29 Jan 2015 : Column 1022

I very much welcome the emphasis that the Secretary of State put on the teaching of British values, in particular democracy and the rule of law. She will agree, I know, that it is important that we practise what we preach. It was therefore regrettable that parent members of the trust were not able to be elected by parents at the school. Instead, the trust took a decision to go through the most mind-bending process of selection to hand-pick parents to serve at trust level. I hope she will now encourage the trust to revisit that decision and ensure that democracy prevails.

Nicky Morgan: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the tone and spirit of his remarks. He has worked incredibly hard with the schools in his constituency and the wider Birmingham area in the aftermath of the reports from last year. He is absolutely right. We do not want the message to go out that we do not want people from Muslim communities or any other community to stand as governors of their schools. I am happy to look at the particular issue he has raised. I join him in thanking all those who worked so hard last summer to get the schools open. At the end of the day, this is all about making sure that the young people at the heart of those schools get the best possible education to fulfil their potential.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Teachers, governors, pupils and parents should be focused on promoting rigorous academic standards and not on pursuing particular agendas, whether relating to extremism or anything else. With regard to the role of school governors, is there no commitment or undertaking they have to sign to say that they will be committed individually to the promotion of British values, so that we can hold errant governors and teachers to account?

Nicky Morgan: Although we do not ask them to sign something, all governors are subject to the governors handbook, which was updated last September with some important changes and clarifications. In particular, one paragraph mentions the need for governors to ensure that a school’s ethos promotes the fundamental British values I mentioned in my statement. We could give the matter some consideration, but as my hon. Friend will know, just because someone signs a piece of paper does not necessarily mean that they have taken onboard all that it requires. One thing this matter has taught us is the need for cultural change as well.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Secretary of State agree that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in our country do not want to take over schools and are not extremists, but just want a darn good education for their children?

The Secretary of State’s remarks have disappointed me, because there is a systemic failure. For whatever reason, the Government have bypassed local authorities’ power to exercise authority over, and supervision of, schools. We all know that is true. I am in contact with people who rushed to save the Birmingham situation, and they say that the problem is a lack of power locally. Everything has to go through the Department for Education, which rushes in to help, but it does not have the capacity either. If senior advisers, including Ofsted,

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1023

are saying that there is systemic failure with the academy model, surely she should recognise that and do something about it.

Nicky Morgan: The hon. Gentleman started so well, and I certainly agree that the majority of Muslims in this country want the best education for their children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. The Clarke report identified just a very small number of people with a particular ideology.

I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, however, when he talks as if there was some golden age in the role of local authorities. I mentioned in my statement that we were working hard with Sir Mike Tomlinson, the commissioner, to build the capacity of Birmingham city council. The council is critical to learning the lessons from last year, but it has some way to go in implementing the plan. I should also point out that the head teachers who identified the problems went to the local authority, but rather than their problems being dealt with or their concerns being listened to, they were encouraged to enter into a compromise agreement and then moved. Those are not the actions of a responsible local authority.

Mr Andrew Robathan (South Leicestershire) (Con): I was surprised by the comments of the Opposition spokesman, given that the problems identified sprang from the failed policies of the past, particularly the discredited policy of multiculturalism promoted by the Labour party. I commend my right hon. Friend for her statement. Does she agree that it is important that every child is taught the Judeo-Christian tradition and history of this country, from which has sprung our values of parliamentary democracy, tolerance and freedom of speech and expression, notwithstanding past intolerance, and that many people have come to this country because of those freedoms?

Nicky Morgan: I thank my right hon. Friend for his points. He is absolutely right that we want every school to be teaching their pupils a broad and balanced curriculum and not only to respect things such as democracy, but to have mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. We are a much stronger country because of everybody who has come here and the freedoms, protections and opportunities we have offered—as he will know, being like me an MP for a constituency in Leicestershire, in which lies that fabulously rich city of Leicester.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): The Secretary of State will know, as I do, that one of the tools that the previous trustees used was isolation. They prohibited any relationship with neighbouring schools or any school that did not share their warped philosophy. The Education Select Committee report published this week on academies and free schools identified that 47% of converter academies—schools that have converted to academy

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1024

status since 2010—were stand-alone academies, which worried us enormously. We felt that Ofsted had a role and that no school should receive an outstanding judgment unless there were positive signs of co-operation with other schools. Does she agree that that would be one structural way of trying to prevent what happened in Birmingham from happening again?

Nicky Morgan: I shall certainly look at this week’s Education Select Committee report in detail. One thing explored in previous evidence sessions—I gave evidence to that inquiry—was the growth of collaboration, which we are seeing up and down the country, regardless of the type of school. When I visit schools up and down the country, whether they be converter stand-alone academies, part of a chain or still working within the local authority, and talk to heads and teachers, I see evidence of how much collaboration there has been and how much strength heads and teachers are drawing from working with other schools—locally, but thanks to modern technology, also in other parts of the country and even other parts of the world.

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): If our constituents have problems with the delivery of public services, ultimately they have recourse to the ombudsman. That was true of parents who had problems with working relationships in their children’s schools until 2012, when the Government changed the policy. Now, if a parent has a problem with an academy, they can go to the Education Funding Agency, but not with a complaint about the school, only with a complaint about the operation of the complaints procedure itself. Does that not need addressing?

Nicky Morgan: We of course have a very strong inspection system through Ofsted. In my experience as Secretary of State for Education over the course of the past few months, parents find many ways in which to complain, whether it be through Ofsted, the EFA or directly to me as Secretary of State or via the Department for Education. There are mechanisms to enable parents to raise complaints about their children’s schools, but of course they often start with the local school itself.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): The matters raised by the Education Secretary today, particularly the work she mentioned about her Department’s counter-extremism group, overlap considerably with the issues covered in the Home Office consultation on the Prevent duty, which closes tomorrow. I know that some groups in my constituency are keen to have some input. How can they have input into the work of the counter-extremism group in the right hon. Lady’s Department as well as influence the Prevent duty?

Nicky Morgan: I welcome all and any engagement that any groups want with the Prevent duty. I recommend that they contact the Department directly. They can come straight through to my office, and we would make sure that their thoughts were shared with the appropriate officials either in my Department or the Home Office.

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1025

Growth Deals

11.47 am

The Minister for Universities, Science and Cities (Greg Clark): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about growth deals. During the past four and a half years, the Government’s long-term economic plan has put the British economy on the road to prosperity. Since 2010, the deficit has been cut by half as a proportion of national income; 1.75 million more people are in work; there are 750,000 more businesses; and growth is among the strongest in the G7.

For Britain to fulfil its maximum potential, every part of the country must be an engine of growth, powering the nation ahead. Every city, town and county in Britain is unique, and the people who know best what is needed to build on the particular strengths of each place are the men and women who live, work and do business there. It is in the local interest, but also in the national interest, that they should be given the power to exercise leadership.

This Government have negotiated a series of city deals with England’s principal cities outside London, and also with the city of Glasgow. Impelled by Lord Heseltine’s report, “No Stone Unturned”, £12 billion was taken from central Government Departments and made available for devolution to business and civic leaders in every area across England. In July, I announced growth deals with each of the 39 local enterprise partnerships. They were a great success—welcomed in all parts of the country by businesses, local leaders from all parties and indeed in all parts of the House. The strength of the projects put forward, levering in at least twice the value of Government funds devolved, allowed me to invite LEPs to bring forward further proposals, building on this momentum.

In the autumn statement, the Chancellor made another £1 billion available for this purpose, and I am announcing today that we have agreed expanded growth deals with all 39 LEPs. The expanded deals will help to train the people that industry needs in order to fulfil the orders on its books in the future, such as through the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing at Nottingham university, which will train more than 3,000 engineers. The deals will improve road connections that allow people to get to work on sites that can provide more jobs in future, such as at Fareham and Gosport. They will provide the infrastructure that will help growing places to prosper, such as the new high-level bridge across the Manchester ship canal at Warrington. They will improve rail services: for instance, there will be a major overhaul of Gatwick airport station, track improvements on the midland main line, and better facilities for the Night Riviera sleeper service to Cornwall, which provides one of the country’s most magical train journeys.

The deals will regenerate parts of towns and cities that can be attractive destinations for employers, visitors and residents, such as Blackfriars and the quayside in Gloucester. They will enhance the collaboration between growing businesses and universities which has produced, for example, the incubation and innovation centre at the university of Huddersfield. They will expand successful programmes of grants to small businesses, including those in Sheffield and Liverpool. They will allow local economies—and the national economy—to benefit from

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1026

cutting-edge technologies, such as those that will be provided by the national centre for healthcare photonics that will be established in Sedgefield. Once again, the £1 billion of central Government funding will be added to, by at least £2 billion of private and local funding. That will give a £3 billion boost to local economies all over Britain.

The cities, towns and counties of this country are on the rise. Between 2004 and 2010, two thirds of net job creation took place in London and the south-east; since 2010, those areas have continued to create jobs, but they are being created everywhere else as well. The balance has been reversed, and 60% of the rise in employment is now taking place outside London and the south-east. The expanded growth deals that I have announced today will fuel the resurgence of our local economies, and I commend them to the House.

11.51 am

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister for giving me advance sight of his statement.

There is strong support throughout the House for devolution, and communities all over the country are crying out for more power. I pay tribute to the Minister for the role that he has played in Whitehall as a champion of decentralisation. He has been helped enormously by the initiative of Labour councils throughout the country which have come together to form combined authorities, and I also pay tribute to all the councils that are doing that in the interests of the people whom they serve.

The Opposition recognise the steps that the Government have taken, and the progress that has been made with the work that was set in train by the Labour Government through multi-area agreements and the legislation that allowed the creation of combined authorities and economic prosperity boards. However, local enterprise partnerships have not been supported properly—their performance has been patchy— and, as the Business Secretary now admits, abolishing regional development agencies without providing proper replacements caused chaos. Furthermore, the Government’s flagship regional growth fund has been dogged by delay.

The Minister has tried his best, but there are reports that his efforts have not made him popular in Whitehall. Some say that his localism scorecard embarrassed the Government and led to his being reshuffled, and some say that attempts to enlist the power of Lord Heseltine and his report “No Stone Unturned” caused him to be reshuffled again. I think that it is all a little unfair, because there is only so much that one man can do.

The Minister talks a great deal about the northern powerhouse. Why, then, is he trickling out bits and pieces with one hand, while taking away much more with the other? Can he explain why, under the present Government, Manchester city council, one of the most deprived parts of the country with some of the greatest needs, has suffered a reduction in spending power of £741 per household, whereas Wokingham, one of the very least deprived parts of the country, has been given an increase of £20? Why have Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham, which have some of the greatest needs in the country, faced some of the greatest funding reductions? What happened to the Prime Minister’s pledge that those with the broadest shoulders would bear the greatest burden?

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1027

Can the Minister update the House on any discussions that he has had with the Department for Communities and Local Government about the deeply unfair cuts that have been made in many areas, which are having an impact on councils and their partners, and a wider impact on local economies? Both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have been highly critical about the uneven impact of the cuts and the Government’s failure to make any assessment of it. Has the Minister made an assessment himself?

The small amounts of money that have been announced today seem to have more to do with another round of overblown press releases than with substance. We know Tory Ministers are big fans of trickle-down economics, but this stuttering decentralisation under this Government gives the term a whole new dimension, and it has not gone unnoticed that the Minister is not announcing new devolution of money for this year, but from 2016, and spread thinly over the next Parliament—indeed, some is not for the next Parliament, but for the Parliament after that. That is not a long-term economic plan; it is more delay and continued centralisation.

