Mr. Gray: I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me, but I am trying to make progress. Other hon. Members are seeking to speak, but he is a very distinguished gentleman and so long as he makes a more substantive point than the last one, of course, I will happily give way.
Sir Menzies Campbell:
I am afraid that I cannot guarantee that, and the hon. Gentleman will
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understand, as an occasional Presbyterian, why I do not follow him into the appointment of bishops in the Anglican communion. The logic of what he is saying is that the House should not be given more extensive powers of scrutiny and control over the Executive lest they be tempted into misleading the House. That extraordinary proposition flies in the face of the fact that misleading the House is the cardinal sin in the House of Commons.
Mr. Gray: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes the same point. He and I come from the same schoolHillhead school in Glasgowand my father was the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, so I know nothing about bishops either. That does not necessarily stop me having a view on the subject.
Certain decisions are so grave and important that the Prime Minister must take them himself. He must not compromise the intelligence that he uses to do it. If he did, he would compromise our sources in the field and undermine a variety of things that he needs to do. He must not give warning to the enemy. Indeed, one or two hon. Members seem to suggest that we ought to have a substantive debate on the deployment for war perhaps some months or years ahead of that deployment. They suggest that we should not send troops to Kuwait in the possibility of going to war with Iraq, that we should decide months and months in advance and that we must state precisely to the House how many troops will go where and what they will do when they get there. That would compromise the security of our troops on the ground. The element of surprise is often important and going to war by Executive decision may well be the right thing to do.
I wholeheartedly support the principle that lies behind the Bill, but simply doubt whether it would work in practice. If it were passed, only wars that that were popular with the people and popular in the House would be waged. Wars that were necessary and correct, yet unpopular, would never be waged. If the House was evenly balanced, especially, going to war would become extremely politicised.
Hon. Members have talked about the morale of our troops on the ground, but I suspect that morale has been underminedin so far as that has occurrednot because we went to war with Iraq, but because of the parliamentary process that led up to it. It has come about because our troops know that half the people in this House were not in favour of the war and because they feel let down by the elected representatives in this place. If we had done what we did for previous wars and trusted the Prime Minister's use of the royal prerogative and wished our troops on the ground well, morale would be higher. However, the fact of the matter is that we did not trust the Executive or the Prime Minister. We were misled by the Prime Minister. We had three substantive votes
We were taken to war on something that was a false prospectus by most standards. However, if the Bill had been in force, I do not believe that the process would
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have been any better. Indeed, it would probably have been worse because the Prime Minister would have known that he would have to do such a thing.
If hon. Members believe in parliamentary democracy, the proper use of our intelligence to take us to war and the defence of the realm, they will oppose the Bill because it would fundamentally undermine all three things.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): I rise perhaps a little like a lion in a den of Daniels, but nevertheless hope that as I speak against the Bill I will be able to convince some hon. Members that it is unnecessary, rather than wholly wrong in principle. The principle behind the Bill, as the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) intimated, is, in fact, not bad. If we believe in parliamentary democracy, there should of course be the utmost scrutiny. The question is whether we should lay down exactly what type of scrutiny should occur in what time scale and the sort of detail that should be given about a proposed military intervention.
It saddens me greatly, as I am sure it does every hon. Member, that more people have died in wars since world war two than during that war. A war has been going on somewhere in the world on every single day since the second world war. Having said that, however, I believe that behind the Bill lies an attempt to keep our hands clean by not engaging in war instead of making decisions to commit our troops to dangerous situations, which are unfortunately necessary from time to time. Although the Bill is superficially attractive from a democratic point of view, it is, on reflection, both impractical and unnecessary.
The Government have a good record on parliamentary consultation. Indeed, we must go back to Suez to find the last time that there was no parliamentary consultation whatever on war. Of course it is best that such consultation takes place through debates on substantive motions, as was the case with the Iraq conflict in 2003, but we would tie the Government's hands as they were making difficult decisions if we said that such debates had to be on substantive motions and be held prior to the event, unless absolutely unavoidable.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) talked about some of the luminaries who could be cited as being in favour of the Bill, he made reference to the Chancellor. I must put the record straight, because if he was talking about the Chancellor's interview in April in The Daily Telegraph, there was no suggestion that my right hon. Friend was in favour of a statutory obligation on the Government to come before the Housethe same is true of things that the Foreign Secretary has said. Both my right hon. Friends said, as I would argue, that it would be right for the Government to do such a thing when possible, but that we should not tie their hands unnecessarily, especially if difficult decisions must be taken in a short time.
I was worried when my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) made the dangerous suggestion that the march against the war was a reason why the House should have voted against the war. If we were to judge the way in which we vote on the number of people in the streets, it would certainly
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mean that we should give the same credence to the Countryside Alliance's marchI am sure that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire would have sympathy with that idea. Another argument against the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend is the fact that an awful lot of people on the march against the Iraq war would not support her Bill on the grounds that they would oppose any military action at any time under any circumstances. It would thus be dangerous to pray in aid those people in support of the Bill.
I have a problem with the meaning of the phrase "armed conflict" in the Bill. If we were to send a humanitarian mission to a place such as Sudan, for example, and things went wrong resulting in forces coming under attack, would the act of defending themselves be defined as armed conflict? There would have been no declaration of war in such circumstances, but military action would have become necessary. Would even mild escalation mean that we would have to have a debate in the House under the Bill?
Circumstances could change for an existing deployment in the theatre of war. If they were to change radically from the circumstances that under the Bill would have been set out by the Government in debate, surely we would have to come back to the Houseperhaps every few daysto legitimise the military action and reassert that it was right under the new circumstances. If that were not the case, the House would be able to endorse military action under the Bill according to the circumstances pertaining at the start of the action, but it would be assumed that the action remained legitimate throughout any changed circumstances. That appears to be a contradiction in the Bill.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): The hon. Gentleman talks about changing circumstances, but is it not the case that future wars are more likely to be fought on the basis of intelligence than on the basis of circumstances that can be seen? We have already had one war based on flawed intelligence. Would not the Bill oblige the Government to produce the beef and show us the intelligence so that we could make up our own minds about the circumstances that existed?