I want to focus on an area that was touched on by my noble friend Lady Hayter but which we have not dwelt on in this debate so far—the public sector. The Government have belatedly said that the public sector will be included in this Bill and so some of the rights in

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the Bill will extend to tuition fees, childcare vouchers and personal care budgets. So from now on in these areas, if a service is substandard, parents, patients or students can get a price reduction, a refund or “a repeat performance”. The mind boggles at the prospect of university lecturers providing repeat performances of substandard lectures on, say, Aristotle. Aristotle’s students would have heard him say:

“In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme”.

I guess Aristotle just could not imagine Wonga. And if he was teaching today, his students might ask for a refund, because in our democracy the poor clearly do not have more power than the rich. On the contrary, Aristotle would find it really surprising, as I do, that in our democracy the poor often pay more than the rich for the same product. This counterintuitive fact was demonstrated by Consumer Futures and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, whose research shows that low-income families spend 10 pence in every pound on a poverty premium. Another way of looking at it is that they spend £19 a week extra on average because they pay a higher price for the same product.

Someone who has done more than anyone to expose this poverty premium is my honourable friend Stella Creasy, and I pay fulsome tribute to her groundbreaking work defending consumer rights. However, after following the progress of the Bill in great detail in the other place, she tells me that she still has not received any clear indication from the Government on how this Bill’s provisions will apply to public services. Of course we welcome the Bill’s aims but we need to understand how it will work. Can the Minister let us know which service contracts it will cover? For example, can the Minister let us know if it will cover the licence fee? I would also love to know whether it will cover prescription charges. Even just a hint from the Minister in these areas would be welcome.

I have a very useful briefing note from Unison, which states that it believes in principle that people should have the choice to exercise their consumer rights in public services, but that it must be done in the right way in a collaborative framework. I am sure we would all agree with that, not least because there are already many complaints mechanisms within public services and we will need to be careful that these are not inadvertently undermined or bypassed by the new set of rights. If you read the Unison brief, it becomes readily apparent that this is a vastly complex area. The key point that shines through is that we want to prevent a two-tier complaints system where richer, paying citizens can bring individual litigation that might secure them more favourable rights than others without those means. Can the Minister give us any indication of any impact assessment that might have been carried out in this area?

My noble friend Lady Crawley was right: the Bill has not yet got our pulses racing—we live in hope. However, a lot of the issues it deals with make our blood boil. We are talking about premium charges on telephone helplines that leave you stranded for what feels like hours at a time; nuisance phone calls, which in certain areas have blighted lives; people making profits out of the misery of payday loans; and ticket

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touts profiting at the expense of genuine fans. Basically, we are talking about being ripped off, either to a small degree or to a degree that ruins your life.

As my noble friend Lady Hayter said, this Bill should balance the current, unequal situation, which too often puts consumers in a weak position. Too often, consumers find themselves powerless on the end of sharp practices. For the last time today—I know that I have quoted her quite extensively—I shall quote the shadow Consumer Affairs Minister, who said:

“The fact that nothing in the Bill is of particular concern tells us everything we need to know about its narrow ambitions”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/1/14; col. 780.]

I hope that the Minister and the Government will be more ambitious. As Aristotle also said, “Hope is a waking dream”. We all live in hope that the Government will take this once-in-a-Parliament opportunity to end the unfair nightmare that too many consumers face.

5.40 pm

Lord Whitty (Lab): My Lords, I apologise to the House for speaking in the gap. I thought that I had put my name down, but there was obviously a failure to complete a digital transaction.

I congratulate the Government on the main themes of the Bill, which brings together, clarifies, consolidates and makes more transparent a lot of those rights that exist for consumers. That was a very useful job; they took a long time to get there but they are to be congratulated on it.

My main point relates to what to my noble friend Lady King just said. A Consumer Rights Bill should also alter the balance of power between providers and consumers. In a number of respects, it does not do that. I shall be as quick as I can in listing them.

Other things that the Government are doing have undermined the ability to monitor consumer detriment. The information that the Minister gave me during the passage of the Public Bodies Bill and the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill indicated a cut of 20% to Citizens Advice’s resources for dealing with precisely this area of general consumer law. We have heard that trading standards have been cut significantly across the country, in some areas by 40%. That greatly undermines their ability as enforcers.

We have also reduced the degree of national co-ordination. What used to be the OFT’s responsibility for major scams has now been devolved on to those already hard-pressed trading standards. There is no national oversight of it. Likewise, the role of consumer education and consumer information—which the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, rightly underlined—used to be with the OFT; it is now virtually nowhere except the little bits that Citizens Advice can do. The noble Baroness also referred to the inadequacies of the individual sector regulators in engaging with consumers about their rights.

My noble friend Lady King also referred to the need to set up or use the right machinery to ensure that we do not undermine what is already good about the relationships between users and providers within the public services.

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The Bill provides for collective redress by consumers in one particular area: breaches of competition law. I have never understood why that cannot be extended, except by trading standards taking up the case, right across the board. A lot of these issues are collective. I have pressed successive Governments to write collective processes and collective redress into all Bills that deal with consumer matters, but we still do not have it here.

There is then the issue of alternative dispute resolution. I appreciate that the EU directive on this has yet to pass through its processes—that will be an important point—but we now have a situation where alternative dispute resolution is the main recourse. It is so difficult and expensive for many people to access the courts that the ombudsman system and parallel systems are the main way in which consumers can resolve unresolved disputes, yet we do not have an overall strategy on ADR. I should like to hear from the Minister not only how the Government propose to transpose the directive and in what timescale, but what the general direction of government thinking is. There should surely be a comprehensive system of ADR in all markets and for all consumers.

There is much that is positive in the Bill, but unless we have proper monitoring and enforcement, the fact that people may be better able to access and understand their rights will go for nothing.

5.44 pm

Lord Howe of Aberavon (Con): My Lords, I am glad to take this opportunity to say something that I said quite recently and identify an important aspect of consumer rights. The debate on this subject gives me great excuse to return to something I referred to the other day: namely, our total failure to change our system of measurements to a system which we had for a period, when we took account of the metric possibility. That is where we have to go.

There is no doubt now that we have a double shambles in the absence of any competent, comprehensive system of weights and measures. One can give endless examples of it. We have metres and kilometres for athletics but miles per gallon for cars. More important still, the metric system is used in schools—it is what pupils are taught—but, all too often, pounds and ounces are used in the market. Manifestly, that destroys consumer relations. It increases costs, confuses shoppers and managers, leads to serious misunderstandings, causes accidents, wastes our children’s education and, frankly, puts us all to shame.

Almost 800 years ago, Britain’s first charter of human rights, Magna Carta, proclaimed that there should be one measure of wine throughout the whole realm, one measure of corn and one unit of cloth. That was the principle that we should have established. In fact, we have been dithering for almost 150 years. As long ago as 1862, a Commons Select Committee unanimously recommended that we adopt the metric system. A century later, in 1965, the decision was finally taken to go metric over the next 10 years. The noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, kindly referred to my presence on her right shoulder. We were among the first two consumer Ministers and therefore sing a common song, if she will allow me to say so.

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For a very long time, we had shambles. We then did go metric for 10 years but unfortunately, the Metrication Board, when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, greedy to find ways to save money, produced its final report saying that it had completed its task, so I readily abolished the Metrication Board, so I am not only clear in my sights of the problem and solution here but clear of my guilty responsibility for having allowed it to happen. Plainly, we cannot go on as we are with two confused, competing systems. It would be madness to go backwards, but also madness to disregard what the rest of the world has done.

The United States has talked about this a lot, but not taken any measure to move in the right direction. It sent one remarkable missile towards the moon. One mistake was made in the design of that missile. I think that the cost was something of the order of $500 million. That was because one crucial measurement in the wrong system was injected into the construction of the missile. We have not yet achieved that scale of disaster, but we have been foolish in having disregarded the fact that our Commonwealth has, almost completely, done the right thing. Australia, Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa, India and Jamaica have long completed the entire change, and even Ireland, our lovable neighbour, completed the process as quickly as the other countries.

This is not too much of an interjection or injection that would be unjustified in this debate; it relates wholly to consumer rights and to all other rights, rightnesses and common sense. When I mentioned this only a few days ago in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, responded rather cautiously. He said:

“The first is to try out a somewhat novel idea, and maybe it will be one for the Government to take away and work on, and the second”—[Official Report, 10/6/14; col. 303.]—

Baroness Jolly: I remind the noble and learned Lord that, in speaking in the gap, he is restricted to four minutes.

Lord Howe of Aberavon: Four minutes? I have five seconds left. Disregard the Government’s rejection of my argument in the last debate; listen to it again, this time more effectively; and this time agree with me, not disagree with me.

5.50 pm

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, I thank all speakers for contributing to the debate this afternoon. It has been a very well informed one and one that has helped to pick out and distil for us some of the main issues which we face as we go forward with the Consumer Rights Bill. It is very appropriate that we should have with us the first Consumer Affairs Minister, whose comments we listened to with interest, particularly as he was able to point us back to Magna Carta and the ideas in that about the need for fair trading, on fair coinage and with fair measurement, which are, of course, still very relevant and important issues for us today.

