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A second aspect that must be considered, mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Medway, is the legality of the war. I have never wanted to say that the war was illegal, because if I did, I would be suggesting that the British forces who went to Iraq were complicit
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in some kind of war crime, but certainly the legality of the war, and the justification by Lord Goldsmith, conveniently changed considerably in a 10-day period in the run-up to the war. There are many reasons to believe that under international law, the action, if not illegal, certainly pushed the bounds of legality in ways never experienced before. As the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) said when expressing his view of what a just war is, Iraq could not be considered a just war. It is absolutely right that we examine whether the war was legal or not. After all, what other reason is there why Lord Boyce—then Sir Michael Boyce, chief of the defence staff—sought the Prime Minister’s personal guarantee that the war was legal? He surely would only have done so if he had some doubts.

The next thing that we must surely ask—it is a question that I asked consistently at the time—is whether we were equipped to fight the war, and whether we had the right equipment. Certainly the troops that I saw preparing to fight the war did not have the body armour, the boots or the equipment to make sure that they could fight the war. Sadly, that is a view shared in many coroners’ inquests held since the war. We are not talking about a war that suddenly occurred; it was not like the Falklands, where we suddenly woke up one morning and said, “Oh my God, we’ve got to perform an amphibious action on the other side of the world.” We are talking about a war for which we were preparing, month after month, yet we sent our troops away inadequately kitted out. Certainly some inquests have suggested that some of our servicemen died as a result of not being properly equipped. What more serious criterion could there be by which to judge the value of a conflict? We are talking about a Government who sent their troops off, knowing that they were going to fight, without giving them the equipment with which to fight that war.

We have tonight heard references to weapons of mass destruction. There might have been such weapons years before, but certainly there were not weapons of mass destruction available to Saddam Hussein, ready to fire within 45 minutes, that could hit our bases in Cyprus; let us remember that the dossier suggested the contrary, as did the front page of the Evening Standard. They suggested that there was somehow an immediate threat to British troops based in Cyprus, and a threat to the troops who were about to fight—the troops whom, let me remind hon. Members, we had not properly equipped.

Reference has been made to Lord Franks and his inquiry after the Falklands. That was an inquiry on the workings of Government. I would certainly be happy if the inquiry that will eventually take place covered the workings of Opposition parties. I would certainly be prepared to stand by what we, as an Opposition party, did to oppose the war. Frankly, her Majesty’s loyal Opposition failed to oppose it in the way that they should have done. It is a matter of record that before Christmas in 2002, the then leader of the Conservative party was calling for military action to overthrow Saddam. That was before the dossier and before any talk of weapons of mass destruction. The Tories, and unfortunately their leader at the time, were as much cheerleaders for the war as any Member on the Treasury Bench.

Mr. Malins: Not all of us; not all of us.

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Mr. Keetch: Not every Conservative, and I certainly pay tribute to those who were not.

I want to make two more points. The right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) said that we went off to fight the war because of the appalling things that Saddam Hussein had done, and the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested the same thing. On one of my visits to Iraq, I was stopped by a sergeant from the Parachute regiment, who said, “Sir, why am I ’ere? I didn’t join the British Army to do this. I joined it to protect my family, to make sure that they were safe, to ensure that our country is protected, not to go off and fight war at the behest of the President of the United States, endorsed by the Prime Minister.” I have to tell the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley that there may have been a very good reason for attacking Saddam Hussein on humanitarian grounds, but it is easy to stand here and call for that action; it is less easy for someone who has joined the armed forces with the aim of protecting their country not to go off and fight someone else’s war.

Sammy Wilson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that bizarre arguments were made in the Chamber by the two Back-Bench Members who opposed an inquiry, especially as they could not say where we should draw the line, and which obnoxious regimes we would tolerate and which we would decide to send the armed forces in to topple?

Mr. Keetch: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea set out the reasons why a humanitarian war might be justified. Kosovo springs to mind: it was a conflict that my party and I supported, because there were clear reasons for doing so. We simply could not say that, however, about Iraq. If we did, we would say it about Zimbabwe and a host of other countries, in which we simply should not get involved.

Finally, the one thing we know is that sooner or later, there will be another conflict. Another Secretary of State and another Prime Minister will come to the House to ask us to support military action. The first thing that some hon. Members will say—and the first thing that our constituents will say—is, “Is this another Iraq? Are we going to be fooled, like we were fooled then?” At some point in future, there will be a war that we will have to fight, and from which we will shy away, simply because of what happened in Iraq. 9/11 started the process. I was in the Commons with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber on 9/11. We saw the skies being cleared, and we watched the aftermath on television. Once 9/11 had happened, George Bush had the authority in the US to do what he wanted to do, and settle his debts with Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, the previous Prime Minister went along with that. Unfortunately, the main Opposition party—or most of it—went along with it, and the result is the biggest disaster for British foreign policy that has occurred not only in my lifetime but in the lifetime of much more senior Members of Parliament. We should be ashamed, collectively, of what we did by sending our troops into Iraq. I hope that tonight we will start the process of atonement, and the only way in which we can begin to do so is to have a full, proper inquiry into the events leading up to war.

