38.Sir Jeremy Heywood told us that the National Security Adviser (NSA), Sir Mark Lyall Grant, is currently undertaking a “lessons learned investigation across Whitehall” in which he is “reviewing all aspects of the way we look at post-conflict stabilisation, conflict prevention and so on, whether or not there are new things we can learn in light of both Libya and the Chilcot report”. This was corroborated by the Parliamentary Secretary, Chris Skidmore MP, in the opposition day debate on the Chilcot report on 30 November. On completion of this exercise, the findings will be presented to Ministers. There are currently no declared plans for these findings to be published or presented to the House. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) has requested information from the Government on this matter. At the time of writing, we have not received a response.
39.The Government maintains that there have already been changes to the machinery of government that address some of the weaknesses in decision-making, planning and implementation which have since been made acutely apparent by the Iraq Inquiry Report. In his statement to the House of Commons on 6 July, the then Prime Minister, Rt Hon David Cameron, presented the establishment of the National Security Council (NSC) as a conscious effort to create a more formalised decision-making structure, “to ensure proper co-ordinated decision-making across the whole of government” and provide a forum for discussion and challenge. In his evidence to this Committee, Sir Jeremy Heywood pointed to the NSC as a source of improved cross-departmental working. He also highlighted the creation of ‘joint units’, designed to facilitate work across departmental boundaries, reduce duplication between Departments and improve overall efficiency. We are already aware of joint units, such as the Joint Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Unit (JICTU), which combines officials from the Home Office and the Foreign Office and is based in the Home Office. The Stabilisation Unit, to which the Iraq Inquiry Report makes particular reference, combines officials from twelve government departments as well as military and police officers, and reports to the NSC.
40.However, there is little evidence to suggest that these structures will prove to be an adequate safeguard against the failings in Government decision-making, planning and implementation set out in the Iraq Inquiry Report. Since the NSC was established in 2010, the Government has pursued policies in respect of Libya and Syria, as well as continued a measure of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Foreign Affairs Committee’s Third report of 2016–17, ‘Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK’s future policy options’ found that the Government’s policy in Libya was “not informed by accurate intelligence” and “was not underpinned by a strategy to support and shape post-Gaddafi Libya”. When asked for his thoughts on the matter on the morning that report was published, Sir Jeremy Heywood responded that “whatever happened was despite good process, because there was very good process”.
41.The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) first raised concerns about the National Security Council in its first report of session 2010–11, ‘Who does UK National Strategy?’, in which it concluded: “The functioning of National Strategy requires a proper deliberative forum with access to proper analysis and assessment”. PASC’s twenty-fourth report of session 2010–12, ‘Strategic thinking in Government: without National Strategy, can viable Government strategy emerge?’, also concluded that the NSC should have greater capacity for strategic assessment and analysis. In 2015, PASC said again, in its report, ‘Leadership for the long term: Whitehall’s capacity to address future challenges’, “the centre of government must strengthen its capacity for analysis and assessment of long-term issues and challenges”. In 2015, the Defence Select Committee raised similar concerns in its report, ‘Decision-making in Defence Policy’, where it cautioned that “discussion in NSC meetings is too tactical and discursive, and does not sufficiently draw on authoritative expert opinion”. It concluded that the NSC had “failed to eliminate the risk of a personal, private and reactive style of decision-making involving only the Prime Minister and his closest advisers”. These criticisms were rejected by the Government in its response to the Defence Committee’s report. More recently, the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) has also raised concerns about the National Security Council in their report on Libya. The FAC recommends that the Government must commission an independent review of the National Security Council which “should be informed by the conclusions of the Iraq Inquiry and examine whether the weaknesses in governmental decision-making in relation to the Iraq intervention in 2003 have been addressed by the introduction of the NSC”.
42.Notably, Sir John Chilcot told the Liaison Committee that the question of whether the NSC lacked capacity for strategic analysis was one “of much wider significance” than the NSC alone. He told the Committee that it is an issue that “goes right across the business of Government, where the ability and the capability to do strategic analysis of options and risks before big policy decisions are settled is not there”. He suggested that a greater level of cooperation between Departments could help to promote more strategic analysis of this kind and that the NSC was in a position to promote such cooperation.
43.The Government is conducting a ‘lessons learned’ investigation across Whitehall, coordinated by the National Security Adviser, into the substantive criticisms of the machinery of government made by the report of the Iraq Inquiry. The Government must provide, in its formal response to this Report, a date for when this exercise will be completed. The findings should be reported to Parliament so that PACAC and other relevant Select Committees can scrutinise and comment on the investigation, and so that Parliament is able to hold the government to account for the implementation of its recommendations.