My noble friend Lady Hayter explained, when she introduced the Bill, our general approach to and support for the Bill, limited mainly to its consolidation measures, but nevertheless sincere in that. Although we will be scrutinising with some vigour some of the points in

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the Bill, we do not want to give the impression in any sense to the Government that we are not in support of what is being said here, because it is a good thing. On the other hand, my noble friend Lady King made a very important point, which is that there are a number of missed opportunities here, since there will probably not be another Bill of this nature for some time. It can be regarded as a once-in-a-Parliament opportunity missed.

My responsibilities are limited to supporting my noble friend Lady Hayter across the Bill, and in particular to picking up on the digital points. I shall not go into detail on them, but the general point we will be making is that the Government are wrong to have ignored the advice of the Select Committee on this matter, which was, in scrutinising the Bill in its earlier stages, that the right approach to be taken for the sales of digital content—some of the largest in the known world and increasing significantly, as many noble Lords picked up on—is that it should be the same as for physical goods. The Government have not chosen that route and we want to check very hard with them why that is the case and how we might improve the Bill in order to get closer to that. There should be parity between rights in the physical exchange of goods and the e-commerce worlds.

A number of noble Lords mentioned our general concern that the Bill is a missed opportunity in that it does not seek to create more trust in the virtual world, where people are increasingly acquiring goods and services, as the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, said, from unknown parts of the world. We do not quite know sometimes where they are coming from, but more importantly, and more relevant to the tenor of the Bill, we need to think harder about what information should be available to all consumers, particularly those in the digital world, at the point of sale. That seems to be a key point at which we must bring together the information required for people to understand what it is they are purchasing, to understand their rights at the time of purchase and what their redress options are. Unless we do that, we are missing a very important trick here.

As has been picked up, the Bill takes a bold step towards the provision of services in relation to consumer rights. It would be good if the Minister could be very clear on this when he comes to respond. This is a really interesting and important point. If, as seems to be the case, the Government are set on going to a stage whereby services provided for a value, including those from public authorities, are subject to the same concerns within the Bill, it is important that we get the tests under which these will be looked at right.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, and my noble friend Lady Drake made good points about the need to think harder about the question of a satisfactory quality test. This was discussed in another place and we think that the test that should be applied is that the goods and services supplied should be “of satisfactory quality”. The Government however, have adopted a different standard, that they must be performed,

“with reasonable skill and care”.

As has already been said this evening, and I think that it is important, that seems to be more to do with how

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the service has been performed, rather than whether or not the outcomes have been satisfactory. This is something we must return to.

Several noble Lords touched on the question of consumer advice and the need for business education, in the sense of making sure that businesses understood their responsibilities and their need to ensure that they have fulfilled all requirements in relation to consumers who purchase their goods. There is a case for the Bill to be more specific about consumer and business education. We have touched on point-of-sale information, for instance. I hope that the Minister will spend some time explaining what the implementation group is supposed to be doing in this area. A lot of the responsibilities that might have been in the Bill appear to have been offered to that group. What format is it taking? Is it working to a particular timetable and what outcomes should we expect to receive from it? To have further consideration of the Bill in Committee, it would be helpful if we had better information and an understanding of that work.

My noble friend Lord Whitty alluded to the changes that have been made and are ongoing in the Government’s consumer landscape. I think reviews are still needed in some areas but most of this seems to have emerged from review and is now in the implementation phase. One important thing is that many responsibilities which used to lie with the Government are now to be undertaken by independent charities such as Citizens Advice and the Trading Standards Institute, a body whose legal form I am still not quite sure about. However, it seems to have increasing powers and money to do work across the trading standards area. Some of those statutory responsibilities that used to lie with the Government are now with those bodies, to educate consumers and businesses. We will need to spend some time on this as we go through Committee because it is important to understand not only what power but what responsibilities are there, and how they relate to the Government’s responsibilities. At the moment, this is not clear.

When my noble friend Lady Hayter was giving her speech, she ran through a list of specific omissions which she felt could have improved and enhanced the Bill. A number of noble Lords came back to some of those omissions. I will touch on one or two points which still need to be brought through on that. On the question of how consumer rights will be applied in the public sector, if it is true that these rights are now available to those public service users who have acquired services at a reasonable price, how are these rights to be applied? How, for instance, will individual consumers be able to take up responsibilities for challenging university tuition fees that may not represent value for money, for personal health budgets, for the BBC licence fee, for controlled parking zones, for bus fares or for the provision of water and sanitation services? Is this now the world we are in? Can the noble Viscount run through some of that to make sure that we understand, as my noble friend Lady King was saying, exactly what is available as the subject of consumer redress on these matters?

The individual issues may well have been alluded to in debate and discussion but, when the Minister responds, perhaps he could also explain whether he is hoping for a single response from the government departments

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which are now responsible for responding to consumer interests in these matters or whether there will be variable responses and, if so, how that will be exercised across the piece.

My noble friend Lady Crawley raised the need for data to be more available across the consumer landscape. The issues here are largely to do with the information collected by those who, under the Bill, are responsible for carrying out investigations, such as trading standards officers. It is also important to recognise that much information lies with ombudsmen and with the courts, which have been responsible for implementing many of the measures for which protection is provided. How are we doing on access to data? We went through quite a lot of this in the exchanges over Midata, which was meant to open up this area. We have not seen much of that recently and I think that the Minister was responsible for it at one point, so perhaps he could enlighten us further. Clearly, the anticipation was that this sense in which data would be available to people so that they could exercise their own choices through, say, price comparison sites would be important to better consumer information. I think we broadly support that but we have not had much detail on it. It would be useful to have more information, as well as on the wider question of whether the data held in areas such as trading standards can be circulated and made available to consumers more widely.

My noble friend Lord Wills picked up on the question of nuisance calls and marketing problems which are still very prevalent across the country. We understand that the Information Commissioner, having set up an online reporting tool in March 2012, has had more than 240,000 complaints about unsolicited calls and texts, and Ofcom has also carried out research into this. This is obviously a major problem. It is a pest to the modern world, where the phone calls you receive are never the ones you expect. They are always the ones which offer you things that you could not possibly want or wish for and you have no reason to understand why these people were ringing you in the first place. My response to that is to leave the phone open so that they at least rack up the cost of the call. However, that means that I cannot ring my friends at the same time, so it is a bit irritating. We need to get hold of this issue. It is a modern-day problem which affects vulnerable people in particular, who have difficulties in dealing with it. I hope we will deal with it in the Bill.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, raised a question about how we will operate proper scrutiny measures if the trading standards officers are not able to go into premises without giving 48 hours’ notice. The position is changing and several noble Lords have asked the Minister to respond on this. It is obviously crucial to understanding how a redress will happen.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, also mentioned, as did a number of other noble Lords, letting fees and agencies. This is an area on which we touched in previous Bills but this Bill seems an appropriate area in which to get more action on that.

I was involved in the Olympics Bill and I am therefore aware of the measures that were taken to make sure that ticket touting was eliminated from the process.

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Indeed, I think it was the Minister who took the Bill through the House on his first run as a Minister here. He will therefore be aware, as I was, about the doubts and reservations that we shared around the House on how this would happen. We resolved it on the day by a slick and effective system brought in by the Olympic authorities, which meant that ticket touting, effectively, did not exist across the whole range of the Games in 2012.

However, on a number of occasions we have had opportunities to think again about this. The Government have not taken up those opportunities despite the fact that police operations in this area seem to suggest that there are criminal actions at work, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, mentioned, and that significant amounts of money—either through direct corruption or money-laundering—are passing through a system which now needs the attention of the Government. I hope that we can spend some time on this matter in Committee and get a resolution to it because it has reached a point where it needs to be looked at.

Several noble Lords referred to the need for the Bill to think more closely about the rights of children in relation to consumer activity. Payday lending is particularly worth looking at. There is also the wider question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, about whether or not we should use the opportunity of the Bill to consider gambling and the opportunities that were not taken up in the gambling Bill to deal with IP blocking and financial transaction blocking. Age verification in relation to child protection could also fit within the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will respond on this point when he comes to it.

Those are a number of points which we will go into in some detail in Committee, where I hope we will have a chance to firmly test the Government’s interests in these matters. If we can make progress together around the House, so much the better for the Bill.

As my noble friend Lady Hayter said, we welcome the Bill in principle. We think it is a contribution towards updating UK consumer law, which it is necessary to do. However, there are real concerns about the underpinning of the Bill. The success of the Bill will be heavily dependent on how consumer rights are upheld through public enforcement at a time when, as we have heard, trading standards departments up and down the country are being significantly cut back and, at the same time, being asked to take on new responsibilities.

As we have heard, a new private redress system will be coming through in relation to mechanisms such as ADR. It is not clear why the Bill does not deal with that—except that it is probably not in the right timeframe—but it is obviously an issue. There is a new link to the Competition and Markets Authority, which has only just established itself. It is not clear yet—although it may be by the time we get to Committee—how and in what way it will work with consumer interests at its heart. We also have to think harder about how the courts will be able to support private and group complaints. We think that one of the important themes that we need to address in Committee is the powers of redress and enforcement that need to be improved if the Bill is to make the sort of difference that it ought to.

