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Mr. Blunkett: Those who from the beginning were against the action that we took remain opposed to it. Those who wish that they had been against it, and who have not yet declared, are likely to vote with the Opposition tonight. The very few who have changed their minds are reluctant to say so. However, the majority of Members, not only on the Labour Benches but in the House as a whole, have not changed their minds about the validity of the action taken, on which we voted on 18 March 2003. There are also those who have not changed their minds, but who cannot miss an opportunity to have a go at this Government, at our Prime Minister and at the actions that we have taken, regardless of the consequences in terms of
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demoralisation and the difficulty that doing so causes for our troops in Iraq and for the Iraqi people.

By his own admission, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the shadow Foreign Secretary, does not agree with the motion that he is asking Members of his party to vote for. He clearly said that he did not agree with the structure, the membership, the terms of reference or the likely outcome of an inquiry on the terms laid down in the motion. That is what the right hon. Gentleman said. He then went on to say that he did not agree with the timing of the motion and that there should not be an inquiry now.

The right hon. Gentleman made a powerful case for further debate. The “Hear, hears” that were uttered across the Chamber were in recognition of the fact that there is a case for a debate. It has been made over and over again this afternoon, in terms of what happened in 1918, or in May 1940 on the abortive Norwegian campaign. However, nobody at those times suggested that there should be an open public inquiry and that we in this House, our armed services and our security services should be diverted into answering to it in the middle of a conflict. A debate was agreed to, by all means, but not an inquiry. There is a substantial difference between the Opposition advocating this afternoon that their Members should go through the Lobby in support of a motion that they do not agree with in respect of its terms of reference, structure or timing, and on the other hand advocating a debate.

On the timing issue, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that he did not agree that there should be an inquiry now, but that he thought that there might be one in the next Session of Parliament—in other words, in the next year. He was presuming that there would be substantial change in Iraq, and we all hope that there will be. But what message would be taken by the opposition in Iraq—by the terrorists and insurgents in Iraq—from the suggestion that it might be inappropriate to have an inquiry now, but that it might be appropriate to do so in the next 12 months presuming that, if the right hon. Gentleman gets his way and the House agrees tonight that this is likely, not only will things have improved, but our troops will have withdrawn within those 12 months? We cannot, in all honesty, make that presumption.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Blunkett: No, I will not give way, as I have only a few minutes left.

There are, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, known knowns and known unknowns. The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon listed a group of issues that he said we needed an inquiry to determine. I agree that the issues he raised are on things that went wrong following the first three and a half weeks of the Iraq campaign, but we know the answers to the questions that he raised. We know the answers to the questions that the Opposition generally have raised this afternoon.

We know that there was controversy about whether the action we took under international law was illegal. As someone who was closely involved in that, I want to put on the record that it was a deep slur by the hon.
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Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price)—the mover of the motion—to suggest that the Attorney-General, who is an internationally renowned human rights lawyer, did not know what he was doing, or that he altered his advice to suit the circumstances. That is a slur that the hon. Gentleman should have withdrawn, and it is an absolute disgrace that he made it. Of course there was, and there still is, controversy about the legality of the action that we took, and controversy will remain about that. Those who believed that it was right will believe that it was legal, and those who did not, will not.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunkett: No, I will not give way because we have an eight-minute rule.

In all conflicts, what happens in them determines how people see the outcome. In Kosovo we had—thank God—an outcome that saved tens of thousands of people from genocide. The illegality of the action taken fades into history. I hope —[Interruption.] Well, that is a simple point about those who have been, and remain, against our action in Iraq, but who have somehow never been against our action in Kosovo. Our action in Kosovo saved lives, and our action in Iraq is now determining whether there is a structure that can hold and a security system that can take care of the future functioning of the state of Iraq.

We all know that had other action been taken to retain the civil service, the local government, the administration and the middle and lower echelons of the armed services in Iraq, our debate today might have been unnecessary because there would have been a different outcome. We know what has been revealed over the past three and a half years, and many of the questions that have been asked not just this afternoon but over that period have already been answered. We know that there are lessons to be learned, but we also know the consequences of a vote tonight that casts any doubt whatsoever on the UK’s determination to stand by the people of Iraq, to stand by the democratically elected Government and to stand by our armed services, who are doing their job in Iraq. There are consequences to the votes that we cast, and when the main Opposition vote, knowing that they disagree with the motion but determined to give the Government a bloody nose, they can only be described as hypocrites.

