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24 Jun 2009 : Column 868

We all know that war should be the weapon of last resort, but on this occasion it was not. Why were the UN weapons inspectors not given more time? Many believe that the decision to go to war was taken well in advance of our vote in this place in March 2003. Many papers are available—some have been alluded to in this debate—that suggest that the decision was made by President Bush and the then Prime Minister Tony Blair back in April 2002 in Crawford.

There are minutes and briefing notes for Ministers with regard to that meeting, dated July 2002, that clearly make the point that the decision had been taken and that the question was about how it would be justified to the public. The point that the then Prime Minister was making was that he had to justify the decision and that the WMD claim was perhaps the route to take. Those documents have never been denied by the Government. Again, it all begs the question how the political system and constitutional safeguards—party control, collective government, parliamentary democracy itself—failed so spectacularly on that occasion.

The other issue on which the inquiry should remain firmly focused is how the evidence was “sexed up”—to use that unfortunate phrase—once the decision had been taken. We must remember that previous inquiries did not fundamentally address that point. The Hutton inquiry, for example, cleared the Government of sexing the evidence up because it believed that the dossier was at all times under the control of the Joint Intelligence Committee. However, all the evidence since, which we have had to drag from the Government—through freedom of information requests or the intervention of the Information Commissioner—is that spin doctors were at the very heart of the drafting process.

The fact that a spin doctor produced the first full draft of the dossier, one day before John Scarlett’s official draft of 10 September 2002, is evidence of that. Scarlett himself acknowledges that he had considerable help from John Williams, the senior press officer at the Foreign Office at the time. Such questions need to be answered by the inquiry. But they will not be truly answered, and the sense of betrayal cannot be purged, unless the inquiry is made fully public.

4.49 pm

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): I welcome the fact that there is going to be an inquiry, but I share the feeling expressed by other hon. Members that in reality, it is not the Prime Minister who is on trial in this debate but this House. I am quite happy to acknowledge that the terms of reference that the Prime Minister has set are unnecessarily and unhelpfully restrictive, both on the membership and make-up of the inquiry team and on its remit. However, it will be down to this House to determine whether we collectively are willing to run with something that, at the end of the day, will only add to the discredit and disbelief among the general public about the standing of the House. It is we collectively who are on trial, and I hope that Members will think carefully about that when they decide how to vote on the motion.

My own belief is that the terms of reference of the inquiry are both too narrow and too wide. I agree with the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that we could quite legitimately separate questions about the conduct of the war once we were in Iraq from
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questions about how we came to be involved in that war in the first place. It does not help any of us for such a wide remit to be set that it becomes impossible for the committee to report before the next general election. It is crucial that clarifying how we came to be involved in the war in the first place is the central issue under investigation.

I find it absolutely incredible that the terms of reference should have been set so that the committee is to be precluded from either making recommendations or attributing blame. It is as though there were to be an inquiry into the great train robbery but no one could be found guilty of it, prosecuted or sent to prison. It is absolutely astonishing that the committee should be manacled in that way even before it starts.

Jeremy Corbyn: Does my hon. Friend accept that that is actually a self-defeating exercise? Unless the inquiry can attribute blame and point in the direction of legal liability for the war, the demands for an inquiry will not go away. They will become stronger and stronger, and the next Parliament and the one after that will have further inquiries. It will go on until the truth is found.

Alan Simpson: I think that is the case, and it will confirm to the public that everything this House did not want to know in 2003, it does not want to know now. If we set the terms of the inquiry so narrowly that it cannot carry out the rigorous forensic investigation that is required, it will be subject to the ridicule that it deserves.

I remind the House of some of the inconvenient elements that were already in place in the run-up to the war in 2003. I pay tribute to many of my hon. Friends, some of whom are in their places, who at that time formed Labour Against the War. It was to demonstrate in the Chamber that there was not a consensus in the Labour party that endorsed the country being bounced into an illegal and immoral war.

It was under the auspices of Labour Against the War that we brought into the Palace of Westminster several of the key international players who ought to have informed our debate. Dominique de Villepin was here, and he set out the French perspective. Scott Ritter, a former head of the United Nations Special Commission weapons inspectors, came here and set out what the inspectors already knew about the destruction of both Iraq’s capabilities and its potential to deliver weapons of mass destruction. He gave UNSCOM’s evidence to Members who were interested. Denis Halliday, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator, came and told us what a devastating mess we were already making in Iraq and how disastrous it would be to compound that error.