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As we have heard, the framework of consumer rights is complicated enough, so much so that it is a pity that one of the speakers today felt that she was unable to play a part in the later stages of the Bill; we regret that. The landscape needs to be clearly identified. We know that there is a Competition and Markets Authority and that the transfer of powers and responsibility to Citizens Advice is happening. We know that work is going on somewhere in the Government between now and July 2015 when they are required to implement the ADR directive. As well as the Bill, we have an update coming through regarding the EU consumer rights directive, which has been mentioned, and a number of welcome pro-consumer measures that have come through from the Law Commission recommendations on misleading and aggressive practices, so it is a very complicated area to keep in frame. It might be necessary to spend a bit of time in Committee on being clear about which parts the Bill addresses and which parts it cannot and will not, as well as understanding where the issues that some of us have raised today are being picked up and taken forward.

At the heart of all this work, we have to think harder, as a number of noble Lords have done, about the consumers who are currently overpaying for many basic goods and services and being short-changed by service providers, resulting in excessive costs, because they are not aware of their rights or able to exercise them effectively. We believe that healthy, fair and competitive markets are vital to building an economy that works for both consumers and businesses. In a modern, progressive society, consumer powers are the missing piece of the jigsaw for preventing problems from besetting the public and for opening up creativity and innovation in goods and services. We believe that savvy consumers make better customers for businesses, and that better informed citizens get better outcomes in dealing with the public and private sectors, both for themselves and for each other.

We need a three-pronged approach, which should underlie the discussions. First, there has to be better access to information, to ensure that consumers are able to make decisions themselves that are as accurate and efficient as possible. Secondly, there has to be advice or advocacy—that is, proper support that helps to guide consumers and businesses through what can be a complex and changing landscape of rights and responsibilities must be available and easy to access. Thirdly, there must be effective and speedy redress, which needs to be clear and as close to the consumer/trader interaction as possible. The Bill will not take us all the way down those three prongs, but nevertheless we look forward to scrutinising it in Committee.

6.07 pm

Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, I believe that there is still time to get hearts racing. We have an excellent opportunity before us to ensure that we have the best possible legal framework to empower consumers, drive competition and encourage growth. I am therefore very grateful to noble Lords for their wide-ranging contributions to the debate today on this important Bill. I appreciate the general support for its core elements that have come from so many Peers: from

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my noble friends Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, Lord Clement- Jones, Lord Stoneham and Lord Borwick, from the noble Lords, Lord Wills and Lord Alton, and even from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, although that was before she read out a full list of issues that means that I have much ground to cover. I also pay tribute to my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes for their long contribution to consumer issues over many years.

I shall pick up on the specific points that have been raised today. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, talked about the importance of consumers knowing what their new rights are. I agree with that. Empowering consumers is a key objective of the Bill, and we have set up a group of consumer and business organisations that is working with us to develop a strong implementation programme to ensure that consumers and businesses are well aware of consumer rights. The group is considering the role of consumer rights information at point of sale, a point that my noble friend Lord Stoneham raised. I undertake to write to noble Lords before Committee to provide an update.

My noble friends Lord Clement-Jones and Lady Heyhoe Flint and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, raised the issue of regulating ticket sales. I sympathise with cases in which consumers are misled about the nature of what they are buying. We have seen many excellent examples of event organisers controlling how tickets move from the primary to the secondary market, some of which were discussed in the other place at length. That good practice needs to be extended where event organisers have concerns. I reassure noble Lords that legislation is in place to protect consumers. It is already an offence for a trader to mislead a consumer. It is also a requirement that the main characteristics of goods and services, as well as the name and address of the trader, must be given to a consumer before they buy. For ticketing, I stress that the main characteristics should include the seat number, if one exists.

The Government are committed to ensuring that the law is enforced. In 2013 alone, the Advertising Standards Authority looked at 130 websites to ensure that pricing was accurate and not misleading, and this year it is reviewing 650 more. In addition, further legislation will come into force in October to give consumers who are misled better access to compensation. Therefore we are tightening consumer protections. However, industry best practice also needs to be extended. My noble friend Lady Heyhoe Flint, at least, recognises that particular point.

I very much appreciate and agree with the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lords, Lord Wills and Lord Stevenson, on the important point about unsolicited nuisance calls—or as the noble Lord, Lord Wills, put it, marketing calls—which can cause inconvenience, stress and anxiety for many consumers, in particular the elderly and the housebound. I am sure that we are all only too aware of situations when we could do without having to answer such calls. A phone ringing when you are making supper is very distracting even when you know

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who is calling, but when the call is unwanted and of no interest then it can be an unacceptable intrusion. However, I firmly believe that banning unsolicited calls will not solve the problem.

That is not only my view but the view of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. In its report of 5 December 2013, the committee said that a ban on cold calling should not be introduced because there were many legitimate reasons why such calls might be made, such as by the emergency services, medical practitioners, pharmacists, even elected politicians, charities, and companies with which the recipient has a genuine relationship. For example, in its report the committee says:

“The National Autistic Society told us that the telephone is ‘the single most successful way that—as a charity reliant on public donations—we raise money from individuals’. The Society’s evidence ends with an appeal: ‘Please do not curtail our use of this marketing channel—I would implore you to fully consider the implications for society before making any changes’”.

We also have the example of other jurisdictions as further evidence that a ban does not actually work in practice. For example, Germany has a system that prohibits direct marketing calls unless an individual positively opts in to receiving such calls. Yet according to a study undertaken by trueCall Ltd in 2011, the level of complaints about nuisance calls was found to be broadly similar to the UK.

Despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, says, we need to focus our efforts on catching those that break the law—I believe that she did say that—which is why the Government’s action plan, published in March, focuses very firmly on improving enforcement. For example, we will shortly be consulting on lowering the legal threshold to allow more enforcement action, including penalties, to be taken. I make the point that some action is taking place.

The noble Lord, Lord Wills, spoke about consultation —a point which was well made. As I said, we will shortly be consulting on lowering the legal threshold to allow more enforcement action, including penalties, to be taken. Only last week this House approved an order that enables Ofcom to disclose information to the Information Commissioner’s Office about organisations that break the rules.

Lord Wills: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. On the specific point about consultation, can he undertake that the consultation will take no longer than three months and that his officials will process the results of it as quickly as possible? I am not quite sure what the timetable for the rest of the Bill is, but can he make sure that, if at all possible, the Government will bring forward amendments to deal with this, as a result of the consultation, while there is still this precious legislative opportunity to do so?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I am very happy indeed to write to the noble Lord to provide some precise timetable information on that point. We would wish for this to be taken forward as soon as possible as well, but I will furnish him with some more information. There are regulations in place that offer protection for consumers. I would very much encourage consumers to report such calls to the relevant regulator so that action can be taken.

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At this point I would like to address a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, on energy bills. We know that rising energy prices are hitting many households hard at a difficult time. We expect energy companies to justify commercial decisions on price changes openly and transparently. We have delivered a £50 reduction in energy bills by driving down the cost of the green levies on consumer bills. We are reforming the retail energy market by making it simpler for consumers to understand. We are ensuring that everyone is on the cheapest tariff their supplier offers that meets their preference. Our policies are keeping bills lower—by an average of £65 for a typical household—than if we did nothing.

The noble Baroness, together with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, asked why the Bill does not contain an outcome-focused test for services. We are strengthening consumer rights for consumers of services where a trader promises something about the service. If the consumer relies on that promise they can hold that trader to account; if not, they are entitled to statutory remedies, which are also introduced for the first time in the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Stoneham and the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Alton, raised the issue of the alternative dispute resolution, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. As the noble Baroness knows, the consultation seeking evidence about whether any kind of simplification of the ADR landscape is necessary or viable in the future recently closed. Although it focused on immediate action to implement the ADR directive, we understand that stakeholders from many quarters have views on how the current ADR landscape might be improved. Some have suggested creating a consumer ombudsman. We have therefore used the consultation as a call for evidence about whether any kind of simplification of the ADR landscape is necessary or viable in the future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, asked about giving consumer rights to small businesses, and particularly to the smallest micro-businesses. The Government are committed to helping SMEs, of which there are 4.9 million in this country, to grow. However, we are not convinced that it is in the best interests of small or micro-businesses to be defined as consumers in the Bill. To take a step back, the Bill is about consumers. As soon as we start including rights for other parties in the Bill, we believe that that core purpose will be diluted and we will risk losing valuable clarity.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: The Commons made a welcome amendment to the Bill to make letting agents put up their table of fees. Those fees will apply also to landlords, and landlords are a business. Does the Minister mean that landlords do not also have the right to see those fees displayed simply because they are a business?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: We still want to make a distinction between consumers and businesses. We think that if we were to cherry pick and bring certain groups in to allow businesses to be included as consumers, that would cause confusion. However, I am very happy

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to talk to the noble Baroness again about letting agents and the specific point, as I know that she is much exercised by the issue.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Howe, my noble friend Lady Bakewell and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the important issue of the effect that advertising has on children as regards payday loans. First, let me be very clear that consumers will be far better protected under the new FCA regime. Logbook loan providers and other high-risk lenders are required to meet the standards that the FCA expects of them, including making affordability checks. The FCA rules are binding on lenders and the FCA has a wide enforcement tool-kit to take action.