Will the Minister back up his rhetoric with substance by matching Labour’s commitment to devolve £30 billion of funding for city and county regions over five years? Why does the Minister think it is acceptable to offer limited devolution to some areas and none to others? Why are county regions excluded? County areas are responsible for generating over half of England’s gross value added outside London and this Government are refusing to back them. Were there any areas that sought funding that were unsuccessful? What happened to the significant deals for the Leeds and Sheffield city regions? Were they stymied by the Chancellor’s obsession with imposing metro mayors, or was it just Whitehall inertia?

As Ministers fan out across the marginal seats that the Government are courting with today’s announcements, people in many other cities, towns and rural areas will ask why they are being ignored by this Government when it comes to devolution. A Labour Government will make our devolution offer open to all parts of England—not just to cities, but to towns and villages that come together in combined authorities, with city and county regions across the whole country.

A Labour Government will pass an English devolution Act to reverse a century of centralisation and secure devolution for the people of England’s city and county regions. As I said, we will transfer £30 billion of funding over five years, passing power and resource down for transport, skills, employment support, housing and business support. That is three times more money than the current Government have said they will devolve. We will also give city and county regions more power over their public transport networks so that they can set the right bus routes and have fairer fares, as well as integrate their transport services to help working people and businesses succeed in their areas.

Today’s announcement is more of the same from this Government: limited powers for a small number of areas. Labour’s devolution offer will be far more ambitious in scale and scope. This statement looks like a desperate attempt to produce press releases for Tory marginals, rather than giving the long-term investment in infrastructure and skills that our country so desperately needs.

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1028

Greg Clark: I am grateful to the hon. Lady; she has given us some entertainment this morning. I am also grateful for her warm words at the beginning of her comments; they are appreciated. I have never set out to be the most popular person with Whitehall officialdom, but I have enjoyed the full-hearted support of my official colleagues. They have been working extremely hard in recent months, and I want to pay tribute to them. It is a funny kind of reward if getting promoted to the Cabinet is seen as a punishment for success. I am very pleased to be taking these measures forward.

Let me respond to some of the hon. Lady’s points. She is mistaken to hark back to regional development agencies. When I go around the country talking to even Labour leaders of cities there is no nostalgia for the RDAs. Under the last Government £20 billion was spent on the RDAs and the regional disparities worsened during that time. What we have seen since 2010 is a different approach—a locally led approach recognising that places such as Liverpool and Manchester are proud cities with an identity of their own and should not be subsumed under an artificial Whitehall creation called “the north-west” run from Whitehall. They need to have their voice, and they are proudly expressing it.

As I have said, since 2010 most new jobs have been created outside London and the south-east. Under the last Government, during the boom the number of private sector jobs in the city of Birmingham actually contracted. We do not want to go back to RDAs.

Enthusiasm is widespread across the country, and that is making a difference. I am very happy to confirm to the hon. Lady that counties and districts are very much included. Every part of England is covered by a local enterprise partnership and will benefit from this, and we want to go further forward in the future.

The difficulty we have with this agenda is that the enthusiasm of all parties throughout the country is not reflected on the Labour Front Bench. I am afraid that we heard this in the hon. Lady’s tone when she concluded her remarks. The Labour mayor of Leicester has said:

“Today’s announcement is excellent news for businesses and communities in our city and county.”

The leader of Sandwell council has said:

“The additional investment…will boost the quality of life in the Black Country”.

The leader of Birmingham city council says:

“This is fantastic news for Birmingham and the wider region”,

and the leader of Barnsley council has described it as a milestone. Even Labour council leaders across the country are in despair at the half-hearted approach of those on the Labour Front Bench.

We will continue this programme. We have more to allocate in the years ahead. Lest any hon. Member on either side of the House should be gulled into thinking that there is any prospect of greater devolution under Labour, they should be aware of the fact that the shadow Chancellor has confirmed that Labour has no plans to make extra funding available to be devolved to local government. Indeed, the devolution report that Lord Adonis authored made it clear that any devolved funds would be offset by a reduction in grants to local government—robbing Peter to pay Paul. We are taking money away from Whitehall and London and putting it into the hands of local leaders. That is working; it is creating jobs and confidence right round the country.

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1029

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I warmly welcome the funding that the growth fund will give to the new innovation centre at the Royal Agricultural university in Cirencester. However, the biggest problem in Gloucestershire is the “missing link”: the A419 between the M4 and the M5. It is part of the road scheme but it is going to be very expensive and the budget will need to be supplemented. Could that supplement be obtained from the growth fund?

Greg Clark: I welcome my hon. Friend’s remarks. He demonstrates the fact that these growth deals apply not only to our industrial cities but to counties, such as his own, with a substantial rural population. We know that the road schemes and improvements to connections in those counties are particularly important. The devolution of funds, now and in the future, to the Gloucestershire local enterprise partnership will allow it to put forward—as it has done—the schemes that will make the biggest difference in its area, and I encourage my hon. Friend to work with his LEP to achieve precisely that.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Devolution of expenditure needs to be transparent and beyond reproach. In August, I raised with the Minister the role of the chair of the North East LEP, Paul Woolston, who had just been appointed to the chairmanship of Middleton Enterprises, a company owned by Jeremy Middleton, a Conservative party member and donor who is now also on the investment board of the LEP. The Minister promised me, outside the House, to look into that arrangement. Is he satisfied with it?

Greg Clark: I did indeed look into it. Paul Woolston is the chairman of the LEP, which has members from all the local authorities in the north-east. I think he is doing a very good job. I also raised this matter with my officials and I was assured that there were no questions at all to be addressed, but I will happily write to the hon. Gentleman about this.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): The Worcestershire LEP has warmly welcomed the extra £7 million of investment that has been announced today, which will enable more than 600 apprenticeships to be created in our area. I am very grateful for that. All the south Worcestershire MPs recently joined Worcestershire county council in lobbying the Department for Transport for further investment in the southern link, and particularly in the dualling of Carrington bridge. We have had some positive commitments to work with the county on the southern link, but will my right hon. Friend meet us to discuss taking the matter further, and ensure that in future rounds of allocations from the local growth fund, which I am sure he will be championing at the Cabinet table, he will be as strong an advocate as he has been today?

Greg Clark: I will indeed. There is no stronger advocate for Worcester than my hon. Friend. He will know that the agreement we have with the LEP mentions the importance of improving the capacity of that road, and there is a commitment from the Government to work with local leaders to advance that.

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): May we have a reality check? The extra money for the Sheffield city region—£30 million over a number of years—needs

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1030

to be put in the context of the £60 million of cuts to Sheffield city council in the next year alone. The Minister is recognised as one of the most committed devolutionists in the Government. We can accept and welcome extra money and extra powers going to our city regions and combined authorities—more money where the decision on how it will be spent is made at the local level not the national level. Will he explain, however, why we cannot have a package of devolution measures that transfers responsibility for raising taxation at a local level in England—this is done in Scotland—and therefore give more powers to local councils in that way? He probably believes that that is the right approach, so why can he not convince his Government colleagues of it?

Greg Clark: No, I do not. It is worth pointing out that the total size of the growth deal with Sheffield is £328 million, which is a huge investment; it is a transfer of funds from central Government to the leaders of Sheffield. I do not think that the answer to the problem of creating further opportunities for places outside London is to increase taxes; I think the answer is to take money away from central Government and put it in the hands of people who can make decisions better informed by their local knowledge.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): My constituency is covered by a thick blanket of snow this morning, but this announcement has caused great warmth in Buxton, because the D2N2 LEP bid in respect of the Buxton Crescent hotel and spa is the final piece of a very long jigsaw that has taken many years. It will create jobs, boost the local economy and increase the tourism offer of Buxton and the High Peak for people across the world. I thank the Minister on behalf of my constituents, and may I tell the hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) that Buxton is not a city?

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend is right. I am delighted that the thaw has started in Buxton, although I am sure it looks even nicer under a covering of snow. From a rival spa town of Tunbridge Wells, I commend the attractiveness of the great town of Buxton and I hope to be able to visit it to see the impact of this investment.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister will know that Huddersfield is not a city but that the Kirklees local authority is one of the largest in the land. Nobody from my constituency would not welcome new money to the university of Huddersfield or our area, but may I put this in context? The research published last week by the Centre for Cities gives a very different picture of the way in which over the past five years power and resources have flowed to the richest parts of our country, particularly to London and the south-east. Is he aware of how much of a cut people in Kirklees have suffered in recent years and face in the future? Services are being cut at every level.

Greg Clark: The university of Huddersfield is a strong institution. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a particular interest in its connections with business, so I hope he will welcome locally the investment that has gone in there. The Centre for Cities is a good and valued think-tank. It carried out a 10-year review of the performance of cities over that period. It did not split what happened before 2010 from what happened

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1031

subsequently, but when one does that, the story is striking: most of the net new jobs before 2010 were in London and the south-east, whereas most now are outside London and the south-east. Strikingly, since 2010 the list of areas that have had the biggest fall in unemployment, as measured by the claimant count, is topped by Liverpool, followed by the black country, Birmingham, Teesside, Manchester, Coventry and Warwickshire, the Humber, and Stoke and Staffordshire. That is a picture of the revival of our local economy, which is due to the efforts of local leaders but backed by this Government.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I welcome this coalition Government’s investment in the north-east of England—in skills, science and manufacturing—including in Northumberland college. May I, however, underline the fact that the college needs to extend its services into the north of Northumberland, where many students are 40 or 50 miles away from the college?

Greg Clark: I welcome my right hon. Friend’s endorsement. The investment in the north-east has been striking, and it is making a big impact. We have been talking about the local growth fund, but there is also the regional growth fund, of which the north-east has been a big beneficiary to the tune of more than £300 million. That is the right way to go—to take money from Departments in Whitehall and to put it into the hands of local leaders and business leaders in the community, because they know where to get the best bang for their buck.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I understand that the Deputy Prime Minister is in Bristol West this morning to announce the new money that Bristol will be getting. I am sure the visit has nothing to do with the fact that the election prospects of the local Liberal Democrat MP are looking rather precarious. I welcome the new money for Bristol, but urge the Minister to consider one proposal that has not yet received funding, which is a centre of excellence for the food and drinks industry. It is an exciting proposal and Bristol would be the perfect city to host it.

Greg Clark: I will certainly look at that proposal, but the great advantage of these growth deals is that it is not me, but local leaders who make the decision to put such projects forward. I hope the hon. Lady will take up that matter with the West of England local enterprise partnership. The Deputy Prime Minister may be in Bristol today, but representatives from Bristol came to 10 Downing street on Tuesday, and I was pleased to have the chair of the LEP and the mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, pitching to international investors some of the fantastic projects that are available in Bristol. The projects went down a storm, and the meeting was a huge hit, so, quite apart from the investment that comes from these local growth deals, the interest in international investment in Bristol is now rising very strongly.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I welcome the Government’s support for Lancashire in this latest package and also the application from the

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1032

LEP to make Blackpool airport an enterprise zone, but will the Minister join me in accepting that the LEP’s track record on enterprise zones has been deeply disappointing to say the least? There are concerns across the House about the performance of the Lancashire LEP. Will he meet Lancashire MPs as soon as possible to try to put the LEP back on track again?

