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The inquiry will be essentially an inquisitorial process. It will not be the same as a court of law, which is confrontational. It needs to be able to scrutinise and sift material carefully, and it must also follow lines of inquiry. I share the view of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks that we need to ensure that the inquiry has access to those who are expert in the particular areas that need to be explored. It may be that the panel of assessors will cover all those areas, but Sir John Chilcot will have to be exceptionally careful to ensure that it does. But I would go further. Those inquiries that are most effective have the benefit of a counsel to the inquiry—someone who is expert in cross-examination and with experience of it in courts of law or elsewhere, and who can follow a line of
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inquiry in a way that no lay member of a committee, however experienced and competent, can do. I strongly argue that the inquiry should have the benefit of a counsel to the inquiry to provide that expert support, in terms of identifying the necessary written evidence and guiding lines of inquiry. I hope that Sir John Chilcot will accept that suggestion.

The power to summons is not included in the terms of reference for the inquiry. The Prime Minister has provided an exhortation to people to be prepared to give evidence to the inquiry. I hope that that takes the form of an order to members of the Government in the wider sense—including civil servants and former Ministers—to give evidence to the inquiry. I hope—and I trust that Conservative Members agree—that if there is any request for evidence from our parties, we would be prepared to provide it in person and in supporting material. There were occasions, especially in the lead-up to the war, on which contacts were made by several parties with counterparts in the US and elsewhere that are relevant to the conduct of the war and the expectation that this House would support it.

It has been made clear that Government papers will be provided, and the Foreign Secretary was explicit about Cabinet papers today. Can he be explicit about whether that will include legal advice to Cabinet, because that has so far been officially withheld? Will it be made available— [ Interruption. ] The Foreign Secretary says from a sedentary position that it will be provided, so we have broken through that final barrier, that we have been arguing now for so long—that the legal advice on which the war was waged will be available to this inquiry and will be made public. I am very pleased to have had that answer. I hope that it will not be redacted to a plain piece of black paper—we shall see.

Clare Short: Just for clarity, the legal advice appeared at the last minute in an answer to a parliamentary question in the House of Lords. The other legal advice, which was never circulated to Cabinet, came out when it was leaked during the election campaign. There was no other legal advice.

Mr. Heath: We had leaked advice, but it is a fundamental shift of policy by the Government formally to allow sight of the legal advice to the Cabinet. I am delighted that the Foreign Secretary has made that point and we shall see whether there is any other legal advice that was forthcoming in the context of the lead-up to the war. It is relevant.

May I move to the issue of evidence under oath? I agree entirely with those who say that the best way of dealing with that is for this House to give authority to the inquiry to take evidence under oath. This is not an inquiry under the terms of the Inquiries Act 2005. It is not a court of law. However, it is nevertheless quite open to the House explicitly to give that power. I believe that the inquiry, in any case, has the right under law to receive evidence under oath. I have been looking carefully—this might surprise some hon. Members—at the Evidence Act 1851, and section 16 is still extant in this area. It states:

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That confers a power not just on court officials but on any person and if both parties are agreed, they can give evidence under oath. That is important because once they have sworn an oath, they are subject to the laws of perjury. That is the key point— [ Interruption. ] The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox) disagrees with me on this point, but I have advice from another learned gentleman that that is precisely what would happen. The hon. and learned Gentleman must explain to me why it would not.

Mr. Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): In order for someone to be found guilty of perjury—or to be charged with perjury—it has to be demonstrated that the events were proceedings within the meaning of the common law. The difficulty about an informal inquiry that is not set up under the Inquiries Act is that it is quite likely that a court would hold that its proceedings were not proceedings of that character. Clarification is needed, at the very least.

Mr. Heath: Clarification is certainly needed, and I am not equipped to argue points of law with the hon. and learned Gentleman, save to say that any affidavit sworn before an officer of the court is subject to the law of perjury and that certainly is not within the course of proceedings.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): There is one way of getting out of this confusion, and that is for this House to pass a one clause Bill enabling the committee to administer the oath within the proceedings.

