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Of course, there are achievements: democratic elections held in December 2005 and the formation of the national unity Government last year. As we have been reminded, security has been handed over in three
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of the four Iraqi provinces under British control, but those milestones have been overshadowed by the security situation and the failure of the reconstruction efforts so far. Even those of us who opposed the conflict when the House voted in March 2003—that opposition was unanimous on the Liberal Democrat Benches—did not foresee the scale of the disaster that continues to unfold in Iraq. The aftermath of the conflict is dire and we need to get to grips with why things have come to this and why we got into the mess in the first place.

The first requirement of an inquiry will be to learn the lessons and, where appropriate, apply them to the ongoing conflict. Surely, we will also learn lessons to apply to other current and future conflicts, but at the heart of the process, as the shadow Foreign Secretary set out, must be the need to ensure proper parliamentary oversight of the Executive, which has until now been utterly inadequate, despite the efforts of Members from all parties to do their bit. The oft-quoted Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, was right when he said that

More is required of an inquiry than investigation of what happened to planning for the aftermath; we still need to understand the fundamentals, such as the purpose of the intervention. Was it simply to seek compliance with UN resolutions or, as many leaks, commentators and suspicions suggest, to enable regime change? When was the actual decision taken and when was British commitment given to the United States President? What exactly was the UK input to coalition strategy beforehand and what has it been since? What of the intelligence? Issues remain about both its gathering and processing, which allowed the creation of the flawed prospectus. We are no nearer a full understanding of the political oversight of intelligence processing. In that respect, the early draft of the September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, prepared by Mr. John Williams of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is important evidence, which the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) and others have been trying to obtain. It should be released so that we can make a proper assessment of what decisions were taken and when. More significantly, we still need to understand the role of the Attorney-General and why he changed his advice over a few fateful days in 2003, knowing as we do now that he was more ambiguous in his initial advice to the Prime Minister on 13 March compared to that presented to Parliament on 17 March. Those are just some of the issues that will need to be considered by an inquiry, but it is important that we are clear about its type and powers.

As a party, we have previously set out the case for a full public inquiry, which would have the widest possible scope, to investigate all relevant aspects of the decision to go to war in Iraq, but we are happy to support the mechanism proposed by the shadow Foreign Secretary on the basis that the membership reflects the range of expertise required and that the powers will be clear.

Mr. Ellwood: I am intrigued by the Liberal Democrat position. Had Britain not supported the war it is likely that we would have been invited to help with the
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peacekeeping efforts under resolution 1483. Can the hon. Gentleman tell the Chamber whether the Liberal Democrats would have supported Britain’s participation in peacekeeping had we not been participating in the initial war-fighting?

Mr. Moore: That is a strange hypothetical question.

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): What if there had been no war?

Mr. Moore: Indeed. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) may want to reconsider his position, given how he and his party voted at the time of the initial invasion. I am perfectly happy with what our party decided at that time and since.

What is not clear from what we have heard today and on previous occasions is the Government’s position on an inquiry. As I said at the outset, there are hints of a future inquiry but the Foreign Secretary will have to forgive us if we are a little sceptical about that, not least because the Government oppose today’s initiative because, they have argued, it is unnecessary, diversionary and might have an impact on morale. I want to deal with those issues.

Of course there have been inquiries, but the shadow Foreign Secretary demolished the argument that they were independent and comprehensive. There are well-established gaps and shortcomings in all the inquiries, in terms of both their remit and the information that was made available to them. Crucially, there has been no specific investigation of the political decision-making process that led to the decision to go to war. As for the timing of the proposed inquiry, there is an urgent need to learn the lessons now, and to apply them to what we are doing in Iraq and to other current and future operations. As others have observed, waiting until the end of the conflict is hard when that has not been defined and when victory in the conflict was claimed and declared four years ago.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman share my incredulous state of mind that the Foreign Secretary should dismiss the Opposition motion as self-indulgent given that the United States, which has a much stronger Executive branch, has suffered more casualties and is still engaged on the war front, has had a robust analysis through the Baker-Hamilton report as well as inquiries in both Houses of the US Congress? Does that not equally shoot down the Foreign Secretary’s rather tenuous argument?

Mr. Moore: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which slightly unhelpfully anticipates a point that I shall come to in due course. Such is the way of debate in this place.

Let me turn to the issue of diverting Ministers’ time. I do not want to be completely facetious, but the Prime Minister will be a key witness to the inquiry and by happy chance he will be released from the challenges of office in a few weeks’ time, so the inquiry ought to be able to get off to a flying start any time soon. Presumably the new Prime Minister will want to be fully briefed and informed, since it seems unlikely that under current Cabinet arrangements he will feel that he was then, and is now, fully in the picture.

