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the run-up to the conflict... the... conflict and reconstruction.[ Official Report, 15 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 23.]
so that we can learn lessons in each and every area. I will highlight later the fact that we have deliberately not ruled out areas that the committee can examine. Everything in the period 2001 to 2009 is within its remit. On the question of a vote in Parliament, we are obviously going to vote today. That is a good opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members.
David Miliband: As the Prime Minister set out last week, this is an inquiry not to establish civil or criminal liability, but to learn lessons for the future, and it will write its own report. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks used the term impeachment. It is not an impeachment or a trial, but an inquiry designed to learn lessons.
Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): I thank the Foreign Secretary, who is being generous in giving way. May I suggest that his list of characteristics of the inquiry misses the central point? I put it to him that, outside this Chamber, there is a real sense of anger and betrayal that this country went to war on a false premise, that premise being weapons of mass destruction. If the inquiry, or large elements of it, is not held in public, I suggest that that sense of betrayal will not be purged and the inquiry will fail, like the others before it.
David Miliband: With the greatest respect, I can only believe that the hon. Gentleman was not listening to what I said at the beginning of my speech. To quote myself, Sir John Chilcots inquiry has made absolutely clear its commitment to hold public sessions for as much of the proceedings as possible. That answers the hon. Gentlemans point directly. I will go into some detail later.
The concern has been to ensure that the inquiry is able to address itself to all aspects of preparation for the military campaign, the military campaign itself, and post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction. That is important. At various points, there have been allegations, for example, that the inquiry would not be able to look at the run-up to the war, or the decisions taken in Basra in 2006 to 2008. Those concerns are not well founded.
The Chilcot inquiry has the widest possible remit. The committee will be free not just to examine all the evidence, as I will set out, but to pursue what it considers are the most important issues. The scope is deliberately not limited. As the Prime Minister said last week:
No inquiry has looked at such a long period, and no inquiry has the powers to look in so much breadth.[ Official Report, 15 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 23.]
Secondly, on the question of independence, the Prime Minister wrote to Sir John Chilcot on 17 June assuring him of the Governments commitment to a thorough and independent inquiry. Sir John confirms in his reply of 21 June:
I welcome the fact that I and my colleagues are free to decide independently how best to fulfil our remit.
David Miliband: I want to get to the end of this section of my speech, then I will bring in my hon. Friend. I want to make four points before I pause, take interventions and deal with the public-private issue.
Thirdly, on co-operation from Government and access to Government papers and people, the Prime Minister has made clear not just to Sir John Chilcot, but to all Ministers and former Ministers, the need for full co-operation with the committee. The Cabinet Secretary has written similarly to Departments. Access to papers in official archives will be similarly unrestricted.
In the previous debate in the House, I was asked whether the committees access to documents would include all Cabinet papers. I confirm that that will be the case. We have also been asked whether that includes access to papers from foreign Governments held by the Government here. Again, I confirm what the Prime Minister has said: that will indeed be the case.
On ensuring that witnesses give evidence with the greatest possible candour, Sir John has confirmed that he and his colleagues will consider whether it is possible to have a process whereby evidence is given under oath, taking into account the non-judicial nature of the inquiry. Again, that is an issue
In respect of the old canard about whether Tony Blair is willing to stand up in public and defend his decisions on the Iraq war, during a question-and-answer session last nightI am not sure whether it was a continuation of the masochism strategy that was started in 2005he said, I dont know how many times I have answered questions about Iraq in public, including now. There is no problem for me in answering questions in public. That is a canard.
Lynne Jones: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Who did the Prime Minister consult about the composition of the inquiry, whether it would meet in public and its modus operandifor example, in hearing evidence under oath? As Sir John Chilcot has raised those points about evidence being given predominantly in public, why was he not consulted before the Prime Minister announced that the inquiry would be in private?
David Miliband: Sir John was consulted. That is one of the points and I will come on to the reasons. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) wanted to intervene earlier. Is his point still relevant? He is a former officer.
My question is simple: does it require an inquiry to understand the fundamental flaw and the frustration that the military finds, which was echoed by General Robin Brims, who was the commander of 1 (UK) Armoured Division and in charge of the forces in Basra? He said that we went into Iraq and, a month later, it was clear that the looting would start, the gangs would form and the militias would be created because there was no plan for peace. Will the Secretary of State now acknowledge that we need a huge overhaul and an examination of the relationship between the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development? The world of warfare has changed from cold war to stabilisation operations. That is the fundamental frustration with our military, which is getting blamed for what happened in Iraq because the war fighting went well, but the peacekeeping was an absolute failure.
David Miliband: In the first debate on Iraq in which I participated after becoming Foreign Secretary, I talked about the precise fact that the success had been in winning the war, but not in winning the peace. I also talked about the fact that there were plans, as we now know, for how the process of peace building would be taken forward, but if those were not binned, they were certainly sidelined in the US Administration. All those issues, which are precisely about stabilisation and reconstruction, will be at the heart of the inquiry.
It is very importantthe hon. Gentleman will know this better than many peoplenot to draw facile comparisons between Iraq and Afghanistan. None the less, there is a major job of reconstruction and stabilisation going on in Afghanistan, and we should certainly be sure that, in addition to the internal MOD inquiries, there are external inquiries.
