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Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con):
I have in common with all the speakers in the debate so far a deep, principled and fundamental unhappiness about the war in Iraq. I expressed that view in my own party when I was shadow Defence Minister and sought to persuade it not to support the Government in their march towards war with Iraq. As a result, I was shifted from the shadow defence team to become shadow minister for rural affairs. I continue to have that unhappiness. I abstained on the substantive vote on 18 March, although I voted with the Government on the second motion, supporting
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our troops as they went into battle. Our concerns about the Iraq episode, how it was justified, how the matter was spun and how we were lied to across the nation continues to give me deep, fundamental unhappiness. I remain extremely concerned about how the occupation is progressing.
I have that in common with all who have spoken this morning but, without seeking to be controversial, I am not in accord with them in concluding that the Bill would solve the problems about which I was so very unhappy. There has been an unnerving aspect to the debate so far: most people have said that they disliked the Iraq war and how we went to war, so they must therefore support the Bill. My argument will come to precisely the opposite conclusion.
The hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) talked about modernising things. It is easy to say how awful it is that we have this 17th-century royal prerogative, that it is disgraceful, that we must have 20th-century democracy and that it is terrible because our boys are going to war. I am scarred by the fact that I stood on the windblown tarmac at RAF Lyneham in my constituency and watched 11 flag-draped coffins being taken off a Herculescasualties from Iraq. I spent the rest of the day with the families. I am scarred by that experience, but that does not lead me simply simplistically, or perhaps, populisticallyto say that I want to change the way in which we went to war. I opposed the war, but the method by which we were taken to war does not necessarily for that reason need to be examined.
I am uneasy about the Bill because of its populist nature. It is terribly simple to say that we did not like Iraq, so we must do away with this awful thing called the royal prerogative. I had the useful experience of spending last year at the Royal College of Defence Studies, whose tie I am proud to wear this morning, where I produced a 10,000-word thesis on the way we went to war. I am pleased to say that it was published by the RCDS as part of the Seaford House papers, which are available in the Library.
I undertook significant research into the way in which we were taken to war in each conflict since the second world war. Mr. Chamberlain came to the House to make what he described as a brief statement at the beginning of the second world war. He announced that we were at war with Germany and asked Members to forgive him as he had a great deal of work to do so it would be wrong for him to spend too much time in this place discussing the war. He curtailed the debate for that reason. He said, "We can't waste time discussing it here. I must go and get on with some work elsewhere."
In Suez, Korea, the Falklands, the first Gulf war and as recently as the Afghanistan war, there was no substantive debate in this place before the deployment of troops. There were umpteen statements and Adjournment debates but not a single substantive debate that might have resulted in a vote against the Government's position.
I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in the subject. Does he remember the vote taken on 10 June 1940 after the Norway campaign? There was a
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motion of no confidence in the Chamberlain Government and, although the Government won, the widespread opposition to the Norway campaign on both sides of the House resulted in the resignation of the Prime Minister, Mr. Chamberlain, and, fortunately, his replacement by Mr. Winston Churchill. Is not that an example of a vote during a conflict that improved the situation and possibly saved this nation?
Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point in support of my argument. At the time, the ships were steaming towards Norway and it would have been impossible to turn them around. The debate in March 1940 was not about whether we should go to war or whether we should go into Norway. Deployment had already occurred. The debate was about whether it had been done properly. That is the importance of the hon. Gentleman's point.
The Prime Minister and the Government are of course accountable to the House. If they took us into some absurd war that did not have popular support, or did not have the support of the House, the Government would without question fall. That is the point about parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive: it is not about telling the Executive in advance what we want them to do but about examining what they have done and if it was unreasonableas was, apparently, the case with regard to Norwayit would result in the resignation of a Minister, or ultimately the fall of the Government. That is the nature of parliamentary democracy. The whole reason for having an Executive is that the Executive carry things out. They do things and this place scrutinises why they have done them. The Bill would remove the ability to be an Executive from the Government and make it this place that made decisions about what the Government should do.
If we had seen unfettered use of the royal prerogative in the run-up to the second Iraq war in 2003, the Prime Minister would have said, "I have the royal prerogative. I don't care what you people think in ParliamentI believe I have the Labour party with me. I intend to go to war." That is precisely what happened in every war until then. That is what happened in Afghanistan. With no vote here, the Prime Minister announced that he was sending troops to Afghanistan and that he would inform the House about what he had done. Had that been the case in the second Iraq warhad the royal prerogative been used in that waywe would have been justified in saying that it was disgraceful. We could have come to this debate and said that it was a scandal for the Prime Minister to take us into a war that was wrong and that, because we disliked that war, we should sort out the royal prerogative. However, that is precisely what did not happen in the run-up to the Iraq war. In fact, there were three substantive debates, the first of which was in November 2002.
I will in a moment, but I want to answer the point made earlier by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett). He said that the motion in November 2002 was not about war. The motion stated that we supported UN resolution 1441 and that this was Iraq's last opportunity to conform to it. There was a strong
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implication that the consequences for Iraq would be dire if it did not comply and, if the hon. Gentleman consults Hansard, he will see that every speech in the debate, from Government and Conservative Front-Benchers, and especially from the Liberal Democrats, was about whether we should go to war. The debate in November was about whether it was justified for us to go to war with Iraq. Had the vote been lost, the Prime Minister would presumably have had to say, "The House of Commons has concluded that we should not go to war with Iraq, therefore we won't."
Jon Trickett: The debate on 25 November was on a motion that said that the Security Council should meet further to consider the situation if Iraq failed to comply. That immediately preceded military deployment to Iraq in December, when the drum beats of war were already loud. The motion relating to the final opportunity for Iraq to comply was debated in February, by which time troops were already on the ground and war was imminent.
Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman is not quite right. The debate on 25 November 2002 was indeed in support of UN resolution 1441 and stated that, if Iraq failed to comply, the Security Council should meet to consider the situation. Speeches from the Treasury Bench, and especially the speeches of those who opposed the war, were all about whether we should go to war with Iraq. Labour Back Benchers opposed to the war tabled an amendment saying that under no circumstances should we go to war with Iraq. There is no doubt about it. A glance at Hansard will confirm that the whole debate was about whether we should go to war, although technically speaking the Government motion was not about that.
Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman suggested that those of us who spoke earlier in the debate supported the Bill because of our views about the war in Iraq. That is factually inaccurate, as many of us had argued for removal of the royal prerogative in its present form before that war. He now says that his reasons for supporting the Bill are because of the conduct of the Government during the run-up to the war in Iraq, which seems remarkably inconsistent.
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