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Those statements are totally inconsistent. Whatever the truth, and none of us can be sure either way—and that is my point—a much tighter degree of parliamentary oversight is clearly needed to ensure the integrity of the intelligence services’ advice. The committee of inquiry ought to spell out in some detail how that might work.

The Attorney-General’s advice on the legality of the war was disclosed in full, well after the event, only because of the fear that it would be leaked bit by bit, damagingly, in the immediate run-up to the 2005 general election. That is not an acceptable precedent. We need a firm Government commitment that the Attorney-General’s advice will always, in such circumstances, be published uncensored. Furthermore, reference should also be made to any significant dissenting voices, such as Elizabeth Wilmshurst’s from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and to the grounds on which that dissent is argued.

Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): I served as a soldier and a television correspondent during the war-fighting phases of both wars, and lost a number of friends and colleagues. Before the war in 2003, a friend who was well looped-in to intelligence about the war and what was going on told me that there was not a shred of evidence of useable weapons of mass destruction, and no connection whatever between Saddam and al-Qaeda. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the inquiry should include an investigation of the activities of middle-ranking officers in the intelligence services and the Ministry of Defence?

Mr. Meacher: The whole point of having a committee of inquiry is to examine how sensitive issues of intelligence data and of national security—a blanket term that can be easily extended for the Government’s convenience—can be made available in a way that allows the public and Parliament to take a serious and informed view. We cannot generalise about that; the matter needs to be considered with great care. That is exactly why a committee of inquiry ought to be asked to do that. If we are to have a parliamentary vote, which I strongly support—I have tabled a Bill to precisely that effect—we need to know the evidence by which an informed view can be taken.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: I do not anticipate this point being contentious. Will my right hon. Friend extend his comments about the Attorney-General’s advice to all advice given by the Attorney-General? In the case under discussion, two bits of advice were given. The first was wholly different from the second, and its existence was not even revealed to the Cabinet.

Mr. Meacher: The second bit of advice is the crucial one. I understand my hon. and learned Friend’s point about the distinction between the two. We learned in full—in more than 17 pages—the Attorney General’s detailed recommendations to the Prime Minister only because of the accident of an upcoming general election. That is totally unsuitable. In such circumstances, all the
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recommendations of the Attorney-General, especially those carrying the most authority, should be made available.

The inquiry should examine the key question of the accountability of the Prime Minister to Parliament in such circumstances, and how it can be strengthened. I very much welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to a parliamentary debate and vote before Britain is taken to war in future, which is absolutely right. The implication of the Iraq saga in that context is clear: the evidence to justify a decision to go to war must be made available to Parliament in detail, involving, where time allows, rapid and rigorous scrutiny by a Select Committee, which would then report to the House to inform the debate.

None of the four pre-existing inquiries examined in much detail the aftermath of the war. Arguably, the lessons to be learned from that are even more important. The prime question is: what were the real objectives of the US-led invasion? To what extent did the UK agree with those objectives? How consistent were they with the creation of a democratic, secure, independent Iraq, which we would all wish to see?

Many key issues deserve close attention from an inquiry, and have so far not been examined at all. Was there, initially, a reconstruction plan for the recovery of Iraqi industry and civil society? If so, what part did Britain play in it? Did we seek to avert the crass mistakes of the early Bremer administration, including the rapid disbanding of Iraqi military and security forces, the almost total neglect of essential, basic public services—clean drinking water, electricity and hygiene—in favour of taking over the oilfields, and the 100 or so Bremer orders for the wholesale privatisation of Iraq? Did we have any role in any of those decisions? I would also expect a committee of inquiry to examine what part the UK authorities might have made played in the machinations, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) referred, behind the current Iraqi oil law, which looks set to deprive the Iraqi state, utterly debilitated as it is, of its one, enormous, indigenous asset.

