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Let us turn briefly to the contrary arguments. The argument about the four inquiries, which the Government present in their amendment, has been categorically
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demolished by several hon. Members. The shortcomings of the Select Committee process, which I would like to amend, are there for all to see from the comments that we have heard. As far as the Hutton and Butler inquiries are concerned, the terms of reference were deliberately—in my view—drawn too narrowly in order to preclude them from examining the wider issues with which we have concerned ourselves in this debate.

The second argument, which says that the time is not right, flies in the face of constitutional precedent. I do not refer just to Norway and to the Dardanelles; there is a much more pertinent precedent. When the British Army was last bogged down in a quagmire in Iraq, then known as Mesopotamia, in the summer of 1916, the official—Conservative—Opposition tabled a motion calling for a commission of inquiry into the Mesopotamia campaign, its inception and its conduct.

The motion was not moved, because they did not have to move it. The Government of the day accepted the principle, conceded the point and established the Mesopotamia commission in August 1916, while British troops—to answer the point made by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies)—were still in Basra. Indeed, while the commission was still investigating, there was a further push to central Iraq, to Baghdad. There was a commission of inquiry during a campaign that had cost the lives of 90,000 British troops.

If it was possible for the Government of the day to hold such an inquiry then, while the liberty of this country was at stake, why is it not possible now? One of the main charges that the commission laid at the Government in the Mesopotamia inquiry was that they were guilty of what it called in an elegant phrase, the misuse of reticence, or the culling of inconvenient facts to protect the official line—a practice that could as happily describe the Government’s Iraq policy today as it could the then Government’s policy 90 years ago.

This House cannot remain reticent; we must speak out. In the words of the special prosecutor in the case of the White House aide, Lewis Libby, who was sentenced this week:

It matters even more in “this little room”, to use Churchill’s phrase, because of what it signifies to so many millions of people. I hope that despite the difficulties that I understand right hon. and hon. Government Members will face, it will be possible for the House tonight to unite not behind party but behind the most basic principle that in this place, above all others, we must accept our responsibility if we are not to repeat our mistakes.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May I remind hon. Members that winding-up speeches start at 7.30 pm? I hope to call someone else, but I hope that Members will be mindful of that.

7.23 pm

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): I am very grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall, indeed, be brief.

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Of course, there must be and there will be an inquiry. I favour the type of inquiry that the motion sets out, and I have already indicated why I do so in an intervention. The Government’s reasons for opposing the motion are untenable. To deal with them individually and briefly, of course we must not damage or undermine the integrity of the elected Government of Iraq; but far more important than that, we must not damage or undermine the integrity of the elected Government of the United Kingdom. One great success of Iraq was the millions who voted in their election: one great failure of the United Kingdom is the millions who did not vote in ours. One reason they were alienated from the political process was undoubtedly Iraq.

It is myopic and false to suggest that there have been a total of four separate inquiries, and I shall not deal with that suggestion, because it has been rehearsed on many occasions. However, it is far more myopic and false to suggest that there have been four inquiries that have exonerated the Government, because they manifestly have not. The Butler inquiry in particular did not exonerate the Government. At paragraph 472, it said:

Of course, Lord Butler was speaking mandarin, a language in which he is fluent. In mandarin, “surprised” does not mean “Good Lord! Is that the time?” It means to be confronted with facts and assertions that are utterly incomprehensible. The question that he asked in vacuo was, “Why didn’t policy makers re-evaluate what they had sought in early 2002 when taking us to war in 2003?” He could not ask the question because of the terms of reference within which he was enchained.

One particular reason the issues were not revisited was that the decision to invade had already been taken—irrespective of the intelligence that was subsequently obtained. That, above all, is one matter than an inquiry must consider. The decision is to be found—mentioned not in the debate, but many times in America—in the so-called Downing street memo or minute, which The Sunday Times published in 2005, in an uncharacteristic service to this debate. It relates to a Downing street minute in July 2002, which records the report of Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, or “C”, as he was known. It reported that he had come from Washington, where, he said:

Not one word of that reached this House in the subsequent debates. Not once were we told that it was the belief of the SIS and its head that America had already made up its mind, whatever the intelligence. None of it came here. That is the first matter that must be investigated.