44.We remain concerned that the National Security Council (NSC) continues to lack capacity for strategic analysis and assessment. This was highlighted both by the Public Administration Select Committee in the previous Parliament, and by other Select Committees of this House. The Government has not accepted the various recommendations to address this lack of capacity, and yet the way in which successive governments have approached issues such as Libya underlines this fundamental weakness in the operation of NSC. A review coordinated by the National Security Adviser within the constraints of Whitehall is neither independent nor sufficient for reviewing the effectiveness of the NSC. We therefore reiterate the recommendations of our predecessor Committee, PASC, across its three reports on strategic thinking in government, that the NSC requires far greater capability in strategic thinking and analysis and would greatly benefit from having its own capacity to synthesise assessment and analysis from across Whitehall and elsewhere. We also fully support the recommendation of the Foreign Affairs Committee, that the Government should commission an independent review of the National Security Council. The Government should consider how the NSC can promote more robust collective strategic analysis and assessment as part of decision-making, both within the NSC itself and across Government.
45.The Iraq Inquiry report reveals the striking extent to which Cabinet government was side-lined in advance of the Iraq war. The report draws a comparison between the recorded discussions on Iraq in advance of the conflict in 2003 and the discussions that took place around Operation Desert Fox, a four-day campaign of air strikes on Iraq by the US and the UK in December 1998. According to the then Cabinet Secretary, Lord Wilson of Dinton, there were 21 recorded Ministerial discussions on Iraq between January 1998 and January 1999, five of which were in the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee (DOP). By contrast, the report reveals that “The last meeting of DOP on Iraq before the 2003 conflict… took place in March 1999”. This lack of discussion within DOP is made more notable by the fact that “In April 2002, the MOD [Ministry of Defence] clearly expected consideration of military options to be addressed through DOP”. As made clear in the Iraq Inquiry Report:
Most decisions on Iraq preconflict were taken either bilaterally between Mr Blair and the relevant Secretary of State or in meetings between Mr Blair, Mr Straw and Mr Hoon, with No.10 officials and, as appropriate, Mr John Scarlett (Chairman of the JIC), Sir Richard Dearlove and Adm [Lord] Boyce. Some of those meetings were minuted; some were not.
46.Sir John Chilcot emphasised the Cabinet’s limited involvement in decision-making on Iraq in his evidence to the Liaison Committee:
Cabinet was promised it would have a hand in the decision on major deployments to and in Iraq, and that never took place. We did an analysis of all of the Cabinet papers, minutes and meetings throughout the relevant period, and we published a great deal of that material. Quite frequently, the Cabinet itself was simply being given information updates, which were not always of a completely detailed or updated kind. There was very little substantive Cabinet discussion leading to a collective decision, and that seems to me to be the lack that is characterised, certainly throughout the period of 2002 to 2006 or so.
In his evidence to this Committee, Sir Jeremy Heywood acknowledged that the principle of collective responsibility had not been observed “at all times” in the run up to the Iraq war.
47.The Inquiry report shows how the Cabinet Secretary was not fully involved in decisions on how collective Cabinet responsibility should operate with regards to Iraq. Sir David Manning, who from 2001 to 2003 was simultaneously Head of the Overseas and Defence Secretariat (OD Sec) and the Prime Minister’s Foreign Policy Adviser, sent a minute to the Prime Minister in September 2002, proposing to set up both official level groups and a ministerial group on Iraq. Mr Blair accepted the proposal for the official level groups but asked for the ministerial group to be put on hold. Speaking to the Liaison Committee, Sir John Chilcot explained how the Cabinet Secretary was left out of this initial discussion and decision not to have a ministerial group. Only after the Prime Minister had made his preferences clear was this draft proposal, without reference to a ministerial group, put to the Cabinet Secretary for him to present to the Prime Minister “for formal endorsement”. Sir John said, “That is screwing up the proper arrangement in rather a big way”.
48.In the section on ‘Decision-making within government’, the Inquiry report examines the impact of the September 2001 decision, to combine the role of Head of the OD Sec with the role of Prime Minister’s Foreign Policy Adviser. Sir David Omand, former Security and Intelligence Coordinator, told the Inquiry that: “I hesitate to say this, but I think it does over a period of time tend to disenfranchise the Cabinet Secretary”. Sir John, drawing from the conclusions of Lord Butler of Brockwell’s 2004 Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction, as well as his own Inquiry, said that such an arrangement drew the post-holder “too far towards No.10 responsibility to the Prime Minister and too far away from the collective responsibility to and of the Cabinet”. He said that the decision to combine the two posts “should not be replicated”.
