Lessons still to be learned from the Chilcot Inquiry Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The Iraq Inquiry: shortcomings in the inquiry process

1.The Iraq Inquiry took far longer to conclude its work and to publish its findings than was intended. This is a matter for regret, especially for the men and women who were killed or injured in the conflict, and for their families. The protracted process has also undermined the very public confidence the Inquiry was established to strengthen, as well as undermining confidence in the Inquiry itself. For some, the delays have left the impression that the Chilcot Inquiry was a device to delay proper scrutiny and to obscure who should be held accountable. Others have suggested the sheer scope of the Inquiry’s terms of reference made its length inevitable. We agree that, in future, there must be a much clearer setting of expectations at the outset of an inquiry, but PACAC has concluded that further lessons can and must be learned about how to prevent such unacceptable delays in future inquiries. The Cabinet Secretary indicated that the Government would consider further the question of how the Iraq Inquiry could have been carried out more quickly. We urge that this assessment is concluded as a matter of urgency and its findings reported to Parliament, so that both Government and Parliament can take the necessary steps to ensure that future Inquiries, particularly those with comparable scope and scale to the Iraq Inquiry, do not experience such unacceptable delays. (Paragraph 31)

2.We remain concerned about the lack of mechanisms for meaningful Parliamentary oversight over the establishment of both statutory and non-statutory inquiries. (Paragraph 36)

3.In line with previous recommendations by the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), our predecessor Committee, we conclude that Parliament should have been much more actively involved in establishing and setting up the Iraq Inquiry. There was only informal consultation with opposition parties and Select Committee Chairs by Sir John Chilcot, and an Opposition Day debate on the Floor of the House of Commons. In future, there should be a full debate and a vote on an amendable motion, setting out the precise terms of reference, an estimated time-frame and a proposed budget for the inquiry. Before such a debate, Parliament should establish an ad-hoc Select Committee to take evidence on the proposed remit and to present formal conclusions and recommendations to the House. The Select Committee should also recommend whether the inquiry should be a Privy Council or statutory inquiry, and it should conduct a pre-appointment hearing with the proposed inquiry Chair. Only then should the remit and the Chair of the inquiry be put before Parliament for final approval, along with a timetable and a budget for the inquiry, so that Parliament can act on the considered recommendations of the Select Committee. (Paragraph 37)

Implications for the Machinery of Government

4.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. (Paragraph 43)

5.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. (Paragraph 44)

6.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. (Paragraph 53)

7.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. (Paragraph 57)

8.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. (Paragraph 67)

9.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. (Paragraph 68)

10.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. (Paragraph 71)

11.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. (Paragraph 77)

12.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. (Paragraph 79)

13.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. (Paragraph 81)

14.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. (Paragraph 90)

15 March 2017