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That belief was fed by grafting—playing on the innate jingoism of some journalists and newspapers, and some Members of this House, who swallowed the 45 minutes spin hook, line and sinker. The 45 minutes headlines in the newspapers went unchallenged by the Government, and that is significant. I would wager that had the headlines said the opposite—that the Government were lying about 45 minutes—they would have indignantly challenged and bullied. Their complicity with headlines about the 45 minutes claim shows exactly the game that they were playing.

This war, as has been said by others, has taken the lives of 150,000 people directly, and according to some estimates its consequences might have led to the deaths of another 600,000. The dead and injured, and their families, should be honoured in this House by an inquiry that will answer the fundamental question—why? I was not in the House at the time, but my answer to that question is that it was an odd, sycophantic desire on the part of Tony Blair to appease the discredited former US President George Bush. In my view, it is as simple as that. That is also in line with the intervention made by the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) on his feelings about what happened at the US ranch, where the two men connived for war.

The case for war did not last long. Four months after it started, the UK’s fig leaf of an excuse was starting to fall apart. After Blair had spoken to Congress, my right hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said:

That was six years ago. The Government have been ducking and diving, dodging and weaving, for six years over an inquiry into the Iraq war. Five years ago, as was mentioned earlier, Australia held such an independent inquiry, which criticised their own Government, but criticised other allied Governments far more greatly. At the time that the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was telling the House that we should not hold an inquiry, he went into a broom cupboard for a video conference with Congress in the Baker-Hamilton inquiry.

I have mentioned lives, which are important, but in these credit crunch times I would also like to consider the financial cost of the war. Last year, the cost of military operations in Iraq was £1.5 billion, which equates to £4 million a day. Approximately £6.5 billion
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has been spent since the war began, and I often wonder for what else that money could have paid in health, education and infrastructure, rather than being spent on destroying health, education and infrastructure. If ever there were a case for turning swords into ploughshares, the Iraq debacle of the Labour Government of 2003 makes it.

We need an inquiry to stamp out such behaviour among world leaders and aspiring world leaders. Let us just imagine, as the superpowers of China and India grow, their feeling that they could interfere in European matters the way that we felt we could interfere in middle eastern matters in the case of Iraq. What future do we bequeath our descendants if we leave them a world in which such behaviour on our doorstep went unpunished, or at least uninvestigated?

I draw hon. Members’ attention to an extract from, of all people, a former Ministry of Defence permanent secretary, Sir Michael Quinlan, who said of the former Prime Minister:

The hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) first drew that to the House’s attention in the debate that Plaid Cymru and the SNP led on 31 October 2006. It was damning then and it remains so; the passage of time does not diminish it. The very least that the families and the dead deserve from the House is a full inquiry into the war in Iraq. I say, therefore, get it going soon.

3.1 pm

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): My friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) talked about pressure on the day, way back in March 2003. At that time, the Prime Minister was having one-to-one meetings with Labour Members he thought could be persuaded to support him. After the vote, a colleague who had voted for the war said to me in the Tearoom that he thought he had made the biggest mistake of his life.

My friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) invited the Conservatives to show some humility about their role, because without them we would never have gone to war. Their fingerprints are all over the decision. Only six Conservatives voted against the war, whereas 140 Labour Members voted against it, as well as, creditably, the Liberals and the other minor parties. That is where we are. I have read the Conservative motion two or three times. It contains nothing with which I disagree, so I will vote with the Conservatives to support it.

Why do we need an inquiry? The answer is self-evident. The country was comprehensively misled, and we have been misled ever since. “Lessons on Iraq”, the Defence Committee’s report in 2004, stated that the

The Foreign Affairs Committee stated:

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when the Executive do not want to co-operate. Butler had a narrow remit. The report spoke of the deficiencies of Cabinet Government, saying that Cabinet Ministers were spectators rather than active participants. It was as though Cabinet was a vegetable patch.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Has not Lord Butler’s report done an important thing, which has enabled the House to set the Prime Minister’s public statements against the private Joint Intelligence Committee information that he received? It is clear that the Prime Minister omitted all the qualifications and provisos in the JIC material in his public statements.