5.31 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): This is a very important debate, and anybody who doubted the need for it just needs to cast their eye over some of the recent estimates produced by, among others, the United Nations, which points out that some 3,000 civilians are being killed every month. Some 100 United States military personnel have been killed in October alone—the highest figure since the initial invasion—and British armed forces continue to suffer losses and terrible injuries.

One cameo reveals a lot. Three years ago, soldiers patrolled the streets of Basra in caps and berets and handed out sweets to children. Now we learn that, for the safety of our staff, which must be paramount, people have been evacuated from our consulate in
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Basra. If this is not the time for a debate and an inquiry, when will be the right time?

We welcome the Plaid Cymru and Scottish National party motion, which was co-sponsored by Members from all parts of the House, but what does it say about the real situation in Iraq when the Government are not prepared to provide their own time for debate? We of course welcome the Foreign Secretary’s presence and hope that, before too long, she will introduce such a debate in Government time. At the very least, her speech today has provoked a great deal of reaction, and there is much more to debate.

Previous contributors have properly paid tribute to the armed forces and their bravery, professionalism and dedication in the most dangerous and difficult of circumstances. A total of 120 United Kingdom service personnel have been killed since the invasion three and a half years ago, and about 5,500 have been evacuated from Iraq due to injuries since the conflict began. The Chief of the General Staff, General Dannatt, is more aware than most of the sacrifices and hardships that have been endured. Nevertheless, his dramatic recent intervention took the country by surprise. We cannot underplay the stark nature of his message. He said:

In normal times, there would be serious questions about the appropriateness of the general’s intervention, but it was a sign of the severe level of frustration in the armed forces and of the fact that Parliament has not been doing its duty of holding the Government to account and challenging the lack of a proper strategy. We have always recognised our responsibilities to the Iraqis and for wider regional stability. Ultimately, however, our responsibility is for the security of our armed forces, ensuring that they have sufficient and appropriate resources and a credible mission that they can hope to achieve. What General Dannatt highlighted is that all those things are in question and that there appears to be no strategy to address the problems.

It is a revealing insight into the weakness of the Government’s position that the general was not asked to resign after making those remarks. In fact, the Prime Minister said:

When Sir Richard said that the presence of the troops exacerbated problems in Iraq, the Prime Minister said that he was “absolutely right” Really?

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman think it perverse that a serving general can ask for a reflection about our time in Iraq, and the Government allow him to do so, yet they do not allow the House to reflect on the situation in Iraq or the future of that country?

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Mr. Moore: The hon. Gentleman makes a first-class point. I hope that Members on the Government Benches will reflect on it.

Of course, nobody believes that the Prime Minister’s words were what he was really thinking, especially when he routinely talks of “staying the course” and says that we will not “cut and run”. That has become a mantra, but it is not a strategy. Time and again, what is repeated echoes the line taken in the United States of America, but we should pay attention because debate in the US has moved on. Even President Bush has abandoned the mantra. At the White House, on 11 October, he said:

If President Bush can change, why not our Government, too?

All Liberal Democrat Members, and many other Members, opposed the original dreadful decision to invade Iraq. We feared the worst, but even in our pessimism we underestimated the horrors of the situation that we see now. There needs to be accountability for the mistakes that were made, and lessons need to be learned. We have already discussed the narrowness of the Hutton and Butler inquiries and the difficulties with the investigation undertaken by the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The motion is an important step forward. It echoes the early-day motion tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and should be regarded as a serious attempt by Parliament to assert its rights and do its job of scrutinising the Executive.

Lynne Jones: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is considerable disquiet in the country about the fact that in the past decisions have not always been taken on the basis of what is best for the Iraqi people? That should be the guiding factor in how we behave and how decisions are taken in this country, so is not it important that we have a transparent process to ensure that that happens now and in the future? Does he agree that the troops would want us, as decision makers, to consider that?

Mr. Moore: As the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) remarked earlier, it is extraordinary that it is apparently acceptable for the head of the Army to speak out on behalf of his troops—as he ought to do, even though normally and more traditionally it would be done in private—yet the House is supposed not to have that debate.

Four years on from the dossiers and the fateful decisions to go to war, we are still none the wiser about the political decision-making processes that led to the war. We have been given snatches from the Attorney-General’s legal advice and titbits from the diaries of Cabinet Ministers and former diplomats, but no serious examination of the critical issues. How did the Prime Minister and the Cabinet consider the issues facing the country? Where did Foreign Office advice fit into the calculations? How serious were the attempts to get the second resolution? At what point did we make a commitment to the United States to support them in the invasion? When and how did the Attorney-General
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get himself involved in the process? What planning was there for the aftermath in the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development? That is just a sample of the huge range of issues that we have still not considered in this country.