49.Beyond these potentially problematic structures, the Iraq Inquiry report illustrates how a Prime Minister, if so inclined, is able to override the proper procedures of collective government decision-making without obstacle. The report argues that the now infamous note that Mr Blair sent to President Bush on 28 July 2002, which began “I will be with you, whatever”, should have been circulated to key ministers before it was sent. However, Mr Blair, who wrote the note himself, marked it as ‘Personal’ and shared it only with No.10 officials before sending it to the President. He included the opening phrase against the advice of Sir David Manning and Jonathan Powell, then Mr Blair’s Chief of Staff. The Inquiry report concludes, “the Foreign and Defence Secretaries should certainly have been given an opportunity to comment on the draft in advance”.
50.In this particular instance, the Cabinet Secretary was not aware of the note that Mr Blair had drafted. However, the Iraq Inquiry report comments that it is ultimately the Cabinet Secretary who is responsible for ensuring that Cabinet Ministers are appropriately engaged in decision-making:
The responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary to ensure that members of Cabinet are fully engaged in ways that allow them to accept collective responsibility and to meet their departmental obligations nevertheless remains.
Sir Jeremy Heywood concurred:
… my view is the Cabinet Secretary has responsibility for making sure that Cabinet Government is working properly, that Cabinet Committees meet with the right people in them to take the key decisions.
51.However, it is not clear from our evidence, as things stand, how the Cabinet Secretary can discharge this responsibility without the support of the Prime Minister. The Better Government Initiative (BGI) has similarly raised this concern regarding the report’s statement about the role of the Cabinet Secretary:
The report therefore clearly implies that the Cabinet Secretary is deemed to have what has been termed a “guardianship role” in support of collective government and proper decision-making for which he or she can be held to account - and the same consideration might apply to other top officials. If so, the question arises of how this is to be discharged or at least to be attempted to be discharged, if this role does not find favour with the Prime Minister or other Ministerial colleagues.
In short, as Sir John Chilcot acknowledged, our system currently lacks “a statutory or a convention-based enforcement system to ensure compliance with proper standards and accepted rules of how government should be conducted”.
52.When we asked Sir Jeremy Heywood what actions a Cabinet Secretary can take if he or she is concerned that collective responsibility is not being achieved, he did not offer much reassurance that there are now mechanisms in place that enable the Cabinet Secretary to ensure that members of the Cabinet are engaged in ways that allow them to accept collective responsibility. Instead he suggested that the idea of the Prime Minister overriding the Cabinet Secretary’s advice on matters of proper decision-making procedure was hypothetical. However, he conceded that if a Cabinet Secretary were to object to how a decision was being made, they would have very few tools of influence at their disposal:
Under our current constitution the Cabinet Secretary can continue to provide advice but Ministers decide, and if the Cabinet Secretary, therefore, feels that his or her job is becoming completely impossible then they would have to resign. There are no other levers than those, but that is not the position that obtains at the moment.
In the opposition day debate on the Chilcot Report on 30 November, the Rt Hon Alex Salmond MP described the Cabinet Secretary’s comments as lacking in reassurance.
53.It is generally agreed that the Prime Minister of the day should never have written “I will be with you whatever” in his letter to the President of the United States, against the official advice and without the explicit agreement of his key ministers. This is just one of a number of examples identified by the Iraq Inquiry of the breakdown of collective ministerial decision-making over the development of UK policy on Iraq before the invasion. It is no longer acceptable that the present arrangements should continue without stronger means to prevent key ministers, or even the whole Cabinet, from being side-lined. Beyond making representations to Ministers and to the Prime Minister, short of resignation, the Cabinet Secretary does not have any formal recourse to object to a Prime Minister’s chosen course of action in the event that he or she wishes to disregard the procedures for decision-making set out in the Cabinet Manual. We are in no doubt whatsoever that this absence of safeguards cannot persist.
54.The BGI has suggested clarifying the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary, and possibly of other top officials, for ensuring that government is conducted according to accepted procedures and principles. The BGI proposes a mechanism of written Ministerial direction, similar to that used by Departmental Accounting Officers. The BGI explains the proposal:
If the Prime Minister or the government wish to conduct business in another way they can transparently amend the published Cabinet Manual and address the case for change in Parliament. If, however, officials are asked in effect to ignore established procedure for good government, they would be expected to seek a direction which would be reported to Parliament - perhaps as for other directions to the PAC [Public Accounts Committee] and the Comptroller and Auditor General, but in addition to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
While BGI accept that this might create difficulties in the relationships between ministers and officials, they express the hope that “it might act as a constraint on the most egregious abuses of accepted standards of conduct of business”. Notably, the Foreign Affairs Committee have proposed consideration of a similar mechanism, for non-ministerial members of the National Security Council “to request prime ministerial direction to undertake actions agreed in the NSC”.
