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I am pushed for time, because I have much to say, so I shall move on to the legal aspect. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) asked a number of questions. I know most
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of the answers, because we were shown all the evidence. We had to go into the legal aspects of the matter from an intelligence point of view, and we reported on that. However, we were constrained from reporting on them other than from that point of view. I remember that when we asked the Attorney-General a specific question, he said, “Well, there was no intelligence aspect to that question, so I do not have to answer it.” Sir John must have a broad canvas to work on.

I have seen advice from the Attorney-General that I do not believe the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) has seen, because it was not shown to the Cabinet. Some of it was leaked, and all of it was given to us, but we were constrained from reporting on it. That was not for reasons of national security but because if we had tried to, someone would have said that it was none of our business. That needs to be put right so that the Chilcot inquiry can examine all the matters that I have mentioned.

Regime change loomed large in the arguments about the legality of the war, as did resolution 1441. Papers laying everything out have flown between very senior Government representatives and Ministers, which will make certain people’s eyes water when they see them. Our inquiry saw all those things, and the Chilcot committee must see them and be able to report on them. Five or six years on, it is not a question of national security any more. It is about what advice was given to Ministers and what their reaction to it was—did they accept it, or did they ignore it?

One issue to consider is the resignation of a legal adviser to the Foreign Office, who was not content with the Attorney-General’s advice. That is in the public domain, but the reasons behind it are not. That may explain why the FCO was largely excluded from the latter stages of the discussions and the decision taking, most notably when Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, met President Bush in Washington with his coterie of No. 10 advisers and Sir Christopher Meyer, our ambassador there, was excluded from the meeting. If it is not the job of Her Majesty’s ambassador to be there to report from the American perspective, I do not know what is, but he was not permitted to go to that meeting. I shall not repeat myself, but we have seen the accounts of that meeting, whereas others who should have seen them have not. Sir John must be able to bring all that out.

Why is there no one with some legal expertise on the committee? We need that sort of expertise among its members, so it seems strange it is missing from those people who have been chosen, although, like others, I am in no way criticising them.

My last point is about the intelligence, political and machinery of government aspects that led to the way in which the decisions were taken, which we were able to report on more substantially. In fact, our comments on that were perhaps some of our most trenchant. Perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Medway did not get the bit in mandarin, because we were highly critical of the style of government that had led to no notes being taken and no record being made.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: The passage to which I think the right hon. Gentleman is referring is exactly the mandarin passage that I had in mind, when Lord Butler said that, taking everything together, the committee was “surprised” that none of the intelligence being placed
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before the Government was reflected in the statements being made. The word “surprised” in mandarin does not mean: “Good Lord! Is that the time?” It means: “It is absolutely inconceivable that anything like this could happen.”

Mr. Mates: I will leave the interpreter of mandarin to draw his own conclusions.

The whole UK-US relationship must obviously be examined too. There are reams of papers that explain and reveal how the two were interacting in that relationship and how that led to certain decisions being taken that, if they had been presented differently, might have been taken differently. There were crucial reports of the key moments in the decision-making process. First, there was the meeting between the Prime Minister and the President in Texas, at President Bush’s ranch in Crawford. Then there was the meeting between the Prime Minister and the President in Washington from which Sir Christopher Meyer was excluded. Then there is a series of documents written by Sir David Manning, the Prime Minister’s adviser on overseas and foreign policy. Those documents are crucial to understanding the way in which all the decisions were made. The press have speculated about them—sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly—and some have been leaked. Having seen them all, I know how crucial those documents are for the Chilcot inquiry to be able to do its job properly.

Last of all, if ever there was a war in which politics—that is, in the decision to go to war, not the war itself—played such a major part, it was this one, given the political decisions taken here and in the United States. As I speak these words, I can hear colleagues saying, “He would say this, wouldn’t he?” Why are there no politicians on the committee? That point was made very well by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and the hon. and learned Member for Medway, as well as by others, from all round the House. The reason the Prime Minister gave us was this:

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I commend my right hon. Friend for making an astonishingly informative speech. To reinforce his comment about politicians being involved, everything that he has described is mirrored in similar failures—constitutional, structural, governmental and decision-making failures—in the United States. They have come out recently because of the torture issue and how legality was bypassed, so it is doubly important that politicians should be involved.

Mr. Mates: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Let me finish by saying that it is rather an insult to us as professional politicians to be told by a Prime Minister that we would be partisan if we took part in such an inquiry. I had the pleasure of chairing the Select Committee on Defence for six years—I was a member of it for 12 years—and I chaired the Northern Ireland Committee for four years. I have also sat on the Security and Intelligence Committee for 15 years. Never, in any of
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those Committee deliberations, has party politics played a part, other than as a joke at the periphery. There was never a vote taken in any Committee that I chaired; had there been a vote taken, I would have considered that I had failed in my job.

