Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The inquiry will receive the full co-operation of the Government, with access to all government papers and the ability to call any witnesses, with the objective to learn the lessons from the events surrounding the conflict. It is on this basis that I have accepted the Cabinet Secretary’s advice that the Franks inquiry is the best precedent. Taking into account national security considerations, as the Franks inquiry did—for example, what might damage or reduce our military capability in the future—evidence will be heard in private. In this way, evidence given by serving and former Ministers, military officers and officials will, I believe, be as full and as candid as possible.

The committee will publish its findings in as full a form as possible. These findings will then be debated in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It is in these debates, as well as from the report itself, that we can draw fully on the lessons learnt in Iraq. So while the format is the same as the Franks inquiry, we have gone much further in the scope of the inquiry. No inquiry has looked at such a long period. No inquiry has the powers to look in so much breadth. While Franks looked only at the run-up to the Falklands conflict, the Iraq inquiry will look at the run-up to the conflict, the conflict itself and the reconstruction, so that we can learn lessons in each and every area. The inquiry will take into account evidence submitted to previous inquiries.

I am asking members of the committee to explain the scope, width and breadth of the work to opposition leaders and the chairs of the relevant parliamentary committees. In order that the committee should be as objective and as non-partisan as possible, the membership

15 Jun 2009 : Column 857

of the committee will consist entirely of non-partisan public figures acknowledged to be expert and leaders in their fields. There will be no representatives of political parties from any side of this House.

I can announce today that the committee of inquiry will be chaired by Sir John Chilcot and will include the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, Sir Roderick Lyne, Sir Lawrence Freedman and Sir Martin Gilbert. All are or will become privy counsellors. The committee will start work as soon as possible after the end of July and, given the complexity of the issues that it will address, I am advised that it will take one year. As I have made clear, the primary objective of the committee will be to identify lessons learnt. The committee will not set out to apportion blame or consider issues of civil or criminal liability.

Finally, I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the courage and dedication of every one of our Armed Forces and our civilian personnel who have served our country with such distinction in Iraq over six years and who continue to do so in Afghanistan and on peacekeeping missions around the world. At its peak, a force of 46,000 served tours of duty in support of operations in Iraq. In total, 120,000 served over the period of the entire conflict; 179 Britons died and 222 were seriously or very seriously injured.

I said in my Statement in December that the memorial wall in Basra would be brought home. I can now confirm that it will form part of a new memorial wall to be built at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. Just as it is right that we should pay tribute to the memory of those who have fallen and the wounded, so it is right that we should celebrate the safe return of their comrades and their shared achievements. I can also tell the House that in the autumn of this year a service of thanksgiving and commemoration will be held in Westminster Abbey.

We salute our forces today. Through their work, the work of their American and coalition comrades and that of the Iraqi security forces, supported by the courage and vision of those within Iraq led by Prime Minister Maliki, Iraq is emerging from the shadow of 30 years of brutal dictatorship and then conflict. Today, Prime Minister Maliki and his Government can work together for a peaceful and prosperous future. That they can do so now is the ultimate tribute to all who served in Iraq—to their skills, commitment and sheer professionalism, to their great and enduring courage in conflict and to their immeasurable contribution to reconstruction and to peace”.

I commend this Statement to the House.

4.03 pm

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I, at the outset, join her in sending condolences to the families of the men who have so recently lost their lives in service to our nation. Of course, the Statement is welcome in many ways. Under four years ago, a British woman was arrested in the heart of London for reading out names of those who had died. Now at last we have some admission that the truth cannot be indefinitely

15 Jun 2009 : Column 858

covered up. The ranks of the dead and injured of all nations, including Iraqis, have the right to demand that. The war provoked the largest public demonstration seen in London in modern times. Many people were deceived—I put no finer point on it—into thinking that the Saddam Hussein regime presented a direct threat to regional security and, specifically, to this country’s security with weapons of mass destruction.

Thanks to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, we now know that the intelligence was not as extensive, detailed and authoritative as Mr Blair told Parliament that it was. Why did he do that? I very much hope that the inquiry will tell us. If not, it will have failed.