55.Sir Jeremy Heywood expressed concern about the risk of such a mechanism creating tension between the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister. He argued that this Committee’s scrutiny is sufficient for holding government to account for following the proper procedures, without the need for written directions. He also emphasised the Government’s belief that in the current circumstances, there was no need for safeguards:
If that situation obtained today or in the recent past, then I would be looking for possible new mechanisms… but at the moment there is no such problem. Cabinet Government is working well. I have all the access to the Prime Minister I need.
56.Sir John Chilcot told the Liaison Committee that he did “have a little sympathy, but not total” with the BGI’s proposal. He was reluctant to give his direct support to the BGI’s recommendation, but elsewhere in the session, Sir John argued that regardless of whether or not it is made immediately known to Parliament, all dissent on major decisions should be recorded. He said:
… it is vital—not merely important, but vital—for serious decisions and the reasons behind them to be recorded in the public archive; not for immediate release, necessarily, but they should be written down. If someone is in serious disagreement with a decision taken collectively, the reason for that decision and the fact of it should be recorded. I think that also goes to a similar suggestion from the Better Government Initiative. I’d be reluctant to say that it should be placed on the same footing as that which permanent secretaries as accounting officers are on vis-à-vis the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, because I think the two things are separable …
57.The Cabinet Secretary’s assurance that there is no risk to collective Cabinet decision-making under the current administration, provides no assurance for the future. Collective Cabinet decision-making, having broken down, must be reinstated in order to restore trust. The time to learn these lessons from the Iraq Inquiry and to implement them is now. PACAC recommends that the substance of the proposal of the Better Government Initiative should be adopted. There should be a mechanism of written Ministerial direction, similar to that used by Departmental Accounting Officers, reflecting the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary and other senior officials to ensure that proper procedure is followed as set out in the Cabinet Manual. If a senior official requests such a direction, it should be at his or her discretion whether this direction should be made immediately known to Parliament, through PACAC or the relevant Select Committee, or placed in the public archive for delayed release. As an alternative, the official should also be able to notify Privy Counsellors. Such a mechanism would dispel any doubt about the Cabinet Secretary’s direct responsibilities. Furthermore, it would make clear to Ministers the vital importance of following proper procedure and of taking proper advice on matters of procedure.
58.The Iraq Inquiry reported that the Blair Government did not expose key policy decisions to rigorous review. The failure to open up key decisions to sufficient, high-level challenge is drawn out by Sir John Chilcot in his statement at the launch of the report:
Above all, the lesson is that all aspects of any intervention need to be calculated, debated and challenged with the utmost rigour.
In evidence to the Liaison Committee, Sir John emphasised the responsibility of both Civil Servants and Cabinet Ministers to challenge the administration. He also suggested that for good decision-making “ … structures and institutions are all very well… but they are not by any means enough. It is the people and the way they work that really matter”.
59.The Cabinet Secretary commented that he believed the most important lesson of the Iraq Inquiry was the necessity of maintaining a culture of challenge, which exists and thrives within the formal machinery of government:
… one of the most important lessons of all from Chilcot… is not so much what meetings you fix up or do not fix up, it is what culture and spirit of challenge you have within those meetings… So a lot of this is not so much a binary question: do you have the right meetings and the right people in the meetings? It is: how are those meetings operating in practice, which is a much more subjective and difficult to analyse issue.
60.The absence of robust challenge within government gains particular significance when considering how the legal advice underpinning the Government’s case for war was presented and discussed within Cabinet. Overall, the Inquiry Report considers the “circumstances in which it was ultimately decided that there was a legal basis for UK participation” to be “far from satisfactory”. The Inquiry Report outlines how the then Attorney General, the Rt Hon Lord Goldsmith, was asked by No.10, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, on 9 December, to provide advice on whether military action in Iraq would be lawful without a second Security Council Resolution, in addition to resolution 1441. Lord Goldsmith, on 7 March 2003, set out a series of alternative views concluding that the “safest legal course” would be to have a second resolution. Lord Goldsmith advised that he thought a “reasonable case” could be made that military action was legal without a second resolution, but made clear that he was not certain a court of law would support this. After being asked to refine this view by senior officials in the Civil Service and Armed Forces, who were dissatisfied with the lack of definitive response, Lord Goldsmith returned on 13 March with a “better view” that military action was lawful without a second resolution.