Greg Clark: I will indeed. As my hon. Friend knows, I have had a meeting with Lancashire MPs across the House. It is important that that enterprise zone achieves its potential, which means that it must be properly implemented. I am happy to convene the meeting that he suggests.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that the National Audit Office says that the original figure claimed for jobs likely to result from these initiatives was 54,000, which was later revised down by the Government to between 6,000 and 18,000. What steps is the Minister putting in place to ensure that there are comparable outcome measures so that these initiatives can be properly analysed and assessed and we have a true picture of what they are achieving?

Greg Clark: All the agreements are in the public domain. They are published and on the websites of all the local enterprise partnerships. There is a framework that tracks the implementation of each component of the deal. We have signing ceremonies that commit the local leaders as well as central Government to do what is laid out. But the difference between the growth deals and previous programmes is that the growth deals are in the hands of the local leaders. It is the local businesses that make estimates of the jobs that they are going to create, so it is an estimate not by the Government but by the local business leaders.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Minister has said that the West Yorkshire combined authority will use the new single appraisal framework to inform a formal review of transport funding priorities by 2015 to include the Shipley eastern bypass, which is something that I very much welcome. Does that mean that the Government have been persuaded by the persistent case I have made of the need for that bypass? Will he confirm that the funding is now available to progress the scheme, and whether the onus is now on Bradford council and the West Yorkshire combined authority to prioritise schemes that benefit the whole of west Yorkshire, and not just its Labour heartlands?

Greg Clark: I agree with my hon. Friend that he is a persistent advocate for Shipley, which is quite right as he is the local MP. The transport funds have been devolved to the West Yorkshire combined authority. In fact, £1 billion is available. Of course it is right that, in prioritising the transport schemes, the authority should cover the whole area. That is clearly understood and is set out in the agreement. I know that my hon. Friend will make his cause locally with the same vigour and passion that he does here in Westminster.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): The Government have foisted massive cuts in local services on Coventry. Will the Minister tell me what has happened to the gateway project in Coventry? There have been

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1033

delays, and there is now talk about an announcement next week. Will he also outline the reasons for that delay? He announced in his statement that there would be grants for LEPs. What grants are available for small businesses in Coventry?

Greg Clark: On the Coventry and Warwickshire local enterprise partnership, its expanded growth deal is now worth nearly £90 million and it includes a programme of grants and advice and support for growing businesses. As for the access improvements to Coventry city centre, they have been funded. Sites that are being brought into use require planning permission, but that is a matter for the local authority. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to meet me, I will take up the matter with the LEP and the local authority.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I welcome the announcement of funding for the Folkestone seafront regeneration scheme. Does the Minister agree that the regeneration of Folkestone, which is led by Sir Roger de Haan, is a model for the regeneration of coastal towns, and that this extra funding through the local growth fund will help to kick-start the next important stage of the development?

Greg Clark: I do indeed agree. I pay tribute to Sir Roger who has worked very closely with my hon. Friend to develop and promote Folkestone as the attractive destination that it is. The area is going from strength to strength, and this further investment will enhance its attractiveness.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I thank the Minister for the extra £2.9 million allocated to Huddersfield university through the local enterprise partnership. It will help fund a new incubator centre at the Globe Mills development project at Slaithwaite in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that that is a real sign that the northern powerhouse is making a difference in my beautiful part of Yorkshire?

Greg Clark: It certainly is, and Huddersfield is an excellent university. It is always good to reinforce success. Another aspect of this is that it shows the close working relationship between universities, businesses and local authorities. Universities are now, unambiguously, among the leaders of their local economies. It is very gratifying to see in so many of these deals that universities are playing a very strong and impressive role.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May I commend the Minister for today’s announcement of an expanded growth deal for Northamptonshire? I press him to try to find an urgent funding solution for the Weekley-Warkton bypass, which is mentioned in his statement. The Department for Transport has already provided £110 million for the widening of the A14 around Kettering. It has also promised £15 million to fund a new junction—junction 10A. The Weekley-Warkton bypass is the missing bit of

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1034

the circle around Kettering that is required for the necessary traffic relief for all the new houses that are being built locally.

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend makes an important point. There has been substantial investment in the road capacity in and around Northamptonshire. This particular project has the support of the Government. It is mentioned in the deal with the local enterprise partnership as something that is a priority to be taken forward through further discussions.

Ben Gummer (Ipswich) (Con): I, too, wish to thank the Minister for his great support for the Ipswich innovation centre, run by University Campus Suffolk, and also for the feasibility funding for the Wet Dock crossing, both of which were welcomed by the Labour leader of Ipswich borough council as “excellent news”—clearly, he had not co-ordinated his message with those on the Labour Front-Bench. I hope that he will not listen to the voices of the Labour party on this, because the new Anglia LEP has delivered for towns such as Ipswich the kind of investment that was never present during the previous Government.

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have been able to work very cordially with leaders of all parties across the country because we recognise that, where there is local knowledge that can bring forward compelling propositions, it is in the national as well as local interest to do so. Ipswich is a good example in that regard. In the city deal with Ipswich, I was pleased to see one of the first youth oriented jobcentres in the country, which is a tremendous success. The investment that comes from this deal, which was proposed locally, will have just such an impact, and my hon. Friend has been a great champion of such deals.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I particularly welcome the £11.3 million announced today for Cornwall. The Minister mentioned the Night Riviera service—something on which I have campaigned and petitioned the House for many years. Investment in that, as well as the broadband investment are welcome. I do not want to sound a discordant note, but may I urge the Minister to ask his Cabinet colleagues to look again at whether Cornwall should achieve intermediate body status so that the LEP does not have to go to Whitehall to ask permission every time it wants to move a paper clip around the county? Surely we could be given the same status as many cities so that we can advance our European convergence programme.

Greg Clark: It is fantastic news that Cornwall has had such substantial success through the growth deal programme. Further improvement of the facilities on the sleeper service will be good for the visitor economy as well as the people who live and work in Cornwall. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am determined to continue the substantial progress that we have made towards getting power out of its centralised bunker in Whitehall and into the hands of people right across the country, and I will not let up in pursuing that.

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1035

Backbench Business

Iraq Inquiry

12.12 pm

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House regrets that the Iraq Inquiry has decided to defer publication of its report until after 7 May 2015; and calls on the Inquiry to publish a timetable for publication and an explanation of the causes of the delay by 12 February 2015.

The second Iraq war led to the deaths of more than 4,800 allied soldiers, 179 of them British. The lowest estimate of Iraqi civilian fatalities is 134,000, but plausible estimates put that number four times higher. So let us be clear—at least 134,000 innocent people died. The war created 3.4 million refugees, half of whom fled the country. It cost the British taxpayer £9.6 billion and it cost the American taxpayer $1,100 billion.

The war has done untold damage to the reputation of the west throughout the middle east, and indeed among Muslim populations both at home and abroad. Initiated to protect the west from terrorism, it has in fact destroyed the integrity of the Iraqi state and triggered a persistent civil war that has created the conditions for perhaps the worst terrorist threat yet to the west—ISIL. It has done huge harm to the self-confidence and unity of the west, neutering our foreign policy. The war was, with hindsight, the greatest foreign policy failure of this generation, and I say that as someone who voted for it. So that is why the Chilcot inquiry was set up.

The Iraq inquiry was announced in 2009 with broad and proper terms of reference. Sir John Chilcot, the inquiry’s chairman, made it clear that this was principally about learning lessons. He said that these

“lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country.”

Governments are often prompted by acts of terrorism into making mistakes. The United States rushed into extraordinary rendition, torture, illegal surveillance and Guantanamo Bay. We attempted to introduce 90-day detention without charge, which everyone now accepts was unnecessary and wrong. But the greatest and most dangerous errors are in foreign policy. As Lady Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5 stated, the invasion of Iraq “undoubtedly increased the threat” of terrorist attacks in Britain.

Since the announcement of the inquiry, three major foreign policy decisions would have greatly benefited from the lessons that arose from the Iraq war. In Libya we undertook a military intervention that was intended to prevent a massacre, quite properly. It was successful, but it was the precursor to protracted conflict and unrest following our nominal military victory. In Syria, the Government were blocked by this House from military intervention, an intervention that would have led us to be the military supporters of our now sworn enemies, ISIS. And now in Iraq the UK has become embroiled in the ongoing civil war that has raged since the invasion in 2003.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1036

Mr Davis: I will, but as the Government have, in my view improperly, made two statements on a Backbench Business day, I will have to limit the number of interventions I take.

Mr Baron: As someone who voted against Iraq and Libya, I can only concur with what my right hon. Friend has said. Does he accept that the Chilcot inquiry has made it clear that it has cleared a lot of evidence for publication, but has not published it since 2012? Would it not be right, in the absence of the report itself, to get the evidence published, which would be the next best thing?

Mr Davis: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I will refer in a moment to the Winograd commission, which produced an interim report before the final report. Either of those approaches would have been sensible and worth while, and are still possible.

When decisions such as those that were made in Libya, Syria and Iraq are made without knowledge of all the facts, mistakes are made and sometimes people die as a result. So it is not hyperbole to say that the delay to the Iraq inquiry could cost lives because bad decisions could be made.

When it was announced in 2009, the inquiry was expected to take one year, and that was thought by the then Leader of the Opposition to be too long. Had the inquiry stuck to that timetable, the Government would have had the benefit in all the actions I have mentioned of any lessons that might have been learned from the final report. Six years on from the start, Sir John Chilcot has said that the report has taken

“longer than any of us expected would be necessary”.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Davis: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not for the moment.

That was perhaps the understatement of the decade. It has been claimed that it is not an unreasonable period of time for such an important inquiry, but the Franks report on the Falklands war took six months, and we should not forget that that war had a controversial start. There were controversial aspects to the continuing diplomatic negotiations. It was incredibly sensitive in diplomatic, national security, military and espionage terms, yet it took six months.

The Winograd commission—the Israeli Government-appointed commission of inquiry into the war with Lebanon in 2006—is another relevant example. The commission held its first session in September 2006, released a preliminary report within seven months and then published in January 2008, less than a year and a half after the inquiry was announced. Any argument for delay on the grounds of political sensitivity or national security would be far more pertinent in Israel, where the immediate threat to life is considerably greater than in any other country in the world.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): By the time we get to see this report, we will be in the third Parliament during which it has been written and considered. Is my right hon. Friend aware of any precedent for that and is there any possible legitimate excuse for the delay?

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1037

Mr Davis: No, and that is the case that I am going to explore. I will not do what the Father of the House did and go back to the Dardanelles, but even if we went back further than that we would not get to this level of delay.

Paul Flynn: Sir Jeremy Heywood was asked two days ago whether he would approve of this House subpoenaing the evidence to Chilcot and publishing it ourselves. His comment was that he did not want to rush the Chilcot report. Is that a reasonable view?

Mr Davis: When the hon. Gentleman listens to what I intend to say shortly, he will realise that Sir Jeremy Heywood certainly does not want to rush the report, and there are some reasons for that of which I do not approve.

I have been asked by a number of colleagues why I believe that the delay has occurred. The truth is that no one in this House knows, not even the Minister. There is not enough information in the public domain, which is why the motion requires an answer to that exact question from Sir John Chilcot. Nevertheless, there are some clues. For clarity, I should say that I do not believe, at this stage at least, that the witnesses are the cause of the delay, and I say that because I think that one of them will be speaking later.