The noble Lord’s skilful inquiry into the use—some might say abuse—of intelligence was one of several into limited aspects of the events surrounding the war, but we have never had a comprehensive review into how this massive foreign policy disaster occurred. What were our war aims? Was regime change, now frequently cited as an alleged benefit of the war, a covert objective from the outset? When and in what detail was this discussed with the US Administration and other coalition allies? Why did we have no proper post-conflict plan? Will all these sorts of questions be covered in the inquiry? Should the terms of reference not be the widest possible, to enable the inquiry to go wherever it needs and to see whatever document it requires to get at the truth?

The report by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, did not address the diplomatic exchanges preceding the war and the international commitments that our Government may or may not have given at that time. It did not focus on the legal case for war or the structure or motivation of the political decision-making that led to it. It threw a troubling sidelight on sofa government and its consequences and on the involvement of the No. 10 spin team in these events, but these have never been fully probed. As for the infamous “dodgy dossier”, two former Cabinet Ministers, the late Robin Cook and Clare Short, have asserted that the public were misled, while Mr Straw called the dossier, “a complete Horlicks”. These are shameful admissions of serious government incompetence and need to be examined with the greatest care.

It would not be to criticise the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, into the death of Dr David Kelly—one man who told the truth—to say that the spin machine’s role needs rigorous re-examination. Can the Minister assure us that senior politicians—the Franks committee included two senior former Cabinet Ministers from the Opposition—will be involved in the inquiry, people familiar with the nature of political decisions? If she cannot give those assurances, will she tell us why not?

On the legal background, the advice of the Attorney-General and the mysterious political meetings and conversations noted in paragraphs 366 to 387 of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, surely deserve further scrutiny. The availability and use of diplomatic reports and policy advice by experienced officials need to be examined.

In 1982, following the invasion of the Falklands, there was a prompt inquiry by Lord Franks and six privy counsellors into the way in which the Government

15 Jun 2009 : Column 859

had carried out their responsibilities in the run-up to the war. The inquiry reported in six months. It made recommendations and commented on blame. Why is this inquiry not reporting on a similar timescale and with similar powers? Is it because the Prime Minister intends to drag out this Parliament for another year and has decided in advance that no one was to blame? In the Franks inquiry, the Prime Minister—the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—three other Prime Ministers, many Cabinet Ministers, civil servants, intelligence officers, MPs and journalists all gave evidence. Will this inquiry have legal powers to subpoena witnesses and submit them to detailed examination?

I acknowledge that the Franks committee met in secret, but that was over 25 years ago. Some participants have published memoirs, some have signed lucrative contracts to publish memoirs and others have spoken freely to journalists and authors. In this age of so-called democratic renewal, should the presumption not be that, except where national security is involved, the inquiry should be in public?

It would be churlish not to welcome this inquiry simply because it is overdue. Its terms of reference need further work and the Statement leaves questions still to answer. My noble friend Lord Fowler has tabled an important Motion for debate on Iraq on Thursday and I very much hope that the Minister who replies to that debate may be able to shed even more light on this process than can be done in the short time available today.

4.09 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we on these Benches join in offering our condolences regarding those recently killed in Afghanistan and in remembering the important sacrifices made by the 400 people killed or seriously wounded in the course of the intervention in Iraq. We remember also the enormous cost of invasion and occupation; the impact on our Armed Forces; the opportunity costs for domestic spending that the costs of Iraq over the past several years have involved; and the extent to which British support for the Bush Administration was crucial in the American decision to go ahead with the invasion.

We have here a major failure of British foreign policy that aroused immense disquiet among the British electorate as a whole. I and my family were among those who marched before the invasion took place. I recall getting off the train at Waterloo with my wife, and the first two people we recognised on our way to the march were a consultant from Guy’s and St Thomas’, and a City banker we had known for years—not your average marchers. It was a very widespread, popular movement of disquiet among middle class and working class, old and young. This inquiry must answer that disquiet. We are all conscious of the extent of popular distrust of the political elite. The inquiry must begin to rebuild popular confidence in what the Government and political elite are doing. There are constitutional implications, as we talk about constitutional renewal, in the nature and structure of this inquiry.