61.Lord Goldsmith requested from the Prime Minister confirmation that Iraq had committed “further material breaches” of its obligations under resolution 1441. The existence of these breaches underpinned his legal case for military action. The Prime Minister confirmed this, but provided no evidence of these breaches and did not explain the grounds on which he had reached this conclusion. In evidence to the Liaison Committee, Sir John said that instead, the Prime Minister should have:
sought carefully thought through, argued and fact-based advice and had it discussed collectively and agreed before being able to sign, if you like, a certificate that, in his view, Saddam was in breach of Security Council resolutions.
62.On 17 March 2003 Cabinet was presented with the final view–that military action was legal:
Cabinet was not provided with written advice which set out, as the advice of 7 March had done, the conflicting arguments regarding the legal effect of resolution 1441 and whether, in particular, it authorised military action without a further resolution of the Security Council.
63.According to Chilcot, in Cabinet “there was little appetite to question Lord Goldsmith about his advice, and no substantive discussion of the legal issues was recorded”. Chilcot concludes that:
Cabinet was… being asked to confirm the decision that the diplomatic process was at an end and that the House of Commons should be asked to endorse the use of military action to enforce Iraq’s compliance. Given the gravity of this decision, Cabinet should have been made aware of the legal uncertainties.
Lord Goldsmith should have been asked to provide written advice which fully reflected the position on 17 March, explained the legal basis on which the UK could take military action and set out the risks of legal challenge.
64.Chilcot recommends that “this advice should have been provided to Ministers and senior officials whose responsibilities were directly engaged and should have been made available to Cabinet”. In evidence to the Liaison Committee, Sir John added:
… the Cabinet should have had formal written advice from the Attorney General and the opportunity to consider it around a table, and not simply to say, “Do you say it’s okay?”, “Yes, it’s okay”, “Oh well,” and move on. That simply did not begin, in my view, to be an acceptable way of deciding whether or not there was a sufficient legal base for us to participate in the invasion of a sovereign country.
65.Cabinet Ministers were not in control over the advice that they were initially provided with. Sir John Chilcot acknowledged, however, that Cabinet Ministers had been “passive” in their treatment of the legal advice and “it was not the approach that Cabinet members should have taken to the seriousness of the legal question about the invasion of Iraq”.
66.More generally, when asked who should have stood up to Mr Blair, Sir John responded that Cabinet Ministers had failed to play a crucial role:
I suppose my short answer is that Cabinet Ministers—I am not naming individual ones—were given promises by him in Cabinet that they would have the opportunity to consider and reflect, and therefore to decide on, a number of big decisions in the course of the Iraq case. He didn’t give them that opportunity, and they did not insist on it being given to them. That, I think, is a failing.
67.While members of the Cabinet did not initially have a say in what legal advice they were presented with, or the extent to which they were consulted on key decisions, they were in a position to demand more rigorous consultation when this did not materialise. The case of the legal advice underlines this point: in our view, more robust scrutiny of the legal advice by Cabinet Ministers could have exposed and mitigated the unsatisfactory process through which the legal basis for war was compiled. In future, when the Cabinet is being asked to support significant decisions, such as whether the UK Government should commit to military action, which are based on legal considerations, the Cabinet Manual should be clear about proper procedure. The Cabinet Secretary should be under an obligation to ensure the Cabinet receives comprehensive legal advice, and he or she should have recourse to the proposed mechanism of written Ministerial direction we recommend above to ensure this happens.
68.It is welcome that the Government acknowledges that a culture and spirit of challenge is essential for good decision-making in government. And that this means not only having the right meetings and the right people in the meetings, but making sure that meetings are effective. We also agree with Sir John Chilcot that structures and institutions are all very well, but that it is the people and the way they work that really matter. We recommend that the National Security Adviser conducts an analysis of meetings of, and around, the National Security Council (NSC), to establish what makes meetings effective. This might include considering how to promote openness and candour within meetings, and an atmosphere of trust, as well as the use of briefs that synthesise cross-departmental analysis and assessment, rather than the normal departmental briefs. The Government should report on the NSA’s findings to PACAC, in confidence if necessary.
69.In the House of Commons debate on the Report of the Iraq Inquiry on 13 July 2016, a number of MPs highlighted implications of the report for role of Parliament and Government’s accountability to Parliament. For example, the Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC MP drew parallels between the Blair administration’s reluctance to consult Cabinet, and its reluctance to engage and consult Parliament: “Both were essentially seen as hurdles to be surmounted”. Mr Clarke went on to argue, “Parliament should be consulted when it can be, and given proper information. One should not rely on clever timing of the debate and the work of the Whips to get it through and afterwards say that there is a democratic endorsement”.