The second matter, which has been touched upon on numerous occasions, is the Attorney-General’s legal advice. On 7 March 2003 he produced for the Prime
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Minister an opinion that was hedged with doubt. He said that a reasonable case can be made; but two paragraphs later he said that a contrary case may easily and reasonably be made. Not a word of that reached the Cabinet or this House. Ten days later, a wholly contrary and completely un-hedged and unqualified opinion on the legality of war was given to the Cabinet. Not one word of explanation has been heard by this House for that sudden change to what has manifestly been perceived to be an illegal conflict.

Those matters must be resolved, and they are so important that party politics must be put on one side in order to obtain the inquiry. A fellow Back Bencher asked me a little while ago when we were discussing the debate, “Are you going to vote with the Tories?” The answer is no. I am not going to vote with the Tories: I am going to vote for an inquiry. I shall do so at every conceivable available opportunity, because it is in the interests of the country, of Parliament, and coincidentally, of my own party under its new leadership that we resolve this matter now.

7.29 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Earlier, Mr. Deputy Speaker suggested that there had been a late surge of interest in the debate. That has been fully confirmed by the quality of the speeches we have heard, not least that of the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). As is customary with him, he put the interests of the country and Parliament before his own narrow party interest—[ Laughter.]

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: That was helpful. Thank you very much.

Mr. Howarth: I always like to try to help the hon. and learned Gentleman.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) made a compelling case in principle for an inquiry of the type he set out, and the debate has illustrated that his view is widely supported on both sides of the House. It is thus extremely disappointing that despite the fact that the Foreign Secretary has had seven months to consider the arguments my right hon. Friend made previously, she has not been persuaded of them—unlike her right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Skills and for Defence, both of whom have accepted the case for an inquiry, although they have not put a timetable on it. The Foreign Secretary seems to be out of step with many members of the current Cabinet and—who knows?—possibly the next one, too.

The Foreign Secretary not only said that her position was unchanged but made the astonishing remark that accountability was now self-indulgent introspection. It is astonishing that she should have equated accountability in the House with narrow introspection. We make no apologies for holding this debate. She described it as opportunistic. If it is opportunistic to give right hon. and hon. Members an opportunity to express their views on a matter of major national importance, we are proud to have facilitated it and proud to have done so again today.

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Furthermore, in another astonishing contribution, the Foreign Secretary responded to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) by making it clear that she saw no merit in looking back to examine the lead-up to the war in Iraq. In essence, she argued that experience can inform neither the present nor the future. That is a serious indictment of her policy, and if it is the Government’s policy it is a serious indictment of their strategy, too. If we cannot learn from our experience, we are not doing a service as Members. It is significant that some Members who supported the war in the past have said that we owe it to the public to revisit the matter—the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) is one such Member.

I offer three reasons an independent Franks-type inquiry would benefit all of us, Ministers included. First, there is now almost universal recognition that there was a woeful lack of debate in the UK about post-conflict reconstruction. Paradoxically, in Washington in the six months leading up to the war there was talk of little else, but in this country—silence. The Government would not make time for a debate because they did not want to give their Back Benchers the impression that they had already signalled to the US Government a tacit commitment to provide British military support.

We had to initiate the debate and we did so on 30 January 2003, when my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) said:

During that debate, not only my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden but many other hon. Friends tried to get an answer from the then Secretary of State for International Development about what precisely the British Government had it in mind to do post-conflict. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short)—I am pleased that she is in the Chamber today—gave a lot of background about the circumstances and the lead-up, about Saddam Hussein and so on. However, she gave the House very little information about exactly what the Government’s strategy—indeed, the allies’ strategy—was for post-conflict reconstruction. All she said was:

That was virtually all the information given to the House.

The result was that Parliament had almost no opportunity to test the Government’s post-conflict reconstruction policies—how the country was to be run after the decapitation of the Saddam regime, let alone the rebuilding of Iraq’s crumbling infrastructure. It was interesting that Washington had a clear plan, although as my hon. Friends have suggested, it did not last beyond the first round of gunfire. None the less, there was a plan, which was to leave in place those who were running the infrastructure in Iraq, but that was not consistent with removing the Ba’athists from the regime. Save for the opportunities afforded by the Opposition, the House could not debate those matters and we are pleased to offer Members a further opportunity to discuss them today.