Some of the delay is undoubtedly down to the conflict between the inquiry and Whitehall—Sir Jeremy Heywood and others—about what can and cannot be disclosed. What the inquiry can publish is wrapped up in a series of protocols that have criteria so broad that a veto on publication can virtually be applied at Whitehall’s discretion. Compare this with the Scott inquiry into the Iraqi supergun affair. It also covered issues of incredible sensitivity in terms of national security, international relations, intelligence agency involvement, judicial propriety and ministerial decision making. Sir Richard Scott was allowed to decide himself what he would release into the public domain, unfettered by Whitehall. By contrast, Sir John Chilcot, who is a past Northern Ireland Office permanent secretary, who chaired an incredibly sensitive inquiry into intercept evidence, and who is considered a responsible keeper of Government secrets, is tied up in protocols, subject to the whim of Whitehall.

We know there have been long negotiations between the inquiry and Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, and his predecessors over the disclosure of some material, most notably correspondence between ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair and George W. Bush. There is no point whatsoever in the inquiry if it cannot publish the documents that show how the decision to go to war was arrived at. Chilcot himself wrote in a letter to the Cabinet Secretary:

“The question when and how the prime minister made commitments to the US about the UK's involvement in military action in Iraq and subsequent decisions on the UK's continuing involvement, is central to its considerations”.

The negotiations between Chilcot and Jeremy Heywood concluded only in May last year, when it was announced that an agreement had been reached. The process was clearly frustrating for the inquiry: Sir John Chilcot queries why it was that

“individuals may disclose privileged information (without sanction) whilst a committee of privy counsellors established by a former prime minister to review the issues, cannot”.

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1038

He was of course referring to Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell’s respective diaries, which quoted such information. Sir John stated in his letter that documents

“vital to the public understanding of the inquiry's conclusions”

were being suppressed by Whitehall. That is ridiculous. If that is the approach taken, nothing will be learned and there is little purpose in the inquiry.

The inquiry protocols are symptomatic of a mindset that seems to assume that serving civil servants are the only proper guardians of the public interest. That leads me to a particular problem: if a Minister is asked to make a decision that affects him, his family, his property or even his constituency, he is required to withdraw—in the jargon, to recuse himself—from the decision and have somebody else make it. That does not say that the Minister is corrupt; it simply means that one can avoid the appearance of corruption and any chance of an improper decision, and it removes the risk of unconscious bias. It is a proper procedure. No such rule applies for civil servants.

This inquiry process is littered with people who were central to the very decisions the inquiry is investigating. Sir Jeremy Heywood was principal private secretary to Tony Blair for the entire period, from the 9/11 atrocity through to the first stage of the Gulf war, yet he is Whitehall’s gatekeeper for what can and cannot be published. Even the head of the inquiry secretariat, Margaret Aldred, was deputy head of the foreign and defence policy secretariat and therefore responsible for providing Ministers with advice on defence and policy matters on Iraq, and she was nominated to the inquiry by the Cabinet Secretary of the day.

All of that would matter less if the ridiculous restrictive protocols that Whitehall has imposed on the Chilcot inquiry were not there. Like Scott, Sir John Chilcot should be allowed to publish what he thinks is in the public interest, and not what Whitehall thinks is acceptable.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend allow me to intervene?

Mr Davis: If my hon. Friend will forgive me—

Mr Jenkin: I want to intervene on this—

Mr Davis: I know, but I am making progress.

Mr Jenkin: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Davis: No.

To finish my point, if that had been the case, we might well have had the inquiry report already and there would be less public concern about an establishment cover-up.

We also know that the Maxwellisation process is causing some delay. Those due to be criticised in the final report are being allowed lengthy legal consultation. Although this is a necessary part of the process, strict time controls are needed. It cannot be right that those who are to be criticised can delay publication for their own benefit.

Finally, let me deal with the question of preventing publication during the run-up to the general election. Purdah periods exist for a simple reason: to prevent Governments from using their power to publish information

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1039

that would give them electoral advantage. They are not to prevent impartial information from being put in the public domain—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear”]—so why delay a deliberately impartial report of vital interest to the nation just because the election is pending? It is nonsense. I say to those who are cheering that, frankly, it is not clear that there will be much political advantage anywhere. It was started by a Labour Government, but it was supported by the current Prime Minister, who spoke in favour of it even as late as 2006; the current Labour leader did not vote for it because he was not in the House. There is complete confusion about where there could be any advantage, but the public interest should trump any interest of party advantage and that is why publication should not be delayed by the election.

The Iraq inquiry has been a missed opportunity. Terrible mistakes were made but, fatally, we have so far failed to learn our proper lessons from them. Douglas Hurd, the former Foreign Secretary and in no way an anti-establishment figure, has branded the endless delays a “scandal”. He is right. It is a disgrace. It is an insult to those who died on our behalf in that war and a betrayal of the people they died to protect. That is why I ask the House to pass the motion today.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I would like to suggest that Members speak for up to 10 minutes. Otherwise, we will have to impose a time limit.

12.35 pm

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). I welcome the debate, and in doing so I formally draw the attention of the House to the fact that as Foreign Secretary between 2001 and 2006, I have been a witness before the Iraq inquiry.

Of all the many decisions I had to make as a Minister, none was more serious than my decision not just to support military action against the Saddam Hussein regime, but actively to advocate that course in the final speech in the momentous debate in this House on 18 March 2003. The House went on to vote by 412 to 149 in favour of military action if Saddam Hussein failed to meet the terms of an ultimatum presented to him.

If one accepts the privilege of high office, one has to accept the consequences that flow from the decisions one makes. It was therefore entirely right that there should be a comprehensive and independent inquiry about the Iraq war, not least to hold those of us who had to make those decisions properly to account. There was an issue between the parties about the timing of the inquiry, and I shall discuss that briefly later in my speech, if I have time. The inquiry was established in mid-June 2009 and when it began its oral evidence sessions, in November 2009, its chairman, Sir John Chilcot, said:

“We aim to report, if possible, by the end of 2010”.

Any inquiry of this nature has to follow rules of natural justice and public law principles, including that it judges decision takers on the circumstances that obtained at the time, on the information then available

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1040

and without the benefit of hindsight. Alongside that, there is the Maxwellisation process to give witnesses an opportunity to respond to the drafts of any criticisms intended to be made of them, and the inquiry then has to have time and space to consider those representations.

Mr Baron: Is the right hon. Gentleman now going to admit something that his party and a good number of people on my side have not admitted, which is that we went to war on a false premise? There were no weapons of mass destruction. Is he willing to admit that now?

Mr Straw: With great respect, no, and this is not the occasion to do that. I gave extensive evidence to the Iraq inquiry, as I will explain.

As part of the process of Maxwellisation, all relevant witnesses were required to sign undertakings of confidentiality. The House will therefore understand that those who are part of the Maxwellisation process are constrained in what they can say. I would, however, like to say this. I gave oral evidence to the inquiry on three occasions: twice in early 2010 and then on 2 February 2011. The third time I was before the inquiry—four years ago this coming Monday—was the inquiry’s final evidence session. At that point, Sir John said it was

“going to take some months to deliver the report itself”,

which was taken to mean that publication would take place by the end of 2011. However, 18 months later, in July 2013, the inquiry announced that the Maxwellisation process would begin in October of that year. As the House now knows, it did not begin for more than 12 months after that.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): Why does my right hon. Friend think that the Chilcot inquiry adopted a convoluted Maxwellisation process, rather than the straightforward one adopted in the Inquiries Act 2005?

Mr Straw: I am afraid that the answer to that is well above my pay grade. My hon. Friend would have to ask the inquiry, or those responsible for the inquiry, about that. But I just say, parenthetically, that when this is all over, there will be many issues for parties on both sides of the House to consider about the conduct of such inquiries, not least whether they would be aided, as I soundly believe they would be, if counsel and high-grade legal teams were available to them.

There has been much nonsense around suggesting that it has been witnesses who have caused the extensive delays in the inquiry’s progress, and therefore its final report. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden for what he said, because these claims are wholly without foundation. A moment’s thought should convince anyone that no witness has had any interest in the inquiry’s being dragged out for this long. For example, to prepare for my evidence sessions in 2010 and 2011, I had to study hundreds of records. If the Maxwellisation process had taken place at the time, the detail from those records would still have been fresh in my mind. As it is, a further four years has elapsed, requiring fresh study of reams of documents. I am conscious too, as the whole House will be, of the anxiety and concern of those who have lost loved ones in the conflict at the delays in publishing the report.

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1041

When Sir John wrote to the Prime Minister last week with an update on the progress of his inquiry, he said that he could confirm that,

“individuals are currently being given the opportunity to respond to provisional criticism in the inquiry’s draft report”.

The House should note the use of the adverb “currently”, to which the adverb “recently” might have been an informative addition. It follows from this that no witness to the inquiry has remotely been responsible for any of the delays that have occurred to date. Nor, as Mr Blair has made clear in a recent statement, has he or any other witness been involved in delaying the process of declassifying previously sensitive documents.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Is there not then a question as to any obstruction that might have come from the office of George Bush, the former President of the United States, or the current White House, which seem to be very reluctant to reveal the details of correspondence and communication between former Prime Minister Blair and former President Bush?

Mr Straw: I have no information about any of the process of declassification.

At the same time, my hope is that in the Maxwellisation process, which is only “currently” under way, no one is suggesting that any person who is the subject of provisional criticisms by the inquiry should not be given a proper opportunity to consider those and to respond, with sufficient time, proportionate to the volume and complexity of the material involved. It has, after all, taken the inquiry more than five years finally to produce its initial report, and as the Prime Minister has conceded, even that may not be complete.

Let me deal briefly with the claims that if the last Government had established an inquiry earlier, we would have had the report by now. There are two responses to that. The first, the obvious one, is that no one anticipated delays of the length that we have seen. The then Leader of the Opposition’s complaint, when the announcement was made in June 2009, was that the inquiry

“is due to take—surprise, surprise—until July or August 2010.”—[Official Report, 15 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 25.]

That is after that general election. There was never the remotest suggestion from anyone, nor anticipation, that this report would not be out well before the 2015 general election.

Secondly, although they were the subject of controversy, the previous Government did have sound reasons for not establishing an inquiry earlier than we did, because British troops were heavily involved in combat operations at the time when earlier calls were made. Our rationale—

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The idea that the Iraq inquiry could not have been held during the Iraq war was shown to be a fallacy by Douglas Hogg at the time. He pointed out in the House that the inquiry into the Norway debacle happened during world war two. That was a smokescreen by the then Labour Government.

Mr Straw: With great respect, it was not. I have looked at the precedents. There can be inquiries in the middle of wars. I have looked, as it happens, at the precedents of the Dardanelles and the Crimea. A contemporaneous report of the conclusions of the report

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1042

on the Crimea, which were read out to the House by the Clerk for one hour and 25 minutes, spells out that the difficulty of the task

“has been materially enhanced by the impossibility of summoning some persons by considerations…of State policy”,

and the committee admits that

“they have been unable satisfactorily to complete”

the inquiry.

The Franks inquiry was the subject of huge controversy at the time. I was in the House. Yes, it did report in six months, but it was a committee of Privy Counsellors, four of the six were former Labour and Conservative Cabinet Ministers, and one had been the former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence. Some said that they were parti pris. They took all their evidence in secret and, as far as I know, they published no documents to be declassified. It can be done in that way, but it is not acceptable these days.

There were many debates about a meaningful inquiry, for example the one in October 2006. At the time it was said,

“important operations are under way in Iraq. Major political decisions…and efforts to contain the insurgency appear to be in the balance…Any inquiry should be able to examine what happens in the coming months…as well as the events of recent years. To begin an inquiry now would therefore be premature.”—[Official Report, 31 October 2006; Vol. 451, c. 183.]

