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24 Jun 2009 : Column 856

I believe that a proper examination of the untruths, the constitutional manipulation and the outcome must lead to a re-examination of the UK’s role in the world. That is a very important consequence of the inquiry that needs to flow to the House of Commons. I do not advocate hostility to the United States, of course. Indeed, I think that if we had spoken truthfully to the United States at the time, we would have been a better friend. I yearn, however, for an honest appraisal of the dangers the world and the UK face and an intelligent discussion of the contribution we could make, working with others, to the establishment of a more equitable and just world order, capable of dealing with the disorder that will come to us because of climate change. It is also my view that if we do not do better in bringing justice to the middle east, the capacity of the international system to co-operate to deal with these challenges will be broken and weakened, with desperately serious consequences for all of us.

We need an inquiry that forces all parties and the public to face up to the fact that we got involved in Iraq because George Bush and the neo-conservatives wanted to overthrow the unpopular regime of Saddam Hussein—regime change—and establish a friendly power in Iraq, so that they could relocate American bases in the middle east, dominate the Gulf and have close relations with a country that contained a large proportion of the world’s remaining oil. As has been said, all of that is laid out for all to read in the documents published by the Project for the New American Century, which many of those who became senior figures in the Bush Administration had signed up to.

Of course, the US expected the invasion of Iraq to be popular with Iraqis and therefore thought that it would help to stabilise the middle east. The only problem was that international law, laid down after the second world war under the leadership of President Roosevelt and with the support of Prime Minister Churchill, did not permit that, and thus the lying became necessary in order to do what the neo-conservatives thought to be right.

I did not know that Tony Blair had the published documents of the Project for the New American Century drawn to his attention—they were certainly not drawn to the attention of the Cabinet—but I think that he was desperate to be close to George Bush and worried that he would not be because of the closeness of his relationship with President Clinton, and that he therefore gave his word early on that Britain would be with him in the planned invasion of Iraq. From that, it all flows: the exaggeration of the threat from weapons of mass destruction to give an excuse for war, because regime change is not legal.

The Butler report and the various leaks from our intelligence agencies have shown that the intelligence was being fixed around the policy. Hans Blix started out believing that there were WMD in Iraq, but when he found and reported that there were not—he reported to the Security Council what he had found, and also achieved the dismantling of large numbers of ballistic missiles—he was briefed against and smeared because his truthful findings were obstructing the excuse for war.

In the matter of international law, the neo-conservatives had no concern. They repeatedly made clear their profound disrespect for the United Nations and the constraints of
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international law. They wanted to keep the UK with them because the majority of US citizens said yes to war in coalition, but not alone. The UK had to pretend to respect international law, and that led to the game that was played at the United Nations. We should all remember that the UK ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, whom I like and admire enormously, gave a shameful undertaking on behalf of the UK when the first resolution was passed that there was no automaticity—no authority for war—without another resolution. However, the UK went on to argue later that the first resolution gave authority for war. That was deeply shameful.

I remain deeply shaken by the way in which the interpretation of international law was manipulated to fit the policy. The first legal opinion, which was leaked and is now a matter of public record, was kept from the Cabinet. That was a complete breach of the ministerial code, but who enforces the code? It is the Prime Minister. The second legal opinion was concocted at the last minute by an Attorney-General who was a crony of the Prime Minister, put into the Lords by the Prime Minister and made Attorney-General by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Mates: I am not following the right hon. Lady in her criticisms, but if memory serves me correctly, there were 44 meetings of the Cabinet between September and when we went to war. The Attorney-General attended only two of them. Did the right hon. Lady, who was there, find it strange that in that legal morass, the Government’s legal adviser was never there?

Clare Short: All the Cabinet meetings were little chats: they were never a proper consideration of all the options. That is terrifying, but true, and it means that our political institutions are unreliable and incapable of making proper, considered decisions.

When the Attorney-General came to Cabinet—I remember him coming only once, right at the end—I was stunned by the opinion that he brought to the Cabinet, but I accepted that in such a matter, the Attorney-General would not bring a concocted opinion. I now know that he did, and I conclude that the arrangements that we have for ensuring UK compliance with international law are unsafe. The way in which the Attorney-General is appointed is unsafe, and our constitutional arrangements need restructuring. That is one of the important issues to which the inquiry must attend.

It is often argued that the invasion of Iraq went well and was welcomed by all, but then went wrong, and that what went wrong, as the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), who was previously in the armed forces, suggested, was that no proper arrangements were made for post-conflict Iraq. Indeed, it is sometimes suggested that because of my doubts about the war, I prevented such preparations from being made in the Department for International Development, although how I could be responsible for US policy I am not sure. That claim is completely untrue, as a proper scrutiny of the historical record will demonstrate.