Mr. Prentice: As I said, Butler had a narrow remit and what has subsequently come out tells a different story from what Butler said at the time.

The Hutton inquiry displayed the hidden inner wiring of the British Government, but it failed to take evidence under oath, as my friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) said earlier. When Lord Hutton appeared before the Select Committee on which I served, I asked him why he did not take evidence under oath. The Prime Minister was, famously, called before him. Lord Hutton replied that he did not think it was necessary. I believe that it is, and that the new inquiry needs to take evidence on oath to get to the truth.

There has been a cascade of memoirs. Of course, memories are beginning to fade, but some memoirs have been blocked. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who was our man in Baghdad in 2003-04 and served in the United Nations five years previously, right through the run-up to the war in Iraq, has written a book called “The Cost of War”. It has still not been published. When he appeared before the Committee in January 2006, he told us that his memoirs were

They are in the freezer and should be defrosted. Last week, the Justice Secretary, a former Foreign Secretary, told us that the minutes of the critical Cabinet meetings could not be published, although he went on to say that they would be released to any inquiry that was set up.

We need an inquiry. My friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), with all his experience as a former Armed Forces Minister, said that in his travels around the world he did not meet military people who were calling for an inquiry. However, the military top brass are calling for one. Lord Bramhall, no less, said that the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, failed properly to consult the chiefs of staff or his Cabinet colleagues before going to war. It is perfectly proper to have a senior military person on the commission of inquiry, as happened a lifetime and more ago in the inquiry into what happened in the Dardanelles. Lord Craig, former Air Marshal of the RAF, supports an inquiry. He said:

Memories do fade, as the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said. With every passing year, they dim. My friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has just published a book, “A View from the Foothills”, in which he recounts discussions we had with Tony Blair way back in 2002-03. I remember them, but one starts to forget the expression on a person’s face, the people who spoke and those who chose to stay
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silent and so on. Those things are all part of the story. General Sir Mike Jackson wants an inquiry now, not after all the soldiers have come back from Iraq.

We need an inquiry to establish the facts. We need to learn from what happened, and, most important, we need to ensure that it does not happen again. We must also rebuild public confidence. My friend the Member for Cannock Chase referred to the Public Administration Committee’s various reports on inquiries. Most recently, it produced a report recommending that Parliament set up its own parliamentary commission of inquiry.

Why do we have to wait on the Executive to act? We are told that Parliament is supreme. Why is it beyond the wit of MPs in all parts of the House who were against the war to come together and table a motion to force the Government to bring about such an inquiry? When Lord Justice Scott held his inquiry into arms for Iraq, which took four years, even he said that if Select Committees had had all the information that he had,

However, as everyone knows, Select Committees have their flaws. The answer is a properly constituted parliamentary commission of inquiry.

It is very important to take evidence on oath. The inquiry should meet in public, but with provision to meet in private if sensitive material needs to be considered. Civil servants and diplomats should be invited to give evidence when they feel they have something relevant to say. We had a diplomat and a civil servant before the Public Administration Committee last week. Brian Jones was our top man for chemical and biological warfare. He told us that before the dossiers were published, he had huge reservations about the claims that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and he was the man who should have known. He wrote to the deputy chief director of intelligence to register his misgivings. He thought that there very probably would be no weapons of mass destruction.

We also heard persuasive evidence from a former diplomat who resigned from the Foreign Office over the decision to go to war in Iraq. He was a man who loved his job and wanted to be a diplomat. He said that in the run-up to war

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

Mr. Prentice: I do not have the time, unfortunately.

That diplomat told us:

We were comprehensively led up the garden path and we need an inquiry. I do not know why the Government want to divide the House on the issue, because we all want an inquiry. If the question is one of timing, the combat troops will be out of Iraq in a few months’ time. Why can the Government not just break the habit of a lifetime and support what the Conservatives are proposing?

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3.13 pm

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): It is a pleasure to participate in this important debate. Let me begin with a quotation from page 81 of “State of Denial”, a book by Bob Woodward, famed for Watergate:

General Franks, who is in charge of the United States Central Command—

That was in November 2001. The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) made an important point. Memories may be fading, but memoirs are slowly coming out and more and more information is leaking out, so we are slowly getting more of the truth about what happened leading up to the war in 2003 and after.