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We have to take seriously any potential impact on morale. As the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) has just said, we should look across the Atlantic. The United States has more people committed to Iraq, yet debates there have not been stymied one bit, whether in Congress or in the course of the Baker-Hamilton inquiry last year. More importantly, the armed forces in this country expect us to ask such questions and to find out the truth—not only those who have come back from Iraq and left the Army or the Territorial Army but, as one can see from the blogs, those who are serving, too.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman share my observation, as someone who served in Iraq in 2003, that most servicemen there will stand aghast at the argument that the Foreign Secretary has deployed that in some way such an investigation will damage their morale? They are far more likely to have their morale damaged by the lack of body armour, tanks that clog up in the desert sand and boots that melt in the heat of the same. They will look to us as their Parliament to start such an investigation, because they cannot speak for themselves.

Mr. Moore: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point, all the more so because he served in Iraq. The House ought to pay tribute to him and other right hon. and hon. Members, particularly from the Conservative Benches, who did their duty at that time. I know that people from all over the House did so.

Beyond the expectations of our armed forces, we see senior figures of our armed forces—there is none more senior than General Dannatt—being frank and open about some of the failings and about what needs to be done. I suspect that people like him know more about morale than most of us in the Chamber. The debate is going on in every part of British life, not least in the media and as part of independent inquiries, such as that recently launched by the Foreign Policy Centre and Channel 4. That inquiry is chaired by an impeccable cross-party group with significant expertise that includes Baroness Jay, Lord King and Lord Ashdown. Parliament should not be left behind in the debate. In fact, certain Labour Members are already arguing for an inquiry as the contest for the deputy leadership of the Labour party hots up. It seems that it is open season for everyone, except those of us who were elected to scrutinise the Executive.

Earlier this year, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) set out our view that British forces should now leave Iraq. Nothing has happened in the meantime to change our view. We believe that the issue should be one of the first priorities for our new Prime Minister, not least following his visit to Baghdad. While I hope that we will return to the specifics of future policy on Iraq on a later date, we believe that it is time for us to prepare to leave and to learn the lessons.

In the debate on the need for an inquiry in October, the Foreign Secretary said:

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Nearly eight months on, the need for that inquiry is more pressing than ever.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I must remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 14-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches. However, due to what I could describe as hon. Members’ late surge of interest in participating in the debate, that might be a touch on the generous side. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind when they address the House.

5.31 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): It is a good thing that Parliament is debating the war in Iraq. The war has gone on longer than the second world war went on in Europe and has aroused the greatest passions ever among the public in Britain and the United States. It is worth reminding the House that nearly 2 million people took to the streets of London in February 2003 to demonstrate their views on British participation in that war. They took to the streets not in support of Saddam Hussein, but to oppose something that they believed to be an illegal war and because they wanted Parliament to listen to what they had to say.

Frankly, it is absurd to argue that we should not hold an inquiry into the causes of a war that has cost the lives of many people and caused huge controversy throughout the world. It is the job of Parliament and our duty as parliamentarians to investigate what is going on, to challenge what the Executive are doing and to try to represent public opinion as best we can.

In opposing the motion, the Foreign Secretary pointed out that inquiries had been carried out by the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Defence Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee and that we had also had the Hutton and Butler inquiries. All those inquiries suffered from degrees of inadequacy. As the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) pointed out, in one case, a considerable number of fairly key witnesses refused to give any evidence whatsoever to the inquiries, which meant that the inquiries’ possible achievements were severely limited. Entirely legitimate questions remain that must be asked by an inquiry: how did we get involved in the war; how bad has the situation in Iraq become; and where does this take us in the future?

The Conservative motion is inadequate because I do not think that a Privy Council inquiry is necessarily the ideal format. Such an inquiry would exclude people who were not members of the Privy Council, even though the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks suggested that several people could become Privy Councillors instantly so that they could take part in the inquiry —[ Interruption. ] It would be extremely unlikely that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and I would be invited to become members of the Privy Council under that procedure. However, while there are clearly inadequacies in the motion, it is fair enough.

A further inadequacy of the motion is the fact that it does not set a date by which the inquiry should take place; nevertheless, I will support the motion. I urge
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other colleagues to support it because that would mean that Parliament would stress that it is our duty to investigate what is going on and to present a credible report to the British public on how we got involved in the war and, above all, how we will get out of it.

A large number of issues need to be examined. I think that I have been in the House on every single occasion when there has been a debate on Iraq since at least 1990. We have heard just about every allegation that could ever be made about the situation in Iraq. We were told that there were weapons of mass destruction, and that there was a 45-minute danger period, but that turned out not to be the case. Hans Blix and Mohamed el-Baradei were prevented from returning to Iraq in January 2003, although they were undertaking an effective weapons inspection there. I would like to hear from both of them what exactly the terms were under which they were prevented from returning. There are many other questions, too.

