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Jeremy Corbyn: Will the hon. Member also concede that it is not just British politics that has been changed and shaped by Iraq, as the issue has had an effect across Europe, all over the world in respect of the anti-war
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movement, but also particularly in the United States? For all his support for the war in Afghanistan, President Obama basically owes his position to his opposition to the Iraq war and his initial victories in the Democrat primaries because of that opposition. American politics has also been delineated by Iraq.

Mr. Galloway: Indeed. There has been a holding to account in the United States of America—there has been catharsis. Those responsible for the disaster have been cleansed away and there is the sense of a new beginning.

Of course, we do not have that option. Some of us recall only too vividly the iron-clad consensus between those on the two Front Benches in the run-up to the war. The then Leader of the Opposition differed from the Government only in that he wanted the war faster, and more brutal and overwhelming. We have no chance for that catharsis, because either Tweedledee or Tweedledum will rule the country when the general election comes. That is a disaster for us, and it makes the inquiry much more important than it might otherwise have been. That is why we ought to have a real inquiry.

I am a founder and the vice-president of the Stop the War coalition, which organised the demonstrations of millions that have been referred to this evening, so the House must forgive me if I am a little more rebarbative than some of the politesse we have heard today. I seek to speak for the millions who were on the streets of this country.

People have queued up to say they have nothing against the membership of the inquiry. Well, I do. The more the Foreign Secretary adumbrated their distinguished characteristics, the more I saw a parade of establishment flunkeys—Sir Humphrey This and Sir Humphrey That. Those who are not just grey blurs are in fact partisans. Freedman is one of the authors of the intellectual case for the war. He and his neo-con friends were the people who made the then Prime Minister’s bullets for the war. Gilbert hailed Bush and Blair—imagine, they are already two of the most discredited political figures in the world, and history has not even started on them yet—as akin to Roosevelt and Churchill. Yet both Freedman and Gilbert are among the very small group of people who will conduct the inquiry.

Why can we not have real politicians on the inquiry? Why cannot the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews)—forensic, learned, legal—be on the committee? Why cannot the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), with all his experience, skills and training, be on the inquiry? Why cannot the former Foreign Secretary Lord Hurd, with his vast knowledge of international affairs, be on the inquiry? Why should Parliament be represented by a woman I have never heard of? I have sat in this place for 23 years, and I doubt whether anybody here, other than those with the privilege of knowing the lady personally, could tell us anything that she has ever done. How can she represent Parliament in this great debate—this great inquiry? There are no military men, no men or women of legal eminence and no politicians except a non-political peeress of whom none of us has heard. This inquiry team has no credibility out there among the public.

Mr. Gordon Prentice rose—

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Mr. Galloway: I cannot give way, because I shall lose the time—I have no extra time. I am sorry. The House must forgive me; I am one of those who is worth more than 10 minutes. I cannot give way—[Hon. Members: “You can.”] In that case, I apologise. I give way.

Mr. Prentice: I think it is completely out of order for the hon. Gentleman to traduce Baroness Prashar from the other place. She was a distinguished civil service commissioner. Just because he has not heard of her does not mean that colleagues elsewhere have not.

Mr. Galloway: Quite so. A distinguished civil servant, just as Mr. or Lord Chilcot, Sir Chilcot or whatever he is called, is a distinguished former permanent secretary. That is the point. How very British. How very “Yes Minister”. How very Sir Humphrey. This has to be a real inquiry, of the kind the Americans would hold—with forensic experts on it who can root out the truth.

Some of the stuff we have heard this evening has been almost laughable. The Foreign Secretary said that he cannot put a percentage on which parts will be in public and which in private. Well, given how loth most people in the country are to believe anything the Government say, that ought to be a significant warning signal. They say that Chilcot can look at the scope for making people take oaths, but without oaths the whole thing is meaningless. Tony Blair is right that he answers questions on Iraq all the time. It is the truthfulness of the answers that is the problem, not the fact that he has the brass neck to answer. His problem is the punishment that he would have to face in this life if he answered questions untruthfully under oath. This is not worth the paper it is not written on unless there are legally enforceable powers to subpoena, to bring witnesses and documents, and to force people giving evidence to do so under oath.

The reality is that some of us smell a crime in this whole affair. That it was a blunder is now conventional wisdom, although one or two almost extinct volcanoes on the new Labour Benches are still prepared to chunter about how proud they are of an enterprise that killed a million people, that killed hundreds and maimed thousands of our own people, that radicalised and fanaticised hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world, and that caused fanaticism to come to our very own country and harm innocent people in London, including in my constituency. Although a few semi-extinct volcanoes are prepared to identify themselves with what they did, that this was a blunder is a conventional wisdom that is shared if not in this building, then among the vast majority of the population as a whole.