Let me make my position clear. I was not in favour of an invasion at that juncture. I am a military person by background and I did not feel there was any evidence that we were under threat. That did not necessarily mean that we would not invade at a later juncture, but with everything that was in place at that point, I did not feel there was the evidence to say that an invasion should happen then.

Mr. Holloway: Does my hon. Friend think it was reasonable for people in all parts of the House to trust the assertion of the then Prime Minister that the war was necessary?

Mr. Ellwood: My hon. Friend makes an important point, because that assertion has now been questioned. Any Prime Minister now coming to the House saying, “We must now go to war,” will certainly be questioned in more detail. It is all the more clear why we need an inquiry into Iraq. What were the decisions? What evidence was the then Prime Minister seeing that made him come to the House and say, “You must follow me and we must send our armed forces to Iraq”?

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I never got an answer from the then Prime Minister to my question about why suddenly, in 2003, Saddam Hussein was considered a threat, whereas in all the years leading up to President Bush’s “Axis of evil” speech, in 1997, 1998 and 1999, there was no mention of Saddam Hussein being a threat.

Mr. Ellwood: The hon. Lady’s views are now on the record.

It was interesting to hear a former Defence Minister say that, even with everything he now knew, he still believed that war was the right decision, because Saddam Hussein was a bad man. Yes, we knew he was a bad man, but I thought that regime change was in fact illegal.

The second document that I wish to bring to the House’s attention was released today and is called “Pursue, Prevent, Protect, Prepare: The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism”. Perhaps “Plan” should be added—that is, we should plan for what to do
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if we invade a Muslim country, because if we do not have a plan when we invade, we leave a vacuum and extremists take over. That is exactly what has happened in Iraq and, unfortunately, something very similar is taking place in Afghanistan.

There are many questions that need to be answered. First, there are questions about going to war, weapons of mass destruction, intelligence, claims about 45 minutes, what Alastair Campbell’s role was and the absence of a second resolution. The resolution that we voted on in the House was 10 years old. How can we allow our military to go to war on the back of a resolution that is 10 years old?

That aside, it may be that Parliament in fact votes in favour of war. The more important question then is: how do we conduct ourselves in the aftermath of that attack? That is where we fundamentally failed our military. We went into Iraq—I pay tribute to 7 Armoured Brigade, which did a fantastic job in bringing Basra to peace—the dust then settled and our armed forces looked over their shoulders and said, “What next?” I believe that Tony Blair would probably still be in office had there been a proper plan and had we been able to move Basra forward and make it a safe and prosperous place.

The absence of a plan meant that nothing happened, and six years later we were still there, trying to work out what to do. That is not the way to conduct counter-insurgency; it is not even the way to get rid of a dictator, but it is the way the Government proved there was no planning. That is why we are calling so vehemently for an inquiry into Iraq. We had no plan, there was no strategy and there was no idea. There were no efforts to harness the euphoria of the fall of Saddam Hussein and to sow the seeds of governance. Without a plan, nothing happens and we turn ourselves from liberators into occupiers.

I ask the Minister: where was the army of civil servants, the linguists, the engineers and the planners? There were none. Where was the post-conflict construction plan that would lead Iraq into prosperity? There was none. I am afraid that I place a lot of the blame not on the military, but on another Department—the Department for International Development. Where was the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short)? I understand that she sent a memo round her Department on 23 March 2003, the day of the invasion, saying, “We’re not sure if this war is actually legal. Do nothing. Do not get involved.” The Department therefore sat on its hands for two months until eventually she resigned and a new person was put in, at which point the Department woke up and said, “My God, we should get involved here.”

That is where we let down our military. It meant its job got harder and harder, week after week, month after month and year after year. Looting turned into the development of militias, people grouped together to try to salvage some sort of livelihood and we became the problem. The thing that united these militias as we went in and around Basra and the palace was the fact that they all had a pop at our military, showing how we were regarded—as actual occupiers by that time. I am thus astonished that the Defence Secretary had the audacity to come to this House on 14 January this year and state:

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