Those powerful words were the argument that we were advancing. What is interesting is that they were not offered by a Minister, but from the Opposition Front Bench by the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague).

I do not envy members of the inquiry the burden they have had to face. The unanticipated delays in the inquiry’s progress now make for additional pressures on the inquiry members themselves. In particular, as the months go past, wholly unfounded suspicions fall on the inquiry about a whitewash, and there is an equal and opposite concern that they may feel obliged to respond to these pressures by conclusions more starkly drawn than the evidence would allow.

Paul Flynn: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Straw: I am just coming to the end.

Everyone bears a heavy responsibility for ensuring that the inquiry is not put in a position where it becomes impossible to conduct a fair process and reach a fair and independent conclusion. As the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden importantly noted outside the House on 14 January:

“The purpose of the inquiry is not vilification or vindication—it is to learn lessons.”

That is the path all of us wish the inquiry to follow, and I hope, as we all do, that it can be published as quickly as possible.

12.48 pm

Sir Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). He and I have sparred over this issue for the best part of a decade, but I welcome the clarity of his remarks. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) on securing the debate. On his very last point about political advantage,

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1043

I could not agree with him more. This was a political decision, and when can the public pass comment and judgment on a public decision but at a general election? So it would be entirely appropriate if the report was ready for publication in the next few months.

On 18 March 2003, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, stood at the Dispatch Box and looked Parliament and the nation in the eye and said that the security of the western world was threatened. He was not my party leader, but he was my Prime Minister, and I reached the conclusion, while I was sitting in the Chamber on the Opposition Benches, that it would be irresponsible not to accept his warning and his advice. The question I have asked myself ever since was whether that was the right decision. Twelve years later, we still do not have a definitive answer, and in truth I have regretted that decision that I made to support the Prime Minister, in the absence of clear evidence, ever since.

There have been no fewer than four inquiries into this subject during my time in Parliament. None of them has taken more than six months. The first was conducted by the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which I was a member, and resulted in a split decision. The key passages of the report were carried on the casting vote of the Chairman, but I did not agree with its conclusion that the action taken was justified by the information available at the time. That inquiry was triggered by a report on the “Today” programme by Mr Andrew Gilligan, who said that he had evidence that the case for war had been “sexed up”. That led to war between No. 10 and the BBC, largely provoked by Alastair Campbell. It led to the resignation of the director-general, Greg Dyke, and the chairman, Gavyn Davies.

During that inquiry, the Government put up Dr David Kelly to give evidence to the Committee. It was done by a devious process and eventually the media managed to ascertain the name of Dr Kelly. It was an unfathomable tragedy for him and his family, and the mystery to this day is why the Government put him up to give evidence in the first place. During his evidence he denied that he said to Andrew Gilligan the words that were quoted, but more critically, he had given a briefing to Susan Watts of “Newsnight”, and “Newsnight” published the quotation that he had given to it. When questioned by myself and David—now Lord—Chidgey as to whether he had said those words, Dr Kelly denied saying them. In fact, the BBC had recorded the conversation, and it is believed that he died on the day that he discovered this and was about to be outed as having misled the Committee.

That led to the second inquiry, the inquest conducted by Lord Hutton, which concluded that Dr Kelly took his own life.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Richard Ottaway: I will not give way to the right hon. Gentleman because I know exactly what he has to say and I will let him give his conspiratorial twaddle to the House in his own time, rather than mine. [Interruption.] I am sure he will let the House know shortly.

In the inquest conducted by Lord Hutton, he concluded that Dr Kelly took his own life. Although the case for war may have been exaggerated, he concluded that it

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1044

was not “sexed up” in the sense that it contained false or unreliable intelligence. But the evidence that came out during that hearing was that the weapons of mass destruction that we had invaded Iraq to remove were, in fact, small-calibre shells and battlefield weapons—in other words, they were defensive weapons, not offensive weapons that would threaten the security of the western world.

When the report was published and we had the debate in the House on the Hutton inquiry, I intervened on Tony Blair and asked him if he knew that information on the day that we voted to go to war, and if not, why he had not told the House that. He replied that he did not know. So the question is, how could we be going to war when the Prime Minister of the day, who made the decision to go to war, was not properly briefed about the threat that we faced? I, the House and the nation want to know the answer to that. We expect that the Chilcot inquiry will provide the answers.

That the threat was only battlefield weapons was confirmed by the third inquiry, which was conducted by the Intelligence and Security Committee in 2003. It made no judgment on the rights or wrongs of the case for war, but it looked at the use of intelligence and it accepted that there had been convincing intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction programmes. That has subsequently been established to be manifestly wrong, so why was that information there? Again, we want the Chilcot inquiry and the Iraq inquiry to provide the answer.

The Intelligence and Security Committee inquiry led to the fourth inquiry—the Butler inquiry of 2004, which was a continuation of the ISC inquiry. Two members of the Intelligence and Security Committee sat on the Butler inquiry, together with Lord Butler, the chairman, who is now a member of the ISC, and Field Marshal Inge, who gave military advice to the committee. The final member was Sir John Chilcot. This was by far the most in-depth inquiry and looked at the many issues that had surfaced. It concluded that the 45-minute claim should not have been made in the way that it was. But—and it is an absolutely critical but—the inquiry still had not had full access to all the information, and questions remained. Those questions continue to reverberate. Eventually the Chilcot inquiry was established, and Chilcot had the great advantage that he was at least briefed when he started.

I feel that I have only scraped the surface of the high number of unanswered questions. I appreciate the enormity of the task faced by the Iraq inquiry. It has had to deal with former President Bush’s office, the security services, the Cabinet Office, Tony Blair’s office and the offices of the witnesses. It has had to cope with hundreds of hours of oral evidence and thousands of pages of written evidence. There has been personal illness on the committee. The committee has my sympathy, but six years? The prediction at the time, as has just been said, was that it would take two years. The Franks inquiry took six months and the issue in 2009, as has been said, was whether the Iraq inquiry’s report would be ready by the 2010 election. My only regret is that when it is published, I will not be here to debate fully the issues that have been raised.

Jeremy Corbyn: The right hon. Gentleman and I have been involved in all the debates on Iraq. Does he recall that a number of us, maybe including himself, felt that

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1045

the whole inquiry process was wrong, and that there should have been a judicial inquiry that could have been seen to be totally independent of what has been revealed by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), which is, essentially, that pretty well everybody is involved in some way along the line in the decision making or the prevention of evidence coming forward?

Sir Richard Ottaway: The hon. Gentleman is right—we have been debating these things for a long time. He neatly leads me into the final part of my speech, which is the appearance of Sir John Chilcot before the Foreign Affairs Committee next Wednesday, when, I hope, we can establish answers to such questions. I want to give him a chance to put the record straight.

Sir John Chilcot is a distinguished public servant who has done his best to assist the country. There is no finger of blame pointed at him, or there will not be next Wednesday afternoon, and I quite accept that he will not be able to discuss substantive matters when he appears before us. What I want him to talk about is the process, and I want him to guide us on how to streamline procedures for the future, and maybe to provide the answers to the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn).

Mr Jenkin: I am pleased that my right hon. Friend is going to see Sir John Chilcot in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Would he ask him about the role of the Cabinet Secretary? It is suggested by some, as we heard earlier from my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), that somehow he is irrevocably conflicted, even though he is only negotiating what might be published, not what the inquiry can see. Will my right hon. Friend put that question to Sir John, so that he can fairly say whether he feels that the Cabinet Secretary has been obstructing or not? I suspect not.

Sir Richard Ottaway: That is a fair point and I will have a look at my hon. Friend’s request. I do not make a promise but clearly, the Cabinet Secretary and the role of the Cabinet Office are highly relevant to all this. I want to give Sir John an opportunity to answer the questions. Whether he chooses to do so or feels able to do so is a matter for him.

In conclusion, what we want to try and find out is what has gone wrong and how we can deal with such matters in the future, so that these situations never happen again.

12.58 pm

George Galloway (Bradford West) (Respect): Dead men cannot tell tales, and Dr David Kelly is not here to answer what I believe were several unwarranted interpretations of events surrounding him given by the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway).

In the words of Lord Hurd, the circumstance we now find ourselves in is a scandal, and one compounded by the acres of empty green Benches all around us today. There are some 30 Members of the House present. There are some seven members of the Labour party which took us into the war, and most of those were resolute opponents of the war, and another is in the dock in the inquiry. I will come to him later.

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1046

The Schleswig-Holstein question took a long time, but that is because nobody knew the answer. Everybody knows the answer to the question of why Sir John Chilcot has come forward—a week before our debate, when he knew that it was on the Order Paper—to tell us that this inquiry will not report before the general election. Everybody knows the answer to that, however much flannel is pulled around it. It is to avoid the fact that the report can only highlight the iron-clad consensus that existed at that time between the two Front Benches: the then Prime Minister and his acolytes, only one of whom has the courage to be here today, and the then Leader of the Opposition, who is not here today but whose principal role in these matters was to egg the Prime Minister on to war, bigger and faster, as those of us who were here well remember—bitterly remember.

I declare an interest. I am the maker of the film “The Killing of Tony Blair”, which will be out soon, and will no doubt hugely benefit from the postponement of the Chilcot report. In the absence of Chilcot, we will have to be the report. But I have many other interests, of a non-pecuniary nature, in this. Like some of my friends who were not so gullible as the highly expensively educated right hon. Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway), we did not look into the Bambi eyes of the then—[Interruption.] I am talking about his university education; I probably helped to pay for it.

Sir Richard Ottaway: Just for the record, I went to a secondary modern school.

George Galloway: But you went to an expensive university that the rest of us paid for.

The right hon. Gentleman says, and many others now say, that they gazed into the Bambi eyes of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and he was their Prime Minister, so what could they do except follow him over the cliff? What kind of parliamentarian takes such an approach—that because somebody tells you something is true, you must follow them, when the consequences were easily predictable and were predicted by millions of ordinary citizens out in our streets, without the benefit of that education and without the benefit of a seat in this House? “What kind of parliamentarian?” is a question I want to concentrate on. I could talk for hours, and regularly do, about what all this has cost the people of Iraq and the people of the wider region, but I want to concentrate on what it has cost us—and I do not mean financially either.

When the Chilcot inquiry was announced in this House, I described it as a parade of establishment flunkeys. Who will now say that I was wrong? I decried the fact that there was no soldier on the panel. One could have had the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis)—a man who knows what military affairs are about. I decried the fact that there was no lawyer on the panel. I had in mind the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who could have covered for the fact that there was no parliamentarian on the panel. I decried the fact that nobody would recognise some of the panel members if they were sitting next to them on the Clapham omnibus, and it was difficult to understand why they had been chosen. I decried the fact that two of the members of the panel had described Bush and Blair as the Truman and Churchill de nos jours. Talk about

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1047

parti pris! They were proselytisers for the war they were now being asked to inquire into. The principal gatekeeper to the Chilcot inquiry—I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) for this information; he is in our film, by the way, and very eloquent too—was the principal gatekeeper between the Foreign Office and the intelligence services, and Ministers, in the run-up to the war. Talk about parti pris! These individuals were either unqualified for or disqualified from participation in this inquiry.