Mr. Heath: I think that that is the case, but I am not even sure that it needs an Act of Parliament. I think that a mere resolution of this House could confer that right. I do not understand why the Secretary of State or any other member of the Government should resist such a move, because it seems so self-evidently necessary. Although I welcome the fact that Sir John Chilcot has said that he wants to specify to witnesses the need to be truthful, I do not think that that suffices in the context of an inquiry of this nature.

Sir Menzies Campbell: I am not sure that I am going to be entirely helpful to my hon. Friend, for which I hope that he will forgive me. The material part of the quotation that he read was the words “by consent”. In those circumstances, if a witness came before something that might not be proceedings in the technical sense and he or she declined to give consent, clearly the provisions of the statute to which he referred would not apply. As has just been pointed out, the straightforward way to do this is either with a piece of legislation or a resolution of the House empowering Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry to put witnesses on oath and, more to the point, compelling them to attend.

Mr. Heath: I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. That is the weakness of the position—that provision depends on mutual consent—but, of course, if a witness was not prepared to accept the provisions of an oath by mutual consent, it would be in order for the inquiry to draw conclusions about the veracity of the evidence that was then adduced.

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Dr. Tony Wright: Let me try to be additionally helpful on that point. Surely the essential difficulty is that the Inquiries Act abolished the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, which required a resolution of this House. Under that Act, all the powers that we are talking about were included. Parliament has given up the ability to enforce these provisions and needs to rediscover it.

Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am delighted to say to him that if he is in the House on 7 July, he will hear that a ten-minute Bill in my name, the parliamentary commissions of inquiry Bill, will be introduced that restores the right of the House to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman’s Committee has recommended—that is, to be able to set up parliamentary commissions of inquiry independent of the Executive. That is exactly what this House should have the power to do.

It surely cannot be right for witnesses to limit their preparedness to provide evidence. That means that someone cannot breeze in and say to the inquiry, “Right, I’ve got an hour and then I’m off to Dusseldorf. I’m sorry, but that’s what you’ve got, so please ask your questions and then I will be on my way.” Frankly, we have seen that happen when people have appeared before Select Committees and it must not happen before an inquiry.

As has already been said, the inquiry has an enormous remit and it breaks down into various parts. I welcome the fact that it has a large remit, but I do not welcome the almost interminable delay in producing any response that might be occasioned by the size of the remit. It is important that we therefore have phasing—I do not know why the Foreign Secretary finds this amusing. It is quite clear that conduct before the war is quite different from the conduct of the war, which is quite different from the peacebuilding operation. It is perfectly proper for the inquiry to consider those matters separately and in turn and to produce interim reports. I see absolutely no reason why, in the first instance, it should not consider the matters that preceded the involvement of the United Kingdom in this conflict and report on that. It does not need to take a huge amount of time from now for that to happen. I strongly commend to the inquiry that it phases its work in such a way. If we can assist by giving an indication from this House that that would be our preference, I think that we should.

The Iraq war was, in the view of many of us, a quite massive failure of British foreign policy that was aided and abetted by those on both sides of the House who were not prepared, perhaps, to consider the evidence with sufficient assiduity. It is essential that we form a view, that we learn from experience and that we provide the truth, as far as we can, by means of this inquiry. That will help all those who have enormous concern about the conduct of the war—they expressed it at the time and have expressed it since—all those who have been involved through the military and who have seen at first hand the difficulties, and all those who wanted the rebuilding of Iraq to take place with greater coherence of strategy and policy than was the case.

Until we have a proper open, transparent, rigorous public inquiry into these matters, those lessons will not be learned. That is why I will recommend that my right hon. and hon. Friends support the motion tabled in the name of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. I hope that the House will speak clearly on this matter,
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because I do not believe that the Government will not take acquiescence with their proposed amendment today as approbation for the inquiry that they seek. I do not believe that the matter will come back to the House again on a Government motion. I believe that this is the last time that we will have the opportunity to speak on it and we must make our voices heard.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I should remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

2.9 pm

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): Following that injunction, I think that we should all try not to revisit the substantive arguments about the Iraq war, on which we all took vigorous and divergent positions. For myself, I anticipated that I would support the Iraq war. I was a great admirer of the former Prime Minister—as, indeed, I am a great admirer of the current Prime Minister, and as I will be of any future Prime Minister from the Labour Benches—but I was also taken with the courage of his devotion to the cause of liberal interventionism and of trying to do good against evil in the world.