We are perfectly able to serve in a non-partisan way. More importantly, we are able to bring our political expertise to a committee that, however good and worthy it might be, does not have such expertise. Nor does it have military or legal expertise. Simply to say that it will be able to get the necessary advice from the second row of the stalls is not good enough. The question of its membership must be revisited.

3.40 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): If one consensus has emerged, it is that the inquiry should be far more public than private. If the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) is not on the committee, there is no reason why he should not give evidence to it. It is quite likely that he will wish to do so. The Government have been criticised for giving an impression—more than an impression—last week that the inquiry should be held in private, and they were wrong. Surely it is all to the good that they have now shifted their position. They stated something that Members on both sides of the House considered unacceptable, but they then moved. That is hardly a matter for criticism.

Last week at business questions, I said that a committee whose remit was to look into the most controversial war that we have engaged in since 1945 should obviously not sit in private. I am sure that many Labour Members said the same thing more privately. I want to see the committee sitting far more in public, and only in exceptional circumstances should evidence be given privately. Those circumstances would have to involve security grounds.

I would like to see a widening of the membership of the committee. I doubt that that will happen, however; I am not sure whether we can move the Government in that direction. I am not necessarily calling for Members of Parliament to sit on the committee, but it should nevertheless have a broader membership than is proposed at the moment. I also accept the obvious statement that there should be public trust in the committee. The many people who have lost family members—sons and daughters, for example—in warfare in Iraq should be able to feel reassured that the committee will try to get as close to the truth as possible in asking why we went to war and what all the consequences were. Some of the families blame the Government for the loss of their loved ones. Others, however, have said publicly that they are proud of what their close relatives have done, and that, too, should be borne in mind.

Having listened to today’s debate from the beginning, I have not heard any differences in opinion from those that were being expressed six years ago. There do not seem to have been any changes of mind. The critics at the time have put forward their point of view once again, and those of us who took a different position and supported the Government are to a large extent reiterating what we said then.

The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said that he hoped that the inquiry would lead to closure. I have to say that the possibility of closure on this issue in our lifetime—not only in my lifetime, but in that of those who are rather younger—is
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rather remote. I said earlier that this was the most controversial war decision in 64 years, and I find it difficult to believe that the committee of inquiry will be able to change anyone’s mind, no matter how fair-minded, thorough and exhaustive it might be. Those who were in favour of what occurred will remain so and the critics will remain of their opinion.

For example, when listening to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) or to those who feel as strongly as they do that the decision was wrong, it is difficult to think that they will change their mind if the committee reaches the view that, in all the circumstances, it was right for the Government to do as they did six years ago. It is a possibility, but it is very remote.

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend willing to concede that there are Members in the House who would accept that if the information available to them now had been available to them at that time, they would not have voted for the war?

Mr. Winnick: Yes, I accept that some have changed their mind, but having listened to today’s debate I believe I am right in saying that my hon. Friend is the first Member to say that he has changed his mind about the decision and the vote he made six years ago. No one else has done so. Members have not crowded on to these Benches to say that they regret one way or another the way that they voted. They, like me, obviously took a decision at the time based on what they believed was right.

I will not blame my vote in 2003 on the former Prime Minister. I will not say, “Well, he misled us and didn’t give us all the facts—it’s all his fault. If only he had spoken differently, I would have voted differently.” That is not grown-up politics. We are Members of Parliament. We can make up our own mind. If we believed the Prime Minister of the day was giving us information that seemed to be wrong, we should have voted accordingly.

I asked the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) whether he stood by his vote because I wanted to find out whether he had changed his mind about how he voted. Very honestly, as one would expect of him, he said that he stood by his vote, as I stand by mine. It was a very frank answer.

Mr. MacNeil: I fail to see the relevance of the argument of the vote. Quite a number of us were not Members of the House in 2003 and came in only in 2005. We were part of the millions outside who were against the war. Does it really matter how people voted six years ago? What matters is the business before the House and the inquiry.

Mr. Winnick: I have already said that I recognise the necessity for an inquiry that should be far more public than private. If the hon. Gentleman had been a Member of the House, there is no doubt, as he has just suggested, that he would have voted against. However, few Members have changed their mind and the vote is important—he is wrong—because, as the critics would say, it was the vote in the House of Commons that legitimised our military intervention. That vote was crucial.

The background to the vote in 2003 was the Saddam regime’s refusal to give the impression that it was complying with the United Nations Security Council resolution on
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the destruction of weapons of mass destruction. In my view, that is very relevant: if the chief weapons inspector, Dr. Blix, had issued a report stating clearly that he and his team were satisfied that the weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed, there would have been no basis for going to war. Yes, he wanted more time, and I am not suggesting for a moment that he wanted military intervention then, but I am saying that, at the time, such a report was not forthcoming.