Some of us say, to reverse Talleyrand, that this was worse than a blunder; it was a crime. If the inquiry is to mean anything, it will need to be able not only to apportion blame but, if blame is apportioned, to signal what legal avenues should be pursued. I know that we do not like that sort of thing in this country—things are usually swept under the carpet and finessed—but this is new territory. Events such as the expenses scandal have left the country seeing our House with such odium, and this country’s political class so naked, that the old ways will not do. If the inquiry finds people guilty of misleading Parliament, the Queen, the armed forces and the public, they will have to be held accountable. There will have to be a trial, which will have to be held under oath, and that will lead to punishment if there are convictions at the end—nothing less will do.

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We can faff about here in our parliamentary way, with fey exchanges between those on the two Front Benches, but that will not cut any mustard out there— [ Interruption. ] It will not cut any mustard with the people who were against the war in their overwhelming number in constituencies such as that of the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who is speaking from a sedentary position. They will be looking to see whether she votes to continue the cover-up, or votes for the kind of candour that will be required to return credibility to the House and our political system. This does not cut any ice with the millions of people who used to vote Labour but can now hardly think of themselves doing so again, even when the alternative is the rancid hypocrisy of Conservative Front Benchers.

4.28 pm

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate, which is of great interest to my Glasgow constituents, the British public and the wider world.

I remember that the House was told that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that he could launch nuclear missiles at 45 minutes’ notice. We were also told that he had links with al-Qaeda, but we now know that the only link was that al-Qaeda tried to kill him. We were given those reasons for going to war, but what we have learned since then has proved our fears and concerns right.

I remember attending an anti-war rally in Glasgow that was one of the biggest rallies in the history of Scotland; 70,000 people participated in it, and they were all angry. They all felt that the war was unnecessary, unjustified and probably illegal. I also saw more than 1 million people marching on the streets of London, opposing the war. The inquiry must answer the question: why did the British public better understand the crisis and get it right, while our Government got it so wrong, despite having access to both UK and US intelligence services reports, on top of several UN reports, including the investigation by the respected Hans Blix?

The inquiry must help to answer the unanswered questions raised during the years of the war. It must be an inquiry unlike any conducted before, with full access to all Government papers and the ability to call any witness. Crucially, it should be fully independent of the Government, and its remit should cover more than just the period of conflict; it should also cover the periods that led up to it and followed on from it. I welcome the indication from the Prime Minister that that will be the case.

The proposed inquiry has been severely criticised on the grounds of timeliness, committee membership, and transparency. With regard to timeliness, although the committee is not due to report back for a whole year, I firmly believe that a job as large as the one that it has been tasked with is not something that we can afford to rush into. After all, we have already seen the terrible consequences of having rushed into the war. I am sure that no one will argue that it is in the interests of the House or the public that the committee should be hindered in any way while conducting as detailed and as accurate a report on the Iraq war as is possible, least of all by having unnecessary time constraints imposed on its work.

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With it initially having been proposed that the inquiry should take place entirely in private, it is the issue of transparency that has attracted the most debate, both within and outside the House. I accept that it is difficult to strike a balance between the interests of transparency on the one hand and national security on the other. None the less, I share the concerns of hon. Members on both sides of the House who have called for a presumption in favour of proceedings of the inquiry being held in an open and public manner.

The inquiry represents a vital opportunity for the people of Britain to come to terms with one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes made in their name—an opportunity that we simply cannot afford to miss. Crucially, the inquiry should not only highlight our interests, but show a genuine interest in the well-being of the Iraqi people. It is not enough to analyse what went wrong during the war, nor is it enough to report on its aftermath. The only way for so detailed an inquiry to be truly beneficial to this House is for it to include recommendations on the various ways that we as a nation can help to improve the living standards of ordinary Iraqi citizens. The inquiry must look at the huge humanitarian problems created, such as the millions of refugees who were forced to flee to neighbouring countries, the terrible human rights abuses that occurred in Abu Ghraib and the alleged cases of extraordinary rendition. I cannot stress how important it is for all those issues to be investigated as part of the inquiry. We cannot allow them to overshadow all the good that has been done in Iraq with regard to humanitarian assistance, infrastructure and economic projects, and, most importantly, democratic government for its people.

I welcome the debate today brought by the Opposition, but they should also be asking serious questions of themselves. Although I recognise that it was a Labour Government who took us into war, let us be under no illusion that while 139 Labour MPs opposed the war, the Tories almost unanimously supported it. The Leader of the Opposition has already stated that, even knowing what he knows today, he would still have gone to war with Iraq. The motion alone will not hide their complicity in the conflict.

The inquiry must also look into the so-called special relationship between the UK Government and the Bush Administration—a relationship that made us look like we were blindly following Bush into a conflict on which he had already made up his mind. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice once said on the issue of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction that our answers to these threats will determine the stability of the world for years to come, and he was right. Those choices have affected the world and will no doubt continue to do so, as this war will be remembered by all as having been waged without just cause, against the wishes of the international community, particularly the Muslim world.

There is no doubt that one of the consequences of going to war is an increased risk of terrorism, the effects of which we have already seen in our country with the 7/7 bombings. The inquiry must help to break the propaganda used by radical groups to incite hatred against Britain and British people.

