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By the way, I never thought that there was any intentional deceit going on. Certainly there was not any on the part of the Prime Minister—but I thought that
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he probably believed too much in the story that he was telling, which made him inattentive, as we now know, to the fact that, as Lord Butler has told us, the intelligence was being used to carry more than it could bear. Therefore, it is crucial that we go back and find out exactly what happened in terms of the story that was developed.

Without making, I hope, a trivial party point, I suggest that there is one inquiry that the Opposition could have at once, which is to examine why they did not know and understand better the flaws in the story that we were given at the time. That is one inquiry that they have it in their control to put in hand now, because that factor was of extreme importance, as it turned out.

I want to pick up the point that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon made. Where does Parliament—

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but speaking for myself, I never thought that I would be led astray by my own Prime Minister in respect of security matters. It always seemed to me unnecessary for the House to be kept informed of the minutiae of security matters, as long as the Prime Minister knew what was going on. The fact is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) said earlier, the intelligence services were effectively suborned. That has not happened in recent history, and it is, in part, what has led us to the desperate situation that we now face.

Dr. Wright: I realise that that is the line that is given—that we were all woefully misled by the Prime Minister—but large numbers of Members of the House were not woefully misled by the Prime Minister. They interrogated the evidence, made political judgments and came to rather shrewd conclusions. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea has just told us that that is entirely what should have happened, so it cannot be simply that the Opposition were misled by what the Prime Minister said. The story is deeper, richer and more troubling than that.

I now want to talk about Parliament, because that element is the bit of the Opposition motion’s call for an inquiry that I dissent from. The Opposition are mistaken to call for a committee of Privy Councillors. Again, there is a story behind what happened. A couple of years ago the Public Administration Committee, which I chair, conducted an inquiry into inquiries; it was the first time that that had been done. We looked into the whole history of inquiries—who called them, how they were organised, and the whole shooting match. At the time the Government were introducing their own Bill—the Inquiries Bill—to regularise how a range of them were conducted. What became clear as a result of our inquiry was that Parliament had, through a complex process, effectively abandoned the field.

In the 19th century the parliamentary inquiry was the dominant form of inquiry. Reference has been made to the first world war and the Dardanelles campaign, but we could go all the way back to the Crimean war. The House established a Committee of inquiry to report on the condition of the Army before Sebastopol. Gladstone spoke against it, and it produced the downfall of the
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Aberdeen Government. However, as the party system solidified at the beginning of the 20th century, it became difficult for Parliament to undertake dispassionate cross-party inquiries. The example that is always cited is the Committee on the Marconi scandal. That parliamentary inquiry divided on party lines, and has been described as the first great whitewash. As a consequence, the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 was introduced, which effectively took inquiries outside this House, retaining only the requirement for a resolution of this House to set up such an inquiry. The establishment of an inquiry was still anchored in a parliamentary resolution, although the inquiry itself was taken outside the House. That in turn was also criticised. The Salmon commission looked into the matter, and now we have this Government’s Inquiries Act 2005.

The overall consequence has been that Parliament has been taken out of the picture. In our report of a couple of years ago, my Committee argued that we should not abandon that territory. There is a category of inquiry on issues of great political importance that only parliamentary politics can get its teeth into. I say, with great respect, that such matters are not for judges. We heard great evidence from the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, who emphatically said that there is a category of politically contentious inquiries in which judges should not be involved.

Therefore, there is a need for a specific kind of inquiry on matters that are not appropriate for the judge route or other routes—but Parliament has abandoned conducting such inquiries and is unable to undertake them through its existing Select Committee system. I am referring to forensic, fact-finding inquiries, such as the example we heard about in respect of the Foreign Affairs Committee. That is why I have a reservation about the form of inquiry proposed in the Opposition motion. We asked Lord Butler about this matter, and he agreed that it would have been better if his inquiry had been a parliamentary inquiry. He also pointed out that four of the five members of his team were parliamentarians, so it would have been quite easy to have made it a parliamentary inquiry. For the category of inquiries I am referring to, it is constitutionally important that Parliament as an institution can say, “This subject is of such great public importance that Parliament must set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry, beyond its Select Committee system.” That would involve bringing in outsiders, as required. However, Parliament must be able to do that.

Mr. MacNeil: Perhaps some inquiries would best be conducted by Scotland Yard. However, is the hon. Gentleman saying that if the words “Privy Counsellors” were removed from the Opposition motion and replaced by a loose form of words such as “MPs chosen at random”, he would support it?

