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24 Jun 2009 : Column 874
5.11 pm

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): In March last year, on another occasion when we debated the need for an inquiry on Iraq, the Foreign Secretary expressed surprise at my reservations about the credibility of the inquiry chaired by Lord Butler. In the speech that I made later in the debate I set out my concerns, which I will not repeat now.

When that inquiry was set up, we already knew of Lord Butler’s form from his evidence to the Scott inquiry. When asked about the less than full information being provided in parliamentary answers, he said:

Commenting to the inquiry on other parliamentary answers, he added:

We must ensure that the inquiry that we set up following today’s debate gives the full answer.

Given the outcome of the Butler inquiry, it is appropriate to consider what we know about the chair and members of the current inquiry—especially as we heard from the Foreign Secretary today that, having first announced an inquiry to be held in private, the Government are now putting their faith in Sir John Chilcot to conduct the inquiry in an acceptable manner, telling the House that the Chilcot approach meets all reasonable expectations. I think that today’s debate demonstrates that that is not the case.

We also learnt from the Foreign Secretary today that Sir John Chilcot went along with the proposal for the inquiry to be conducted in private. In contrast, Sir John is now saying that as much of it as possible should be held in public. That is good, but what message does it convey about his objectivity and impartiality, given that he was apparently happy to accept an inquiry conducted in private? Surely it should have been perfectly obvious to everyone—at least those with no interest in a cover-up—that that would not do.

By accepting such a condition, Sir John—a retired civil servant and as such someone who could be regarded as an establishment figure—failed to exert his independence. He does not seem to be the sort of person who robustly evaluates evidence and arrives at careful conclusions. Indeed, as a member of the Butler committee, he must have gone along with the remarkable decision to support the Government’s claim that Iraq had sought to procure uranium from Africa, ignoring the conclusion of the International Atomic Energy Agency that the allegation was unfounded. Moreover, it did so without giving any reasons for disagreeing with the IAEA, and without addressing probing questions that I and the former Member for Blaenau Gwent, Llew Smith, submitted in our dossier to the inquiry.

I am not the only person who is raising questions about the selection of Sir John to chair the inquiry, as we heard in earlier comments from the Opposition Benches. In an article in last Sunday’s edition of The Observer, Professor Philippe Sands talks of the role of the chairman as crucial, but says “questions abound” about the choice of Sir John. He asks:

as is, perhaps, indicated by his acceptance of an inquiry in private. Philippe Sands continues:

He then refers to the occasion when the Butler committee took evidence from the former Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, on 5 May 2004:

Let me now turn to the other members of the inquiry team. Sir Roderic Lyne is a former ambassador to Russia. He retired in 2004 and took up a number of posts in the private sector. He was a special adviser to BP, which currently has major interests in Iraq. Regardless of whether that represents a conflict of interests, it does not help public confidence given the concern that we went to war for oil.

There are also two historians on the committee. Sir Lawrence Freedman is a military historian and professor of war studies. The Scotsman reports that he previously praised Tony Blair’s attempts to influence US foreign policy in the run-up to the war—attempts at influence that proved fruitless. The other historian, Sir Martin Gilbert, compared George W. Bush and Tony Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill in an article in The Observer in 2004. Both historians could be seen as establishment figures.

Another member of the committee is Baroness Usha Prashar. She has a virtuous CV but, as other Members have said, would it not have been more appropriate to include Members of this House? Public confidence in the inquiry would be enhanced if its membership included at least one Member who has questioned the decision to go to war. Some names have been mentioned in the debate; I suggest my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), as I think he would be an excellent choice.

I would also like to suggest another member. John Morrison was an analyst at the Ministry of Defence with wide experience of the British intelligence community. When he retired in 1999, he took up a post as the Intelligence and Security Committee’s investigator, but he was sacked after he was interviewed, with the Committee’s agreement, on “Panorama” in July 2004. In that interview he referred to the “collective raspberry” that went around Whitehall when the Prime Minister stated in the UK dossier of September 2002 that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction posed a serious and current threat. John Morrison said that

The former chief of defence intelligence and former deputy chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Air Marshal Sir John Walker, worked with Mr. Morrison and has expressed concern about the non-renewal of his contract. The ISC had previously described Mr. Morrison as a valuable asset to the Committee. Sir John is reported as saying:

He also said that it was beyond belief that Mr. Morrison was going because his contract was up and that he would be surprised if pressure had not come from No. 10 after the embarrassment of the “Panorama” criticisms. A member such as John Morrison would add credibility to the Committee.