We must learn from the past, but we must also ask about the future and what the strategy now is. Across the Atlantic there is a debate about that, and it is every bit as fierce as here. The difference is that in the United States there is a serious attempt to fashion a new strategy, with the bipartisan Iraq study group chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. That group’s remit is to review the strategic environment in and around Iraq, the security of Iraq and the key challenges to enhancing security within the country, political developments within Iraq following the elections and the formation of the new Government, and the economy and reconstruction of that devastated country.

Secretary Baker has said in plain American terms that Iraq is a “helluva mess.” Already there have been suggestions that his panel will depart from Mr. Bush’s repeated calls to stay the course. In particular, Mr. Baker has strongly suggested that the White House enter direct talks with countries that it has so far kept at arm’s length, including Iran and Syria. He has indicated that if a new strategy is not found within the next few months, the whole process could be overtaken by the chaos on the ground. The search is on for the least worst option, with the group’s overriding concepts being “stability first” and “redeploy and contain.” That is a blunt but welcome recognition of the new realities and indicates a greater emphasis on stabilisation, especially in Baghdad.

None of that is easy. Much of it has been thought unthinkable in the United States up until now. However, the United States is having a proper debate. What about here? Has the United Kingdom been involved in making submissions to Secretary Baker’s group? What does it make of the suggestions that are being discussed fairly openly in public now?

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): As the hon. Gentleman is speaking in this debate, some of my constituents in Blackpool are being deployed to serve in Iraq. Does he think that it is helpful at this time to put forward the sort of arguments that he is making? On the back of the things that he has said already, will he tell us whether or not the Liberal Democrats are committed to a process of immediate withdrawal?

Mr. Moore: We are not, and I will get to that point. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents who will be putting their lives on the line—again, if they have been there before. Not one person in the House will do anything other than support them to the hilt. We ask of them huge things: to give up their lives and to risk serious injury. Frankly, it is not helpful to the debate to suggest that there is any lack of support by people on this side of the House, or anywhere else, for what they are doing. I refer him not just to what General Dannatt said on behalf of the Army, but to the reaction on websites and in chat rooms all over the place, which shows how people in the Army feel. The
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hon. Gentleman will find that, finally, people think that here, today, we are getting an opportunity for Parliament to do its duty.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has used the name of the Chief of the General Staff several times. That is up to him. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) did the same earlier. Does the hon. Gentleman think that it is wise to imply that the Chief of the General Staff of the Army supports an Opposition motion in the House?

Mr. Moore: I know the hon. Gentleman well. We have had debates on Iraq in private and in public many times over the past three or four years. I have made no suggestion about what the general thinks about this debate. I have simply quoted what he has said on behalf of his men and women serving in the Army. The hon. Gentleman can make his case in due course if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Considering what is going on in the United States, where is the equivalent United Kingdom commission to recognise the changed realities and to prepare the thinking to allow for a phased withdrawal of British forces? We are not short of former senior figures in this country of different political persuasions and none—from government, the diplomatic world, the military and academia—who could examine these issues and allow Britain to make its contribution to the debate. If that can happen in the United States, why not here? We certainly cannot allow the policy thinking and policy making to occur across the Atlantic but not here. In the final analysis, Britain must make its own assessment and act accordingly.

Mr. Baron: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point, but this is not just a question of looking across the Atlantic to see what is happening. In this country, the public, the media and the armed forces are debating the matter. The only place that is not debating it is this Chamber—that needs to be put right.

Mr. Moore: The hon. Gentleman is right. We are seeing that there is a lot of pent-up demand for that debate.

Earlier this year, the leader of our party, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), set out the key stages of a possible strategy for Iraq that would allow the phased withdrawal of all coalition troops. He talked especially about the need to internationalise and, specifically, to involve the neighbouring states of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Iran. There would be immense difficulties with that, not least because of the role of some of those countries in Iraq at present, their links with Hamas and Hezbollah, and fears about Iran’s moves towards a nuclear capability. However, we must now contemplate that as part of the broader issue of regional stability. Those countries have a direct stake as neighbours. Iraq is one of the most intricate pieces of the jigsaw in their neighbourhood, and the middle east peace process is inextricably linked to what goes on in Iraq. Our Prime Minister says that he wants to stake his reputation on making progress with the middle east
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peace process. How on earth will that be possible while we are mired in Iraq and unwilling to deal with some of the key regional players?

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram), made a welcome statement in Westminster Hall last week:

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