70.In his evidence to the Liaison Committee, Sir John Chilcot said that he believed there was room for Parliament, “whether on the Floor of the Chamber, in Select Committees or in other respects, to exert more influence on Government and to hold Government more effectively to account.” He acknowledged, however, that an obstacle to Parliament conducting such scrutiny is its inability to access highly sensitive information: “That is a serious question that would have to be answered. That is a negotiation between Government and Parliament”.
71.We believe that the ongoing issue of Parliament’s access to sensitive information underpins the need for an open conversation between Government and Parliament on this matter, so that Parliament can be confident of its full ability to scrutinise Government decisions.
72.The way in which intelligence briefings were presented to Parliament further underlines the importance of Parliamentary scrutiny. In September 2002, the then Prime Minister presented to Parliament a dossier, which had been prepared by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). According to the Iraq Inquiry, this dossier was “designed to “make the case” and secure Parliamentary (and public) support for the Government’s position that action was urgently required to secure Iraq’s disarmament”. Mr Blair included a Foreword with the dossier in which he stated:
that he believed the “assessed intelligence” had “established beyond doubt” that Saddam Hussein had “continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and that he had been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile programme”.
73.This, however, had not been established beyond doubt by the JIC. The Iraq Inquiry criticises the JIC for failing to make these uncertainties clear to the then Prime Minister. According to the Report:
The process of seeking the JIC’s views, through [Sir John] Scarlett, on the text of the Foreword shows that No.10 expected the JIC to raise any concerns it had.
74.The Iraq Inquiry finds that there is a “need for clear separation of the responsibility for analysis and assessment of intelligence from the responsibility for making the argument for a policy”. The report concludes:
When assessed intelligence is explicitly and publicly used to support a policy decision, there would be benefit in subjecting that assessment and the underpinning intelligence to subsequent scrutiny, by a suitable, independent body, such as the Intelligence and Security Committee, with a view to identifying lessons for the future.
75.The importance of such scrutiny was highlighted further by Sir John Chilcot’s response to a question from our Chair, when giving evidence to the Liaison Committee. When asked whether the Prime Minister had been more concerned with evaluating the evidence before him, or making a case for a decision that he had already made, Sir John replied:
I find that a very helpful question, because I think my response to it is a clear and unqualified one. It was the second and not the first. There was no attempt to challenge or seek re-evaluation of the intelligence advice.
76.We also note that Sir John Scarlett, the Chairman of the JIC, was subsequently promoted to be Head of MI6, an appointment approved by Mr Blair as Prime Minister.
77.We recognise that sensitive intelligence information cannot be scrutinised openly by Parliament. Nevertheless, the case of the September dossier highlights the critical importance of strengthening the checks and assessments on intelligence information when it is used to make the case for Government policies. We agree with the Iraq Inquiry that the Intelligence and Security Committee should play a key role in this regard. We also recommend that the Government considers how to bolster the independence of the Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee. It would be more independent if its place in the career structure were altered. It should be a matter of policy that those appointed to the role should not also be seeking promotion to a more senior role. We recognise that this may mean upgrading the post to the equivalent of Permanent Secretary, in order to attract the necessary quality of individual.
78.In addition to considering how to enable more robust Parliamentary scrutiny in the future, we are mindful of the need to acknowledge how Parliament at the time could have done more to assess and dissect the Government’s case for war in Iraq. During the SNP Opposition Day debate on the Chilcot Inquiry and Parliamentary Accountability, one member of this Committee, Paul Flynn MP, pointed to the role of Committees in championing the case for the Iraq War:
Three Committees of people who are great experts—the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Defence Committee—all took the same view [that the UK should go to war in Iraq]. They were all told stories about the weapons of mass destruction. The evidence was, and the evidence is there now, that those did not exist, and there was a very selective choice of evidence… that the Committee members believed and chose to believe.
If we do not recognise that as a problem for this House, we will make the same mistakes again. We are going to face such decisions in future. The House will have to decide whether we are going to order—that is our power—young men and women to put their lives on the line, on the basis of what? Faulty evidence, ineffective evidence. That was the conclusion of Chilcot.
79.PACAC agrees with the assessment that alongside our criticism of the procedures of government in relation to the decision to go to war in Iraq, and together with our consideration of how the machinery of government can be improved to safeguard against such failings in the future, there is a further task. We, as Parliamentarians, must also reflect upon how Parliament could have been more critical and challenging of the Government at the time. This, we believe, is a vital consideration, not just for the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Defence Committee but for every Committee of this House. It is a lesson of which we must be consistently mindful, throughout all aspects of our work and scrutiny of Government.
