Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hague - The June 24 debate

News Wed 24th Jun 2009

Iraq inquiry move was 'monumental mess'

William Hague has accused the prime minister of making a "monumental mess" of the proposed inquiry into the Iraq War.

Addressing MPs during a Conservative-led debate in the Commons, the shadow foreign secretary criticised the government for inadequately consulting with opposition parties before announcing the terms of the inquiry.

He said the chairman of the inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, was now engaged in a process of consultation that if the prime minster that was "doing his job properly" would have been carried out beforehand.

Gordon Brown initially indicated to the Commons that evidence would be heard in private, but has since backtracked and suggested that Sir John could decide to hold public sessions.

Hague said the prime minister was now busy performing a U-turn much like a "learner driver doing a six point turn having started off the wrong way down the motorway".

Drawing comparison to the Franks inquiry which followed the Falklands war, he said the then Conservative government engaged in "wide and lengthy" consultation with opposition parties.

The shadow foreign secretary said the proposed Iraq inquiry was not "remotely" like the Franks inquiry, except that it would be held behind closed doors.

"They decided to take to take one aspect that suited them, that it was held in secret," he said.

Hague also criticised the proposed membership of the inquiry, branding it "too narrow" as "some experience of ministerial office" was desirable.

"Not a single member has high level governmental or military experience," he said.

It was also "unnatural and unnecessary" to impose a prohibition on apportioning blame on the inquiry.

The way the inquiry was announced was a "recipe for confusion rather than clarity", he concluded.

Rejecting the criticism, David Miliband said he was confident Sir John would deliver an inquiry of "insight and value".

Quoting remarks made by Hague to the Commons in March 2008, the foreign secretary said the inquiry was "not a trial or impeachment, but an effort to learn for the future".

The inquiry is not to "establish civil or criminal liability", he added.

And Miliband defended the members of the inquiry as "outstanding figures in their respective fields".

"The five people appointed to the inquiry are there because of their ability to sift material and ask hard and probing questions," he stated.

The foreign secretary added that the inquiry would be held in public "as much as possible", but challenged on the specifics he said he was "not going to put a percentage on it".

But Miliband noted that it was the intention of Sir John to conduct as much of the inquiry as possible in public. "We do support the approach that Sir John has set out," he added.

For the Liberal Democrats, David Heath said his party wanted an inquiry that was not designed to "protect either the former prime minister or anybody else" but one that is "capable and arriving at the facts".

It was quite clear that consultation on the inquiry was "fastidious in its inadequacy", he added.

Heath said Sir John had been placed in an "impossible situation" of having to consult after the government announcement had been made.

Sir John has indicated he will summon Brown and Tony Blair to give evidence in public.

But he has so far given no indication of the timings of his hearings, which means he could hold politically sensitive sessions after the general election.


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