Careful and detailed preparations—volumes of them—were made in the US State Department. Louise Fréchette, the deputy secretary-general of the UN, also made detailed preparations to bring together the international effort that would be required to rebuild Iraq. My old
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Department made preparations, liaising carefully with the State Department, the UN and other international actors. Then, just a couple of months before the planned invasion, President Bush passed responsibility for post-war reconstruction to the Pentagon and set up the new agency, the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance—ORHA. All the State Department preparations were junked. There was no liaison with the UN or with the international community.

At the time, Andrew Natsios, then head of the US Agency for International Development, said that the danger in post-war Iraq would be chaos, and if we sacked everyone in the Ba’ath party, no institutions would function. He said that it was crucial that only the top people went and everyone else was left in place. That advice was wiped away and we got exactly what he predicted. That was incredible. In the run-up to the war, I thought, “This cannot happen in a nation like the US—they have Harvard, Yale and Princeton-educated people. We cannot make such an error.” But the hubris was such that it was believed that the invasion would be welcomed and that there was no need for international co-operation. Because of the deceit that went into the purpose of the war, we got the chaos of the aftermath.

These are serious matters, but they are the true record of what happened, and the inquiry must bring them out. Britain must decide what sort of country it wants to be. Do we want to adhere to international law, or do we want to junk it? Israel is junking international law in the occupied territories. Do we want a future in which international law no longer has any authority? It would lead to chaos and instability.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady—I do not think that she will lose any time by taking this intervention. On one of the big questions about the row between the State Department and the Pentagon and what was going on at the White House, was she aware at any stage that the Government made strong overtures about what was going on explicitly to require that a different system be put in place after the war in Iraq? I could never quite understand what our influence—or lack of it—was in the whole process. We had a vested interest in getting it right, but somehow seemed not to have any view on it. I am not saying that the right hon. Lady did not, but that officially the Government seemed to have no view on that point at that time.

Clare Short: The answer is that because this was being driven—I am running out of time—by the Prime Minister on the phone to the White House, British systems were breaking down. One part of the Government was giving that advice, and another was not.

My final point is that because of the deceit, proper consideration was not given to all the policy options. There were other ways of bringing down Saddam Hussein. We could have got rid of the sanctions, or indicted him like we did Milosevic and let the Iraqi people help to do it. None of the other options were considered. This is a disgrace to our history and it shows that our institutions do not work. We need an inquiry that will lay out everything from which we can learn the lessons about decision making and our role in the world, so that we never ever again engage in such actions, which have left terrible destabilising effects on the wider middle east.

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4.6 pm

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I remember being here on 15 June, when the Prime Minister made his statement on Iraq. I felt angry and upset, and I told him and colleagues that a secret inquiry was not acceptable. Why did I say that? The previous Thursday, I attended a seminar held under the Chatham House rule with my friends for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) and for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) and other colleagues in the Public Administration Committee. A galaxy of stars were there: Lord Hutton, Lord Butler, Geoffrey Howe, Lord Hurd, and the Conservative academic and constitutional expert, Lord Norton—people like that. The seminar concluded and, because I know how things work, I came across from that seminar in Portcullis House and tabled a question in the Table Office. My question to the Prime Minister was whether he

I got a big raspberry a few days later, on Monday.

To this day, I do not know what persuaded the Prime Minister to take the line that he did. If he had consulted with colleagues in all parts of the House, consensus would have emerged and we could have gone forward. What are we trying to establish? We are not trying to put Tony Blair’s head on a pikestaff. We are trying to establish the truth. In the Public Administration Committee’s report, which Members will have read, we go on to say that apart from establishing the truth, we want to

That is what we wanted.

We were trying to get consensus on the establishment of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into Iraq because we knew that, until very recently, the Government did not want to act. They did not want an inquiry into Iraq—it was a radioactive issue. That is why we, as a Select Committee, came forward with our proposals. No. 10 and the Government knew exactly what we were doing. They knew about the seminar and the meetings we were having, but despite that we got the crass statement from the Prime Minister on that Monday.

What did we want as a Select Committee? In our report, we called for a debate and a free vote in the House of Commons on the proposal for an inquiry. I will vote with the Government today if Ministers can tell me that there will be an early occasion when they put a substantive motion before the House on the inquiry’s terms of reference. That motion should set out its membership, composition and so on—in other words, all the matters of concern that have been raised in the debate. If I get that assurance in an hour or two’s time from the Front Bench, then I will vote for the Government: if not, I will vote with the Conservatives.