My noble friend Lady Bakewell and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issue of advertisements. The FCA will not hesitate to ban irresponsible adverts, and it has a strong record of doing so. The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice is reviewing the extent to which payday loan adverts feature on children’s TV. Separately, the Financial Conduct Authority has set out new rules for consumer credit adverts and it has powers to ban misleading adverts which breach its rules.

The noble Lord, Lord Wills, asked about payday loan firms and cold calling. The FCA is committed to ensuring that cold calling by phone or e-mail makes clear the identity of the firm and the purpose of the communication so that the consumer can decide whether to proceed.

I thank my noble friend Lord Borwick, who raised an important point about consumers being made aware of the country in which a seller is based. Under the consumer contracts regulations 2013, traders in distance contracts, such as online sales, must make available information on their geographical address before a consumer buys from them. I have been in correspondence with my noble friend concerning his recent purchases with Amazon. I cannot comment on the experience of the particular transaction that has been raised but I can confirm that obligation, which I hope goes some way to answering his questions.

My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones asked about exempting intellectual property contracts from the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977. I sympathise with the situation in which some creators find themselves, but we have not yet seen evidence that amending that Act would address the issue. First, we would need substantial quantitative evidence of a problem and, secondly, we would need to be sure that any such amendment would solve that problem without unintended negative consequences.

My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones also asked about brand owners protecting themselves against misleading look-alike packaging—an issue that I know we have spoken about in the past—on the grounds of intellectual property infringement and the common law tort of passing off. As he will be aware, my department, BIS, is reviewing the case for granting brand owners a civil right of action against copycat packaging and it is aiming to report in the autumn.

There has been some discussion today about the vital role that trading standards officers have in protecting the public. Issues were raised in this respect by the

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noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady King. The Government strongly support the work that trading standards does to protect consumers from rogue traders and scammers. We have better equipped trading standards to take greater responsibility for consumer law enforcement by transferring central government funding to the National Trading Standards Board and Trading Standards in Scotland. Last year, we invested £14.5 million in these bodies to fund co-ordinated enforcement action across the UK.

We also want to develop a better understanding of the impact that trading standards services have on our economy at both the local and national level. Therefore, in partnership with the Trading Standards Institute, we have commissioned a group of academics at the Institute of Local Government Studies in Birmingham to undertake a piece of research on which to build an evidence base on the economic, social and environmental impact of trading standards work, the impact that budget cuts have had on enforcement activity, and the efficiency of trading standards services across England, Scotland and Wales. The project will conclude in the autumn and the outputs will inform future policy considerations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, raised the question of trading standards publishing data. Trading standards will be able to name and shame a business, giving consumers more information to make better purchasing decisions. That is a key element of the new enhanced measures.

The requirement in the Bill for trading standards to provide 48 hours’ notice of a routine inspection was raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Crawley, among others. I emphasise that this is about routine inspections; it is not about situations where there is any concern or suspicion that a trader is breaking the law. Other powers in the Bill can be used to check letting agents’ compliance with the duty to display fees. I also want to reassure the House that the powers and safeguards are designed to strike a balance—and it is a balance—between protecting civil liberties, reducing burdens on business and enabling enforcers to tackle rogue traders. Businesses, and particularly small businesses, welcome the requirement for notice. The Federation of Small Businesses has said that,

“booking inspections in advance … will allow the business to make the necessary arrangements … so that everyone gets the most possible from the inspection”.

However, I underline again that we have no intention of weakening the powers of consumer law enforcers to investigate rogue activities. That is why the Bill contains a number of clear exemptions from giving notice, such as where doing so would defeat the purpose of the visit—for example, when investigating the sale of illegal tobacco or the production or transit of fake food. Consumer law enforcers will still have more powers to enter premises than the police.

I turn now to an issue I know exercises a number of noble Lords, which is the right to receive bills in paper format. It has been raised today by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and I know it certainly exercises my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes. I have heard the views expressed in this debate, and empowering consumers is a key objective of the Bill. My department

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is in the process of commissioning research regarding the issues that help and hinder the empowerment of consumers. We aim to use this research to identify the key target groups of consumers in need of greater assistance and the best ways to reach out to them. I can reassure the House that we will consider the comments made today alongside the conclusions from the research and act accordingly if this suggests the need for further thinking. Let me make one thing clear. There is no penalty for choosing paper—instead, people simply do not receive a discount. Choosing paper bills retains an additional service for those who wish not to take a paperless bill discount.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: I apologise but I must interrupt my noble friend. That is not true. Clearly, at the end of a BT bill there is an item called, I think, charges for processing this bill. That means sending a piece of paper.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I know that this is probably going to lead to some more discussions offline about this issue. My answer is that my noble friend then has the right to change supplier if she is not happy with that particular supplier.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: She has.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: It sounds to me as if she has done so. We must also remember that many hard-pressed households welcome the opportunity to save money that paperless bills offer them—which is the other side of the coin—and the Government want this option to be available to consumers.

My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, spoke eloquently about the important new statutory rights for consumers buying digital content. As has been shown, there are competing arguments and a balance to be struck. The digital content provisions are reasonable and principles based. They require that traders put right faults free of charge or, failing that, give some money back. That is what reputable digital content businesses already do. Not all bugs would automatically render digital content faulty, as the magazine Which? recognised:

“consumers are very accepting of updates and patches”,

and,

“would be able to tell the difference between a faulty piece of software and one that is just evolving”.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady King, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked about the impact of the services provisions, especially on public services. This point was quite strongly made. As Peers will know, this issue was discussed at length in the other place. My colleague Jenny Willott has written to set out the position, which is that where a public service is provided by a trader to a consumer under a contract, the services chapter of this Bill applies. That is why our impact assessment of this part of the Bill was comprehensive and covered all sectors. That assessment shows significant benefits—of £33 million per annum—to consumers.

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The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised an interesting point—and at this point I hope my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes can be persuaded to listen carefully—about the safety of embryos, if I can paraphrase the points the noble Lord raised. We are considering the report mentioned and we will announce our plans as soon as possible. My honourable friend in the other place, Jenny Willott, has already assured the other place and I can assure noble Lords that any proposed regulations on this matter will be subject to debates in both Houses under the affirmative procedure.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked about an update on the voluntary agreement on preventing unlicensed gambling providers. I will ask my noble friend the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport to reply directly to the noble Baroness.

The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, said that prominence is not sufficient to ensure that consumers understand the terms. We agree that terms should be written in language that consumers understand and that is why all terms must be written in plain and intelligible language. We will be giving guidance on what prominence requires and how it is defined. Business prefers this guidance to detail on the face of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who spoke in the gap, raised the issue whether consumers have access to collective redress for breaches of consumer law. Our proposals on enhanced consumer measures offer a more flexible, balanced and proportionate approach with a wider range of remedies.

I am fast running out of time. I will write to noble Lords whose questions I have not managed to answer. I conclude by underlining once again how vital this Bill is for empowering consumers, promoting competition and encouraging growth, which so many Peers have emphasised today.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.

Chilcot Inquiry

Question for Short Debate

6.30 pm

Asked by Lord Dykes

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what date they expect to agree with the Chilcot Inquiry for the publication of the Inquiry report.

Lord Dykes (LD): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity, through the usual channels, to contribute today in a Question for Short Debate on the disturbing delays that appear to be building up in the publication of the much and long-awaited Chilcot inquiry report. The long-distance background to this goes back to the illegal war in Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent inquiry by Sir John Chilcot and his colleagues. At least one political party in this country—I am proud to say that it was the Liberal Democrat party—marched officially as a party to protest against the war. The estimated million to 1.5 million marchers going along Piccadilly were subsequently all disappointed that the then Prime

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Minister, Tony Blair, completely ignored their representations on the biggest march that had taken place in Britain in recent times.

I pay tribute to the newspapers and the press in Britain who followed this, especially the Guardian. I assure noble Lords that there is no consortation in any way in this respect. It is just another way to thank the Guardian for its relentless pursuit of the hacking scandal in this country. Its pursuit was much more than that of any other newspaper. Sometimes the Independent managed to keep up, for which we are grateful. The way in which the press generally dealt with it was much less thorough than in the Guardian. The same thing has applied on an unrelenting basis to the delays to Chilcot. It is with deliberate intent that I quote mostly from the Guardian.

On 29 October, I put down a Question to the then Leader of the House, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I asked,

“Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the chairman and secretariat of the Iraq Inquiry about possible delays in publication of its report due to responses from officials of the government of the United States”.

I was most grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. He said:

“The drafting of the inquiry’s report and the contents are entirely a matter for the inquiry, which is independent of government”.