Dr. Wright: Let me tell the hon. Gentleman exactly what I think, as this is important. This is what my Committee reported to Parliament two and a half years ago about the similarities and differences between the Privy Councillor form of inquiry and a joint committee of inquiry of this House:

That highlights the essential point. It is a truism that Oppositions call for inquiries and Governments resist them, unless they find it convenient to have one—and then, as Lord Heseltine has told us, they decide what they would like their conclusion to be and choose a chairman to make sure that they get it. That is what happens, but it is unsatisfactory if we believe that Parliament really is, as used to be said, the grand inquest of the nation. If it is that, it must have the mechanism to set up inquiries rooted in this place even when the Government of the day do not want them, and particularly where no other mechanism is suitable for the job in hand.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: I have been listening with great respect to my hon. Friend’s comments, and I would usually leap with enormous enthusiasm on anything that would enhance the power of Parliament, and in particular of Select Committees. However, I shall support the motion, because is there not a problem in this instance, in that we in Parliament were complicit in the decision to go to war? My hon. Friend is right to say that some Members did not sift the evidence with as much care as they should have done. He was not guilty of that, and I am proud to say that I too did not vote for the war, because I did not believe what we were being told. However, Parliament was complicit in the process—we voted for this. In those circumstances, is it not essential that an inquiry be taken outside Parliament, and away from those who were involved?

Dr. Wright: I draw the opposite conclusion. If we want to restore the reputation of this House, we must be able to show that we can do the kind of things that the public want us to do. They want to know where this war came from, in the largest possible sense. They want Members of Parliament, irrespective of party, to make sure that that job is done. That is what I strongly believe.

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

Dr. Wright: I wish to conclude, if I may.

I am weary of all the time being on the side of those who demand inquiries because that is part of the rhetoric of the job that we do, while not being serious about making sure that we put in place the mechanisms to give us the inquiries that we need. I want that to be the lesson that comes out of this process. I am sure that we will have an inquiry one day, and I hope that the Government will propose the kind of inquiry that I would like.

7.9 pm

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): I warmly congratulate those on the official Opposition Front Bench for bringing back to the table the call for a comprehensive inquiry into the Iraq war, which was first tabled last autumn.

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The motion is not about apportioning blame. It is about the House taking responsibility. To echo the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), it is about this House recognising our collective responsibility— notwithstanding that a minority of us voted against the motion before the House four years ago—and signalling our collective determination to put right the colossal wrong that was inflicted on the people of Iraq and this country by that vote. We cannot bring back the dead, but we can honour their memory in our sincere commitment to learn the painful lessons of these last four years. Only then can we rebuild a relationship of trust between the Government and the governed in this country, and between this country and the countries of the rest of the world.

As we have heard in this debate, the cost of this war has been immense in human terms: 150 British servicemen and women, more than 3,500 Americans and more than half a million Iraqi civilians. Two million people have left Iraq and a further 2 million have been displaced internally. Millions more, especially the young, as we heard from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), are scarred by hate, hostility and a passive acceptance of, or even positive support for, continued violence. The war has galvanised Islamic extremism, destroyed Iraq’s basic infrastructure, turned it into a fertile ground for recruiting terrorists, exacerbated the divisions within Iraq and fomented a civil war. It has diverted our attention from the very real threat of al-Qaeda, weakened our standing in the world, and undermined the United Nations and the rule of international law. All in all, it has made the world a far less safe and hospitable place for decades to come. This is the worst foreign policy disaster in more than half a century, and it would be a dereliction of our duty in this place were we not to hold an inquiry into this terrible debacle.

As has already been said, the damage done is not just the denting of public confidence in this Government; confidence in democracy itself, in any Government of any hue who will be faced in future with matters of peace and war, has been undermined. Indeed, on looking at the facts, the picture of manipulation and distortion and the absence of accountability in any real or meaningful sense is troubling to all of us—of any party and of none—who are concerned for the integrity of our democratic system. The Prime Minister developed more than ever before not a collegiate but a presidential style of government, with no effective input from the Cabinet or from Parliament because it and we were not in full possession of the facts.