I have one or two other points to make that have been prompted by what has come up in the debate. Clearly, we need evidence to be given on oath. Until the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) spoke, I did not appreciate that the inquiry as currently constituted may not have the power to require people coming before it to swear an oath. That needs to be cleared up.

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My friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) spoke about the legal advice. Of course, we did not get the full legal advice until 2005, two years after the conclusion of the war. The minutes of the crucial Cabinet meetings of March 2003 need to be released, but so do the notes that were also taken at those meetings. I have discovered that two sets of notes are taken of what is said at Cabinet meetings. They are, presumably, distilled into formal Cabinet minutes. We need all that information.

It is absurd that an inquiry into our biggest military engagement since the second world war does not feature a senior military person. I was completely gobsmacked to read that the head of the Army, General Dannatt, had not even been consulted by No. 10 on the terms of reference.

We should also encourage civil servants who feel that they have something new to say to step forward, and we should give them all the protection that they need to speak candidly and truthfully. I say that because the PAC held a sitting on leaks and whistleblowers back in March, at which a Foreign Office diplomat, Carne Ross, appeared before us. He was our man at the UN for four and a half years and is an expert on the middle east and Iraq. Talking about the experience of many people in the civil service—in the bureaucracy—he said:

That was said by a civil servant on the edge of great things who resigned from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office because of what he felt was mendacity on the part of the Government.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I want to follow up on one point about which the hon. Gentleman has not spoken. I and others noted earlier that the political representative on the committee is from the other place. Does he think that an elected Member of Parliament or two should be on the committee, so that the opinion of the Chamber can be represented? After all, we voted on the matter. Why should someone from the other place be our representative?

Mr. Prentice: I could not agree more about that. Indeed, my friend the Member for Cannock Chase said in a letter to the Prime Minister:

We need that, because that would cover the point about senior parliamentarians having an input. It would also deal with the point that I and others have made about the committee having a place for a military person. That person should not be below the salt as an assessor, but a full member of the inquiry team.

One final thing—or have I had a final thing already?

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): There are no limits in Parliament to final things.

Mr. Prentice: My views will not be changed by the Minister’s big, broad smile, but I want to say something about documents. I attended a meeting a week or 10 days ago that was addressed by Philippe Sands the human rights QC. He spoke about a note from President Bush
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to the former Prime Minister Tony Blair on 31 January 2003. President Bush allegedly said, “Put up the planes; fly the planes over Iraq; paint them in UN colours, and when Saddam shoots them down, that’s the pretext to go to war.” I do not know whether that is fantasy land, or even whether that document really exists, but the inquiry should be able to subpoena all the documents, if that is the expression; it needs to get to the truth.

Let me restate my central point. I want the Government to concede and to bring forward a substantive motion allowing the House to consider the new terms of reference and the composition or membership—call it what you will—so that the House can vote on it and give the inquiry its parliamentary imprimatur. If I do not get that, I will vote with the Conservatives.

4.16 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Respect): With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, 10 minutes of most Back Benchers is more than enough, but there are odd occasions when it is not enough. The speeches of the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) who has vast experience and of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) should have been extended. They were extremely important to this debate and this 10-minute rule should give you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the flexibility to allow a moment or two for important, decisive speeches in a debate. I have now given away 30 seconds of my time, but I thought that that was worth saying.

The Government just do not get it. That is evident again this evening from the languid complacency with which the Foreign Secretary spoke, which led the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) to say that he felt that the Foreign Secretary’s heart was not in it. It is evident from the period of time when there was not a single Government Member on the Front Bench and from the body language of the two Ministers who now are on it when the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood was speaking. They were sneering and nudging, utterly oblivious to the fact that her speech will be listened to and read by millions tomorrow and given real weight, while what they have to say will be treated, if they are lucky, with derision.

The Prime Minister’s initial prospectus for this inquiry proved that the Government just do not get it. When, in 2005, I was elected as the first left-of-Labour Member of Parliament in England for 60 years, I was elected because of Iraq. The Labour party’s membership has halved because of Iraq. Millions of Labour voters have left them and new parties—some of the left and some of the right—are proliferating and strengthening, in substantial part because of Iraq. That has happened not directly, but indirectly because of the poison that the Iraq question has caused to pulse around the British body politic. The lack of credibility of the British political class has also been the result of Iraq.

The Government still do not get it. If they did, they would have used this opportunity for a grand catharsis, to turn the page and finally leave Blairism behind and call for the kind of inquiry that has been repeatedly demanded in the House this evening.

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