Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Iraq inquiry debate (excerpts x2)

11 Jun 2007 : Column 532

Opposition Day

[14th Allotted Day]

Iraq Inquiry

Mr. Speaker: We now come to the main business. I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.32 pm

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I beg to move,


A formal public inquiry would be likely to be a much lengthier process. A Committee of this House, which I believe was proposed by the nationalist parties, would find it harder to benefit from external expertise. A Privy Council inquiry on the model of the Franks commission therefore rapidly recommends itself for this particular subject and it must be highly likely to be what will happen in the end. The Government should be able to accept that today. If the Leader of the House and the Defence Secretary were not referring to this kind of committee of Privy Councillors when they referred to there being an inquiry in the future, the Foreign Secretary needs to tell the House today what sort of inquiry they were they talking about.

Given, however, that the Government's response does not look as if it is going to be as constructive or even as consistent as that, the amendment that the Government have tabled to our motion today merits examination. It argues

"that there have already been four separate independent committees of inquiry into military action in Iraq",

and it declines

"to make a proposal for a further inquiry which would divert attention"


"improving the condition of Iraq"

at the moment.

The weaknesses of those arguments are readily apparent. First, the argument that the existence of inquiries presents a diversion from vital tasks and that four of them have taken place already cannot both be true at the same time—unless the Government believe that the hearings of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee or the processes of the Butler report seriously hampered the work going on in Iraq. Secondly, these arguments do not prevent the Government from accepting the case for a suitably powerful inquiry in principle. Thirdly, the idea that the ground has been covered even remotely adequately by what they call the

"four separate independent committees of inquiry"

is nothing short of ludicrous.

One of those inquiries was the Hutton inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. David Kelly. Another was the Butler report, which focused only on intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. One of the others was the Foreign Affairs Committee report, published four years ago, on the decision to go to war in Iraq. Afterwards, the Committee published its views on the co-operation that it had received from the Government. In March 2004, it reported:

"We were hopeful that we would receive full cooperation from the government."

However, it went on to state:

"Our Chairman wrote to the Prime Minister (requesting his attendance and that of Mr. Alastair Campbell); the Cabinet Office Intelligence Co-ordinator; the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee; the Chief of Defence Intelligence; the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service; and the Director of GCHQ. None of them replied."

It continued:

"We are confident that our inquiry would have been enhanced if our requests had been met. We agree with Alastair Campbell that 'It would have been very odd to have done this inquiry' without questioning him, and we regret that other witnesses, some of whom we suspect felt the same way as Mr. Campbell, were prevented from appearing."

That is the true story of the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry, yet it is held up by the Government in their amendment as an example of an independent inquiry. It is unacceptable for the Government to refuse to co-operate fully with the inquiries that take place, and then to cite their work as an illustration of why further inquiries are unnecessary.

The fact is that each of the inquiries that has taken place so far has provided a snapshot of one particular aspect of events in Iraq, but that their findings were sometimes arrived at without the full co-operation of the Government and are in general now out of date. There has been no investigation so far into the overall conduct of the war, the planning for the aftermath, or the implementation of such plans as may have existed for the rebuilding of the Iraqi state and society after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.


11 Jun 2007 : Column 568

6.41 pm

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con):


I want to deal with two specific issues. First, I want to nail the idea that the time is wrong for an inquiry. The time is certainly wrong for an inquiry about what we should be doing in Basra right now, or what General Petraeus should be doing in Baghdad and the Sunni areas right now—but there is absolutely nothing wrong with an inquiry into how we became involved in the war. What were the relationships between the Prime Minister and the President? When were the decisions actually made? How was the intelligence got so wrong, and how was it so badly misinterpreted and/or mis-sold to Parliament? What part did we play in the mistakes made by the Bremer administration, and did we argue against them or were we fully on side?

Those mistakes are in the past. I believe that we can inquire into them properly without in any way undermining the authority or effectiveness of what our troops and our coalition partners, particularly the United States, are trying to do in Iraq. I believe that it is a red herring for the Government to say that the timing is wrong. The timing is certainly wrong for a whole inquiry, but there would be nothing wrong with the timing of the first part of an inquiry, looking into how we reached this point and how such big strategic mistakes were made.

The second lie that I want to nail, which is in the Government amendment, is that there have already been four inquiries. The right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton dealt with that to some extent, but I want to deal with it in a little more detail, because I was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee that reported on the issue.