That this has taken so long and been so expensive would be tolerable if our position in the world had not continued to deteriorate, and the conditions in the world had not continued to deteriorate. I tell the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw)—who is, as I said, in the dock here—that he will never escape the consequences of what he has said and done. He looks to me a haunted figure compared with the Spring-Heeled Jack that he used to be—as well he might, because he will never escape this. It will follow him to the grave and into the history books that he proselytised for something which has turned into an unmitigated catastrophe for the world, but also for us. I do not blame Sir Jeremy Heywood—Sir Humphrey. I do not blame even the Chilcot inquiry. I do not blame Tony Blair, at least not for this. I blame us. This is a poor excuse for a Parliament, if only its Members could more clearly see so. It is a poor excuse for a Parliament that sets up an inquiry, funds an inquiry, and then says, three Parliaments on—as the former Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said—that we might, who knows when, get the fruits of that inquiry.

This is Pontius Pilate. This is washing our hands of something that is bleeding us at home and abroad. What do I mean? I mean this. This has cost us millions, yes; it has cost us six years, yes; but the world is hurtling to disaster. The decision that was made in here on the basis of the arguments made by the Government at the time has torn Iraq and its region asunder. It has fantastically, unbelievably and incalculably inflated the danger of extremism, fanaticism and terrorism. Iraq no longer exists as a state. One third of it is controlled by the heart-eating, head-chopping, amputating, crucifying so-called Islamic State. And Members still will not say that they were wrong, let alone the then Prime Minister skating around in Davos—Mr Blair, the former Prime Minister, who still says he was right and would do it all again.

Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. The argument for the war was therefore false, if it was not a falsehood. It has been a catastrophe. I told the then Prime Minister, “There are no al-Qaeda in Iraq, but if you and Bush invade, there will be hundreds of thousands of al-Qaeda in Iraq.” Little did I know that al-Qaeda would spawn something even more horrific than al-Qaeda. I told the then Prime Minister, “The fall of Baghdad will not be the beginning of the end but merely the end of the beginning, and the fanaticism and extremism that you will unleash will travel and cascade everywhere, including on to our own streets.”

I will close now, as I see that you are anxious, Mr Deputy Speaker. I close with this. No one outside can really understand how all these political professionals—highly remunerated, highly rewarded, with all their intelligence

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1048

and education—can have made such a catastrophic error when millions of people outside who did not enjoy those privileges already knew that it would end in the disaster in which it has ended.

1.9 pm

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway), who made a very powerful speech. He touched on some really serious and important issues surrounding the process of making the decisions on which we went to war in 2003. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him on that, but concentrate on one or two discrete matters on which I may be able to help the House.

I find the current delay in the publication of the Chilcot report very regrettable. The mere fact that we are having this debate highlights the growing public unease about how the inquiry has been conducted and how the report has been handled. Almost inevitably, that will have the knock-on consequence of reducing trust in its conclusions.

The irony is that everything I saw in my time in government—limited as it was—suggests that Sir John Chilcot has been trying to produce an extremely thorough report and, indeed, that he is leaving no stone unturned, even at the cost of embarrassing those who may be criticised. It troubles me even more to see a process that I certainly do not think will prove to be meaningless undermined by a delay that is in no one’s interest.

I am quite satisfied from my time in government that my ministerial colleagues in the Government have no role at all to play in the inquiry, and are not in a position to influence its progress. Suggestions that there may be some political motivation either for them or, for that matter, for witnesses who have given evidence to the inquiry are completely without foundation.

The difficulty that seems to me to have arisen is the lack of explanation of why the delays have accumulated. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said, it was made quite clear at the outset that there was a timetable on which the inquiry was designed to run. It is also quite clear that that timetable has not been followed.

It has been suggested—rightly, from what I know of the matter—that a lot of the delays following the conclusion of the evidence sessions relate to what documentation can or cannot be published. Before it is said that that may somehow be suspicious, let me say that it was probably inherent in the inquiry that the documentation would cause difficulties. Conspiracy theorists might say that the documents are not being published because they will give rise to embarrassment, but I have very little doubt that issues of national security and of international relations will arise in relation to some of them, and those issues cannot be lightly brushed to one side. Sir John has undoubtedly had to wrestle with that matter.

I can only give the House an impression, but my impression when I left office was that such problems had been resolved. Of course, I may have been mistaken, but it was certainly my understanding by early 2014—indeed, this was suggested by facts communicated publicly—that the inquiry could move on to the Maxwellisation process.

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1049

As so often happens in government, there has perhaps been a tendency for Sir Humphrey-isms to creep in. I noted with amusement that when, on 8 September 2014, Sir Jeremy Heywood was questioned at a one-off session by the House of Commons Public Administration Committee, he said:

“There has been a delay of sorts as we processed tens of thousands of requests for declassification of very complicated and sensitive documents. I don’t think that has held up the inquiry. It is a very difficult thing. The controversy around this continues today. It is very important that the whole story is told.”

As I have already said, I have no doubt—this is my impression—that Sir John Chilcot’s wishes the whole story to be told, but the fact remains that there is an internal contradiction in Sir Jeremy Heywood’s statement. If the processing of “tens of thousands” of requests was complicated and has caused “a delay of sorts”, I do not see how that cannot have been one of the factors holding up the inquiry. I would have thought that that was capable of clarification.

The issue that has caused me most concern—it is why I supported and signed the original motion—relates to what has happened since last year. My understanding was that it would have been possible, despite the delays, for the matter to be concluded by the end of 2012. That was my impression, which is all I can call it, when I was in government. I therefore find it strange, in almost February 2015, to find from what others have said that the Maxwellisation process is going so very slowly. I would have hoped that it could be resolved earlier.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I know that my right hon. and learned Friend’s remarks will be closely followed outside the House. For those not familiar with the term, will he confirm that Maxwellisation is the opportunity given to people who are going to be criticised in a report to defend themselves before it is published?

Mr Grieve: Yes, my hon. Friend is right. Maxwellisation provides people with the opportunity to respond to passages in a report that relate to them. In such circumstances, a reasonable period needs to be allowed for the process.

The point made by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) is valid: if it is many years since a witness gave their evidence, it will take them longer to consider their response than if the process occurs a few weeks afterwards. However, I would still hope that a period of a few months was sufficient to conclude the process. That was why I was surprised, first, that the report was not published at the end of 2012 and, secondly—I must say that I am even more troubled by this—that we will not get it before the next general election.

Mr Jenkin: I will commit the sin of asking a question in the House to which I do not know the answer. Why is it called Maxwellisation? We used to talk about Salmon letters.? Is this process different or more protracted, and is it an opportunity for lawyers to extend the process for which they are paid?

Mr Grieve: The terms mean one and the same thing. As with so many descriptions used in government, there is no difference between them. They started out as Salmon letters, but since Mr Maxwell’s experience the process has been described as Maxwellisation. I am sure that either term can be used.

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1050

Is Maxwellisation an opportunity for lawyers to crawl over the report? I hope not. At the end of the day, it gives the person going to be criticised an opportunity to explain whether they agree or disagree with the criticisms, and in the light of any representations made it gives the inquiry members an opportunity to think about whether they wish to change their conclusions.

I must say, however, that the report is not ultimately holy writ. It will obviously have a marked effect, but it is the opinion of the inquiry. As long as the opinion has been arrived at reasonably and the process has been fair, the inquiry has to go ahead and produce its conclusions. Disagreements should not therefore lead to endless ping-pong. At some point, the inquiry has to come to a conclusion about whether or not it wishes to accept a representation. That is why I would not expect a Maxwellisation process to go on endlessly.

What has made me anxious is my impression that the Maxwellisation process seems hardly to have begun in many cases. For me, that raises these questions: has a further problem over the documentation led to the delays or has some other phenomenon crept in and caused the delays, and why has the Maxwellisation process taken so long to commence?

Mr Jenkin: As the inquiry is not a judicial one, do its findings have the legal immunity required to protect the authors of the report from judicial proceedings if they publish something defamatory or deeply unfair? Is that part of the reason why the process is taking longer?

Mr Grieve: I can see where my hon. Friend is coming from, but his question goes into the realms of speculation. On the face of it, if the inquiry, which has been properly set up and conducted, makes a report—a Privy Council report—to Parliament, I do not see why such an issue should arise. My concern is to get an explanation.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): In 2012, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was in government and he had the impression that the inquiry would report at that time. He was still in government after 2012. What impression did he have then about the delays?

Mr Grieve: The hon. Gentleman asks me to stray into areas where I do not think I should go.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Yes you should!

Mr Grieve: No, I should not. I am mindful of my responsibilities and I want to help the House as much as I can.

I simply make two points to the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham). First, I saw nothing in my time in government to suggest that Sir John Chilcot is not trying to be absolutely thorough or that he is being diverted from his conclusions in any way by external pressures from anyone. Secondly, it is quite clear, because it is public knowledge, that after 2011 there was a substantial difficulty over the documentation because of its nature. That was an inherent difficulty and I would not read into it any conspiracy theories or adverse view whatsoever—it just had to be resolved. The point that I am making is that it was my impression

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1051

at the time I left office that, despite those difficulties, it ought to have been possible to publish the inquiry by the end of last year. Therefore, the further delay causes me concern.

I am pleased to hear that my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway) will have Sir John Chilcot in front of him next week, because that will provide an opportunity for the clarification that is needed to restore public confidence in the way in which the inquiry is being conducted. For the reasons that I have set out, it really is in the public interest that there should be public confidence in the process. The public are entitled to have the conclusions on something that was done—I am the first to admit this, having voted in 2003 for military action—on a series of flawed premises.

1.21 pm

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): It is always a great pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), but it is also a challenge, because I believe that he has one of the finest analytical minds in this place.

Twelve years ago, the UK went into what I believe to have been an unlawful war against Iraq. That happened against the background of the protestations of thousands of members of the public and dozens of Members of Parliament, and on the basis of legal advice that Parliament was not allowed to see.

The impact of the war can be measured in bodies. Between March 2003 and May 2011, when UK operations ended, 179 UK armed forces personnel lost their lives in Iraq. Of those, 136 died in combat. As was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), whom I congratulate on leading the call for this debate, the Iraq Body Count project estimates that between 134,000 and 151,000 civilians have been killed as a result of violence in Iraq since March 2003. The number of violent deaths, including combatants, stands at 206,000 and is still growing. The website reports that only yesterday, 26 people were killed in Iraq. That is because Iraq was not left in anything like a stable condition when the UK and US armed forces pulled out in 2011.

In March 2005, I visited Iraq and travelled to Basra and Baghdad. It was plain to see then, as it is now, that little preparation had been put into planning for peace after the war ended. It is a distressing place to visit. We found open sewers, a lack of any infrastructure and badly underfunded social services, if any. The thinking in Washington, after all, was that it would take only weeks to get rid of Saddam. A former White House adviser, Kenneth Adelman, said that

“demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.”

Instead, Iraq is a troubled, crippled state. How wrong the establishment was.

Six years ago, the inquiry was set up with the express aim of finding out why such a colossal mistake as this war was allowed to be made. At the launch of the inquiry, its chairman, Sir John Chilcot, said that the inquiry would be

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1052

“considering the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish…what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country.”

The scale of the inquiry was significant. Those of us who had opposed the war from the beginning had some hope that at last we would hear answers to the questions that we had posed since 2002.

How disappointing it is for me to stand here today, four years since the inquiry concluded taking evidence, with the knowledge that those answers are no closer to being published. Indeed, if the reports are to be believed, the conclusions are yet to be written. Those criticised by the report have, of course, been given the right of reply by means of the Maxwellisation principle, which we have just discussed.