I made a supplementary point and I said:

“We remember, of course, the many thousands of Iraqi civilians, including women and children, who were killed after this illegal invasion. Will my noble friend the Leader of the House reassure the House that the Government will attach every meticulous attention to the contents of the report when eventually it is published? It is a very long process and the sooner it is published the better, but there is still a considerable delay. The particular implications of eventual submissions to the ICC should also be borne in mind”.

I was most grateful when the Leader of the House added that,

“my noble friend is correct to draw attention to the report. I can confirm the seriousness with which the Government will accept the report. It perhaps is worth pointing out that Sir John Chilcot, the chairman of the inquiry, has advised that the inquiry will be able to submit its report to the Prime Minister once it has given those who may be subject to criticism in the report the opportunity to make representations to the inquiry before the report is finalised”.—[

Official Report

, 29/10/12; col. 406.]

I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for going into detail on this but that is the very serious background to it.

I fast-forward to 23 November 2013 and, once again, the excellent details in the Guardian, which stated:

“The Chilcot inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq has been locked in dispute with top Whitehall officials over their refusal to release crucial records of conversations between Tony Blair and George W Bush”.

I quote further from the same article:

“Sir John Chilcot and his panel have seen the documents but have been told they cannot disclose them. He has told Cameron that without a decision on what he has described as documents central to the inquiry, he cannot go ahead with the … ‘Maxwellisation’ process”.

The article goes on:

“Blair is one of those most likely to be criticised for his handling of the crisis that led to the Iraq invasion”.

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I am delighted to see the former Foreign Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in his place today and I thank him for coming to speak in this debate—as I thank the other speakers. Going back a week to 15 November, again in an article in the Guardian, there was his call—which he gave me permission to mention—to get this report published as soon as possible. The first paragraph of this piece by Richard Norton-Taylor states:

“The former Labour foreign secretary, Lord Owen, has criticised Tony Blair and the coalition over the refusal to release key evidence about what Blair told George Bush in the runup to the invasion of Iraq. Blair's position was an ‘intolerable affront to democratic accountability’, Owen told the Guardian”.

Several paragraphs later, the article states:

“Owen said the whole dispute should be arbitrated by the lord chancellor, who is responsible for the release of official records, rather than any cabinet secretary … ‘Chilcot and his colleagues should stand firm and not be bullied,’ Owen said”.

I was grateful indeed for the noble Lord’s remarks and I look forward with great interest to his further remarks in this debate.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for being here. He is a doughty fighter for justice and morality in politics, in social matters and in the kind of emergency that arose from Iraq. I know he has somewhat different views so I shall be careful not to add any further comments.

I am equally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, for his attendance today. Many of us are fans of his famous programme on BBC Radio 3, “Private Passions”. He will not mind me sounding corny when I say that we in this debate today have a public passion collectively for getting at the truth of the delays to Chilcot. To make matters worse, with all these delays and no proper explanations coming from government circles or anybody else, and allowing for the fact that Cabinet Secretaries are inhibited in anything that they might do or say—that is a serious problem in the public sector, which we have to admit and understand—I and others were quite appalled that last Friday, 27 June, an article in the Guardian said that there is now a further delay in the publication of this report. The main paragraph in that article states:

“Sir John Chilcot announced last month”—

that is, in May, as the article was written at the end of June—

“that after years of heated disputes with successive cabinet secretaries, and discussions with Washington, he had agreed to a settlement whereby summaries, and ‘the gist’, of more than a hundred records of conversations between Blair and George Bush in the runup to the invasion, and of records of 200 cabinet discussions, would be published, but not the documents themselves. Chilcot has described the content of the documents as ‘vital to the public understanding of the inquiry’s conclusions’. In a letter to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, last month, Chilcot said ‘detailed consideration’ of the information he has requested had begun, adding ‘it is not yet clear how long that will take’”.

With regard to this delay, I think “disgrace” is the right word to use, and I use it sadly. I do not wish to, but I think that is the essence of the matter.

The same article states:

“Philippe Sands QC, professor of law at University College London, said: ‘How painfully ironic that Britain used force in 2003 when it was manifestly illegal, but will … not do so now in response to a request from the government of Iraq, when it would more arguably be lawful’”.

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It continues:

“Sands, a close follower of Chilcot and earlier inquiries into the invasion of Iraq, added: ‘The situation in Iraq today is terrible and tragic, but it’s a futile exercise to speculate as to the exact connection with decisions taken in 2003 … It would be more sensible to reflect on what might be learnt from the mistakes of the past.’ He continued”—

I support this question—

“‘Who exactly is responsible for the delay [in the Chilcot report] is unclear, but it is hard to avoid the suspicion that political considerations might have come into play’”.

This House and the whole of this Parliament need information on this. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for attending this debate and replying to us today. I hope that we will have some good answers from him in so far as he can deal with these delicate and sensitive matters.

6.39 pm

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, and welcome this opportunity to debate the timing of publication of the Chilcot report. It provides us with an opportunity to plead the case for a report that is comprehensive in content and fully exploits the inquiry’s original remit as set out by the Government.

Last week, on 25 June, I spoke on Iraq. I understand that my contribution was followed by an avalanche on the internet of vitriol, venom, accusation and language bordering on threat. It all followed an article in the MailOnline which, accompanied by a picture of me suitably clad in a provocative Peer’s robe, accurately reported half my contribution in which I had set out the position of those of us who had supported intervention in Iraq. What, sadly, the article did not reveal was that the thrust of my speech was to oppose further intervention and also to set out a strategy for us to pursue at the United Nations to deal with militant Islam.

I make no complaint. Indeed, in today's debate, I intend to go further and give those self-same critics a further dose of my thoughts in the context of Chilcot and further cause for them to express their anger by setting out another truth over the debate on Iraq—a truth that they conveniently ignore. It is a truth that I hope Chilcot draws on during the course of his inquiry.

In my view, the whole debate on Iraq has been dominated by ignorance of the background, misrepresentation of the facts and public attitudes to the conflict determined by totally inadequate reporting in the media. There are men and women today walking the streets of London, Paris, Washington, Amman and Istanbul who are the real criminals in the story of Iraq. There are hundreds if not thousands of them. They have built their fortunes on the back of sanctions-busting in breach of international law, but because they represented business and financial institutions, they have been left untouched. They have almost never been prosecuted because it was deemed not to be in the public interest in various countries concerned, while they have laughed all the way to their banks as politicians have taken the rap. It is they who are responsible for the war in Iraq and only they.

Blair and the nonsense of WMD divert us from the truth and if Chilcot fails to deal with their criminal activity he will, in my view, have failed. To establish

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the truth, we need to consider the Volcker report, a UN-sponsored report of 2005, which followed a detailed investigation over 18 months into allegations of bribery, corruption, illegal commission taking and the complete undermining of the Iraqi sanctions regime established under international law. Paul A Volcker, a former chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve, led the inquiry that identified more than 2,000 cases of abuse and criminal activity. That report offers us a real insight into the scale of international criminal operations, which completely undermined the sanctions regime set in place to bring the Saddam Hussein regime to heel. But the western media gave the whole report a wide berth and scant attention as the story told was simply not sexy enough. The media needed someone to blame for what has turned out to be a qualified failure. I believe that Blair’s unfortunate and, in my view, wrong use of WMD in justification for the war gave them that person to blame.

As I explained last week, I, along with others, had repeatedly appealed to the powers that be in our visits to Washington for action on sanctions-busting. The Americans were just not interested and we could do nothing as they were calling the shots. I remember telling them that unless they acted military intervention to bring Saddam’s brutality to an end was inevitable. On one occasion I led an Anglo-American parliamentary group delegation to Washington and recall discussing sanctions-breaching with State Department officials. The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, was there and he will remember what happened. In the critical years prior to the invasion I repeatedly raised in Parliament the issue of sanctions-busting and I understand that British civil servants had no more luck with the Americans than I did. I repeat: it was the failure to stop that criminal activity that made war inevitable. If the sanctions regime had been enforced, Saddam would have been contained.

In the many forums in which we made our case on the need to enforce the sanctions policy, particularly in the case of oil exports, we were able to draw on the extensive work that we had done in the early years of Saddam’s revenue-raising from illegal oil sales. In the 1990s, at a time when I was very closely following events in Iraq on an almost daily basis, I sent my former Commons researcher Jim Mahon to Iraq to investigate the scale of illicit oil trading with Turkey. He replied back at the time in the following words: “Trucks, bumper to bumper, in a line as far back as the eye could see, thousands of them, crossing the border into Turkey; some trucks just converted with large containers carrying oil on their backs”. It was the lack of monitoring of humanitarian imports under the UN sanctions regime, with the rake-off of commissions and Saddam’s oil revenues, that funded the whole machinery of Iraqi government and kept the upper echelons of Saddam’s murderous regime and republican guard in place.