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As General Sir Mike Jackson, until last year head of the British Army, made clear in the Dimbleby lecture last December, the solution in Iraq does not lie simply with the military. He said:

Our armed forces are simply brilliant at getting things done quickly. I give the House an example. When the Select Committee visited Iraq less than three months after the war ended, we were given a briefing by a young captain from the Royal Monmouthshire Militia Royal Engineers and a senior warrant officer from the Army Air Corps. Within 13 weeks of the end of the war, they had already undertaken the refurbishment of 13 schools in Basra—a phenomenal achievement. We went to see DFID. What was it doing? It was still designing the forms. There was a grotesque lack of co-ordination between Departments, which is a real indictment. The military had done their bit; they had fulfilled their obligations, but unfortunately the civil side had not. There was no effective follow-up because there was no plan.

General Jackson argued that there should have been much greater co-ordination between Departments—a point also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood). The current Secretary of State for International Development seems to be moving in that direction, too. Recently, he said:

The second purpose of an inquiry would be to consider how we should adjust our whole military posture to the new type of military operations we face, including at the tactical level: whether our soldiers, sailors and airmen are getting the right training package for that type of warfare; whether, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said, we have the right equipment for the task; whether we have the correct balance of forces, and what needs to be done so that we do not become disproportionately reliant on urgent operational requirements—a kind of panic-buying formula—to make up the shortfall in equipment.

I do not believe that such an investigation would disrupt ongoing operations, still less that the armed forces would resent it. Between us, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks and I represent a large slug of the British Army and we have not heard it said anywhere that such an inquiry would damage the morale of those on the ground. They have acquitted themselves with enormous courage and dignity in a military operation that they know does not command universal approval at home. I believe that they would welcome any measure that would help to build public confidence that lessons have been learned.

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Significantly, when the Foreign Secretary was asked by the hon. and learned Member for Medway whether the military had given an indication that they would support an inquiry, she could not answer that question. Indeed, the Minister of State responsible for the armed forces could not give her any comfort, either. They both know that her point was bogus and invalid.

The third reason we need an inquiry has been set out by many right hon. and hon. Members: the four inquiries on which the Government rely as evidence that the House has had the opportunity to consider all the issues that have been debated today did not consider the issues in the round or in the way in which many right hon. and hon. Members would like. Simply speaking, those inquiries did not deal with the issues, or dealt with them partially and indifferently. We have heard at length how the Select Committee was treated contemptuously by the Government.

I make no apologies for mentioning in this debate and in this week, which commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Falklands conflict, the issue of combat stress among our brave service personnel. We are embarked on two war-fighting operations that involve high-intensity combat, yet unlike the second world war, when civilians in London and Coventry were being bombed out of their homes, or the Falklands campaign, when the entire nation was engaged and glued to the evening news to find the latest reports from the front, today the rest of us are enjoying the cricket—I do not know the result of the test match—[Hon. Members: “We won.”] We won, so the rest of us are enjoying the cricket, the motor racing and other relatively peaceful summer pursuits. This is a serious issue, and I do not want to demean it, but I want to make the point that the rest of the nation is enjoying the summer season, while our soldiers, sailors and airmen are engaged in bloody battles in the intense heat of the middle east. That experience will have an enduring effect on some of them.

I met such personnel yesterday at a Falklands drumhead service in Aldershot military cemetery in my constituency, and they are still suffering after the Falklands campaign. It is said that more men have died by their own hands since 1982 than the 255 who gave their lives 6,000 miles away. I am aware of the Ministry of Defence’s announcement today, and I welcome it, but it is insufficient to meet the challenge that we face. An inquiry of the kind that my right hon. and hon. Friends have proposed tonight would provide an opportunity to examine why we are doing so comparatively little to help to mend those with broken minds.

There is a precedent. In the Dardanelles campaign, it was said that the remit of the commissioners in that inquiry in 1916 included the conduct of the war,

I rest my case—there is a precedent as to why an inquiry should consider such matters, too.

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