Of course, the most important question now, the Iraqi invasion and occupation being seen for the catastrophe that they are, concerns the exit strategy. Britain’s own Army chiefs, public opinion in this country—consistently—and, indeed, the stated demands of the Iraqi Prime Minister are all calling for a speedy departure from Iraq. Of course a committee of inquiry will not settle a matter of that kind, but I think it could usefully give advice on some of the options and issues relating to it. I therefore believe that a further committee of inquiry, different from and more far-reaching than those that have preceded it, is still very much needed.

As I have said, I do not support the Opposition motion because I think it is wrongly structured, and the right structure is central in this instance. However, I do believe that the establishment of such an inquiry in a different form, with the kind of remit that I have sketched out and subject to the full approval of the House, cannot be delayed indefinitely. I hope very much that the Government will return to this issue very soon.

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6.41 pm

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): The right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) has posed some of the questions that an inquiry should look into. I want to return to the question of whether we should have an inquiry, rather than discussing the question of what it might do or what findings it might come up with.

I want to deal with two specific issues. First, I want to nail the idea that the time is wrong for an inquiry. The time is certainly wrong for an inquiry about what we should be doing in Basra right now, or what General Petraeus should be doing in Baghdad and the Sunni areas right now—but there is absolutely nothing wrong with an inquiry into how we became involved in the war. What were the relationships between the Prime Minister and the President? When were the decisions actually made? How was the intelligence got so wrong, and how was it so badly misinterpreted and/or mis-sold to Parliament? What part did we play in the mistakes made by the Bremer administration, and did we argue against them or were we fully on side?

Those mistakes are in the past. I believe that we can inquire into them properly without in any way undermining the authority or effectiveness of what our troops and our coalition partners, particularly the United States, are trying to do in Iraq. I believe that it is a red herring for the Government to say that the timing is wrong. The timing is certainly wrong for a whole inquiry, but there would be nothing wrong with the timing of the first part of an inquiry, looking into how we reached this point and how such big strategic mistakes were made.

The second lie that I want to nail, which is in the Government amendment, is that there have already been four inquiries. The right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton dealt with that to some extent, but I want to deal with it in a little more detail, because I was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee that reported on the issue.

The Hutton inquiry was nothing to do with the war in Iraq. It was to do with the death of Dr. David Kelly. The terms were drawn up by the Government and were very tightly prescribed, although the Government were extremely generous with witnesses and papers. They did not show such generosity to the Foreign Affairs Committee. The Hutton inquiry obtained every witness that it wanted, but it was nothing to do with the intelligence or the decisions that put us in this situation in the first place.

The Butler inquiry was useful. It examined the intelligence, and it was the only inquiry that found anything particularly new. It produced some very damaging evidence, mainly about the style of government—which I think tells us something about the process by which the issues were considered—but also about the fact that intelligence was at least mis-sold to Parliament, and did not quite justify what was in the September 2002 dossier.

The third inquiry was conducted by the Intelligence and Security Committee. The ISC is not a Committee of Parliament. It is appointed under statute by the Prime Minister, it reports to the Prime Minister, and for obvious reasons all its evidence sessions are held in private. Its original role was overseeing the intelligence
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services. It was not designed to inquire into particular uses of intelligence or particular policy decisions made on the basis of that intelligence, with or without it. It was designed to have oversight of the security services, which were felt not to be accountable to Parliament in any way, because accountability other than through departmental Ministers was very difficult. The Government, however, have used it as something to hide behind.

I was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee for, I think, seven years, until a few months ago. The Government would say, “Oh, we’ll give that intelligence to the Intelligence and Security Committee,” as though that were an alternative to giving it to the Foreign Affairs Committee, when what was at stake was actually a foreign policy decision. I do not think that the Intelligence and Security Committee counts. The Committee that counts is the Foreign Affairs Committee, and our inquiry was obstructed by the Government.

I cannot remember another instance since I have been in the House of a Select Committee’s publishing a special report to the House saying that its inquiry was obstructed, and inviting the House to consider what it might do as a result. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) listed some of the witnesses and papers that we were refused. Our report stated:

It was a unanimous report, produced by a Committee with a Labour majority. The only way in which the Committee could have sought to insist on the attendance of witnesses would have been to seek a resolution of the House, which, effectively, would require Government approval.

