Previous Section Index Home Page

Three inquiries—into the Crimea, Mesopotamia and Gallipoli—have already been mentioned, but one much more relevant inquiry has not been mentioned: the Jameson raid inquiry—[Hon. Members: “Ah.”] The key
25 Mar 2008 : Column 83
issue there was whether Joseph Chamberlain, without the knowledge of his Cabinet colleagues or of civil servants in his Colonial Office or the Foreign Office, conspired with Cecil Rhodes to launch that raid. It led, of course, to the disastrous Boer war, in which British casualties were incomparably higher than in Iraq so far—tragic though those have been.

The voting on the inquiry was entirely on party lines, as it always is in the end, so no one knows to this day whether or not Joe Chamberlain was a scoundrel. However, Enoch Powell, who wrote a biography of Joe Chamberlain, told me that when he started studying and writing about Chamberlain’s career, he thought he was a great hero, but by the time he had finished, he was convinced that he was a scoundrel. That is also my view, in that I am pretty certain that he had foreknowledge of the Jameson raid. I am also convinced that Mr. Tony Blair entered into a conspiracy—in September 2002, if not earlier—with President George W. Bush to attack Iraq in the early months of 2003.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: Would we learn nothing from the cross-examination of Tony Blair? During the Hutton inquiry, the Prime Minister was famously not cross-examined.

Sir Peter Tapsell: I am all in favour of the inquiry, because I should like to see Mr. Blair cross-examined on these matters. I have no doubt that after the American presidential election, when the new President takes over next January, the Democrats—if they win—will investigate all these matters, so we might as well do it ourselves.

I shall return to the question of Mr. Blair in a moment, but I think we must not lose sight of the magnitude of the disaster, and of the reason given to us for going to war. One would hardly believe that some of the speakers whom I have heard tonight were present when they heard Mr. Blair’s brilliant eve-of-war speech to the House of Commons, in which he made perfectly clear that regime change was not the reason why we had to go to war. The reason, we were told, was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could be mobilised within 45 minutes and which might not only put our troops in Cyprus at risk, but pose a threat to Britain itself. That was the basis on which we were told that we must vote for going to war, and the basis on which the country was led into the war.

A great deal of evidence about the intelligence on which Mr. Blair based that speech has been made public, and appeared in the various reports. It is perfectly clear that the evidence did not justify the terms in which he explained the position to the House. Even Lord Butler’s report, in mandarin English, makes that clear.

This sort of thing is not unusual in history. We need only think back to the meeting between Napoleon III and Cavour at Plombières, or Bismarck’s handling of the Ems telegram—to take two of the most famous schoolboy examples, about which we were all taught at the age of 11 or 12 in the days when history was still taught in this country—to know that political leaders do periodically decide to involve themselves in skulduggery in order to achieve what they think are foreign policy aims which it is desirable to pursue.

I am not just being wise after the event, as it is so easy to be, because I never believed in any of this at the
25 Mar 2008 : Column 84
time. I had known Iraq, although not as well as the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). I had been there first when I was 19, and a number of times since then. For many years I had been an adviser to the Central Bank of Iraq on the management of its bond portfolios, and I had met every leader of Iraq from General Nuri to Saddam Hussein. I therefore had some knowledge of these matters. I know many members of the foreign service who have served in the middle east, and none of them believed the story. Moreover, they were not consulted. That was the extraordinary thing: in the run-up to all this, none of the key people in the Foreign Office with great expertise on the Arab world were consulted.

Four months before the war, during a debate on resolution 1441, I said—if I may egotistically quote from Hansard

I said that in a speech on 25 November 2002—or, rather, not a speech: just an intervention.

It was perfectly clear to me then that they were not going to allow Hans Blix and his inspectors to do their job properly. Indeed, they started a whispering campaign to discredit Hans Blix and the inspectors because they were frightened of his integrity. They started saying “The man is unreliable, and all these people are absolutely inefficient.”

A month after the attack, at Prime Minister’s Question Time, I put the following question to Mr. Blair:

Mr. Blair gave a long reply, from which I shall select two key sentences. Members can look it up if they wish. In his reply, the Prime Minister of the day said:

Well, I never had to eat my words—and nor, I may say, has Mr. Blair, because he has never apologised for the whole thing.