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8.23 pm

Frank Cook (Stockton, North) (Lab): I intended my remarks to be short, and I shall still try to keep them brief.

I should like to take the Chamber back to the original debate. Members who were there will recall that it was a lengthy day. There was a main Question, and there was an amendment. The text of the amendment was originally proposed by Lord Smith, who was then the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. A number of Labour Members got together to consider the text, and it was thought by some—principally me—that it was slightly inappropriate, and needed to be changed. Collectively, those Members decided to accept my suggestion, and that has a bearing on what I will come on to say. The text of the amendment was, in a way, the result of consideration by myself.

I sat all day through that debate, and I left the Chamber only twice—once to visit the rest room and get a cup of tea, and the other time, to respond to a summons from the then Prime Minister to his chambers behind the Chair. He called me singly. I had to wait to go in alone, whereas other Members went in in groups. A group went ahead of me, and a group followed me after I had finished. I was with the Prime Minister for about 25 minutes, and he was clearly in some distress. He begged me to support him on the amendment, but I pointed out that I was voting for the amendment. He said, “No, no, no—I need you to vote against it.” I said, “You don’t really need my vote. The Conservatives are going to support you on the amendment anyway, so you’re going to romp it.” He said, “I want to win it with Labour votes.” I said, “I’m sorry, Tony, you can’t have mine.” “Why not?” he said. I said, “For a start, I have sat in the Chamber for over four hours today, and I was informed by the Chair as I came out to see you that I didn’t have a chance of being called to speak, because I spoke for four minutes on the debate that was called during the recall of Parliament last year, for which I had to travel across the Atlantic, before going back again.” Four minutes in one year denied me any opportunity to register my views at that time.

I said, “Apart from that, I am partly responsible for the words on the Order Paper. I can hardly vote against my own text.” The Prime Minister pleaded, pleaded and pleaded, but I said, “I just can’t do it. I can’t even apologise for it, because that’s it.” The amendment, as the House will recall, said that Hans Blix and team be given time to finish the job with which they had been tasked. Blair said, “I really need your support.” He was distressed—he was chalk white, and was visibly shaking—so I said, “Tony, the best thing I can do for you is, once the amendment is defeated, although I would like to think that it won’t be, on the basis of clause stand part, I will vote for the main Question.” That is what I did, and I have to tell the House what I have told one or two people privately: from that day to this, I have regretted it to the bottom of my heart, and I am deeply ashamed that I allowed myself to do it.

As I went through the Lobby in the Division on the main Question, I got a slap on the back. Some Members will remember that I had trouble with my shoulders. Left wing, right wing—they were both troublesome at different times. I got a slap on my bad wing—my left wing; Blair was always keen to hurt the left wing. When I turned round, ready to use my right wing to reply to
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this pain, Blair was standing against the bookcase, still white, still quivering. All he said was, “Thanks, Frank.”

In a way, I am relieved that I have had the opportunity to confess openly to that this evening, but let me come to the question of an inquiry. I do not think that anyone is arguing about the need for one, and I do not think that anyone will argue about its breadth or the depth to which we should pursue it. There is great agreement on that, because it needs to start as early as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) said, and it needs to cover all the things that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) covered, and lots more besides.

But the question is when, and I am still not convinced that now is the time. Let me explain why. I was brought up as a child when there were big posters on the wall which read, “Careless talk costs lives”. We have been talking about previous inquiries, such as the Dardanelles in 1917—that was when nations were fighting nations—and Norway, when it was no more than a debate. We are not fighting nations now and we are not seeking a debate.

We are dealing with al-Qaeda, and with al-Qaeda we must deal with al-Jazeera. We have all experienced their great technique in handling modern communications. We have seen how skilfully they can misrepresent, and even now I can guarantee that they will be misrepresenting the kind of debate that this has become and the kind of self-justifying statements that have been bellowed across the Chamber.

I sympathise with the sergeant in the paras. Of course I do—my boy is in the Army. We care about every one of them, but we must make sure that we do not give hostages to fortune, and that we do not give encouragement to the terrorists that we are trying to combat. Let us not forget that not only is it not nation against nation, but we have the enemy in our midst. There was not only 9/11; there was 7/7 in a London bus and in a tube station, and we are creating enemies within our own communities by talking in this way.

Whatever inquiry takes place must be conducted on the right basis and must not be conducted in haste. I understand that we have the problems that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) has suddenly discovered in the past 15 months, in going ahead with an inquiry, and I commend him for recognising those problems. “It is not a trial,” he said, “or an impeachment.” On that basis, if he were running the inquiry, I could go along with it, but do you think that the Daily Mail would allow it to remain not a trial and not an impeachment? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway has already said that we cannot rely on the media. Well, we can, you know. They will make the worst of it that they possibly can, for their own political ends.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: I have been listening to my hon. Friend with considerable respect. I respect what he says, but if we are to allow fear or trepidation of al-Qaeda to dictate when we have our inquiries, when in truth will we have one?