The Hutton inquiry was nothing to do with the war in Iraq. It was to do with the death of Dr. David Kelly. The terms were drawn up by the Government and were very tightly prescribed, although the Government were extremely generous with witnesses and papers. They did not show such generosity to the Foreign Affairs Committee. The Hutton inquiry obtained every witness that it wanted, but it was nothing to do with the intelligence or the decisions that put us in this situation in the first place.

The Butler inquiry was useful. It examined the intelligence, and it was the only inquiry that found anything particularly new. It produced some very damaging evidence, mainly about the style of government—which I think tells us something about the process by which the issues were considered—but also about the fact that intelligence was at least mis-sold to Parliament, and did not quite justify what was in the September 2002 dossier.

The third inquiry was conducted by the Intelligence and Security Committee. The ISC is not a Committee of Parliament. It is appointed under statute by the Prime Minister, it reports to the Prime Minister, and for obvious reasons all its evidence sessions are held in private. Its original role was overseeing the intelligence services. It was not designed to inquire into particular uses of intelligence or particular policy decisions made on the basis of that intelligence, with or without it. It was designed to have oversight of the security services, which were felt not to be accountable to Parliament in any way, because accountability other than through departmental Ministers was very difficult. The Government, however, have used it as something to hide behind.

I was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee for, I think, seven years, until a few months ago. The Government would say, "Oh, we’ll give that intelligence to the Intelligence and Security Committee," as though that were an alternative to giving it to the Foreign Affairs Committee, when what was at stake was actually a foreign policy decision. I do not think that the Intelligence and Security Committee counts. The Committee that counts is the Foreign Affairs Committee, and our inquiry was obstructed by the Government.

I cannot remember another instance since I have been in the House of a Select Committee's publishing a special report to the House saying that its inquiry was obstructed, and inviting the House to consider what it might do as a result. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) listed some of the witnesses and papers that we were refused. Our report stated:

"We are strongly of the view that we were entitled to a greater degree of co-operation from the Government on access to witnesses and to intelligence material."

It was a unanimous report, produced by a Committee with a Labour majority. The only way in which the Committee could have sought to insist on the attendance of witnesses would have been to seek a resolution of the House, which, effectively, would require Government approval.

I think that Parliament must decide whether it is serious about its Select Committees. We are pretty awful at holding the Government to account. So was the Labour party when we were in government, and so it will be again when we are back in government. I do not think that this is a party political issue. I think that the House must decide whether it is serious, and if it serious, whether Select Committees are the answer. We need a better mechanism than having to come back here and pass a resolution of the whole House to force the Government to comply with requirements with which they have already effectively agreed to comply.

Our Committee asked for named civil servants and specific pieces of paper, and was denied them. We received a letter saying, "The Foreign Secretary will answer for all these people." That is not what the rules say. When Robin Butler was the permanent head of the civil service he reinforced the Osmotherly rules, which stated that if a Committee asked for a named civil servant, that civil servant had a duty to attend. In exceptional circumstances, it might be necessary for civil servants' Ministers to answer for them. But we were not offered the Secretary of State for Defence, and we were not offered the Prime Minister himself. We were offered the Foreign Secretary to answer for all those civil servants, and I think that that was unsatisfactory.

It is interesting to note that all those people attended the inquiries of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and the Hutton inquiry. At the Hutton inquiry they gave evidence in public. All the papers that the Foreign Affairs Committee requested—which we were prepared to take on restricted terms, as we have with many other papers in the past—were offered to those inquiries quite openly. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) will wind up the debate. If not, I ask him to invite the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram) to deal with this issue. The Government must stop saying that there has been an inquiry of the House just because the Foreign Affairs Committee conducted an inquiry. We were obstructed, and we published a report saying that we had been obstructed, to which all the Committee's Labour members subscribed.

Our motion calls for—and everyone talks about—an external inquiry, as if we were incapable of performing this function for ourselves. I return to my point that the main function of the House of Commons, or at least of those Members who are not in the Government, is to hold the Government to account. One of our mechanisms for doing that is Select Committees. We should not abdicate the first difficult inquiry to a judge, as someone suggested. I happen to think that a High Court judge is the last person who should conduct such an inquiry. It would take five years, we would end up with a million volumes of evidence, and—as happened with the Scott inquiry—all who wished to do so would be able to pick out some bit of it that suited their argument. We need the House to be able to perform its functions. I think that if our Select Committee had been given the powers that it was supposed to have, we could have done it, although we might have needed some additional resources. The first step should be a Committee of the House; we should not be abdicating our responsibilities to other people.



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