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John Barrett: That is a vacuous point. Several hon. Members gave examples of speaking to service personnel in their constituencies who say that they would rather have the reassurance that the decision was taken not just by one man or woman, but by the entire Parliament. We are looking back to the Iraq war, but we
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should look forward to future Prime Ministers and future wars. The hon. Gentleman cannot honestly believe that our service personnel would rather take part in a conflict in the knowledge that one individual had made the decision, rather than the entire Parliament.

Mr. Joyce: My point is that troops could be carrying out action at a time at which it would not be legal. Is the hon. Gentleman trying to say that troops would be happy to carry out action that could subsequently be determined as unlawful?

John Barrett: I simply disagree with the point that the hon. Gentleman makes.

Servicemen and women would prefer the backing of Parliament to that of the Prime Minister on his own, and the British public expect their elected representatives to be able to stand up and be counted. It might be that people on the anti-war march had different reasons for being there. I was one of the people who marched and, as a member of the general public, I would expect any elected representative to be able to take a decision on the major issues of the day. Nothing is more important than sending our troops to war, and many civilians and troops have died in Iraq. It does Prime Ministers no good if they feel that they cannot argue and win their case in Parliament. Parliament could suffer in the long term. There will be wars in the future, so we have the opportunity today to look forward and say what should happen next time a similar event arises.

Mr. Keetch: My hon. Friend is touching on an important point. There will be a time when a Prime Minister will come to the House to seek permission to carry out military action and it would be appalling if his position was justified, but he was unable or unprepared to carry out action because there was no procedure for the House to check and authorise the decision. Such a situation could put the country in a worse position. We need the Bill not because of what happened with Iraq, but because of what will unfortunately and inevitably happen in the future.

John Barrett: My hon. Friend is exactly right.

We must try to increase public trust in elected representatives and Parliament. We do a disservice to the public if we say that we are not prepared to debate the substantive issues of the day in the House. I accept that there will sometimes be intelligence material that cannot be shared on the Floor of the House, but there must be Committees, such as the Intelligence and Security Committee, with which such information could be shared so that hon. Members would be more inclined to trust the process. The debate is a question of trust. The people of this country did not trust what the Prime Minister said in the House. Whether we were misled or there was a dodgy dossier, the information that we were given was not correct.

Earlier this week, several of my colleagues and I had the good fortune to meet Hans Blix, who gave us some inside information on what actually happened during the search for weapons of mass destruction. He and his team were out there searching for weapons of mass
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destruction and hon. Members will remember that Saddam Hussein was told that, if he were to hand over his weapons of mass destruction, there would be no invasion. We now know that those weapons did not exist then and do not exist now, so there was no way out. People do not trust what they hear from the Prime Minister on the issue.

Mr. Gray: I do not wish to labour this point, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that the reason why people distrusted the information that we were given in this place was because the Prime Minister had to come here to give us that information? If he had simply said, "I have decided on the information that I have available to me privately to go ahead with this war", and had not been required to come here, he would not have had to mislead the House.

John Barrett: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is the most bizarre argument against the Bill that we have heard today. Is he suggesting that the Bill should be defeated because it would mean that the Prime Minister would be forced to come to the House and tell the truth? The hon. Gentleman alleges that the Prime Minister was forced to come to the House, to spin and to produce dodgy dossiers and says that a similar situation would be the result of the Bill. If that is the best argument against the Bill, I shall stop now and rest my case.

12.49 pm

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): Those of us who believe that the Bill is correct should be happy with the debate so far. With one possible exception, no one has argued against the principle of parliamentary votes on going to war or against votes taking place in advance. The objections concern issues of detail. People who argue that, because the detail is not correct in clauses 2 and 8, the legislation itself is fundamentally flawed must answer two questions. First, why do no other western Government apart from France have a Head of Government with the extraordinary powers that our Head of Government has? All other western Governments have legislation similar to the Bill. If the problematic details in the Bill were such that the legislation undermined its own principles it would not have been possible to frame legislation that worked elsewhere because, as has been suggested, no democracy would put its troops at risk.

Secondly, on the general principles of the Bill, some hon. Members have implied that they would result in the legislature becoming a second Executive power, but that is to fundamentally misunderstand the roles of the legislature and the Executive. It is the job of the Government and the armed forces to execute the decisions of the House and the legislature. It is for the legislature to agree issues in principle and scrutinise the Executive's actions. It would be inappropriate for the legislation to detail precisely the way in which the armed forces conduct their business, nor does it seek to do so. It is simply saying that the legislature should take its rightful place alongside the Executive. It should scrutinise the Executive and give general authority to their actions, but it should not take on the role of the Executive themselves. There is nothing in the legislation to suggest otherwise. Some provisions may need to be refined, and we have already debated
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whether we should do so on Second Reading or in Committee. It is appropriate to raise such matters, but they do not provide sufficient reason to vote against the Bill.

If the legislature had had the power to operate alongside the Executive in the Iraqi war, a number of matters would have been debated in more detail, and it is inconceivable that we would have held a substantive vote in March. What precisely had the UN inspectors found? What was the nature of the international coalition that had started to fall apart? What was the legality of the war? Clearly, a report would have been presented to the House giving the opinions of Government lawyers on the legality of the war. What would be the position of Iraq after the war? That was not debated, and the allies clearly failed to take it fully into account. If Parliament had debated the relevant issues, it is inconceivable that it would not have debated a post-conflict Iraq. Similarly, the lack of thorough consideration on the part of the Government about what would happen after a war would have emerged.

The legislature would also have been able to discuss in detail the implications of the conflict for international terrorism. The rise of such terrorism has been fuelled by the conflict. Finally, the nature of the intelligence, which turned out to be wholly flawed, would have been subject to scrutiny. It would have been the proper role of the legislature to debate all those matters, but that does not mean that it would have passed a resolution giving detailed and precise instructions to the Executive about how they should execute a decision to go to war or how troops should be deployed. Nothing in the Bill or the principles behind it implies otherwise. For all those reasons the Bill is appropriate.

The Iraq war has been mentioned many times this morning. If we look back, we see that the key decision that led to war was taken in December, when the troops were deployed in Iraq. Almost immediately, there was a debate about how long we could wait before the war was waged because of the extremes of temperature and the climate. The drumbeat of war had become strong at the time of the deployment, and the time scale was effectively known then because the troops were on the ground and it would not have been possible, because of the logistics and other factors, to wage a war much later than March.

Those people who say that we do not need the Bill because a substantive vote took place that March mistake what happened and have not thought clearly about the history of the dispute. The relevant substantive motion is the one that was debated in the November before the troops were deployed. The terms of the Government resolution are clear. That debate—I had an exchange with the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) about this—was about international diplomacy, the role of the United Nations and the construction of a coalition. At no time then was a resolution proposed that envisaged no alternative but to go to war. Yet, after the vote, that motion was cited as justification for placing troops in Iraq, which, as I said, committed us irrevocably to the conflict that took place in March.

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