I think that Parliament must decide whether it is serious about its Select Committees. We are pretty awful at holding the Government to account. So was the Labour party when we were in government, and so it will be again when we are back in government. I do not think that this is a party political issue. I think that the House must decide whether it is serious, and if it serious, whether Select Committees are the answer. We need a better mechanism than having to come back here and pass a resolution of the whole House to force the Government to comply with requirements with which they have already effectively agreed to comply.

Our Committee asked for named civil servants and specific pieces of paper, and was denied them. We received a letter saying, “The Foreign Secretary will answer for all these people.” That is not what the rules say. When Robin Butler was the permanent head of the civil service he reinforced the Osmotherly rules, which stated that if a Committee asked for a named civil servant, that civil servant had a duty to attend. In exceptional circumstances, it might be necessary for civil servants’ Ministers to answer for them. But we were not offered the Secretary of State for Defence, and we were not offered the Prime Minister himself. We were offered the Foreign Secretary to answer for all those civil servants, and I think that that was unsatisfactory.

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It is interesting to note that all those people attended the inquiries of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and the Hutton inquiry. At the Hutton inquiry they gave evidence in public. All the papers that the Foreign Affairs Committee requested—which we were prepared to take on restricted terms, as we have with many other papers in the past—were offered to those inquiries quite openly. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) will wind up the debate. If not, I ask him to invite the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram) to deal with this issue. The Government must stop saying that there has been an inquiry of the House just because the Foreign Affairs Committee conducted an inquiry. We were obstructed, and we published a report saying that we had been obstructed, to which all the Committee’s Labour members subscribed.

Our motion calls for—and everyone talks about—an external inquiry, as if we were incapable of performing this function for ourselves. I return to my point that the main function of the House of Commons, or at least of those Members who are not in the Government, is to hold the Government to account. One of our mechanisms for doing that is Select Committees. We should not abdicate the first difficult inquiry to a judge, as someone suggested. I happen to think that a High Court judge is the last person who should conduct such an inquiry. It would take five years, we would end up with a million volumes of evidence, and—as happened with the Scott inquiry—all who wished to do so would be able to pick out some bit of it that suited their argument. We need the House to be able to perform its functions. I think that if our Select Committee had been given the powers that it was supposed to have, we could have done it, although we might have needed some additional resources. The first step should be a Committee of the House; we should not be abdicating our responsibilities to other people.

Mr. MacNeil: Is there not an overwhelming sense that the Government’s resistance to an inquiry is conveying to the public and the wider world the idea that they really do have something, perhaps many things, to hide?

Mr. Maples: I do believe that. Certainly we were not able to get to the bottom of the situation. The dossier of September 2002 was full of holes, and we picked up quite a lot of them. I think that the intelligence information was misrepresented, to put it at its most neutral. I suspect that, as someone suggested earlier, the decision was made six or nine months earlier, and the document was used merely to support a decision that had already been made.

What lessons might we learn from an inquiry at least into how we got into this position? There are a series of questions to be asked about how we can get out of it and where we can go from here in the middle east, and I think that we will feel the repercussions for a long time. However, there is one serious lesson that I believe most of us have learnt. It is important because of the position in relation to Iran and the possible, indeed almost certain, development of nuclear weapons, which I believe will confront us with a much more serious strategic and
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security threat than we ever faced in Iraq, or in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda’s bases there. It goes back to the Prime Minister's philosophy of intervention. I have always been dubious about the concept of humanitarian intervention. I do not believe that it exists in international law otherwise than through a resolution of the United Nations Security Council. In fact, in the mid-1990s, the Foreign Office published a quite lengthy refutation of the concept, saying that it did not exist.

The Prime Minister elevated that to a doctrine, and took it rather further in his famous Chicago speech. We got away with it in Sierra Leone. It was a little place and we could deal with it with one naval warship. We achieved some good; I concede that. We were jolly lucky in Kosovo. We got away with that by the skin of Martti Ahtisaari’s teeth. I do not know what he said to Milosevic to make him change his mind, but we were very lucky that we did not have to make a ground invasion of that country and make good our promise.