80.During the Opposition Day debate on 30 November, the SNP, motivated by the conclusions of a report by Dr Glen Rangwala of Trinity College, Cambridge, called upon PACAC “to conduct a further specific examination of this contrast in public and private policy and of the presentation of intelligence, and then to report to the House on what further action it considers necessary and appropriate to help prevent any repetition of this disastrous series of events”. Dr Rangwala argues in his report that “evidence presented in the Chilcot report shows that Mr Blair was deliberately misleading the House of Commons”. He draws on evidence presented by the Iraq Inquiry as well as evidence that was already publically available. We note that Sir John Chilcot himself, drawing on the same available evidence, told the Liaison Committee that:
I absolve him [Tony Blair] from a personal and demonstrable decision to deceive Parliament or the public—to state falsehoods, knowing them to be false. That I think he should be absolved from. However, he also exercised his very considerable powers of advocacy and persuasion, rather than laying the real issues, and the information to back the analysis of them, fairly and squarely in front of Parliament or the public. It was an exercise in advocacy, not an exercise in sharing a crucial judgment—as has been said already this afternoon, one of the most important, if not the most important, since 1945.
81.Dr Glen Rangwala’s report makes a case, drawing from evidence presented in the Chilcot report, that the former Prime Minister, Rt Hon Tony Blair deliberately misled the House of Commons in advance of the decision to go to war in Iraq. We acknowledge the seriousness of Dr Rangwala’s conclusions and recognise that his report supports the view held by many members of the House. We note, however, that Sir John Chilcot believes that there was no personal and demonstrable decision by the then Prime Minister to deceive Parliament or the public. This Committee is not in a position to take up and investigate further Dr Rangwala’s conclusions. Should further evidence, beyond the Chilcot report, come to light that supports Dr Rangwala’s arguments, the House may wish to refer this matter to the Privileges Committee to take further.
82.The Iraq Inquiry highlights the lack of cross-departmental coordination as an area of persistent weakness throughout the UK’s engagement with Iraq. At the start of the UK’s military operations, the Government had not, among other things, “established mechanisms within Whitehall which could coordinate and drive postconflict reconstruction” or “allocated responsibility to any department or unit for planning and delivering the UK’s contribution to postconflict reconstruction”. Weaknesses in cross-departmental coordination persisted throughout the reconstruction effort. Sir John Chilcot, responding to a question from the Chair of the International Development Committee about lessons for the Department for International Development, emphasised how Departments had operated in silos:
The truth of the matter is that there was between Whitehall Departments, not least the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, a wide gap, and bridges were not constructed across that gap with any effectiveness, at least until right at the end and never throughout our long engagement in Iraq, to any great effect.
83.The Inquiry report shows that while the Prime Minister was leading on the UK’s strategy in Iraq, Whitehall did not operate as a coherent unit and strategy was not properly implemented at the Departmental level. As the report says:
A recurring issue between 2003 and 2007 was the difficulty of translating the Government’s strategy for Iraq into action by departments. The system that drove policy on the invasion of Iraq, which centered on No.10, could not be easily transformed into a system for the effective management of the aftermath, in which a coherent collective effort was needed to pull together the many interrelated strands of activity required. Although Iraq was designated the UK’s highest foreign policy priority, it was not the top priority within individual departments. As a consequence, Whitehall did not put significant collective weight behind the task.
84.As outlined above, the Cabinet Secretary indicated two changes that have been made to improve the coordination between departments when delivering cross-cutting priorities: i) the establishment of the National Security Council, and; ii) the creation of ‘joint units’. The Cabinet Secretary stressed that in particular, the officials’ subcommittee of the National Security Council “themselves drive a much greater appreciation of cross-departmental challenges and cross-departmental partnership and working”. Sir John Chilcot acknowledged that the National Security Council could play a role in promoting cross-departmental cooperation.
85.In relation to joint units, the Inquiry report cautions that the existence of cross-departmental units alone will not be sufficient for ensuring coherence across Whitehall. In their lessons on reconstruction, the authors of the report warn:
Departmental priorities and interests will inevitably continue to diverge even where an inter-departmental body with a cross-government role, currently the Stabilisation Unit (SU), is in place. Therefore, cooperation between departments needs continual reinforcement at official and Ministerial levels.
86.In evidence to the Liaison Committee, Sir John Chilcot suggested that the role of the Prime Minister is too demanding for the post-holder to be able to personally dedicate the necessary level of attention to a task like Iraq. He asked:
can a modern British Prime Minister, with the 24-hour-a-day, seven day-a-week pressures coming in from every side, be expected to retain a running consciousness of detail… about one thing along with everything else at the same time?
