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Clare Short: Some people took the view that containment was working and there should not be war at any price. Many other people thought that we should back up the authority of the UN with the threat of military action to get sanctions lifted, Saddam Hussein indicted and Iraq transformed. Anyone taking that position would have supported the earlier motions. Of course, we now know that Blix was reporting that Iraq had complied and I am afraid that the House was misled about that.
I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you would pick me up quickly if I allowed the debate to become a substantive debate as to whether going to war
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with Iraq was the right thing to do. I was making the point that simply to say that because we did not like the process of going to war we must thus support the Bill is flawed logic. However, I am now about to make the most substantive point of the morning[Laughter.] Hon. Ladies and Gentlemen on the Liberal Benches find that funny; I do notit is a serious matter.
These are the questions we should be asking. Why did the Prime Minister produce his two dodgy dossiers? Why was there a whole series of episodes of lies, spin and deception of one sort or another across the nation? Why did the Prime Minister feel that he had to go to those great lengths to justify the war? Because he knew that he would have to come to this place and justify it to Back Benchers. That is why he had to go to those lengths. We only have to glance at previous wars as recent as the Afghanistan war. The Prime Minister put the justification for going to war with Afghanistan in the Library and in a famous footnote stated that most of the information available to him was available on Privy Council terms. He said that it was secret information and that he had shared it with the Leader of the Opposition on Privy Council terms. It would be entirely bad for our intelligence services and the defence of the realm if the Prime Minister were to make such information available to the House, so he would choose not to do so.
In other words, those who disliked the spin, the dossiers and the rest of it should remember that we had three substantive votes in the run-up to the war with Iraq, and that it was because of those votes, not despite them, that we had all that nonsense. All we need do is glance at the run-up to any previous war to discover that there was no such nonsense, no such misleading of the nation and no such dossiers. That simply did not exist in previous wars because the Prime Minister did not have to make that justification.
Tony Lloyd: The hon. Gentleman is making an intelligent speech, although I profoundly disagree with his conclusions, but may I take him back to a different conflict? I was personally involved as a Minister when Britain went to war with the then Yugoslavia over Kosovo. He is right to suggest that one of the differences is that there was a widely held view that military action was morally justified and it therefore obtained a fair amount of public support. However, there are some fundamental issues even in such a war. For example, there were some difficult legal issues about the legitimacy of the military campaign. There was a fundamental difference of opinion between the British and French Governments. Even though we both concluded that there was a legal base for action, it was a different legal base.
It is fundamental that any Government must come before the House of Commons and be forced to justify the decision to go to war because it is of such profound importance. The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point and I understand what he is saying, but I ask him to consider that the convoluted political process that we went through in the months before the second Iraq war was not just a straightforward series of decisions. A lot of other political issues were involved. A simple decision about going to war is better taken if it has an absolute
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statutory base, so that we know why we are voting and what we are voting for on the day that that vote takes place.
Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about our deployment in Kosovo, which is particularly relevant because, of course, that was the only other armed conflict in which we have taken part in recent years that did not have the support of the United Nations. Kosovo and the second Iraq war were the same in that respect. The Prime Minister took part in what many people believe to be an illegal war for that reason in Kosovo, but no fuss was made about that in the House. No one asked for debates or votes. We went into Kosovo because such action was believed necessary for humanitarian reasons. Many people who have argued that the Iraq war was illegal because it did not have the support of the UN could make precisely the same point with regard to Kosovo, but we thought that the Kosovo action was a good thing that was done for humanitarian reasons, so we did not make a fuss about it.
Sir Menzies Campbell: I was following the hon. Gentleman's argument before the last intervention. Am I to understand that the basis of his opposition to the Bill is that, if it were to pass into law, there would be a risk that the Prime Minister would be encouraged to come to the House and mislead it about the basis on which he wanted to take military action?
Mr. Gray: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an interesting point. Of course that is the precise implication of what I am saying. He is right. If the Prime Minister had to come to the House to justify every military deployment of any kind, there would be a temptation to seek to justify what he was doing. Let us imagine that the Government's majority was not large. Let us imagine that the House was evenly split and the Government had a majority of one. Let us imagine that one partythe Liberal Democrats, for examplewas opposed to a war. The Prime Minister would have to go to endless lengthshe would spin like madto try to justify something that might well be a perfectly justifiable war in its own right, but he would have to get immensely carried away.
Mr. Gray: I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me, but I am seeking to answer his point. I am sure that he would be happy for me to try to do so before he jumps to his feet again.
When the House is evenly divided, as it is, the decision to go to war becomes politicised. The great advantage of the royal prerogative is that the Prime Minister decides what is right for the nation's security. He bases that decision on secret intelligence, which should not be available generally. He takes a grave and difficult decision to go to war, to provide troops or whatever it might be. He must then justify that decision to the House subsequently. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) was making that pointa very good point indeed.
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Of course, the Prime Minister is answerable to the House. He must justify what he has done. That is quite different from justifying what he is doing in advance. If he had to justify his actions in advance, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) just said, he would be tempted into seeking to persuade the House of something in a way that he would not otherwise have to do if he simply took the decision himself. In other words, there is a perverse logic [Interruption.] One might have thought that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), who has introduced an interesting Bill that is capable of interpretation in two ways, would be interested in listening to complicated theoretical arguments about it. She and I start from the same position of opposing the decision on Iraq, and we are simply taking part in a rather academic discussion about whether the Bill would necessarily put things right.
Clare Short: I have listened to every word that the hon. Gentleman has said, but the logic of his argument is that we should not have Parliament: if Parliament has powers over the Executive, they might be tempted to mislead Parliament, so let us not consult Parliament. That is an extraordinary argument.
My argument is that the grave matter of taking the nation to war is surely somethingthere are other matters of a similar nature such as treaties and various appointmentsthat the Prime Minister could be expected to undertake in his role. Of course, he is answerable to the House. That is what Prime Minister's Question Time is all aboutor should be all about if the thing were run properly. It should be an opportunity for the House to question the Prime Minister about what he has been doing. If he did something that was not popular in the House or in the nationif, for some reason, he engaged in some bizarre war that everyone totally opposednot only would he fall, but the Government would fall. That is the whole nature of parliamentary democracy: it is precisely the way that the House works.
We do not decide on the precise person who will be appointed as the bishop of every see in England. That is done under the royal prerogative. We do not decide which ambassador will go to which embassy around the world. Such things and thousands of others are matters for the royal prerogative. However, if we found that the Prime Minister was appointing his mates as bishops or ambassadors, my goodness me, he would have a hard time.
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