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Using our power in the Security Council, however, we prevented the weapons inspectors from going back into Iraq in January 2003. At the same time, massive public demonstrations took place, including the million-plus march in London and equivalent sized demonstrations in the USA. I had the privilege of attending the one in London, and of attending an enormous one in San Francisco. There was always huge opposition to the war in the USA, and as President Bush is about to find out next week, that opposition has grown a lot bigger. We need answers to that question about the weapons inspectors.

We also need answers to the question of the legality of the war. Let us consider the way in which United Nations Security Council resolution 1441 was constantly prayed in aid by Ministers as a justification for the war. There is no justification for war when no ever-ready, real or present threat existed, when there were no weapons of mass destruction, and when no weapons were going to be fired off at 45 minutes’ notice. What we had was a President backed into a corner and troops in theatre, so we had to go for it. The war duly took place.

As other Members have pointed out, since the troops arrived in Iraq, according to The Lancet, 650,000 Iraqis, more than 2,000 American soldiers and more than a hundred British soldiers have lost their lives. In my involvement with the Stop the War campaign, I have met many of the families of British soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq. In my constituency, I have also met many Iraqis seeking asylum from both Saddam Hussein and the current situation. None of them praised Saddam Hussein, but all thought that the situation was now more dangerous and worse than when the invasion took place. Those views need to be heard, and the inquiries need to be held.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Jeremy Corbyn: No. I have only one minute left.

I want the motion to be carried so that we establish a committee of inquiry into all the circumstances surrounding the run-up to the war, the aftermath of the war in Iraq and what we do in future. We live in a world where terrorism has been encouraged by the invasion of Iraq, and, I believe, by the continued presence in Afghanistan. If we want to live in a world of perpetual wars throughout this century, we are going the right way about it. If we want to live in a world of peace and justice, we need to examine how we got into this perilous situation, why we are continuing in it, and what we are doing to address the grievances in the world—Palestinian grievances, the gap between rich and poor, and all the other problems facing the planet. That is the way forward. We should examine our consciences and what we have done, and learn the lessons from that.

6.40 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is an enormous pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), because if I remember correctly he was one of 23 hon. Members who, two years ago, started the campaign to bring parliamentary accountability to the situation. Over
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those two years, the motion put forward for discussion has changed—it has had to—and tonight 170 Members from both sides of the Chamber, including Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru, Independent and Conservative Members, are brought together to endorse the motion before the House.

Mr. Devine: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Salmond: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give me a minute or two to develop my point first. I certainly will not forget him: he signed the early-day motion. I just hope that he has the courage to follow his conscience into the Lobby this evening. No doubt he will tell us in a minute or two.

I pay tribute to the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrat party for their position on the war. It was not so difficult for us to follow through on that position because we are united as parties, but when Labour and Conservative Members differ from their party it may take a great deal of moral courage to go against what their Front-Bench spokesmen say. The fact that the motion is being debated in the House is a demonstration of Back-Bench responsibility. It is the duty of Parliament to hold the Government to account.

Last Wednesday, I remember that the Prime Minister told the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) that he would be delighted to debate Iraq in the House “at any time.” Clearly, tonight was not convenient for the Prime Minister. He would have been well advised to turn up, because the Foreign Secretary did not give him the sort of defence that I would like her to give me, if my conduct was being examined.

Mr. Devine rose—

Mr. Salmond: I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon; I promised to give way to him, and I shall.

Mr. Devine: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Let me say to him, in a comradely way, “You tube”, because I have just been watching him on YouTube, where he says:

What is it to be—impeachment or an inquiry?

Mr. Salmond: The hon. Gentleman should accept that we ought not to allow the Leader of the Opposition to be the only politician on YouTube. I would not want to condemn the youngsters of this country to such a situation. If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, rather than preparing his question, he would know that that I referred to precisely that issue—to the 23 Members, including the hon. Member for Islington, North, who came together to introduce a motion of impeachment. However, it was argued that we should change the motion for two reasons. The first was to broaden the base, because it is not just the Prime Minister who is responsible. Ministers have collective responsibility, and it was Government policy that took us into Iraq. The second reason, as the hon. Gentleman probably knows even though he is relatively new, was
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that the process of impeachment is a trial in Parliament by the House of Lords. Given what I found out recently about the complexion of Members in the House of Lords, I now think that Members of the House of Commons are the right people to hold such an inquiry. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.