I would thought that someone who really thought about such things would have said at that moment, “Gosh. Hang on. That was almost the one too far,” but no, we had to test that concept again. We have now realised that there is a limit to what we can achieve with that sort of intervention, and it is pretty close to home. If our security is not at stake, there has to be an overwhelming humanitarian case—genocide or a situation on the verge of genocide—and it has to be clear that we can make a difference by intervening. If we intervene because we do not like the look of a Government, there is a long list. There must be 100 whom we do not like the look of—starting, as someone said, with Zimbabwe perhaps. There are many others around the world.

Therefore, the limits to the concept of intervention have been clearly brought home to us. We should reserve the huge punch that we have with our armed forces for situations where it is vital, and where we can succeed.

The main point that I want to come back to is that the inquiry should start in this House. It has Select Committees to do these things, and those Select Committees can do them—if they are given the powers, and if the Government do not obstruct them.

6.51 pm

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): I want to follow the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) by saying something about Parliament, because he is on to something extremely important, and we should not give away to other people Parliament’s ability to do things that Parliament should do. First, however, I shall return to a remark by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who said that what had happened in Iraq was, in his words, predicted and predictable. I could not help but think, when I listened to him, that that was not something that the Conservative party—the official Opposition—knew at the time. If so, the massed ranks of Her Majesty's Opposition would not have been urging action on the Government. Indeed, the then leader of the party was irritated whenever Labour Members raised questions about the basis on which the strategy was being conducted. Therefore, a certain amount of humility and contrition is required on the Conservative Benches. As it happened, Conservative Members had it
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within their power to prevent the action from taking place. It has to be said that the questions were being asked entirely from the Labour Benches, and the people who dissented—although there were some honourable exceptions—were overwhelmingly to be found on the Labour Benches.

The reason the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who was one of those exceptions, was right to use the words “predicted and predictable” is that many of us, even when we wanted to—I was certainly in that category—could not find a way to make the story and the narrative that were being given to us about the basis for taking military action stack up. I wanted it to stack up. I have felt guilty since about not supporting action to take the world's worst tyrant out of the picture, but the fact is that I could not find a way of telling the story that made it add up.

I could not see a way of telling the story that altered the fact that Iraq was a regime contained. It was extremely vile, but it was not threatening us or the security of the world. We knew that it was not connected to al-Qaeda. In fact we knew that it was important in suppressing al-Qaeda. We thought that there was an agenda on the American right that was pushing military action as part of a wider plan for the middle east and the world, but we could not understand why we wanted to attach ourselves to it. Probably most importantly of all, we also thought that the action was likely to increase terrorism rather than to diminish it. The huge tragedy is that in the wake of 9/11 the world, with very few exceptions, turned in solidarity to the United States, yet within two years that solidarity was blown away by what happened next.

That is why the situation was predicted and predictable. It was pretty obvious, if we explored the story that was being given, that that was a likely consequence. Indeed, we discovered afterwards that the Intelligence and Security Committee had said in terms that terrorism was likely to be increased by the action that was taken.

Mr. Ellwood: I think that the hon. Gentleman is being slightly disingenuous. I did not support the war itself, but the hostilities finished about May 2003. A vacuum was caused, and we did not fill that vacuum with a proper Iraqi structure. That is why we are heading towards a civil war. Had that planning taken place, things would have been different. That has nothing to do with the war itself. The hon. Gentleman is blurring the two issues—something that has happened again and again.

Dr. Wright: I was not blurring the two issues. I was talking precisely about the genesis of the war, which would be a major focus of any inquiry. A further focus would, of course, be the failure to plan for what happened afterwards, but the genesis of the war is at the heart of what we are talking about. I took that to be the burden of the point that was made by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea. Therefore, we have to revisit those events and to see why, if they were so predicted and predictable, they nevertheless happened.

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