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and referring to


Sir John Chilcot, the chairman of the inquiry, was a member of the Butler inquiry into the use of intelligence in the run-up to the war and has therefore helped to produce a whole report on one aspect of the war, let alone comment on it. All those people have commented on the war, and in some cases liberally so. In the light of that, how the Prime Minister came to think that none of the people appointed to the inquiry had commented on the Iraq war defies imagination. It is quite hard to think
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how he could stand up in this House and justify the exclusion of others on the basis of an argument so obviously and totally inaccurate in its very foundations.

When the Foreign Secretary comes to reply, perhaps he will explain the answer to these questions. First, is it still the Government’s considered view that it is not necessary to have on the inquiry anyone with substantial military, governmental or, indeed, legal experience? Secondly, if that is still their view, what is the real reason for that view, given that no credence whatever can be attached to the reason given last week by the Prime Minister? Thirdly, as Sir John Chilcot has tried to deal with part of the problem by having a military assessor attached to the inquiry, what possible reason is there not to have that military assessor as a full member of the inquiry? Fourthly, has the Foreign Secretary or anyone else asked Sir John Chilcot whether he would like the expertise that I have described among the inquiry’s membership, and if not, why not?

It must be clear by now that the inquiry that Ministers announced was not remotely modelled on the Franks inquiry—not in its membership, not in its terms of reference, not in the House’s ability to approve the terms of reference and not in the consultation process that preceded it. The Government decided to adopt the one aspect of the Franks inquiry that suited them—that it was held in secret—and say that they had announced something like the Franks inquiry.

The Prime Minister made much of that last week, saying that I had asked for a Franks-style inquiry, which he said

He also said:

In fact, we have never called for a secret inquiry. In one of the all too many speeches that I have given in the House on this matter, I argued in the debate two years ago not only that the membership of the inquiry should

but that it should be able

The Prime Minister is happy to state in this House that the Opposition had asked for a secret or private inquiry, but the fact that we had said that it should be able to hold some of its sessions in confidence hardly equates to that.

In that same debate two years ago, hon. Members in all parts of the House were clear that the inquiry should be open. Indeed, I recall one hon. Member who was a Back Bencher at the time saying that

That was the demand of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who is now the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I am confident that he still holds the same view, although “fully in the open” goes beyond anything that we have asked for or that the Prime Minister has countenanced. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman’s views were never asked for—or perhaps they were ignored.

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The Prime Minister went on to assert that a more open inquiry would be bad for the armed forces. No sooner had he said that than he was contradicted by a mass of military figures. The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, said that a part public, part private inquiry was an option

General Sir Mike Jackson, head of the Army during the Iraq invasion, said:

Air Marshal Sir John Walker, the former head of defence intelligence, said:

In this war of words, I think that the generals represented the Government’s true motives as clearly as the Government misrepresented theirs. Nevertheless, armed with those completely inaccurate assertions about the views of the Opposition and the military, the Prime Minister was insistent at the beginning of last week that the whole inquiry would be held in private. That was on Monday. On Tuesday, we tabled the motion now before the House, and many Government Members indicated that they agreed with it. On Wednesday, the Prime Minister suddenly wrote to Sir John Chilcot asking that

and asking him to explain how the inquiry would be conducted. By Monday of this week, Sir John had given the more satisfying reply to which I have referred.

So when the Prime Minister was asked, during a limited consultation, to ensure that the inquiry was open whenever possible, he chose to ignore those requests. However, when faced with the possibility of a difficult vote in his House, he changed within hours the approach that he had been insistent on, but chose to do so not by coming to the House and saying that he had modified his proposals, but by setting up an exchange of letters with Sir John, without any announcement to the House.

One of the purposes of this debate is to allow Ministers to explain to the House their understanding of an inquiry that we are pleased will now be carried out on a substantially different basis from the one on which they were insistent only nine days ago. The policy on secrecy has been changed. The lack of military expertise has started to be addressed, but has not been fully addressed. The chairman of the inquiry has begun a process of consultation, suggesting that more changes could be on the way, as they should be.

An inquiry that is seriously overdue cannot even get off to a clean start, but will spend an unspecified period of time adjusting its remit—a recipe for confusion, rather than clarity. We appreciate the efforts of Sir John Chilcot to make up for the deficiencies in the initial announcement, but the Government’s handling of the issue means that, as things currently stand, the inquiry will start its work with far less credibility in the eyes of the public or Parliament than it should have had.

In addition to answering the questions that I asked earlier, let the Foreign Secretary now assist the inquiry, the House and the country by being clear about the following matters. Is it now the view of Ministers, as
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well as of Sir John Chilcot, that the evidence put to the inquiry should be heard in public whenever possible, and will the Foreign Secretary confirm that to the House? Will he explain the true reason why the Government were opposed to such a position until days ago, given that the reasons put to the House by the Prime Minister were not credible ones? Will he confirm that it is the Government’s view that the desirability of holding sessions in public whenever possible applies as much to the inquiry’s forthcoming sessions with Mr. Tony Blair, Mr. Alastair Campbell and the Prime Minister as to anyone else? Will he also confirm that the inquiry will indeed be free to issue an interim report at any stage of its work, if it wishes to do so? Is he happy that a way can be found of giving evidence on oath or some equivalent to it? Will he confirm that the inquiry will have access to all relevant records of meetings and dealings between the British and American Governments?