After all is said and done, the Chilcot inquiry finished taking evidence in early 2011—I believe that the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) was the last to give evidence—and the expectation was that the findings would be published in the autumn of that year. Prevarication followed each delay and in November 2013 the inquiry said that it had reached an impasse over the release of crucial documents, including transcripts of the conversations between Mr Blair and Mr Bush. In May 2014, the inquiry announced that those transcripts would have to be published in a redacted form. Now, in January 2015, we learn that the findings of the inquiry will not be published until after the election, with no guarantee of when they will be published. It is becoming a farce—a very expensive farce—and an affront to democracy.

I have had grave misgivings from the very beginning about the independence of the Chilcot inquiry. I believe that it may well have been flawed and even compromised from the beginning. I have a particular interest in the transcripts of the conversations between our former Prime Minister and the then American President.

Jeremy Corbyn: The right hon. Gentleman points to what I suspect will be a grave disappointment when the Chilcot report finally comes out. Would he then favour a totally independent judicial inquiry, so that we get to the bottom of this? I, for one, will not leave this subject, and I am sure that he will not either.

Mr Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman is right. He and I agree, as I believe does the right hon. Member for Blackburn, that it should have been a judge-led inquiry. It might have had two lay assessors, but it definitely should have had a counsel to the inquiry, who would have directed the line of questioning forensically and would not have been batted away by the simple answers that were given, often in artistic and heroic terms, by some individuals, the right hon. Member for Blackburn excepted.

The inquiry did not go into any real depth. Being a Privy Counsellor does not make one a forensic analyst. I am a Privy Counsellor and I happen to be a lawyer, so I am able to ask the odd question, but the fact that someone is a Privy Counsellor does not take them any further on from Joe Public on the Clapham omnibus. It was quite ridiculous. Those are some of my misgivings.

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1053

As I said, I have a particular interest in the transcripts of conversations between the former Prime Minister and the former American President. In 2008, confidential documents were dispatched to my office from an unknown source. The documents showed that discussions had been held between the leaders of the two countries in 2001 and 2002 relating to removing Saddam using military force. Mr Blair had committed us to war even then, before seeing any proof of weapons of mass destruction.

My colleague, Adam Price, and I were visited by two very senior Metropolitan police officers—I believe they were from SO13—and questioned about the documents. The fact that they visited us made me believe that the documents were genuine. They were marked “Top Secret”. I believe that one was an American transcript and the other a British transcript. To this day, I have no knowledge of where they came from. I thought that the proper course of action was to say to the police, “I do know where the documents are, but I am not going to make them public until we have an inquiry. When that inquiry is set up, I shall take them to the inquiry personally so that it can look at them.”

I therefore decided to hand the documents over to the Chilcot inquiry when it was set up. I have doubts that they ever saw the light of day, but I do not know what has happened. After submitting the documents, nine months went by before I received any response. When one came, it simply informed me that I would not be called to give evidence. That is fine, but I have since found out that the way in which the gatekeeper to the inquiry, Ms Margaret Aldred—the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway) referred to her a few moments ago—was appointed as the inquiry’s secretary did not follow the procedures in the civil service code. The Cabinet Office refuses to disclose any paper trail relating to that appointment, if indeed there is one. Ms Aldred was appointed on the nod by Sir John Chilcot —the same Sir John Chilcot, by the way, who criticised Tony Blair’s Government as a “sofa Government”. A good example of sofa government is when someone rings their pal to say, “Come and be a secretary to my inquiry.”

Margaret Aldred’s appointment showed a glaring conflict of interest, since she had regularly chaired the Iraq senior officials group, which co-ordinated across Government. Ms Aldred met US officials in October 2008 to discuss Iraq, and she even flew to Washington for discussions with her counterparts in the three weeks before the inquiry was announced. It was Ms Aldred’s section of the Cabinet Office that drew up the plans for regime change, and it was the Cabinet Office—the Joint Intelligence Committee and its staff—that produced the so-called dodgy Iraq dossier.

What I would like to know is the following. Why has the inquiry stopped publishing documents on its website? It did so for the first year, then it stopped. What is the total number of individuals who have been granted a right to reply to the accusations against them, when were they contacted by the inquiry, and what time scale have they been given to respond? Why has the inquiry been allowed to be so cowed by the establishment?

I am afraid that those and many other questions have not yet been answered. I sincerely hope that they are in the near future, because otherwise it will be an affront to democracy, an insult to Parliament and, more

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1054

importantly, a gross offence to people who have lost loved ones out in Iraq and to the people of Iraq themselves. Democracy demands that something is done urgently, otherwise this Parliament will be the laughing stock of the world.

1.31 pm

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): I share with most Members of all parties a deep disappointment at the postponement of the release of the Chilcot report. It is massively disappointing to us, but emotionally exhausting for the families of those who lost their lives in Iraq as they wait for closure and for the answers to which they are entitled.

The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), sanctioned the report in 2009 and, as we have heard, advised that there should be a report within one year. We are now six years on. Motions in the last Parliament on an earlier inquiry into the Iraq war were voted down by the Labour Government, including the current Leader of the Opposition, so it would have been entirely possible for the process to be concluded sooner. As things stand, the next general election after the Chilcot report is released will be in 2020—17 years after the Iraq war. As the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) said, that is an affront to democracy.

I have absolute sympathy for Sir John Chilcot and his inquiry team, not least because of the difficulties that they have experienced with the illness of some team members. I support the rigorous and forensic way in which Sir John has gone about the process and insisted on the fairness of allowing those who are likely to be criticised in the report the right to respond—the process that is referred to as Maxwellisation. That strikes me as fair.

It is worth the House reiterating and getting behind the offer that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made last week of additional resources for the inquiry team’s secretariat. That would ensure that Sir John Chilcot could speed up the process of communications between the team and those given the opportunity to respond if they are mentioned in the report. I have written to senior witnesses including the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to give them the opportunity to clarify that they have responded in a timely fashion to the letters from Sir John. That would enable them to make it clear that any hold-up is not their responsibility. That is important, and I hope that they will take the opportunity to do so.

I do not believe that the House needs to wait to know that the Iraq war was a disastrous episode in British and international history. We have heard that something in the region of 100,000 to 150,000 civilians in Iraq lost their lives as a result of the conflict, and that 179 British servicemen and women died in it. I strongly suggest that the narrative that Islamic State is able to hide behind and run with has been hugely fuelled by the illegal intervention by the United States and United Kingdom in Iraq from 2003 onwards. International law and international institutions were undermined as a consequence of that attack, and in these dangerous and unstable times, the importance of maintaining the integrity of

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1055

those institutions could not be greater. British interests and influence overseas have been set back by our involvement in that illegal war.

I suspect that the Chilcot inquiry will confirm that the Labour Government were obsessed with the special relationship with the United States and allowed their judgment to be not just clouded but eclipsed, out of a desire to be part of the maybe exhilarating experience of being at one with the leader of the free world. I suspect that it will show that UK foreign policy, going back decades, has tended to be simplistic in simply snuggling up to the United States.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I am grateful to my Cumbrian colleague for giving way. Is there not a paradox at the heart of this? One way in which the United Kingdom has responded to the humiliation of Iraq is by reducing our capacity to develop our own foreign policy and missions. If we look at our current position in Iraq, we see that we are in even less of a position today to provide an independent assessment of the US mission and strategy than we were in 2003.

Tim Farron: My hon. Friend and neighbour makes a very good point. In many ways, the lessons to be learned from Iraq are about how we exert soft and hard influence throughout the world in a wise way, using methods of diplomacy but acting in concert with regional powers as well as those we have traditionally worked alongside.

It is important to state that I support our relationship with the United States. It is important, and we do have a special relationship. I believe that the United States thinks of the United Kingdom in a specific light, just not as being nearly as significant as we would perhaps like to believe. Our emphasis on the relationship with the United States has been at the cost of our relationship with Commonwealth countries and, particularly, with our colleagues, friends and neighbours in the rest of Europe.

Mr MacNeil: Must we not face the fact that post-Iraq, and perhaps with the decline of the imperial mindset, the relationship between America and the UK is in fact that of master and poodle?

Tim Farron: One would hope not. One would hope that in any relationship, one good friend tells the other when they are making crass mistakes, rather than just nodding their head and going along with it. The hon. Gentleman’s analogy is useful, and I hope it is not the case, but I suspect that, as he says, we will find out that it was the case in the Iraq process.

Mr MacNeil: Is that not exactly what happened in the Iraq debacle?

Tim Farron: That is why we need Chilcot, to tell us these things. My assumption is that that is what happened, but I would like to get to the bottom of it, which is why the Chilcot report must come out soon.

I strongly suspect that we will also find from the report that the enthusiasm of, dare I say it, Labour and the Conservatives to stand with George W. Bush in a

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1056

wrong response to the 9/11 outrages, irrespective of the evidence, was a major factor in why we went to war with Iraq. Among other things, the assurances by the United States that ordinary Iraqis would welcome western intervention with open arms now strike me as having been as faulty as the intelligence on the existence of weapons of mass destruction. Instead of assisting Afghanistan in its fight against the Taliban, we diverted our resources and attention to an Iraqi state that had nothing to do with the 9/11 outrages, although 97% of the US population at the time believed that it did—because, one assumes, the likes of Fox News and George W Bush and his friends said so.

The United Kingdom focused on a lengthy Iraq campaign, before shifting its attention back to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan in 2006, two wars that pushed our military resources to breaking point. The Iraq war was a shameful blot on our country’s history and indeed the biggest foreign policy disaster since the Suez crisis. As a country and a Parliament, we are now in a position in which legitimate intervention will be much harder. I am proud of my party’s stance against the Iraq war, but I am just as proud of my party’s stance in favour of intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s. I am no pacifist: I am in favour of wise intervention when necessary. But we have been denuded of our ability to get involved in legitimate action when necessary, largely because of this appalling error.

I am proud of my right hon. Friends the Members for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy), for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore) and, of course, for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) for their leadership of the opposition to the Iraq war. But I am proudest of all of the brave men and women who fought in Iraq. We owe them more than this. We owe their families an explanation and we owe our country the right to hold its leaders to account. We must sort out the delays and publish the Chilcot inquiry before the election.

1.41 pm

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): I shall be brief, not least because I am anxious to take part in the next debate, which is very important to my constituency. I concur with the final comments of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) about the sacrifices that were made and where the whole debacle leaves us in relation to legitimate intervention and our general foreign policy approach.

We are here to talk about the delay in publication of the report and to press for its early publication. I welcome the debate on this very important matter and, as we know, the Government have said that the report will not be published before the general election if submitted after the end of February. Whether we agree with that or not, the reality is that the general election has effectively already started in all but name—one aspect of a fixed term Parliament that is different from what went before.

The report should have been published long ago, and I recognise the pressure to question its delay. I particularly recognise the work of the Public Administration Committee which has tried to get to the bottom of what is holding up the publication, as well as looking more widely at the use of inquiries by both

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1057

Parliament and Government. That is something that should be followed up again after the report is eventually published. What has more than £10 million of public money actually achieved, when the families still have no chance of closure or moving on all these years later and the public are becoming more cynical by the day, if that is possible? We seem to see this so often with inquiries—it takes years to persuade Governments to hold them and that is followed by lengthy delays and often unsatisfactory conclusions, leading people to think it was all a waste of time and money.

I agree with the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway)—he never said a truer word—that this House is to blame. We should have pressed much more firmly for the report to be published long ago. We did not apply enough pressure.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The problem is not just one of administrative delay and cost, but that on this time scale of 17 years or more so many of the actors will have left public life. It becomes an exercise in history, not accountability.

Sandra Osborne: I agree, and that has happened time and again, leading to public cynicism. I hope that, after the publication of the report, the Public Administration Committee will look at that issue again.

