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The mistakes that were made have already been visited, of course, by Lord Butler and his committee, but he was constrained. Those who read the Butler report can feel the frustration that comes out of those pages that he was constrained in his brief by looking only at the intelligence, and not at the use that was made of that
intelligence in the dossiers and the information that was given to the House. The frustration that his committee obviously felt was manifest in what he said in the House of Lords in an extraordinary departure from normal protocol, when he also said that the inquiry must be held in public in order to deal with the issues.
In a sense, Lord Butler has no one but himself to blame because the Butler report was written in mandarina language in which Robin Butler is fluent and of which some of us have a passing knowledge, but it is a foreign language to the fourth estate. So, of course, the Butler report was taken as a vindication for what it most certainly was notthat is, the political reasons and the basis for war.
May I have my three haporth of where all this sits in the events of the past weeks that have affected the House? One of the problems that lies behind the expenses debate is not that it has thrown up serious mattersit undoubtedly haswhich require investigation and answer. It has also been responsible for a wave of matters that are in themselves trivialbath plugs, paperclips, and the like. What is the reason for that? One reason, undoubtedly, is to portray this House in a Lilliputian light: to trivialise its very existence. That is it. If we allow that to happen, we deserve to be portrayed as a Lilliputian assembly, unable to control our own destiny.
Mr. Marshall-Andrews: My good and hon. Friend shakes his head when I say that, but let us have an inquiry to find out, and then, at least, something that has passed between he and I will be laid to rest. It is we who were misled, if we were misled, and it is to us that the inquiry must answer and it is to us to set the terms of reference of that committee. The terms of reference are not in themselves a matter of deep jurisprudence, because they are perfectly simple: the inquiry should be open; on oath and without immunity. What is more, those against whom criticism or indictment may be made must be warned of that fact and must be representedyeswhen they give evidence before the committee.
None of that is difficult to understand; it was all enshrined in the committees that were set up under Lord Salmon and the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) pointed out, was the point at which we divested ourselves of such authority. Now, we must retain it and we must regain it. That is one reason why, if the House divides, I shall be on the Opposition side, not because I wish to vote with the Tories, but because I wish to vote forforan inquiry in the terms that we require it.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD):
Not for the first time, I find myself in complete agreement with the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). I believe that the decision to join the United States in an illegal war against Iraq was based upon a flawed premise and has done catastrophic
damage to British interests. That may well disqualify me from membership of a committee of investigation, but it most certainly does not prevent me from passing judgment on the form of that committee and its composition.
The Government have been partially saved from themselves by Sir John Chilcot, by General Sir Mike Jackson and by the many people who have publicly said that they accepted and, indeed, wished that proceedings in which they might feature should be in public. This evening, Parliament can save the Government further by passing the motion that stands in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, because the responsibility for the establishment of the inquiry should rest with this House. Anything else is a dereliction of our duty.
There are no precise terms of reference. That issue has been somehow brushed aside. How will we test the committees success unless we test its conclusions against the terms of reference? There are no members with military experience. Who understands the pressures of command when sending 40,000 young men and women into the middle eastwith the prospect at least of casualtiesat the same time as following the established principle that one takes ones instructions from ones political masters? No one does, other than someone who has had to discharge those responsibilities.
Who understands the political responsibility other than someone who has been associated with a decision to deploy British forces in circumstances where they may lose their lives or be injured? Assessors are no substitute for this reason: assessors advise; they do not decide or take upon themselves the responsibility for the decisions that are made. Parliament tonight should assert itself; it should assert itself to own the process; and it should set the conditions for the inquiry. They should include, in order to put aside any questions of uncertainty, a specific power to compel witnesses to attend and to put them on oath.
There is now no dispute but that the most sensitive material touching on intelligence cannot be heard in public. However, we should have a presumption that everything will be heard in public unless the national interest demands it. Government embarrassment and national interest are not synonymous with each other; they are wholly separate and distinct.
I shall set out some questions that I hope the inquiry will address. What was the then Prime Ministers motive in establishing a policy of standing steadfastly by the Bush Administration? Did the Cabinet agree with that policy? Did the Cabinet ever discuss that policy? Is it the case that by July 2002 at a meeting in Downing street, the minutes of which have been leaked, as it happens to The Daily Telegraph, Mr. Blair was committed to military action along with the United States? Is it the case that by that meeting Mr. Blair was committed to regime change?
