Minister?", to know the answer. Of course not. Labour has a vast majority, this is a political question and the tribal loyalty of party in the Commons will outweigh the merits of the case, whatever its qualities. It simply will not work. We will sort out the Prime Minister at the general election. That is when he will be held to account.
As for the yawners, the third category, they have never applied their minds to much and they are not going to start now. One cannot argue with them, so they are best ignored. The survival of the praetorian guard depends upon the survival of the emperor and they will die in the ditch. It is the realists whom we must persuade to see where reality and our constitutional duty lie.
In doing so, we must not allow ourselves to fall into the trap set by No. 10, which wants us to forget the reasons for invading Iraq used by the Prime Minister in
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his Commons speech in March 2003, to forget what we now know he knew or ought to have known then, and to concentrate only on the benefits for Iraq that have flowed from the war. It wants us lazily to accept that any criticism of the Prime Minister for his conduct in taking us into the war is to tolerate, if not positively to support, the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein, and to be an opponent of the war and a disloyal critic of our brave troops. It wants us to believe that because the Prime Minister has been exonerated of bad faith or dishonesty by the narrowly focused Hutton and Butler inquiries, his integrity in all things and at all times is not open to doubt.
For me, the argument in support of our motion to inquire into the grounds for impeachment is not based on the wrongness of going to war. If it were, I would not support it. It is based upon the need for Parliament to check the Executive, and to remind even the most powerful in our country that they are not supreme and ourselves that a functioning parliamentary democracy depends on trust and truth.
President Bush told the American people why he was leading his country to war. Whether one agrees with him or not, no one can accuse him of saying one thing in 2002, something different in early 2003 and yet something else in 2004. Examine our Prime Minister's record over the same period and ask yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether he can claim to have been as consistent or as candid with Parliament, the parliamentary Labour party and the public as the President was in the United States of America. Did the Prime Minister know, do and say things in the lead-up to the war that were inconsistent with what he told us?
There are, of course, good and obvious reasons for any British Prime Minister to want to remain on good terms with the United States. It is in our national interest to protect our shared values and achieve our joint goals. Our long-standing alliance with America is neither a mistake nor a serendipitous chance of geography or history but based on a cool assessment of how our country's present and future can best be secured. But what the Prime Minister did was to say one thing here and another to the Americans. While not insulting Mr. Bush like the French, we have a right to expect that the Prime Minister's first loyalty should have been to the truth and the British public through the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister made a number of claims about Iraq from early 2002 onwards that drew upon the authority of the intelligence services for their validation. He told us he had knowledge of the facts that he could not, for understandable reasons of national security, share with us. He stated:
"I am aware, of course, that people will have to take elements of this on the good faith of our intelligence services, but this is what they are telling me, the British Prime Minister, and my senior colleagues. The intelligence picture that they paint is one accumulated over the last four years. It is extensive, detailed and authoritative."[Official Report, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c.3]
The Prime Minister led us to believe that Saddam possessed strategic weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to the region, the wider world and our own national interests, and that he would use them unless we
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defeated him. The secret intelligence proved as much, said the Prime Minister. He asserted in early 2002 that Iraq had
The Prime Minister stated that Iraq's illicit weapons programme was on the increase, when the intelligence suggested it was not. The Prime Minister misreported the United Nations inspectors' findings so as to portray further inspections as futile. The invasion, he said, was sanctioned by international law because Saddam Hussein was in breach of numerous Security Council resolutions, and in particular 1441. He claimed that material found after April 2003 was part of a secret Iraqi weapons programme, although there was a lack of intelligence to support this assertion.
Today we are told that the reason for the war was to get rid of Saddam's regime. We are reminded how much better things are for the previously down-trodden people of Iraq, and anyway, everything the Prime Minister did and said was based on good faith. As for the first reason, barely a month before the invasion the Prime Minister said in the House that Saddam could stay in power if only he complied with United Nations Security Council resolutions, so presumably regime change was not a decisive factor behind the invasion. We now know, of course, that that was very much in the Prime Minister's mind in 2002. The second point may well be true, but rather depends on whether one lives in Kurdish Iraq or Basra, or Falluja or Mosul. As to the third, present retrospection is less persuasive than earlier introspection.
I voted with the Government in March 2003 because I believed that the Prime Minister was advancing a case for war based on the unvarnished truth and because I could not believe that any Prime Minister, particularly one who had put so much store on his personal trustworthiness, could do otherwise. If the Prime Minister had already committed our country to war in a private deal with the President of the United States in 2002, he should have told at least his Cabinet at the time, and Parliament when he made the case for war in March 2003.
It is the constitutional duty of all Members of ParliamentGovernment and Opposition Membersto hold the Government to account. I accept that that task is made difficult in Westminster, where the Executive largely sit in and on the Commons. The Government have an enormous majority over all other parties and, save for a few notable exceptions, it has been a supine majority that has forgotten, if it ever knew, that it should do more than lamely follow its leader. I believe, and I sincerely hope, that the realists are beginning to get real.
We lack accountability in the House not only in respect of the Executive but, briefly to refer to another matter, in respect of other bodies that should be accountable to us. I am thinking, in particular, of the Civil Aviation Authority and I refer to the speech of
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the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman), whose constituents complain about night flights coming in and out of Heathrow. What he may not know, but I and my constituents do know, is that the East Midlands airportlaughingly called the Nottingham East Midlands airport, despite the fact that it is situated wholly within the county of Leicestershirenow has more night flights going in and out of it than Stansted, Gatwick or Heathrow. Yet only those three airports are designated under the Civil Aviation Act 1982.
I cannot persuade the Governmenteither because they will not listen, do not want to listen or do not care about the people of Leicestershireto designate the Nottingham East Midlands airport, as it cares to call itself. Only if the Secretary of State for Transport takes control over matters concerning the ingress and egress of flights into and out of NEMA will my constituents gain any degree of comfort. The voluntary agreements between NEMA and the North-West Leicestershire district councila worthy but powerless body in the face of the commercial might of this vast airport company owned by 10 local authorities in Greater Manchesterare inadequate. The company has no interest whatever in Leicestershire other than the fact that it owns a piece of real estate there, in and out of which it can fly aeroplanes in order to increase its profits and, no doubt, mitigate the council tax bills of the people of Manchester. That might be of interest to the Minister, whom I see in his place on the Front Bench.
It is essential that the Civil Aviation Authority does its duty to the people of Leicestershire by making itself accountable through the Secretary of State and by making the organisation behind NEMA accountable to the people of Leicestershire. That can happen only if the Government adopt a vigorous approach. Until they realise how serious an issue it is for my constituents, whose quiet enjoyment of their lives is being destroyed, I will continue to press the key issuethe hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr and many other hon. Members have also stressed itof holding the Government and the Executive to account in this Chamber day in and day out.
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