I am glad to see that the Foreign Secretary has returned to her place. Earlier, she made the extraordinary proposition that it was not the right time to hold an inquiry. Apparently, we can allow an inquiry by Lord Butler and Lord Hutton when our troops are in the field, but not a parliamentary inquiry. What kind of argument is that? I know that the Foreign Secretary only recently took up her post, and perhaps she is not yet fully in command of her brief, but when she was asked a direct question by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples)—a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee—about its inquiry, she said that there had been no Government obstruction of that inquiry. That is remarkable, because I have before me the title of the first special report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which reads “Implications for the Work of the House and its Committees of the Government’s Lack of Co-operation with the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into The Decision to go to War in Iraq”. If the Foreign Secretary wants to be a success in her position and to defend the Prime Minister, she should familiarise herself with the work of that Select Committee.

I was interested to hear the Foreign Secretary pray in aid my old friend Tam Dalyell against the Franks committee. I am in no doubt whatever about which Lobby Tam Dalyell would go into this evening, if he were still in the House. There are three basic arguments for the motion. The first concerns parliamentary accountability. It is pretty unprecedented in recent times, but the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) reminded me that Lord Liverpool, in 1855, fell on just such a motion—

Sir Peter Tapsell: Lord Aberdeen.

Mr. Salmond: Yes, it was Lord Aberdeen who, in 1855, fell on just such a motion, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is claiming to have personal knowledge of that debate. Nonetheless, we should be reminded by history that it is not unprecedented for a motion to have such results. I have listened to every word of this debate, unlike the Foreign Secretary, and so can say that we should have such debates more often in the House, because they do us enormous credit. The debate is on current events in Iraq, as well as the history of the war. That is why the motion refers to the war “and its aftermath”.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Salmond: I will, in a second or two.

The Foreign Secretary shook her head when my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price), who moved the motion, suggested that she had admitted that historians might judge the Iraqi adventure a foreign policy disaster. I have with me the transcript of her interview on BBC Radio 4. Asked
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whether historians might ultimately conclude that the war was a “foreign policy disaster” for Britain, the Foreign Secretary replied:

Margaret Beckett: I am reluctant to intervene, but what the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) actually claimed was that I had said that the war was a disaster. I did not say that; I would never say that, and I am sick and tired of journalists putting words into my mouth, as they so frequently do.

Mr. Salmond: Asked whether historians would judge Iraq to have been a “foreign policy disaster”, the Foreign Secretary said:

She will forgive us if that does not fill the House with confidence about her confidence in the policy on Iraq. She should accept that Members may judge, before historians do, whether the policy has been a disaster. Members might sometimes offer the Government some wisdom that could change the situation and—who knows?—alter the course of events and save lives.

Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Ind Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Salmond: Before I give way, the third reason for supporting the motion concerns what happens if the same circumstances arise in future. Surely we should look to the future. What happens if there is another conflict that the House is misled into supporting, and if we are bounced into another Iraq? The back-stop of full, parliamentary accountability will make any Government, and any Prime Minister, think again before taking the course that the Prime Minister took.

Jim Sheridan rose—

Mr. Salmond: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a second, after I have taken an intervention from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short).

Clare Short: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we do not have an exit strategy on Iraq, and that the chaos can continue for many years to come? Does he agree that if we are to decide on an exit strategy, we first need to know why we were there, and does he agree that we should not accede to the American aspiration to set up permanent bases, which will almost certainly mean a permanent insurgency?

