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2.11 pm

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): First, I concur with the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) that it is probably members of the armed forces who served, and who are still serving, in Iraq who want an inquiry more than anyone else. They want to know the answers to certain questions to do with why this country went to war, because they have done everything that we have asked of them. The fault, if there is a fault with regard to the war, lies with us in this place.

No one could doubt that we need an inquiry now. We have seen the scale of the foreign policy disaster, and the scandalous presentation of the intelligence information in the lead up to the war, and now the troops are returning. Now is a good time to have that inquiry. I do not think that anybody can dispute the fact that the war was an act of great folly. We went to war on a false premise; there were no weapons of mass destruction. We removed a tyrant, but that was never the justification for the war. It has never been the justification for any war. The intervention has brought about the involvement of foreign fighters in Iraq, some of them al-Qaeda. It has meant that the balance of power has been disrupted, to the extent that Iran is now the predominant power in the region. It has radicalised parts of the Muslim world against us, and we have seen for ourselves the great sacrifice of our troops in theatre.

All that was done, I would suggest, to satisfy the hubris of a former Prime Minister who still to this day believes that it is better to err with the United States than to stand up and say to a friend that they got something wrong. An inquiry is required to examine not just the misrepresentation of intelligence in the lead up to the war, or the lack of post-war planning, but, to return to the point made by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase, our collective failure to reign back, or at least challenge, the hawkish ambitions of someone whom I certainly consider to be a rogue politician.

Nowhere is the failure—our failure—better illustrated than in the Iraq dossier of 2002. A good number of hon. Members present will remember that we were recalled in September 2002 to hear about what was supposed to be a very important document. It was an opportunity for the Government to share with the public, as well as with us, for the first time internal advice given to Ministers by the security services.

As a result of freedom of information requests made since then, and since Hutton, two things have become clear. First, the dossier was not, as our former Prime Minister claimed, solely the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee. Spin doctors were heavily involved on the inside of the process, drafting material, making suggestions and influencing the way in which the document was presented. Secondly, it is now possible, because of the wealth of information that we have received, even since the Hutton inquiry, from freedom of information requests, to piece together exactly how the intelligence reports were, to use that unfortunate term, sexed up.

Let me briefly touch on the role of the spin doctors. We have long known that the dossier requested by the Prime Minister was, in reality, commissioned from the chairman of the JIC by Alastair Campbell, who chaired
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the two planning meetings on the dossier on 5 September and 9 September. We now know that spin doctors were also on the inside of the drafting process. Nothing illustrates that more clearly than the fact, which we have since learned, that one of the press officers, John Williams of the Foreign Office, actually wrote a preliminary draft dossier one day before the official draft was circulated under the name of the JIC chairman, John Scarlett, on 10 September.

The significance of that document was downplayed by the Government during the Hutton inquiry. The Foreign Office was finally forced to make the dossier publicly available only last year, following a ruling of the Information Commissioner—a point that I raised in Prime Minister’s questions with the then Prime Minister. As a result, there is every reason to think that Williams was part of the formal drafting process, and that his influence was formative. For one thing, John Scarlett’s draft of the following day was circulated with an acknowledgment of

Indeed, it is possible to identify passages that appear almost verbatim in both versions. Drafting notes and instructions apparently originated by Williams also appear in Scarlett’s draft.

Out of fairness, I have asked the Foreign Office to publish any information that both people could have used as a common source of material, because one could theoretically suggest that such material was the reason the spin doctor or press officer’s draft, and the subsequent draft of the JIC chairman, were the same or very similar. However, the Foreign Office has continually refused to publish any such information. One can only infer that John William’s draft played a major role in the production of the draft produced the next day by the JIC chairman.

It is important to remind ourselves why the involvement of those press officers is so important. Lord Hutton cleared the Government of sexing up the intelligence only because he believed that


All the evidence suggests that that is simply not true. Once the spin doctors became involved, the dossier process took on a life of its own, and the JIC retained only a distant, supervisory role.

That the dossier was sexed up there can be no doubt. We have long suspected that balanced judgments and reservations expressed by the intelligence community were transformed into near-certainties, and now we have some of the evidence. One clue was given away in a response to an FOI request made only this month. An internal minute from Desmond Bowen, deputy head of the overseas and defence secretariat in the Cabinet Office, to John Scarlett, copying in Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, reads:

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He goes on to say that that is absolutely necessary. That is a damning summary of what went wrong in the dossier-drafting process.