It is essential that we have an inquiry in which all shades of opinion in this House and the public can have confidence. It is supremely evident from this debate that that is not the case. I still cannot understand why the Government could not simply accept the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. It would have been a way to make progress. It is still not too late to do so.

5.21 pm

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): It seems a long time since 15 February 2003. Much has changed for me in that time. I was then not an elected politician—I had not even been elected to Leeds city council, never mind as a Member of Parliament. I was one of the many—perhaps as many as 2 million—who marched on the streets of London in an unprecedented display of public protest that the Government were even considering taking this country into an illegal war. I was joined by my then girlfriend—now my wife, I am happy to say—who was one of the many who were not political people and who had never protested before in their lives. She took to the streets because she was so concerned about what might be done in her name.

A lot has changed since then for this House, too. We have had a general election—some Members left and some new faces, including me, joined. We have a new Prime Minister—indeed, a few weeks ago, we thought that we were going to have yet another Prime Minister. But the reality is that, not long after that march in February 2003, this House, which at the time seemed so immune to and out of touch with what the country felt, voted to approve the invasion of Iraq.

Barry Gardiner: Does the hon. Gentleman recall that on 18 March 2003, the opinion polls showed that 56 per cent. of the population were in favour of the war?

Greg Mulholland: The hon. Gentleman shows how out of touch with the public he remains. That is also what the Government have achieved with their bungling of the attempt to introduce a half-baked inquiry into Iraq. We all know that it was introduced only as a sop to Labour Back Benchers to try to save the Prime Minister’s political life a few weeks ago. Close scrutiny shows that, once again, the Prime Minister has taken his blunderbuss and shot himself in both feet.

We now have an inquiry that will not even have the power to summon witnesses before it, and witnesses will not necessarily be speaking under oath. After everything that has already come out about this sorry affair, how can the public possibly trust witnesses who are not speaking under oath? The members of the inquiry team will be hand-picked by the Government from establishment figures. Yes, this House is right to be concerned that we will not have a say in who the members should be. We should be far more concerned, however, that the general
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public should find the members credible. The general public must believe that the committee is credible, or it is not even worth starting the exercise.

Of course, I shall support the Opposition motion; however, I have to disagree with something that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said. He said that this is not about who was right and who was wrong. I am afraid that it is. It is time for all those who voted for the war to admit that they were wrong. That is patently obvious.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar), who has acknowledged that he made a mistake. It would be interesting to get a list of all those who voted for the war who have now had the courage to say that they were wrong, for whatever reason, and that they regret that decision. It is certainly a decision that they should regret.

The wording of the Government amendment is interesting. It says that we wish to

Surely the main lesson is not to manipulate and misrepresent intelligence to justify sending British soldiers into an illegal war that is to be waged by America. We do not need an inquiry to tell us that. However, we do need an inquiry to tell us how and why that disastrous decision was ever reached and to find out whether the House was deliberately misled.

I share the concerns that have been expressed about extending the remit of the committee. We must consider what happened afterwards, but we must first get closure for this country on why we went into the war in the first place. I echo the comments made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), who talked about punishment. We are now talking about having a one-year jail sentence for Members who abuse their expenses. What punishment should we have for a Prime Minister who deliberately misled the House of Commons and the British public into an illegal and immoral war? That is a question that we should be asking as part of the process. We simply cannot hide from it.

I am sure that we have all seen the ghost of Tony Blair over the past week. We still see his hand on the shoulder of the current Prime Minister. The sad reality is that although George W. Bush is discredited and did not get away with the illegal invasion of Iraq, as usual, “Teflon Tony” did. The only way to change that is to get him in front of a public inquiry, under oath, and finally get to the bottom of that decision.

If anyone doubts what I have said, the former Prime Minister, at the same Dispatch Box from which he misled the people of this country, once said something that was entirely untrue about me. He never had the decency or honour to apologise for that. What hope do we have that he will ever apologise for his disastrous decision?

There is a lot of talk about whether Tony Blair influenced the decision to have the inquiry held in private. I think that just about everyone on the Government Benches realises that that has done them a great deal of damage. Frankly, it does not matter, because Tony Blair’s legacy is that it does not matter what the truth is, but simply how it is presented. Let me quote a supporter of the war, Bruce Anderson, from The Independent on 22 June. He said:

24 Jun 2009 : Column 878

That quotation comes from someone who supported the decision to go into war. The reality, however, is that the current Prime Minister took part in that decision. In May 2007, he said:

The reality is that millions of people in this country do not believe that the decisions were right, but they do believe that we have the right to find out exactly why they were taken.