Mr. Ancram: The Foreign Secretary mentioned a moment ago the fact that Sir John Chilcot has been told to see whether there are ways in which he can produce evidence under oath. Mine is a genuine inquiry: can the Foreign Secretary tell me under what authority or power Sir John could do that, other than under a statutory inquiry procedure, or, indeed, by being given a power to do so by legislation passed by the House?
David Miliband: The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows well that the Inquiries Act 2005 sets out what is effectively a quasi-judicial procedure that may be appropriate for an inquiry that is set out to mediate between competing interests, but that is not what this inquiry is about. That Act also assumes legal representation for all parties concerned and restrictions on who may be questioned. For those reasons, among others, we chose the inquiry.
The Prime Minister raised the question of oaths in his statement last Monday. Sir John Chilcot believes that there are ways in which he will be able to meet that need. We cannot say that he has full independence to pursue his remit as an independent chair and then start to fetter his discretion.
No one underestimates the difficulty that Sir John Chilcot will have during the months of his work, but is he aware quite how difficult the job might be made for him by the publicly given evidence being put through a media filter by people who have already made up their mind on what the outcomes of his inquiry should be, based on evidence that cannot be complete because some of it will, of course, be given in private? Is Sir John capable of resisting media attempts over the months to prejudice the outcome of his discussions?
David Miliband: Sir John is a strong, able, dedicated public servant, and I think that he is well able to look after himself. He understands the need for an inquiry, not a circus. As I shall explain in a moment, the way in which he will balance the public and private elements will, I think
Surely it is wrong to allow Sir John Chilcot to decide whether evidence should be taken under oath when he does not have the power to require it to be taken under oath? He could make a recommendation to the House, but it is the House that would have to give that power to the inquiry. It will not be good enough unless evidence is taken under oath. I ask the Foreign Secretary please to reconsider.
David Miliband: Sir John has made it clear that there are ways in which he can invite the witnesses to make some kind of representation. This will not be a judicial inquiry. Sir John is not there to establish criminal [Interruption.] He has said that he thinks he is able to do that, and I think we should let him do that. Certainly, if any witness did not follow the protocols established by Sir John, people would draw conclusions from that.
Fourthly, let me deal with the membership of the committee. The Government propose a committee of senior public servants and figures from outside Government. As the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said, they are recognised as outstanding figures in their respective fields. He spoke of military insight, but the more he described the work of the committee members, the more evident it became that they possessed a large amount of relevant expertise. Sir Lawrence Freedman is the official historian of the Falklands campaign, Sir Martin Gilbert has written extensively on military matters, Sir Roderic Lyne was private secretary for defence and foreign affairs, and Sir John Chilcot was permanent secretary at the Northern Ireland Office. The hon. Member for South Hampshire is
In passing, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks mentioned the role of the expert assessors, who will be chosen on the basis of their experience not only in military matters, but in legal, international development and reconstruction matters. It is true that the five people appointed to the inquiry are there because of their ability to sift different material, to ask hard and probing questions and to compose a final report of independence, insight and foresight. I believe, however, that Sir Johns decision to add the assessors will ensure that any deficiencies that may exist are properly accounted for.
Fifthly, I want to deal with an issue that has already prompted a number of questions: the conduct of the inquiry. The Prime Minister has invited Sir John Chilcot to consult leading Members of the House, including Select Committee Chairmen, and present proposals for
the conduct of the inquiry to ensure that those who appear before it do so with the greatest possible candour and openness.
There are trade-offs on the public nature of the inquiry in the context of intelligence and other matters mentioned by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. He referred to the Franks report and the starring role of Denis Healey in the 1982 debate. He will also remember that Lord Callaghan described the Franks inquiry as a whitewash. Private inquiries are sometimes described as a whitewash, but other people have described the Hutton inquiry, which was held in public, as a whitewash. The truth is that if people have decided in advance what they are going to conclude, they will describe either a public or a private inquiry as a whitewash.
I think that Sir John Chilcot has anticipated precisely the points that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt). Let me go through them. Sir John has set out four main parts of the inquiry, combining public and private aspects. First, there is examination and analysis of documentary evidence, which will be crucial to decisions on the course of the inquiry, including decisions on the selection of witnesses and detailed lines of questioning. It will, by definition, occur in private. Secondly, there is the question of public proceedings. Sir John Chilcot has said that it will be essential to hold as much as possible of the proceedings in public, consistent with national security and the candour of written and oral evidence. The Prime Minister and Sir John Chilcot have had close to the front of their minds the strong and legitimate interest especially of families of those who lost their lives in Iraq, and Sir John has made clear his determination to facilitate the public or private presentation of views.
Thirdly, there is the question of private proceedings, which will be important in allowing examination of matters relating to national security. Classified information will be protected and witnesses will be able to speak without fear of legal action. Intelligence questions obviously fit into that category. It is also important to protect the position and relationships of current public servants, while ensuring that the committee is given the full benefit of their expertise.
Fourthly, and much unheralded, as Sir John has pointed out, there is the publication and debating of the final report. The Prime Minister made clear last week that all relevant evidence should be published, except when national security or similar considerations prevent it. Sir John has confirmed his determination to follow that pattern.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks asked whether the Government supported those points. I confirm what the Prime Minister said in his reply to Sir John Chilcot the day before yesterday. The answer is yes, we do support the approach that Sir John has set out, and, as I said at the beginning of my speech, we have listened to the points that have been made.
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