The situation that existed then has led to a complete collapse of the balance of power in the middle east, which depended on the triangular animosities of the secular dictatorship of Iraq, the Sunni monarchical Government of Saudi Arabia and the theocratic Shi’a Government of Iran. Those three mutually conflicting animosities between the three leading countries in the middle east kept the peace. British foreign policy at its best has always supported the balance of power for that reason. By smashing the Government of the wicked Saddam Hussein they turned Iran into the major power in the area, and that has destabilised Islam all the way from Turkey to Indonesia.

25 Mar 2008 : Column 85

Mr. MacNeil: Is not the point that it was not the British who decided to do that? Was it not simply Tony Blair’s appeasement of George Bush that led the United Kingdom into that situation?

Sir Peter Tapsell: I think that that is so. I was in New York on the morning of 9/11. I was not there when the attack on the twin towers took place, because my plane took off for Denver 20 minutes before the attack. I never got to Denver, where I was supposed to be making a well-paid speech to business men, because the plane was diverted to Chicago. We flew, at about 5,000 ft, all the way to Chicago. The pilot said “I cannot say what has gone wrong, but we are flying to Chicago. I am flying by sight—I have done it before—because we are not allowed to use the flight guidance instruments.” As we came in to land, we could see 40 or 50 planes on the ground. When the plane landed, we were surrounded at once by the national guard with rifles and things. I had some difficulty in getting out of the airport. I knew Chicago very well, because—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I realise that the hon. Gentleman has a very interesting incident to relate, but perhaps it is for another time and place.

Sir Peter Tapsell: I can show that it is relevant. When I reached the not insubstantial comforts of the Drake hotel, where I was stuck for the next six days, I found Chicago in a state of the most amazing hysteria and panic, because—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will now relate his remarks to the motion that the Opposition have tabled.

Sir Peter Tapsell: The American people were so shocked by the attack that President Bush felt that he had to find an enemy to attack. All his speeches thereafter mixed together that wicked attack on the twin towers with Iraq, which had nothing whatever to do with it.

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Peter Tapsell: No, I must conclude.

The extraordinary thing about Iraq was that it was the one country in the middle east where al-Qaeda could not go. Their respective leaders were bitter enemies. Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein detested each other; they represented opposite ends of the theological spectrum in the Muslim world.

The American Administration led by President Bush wanted an opportunity to show the American people that they were hitting back in what they called the war on terror. They enlisted Mr. Blair’s support for that, and he dressed it up in the bogus phrase, liberal interventionism, which is in fact just an excuse for overthrowing sovereign Governments wherever we do not like them. If we were to attack every despotic ruler on that basis, the world would be in total chaos. I have no doubt that if Zimbabwe had had oil, we would have long ago thought it morally necessary to overthrow its leader.

25 Mar 2008 : Column 86

The fact is that we did not have to attack Iraq at that time, because under the no-flight zone arrangements Kurdistan was doing better than ever before, and there was no possibility of danger from Iraq. Israel is much less secure now than it was before the attack, as the war in Lebanon against Hezbollah has proved. We are responsible, jointly with America, for the death and mutilation of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children. We have driven the whole of the middle class out of Iraq. Some 4 million Iraqis have lost their homes. The water supply has gone and the drainage has gone, and the health service, which was the best in the entire middle east, has been destroyed.

There will be instability in the middle east for years to come. In my judgment, the attack on Iraq was the greatest strategic mistake that the west has made since our failure to crush the German militarisation of the Rhineland in 1936. The consequences of that went on for many years, and the consequences of our attack on Iraq will be felt for decades to come.

7.12 pm

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell), and I must say that I agree entirely with his analysis. I was opposed to the war, but not because I thought Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction. I thought that he probably did possess some residual capability of the weapons that we knew he had possessed in the Gulf war. There was evidence of that past possession, and in my view it was likely that he still maintained some capability. In the 1990s, however, weapons inspectors were crawling all over Iraq, and Hans Blix and his team and Mohamed el-Baradei were not able to gather sufficient or indeed any evidence to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein was a threat.