The crucial issue is the approach to war—the 12 months ahead of the invasion in March 2003. The lessons of post-war reconstruction, by comparison, are secondary. There are many byways that one could go down in

15 Jun 2009 : Column 860

such an inquiry. One could look at the extent to which the United States consulted Her Majesty’s Government in responding to the Iranian initiative of the spring of 2003, which was a major missed opportunity in the immediate post-war period. One could look at the whole balance of Middle East policy over the past five years—but that would take an enormous amount of time. The crucial questions are: why did we go to war, were we misled, and what options were available to the Government?

The Franks report is not a comfortable model. I remember it well. I was a researcher at Chatham House at the time and reviewed it at length for International Affairs. It was a very successful distraction, written in Civil Service language, which enabled the Government to spin the line that basic mistakes were made by the intelligence services and the embassy in Buenos Aires, thus distracting attention from the extent to which the crucial failures were within the Government—I refer to the recognition by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and others in the Foreign Office, that you could not get the Prime Minister to agree to negotiations with Argentina when she had finally accepted that she had to negotiate on Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia as it then was. That was the political failure at the heart of why we drifted into the Falkland Islands conflict, together with the failure to co-ordinate the defence review in which John Nott cut the Navy, including the Falklands guard ship, giving a clear but unintended signal to the Argentines that we did not regard the islands as important. This is not a good model 25 years later—here I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—when the age of deference has left us even further behind, and when people expect as far as possible to have public accounting.

Much of the material is already in the public domain. More ought to be. Perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us whether Sir Jeremy Greenstock’s memoirs—an important contribution to understanding what happened during that period—which have been blocked from publication, will now be published as a matter of urgency as part of the background to the inquiry. The members of the committee are a very respectable, creditable and expert group; but again, I regret that there was not fuller consultation about the composition of the committee. It would have increased public confidence if there were senior politicians from other parties on the committee, and it would have been appropriate, as we are talking about constitutional renewal, to have had clearer parliamentary involvement in the establishment and membership of the committee.

Lastly, I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said on timing. It is possible to take minutes and years. In this respect, what one wants is, clearly, a quick response. Is the committee intended to report before the next election or is it intended to kick the issue into the grass until after the next election? We on these Benches expect it to report well within the next 12 months. If we are told that it is going to take a great deal of time, we will be extremely unhappy.

4.15 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we are addressing a very difficult and important issue today. At the outset, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord

15 Jun 2009 : Column 861

Strathclyde, I must say that we have not been covering up the truth. We have said that we would undertake an inquiry, or ensure that an inquiry was undertaken, as soon as appropriate—and we always felt that it would be appropriate when our troops left Iraq. Our troops are leaving Iraq in July, when the inquiry will begin its work.

The inquiry will have a very wide remit. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, mentioned previous inquiries. All evidence that was before previous inquiries will go before the committee. All issues relating to diplomatic exchanges and international commitments, as well as the failure of the UN, a subject that has not been addressed by past inquiries, will be before the committee and will be very widely probed. In relation to senior politicians, the committee will be able to call before it any senior politician, any civil servant and any member of the Armed Forces. That is why it is along the lines of the Franks inquiry and why it is meeting in private—so these people have the confidence to give sensitive information. However, the Prime Minister is consulting the Cabinet Secretary on whether some parts of the hearings can be held in public.

I was asked whether the inquiry would identify and punish individuals who made mistakes. The object of the inquiry is to identify lessons learnt that we can apply in other conflict and post-conflict solutions. We are not looking to lay blame or expose individuals to legal challenge.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked why no senior political figure was on the committee. The members of the committee that I named have great experience working closely with government, and I have every confidence that they will do an excellent job.

Both noble Lords asked about the timing of the inquiry. We would all like to have the committee report back as soon as possible, but these are complex issues. Everybody in this House would agree that we want a thorough report. The advice from the Cabinet Secretary was that, with such a remit in terms of reference, a year would be appropriate. This is not kicking the matter into the long grass. The Franks committee dealt with a very short timescale, but it had a restricted remit looking specifically at events leading up to the Argentine invasion of the Falklands and could therefore report within six months. This committee is looking at precisely what the noble Lord said was so important—it is looking at the time leading up to the invasion, from mid-2001, until next month. That is an awfully long time for a committee to consider, and a year would seem appropriate.

I was asked whether the inquiry would cover issues such as, “Why did we go to war?”. Yes, it will cover all those issues. Will Jeremy Greenstock’s memoirs be published? I do not know, but I shall certainly come back to the noble Lord in writing.