The inquiry must be an opportunity for the Government to show that they recognise their mistakes, that they are willing to apologise for them and, most importantly, that they have learned the lessons. The fear that many
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opponents of the war will have is that the inquiry will again be some kind of whitewash. The inquiry must begin to rebuild the trust and respect of the British people in the Government, and the trust and respect that we once held in the international community.

4.37 pm

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): The justification used by Government and others since the war has been varied. We have heard explanations that Iraq is a much better place, and that there was a need for regime change, despite the fact that regime change is illegal under international law. But we cannot get away from the fact that the main justification for war at the time was weapons of mass destruction. It is therefore blatantly obvious to the majority of people outside this place, if not in this place, that we went to war on a false premise. There were no weapons of mass destruction. The reason why the UN weapons inspectors could not find such weapons is that they did not exist.

I mention that for two reasons. The inquiry should focus on how the decision was made to go to war, given the lack of concrete evidence as to the existence of weapons of mass destruction. Also, I agree with other Members when they say that the Government simply do not get it. They have completely missed the point. Outside this place, there is a real sense of anger and of betrayal that the country and Parliament were misled when it came to justifying, at the time, the case for war. That sense of betrayal and anger has been reinforced by what is now, subsequently, seen as the enormity of the folly.

There can be no doubt that Iraq was the biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez. It was flawed in conception, execution and legacy; it brought about the death and/or displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq; it radicalised parts of the Muslim world against us to the extent that it has increased the risk of terrorism against residents of this country; and it brought about, within Iraq, the penetration of al-Qaeda, which had not been a presence there prior to the invasion. The west has suffered an historic loss of political and moral prestige, not just through the invasion, but through such issues as Abu Ghraib, which has not helped our cause.

Last but not least, the enormity of the suffering that the death or injury of so many of our troops has caused is now clearly focused in people’s minds. The troops did everything that was expected of them; my hope—our hope—is that the inquiry will explore whether Parliament did everything that was expected of it. It must not only find the truth, but be seen to find the truth. That is why I, for one, believe that only a fully public inquiry will purge that anger and sense of betrayal, which is so keenly felt outside this place and in this Chamber.

I believe that there cannot be any private sessions. History shows that sessions in secret do not necessarily reveal the truth; difficult questions do not get answered. A clear example is the 45-minute claim. At the time, the then Prime Minister made great play of the fact that our forces were within 45 minutes’ striking reach of chemical weapons. We still do not know to this day how that claim was inserted in the dossier itself, but we do know that the intelligence services did not think that the evidence and intelligence warranted the claim’s inclusion in the draft dossiers leading up to the first official draft dossier of 10 September 2002, when it was included.

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We do know also that at a meeting on 9 September 2002, spin doctors were present, and that, subsequent to it, the 45-minute claim was included in the draft dossier. When the Foreign Affairs Committee asked questions in 2003, the evidence was taken in private and, during the course of that and subsequently, the Government requested that the names of the spin doctors be deleted—or redacted. We still do not know to this day whether it was spin doctors—

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Or spooks—

Mr. Baron: Or spooks who actually upgraded the 45-minute claim and made sure that it was an integral part of the dossier.

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Baron: I shall take an intervention, because I think that I get an extra minute.

Barry Gardiner: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman and shall be as quick as I can. Does he recall that on the afternoon of 10 September 2002, the Evening Standard, in response to that dodgy dossier, made it quite clear that that information had previously been in the public domain through the International Institute for Strategic Studies and was not worth the paper that it was written on? In the subsequent six months to March the following year, therefore, it did not form the case that we decided upon in this Chamber on the 18th of that month. That was not the case at all.

Mr. Baron: With respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman has missed the point; the point is that the intelligence services themselves did not think that the issue merited inclusion in the dossier. At the meeting of 9 September, at which spin doctors were present, the decision was made to upgrade the claim, despite the lack of evidence. The strongest word that the intelligence services could bring forward was “indicates”—in other words, there were “indications”. That was vastly firmed up and included in the dossier after that meeting.

However, we still do not know what happened for sure, because the sitting took place in private and names were redacted. That is why I firmly believe that there should be no private sittings during the inquiry. If we do not know what the questions are and we get answers that are largely redacted out, that will not satisfy the public anger and sense of betrayal about the war and the reasons why we went to war. If the Government are to purge that sense of betrayal, they have to do everything that they can to put the sittings into the public domain. Even written parliamentary questions to the Cabinet Office about who was responsible for including the 45-minute claim met a blank refusal. We want to know the answers, because the claim was an integral part of the case for war at the time.

There are two key questions that the inquiry needs to answer about how the decision to go to war was made. The first is about how the entire political structure—the system, the constitutional arrangements—failed to check the deluded ambitions, folly and hubris of one man. The second is about how the evidence of weapons of mass destruction came to be so exaggerated.

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