When did the Cabinet first discuss military action? When did the Cabinet first discuss regime change? And on how many occasions thereafter did it discuss either or both implications of Government policy? Why did the Cabinet not see the Attorney-Generals full opinion of 7 March 2003, before military action commenced? Who took the decision that the Cabinet should see only the one-page answer to a question no doubt placed by arrangement in the other place? Why did the Chief of the Defence Staff insist on specific legal advice on the
legality of what he was being asked to do? Was the Cabinet advised that the intelligence assessment was that war against Iraq would increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom? If not, why not? Was the Cabinet informed that the 45-minute claim related only to battlefield nuclear weapons?
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): The main reason for my vote tonight will be based on whether Parliament is going to assert itself in this matter. I was very struck by the speech by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), the former Leader of the Opposition, on that point, but I disagreed with the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who said that it is a matter for the Government to decide. It is not; it is for Parliament to decide. We have allowed our powers to be usurped by successive Governments.
As a Government Member, I feel embarrassed by the bungled way in which the inquiry has been launched; I cannot think of a worse way in which to handle a matter of such sensitivity and importance. The last time that I spoke in a debate about Iraq, I took up my 10 minutes to recite the names of the 179 people who have fallen, and they are the main reason why we need this inquiry and why their loved ones are crying out for closure. There are, in the main, two groups: those who believe that their relatives died in a noble cause and possibly resent the idea of it all being churned up again; and a great grouppossibly a majoritywho are tormented by the idea that their loved ones died in vain, and that there was no reason for us to be involved in that war.
The Public Administration Committee had those people in mind when we put up the idea, which I wish the Government would consider, of a two-tier inquiry. Yes, we could look at all the historical issues, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs suggested, but that inquiry, like the Saville inquiry, would go on for many years. It is not our job to do the work of the historians of the future; our job is to answer the question of whether we, in this House, were deceived when we took our decision in March 2003. It was an extraordinary decision, perhaps the most important of our political lives. For the first time ever, Parliament was deciding on whether we went to war. Every one of us who was a Member at the time takes the responsibility for that decision and its consequences, which included the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
Our responsibility was not about whether the war would have taken place anyway; we know about the feeling in America, which was deluded by the neo-cons, the religious zealots and the project for a new American century. There was an idea that the country would rule the world for the foreseeable future and have a series of multiple wars, which were described in the document outlining that project. There was talk of the American army being the new cavalry, of boundaries that stretched to the great wall of China. It all seems such a fantasy
now, but the Iraq war was planned on that deluded basis, and not in 2003the intention was there long before that. Sadly, our supine Prime Minister went along with it, and
Mr. Heath: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am very sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in the course of his speech, but it seems extraordinary that not a single departmental Minister is here during a debate of such consequence.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: As I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises, the Chair cannot comment on that matter. There is a representative on the Treasury Bench. The House will have heard the hon. Gentlemans point.
Paul Flynn: We all remember well the day of the vote itself. To their great credit, six Conservative Members voted against their three-line Whip; on the Labour side, 139 Members voted against a very tough three-line Whip. However, as has been recorded in a book by Philip Cowley, 80 other Members had already signed early-day motions or other motions against the war, but they were bullied, bamboozled and bribed into voting the other way or abstaining. If they had been told the truth on the 45-minute threat and the deceptions in the two dossiers, they almost certainly would not have voted with the Government. Many of them bitterly regret their votes now.
Those Members, and Parliament, deserve the truth. We can get at the truth if the inquiry is divided into two tiers. The other, long inquiry into what happened for years before and years afterwards can go on. We should also have an inquiry that focuses not on whether the war was going to take placeit was going to happen anywaybut on why Britain was a collaborator in Bushs war. Why were we involved?
To his great credit, Harold Wilson kept us out of the Vietnam war. We should have used our opportunity and voted for non-involvement in the Iraq war; if we had, those 179 brave British soldiers would not have lost their lives. The Public Administration Committee believes that the crucial issue of why we were involved should be considered first. Such an inquiry could be conducted in a matter of a few months. As we on the Committee put it:
We recommend that consideration be given to splitting the inquiry into two stages: the first stage to concentrate on the British decision to go to war; and the second stage to consider the broader lessons from the conflict and its aftermath.
The other point, made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) this afternoon and not answered by a Front Bencher, is whether the issue ends today. Will a vote for the Government amendment be interpreted as approval by Labour Members of the idea that the matter is over? Will it mean that we do not have to look at the decisions taken on the shape of the inquiry and that we abandon our rights as parliamentarians to decide on how the inquiry should go forward?
I accept what Government Front Benchers have said about the element of bandwagonism on the part of the official Opposition. They are trying to score political points, and I am reluctant to vote with them for that reason. I think, however, that I will do so because otherwise I would have to give full approval for how the Government introduced the idea of the inquiry and for
how they are mishandling the issue now by trying to put Labour Members into an armlock and make them agree to something to which we do not agree. We want another look at the issue. We want a substantive motion before the House, another debate and a chance to decide; as the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said, we decide on so little.