With the failure to act on the sanctions-busters, I saw no alternatives to war, although I now believe that the war option failed for the reasons that I set out last week. I now look to Chilcot to establish the truth. At the time I challenged the Chilcot inquiry remit as

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being too limited. Nevertheless, they tell me that Chilcot is a wise old owl and if he deploys his wisdom, he should find a way of addressing the important issues that I am raising. Believe me, if Saddam’s revenues had been cut off, that regime would never have survived. There would have been no war in Iraq. Those who insist on attacking those of us who supported intervention as a last resort to end Saddam’s brutality would do well to consider the facts and ignore the media-generated stories that even some politicians have swallowed. I hope that Chilcot will do just that.

The irony in all this is that many of us who supported intervention in Iraq were totally opposed to intervention both in Afghanistan and Syria—unlike the Liberal Democrats. The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, mentioned the position of his party. His party supported the intervention in Afghanistan. I opposed it in Afghanistan and Syria. Perhaps on the next occasion it will be us who are on the streets of London, demonstrating for the enforcement of sanctions against the rogue regimes in an attempt to avoid some war in the future.

6.49 pm

Lord Berkeley of Knighton (CB): My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for raising this pertinent Question. Before I make the very brief points I would like to make, perhaps I might, by way of a small tribute, say how sad it is that Sir Martin Gilbert, a member of the Chilcot inquiry, has been taken so gravely ill that he is unlikely to return to that kind of work.

We have recently been commemorating—if I may say so, very movingly—the fallen of the First World War. The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, very kindly mentioned “Private Passions”, and one of the pieces we most often get asked to play on that programme is part of the “War Requiem” by Benjamin Britten, setting to music, as it does, the poems of Wilfred Owen.

That is germane to what we are talking about because we owe it to the many people who gave their lives so bravely and to the many families that lost relatives to always look with microscopic attention at the reasons for going to war. We know now that many mistakes were made and we really should be trying to use the example of those errors to never make them again. That is why this inquiry is so terribly important. Then we have the families of those representing us who were bereaved in Iraq and—because of our actions there, arguably—the people who are still losing their lives.

This is an incredibly serious Question and the point that I put to the Minister is that in recent debates about other matters—for example, the police and, indeed, the conduct of Members of this House—the Government reassured us about the importance of the public having confidence in public inquiries, not just inquiries where people are investigating themselves, about which they are all very genuinely worried, but particularly inquiries that concern decisions that cost many people their lives.

I very much look forward to the Minister’s answers because this is a very pressing Question. The point that I put to him is that the public are mystified by what they fear are people covering their backs—by

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tins of whitewash possibly being opened. Perhaps this is not the case—I would like to think that it is not—but the public need that reassurance and one thing that will reassure them is to stop the shilly-shallying and get this report published.

6.52 pm

Lord Owen (Ind SD): My Lords, I will raise some of the issues that are going to face Parliament when this report is published, but first I will deal with the question of if this report gets delayed until next year, which now looks very likely, the appropriate way of determining when it should be published in relation to a general election. It would be naive to believe that in the immediate run-up to a general election there will be the sort of objective evaluation of the report that we have every right to do and the inquiry has every right to expect.

I have written to the chairman of the Electoral Commission, which is in my view the only real body that could objectively have a look at this, take the views of the different parties and come to a conclusion, and let the inquiry committee know before Christmas what its feeling is. Obviously, if it is published this year, that is fine, but since, because of fixed-term Parliaments, we know the election date, it would be very ill advised for it to go beyond January or the middle of February. It would be better, after we have waited all this time, to wait until after the general election.

I approach this from the viewpoint of the Suez crisis, which was one of the most emotional experiences that I went through as an 18 year-old. I have always believed that it was a terrible mistake not to have an inquiry into the Suez crisis. We would have learnt things from the handling of that crisis which would have been given greater weight in the counsels of government during the Iraq war. Then there is the question of how you treat the Cabinet in a time of war as distinct from Parliament. We know it is not possible to say everything to the general public in the run-up to a war, but I believe it is essential, if the authority of the Prime Minister is such that they have the prerogative to declare war, to understand that, provided they speak for the Cabinet, there is no way any Prime Minister can go to war in a minority in their own Cabinet. Therefore, the Cabinet discussions are extremely important.

The other thing which is troubling most of us is the fact that the Commission stopped taking evidence over three years ago. This is the real issue and if it is postponed into next year it will be close to four years. This is an intolerable delay and we have to determine how this matter can be resolved in future. It is very difficult for the Prime Minister of a different party to make a determination about a document which basically relates to another Administration. So it has been decided to involve the Cabinet Secretary, but if you are the Prime Minister’s Private Secretary during all this crucial time from 9/11 until 2003, you ought to recuse yourself from making these decisions, or at least when it becomes a matter of such controversy you should bow out and find another person to deal with the issue. This is particularly important since this Cabinet Secretary is almost a new creation. Normally Cabinet

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Secretaries come to this position having been senior civil servants in major departments. Although they are often Private Secretaries to a Prime Minister as part of their overall experience, which is very helpful to them, they are not in the rough and tumble of party politics. The present Cabinet Secretary has been Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister for Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and now David Cameron. He has been almost constantly involved, both in government and outside government, in the party-political battle. This is not ideal. Since the job has been split, the present Cabinet Secretary having declined to act as head of the Civil Service, it would have been better for the head of the Civil Service to be the arbiter of this, or even the Lord Chancellor, as has been done on official secrets issues. I know the role of Lord Chancellor has changed, but some mechanism is necessary.

The other most troubling aspect about Sir John Chilcot’s letter to the Prime Minister was that it revealed that new information has been given to the committee only this summer—information that fills in gaps. What is the role of Parliament? It seems to me that one of the Select Committees, probably the House of Commons Administration Committee, should now look at why there has been this delay and come to some conclusions. It is no use leaving it until afterwards. But now that there is obviously a gap of four or five months, it should take a look at the administrative aspects, find out whether in future it is tolerable for a Cabinet Secretary to be the sole arbiter of this, and have some idea as to how much a Government, a civil servant and a Cabinet Secretary are obligated to follow the terms of reference and the explanation given by the Prime Minister.

When he was Prime Minister, Gordon Brown made it quite clear that all British documents would be made available to this committee. The record made by British civil servants of a British Prime Minister talking to the President of the United States is a British document. There should be no argument about that. Of course, if the exchange is taking place on the telephone, it is not reasonable to expect that an American President’s words in this conversation would be reported. It would be inappropriate and I do not believe anybody has asked for that. The Cabinet Secretary said that former Prime Minister Tony Blair has had no involvement in this delay. We are then told that the delay has come from America. Who is the person in America who is going to delay it other than former President Bush? It is not a matter for President Obama—again, it is difficult for him to comment. It beggars belief that former President Bush in his decision-making is not totally uninterested in, or unaware of, the views of former Prime Minister Blair.

This whole arrangement has been shown to be so damaging that it has already gravely damaged the credibility of the inquiry report. We need then to look again as a Parliament at how these public inquiries will be held in the future. They are a safety valve. The way in which the Cabinet Secretary has handled it, and the comments that seem have to been made, suggest that there is no understanding that a very serious situation has occurred that is far worse than was the case with Suez. This Iraq inquiry is probing into many things. I happen to agree that it would be a

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very good idea to probe economic sanctions. Economic sanctions ought to have brought the Saddam Hussein regime to account. After all, it was the intervention in 1991 that stopped the so-called turkey shoot, when an immense number of casualties were being made from firing on the troops as Saddam Hussein came back from Kuwait. A ceasefire was done under the authority of the United Nations. It was the breaches of those resolutions that were passed in the immediate aftermath that had been so serious. I shall not go into the merits or otherwise of the issue—we can discuss that.

There are aspects of this report which are bound to be parliamentary. The first of those will be: was Parliament told the truth? I happened to be in this Chamber in 2007 when the noble Lord, Lord Butler, who was in charge of the review of intelligence, stood up and read out a document, so these were calculated words, in which he accused the former Prime Minister of being “disingenuous”—we know what that word means outside this Chamber; it is the furthest that you can go to accuse the Prime Minister of lying—over the interpretation of the intelligence. I do not care whether the Prime Minister thought something—they were entirely his views—but, once he quotes the intelligence to Parliament, then that quotation has got to be accurate.

The Chilcot inquiry has already looked very carefully at this in terms of the foreword to the document on which much of the debate in Parliament was held, and one can take one’s own conclusions from those reports. Therefore, Parliament needs to have a procedure. We all know what happens with these reports. They are looked at 24 hours beforehand by the people who are criticised; there is great press briefing and distortion of the document; and most people find it very difficult to form a judgment on day one. I suggest that Parliament decides now that it will not have an immediate debate—letting the report be read for a fortnight or three weeks—but that it will ask a committee of the House to look at those aspects which relate to Parliament. Was Parliament misled? Was there a “disingenuous” interpretation of the intelligence? Did we know the full facts in Parliament before that debate? One draws on the report, but it is a parliamentary matter of great importance.