The expenses scandal of the past few weeks has brought this House into disrepute. The decision to take this country into an illegal and immoral war brought the Government into disrepute. If we are to restore public confidence in the House and the Government, we need a proper inquiry and not the half-baked one that the Government are trying to get away with. We need a genuine inquiry that will finally give the answers needed to put this sorry issue to rest and to restore credibility in this House and this Government.

The people who marched in February 2003, some of whom had never marched before, deserve a proper inquiry. The fallen soldiers and their families must have that. If we want to restore faith in our democracy, we must demand it. If the biggest foreign policy mistake since Suez does not warrant a public inquiry, what does? This House failed the nation in 2003. It must not do so again this evening.

5.31 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I am one of those who voted for the conflict. I have told the House before that I shall deeply regret that until the day that I die. I believe that I was hoodwinked. I also think that my judgments were unsound.

I remember that we all went through a crisis at the time, as we examined whether it was a just war. We looked into what Thomas Aquinas said and we tried to understand the international law, but the background was that a British Prime Minister came to the House and told us that there was an immediate and serious threat. That certainly influenced me, and perhaps I will be able to amplify on that on another occasion.

The House and the nation were misled, and I am angry at having been fooled and at the way that I was bounced into voting for the war. I am bewildered by how anyone could consider not voting for the Opposition motion before the House this evening, because it sums up what must be done. It says that there should be an independent inquiry, and that there should be a resolution of the House of Commons to confirm its terms of appointment and its membership. The Prime Minister keeps going on about rejuvenating Parliament and constitutional reform. That is one reason why he should embrace the motion, but I shall refer to another in a moment.

The Government amendment makes me very angry. At last Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time, I cautioned the Prime Minister that I wanted to know whether people would give evidence under oath. Until the past few hours, there was no great response or interest from Members of Parliament or the press. Even some very good Members of Parliament from all parties
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still did not seem to understand that no one will be able to give evidence under oath because it is not a statutory inquiry. The amendment says that the Government will

but I know, and the Prime Minister knows, that that is complete nonsense. The only way to get evidence given under oath is by the House passing a swift Act of Parliament to facilitate an extraordinary, one-off inquiry. I think that I am the only person in the House to have given evidence to the Hutton inquiry. None of that evidence was given under oath, and I shall say more about that in a moment.

Both Prime Minister Blair and the current Prime Minister try to claim that there have been numerous inquiries on this matter, such as the ones by the Foreign Affairs Committee, Butler and Hutton. Not one of those so-called “inquiries” was held under oath, and as a member of the FAC, I can say that extracting the truth was like extracting teeth from a whale. Every obstruction was put in our way. There were redactions in the report, as was mentioned earlier. The Butler inquiry was held behind closed doors, and we do not really know what evidence it received. We can look at the report, but no evidence was given under oath.

I have said already that the Hutton inquiry was informal and non-statutory, albeit headed by a distinguished judge. No evidence was given under oath to that inquiry either, and our witness statements are covered by the 30-year rule. My humble little witness statement will not be seen for 30 years; neither will the witness statements of the Defence Secretary at the time, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), or of the then Prime Minister, or of people in the security and intelligence services see the light of day—unless, of course, this new inquiry is independent and appointed under the tribunals of inquiry legislation.

Of course, the establishment dare not do that, because all the documents seen by Hutton, Butler and the Foreign Affairs Committee would then be out in the open as documents before an independent inquiry. We know that there has been extensive dissembling—untruths told by a number of parties and agencies since the Iraq war and before it. We need to expose that and find out the motive for the dissembling, the misleading and the downright lies in some cases.

Over the past few days, the Whips have come to me, saying that they do not want a Saville-type inquiry, as that one went on a long time and cost a lot of money. Actually, I do not want a Saville-type inquiry and I am not advocating such an inquiry, as it is not necessary. The Saville inquiry related to one traumatic and heart-rending incident, but in terms of the volume and level of deceit, the Iraq war is much bigger than the awful events in Londonderry a quarter of a century ago—I am not minimising what happened there, of course. Saville’s was a judicial inquiry, at which people had to give evidence under oath, and the same was true of the Lawrence inquiry. If I may go back in history, Winston Churchill gave evidence under oath at the Gallipoli inquiry. Although that was a long time ago, it is the sort of inquiry that is required to deal with the Iraq war today.

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