Saddam had a history of playing cat and mouse with the weapons inspectors. We know that the weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed, but he had used them before the invasion of Kuwait. Let me say this about Kuwait: some Members—not those on the Conservative Benches, but some of my hon. and right hon. Friends—who were so much against the vote to go to war in 2003 were equally opposed to the liberation of Kuwait. Although it had been authorised by the United Nations Security Council, and although Saddam had committed an act of blatant aggression, they opposed the military action taken in 1991. I took a very different position. Some would say that it was unfortunate that the whole of Iraq was not liberated at the time, but most of us understood the reasons why it was not.

The accusation about regime change suggests that any reference to it must be derogatory. However, there are those who recognise, as I did, that Saddam ruled over a terrorist regime—a totalitarian dictatorship, brutal and murderous—and that sanctions were not working, but were undoubtedly inflicting great damage on numerous people in Iraq. That is what the critics said at the time. Not only were they against military intervention; they were against sanctions, which they said should be dropped. I had to concede that sanctions were causing great hardship. The question that arises for us is how such a regime can be changed. I entirely accept that there was no authorisation and no legitimacy for regime change unless there was justification in the form of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Mates: I was not trying to argue either for or against regime change. What I was saying, and what I think the Chilcot committee needs to consider, is that it is illegal in international law. That is a fact. The question is, was it driving the policy, or was the policy driven by something else?

Mr. Winnick: I do not deny that regime change is illegal. However, in 1979 both Cambodia and Tanzania were liberated from the outright tyranny of the Pol Pot regime and Amin. That was regime change, and I do not recall any Member condemning it 30 years ago. What happened in Kosovo was a form of regime change, and was outside the authority of the Security Council. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway, who is not in the Chamber now, was strongly opposed to it, but I was in favour. I urged that action be taken against Milosevic and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, and I would hardly start apologising for that now. There is a problem over regime change, and how we can help people who are suffering under tyranny and murderous oppression.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, I doubt that the inquiry will change anyone’s mind, but it is crucial for it to undertake the work that it has been given.

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3.53 pm

Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Ind Lab): In the short time that is available—let me put on record that I still resent the guillotining of everything, and believe that it is one of the reasons for the diminution of the authority of the House of Commons—I want to focus on why we need an inquiry. I shall argue that the reasons are so profound that the inquiry must take place in public, the inquiry team must be strengthened—as has been argued, it should contain military and legal representatives, as well as a senior politician—and witnesses must give evidence under oath.

Some have commented that we do not need an inquiry because the books have been written, the documents have been leaked, America has changed its policy, and there is therefore nothing new to be said. I agree that those who have read the books and scrutinised the leaked documents already know the truth. Nevertheless, it would be deeply shameful if the House of Commons never required an official inquiry, with the aim of putting on record the truth of why we went to war and reflecting on what that says about, first, the unreliability of the British system of government and, secondly, the obsessive focus on staying close to the United States of America, which dominates the foreign policy thinking of both new Labour and the official Opposition. Even the Liberal Democrats, despite their honourable record on the war, are not entirely free of it. That is the explanation of the error, and if we do not attend to those matters, similar errors will be made in future.

I believe that because of the “nodding donkey” approach to American foreign policy right or wrong, the United Kingdom’s contribution to resolving some of the complex and fearsome problems of the coming decades will be extremely limited, and I think that that humiliates us. This is an enormously profound and serious question. As I believe the inquiry will show, if we went to Iraq because we wanted to please President Bush—or because Tony Blair wanted to please him—there is a danger that that error will be repeated. Happily, America, after a big semi-revolution, has changed its President and completely changed its policy, and Britain follows along with the new President. I prefer the new President, of course, but we did not even have a debate or discussion about whether we should change our policy. How humiliating is that?

Mr. Ellwood: I made an intervention earlier in which I stressed the importance of the relationship between the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development and mentioned that the British forces were concerned that there might be no plan involving DFID. Can the right hon. Lady confirm that in March 2003, when she was responsible for that Department, she sent a diktat out to all the directors in the Department advising them not to get involved and not to participate in the planning, because she thought the war might be illegal?

Clare Short: I cannot confirm that date, but I can confirm that when I heard the rumour—but did not see the legal document—that the Attorney-General doubted the legality of the war, I warned my staff of the consequences of that, which I think was entirely proper. That is part of the shame of it all, but I shall come on to the preparations. There were preparations that were then all junked, because of the hubris and deceit that went into preparing for war.

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