We rightly take very seriously perjury before a court, and many of us who have been in both Houses of Parliament take seriously a lie to the House of Commons. People forget that, in December 1956, it was because Sir Anthony Eden misled the House that it was inevitable that he would have to resign. When he said that there had been no prior sharing of knowledge with Israel and France over the so-called interposition of the British and other forces, that was known by then to be untruthful and it made it inevitable that he would have to resign very soon. In fact, he never came back to Parliament and resigned. I happen to believe that there were medical reasons why one needs to rather charitable in looking at Anthony Eden’s conduct over this whole thing; he was a sick man through most of it. However, that does not in any way diminish the fact that probity before Parliament is an essential question and one that we must face up to. In my view, contempt of Parliament is every bit as important as contempt of court.

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7.05 pm

Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP): My Lords, I rise not to make a speech in the gap but simply to ask the Minister whether he would care to comment on rumours that I have heard from friends in the Washington community to the effect that, before action started on the ground, we knew that the famous weapons of mass destruction were in fact in bottles and already in Syria. Would the Minister care to comment on that as part of the information to which the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and others have referred?

7.06 pm

Lord Morgan (Lab): My Lords, I think that the Chilcot inquiry is of such a nature that too much should not be expected of it. Many of the main issues confronting the inquiry were legal; the resignation of Elizabeth Wilmshurst from the Foreign Office was, I recall, on the legality of the Iraq operation. The Netherlands inquiry consisted entirely of lawyers and dealt very thoroughly with the issues. The Chilcot inquiry does not have a single lawyer. It has a couple of historians, which is a good thing, but not a single lawyer. We have been told—among others, by the late Lord Bingham—that the invasion was in clear breach of international law.

Why is the delay so crucial and worrying? First, because the inquiry explores the operation of government—indeed, the operation of government is a major reason for the delay. How could government so malfunction? How could the Cabinet be kept in almost total ignorance? How could the advice of the Attorney-General be so ambiguous and change from week to week? How could the security committee operate in such a way and briefly be chaired, incredibly, by Alastair Campbell? How could the Prime Minister arrogate such overwhelming power? How could he get away with such astonishing mis-statements, including the fact that it had all been agreed with Bush in Crawford a year before yet he pretended that it had not? Those things are very dangerous and should be explored. All serious students of the constitution—of whom I consider myself to be one—should consider them.

Secondly, how could perceptions of policy in the Middle East be so utterly wrong? How could the internal politics and history of Iraq be so misread? How could anyone seriously believe that the British and American invaders would be greeted as democratic saviours, not as brutal invaders killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in their wake? How contemptible a line of logic is that? How could so few preparations be made for the aftermath of the war? We are now seeing the effect in the ISIS militias operating in Iraq. How could people seriously believe that Iraq had its own integrity and that the Government of al-Maliki could be credible? The country of Iraq is now fragmenting into at least three parts. My noble friend rightly said that journalists should be well informed, and I rely heavily on my good friend—I think, the best journalist in Iraq—Patrick Cockburn of the Independent, who has shredded so many of the arguments in this area.

Iraq is a shameful episode. The moral was learnt by some in Syria. It was perhaps learnt the second time around in Iraq. It generated enormous popular protest,

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as the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, observed. I took part in the march, the greatest statement of popular opposition, popular protest, since the time of the chartists. I also wrote in the

Guardian

, which I heard get some praise in the opening speech. It was a debacle comparable to Suez, as we have heard. Suez marked the end of empire; Iraq, I think, marked the end of British foreign policy. Our legacy has been shredded in Syria, Libya, and Iraq as well, and there is nothing left.

It raises, finally, the problem of democratic control and, indeed, the role of Parliament, of which the noble Lord, Lord Owen, spoke. The issue of democratic control of foreign policy was first raised during the First World War—we will not hear much of that in the commemorations. We now need democratic control by Parliament to be explored in order to make sure that it never happens again. Michael Foot, of whom I once wrote, talked about the Guilty Men in relation to Munich and appeasement. This time we need to expose and bring to justice these latest guilty men.

7.10 pm

Baroness Morgan of Ely (Lab): I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for securing this debate. This is not the first time this year that we in this House have discussed the delay to the Chilcot report. We had a comprehensive and detailed discussion in this Chamber in February, initiated by my noble and learned friend Lord Morris, who is very sorry that he could not be with us today. Since then there has been an agreement, in May this year, whether right or wrong, about what the inquiry is able to publish in terms of correspondence between No. 10 and the White House.

At the outset it is worth recalling that we are not here today to debate the substantive issues that the Chilcot inquiry is addressing. We will, I am sure, have an opportunity to do that when it is published and it is probably worth pondering the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that we need some time to digest it before we look at it in detail. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Iraq invasion, it is worth recalling that it was a Labour Government under Gordon Brown that initiated the Chilcot inquiry in 2009—a public inquiry into the nation’s role in the Iraq war. The report will cover the run-up to the conflict, and it will be interesting to see if it picks up on some of the issues that my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours talked about. It will look at the subsequent military action and its aftermath, and establish the ways in which decisions were made. It will examine what happened and try to identify lessons to ensure that, in a similar situation in future, the British Government are equipped to respond in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country.

It is important to make clear that the Labour Party continues to support publication at the earliest opportunity. Four and a half years on—it has already been four years—it is difficult to explain or understand the prolonged amount of time it has taken to complete. It is worth noting that the previous Labour Government made it clear that the inquiry would begin only once all combat troops had left Iraq, so as not to undermine their role there. As soon as the troops were home, in July 2009, the Labour Government allowed the inquiry to begin and we still believe, particularly in the light

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of recent developments in the region, that we need to identify the lessons that can be learnt from the conflict.

The delays in the publication of the inquiry’s findings have caused a lot of concern. It is worth taking into account the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, about the need to consider carefully the possible delay of publication until after an election if it is not published this year. However, we also appreciate the vast scope of the report, both in terms of the period it covers and the range of issues that it seeks to address. The committee has faced a huge task and we hope that it will therefore be able to finish its work without undue delay and to submit the final report to the Prime Minister at the earliest opportunity, ideally before the end of this year. Tony Blair himself said in May this year:

“I have got as much interest as anyone in seeing the inquiry publish its findings”.

My understanding is that the blockage has been caused by discussions over certain classified documents, particularly those relating to correspondence with the US President. Members of the inquiry team have had access to and sight of this information; they are all privy counsellors and have had access to thousands of documents that have been declassified from a number of government departments, including the most sensitive intelligence documents. My understanding, therefore, is that Gordon Brown’s promise at the start of this inquiry that:

“No British document and no British witness will be beyond the scope of the inquiry”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/6/09; col. 23.]

has been honoured. The question, therefore, is how much of this can be published and quoted in the final report to give evidential support to the inquiry’s conclusions.

It is also relevant in terms of the so-called Maxwellisation principle. That principle allows those named in the report to have the right to reply, which means that they will be allowed to see those elements of the report but only the evidence that is allowed to be published. I would be grateful if the Minister could let us know whether the final Maxwellisation letters have been sent and how much time people will be given to respond.

On 28 May this year, Sir John Chilcot wrote to Sir Jeremy Heywood, confirming that the inquiry has judged that the disclosure of quotes of gists from the content of communications between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States will be sufficient to explain the inquiry’s conclusions. We will be asked to take on trust that the inquiry members have read this information and that its conclusions will be based on what they have read. We need to be sensitive to the fact that the USA, one of our closest allies, may deal with us differently in future if it believes that any future correspondence or conversations can be put into the public domain at a later date. We are party to certain confidences and have been trusted to protect those confidences. There are therefore questions about what is a reasonable timeframe for us to disclose things which affect our closest allies. Apart from this, if anyone looks at the Chilcot website they will see

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reams of documents that can be analysed and digested. There has been quite an open process, apart from that one aspect.

It is essential that we get to the bottom of how and why we went to war in order to learn from our mistakes. Even the most cursory glance at the region today leads us to conclude that post-war preparation was ill conceived and ill prepared. We need to consider whether we can learn anything in terms of the conditions prior to any future intervention. How and to what extent should we take a lead or work with coalition partners in future, and how much influence do we have with them? Can the Minister therefore give an assurance that the Chilcot report will be published, at the very latest, by the end of this year?

7.17 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their various contributions to this debate. The Government are also disappointed and frustrated that it has taken a good deal longer than we—or the Labour Government, which set up the inquiry—had originally hoped to complete the exercise. However, let me stress the exceptional nature of this inquiry.

I entirely welcome and agree with the emphasis of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, on this not being a matter of partisan debate between the parties. We need to get at what went wrong and the constitutional implications of what happened. We therefore want to keep this out of the election campaign, so far as we can. The sort of timings which the noble Lord, Lord Owen, suggested are well understood in government, in terms of not getting too caught up in the pre-election atmosphere.

Let me remind all noble Lords of where we started. The Chilcot inquiry was announced in June 2009 to identify the lessons that can be learnt from the Iraq conflict and the occupation which followed. It has looked at the UK’s involvement in Iraq in the period from the summer of 2001—at the time that the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced the inquiry, that was some eight years previously and it is still less than 13 years away—to the end of July 2009, which is now some five years past. The inquiry embraces the run-up to conflict, the military action and its aftermath and the way that decisions were taken and it aims to establish as accurately as possible what happened to identify lessons to be learnt.