Frank Cook: Like any sensible inquiry, it would commence once there had been a cessation of hostilities. Cessation of hostilities occurred when we signed peace agreements or when we declared an armistice. That is not possible with al-Qaeda, because we are creating
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more of them every day. As long as the terms used are those that have been used in the Chamber tonight, we have no more chance of getting a fair and free inquiry than I can fly, and I cannot and never will fly—alone, that is.

Yes, I support an inquiry, but not now.

Sammy Wilson: I appreciate many of the points that the hon. Gentleman is making, but given the tenacity of terrorism in our society—I look at the situation in Northern Ireland where, for 35 years, terrorists were able to hold the country to ransom—does the hon. Gentleman accept that if, as he argued, we cannot have an inquiry until there is a cessation of hostilities, it could be 30 years before we ever examine some of the events that we are discussing?

Frank Cook: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. With Bloody Sunday, it was 30 years. We did not have an inquiry into Bloody Sunday until we had a Labour Government. By holding an inquiry while hostilities continue, we would be creating more ammunition for further hostilities. I well recall that we always thought that the Irish question would never be resolved. Perhaps it has not been resolved yet, but we are a sight nearer to that than we ever were before.

Like everybody else, I am in favour of an inquiry, and like most of us in the Chamber, I want it to be as wide as possible, but to have it now would be the height of lunacy. I want to vote for the inquiry. Why? Because I want to achieve the final catharsis of the confession that I have made tonight. I look forward to doing so when I can, but that is not now.

8.35 pm

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook). He has long taken an interest in these matters and I found his account of how he voted in 2003 moving because it exposed many of the dilemmas that many hon. Members faced. I confess that I did not. I was reasonably clear about what I was going to do. I supported the Government’s motion and I shall come to an explanation of that later in my remarks.

I seriously disagree with the hon. Gentleman, however. The idea that we would give comfort to al-Qaeda by avoiding accountability through an inquiry or through the processes of the House is wrong. Let us consider what is happening in al-Qaeda in Iraq. I have a godson who is commanding an American infantry platoon in Iraq. He is about halfway through a 15-month tour and has very nearly been killed twice in the time that he has been there. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that al-Qaeda in Iraq is on the way to defeat. Further down the road there may be many more serious problems arising from the Sunni-Shi’a divisions in Iraq and the movement of Iraqis for power, but we are witnessing success.

Mr. Ellwood: One of the reasons why we need an inquiry into Iraq is surely that al-Qaeda was not in Iraq when we first invaded. That must be one of the basic reasons why we need a study of what went wrong.

Mr. Blunt: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

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There have been many brilliant speeches in the debate and I do not want to repeat arguments that have already been made by others much more ably than I could. I shall pick up one or two of the points that have been made and try to add to the arguments, and then come to my own perspective.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) said that an inquiry now might end as an indictment of the Government’s decision in 2003 and that would have consequences for our troops in Iraq. Our troops are now in Iraq on a wholly different legal basis from that in 2003 when they entered the war. They are there now on the basis of a United Nations Security Council resolution, at the invitation of the Iraqi Government. That argument does not hold water.

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

Mr. Blunt: I shall make a little progress, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me.

From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) said, in reference to Iraq and Afghanistan, that the situation was different altogether. I could not disagree more strongly. I shall come to the direct parallels that exist—particularly in respect of the overlap between our policies towards the police and the army in Iraq. We have totally failed to provide proper training for the police in Iraq; I shall come to that, and to what is happening in Afghanistan now, later in my remarks.

The saddest speech that we have witnessed in this debate was the Foreign Secretary’s. To say that the events today in Basra are an example of why we should not be having an inquiry now is to say the opposite of the truth. In Basra at the moment, what the Iraqi army is having to mete out to the militias—and, to a degree, to the Basra police, who are completely infiltrated by the militias—is a precise example of what I am talking about, because it all flows from British policy and action, in Basra in particular, in the past five years.

The most amusing part of the Foreign Secretary’s response came when my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) made it clear that the Mesopotamia inquiry entirely destroyed his arguments about the Dardanelles inquiry; the Foreign Secretary’s defence was that the shadow Foreign Secretary had not mentioned the Dardanelles in his argument in chief. The Foreign Secretary went on to say that the wisdom of the Foreign Office would always be taken into account. In the light of what happened in 2003, that statement is pretty amazing: the legal adviser to the Foreign Office resigned; a previous Foreign Secretary resigned from the Government; my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), the Foreign Secretary previous to Robin Cook, was against the war; and scores of retired ambassadors with experience in the region made public their opposition to the war.

Mr. MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman said that we are now in Iraq on a different basis, and he is absolutely correct. The motion asks for an inquiry into the Iraq war. We are not at war with Iraq today; we are in a different situation—a mess created in the aftermath of the war. The war is over, so there is no reason for not having an inquiry now.

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