With that, I think that I have covered all the questions that have been raised to date.

4.19 pm

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, in the run-up to the invasion I argued consistently against it both in this House and in evidence to the Foreign Affairs

15 Jun 2009 : Column 862

Committee of the other place. Will the Minister give an assurance that the inquiry will look into the genuine considerations that led to the invasion of Iraq? It is widely believed that the main argument for invading Iraq was the presence of weapons of mass destruction, which, as we all know, were later found not to be there. Will the inquiry examine the extent to which a wish or a desire to punish Iraq for its role in 9/11, which, as we now know, simply did not exist, led to that invasion? Secondly, will it examine the extent to which information was invented to show that the Iraqi regime had links with al-Qaeda, which led to the explanation of the reasons for invading Iraq? I believe that we were seriously misled in both respects. I should like the inquiry to look into that and into the extent to which we were told by the Americans what the real reasons were.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I recognise that the noble Lord has taken a consistent position on the Iraq war. I can assure him and the House that the remit of the committee of inquiry is such that it will take into consideration what the noble Lord calls the “genuine considerations” that led to the war. It will take evidence from the widest possible group of people and will consider all evidence that has been given to earlier inquiries. Therefore, I am confident that it will deliver what the noble Lord asks for.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, my noble friend says that it will take evidence from the widest possible group of people. Will she give us an assurance that provision will be made to take evidence not only from the political elite in Iraq but also from representatives of the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds who no longer suffer under the vicious dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it will of course be up to the committee and the chairman of the committee to decide exactly from whom it wishes to take evidence. I have no doubt that it will wish to take the widest possible evidence and I cannot see why it would not wish to talk to Iraqis who suffered in such a way under Saddam Hussein.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, as my noble friend said, many of these questions can be taken up further in Thursday’s debate. I have a specific question on the scope of the inquiry. One of the worst failures has been in dealing with the hundreds of thousands of refugees created by this conflict, some of whom were employed by this country. Will the inquiry cover British policy towards those refugees? Does the noble Baroness agree that there is no reason why such evidence should be taken in secret? It should be open and we should be able to see it.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, refugees are such a pertinent issue that I have no reason to doubt that the committee would not wish to take evidence about them. I cannot bind the committee, but I imagine that it would wish to. Advice will be taken from the Cabinet Secretary as to whether that

15 Jun 2009 : Column 863

session would be in public. However, as the noble Lord said, it does not relate to security so perhaps it is an issue for a public inquiry.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that by speaking as she did, in answer to a question, of the failure of the United Nations she indicated a partisan view, which was far from independent and, indeed, was prejudging what the inquiry may find? Further, does she also recognise that, by spreading this inquiry not only over the events that led up to the war but over the conduct of the war and later reinstatement of Iraq, she is projecting the inquiry way beyond the term of this Parliament? That will be seen widely as an attempt to evade government responsibility.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am certainly not doing two things. I am not taking a partisan view; I am trying to take a rounded view. I was trying to mention one issue that I know has not been dealt with by former inquiries. That is why I mentioned the UN. All the other issues that noble Lords in this House care so deeply about will be considered by this committee.

I am also certainly not trying to dilute the work of the committee so that all that noble Lords wish to see from this committee is not brought about. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, asked just now whether or not I thought that refugees would be considered by the committee of inquiry. As I explained, it is up to the committee of inquiry. I would think that, if I were on the inquiry, it might well be covered. However, I am not seeking to dilute the work of the committee in order to ensure that the Government are not tainted in any way. I am trying to show noble Lords that the remit is as wide as most noble Lords would wish it to be.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as the person who at the time was the Minister called upon most frequently in this House to defend the Government’s position over the military action in Iraq, I welcome this inquiry. I welcome the opportunity to learn for myself some parts of what went on that maybe were not as clear as they might have been at the time.

My noble friend might recall that, at the time of the run-up to the war, I was asked repeatedly in this House about the links to al-Qaeda and to terrorist organisations. At no time did I, as a Minister, say that there were any such links. Indeed, I went out of my way in this House to say that there was no evidence of any such links, even though some of your Lordships thought that the Americans had showed conclusive evidence.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page