I was also very suspicious of President Bush constantly referring back to 9/11 and suggesting that Iraq was involved with al-Qaeda. He specifically said that Iraq

We know that that was not the case. Saddam was a secularist, and if anything he had a lot to fear from the likes of al-Qaeda. President Bush blatantly exploited his people’s fear and anger about 9/11. When I put that to the former Prime Minister, he did not explicitly come out in support of President Bush, but neither did he condemn that link. Indeed, on 20 March 2003, the then Defence Secretary, now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, told me:

He went on to say:

How can we take a Secretary of State seriously when he makes such comments to this House? In fact, I could not take at all seriously the entire evidence presented to the House, and I was very surprised that Opposition Members went along with the campaign.

It is time that we had a thorough inquiry into what happened in the run-up to the war and after it. I have reservations about the type of inquiry proposed, but the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks
25 Mar 2008 : Column 87
(Mr. Hague) implied that Her Majesty’s Opposition would give the House the opportunity to specify the kind of inquiry it wants.

Angus Robertson: It might be helpful if the hon. Lady and other Labour Members who are considering voting for the inquiry are made aware that the motion that stands today in the name of the Conservative party is exactly the same as the motion previously tabled by the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, having been drawn together by Members in all parts of the House to try to get maximum support. The motion under consideration has, therefore, been born out of views from all parts of the House.

Lynne Jones: I am aware of that. I was unable to support the previous motion at the time, because I felt it was playing politics and was personalising the matter. I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point, however.

Earlier, I mentioned the Butler report and the Intelligence and Security Committee, and I cited evidence that came to light in the Hutton inquiry of an e-mail from somebody called Matthew Rycroft to Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Clare Sumner, Robert Hill, David Manning, Alastair Campbell and John Scarlett. I shall read out the relevant parts of it:

A number of points are then made, and the message ends:

Those questions are still relevant and have not been addressed—and certainly not by the ISC or the Butler report. Ann Taylor was a member of the Butler committee, and she was also the chairperson of the ISC.

The Foreign Secretary was surprised that I cast doubt on the Butler report. I should like to illustrate why I cast doubt on it—and not only on its membership. I and a former Member of this House, Llew Smith, submitted a detailed dossier to the Butler committee. We focused on the Government’s claim that Iraq had sought to procure uranium from Niger. We asked many detailed questions, and we made 15 recommendations. I will not go into all of them, but the report is posted on my website. It asks some pertinent questions, and refers to the fact that I and colleagues had often received contradictory evidence in response to the many parliamentary questions we had asked, and that when we queried those contradictions we were referred back to the Butler inquiry. We were anxious that Butler examined this issue in detail, because it was one of the core arguments about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed to us.

We made 15 recommendations, and I wish to read out a couple of them. We stated:

We further recommended

The Butler committee did answer that question, concluding that it was reasonable for the Government to make their claims. The logic by which it reached that conclusion must be highly questionable. It cited information obtained from the International Atomic Energy Agency that makes it clear that not only before the war, when it presented its evidence to the UN in March 2003, but more recently, it had received no further evidence that would lead it to believe that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium from Niger.

The Butler report makes no comment on the fact that the international agency charged with looking into these matters did not believe that Iraq had sought to procure uranium from Niger, but simply talks about reasonableness. It states:

That is a risible argument. How can we take such an argument seriously? Yet, that was the Butler report’s conclusion.

Furthermore, that report did not take on board the argument that we had presented, which was that under article 10 of UN Security Council resolution 1441, member states were required to provide any information on Iraq’s prohibited weapons programmes, so either the British Government did not make that information available or they did make it available and the IAEA concluded that it was not credible.

Mr. Ellwood: I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady. Can she complete this study on the uranium, or yellow cake, by sharing with the House how it ended up being mentioned in the State of the Union address by President Bush?

Lynne Jones: It was mentioned in the State of the Union address, but shortly afterwards a withdrawal was made. The UK Government cited CIA intelligence in support of their argument that uranium was sought, yet the CIA did not support that; it simply reported that another state had reported this fact. There is no evidence of any support from America or the CIA. Again, Butler neglects that fact, which was again argued closely in our dossier.

All the evidence suggests that the United Kingdom Government were going out of their way to present evidence in a way that justified going to war. I could not put it better than the former member of the Defence Intelligence Staff, Brian Jones, who said:

Next Section Index Home Page