Crucially, we need to know what the genesis was of foreign policy after 2001. In September 2001, the Prime Minister said that we should stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States, whatever it chose to do, and whatever problems it faced—a very brave thing to say. It was not clear then exactly what he had in mind, and where that would lead us. It led rapidly to a war in Afghanistan, and later a very strange meeting took place in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002. When the Prime Minister ceases to hold that office, he should be invited to give evidence on that meeting. Was an undertaking given to President Bush that Britain would be involved in a war against Iraq, even though there was no evidence whatever that Iraq was involved with al-Qaeda or with the war in Afghanistan?

I say that not because I am in any sense an apologist for the regime of Saddam Hussein. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks seemed to reject the notion that the inquiry should go into relations with Iraq before 1990, and I disagree with him on that point. It is important that it does consider relations with Iraq before then, because I seem to recall this House quite happily approving the sale of arms to Iraq in the late 1980s. I also recall that there was participation in the Baghdad arms fair, even after the tragedy of Halabja. There must be serious inquiries about all those things—not for some academic purpose, but so that we can try to make sense of what has happened.

I know that there are people in the House who do not accept the estimate that The Lancet made in its examination of the death toll in Iraq, but there has been no creditable rebuttal of it. Its estimate is that 650,000 civilians have died in Iraq. I am not accusing British, American or any other coalition forces of causing all those deaths, but I am saying that the foreign policy decisions, taken principally by Britain and the United States, to pursue a war that had no legal basis led to the chaos that led to that loss of life. More than 3,000 United States servicemen and women have died, and last week, tragically, someone became the 150th British soldier to lose his life.

In my constituency, there are people who fled to this country to escape from Saddam Hussein, and now there are people there who fled to this country to escape the chaos of what life is like now in Iraq, and the dangers there. Last week, I was talking to a number
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of people from Iraq who came to this country and who, tragically, are threatened with deportation to Iraq, They tell me that for months on end they could not go out of their house without facing the threat of being killed in the streets. The electricity and water did not work, they did not enjoy normal safety levels, and normal society and normal life did not work. All that has happened since the invasion all those years ago and, as I said earlier, we are talking about a period of greater length than Europe’s second world war.

The question of what happens in future in Iraq must also be considered. There was a report yesterday in The Observer entitled “Iraqi government threatens arrest for leaders of striking oil workers”. It said:

That, in conjunction with the threat of arrest against Hassan Juma’a and other leaders of the Iraqi oil workers, may be one of the kernels that points to the real causes of the war in Iraq: the removal of large amounts of Iraqi natural resources into the hands of western companies. The oil law proposed in Iraq bears a horrible resemblance to the oil law introduced in Iran in 1952 after the coup that installed the Shah in power, and British oil companies did very well out of that.

Finally, on the question of foreign policy and what goes with it, the Prime Minister, ever since he took us into the war in Iraq, has developed his ideas on foreign policy a great deal. He has given many lectures around the world about what he calls “humanitarian intervention”. We should learn the following lessons: we should consider, first, whether or not the war was legal; secondly, whether it did, or did not, breach the UN charter; and, thirdly, to avoid future conflicts, perhaps we should give more support to the UN charter and the principles of international law. I am concerned that in the debate about Iraq we often forget that that war started after the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Many far-thinking people in the Ministry of Defence and elsewhere believe that we should withdraw from Iraq to put even greater resources into Afghanistan. The road to peace in the world does not lie in one war after another, after another, after another, with all the attendant attacks on our own, and other people’s, civil liberties that emanate from that. Surely, we have a big lesson to learn about how to bring about peace in the world.

When we come to vote on the motion, we can do so, whether or not we believe in the war in Iraq. I urge Members of Parliament to think a little bit further. We were elected to the House because we live in a democracy: we were sent here to hold the Executive to account, whether they belong to the same party as us or not. It is the job of Parliament to find out the truth, and to try to inform the public better how the war came about. It is therefore entirely appropriate that Parliament should vote for an inquiry, which should be conducted in depth. It should be detailed, public and, above all, far reaching so that we can learn the lessons of all those tens of thousands of people who have lost their lives in Iraq and so that at least that kind of disaster and tragedy could not be repeated somewhere else in some other oil-rich part of the globe.

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5.43 pm

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): May I begin by referring to an interest, declared in the Register, in a company that operates in Iraq?

I support very strongly the proposal for an inquiry made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), because the Prime Minister has shown that essentially he is still in denial about the policy over which he has presided for the past few years. On several occasions, I have heard him, when challenged with the drama, trauma and mess that have developed in Iraq, say, “I accept full responsibility.” Usually, when someone says that, they follow it with a second phrase—“And I acknowledge that we made a mess of this,” or, “It’s all gone terribly wrong.” The Prime Minister is an unusual phenomenon, because he says, “I accept full responsibility and I got it right. I continue to defend what I did.” Not only is that a rather eccentric approach but it damages the Government’s overall credibility regarding future policy in Iraq, and not simply the justification for the past.

We saw a remarkable example of the Prime Minister’s tendency towards double- speak in an article for which he was interviewed in The Economist on 31 May. It was headed, “What I’ve learned”, but when one read it, one discovered that he had not learned very much. He said:

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