On the eve of the publication of the Government’s dodgy dossier, those of us who had the temerity to do so produced a counter-dossier, which was Labour Against the War’s case against the war in Iraq. It set out the degree of international evidence available that contradicted all the claims that were coming out of Downing street. The inquiry therefore needs to address how, in the face of that evidence, this House could be bounced into a war of choice.

A number of hon. Members have referred to the importance of the availability of the legal advice at the time. However, it is not enough to have access to the legal advice; it is also important that the memorandums
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and notes of meetings should be available. Two of those memorandums that have already been widely leaked have been mentioned. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) referred to the secret Downing street memo produced on 23 July 2002 by David Manning and Matthew Rycroft, the Prime Minister’s foreign policy adviser at the time. My hon. and learned Friend cited the comments by the head of MI6 about the need to fix the facts around the policy. However, I was far more interested in the comments made by elected Members of this House at the meeting described in that memorandum.

The then Foreign Secretary, for instance, said:

In an attempt to be helpful, the then Defence Secretary said that

Even at that time, however, the Attorney-General said that

In conclusion, however, the then Prime Minister said:

For the Prime Minister, the question was not then, and perhaps never was, whether the war was legal. It was not then, and possibly never was, whether there were weapons of mass destruction. The question was: can we manufacture the case for a war, in order to con the country, the Cabinet and the Commons into endorsing that plan? That absence of legality and the cynical manipulation of a case for a war of choice must be the focus of the inquiry’s work.

The second note relates to the meeting that took place in the Oval Office on 31 January 2003, to which the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) referred. He is right to question the absence from that meeting of both members of Cabinet and the UK ambassador to the US, because there were only three people at that meeting from the UK side: the Prime Minister, Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, and Matthew Rycroft, the foreign policy aide who was the author of the memo. However, that memo said that

That is the cynical pursuit of conditions under which it will be possible to manufacture a case for legally going to war when no legal basis for doing so exists.

The inquiry must address to what extent members of the Cabinet were ever informed of those discussions. It must address whether the Cabinet knew, for instance, that the then Prime Minister was planning a war of choice in Iraq nine months before it was fought; that his objective was regime change, not the removal of weapons of mass destruction; that he had agreed nine months in advance to fix intelligence and facts around the Bush
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policy; and that Britain, based on the Prime Minister’s approval, was colluding with acts of provocation or assassination.

Those are all illegal acts. Had we had evidence that Saddam Hussein had been doing the same thing, it would have been justification for a war against him. It would also have been justification for him to be tried as a war criminal. I am not interested in the question whether the House should be judged according to the accusations of the Hague on the Opposition Benches. Ultimately, I have always argued that The Hague in the Netherlands should be the place where these questions are tried. My belief is that those who have perpetrated war crimes and acted as war criminals should be tried at the International Criminal Court. Those who say that we cannot do that now because it is too late to attribute blame ignore the fact that, for example, faced with institutional acts of child abuse, the House would never accept that we could root out that abuse without punishing the abusers. We are being asked today whether we have the courage to do this.

5.1 pm

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): At this point in the proceedings, we begin to echo each other, and we are doing so today across the Floor of the House. It might be repetitive but, at times such as this, we begin, as a House, to get to the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is that this inquiry is not just about the specific events leading up to the war or about its aftermath. It is also about our constitution and the way in which we conduct our democracy. That is its importance. The House has an opportunity today to restore the proper balance of power in this country.

We need to accept our share of the collective responsibility. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) referred to the many institutional failings that lie at the heart of this terrible, tragic, unnecessary war. Unfortunately, Parliament also played its part in that, on 18 March 2003, and it is now up to Parliament to play its part in making amends for that mistake. We have the opportunity to do that today.

Most of the Labour Members who have spoken today—indeed, most of the Labour Back Benchers who have attended the debate—voted against the war on that day. I ask them to join us in voting for the motion in the name of the official Opposition today. I speak as a miner’s son from Ammanford, and I mean no personal disrespect when I say that, on occasion, it is difficult for me to join the Conservatives in the Lobby. Today, however, the Opposition are doing what an Opposition should do: we are probing the contradictions in the Government’s stated position. We had a new Prime Minister who said that he wanted to restore the proper balance of power between Parliament and the Executive, but does anyone seriously believe that he would have rowed back so fast and so furiously if the Opposition had not tabled this motion on the openness of the inquiry?