87.The Iraq Inquiry report recommends that for an effort comparable to the UK’s post-conflict engagement in Iraq, there should be a lead Minister who is responsible for coordinating Departments:
The management, in Whitehall, of a cross-government effort on the scale which was required in Iraq is a complex task. It needs dedicated leadership by someone with time, energy and influence. It cannot realistically be done by a Prime Minister alone, but requires a senior Minister with lead responsibility who has access to the Prime Minister and is therefore able to call on his or her influence in resolving problems or conflicts. A coherent inter-departmental effort, supported by a structure able to hold departments to account, is required to support such a Minister.
88.When we put this recommendation to Sir Jeremy Heywood, he acknowledged that he could “see the case for it” but expressed some doubt that a Prime Minister would be willing to delegate to another Minister the responsibility for coordinating a programme as significant as UK engagement with Iraq.
89.Whatever Sir Jeremy Heywood’s advice, the Government has adopted a “lead minister” model with regard to the implementation of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. The Iraq Inquiry’s recommendation was foreshadowed in the proposal made by the Chair of this Committee following the EU referendum, that a non-departmental Minister within the Cabinet Office should be appointed to coordinate the cross-government effort of leaving the EU. This proposal is attached as Annex 1. In fact, the Prime Minister went even further, appointing Rt Hon David Davis MP as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and establishing a whole new Department of State to lead on this policy.
90.We note with approval the Government’s efforts to improve cross-departmental coordination through the National Security Council and through the growth of permanent cross-departmental ‘joint units’. However, these alone are insufficient for improving cross-departmental coordination for the delivery of complex policies. We agree with the recommendation of the Iraq Inquiry that a senior Minister with lead responsibility should be appointed to manage cross-departmental issues when they are of a scale and importance comparable to UK post-conflict engagement in Iraq. The present Government can be seen to have done exactly this by appointing a lead Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The Government must also set out how it is going to encourage a positive attitude amongst officials towards joint departmental working, to promote the right behaviours that support cross-departmental coordination.
64 ; .
65 Commons Hansard 30 November 2016, .
66 ; .
67 Commons Hansard 6 July 2016, .
69 Gov.uk, ’.
70 Third Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2016–17, ‘Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK’s future policy options’, HC 119.
73 Twenty Fourth Report from the Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2010–12, ‘Strategic thinking in Government: without National Strategy, can viable Government strategy emerge?’,
74 Third Report from the Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2014–15, ‘Leadership for the long term: Whitehall’s capacity to address future challenges’, HC 669.
76 Third Special Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2015–16, ‘Decision–making in Defence Policy: Government response to the Committee’s Eleventh Report of Session 2014–15’, HC 367.
77 Third Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2016–17, ‘Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK’s future policy options’, HC 119.
81 Ibid, p.56, para 397.
82 Ibid, p.56, para 398.
91 The Iraq Inquiry, July 2016, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, Vol 2, Section 3.3, HC 265–II p.76, para 443.
96 Better Government Initiative, September 2016, ‘The Chilcot Report: Lessons for the Machinery of Government’, p.3.
100 Commons Hansard 30 November 2016, .
101 Better Government Initiative, September 2016, ‘The Chilcot Report: Lessons for the Machinery of Government’, p.3.
102 Better Government Initiative, September 2016, ‘The Chilcot Report: Lessons for the Machinery of Government’, p.3.
103 Third Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2016–17, ‘Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK’s future policy options’, HC 119.
108 Ibid, Q40.
109 See for example 11 points on which the Inquiry concludes that there “should have been collective discussion by a Cabinet Committee or small group of Ministers”. The Iraq Inquiry, July 2016, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, Executive Summary, HC 264, p.58–59, para 409.
110 Iraq Inquiry website, July 2016: .
112 Ibid, Q115.
113 Ibid, Q70.
121 Ibid, p.68–69, para 492–3.
124 Ibid, Q96.
125 Ibid, Q115.
126 Commons Hansard, 13 July 2016, .
132 Ibid, p.74, para 545.
133 Ibid, p.131, para 840.
134 Ibid, p.132, para 841.
136 Commons Hansard 30 November 2016, .
137 Commons Hansard 30 November 2016, .
140 The Iraq Inquiry, July 2016, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, , HC 265–IX, p.529,
142 The Iraq Inquiry, July 2016, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, Vol 8, Section 9.8, HC 265–VIII, p.501,
143 Sir Jeremy Heywood .
147 The Iraq Inquiry, July 2016, , HC 264, p.135, he Report of the Iraq Inquiry, Executive Summary
15 March 2017