The two worst decisions that this country has made in my lifetime have been to do with the Suez crisis and the war in Iraq. However, we made an awful mistakewithout there having been a Division on the matterin deciding to send troops in a surge into Helmand province. We had a debate on the subject, but in Westminster Hall. At the time, only seven soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan. As a result of the surge, there was also a surge in casualties; now not seven but 169 soldiers have died, and the number is increasing every week as part of a war that is going nowhere.
During the brief debate, the futility of the decision to go into Helmand province was compared to that of the charge of the Light Brigade. Now more soldiers have died in Helmand than died in the charge of the Light Brigade. Surely we need to debate that issue as parliamentarians. Surely we need to say that, in respect of future and current conflicts, Parliament should assert itself. We should cry out, For goodness sake, can you justify this war? Can you justify a future conflict, possibly led by America, against Iran or wherever else? Obama is now President of the United States, so there is hope that good things will come. The man is an intellectual, far removed from his predecessor. I believe that he has great ideals and a clear vision of world events. It is hoped that the rest of the western world will follow in the slipstream of the path that he is taking.
This week, we parliamentarians have heard a lot about the weakness of our position. The decision that we took in March 2003 haunts many Members here now. We will make decisions in the future, but we have to make them in a way that reflects the views of our constituents. There is talk of this inquiry being similar to the Franks inquiry. Despite the problems of the Belgrano, that inquiry was into a war that generally united the nation; the nation was generally behind the Falklands war. The Iraq war, however, bitterly divided the nation, probably as no war has in our historyno previous war brought out 2 million people on to the streets.
We saw a deluded Government, led by people who almost certainly had done a deal with the American President to go ahead with the war. As has been said, they decided to fit the facts around the policy. That was the position that we were in. We have only to look at the two dossiers to read the exaggerations, lies and mistakes. As a Parliament, we were fooled by those dossiers and the Front-Bench speeches. The issue must be fully investigated and illuminated, and that must happen rapidly.
Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con): I am not going to follow the line of public versus private, oath versus no oath. Those foxes have been comprehensively shot by the strength of opinion that has been expressed on both sides of the House. I am perfectly certain that if the Government wish to survive, they will have to listen to what has been said and do something about it.
I have had the privilege of being part of two inquiries into Iraq, first the Intelligence and Security Committees inquiry and then the Butler inquiry. Both were constrained by the fact that it was our business to examine the use, gathering and consequences of the intelligence that we got, rather than the bigger picture. However, as I shall explain, we were shown very much more than was covered by those narrow parameters. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) is absolutely right that there was a lot of frustration about what we had seen but were unable to report on because of the terms of reference that we had been set. That reinforces the point about terms of reference needing to be properly set by the House so that Sir John Chilcot, whom I wish well and with whom I worked on the Butler review and before that in Northern Ireland, is not in any way hamstrung by not being given adequate and full instructions and conditions under which he can do his job properly.
I turn first to the military aspect of all this, which is probably the least complex, although obviously it is very important. The operation itself was largely successful. There will be lessons to be learned, and they can all come out. For instance, issues relating to logistics, the lack of the right equipment and equipment not arriving on time must all be thrashed out.
Perhaps most important and controversial of all is the reconstruction phase. I remember my noble Friend Field Marshal the Lord Inge chuntering away beside me, as we were going through the motions in the Butler review, about how there had been no plan for what we did when we had beaten the Iraqis and won the war, as was obviously going to happen.
Clare Short: The military keep implying that it was the fault of the humanitarian agencies that there was no reconstruction, but if the military occupy a country, they have to prevent disorder from breaking out. That is a military task, and I underline that their trying to pass the buck as though disorder were the fault of the UN or the Department for International Development really is not good enough.
Mr. Mates: That is not what I was saying. I was saying that there was not a comprehensive plan as to how to handle Iraq once the war was over. That was largely in the hands of the United States, which was taking the lead in all this, and I know that some of our Ministers tried manfully to get the US to focus on the matter. All of that needs to be examined in the Chilcot inquiry. Our inquiry saw quite a lot about that peripherally, but it was not actually our business.
That brings me to the point that others have forcefully made. Why is there not somebody with military expertise as a member of the inquiry? It is not good enough that there are advisers, assessors or whatever we like to call them. We had an army of them behind our inquiry, but it is no good having a senior retired military commander giving advice if he cannot put pertinent questions from his own area of expertise the moment the subject comes up. That gap in the composition of the committee ought to be filled.
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