Today, we have to push the Prime Minister even further, on the key question of the terms of reference. The line of accountability on this issue, which is a stain on our democracy, has to lie through Parliament to the people, who are the ultimate arbiters. It should not
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involve the Privy Council or a hand-picked group of people whose accountability is fundamentally to the Prime Minister. We cannot allow that mistake to happen again. It was that very concentration of power that got us into this mess in the first place.

Let us go back a century, to the time when some would say we moved away from a balanced constitution. The House of Lords lost its power to this House, then, in the 20th century, this House lost its power to the Cabinet. Finally, the Cabinet was sidelined and power was concentrated in the hands of one man. The power symbolised by the Mace—the royal prerogative—was placed in the hands of one man and a small cabal of advisers. That was what led to the terrible tragedy of the Iraq war, and that is what we, as a House, must now put right. We shall do that by voting for the motion and insisting that this inquiry into the war has to report to us in terms that we have set.

I remember when the then Prime Minister spoke at that Dispatch Box on that terrible day for our democracy. He referred to the UN inspectors’ reports, which contained, he said, unanswered questions and

He used that terrible Rumsfeldian logic. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; the fact that there was no evidence of WMD did not mean that the WMD were not there. That was sufficient reason—justification—for the war.

I did not believe a word that the Prime Minister said, but many hon. Members believed that it was not possible for a serving Prime Minister to lie to the House and to the people. Because he is no longer a Member of the House, I no longer have to fear being ejected for saying what many people believe: we were misled and the House was misled on a matter so serious—life or death, peace or war. That is why it is our responsibility tonight to get to the heart of the matter, both the specifics of the Iraq war and how our democracy and our machinery of government were so terribly undermined. We have to establish the truth and ensure that that never happens again—and yes, if as a result of that the inquiry believes that it must attribute blame, it should be free to do so if there is individual culpability, as many of us believe.

There are three key issues that the inquiry must consider and which have been touched on by many hon. and right hon. Members. On the motivation for the war, I believe that WMD were the pretext. As we have heard, various minutes and the Downing street memos that have emerged subsequent to the Butler inquiry suggest clearly, as Wolfowitz said, that WMD were simply the bureaucratic rationale. The real reason lay elsewhere, and it was regime change all along.

On legality, the contribution made by the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) was fascinating and it chimes with what Philippe Sands said in his book, “Lawless World”: the Butler inquiry saw correspondence between Ministers that the Cabinet never saw and which raised serious doubts about the legality of the war, and indeed shared some doubts that Colin Powell had about its legality.

We now know that the legal advisers in the Foreign Ministry of the Dutch Government believed that

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Interestingly, written on that memorandum were the words:

Our memorandums will not be buried. We owe it to future generations to ensure that this does not happen again.

Will there be prima facie evidence? Will the inquiry conclude that there is evidence that the war was indeed unlawful? We must remember that in November, Lord Bingham, former Lord Chief Justice and senior Law Lord of the United Kingdom, said that the Attorney-General’s advice to the British Government contained

that Iraq had defied UN resolutions

and that the invasion—the Iraq war—was

in this country as well.

Barry Gardiner: Does the hon. Gentleman recall the words of resolution 1441, which includes the words:

Chapter VII, of course, is the only chapter of the UN charter that justifies the use of force.

Adam Price: That point was dealt with by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood when she said that there was no automaticity as a result of that resolution and that a second resolution was required. The Government changed their position when they could not get the second resolution—that is the reality of it—and they misled the House, the UN and the people of this country.

I believe that if the inquiry concludes—as the senior Law Lord of the United Kingdom has concluded—that the war was indeed unlawful, the Government should voluntarily report themselves. They should report the Iraq war to the International Court of Justice for a declaratory opinion so that we can ensure that, for the avoidance of doubt, it is established in international law for future generations, and so that the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and the 179 British servicemen and women who lost their lives will not have lost them in vain. We will then have established a core principle in our democracy: that those who lead us cannot mislead us and expect to get away with it.

There is a fundamental principle in the way in which we govern relations between the nations of this world, and it is called the law. It is time for us, as a House of Commons, to undo the wrong of six years ago and vote for the motion. Sometimes it is necessary to have a parliamentary insurrection. I believe that Labour Members would be in tune with the best principles and traditions of the Labour party if they joined the official Opposition in the Lobby tonight. They may have their own reasons for doing so—many of us are mixtures of altruism and self-interest—but we know what it is right for us as a House of Commons to do tonight, and that is to unite behind an amendment calling for a proper inquiry that deserves the respect of the people of this country.

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