As it happens, I do not doubt that the Prime Minister genuinely believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and the same is probably true of the Bush Administration. Why else were hundreds of millions of dollars budgeted for the destruction of weapons of mass destruction that never actually materialised? The question is: what was the basis for the Prime Minister’s belief? In a sense, it was belief itself—faith itself. As a former director of strategic proliferation in the US State Department, Greg Thielmann, said in July 2003:

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The Prime Minister subtly shifted his position from saying that Iraq had the potential to develop WMD—in the same way that Iran has now—to saying that it actually possessed them, when there was no basis for that shift in the information emanating from the intelligence services. What was a potential became an article of faith, and then became an established fact. He told journalists that Iraq had

and that the threat was

He said that Iraq was in possession of

yet there was no concrete evidence for any of this. It was assertion, which we now know to be entirely false. The intelligence at the time in both the United Kingdom and the United States was heavily qualified and non-committal, but the facts were fixed around the policy.

As far as the dodgy dossier is concerned, the serious charge levelled by the Butler report is not that the Government fabricated intelligence, but that they distorted it by leaving out the qualifications and the caveats. As Hans Blix so eloquently put it, the Government put exclamation marks where there should have been question marks, in effect misleading the Cabinet, Parliament, the Labour party, the public and the international community. It is our duty now in this place to find out how and why that course of action was pursued.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood was absolutely right in saying that the poor judgment and lack of candour that characterised the run-up to the war have also featured heavily in its disastrous aftermath. As we have heard, the most fateful decision of all was coalition provisional authority order No. 2, on the dissolution of the Iraqi army and the police force. Simply sacking close to three quarters of a million people—many of them armed, as we now know—and turning them into a vast army of the unemployed, alienated, humiliated and angry, was a monumental misjudgment from which Iraq has still not recovered.

The policy of privatising the state-owned enterprises had the same effect on the middle classes in Iraq, many of whom were employed by those companies. Interestingly enough, the only pre-invasion, Saddam era economic legislation that remained in place was a law restricting trade unions and collective bargaining. It would be interesting to hear what the Government’s view on that was at the time. The inevitable result of the wave of economic insecurity that engulfed Iraq was insurgency, civil war and political instability.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): The reasons we went to war, which the hon. Gentleman referred to in his opening comments, could perhaps be dealt with by a review at a later date, but the points that he is making now are the very reason we need an inquiry now. Reconstruction is still going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we need to learn those lessons so that we can make progress and make sure that we get Iraq and Afghanistan right, along with any other areas in which we are involved in a similar way.

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Adam Price: The hon. Gentleman makes his point very cogently. Iraq cannot wait for us to learn these lessons; we need to learn them now in order to inform current policy making, so that we do not make these mistakes in future.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman. If there were a contemporaneous inquiry, does he not think that, if he were a soldier or officer posted in Iraq who had also been there on previous tours, his mind might be on that inquiry, rather than on his current operations? Would such an inquiry therefore not be a profoundly bad idea?

Adam Price: I can only make my decision based on what serving officers have told me, and they have said that they want us to fulfil our democratic duty and to represent them by examining those difficult questions. Indeed, they have told other Members whom we have heard from this evening the same.

We need to know what the Government’s role was in the mistakes that were made in the aftermath. The Prime Minister said that the invasion had been subject to the

That clearly cannot be the case—we only have to look at the facts before our very eyes.

He accepted the Bush Administration’s assurance that it was

even though he had been advised by Britain’s Iraq experts at a Downing street seminar that that could very well be an outcome of the policy. Of course, we have now learned that the CIA advised the Bush Administration, in a paper presented to the President, of the very same conclusion.

Clare Short: That was the point that I wanted to put to the hon. Gentleman. The State Department’s preparation said that there was a real danger of chaos and internecine civil war, and that the answer was to take off only the very top of the Ba’athist regime and leave everyone else in place, because any professional in the country had to be a member of the party. That was the State Department’s advice.

Adam Price: Yes, and of course, we are still struggling to get the al-Maliki Government to reverse the de-Ba’athification policy.

Throughout the occupation and the aftermath of the war, the Government, conscious of the pressures of negative public opinion, have consistently underestimated the strength of the insurgency, consistently overestimated the capabilities of Iraq’s Government and security forces, and failed to provide Parliament with an accurate assessment of the conditions on the ground in Iraq. Given the catastrophic failure at the heart of the Government, to which the enduring crisis in Iraq surely testifies, the lack of a proper inquiry to date is an abdication of our responsibility in this House, which we must put right tonight.

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