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Baron: I will, but it must be very quick.

Mr. Truswell: The hon. Gentleman is constructing an admirable alibi to justify his party’s complicity in the decision to go to war with Iraq. If he was not involved in that, then clearly my comments do not apply to him. Some 140 Labour Members voted against going to war with Iraq, as did virtually the whole Liberal Democrat party and a number of other parties. However, only six members of the Conservative party did so, although so many Members across the House weighed the evidence that was before them at the time and drew a completely separate conclusion. Is this exercise not partly about getting his party off the hook?

Mr. Baron: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has only recently come into the Chamber. As one of those six who voted against the war, I will not bother answering that.

I am trying to build up a case for to why the intelligence was misrepresented to the House. That is one good reason why we were misled. I have no problem with any Member who voted for the war, because the Prime Minister was fundamentally misleading the House in presenting the intelligence that he did. It was very excusable to support the war at that time, when we were being told by our Prime Minister that the intelligence available to him had built up such a strong case for war.

But I accept that we as a Chamber and as a Parliament failed in our duty to question that Prime Minister strongly enough, which is why the inquiry should have available to it all the Cabinet papers leading up to that decision, because that will reveal that the decision was taken in July 2002 to go to war, the precondition being that public opinion had to be prepared in this country. That is why the dodgy dossier had such an important role.

Time is short and I know that others want to get in, so let me summarise. There is a clear indication that spin doctors played a fundamental role in the production of that intelligence, and that it had a mission to persuade a sceptical House and a sceptical public of the need for war. As I have suggested, the decision to go to war had been taken well before. There is a leaked Cabinet Office memo of 21 July 2002, which the Government have refused to dismiss as untrue and which was published in The Sunday Times. It makes the point that the decision had been taken, but a precondition was that the then Prime Minister had to persuade a sceptical public that war was needed. That was the importance of the dodgey dossier.

In conclusion, speaking from Iraq in June 2007, the Prime Minister said that lessons must be learned on the use of intelligence in the run-up to the war. Almost two years after that, the troops are returning home. Now is the time for action, not words.

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Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): May I put on record, as I always do in such debates, the fact that I recognise the courage, professionalism and bravery of our armed forces and the amazing job that they do. We must never forget how many of them have lost their lives in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and we must never forget those injured and the many thousands of Iraqi civilians who have been killed as part of the invasion of Iraq and the aftermath.

I have been to Iraq on a number of occasions to visit our armed forces personnel and my admiration for them knows no bounds. The last time I went we were in 50ยบ heat going into Basra, and the fact that they were able to operate, work and fight in such conditions is quite remarkable. They have achieved much, and we should not lose sight of that in the debate. Often they said to me, “We are not sure the Government or the country appreciate what we were doing out here. We feel we are doing a job.” Development is taking place, the Iraqi army has been trained and even the police are getting better. That is taking place to this day and has been outlined in the Front-Bench contributions. We should not forget the dangerous work that our armed forces personnel are still doing.

I, for one, will not run away from my responsibility for voting for the invasion of Iraq. I still believe that that was the right decision. If it had not been based on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, I believe that Saddam was such a destabilising influence in the middle east that, given his track record, we should have done all we could to remove him in any case. However, I accept the accuracy of some of the information that we have been given, and there have been a number of inquiries, so I will not go over all that again.

John Barrett: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Derek Twigg: Briefly. I am conscious that several other hon. Members wish to speak.

John Barrett: Does the hon. Gentleman recall that at the time it was put by his Labour Government to Saddam Hussein that if he gave up his weapons of mass destruction, he could remain in power?

Derek Twigg: That was a man who was completely untrustworthy, with a track record of causing conflict and thousands of deaths in the middle east. He was a dangerous, dangerous man, and I think the decision to remove him was the correct one and Iraq is a better place for it.

As I said, I will not run away from my decision to vote for the war, but I take exception to those who are trying now to blame the Government for the fact that we went to war, and those who do not accept their responsibility for not asking the right questions or for not taking the decision that they would have taken if they had known what they know today. I respect those who voted against the war. I did not agree with their position but I respect them for it, and they have every right to make the points they do, unlike the Opposition, who are trying to wriggle their way out by blaming it all on the Government.