It is not good enough, 90 days before a general election to call this debate. Welcome though it is, it should all have been done long ago. Publication of the report was never going to happen before the general election, however. I hope that when he comes before the Foreign Affairs Committee next week, Sir John Chilcot will be able to give an indication of time scale, but I am not holding my breath.

Pete Wishart: I am appreciating the hon. Lady’s speech, but can she explain why she voted against holding an inquiry when the Labour Government were in power?

Sandra Osborne: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the policy at the time was to wait until the forces had withdrawn from Iraq, and that is why I voted against.

As I say, I am not holding my breath for Sir John Chilcot to throw much light on the situation next week. He has already made it clear that he will not be pressurised by Parliament into anything. It is worth having the session, but I am not confident that much will result from it.

Finally, we were told that the inquiry would help learn lessons that would strengthen the UK’s democracy, diplomacy and military forces to ensure that if we face similar situations in future, the Government of the day will be best equipped to respond to them in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country. I was worried before the debate but I am even more worried now, especially when I hear from the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) about how his information was treated. I hope that we will get the opportunity next week to ask Sir John Chilcot about some of the questions the right hon. Gentleman raised.

When I look at the situation in Iraq, Syria and throughout the Arab world today—thousands being slaughtered, an Iraqi army unable to cope in spite of the

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1058

millions of pounds spent building it up after the Iraq war and wholly inadequate resources for our diplomatic effort through the FCO—I see few lessons learned so far. I cannot imagine that the Iraq inquiry will give us the answers we need. It may tell us the mistakes that were made, and it may tell us that civil servants are more worried about damaging UK relations with the US than satisfying the justified demands from many people in this country for the truth. I accept that diplomatic relations with the US are important, but the question is, how important. Do they cancel out the wishes and desires of the British people for the truth about this matter? I do not think so. Above all, for the sake of those who lost their lives and the families who grieve, I hope the inquiry will report as soon as possible after the general election.

1.47 pm

Mr Keith Simpson (Broadland) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and other hon. Members on bringing forward this debate. There is no doubt that pressure in this House and the other place—I also had a small debate in October in Westminster Hall on the Chilcot inquiry—was undoubtedly one of the reasons why Sir John Chilcot wrote to the Prime Minister. He realised that a large head of parliamentary steam was building, wanting to know the facts.

Sadly, I have concluded that whatever Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry finally says, there will be a considerable body of opinion in this country who—unless he actually names individuals and says they were guilty of duplicity and treason—will dismiss it as a whitewash. As several hon. Members have already said, this is now a matter of history. This is more like an official history than an inquiry, for many reasons. It was the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) who put his finger on it, and it is at the heart of what we are debating today. When such a momentous series of decisions is made, and the Government are reluctant to investigate it, although there is political pressure to do so, should we go for the short, quick inquiry, which may not be able to look at all the evidence but will probably have a good, broad picture of what happened, or do we go for a long inquiry that tries as much possible to question everybody and to get as much information as possible? With the best will in the world, the latter will take several years—although possibly not as long as this inquiry has taken.

I declare an interest as a military historian. With the best will in the world it is no good trying to compare this inquiry, under these circumstances, with perhaps the Crimean war or Mesopotamia for example. It is the equivalent of a decision at the end of the second world war to have an inquiry into British foreign policy in the 1930s—an inquiry on appeasement. It would be just as difficult. There is no doubt—I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway); it is a pity it is such a thin House—about the emotions that have developed here in this House to try to reach some form of agreement about what should happen, but we are here today to debate the timing of this report.

Mr David Davis: My hon. Friend will have noted that I deliberately avoided the Crimea, Dardanelles and other examples. The example I did cite was the Israeli

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1059

Winograd inquiry, which was equally controversial and very sensitive. That inquiry was brought out, during the tenure of the Prime Minister involved, within seven and 17 months. Surely that is possible?

Mr Simpson: I agree with my hon. Friend, but the other factor, which has been touched on by a number of hon. Friends and colleagues, is that this is not a stand-alone British inquiry. We were the junior partner in an alliance with the United States of America. That lies at the heart of the Iraq inquiry. I would like to emphasise—I have discussed this with a number of hon. Friends and colleagues—that the Iraq inquiry is only act one of a two-act play. The second act is, of course, Afghanistan, and one feeds into the other. This is obviously a much broader subject, but we need to bear it in mind.

Mr MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that we have reached the end of the road for inquiries. Does he foresee a time when it might be a matter for the courts in The Hague?

Mr Simpson: No, I do not. I have to say, with the greatest respect to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), the former Attorney-General, that my heart sinks every time I hear we are going to have lawyer-led inquiries. Ironically, despite the suspicion that it would be a cover-up, I actually think it is a great pity that we cannot have a parliamentary-led inquiry. There is enough talent in both Houses—experienced men and women—for Parliament to elect a person to chair such an inquiry and for the resources to be allocated. I would like to see that. That does not get around the length of timetable.

Mr Grieve rose—

Mr Simpson: I see my right hon. and learned Friend wants to intervene.

Mr Grieve: Only to agree with my hon. Friend. I certainly do not think that these inquiries have to be led by lawyers—I want to make that absolutely clear. That was not in any part of my speech and I would not wish the House to think that I took that view.

Mr Simpson: I, of course, accept that from my right hon. and learned Friend. In my opinion, it is a great pity he is no longer Attorney-General—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—but that is above my pay scale, as they say.

How can we help my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, in his approach towards questioning Sir John Chilcot? One way around the problem is to suggest to Sir John Chilcot—other colleagues have touched on this—that he puts into the public domain, when he publishes his report, a lot of the correspondence and communications that went on between his inquiry, the Cabinet Office and various other organisations. My experience as a military historian is that when the official histories were published on the first and second world wars, they were interesting, but it was not until 30 years later that we were actually able to see the correspondence between official historians, individual

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1060

commanders and others. We could then see how at times the official historians stood up to pressure, but how at other times things were massaged. I would be particularly interested to see the e-mails, correspondence and telephone conversations between Margaret Aldred, who ran the secretariat, Sir Jeremy Heywood and perhaps members of the Cabinet Office. That may be beyond his remit.

My final point is that we are where we are. When Sir John Chilcot publishes his inquiry, he will have a press conference. I assume that the Prime Minister of the day will make a statement, with questions and answers, but it is very important indeed that we have a full debate in both Houses, not immediately or on the next day, but within about three or four days. A report consisting of 1 million words will be a lot for us to consider. I do not blame Sir John Chilcot. I am not a man who sees a great conspiracy behind this, but I believe in transparency. It is about not just learning lessons, but trying to establish the truth.

1.55 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson), but I disagree with him on the idea that we see the events of 2003 as history. We see them under the cold light of eternity. They are not a matter of history for the loved ones of the 179 of our brave soldiers who fell. They still suffer a living wound that will never heal. I would like to repeat a speech I made in 2009 when I was sitting where the hon. Gentleman is sitting now. I am not allowed to repeat that speech, but not a word of it would change. The speech consisted of 10 minutes of reading out the names of all the British soldiers who died. I believe that that is a far more effective way of making the point that, as the result of a decision taken here in this House by many of us, those young people lost their lives.

An American-British enterprise was not inevitable. We need not have been involved. The Americans were going in anyway and we had the choice to stay out, as Harold Wilson did many years ago. The main reason I am offering myself to my electorate in a few months’ time is because of this. I want to see the end of this and I want to see us get to the nub of the terrible mistake we made. It is to do with the role of Prime Ministers and their relationship with Back Benchers in this House.

Something happens to Prime Ministers when the war drums start to beat. They talk in a different way. They drag out the old Churchillian rhetoric. The rolling phrases come out. They walk in a different way—they strut like Napoleon—and they are overwhelmed by hubris. No longer are they dealing with the boring detail of day-to-day operations; they are writing their own page in history. Usually, it is a bloody page in history.

We do not need an inquiry into the whole Afghanistan enterprise, on which there was general agreement, but we certainly need one into why we went into Helmand when only half a dozen British soldiers had been killed in combat. We went in with a belief that not a shot would be fired and we would be out in three years, but 453 deaths followed. That is what we need an inquiry into.

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1061

There has been a profound change in this House. It happened on 29 August 2013, when the Prime Minister came here to encourage us—I believe, with a certain complicity with other party leaders—to go into Syria to attack Assad, who was the deadly enemy of ISIS. Now we are attacking ISIS, which is the deadly enemy of Assad. How on earth could we have been persuaded to be dragged into the middle of that conflict, which is ancient, deep and incomprehensible to us? Thank goodness the good sense and pooled wisdom of 650 MPs, informed by the terrible tragedies of Iraq and Afghanistan, persuaded this House not to follow the prime ministerial instinct for war. That will change this House for a long time.

Along with others, I believe there is nothing political about this in any way. Those of us who remember the vote, which was the most serious vote we ever took, remember the imprecations of the Front Benchers. One hundred and thirty-nine Labour MPs voted not to go to war, against the strongest three-line Whip of my time here, but 50 others, who were very doubtful, were bamboozled, bribed and bullied into the wrong Lobby or into abstaining—and nearly all of them bitterly regret it now. It was a misuse of the organs of this House. Virtually every Committee that looked into it—those that are supposed to know better, such as the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Defence Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee—were all cheerleaders for the war. And where were the Opposition? There is nothing political here. The then Leader of the Opposition was more gung-ho for war than Tony Blair. Only half a dozen hon. Members on the Conservative side voted against the war, and to their great credit, of course, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru voted the same way.

We are being denied the truth. I find it astonishing that the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) does not agree there were no weapons of mass destruction. It is amazing if he still believes there was an imminent threat to British territory. I have a document—I have no time to go into its detail—referenced by Tony Blair as evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the threat posed. It concerns a meeting on 22 August 1995 at which the principal person giving evidence was a General Hussein Kamal. For goodness’ sake, read the document!

Mr Straw: I dealt only briefly with the intervention from the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) because this debate is about the Iraq inquiry and its timing, not about the substance, and I would have been slapped down very quickly. For the avoidance of doubt, however, the whole Security Council judged in November 2002 that there was a threat to international peace and security from Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.

George Galloway: Because they believed you and Colin Powell.

Paul Flynn: Because they were fooled. The right hon. Gentleman should recall—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. This has been a good debate, and we do not want to spoil it. Let us continue in the manner we have done so far. I want to get to the end and make sure everybody gets to speak.

29 Jan 2015 : Column 1062

Paul Flynn: The intervention was contemptible. On that point, I share the view of the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway). We remember the ignominy of the right hon. Member for Blackburn walking behind Colin Powell after the latter had presented a tissue of lies about the threat. It was not true, and our representative was supporting him in those lies, and they sent all those young men and others to their deaths.

At the time, I wrote a letter and got a reply from the right hon. Gentleman. It was on my blog, and I will put it back up now. In March 2003, I told Tony Blair, “If we go into Iraq alongside George Bush, we will deepen the division in the world between the Christian western world and the Muslim eastern world, and we will create a division that will cause bloodshed from my local mosque to the far corners of the world.” The right hon. Gentleman replied to that letter, and a contemptible reply it was too—as was his reply today. He should recognise the terrible error of his ways and what he did. I agree with the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). It is nonsense to suggest there were weapons of mass destruction or a 45-minute threat to Britain. We, as Members of Parliament, the people who took that decision, should be thoroughly ashamed of it, and I will stay in this House, and I will fight to be here, until the truth is known and those who committed this terrible crime are brought to book.