Mr. Salmond: I agree with the right hon. Lady. I understand that she was at the Cabinet table when the decisions were being made, and I respect her opinion. Her doubts carry a great deal of credibility—perhaps more credibility than the words of the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). He accused my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr of impugning the motives of the Attorney-General. I read the former Home Secretary’s memoirs only a few days
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ago, and, as I understand it, they suggest that the Chancellor of the Exchequer may have fallen in behind the Prime Minister only because he was frightened of losing his job. When it comes to impugning motives, my hon. Friend can take lessons from the former Home Secretary.

Jim Sheridan: Those of us who know the hon. Gentleman from his work in Scotland know that he is a straight-talking guy, so before Members from both sides of the House go into the Lobby, can he tell us, unequivocally, whether he has said today that the motion is about the impeachment of the Prime Minister? Can he answer that question?

Mr. Salmond: The motion began as an impeachment motion. [Hon. Members: “Answer!”] We tabled the motion that appears on the Order Paper to secure maximum unity across the House. It is concerned with parliamentary responsibility and accountability. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read it and follow his conscience by joining us in the Lobby.

Many of us remember the debate on Iraq in which the Prime Minister said that it was “palpably absurd” not to believe that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He told us that he had never made the argument for regime change when defending the decision to invade Iraq. He has made that argument many times since the invasion, because clearly he can no longer make the argument about weapons of mass destruction. Those are not matters of opinion, but of fact—we know that there were not any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that the American justification that al-Qaeda was involved was tenuous at best. There was no connection with 9/11 to justify the invasion and the casualty toll as a result of the action is a matter of fact: 120 British soldiers and 2,821 American soldiers are dead. Tens of thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of Iraqi civilians are dead. Those are the consequences of the decision by the House.

Suez was raised a number of times in our debate, but casualties there did not approach the total that I have just given the House. Certainly, lives were lost, but not to the extent that they have been lost in Iraq—16 British soldiers were lost at Suez, every one a tragedy; 1,650 Egyptians were killed, every one a tragedy. Compared with the consequences that have befallen us in Iraq, however, Suez is as nothing. Yesterday, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a campaign to save the world from climate change. They have spent $5 billion in Iraq and the Americans have spent $200 billion. What if those resources had been devoted to saving the planet, rather than starting an illegal war?

Finally, our genuinely cross-party motion provides a chance to achieve parliamentary accountability. It is an opportunity for the House of Commons to live up to our constituents’ expectations. It has been said that our soldiers would be discouraged if the motion were agreed, but they would be discouraged only if they thought that the House had forgotten them and was frightened to debate the implications of Iraq. They would be discouraged if they thought that Members were not prepared to table motions or consider how we can get out of the morass into which we have been led.
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It is the Government who refuse to debate or introduce policies, but it is the House of Commons, by voting in the Division Lobby tonight, that can finally hold them to account.

6.53 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): There is one thing that can be said about the nationalists—never do a deal with them, because they have already eaten into my time. I shall come on to the shoddy deals that have been done.

In opening this debate, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out the historical context to explain why we engaged in Iraq. She mentioned the need to uphold the integrity of the United Nations, pointing out that for 12 years Saddam Hussein and his murderous regime had defied the authority of the international community. It is worth bearing in mind the fact that that entailed 18 resolutions. All of them, including the resolutions under chapter VII of the UN charter, were ignored by Saddam Hussein. There is no doubt that when the House considered the need to take action against Iraq on 18 March 2003 that was very much at the forefront of many right hon. and hon. Members’ thinking.

May I give one quote from that debate in the Official Report that sums up that view and my assertion? It reads:

That judgment was right then, and it is right now. It was made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) who, as shadow Foreign Secretary, now advocates that we revisit the decision that he strongly supported at the time. In his contribution, he asked a litany of questions about the past that needed to be answered. We have accepted, time and again—

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con) rose—

Mr. Ingram: No, I shall not give way at the moment.

We have accepted that things could, and should, have been done differently. There is no question about that—it is a given statement of fact. At all times, however, we must analyse what is happening to find the best way forward and develop a course of action now and in future.

Mr. Frank Field: Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is little hunger in our constituencies for a retrospective inquiry? However, will Ministers give an undertaking tonight that we will regularly return to this debate in future to determine what is best for our forces and what is best for Iraq?

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