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Iraq is still a very dangerous place. There is a lot of hard work going on there. I support the Government’s position on when a public inquiry should take place—in other words, that we should not announce it at this stage. We will have to announce one; that is the right thing to do.

I am struck by the fact that the Opposition have been telling us for years that our armed forces are overstretched, are too busy and have too much to do. There is no doubt that they are amazingly busy and have an immense amount to do, but the Opposition want us to start an inquiry and put more pressure on the armed forces at a time when we are talking about a draw-down from Iraq and changes in Afghanistan, with the American surge and the discussions that will take place between the Americans, the EU and NATO about our future policy and role in Afghanistan.

It would be wrong to announce an inquiry now. The key thing is to get on with the draw-down in Iraq and with the plans for Afghanistan, and not distract our armed forces and those in charge of them at this time.

The argument has been put forward from the Opposition Benches on a number of occasions that our armed forces personnel—the soldiers, sailors and airmen and women—are demanding an inquiry. That has not been my experience. In my many trips around the world to visit our armed forces personnel, I can hardly remember an occasion when someone raised the issue. I do not accept the suggestion that our armed forces also want an inquiry.

There is no doubt that we should hold an inquiry. I support that for various reasons, but I have explained to the House why I believe the Government’s position is the correct one at this stage. There is some suggestion that we are trying to cover things up or hide them away. Several inquiries have already taken place—Hutton, Butler, the Intelligence Committee and the Select Committee. There have been numerous debates in the House about the reasons for the invasion, the aftermath, the way we have dealt with it, the military operations and so on. The suggestion that we are trying to hide from debate is plain wrong.

We already know about some of the issues, such as the 45 minutes and the weapons of mass destruction. I recall that Butler said in his report that it would be a rash person who claimed that stocks of biological or chemical weapons would never be found in Iraq. I do not know whether they will or not, but we do know that mistakes occurred there. We know about the problems caused by the disbandment of the Iraqi security forces, the army and the police, and no one doubts that that was a mistake. We know that some of the tactics that we employed in the counter-insurgency war, and the development issue, the lack of civilian involvement and the slowness in moving things on were mistakes. That is not hidden away, so I am not sure what the inquiry will reveal that we do not already know about those aspects.

We know what the intelligence failings were. I disagree that the then Prime Minister or the Government deliberately misled the House. There is no evidence to support that from the inquiries that have already taken place. It is a smokescreen used by people who opposed the war or want to be seen to have opposed it because they did not believe the information that was given to them.

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

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Derek Twigg: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, time is tight and many of my hon. Friends wish to speak.

The House had ample opportunity to question the Government and Ministers about the issues before the invasion and since. I do not accept that the Government are hiding anything in any way.

I can think of few perfect wars. There are always problems when military action is taken, for whatever reason. I shall not go into all the historical reasons, but the planning can go wrong, things can go wrong on the ground and there are issues of equipment and supplies. Over the centuries, there have always been such problems in war and it is wrong to suggest that there is such a thing as a perfect war. However, we should always learn lessons. One obvious issue is whether mistakes in previous wars from which we should have learned have been made again; the inquiry that has to take place should look into that important issue. That inquiry should not only take account of the decisions leading up to the war and the discussions that took place, but go back well before that to consider our relations with Iraq and Saddam’s regime.

For me, the key thing is that the inquiry should draw in all those elements and put them together in a full report, so that we can see what happened stage by stage. All the published reports to which I have referred should be included, as should be the additional information that might well come out of the inquiry’s investigation. I am sure that the House would have ample opportunity to discuss such issues when the inquiry report was published.

As I said, I still believe that the decision to go into Iraq was right. Saddam was a terrible destabilising influence in the middle east; he was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of his own people and others in the region. I believe that history will show that we did the right thing. Iraq still has lots of difficulties and problems, but it is in a position to move forward again on its economic development, its schools and its democracy in Government. We must give it our full support.

I finish by saying that whatever happens and however the House deals with this issue, we must always bear it in mind that when we send our armed forces out there, they are doing the bidding of the Government. They have gone out and done a remarkable job, and many rightly feel that they have achieved much amid terrible sacrifice and terrible conditions. I would not like our armed forces personnel, who have been fighting, working hard and supporting development in Iraq and Afghanistan, to feel in any way that their efforts have been worthless—they have not been—or that their efforts have not been fully appreciated by the country. I am sure that they have been. They are the finest armed forces in the world, and we should continue to support them in all the ways we can.

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