We have not previously published documents less than 30 years ahead, except in the most exceptional circumstances. Part of the delay and part of what has been going on is the product of having agreed that we will publish documents relating to recent events and referring to people who are still in active political life. That is part of the exceptional circumstances in which we are working.

Since 2009, the inquiry has taken evidence from more than 150 witnesses; it has travelled to Baghdad and Arbil for discussions with Iraqi politicians; to Washington to meet officials from the United States Government; to France to talk to French officials; it has met the families of British personnel killed in Iraq;

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and has read more than 100,000 UK Government documents. When Gordon Brown announced the inquiry in the House of Commons, he said that the committee would have access to the fullest range of papers, including secret information, and, as the noble Baroness has quoted, that,

“No British document and no British witness will be beyond the scope of the inquiry”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/6/09; col. 23.]

It takes a long time to work through 100,000 documents, to consider where there are sensitive issues remaining and, in the process, incidentally, to consider a number of other documents which had not been provided to the inquiry. These are the supplementary ones which were discovered and have been provided in recent months. The inquiry is examining difficult and complex issues. The inquiry has estimated, it has told us, that its final report will be more than 1 million words.

The Sunday Telegraph remarked that the rate of spending had increased over the past two to three months. That is partly because the website has been revamped and expanded in order to cope with the amount of information which will be downloaded on to the website as it is published. It is a part of the preparation for publication.

As part of the process of drafting the report, the inquiry has sought the declassification of material from many thousands of documents from the Government. It says in my brief that this is absolutely unprecedented. If there is any comparison it would be the Saville inquiry in Northern Ireland, which also took a great deal longer than had been hoped, partly because the complexities it raised were much more difficult than had been understood fully at the beginning. As Sir John Chilcot has acknowledged, the process is labour intensive for both the Government and the inquiry. He said in November last year that he was grateful for the work done by departmental teams to deal with the disclosure of documents.

I hope that noble Lords have seen the letter of 28 May from Sir John Chilcot to Sir Jeremy Heywood as Cabinet Secretary, published on the website the following day, that agreement had been reached on the principles underpinning disclosure of material from Cabinet level discussions and communications between the UK Prime Minister and the President of the United States which the inquiry has asked to use in its report. My understanding is that most of the work on the 200 UK Cabinet meetings from which extracts will be provided has now been completed and that the inquiry is now working on the UK-US documents.

Again I have to stress that we regret that it has taken so much time, but we also recognise the sheer complexity of what the inquiry is working on. I have talked to a number of the Cabinet Office people assisting the inquiry and I am impressed by the pace at which they are now working and the hopes that they have that we are now within sight of the end.

The answer on the Maxwellisation process, which comes next, is that the second letters have not yet gone out but we hope to send them out within the near future. The Maxwellisation process will then take, we hope, a matter of weeks rather than months. The

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Prime Minister has stated clearly that it is his hope that the inquiry will be able to provide a report before the end of the year.

Lord Tyler (LD): Will my noble friend specifically address the important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Owen? I recall very well, as a Member of the other place during the time—I am not sure whether any of my colleagues are here—the very specific information given to the House of Commons in preparation for that vital debate and vote. Will my noble friend give the House an explicit assurance that there will be careful consideration by the Government of precisely how we as a Parliament are going to look at the parliamentary implications of the Chilcot report? In that connection, it would be intolerable for the end of this Parliament to come before we yet had sight of the Chilcot report and its recommendations.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I understand fully what the noble Lord says and indeed what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, has said. I stress that this is an independent inquiry that the Government have stood back from, so the Government do not control what is happening in it. However, I entirely understand that when it is published it will be for Parliament, and a number of parliamentary committees, to take on board how much information was given and what the implications are for further information from the agencies and other aspects of government. That will be part of the follow-on to publication.

Lord Dykes: The noble Baroness was rightly concerned about the delay in Maxwellisation. My noble friend has just said that there is now a further delay in the letters going out. That seems to be excessive, bearing in mind all the delays that there have been so far. Could he explain to the House why there is this further delay?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: The Maxwellisation process, in which those who are named in various aspects of the report are given a chance to look at those areas where they are named, depends of course on the prior decision being complete about exactly what will be used in the report. The most sensitive areas will be those that involve the minutes of Cabinet meetings and discussions with the United States. That is why you cannot go on to the Maxwellisation process until you have finalised the question of how far you are able to publish. I reassure noble Lords that my understanding is that the inquiry is trying extremely hard to publish as much as possible. This is an unprecedented expansion, lifting the traditional veil of secrecy that has covered Cabinet meetings and other such things in the past.

A number of noble Lords raised other questions. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that it was a historic mistake not to have a Suez inquiry. I would say that his remarks on the Cabinet Secretary were ungenerous. The Cabinet Secretary who was originally put in this position was of course the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell; it was the institution of Cabinet Secretary, not the person, and “the Cabinet Secretary” includes those who assist him in the Cabinet Office.

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From my limited interactions with them, I have to say that they are a first-class team; it is not simply one individual.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, talked about rumours that he has heard in Washington. We have all heard many rumours in Washington. Since I am not privy to what is in the inquiry at present, I cannot comment on them; no doubt that will come out when the report is published.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Does the Minister agree that if the British and American Governments knew, before action started on the ground in Iraq, that the famous weapons of mass destruction had in fact been in bottles—they were that kind of weapon—and that they were already in Syria, that is not a fact that should be kept from the public in consideration of this matter?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, that is precisely the sort of thing that the inquiry will be looking at. I do not know how far it will go into the question of the evasion of sanctions in the period running up to war. Neither do I know whether the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, gave evidence to the inquiry; that is something else that might be covered.

The noble Lord, Lord Morgan, raised some large constitutional questions, which of course will be there. When the report is published, we will dive into it and draw what conclusions we can. The parliamentary vote on Syria was itself partly a reflection of the sense in Parliament that the Government were not entirely to be trusted on some of these issues.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, evidence was given on the question of sanctions. It was given by Ann Clwyd MP.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I thank the noble Lord for that. I hope that the inquiry may have touched in some detail on that issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Morgan, said in a very strong way that we need to expose and bring to justice the guilty men. This—as Sir John Chilcot has said on a number of occasions—is not a judicial inquiry; it is a historical inquiry intended to get at the evidence as far as possible. The question of guilt is one which perhaps a number of other people, such as the noble Lord, may wish to push once they have the evidence in front of them.

I hope that I have covered most of the issues. It is ungenerous to say that Sir John Chilcot could have been bullied by the Cabinet Secretary. He and his team have been remarkably robust on this.

Lord Berkeley of Knighton: I wish to say, not as a politician but as a member of the public, that the explanations that the Minister is giving are extraordinarily helpful—which is why this debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, is very useful. The more that that can be got across to the public—the complexity involved, and the secret documents—the better it will be. I still feel very strongly that we need to get there,

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but we all think that. It is very helpful that those matters are explained to a wider public. After all, we have a responsibility to the wider public, and we are sometimes out of touch with what they think.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I should also have acknowledged the important point that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made—that it is vital that we maintain and re-establish public confidence in public inquiries and in our political institutions as such. One of the biggest problems, which we all share, is the extent of public and media cynicism about the political process in this country. This inquiry is working with great care. Again, I stress that this is an independent inquiry—the Government are not in charge. The four active members of the Chilcot inquiry group are those who are responsible for what emerges, although of course a great deal of negotiation has gone on about the extent of publication. That is a very important part of ensuring that this is not in any sense a whitewashing inquiry.

On a previous occasion I was criticised by one or two noble Lords for suggesting that the Franks inquiry on the Falklands War was not entirely thorough or rigorous. I went back to the review that I had written in International Affairs on the publication of the Franks inquiry to demonstrate why I still hold that opinion. This inquiry is very thoroughgoing. It is being conducted by a number of people whom I personally trust and respect, and who are unlikely to be defenders of the “secret establishment”, so to speak. We very much hope that the report will appear before the end of the year; the Prime Minister has said that publicly. We are doing all we can—with a number of very hard-working

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officials, who are themselves doing all they can—to complete the final stages of the process of clearing these very difficult and delicate documents so that we can send out the second stages of the Maxwellisation process to those who will be named in the report. We will then move on from that to the presentation of the report to the Prime Minister and, we hope, to publication as soon as possible.

Lord Desai (Lab): My Lords, given the complexity of the process and the point that the noble Lord, Lord Owen, made, that we should not publish it in the new year, would it not be best to wait until after the election, when a Labour Government are in power?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we want to publish as soon as we can, and before we descend into the election campaign.

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, the Minister is, above all, an honourable man—of that I am totally convinced. Will he give the House an unequivocal assurance that no Government of whom he is a part will allow the publication date to become part of political tactics in the run-up to the general election?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we have already agreed that the Government are well aware that it is highly undesirable that publication should run into the election campaign. I stated clearly that I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, on what that means as regards publication. That is part of the context in which we are operating.

House adjourned at 7.34 pm.