Finally, will the Foreign Secretary apologise on behalf of the Government for the monumental mess that has been made of what should have been a straightforward process of consultation and consensus? Will he also undertake that the Government will provide to the House the honesty about their own processes, the accuracy about the statements of others, the clarity about the operation of the inquiry and the efficiency in the whole conduct of this business, which this Government, from the Prime Minister down, have so far been unable to supply?

1.11 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:

The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) started his remarks by referring to the terrible situation of the families who have heard that their loved ones have been confirmed dead and of those who are waiting in fear for further news of the three hostages still being held in Iraq. Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will allow me to use this opportunity to confirm that the Government are exploring every avenue and following every lead to try to save the lives of the three remaining hostages. I hope that you will also allow me to take this opportunity to say something that we do not often get a chance to say: namely, that on matters such as this, the Government and the Opposition have to keep in close touch. The right hon. Gentleman referred on television the other day to the fact that he had been kept in touch on this issue over the past 18 to
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24 months. It is important that I put on record in return that, at every stage, he has maintained the confidentiality that is essential to such relationships. I recognise that and, of course, it will continue.

Britain’s involvement in Iraq has been one of the longest and gravest military and civilian deployments abroad since the second world war. It cost the lives of 179 British servicemen and women, and hundreds more were seriously injured. We will all wish to pay tribute to their sacrifice and that of their families. In addition, I am sure that the House will join me in recognising the courage and selflessness of all the military and civilian personnel who have served and continue to serve in Iraq, and the courage of the brave Iraqi people, many, many thousands of whom have also lost their lives, their livelihoods and their homes. Profound questions of international relations, nation building and regional security were, and are, at issue.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab) Is not the Secretary of State being mealy-mouthed in saying that many thousands of Iraqis died? Was it not 1 million? Cannot he at least confirm that?

David Miliband: It would be quite wrong of me to confirm that, because nothing—

Harry Cohen: Hundreds of thousands?

David Miliband: There were many hundreds of thousands. As I said, many, many thousands have lost their lives. There is no difference between us, whether we voted for the war or against it, about the scale of the suffering and the destruction. That certainly does not come between us at this point.

Mr. Winnick: We all know that hundreds of thousands have died, murdered, in the main, and certainly not by the British or the Americans, but by outright terrorists; so why will the opponents of the war, while maintaining their position—they say that they were absolutely right, and all the rest of it—not condemn the terrorist action, which they refuse to do—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Mass murder was carried out by terrorists, and certainly not by Britain or the United States.

David Miliband: Whatever position any right hon. or hon. Member has taken, I am sure that they all condemn the killing of the British servicemen and women and the innocent Iraqi civilians as a result of terrorist action. I honestly do not think that the passion that we all bring to this debate divides us on the ground of whether or not we condemn the killing of innocent people.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

David Miliband: On that point?

Mr. Ellwood: No.

David Miliband: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his honesty. I shall make some progress.

The House is united on the point that the significant nature of Britain’s involvement in Iraq demands an inquiry. It needs to be comprehensive, independent and

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Those are the words of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks in March 2008, and I agree with him on how the inquiry should be conducted. It will have complete freedom to write its own report. The Government’s case today is simple: Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry and his proposed method of conducting it will meet all reasonable aspirations for an Iraq inquiry. The combination of his remit and his membership, plus expert advisers, and his commitment to public sessions for as much of the proceedings as possible will deliver to the country an inquiry of insight and value. Yes, the Government have listened. There is a balance to be struck between speed and confidentiality on the one hand and comprehensiveness and transparency on the other. The balance now proposed by Sir John Chilcot is new, but the Government believe that it will be effective and that it deserves strong support.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that there have been four previous debates on an Iraq inquiry. There have been four demands from the official Opposition in each case, and they will be at the heart of my remarks today, in addition to my answers to the points that he has just made. The first demand was that the inquiry should be comprehensive. The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who is here today, said in the most recent debate on the matter, on 25 March, that the inquiry should have

The second demand was that the inquiry be independent. Each of the three motions on the subject moved by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks—in June 2007, March 2008 and March 2009—has referred to the need for an inquiry by an independent committee of Privy Counsellors. The third demand was that the inquiry draw on expertise from outside the world of politics. The right hon. Gentleman said in 2006:

The fourth demand was for a Franks-style inquiry. In motions, amendments, and speeches, the right hon. Gentleman has insisted that the inquiry be modelled on the 1982 Franks inquiry. The truth is that all four points are reasonable and serious and all deserve proper consideration. All draw on precedent as well as on common sense and all will be addressed in my speech today.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: The Foreign Secretary has just said that the Chilcot inquiry will be completely free to write its own report as it wishes. Will he therefore confirm that, like the Franks committee, if the Chilcot inquiry decides that it wishes to attribute blame, it will be entirely free to do so?

David Miliband: It is inherent in the inquiry writing its own report that it will be entirely free to write its own report. As the Prime Minister said—

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: So the answer is yes?

David Miliband: As the Prime Minister said last week, this is not an inquiry that has been set up to establish civil or criminal liability; it is not a judicial
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inquiry. Everything beyond that will be within its remit. It can praise or blame whomever it likes, and it is free to write its own report at every stage. That will be taken forward.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): We are clearly in a much better place than we were just a few days ago. In addition to the points that the Foreign Secretary has just mentioned, will he tell me whether, after Sir John Chilcot has consulted, there will be formal terms of reference? If so, will they be converted into a substantive motion to be put before the House? Both of those things happened in the case of the Franks inquiry.

David Miliband: I will come to that later in my speech.

Last week, the Prime Minister said in his statement that the inquiry would

He then talked about an inquiry that will look at

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