I was therefore in the market for military adventure, but the problem was that I could not follow the logic of the argument. I am sure that many others shared that problem. When we talk about the inquiry, the central and abiding questions that it has to engage with are as follows: how did we get from 9/11 to March 2003? How did we get from the twin towers to the invasion of Iraq? What was the policy narrative that took us from one to the other?

Everyone has constructed their own narratives about these events, some of which will remain forever unverified. For example, I think that we shall never know about the legality of what was done. The nature of international law is such that we shall never come to a settled view on that. We can discover more about the process by which the Government took legal advice and so on, but I do not think that we will ever settle central questions of that kind. However, I do think that what we will be able to discover will enable us to understand far better the policy process that took us from 9/11 to the Iraq war. Further questions involve what happened after the invasion, and why we had so much trouble managing the peace in the years that followed.

The inquiry needs to tell us all that because, as has been said, public confidence in our governing process has no chance of being restored unless we can find a narrative that people can test. They need to feel that the process has at least been properly interrogated and examined, and an inquiry is absolutely essential for that purpose.

One of the difficulties with what the Government announced was that they seemed not to understand that that would be a central purpose of the inquiry. It is, of course, absolutely pivotal that we learn all the lessons, and the Government were right in the way that they established the scope of the inquiry and its extensive period. However, to think that the inquiry would be just about learning lessons—important though that is—is to fail to understand what its several purposes have to be.

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Inquiries always have several purposes, but a major purpose of this inquiry must be the one that I am describing—to get inside the policy process so that we can begin to answer the questions that still hang in the air and so contaminate people’s trust in that process. Without wanting to insert my own narrative into the events, I believe that an inquiry therefore has to be a huge process of decontamination, as it were, of the decline in trust occasioned by what happened.

As I said in an earlier intervention, we are in a much better place now than we were just a few days ago. If I may say so, I did not feel that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary’s heart and mind were fully engaged by what he was telling us today. I think that I have known him well enough and long enough to know when his heart and mind are fully engaged in what he is saying. I think that he had to say what he said but, if I may say so, I do not think that he quite believed it.

The truth is—and we need to be truthful, as this is a big issue—that what has happened is an object lesson in how not to set up an inquiry. I do not say that with any pleasure, but it is simply the fact of the matter. The terms of the Opposition motion are entirely right, and the only thing that would constrain me from voting for it is the certain shamelessness on their part in putting it forward.

With his usual ingenuity, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) sought to explain what his party really wanted when it called repeatedly for a Franks-style inquiry. That, of course, was a private, Privy Counsellor, inquiry, but the right hon. Gentleman said that that was not what he actually meant and that what the Opposition really wanted was all kinds of other things.

If I was confused by that, I am not surprised that my right hon. Friend Prime Minister was too—or that he might have thought that he was giving the Opposition what they had asked for. The Opposition, realising that a different political moment has arrived, now pop up and say that they were in favour of a public inquiry all along, but that is simply not the case.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): The hon. Gentleman’s record on these matters is impeccable and I apologise for interrupting him in mid flow, but when I was Leader of the Opposition we called for a full public inquiry. That was before the Opposition adopted the present position—and, by the way, we did not use Franks as a caveat.

Dr. Wright: Obviously, I was completely misled by what was said in the House at the time. I am sure that closer textual analysis would have revealed all the caveats in place then, but I am explaining why it is difficult to sign up to the Conservative motion today, even though I think that its terms are entirely right.

I think that we have to do better with the inquiry’s terms of reference; it is not satisfactory to have an inquiry with no formal terms of reference. The period that has been set out is the correct one, and there has been a statement about learning the lessons of what happened in that time, but we must do better in establishing the inquiry’s formal terms of reference—that is, what its purpose is.

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Should the inquiry be public or private? Anyone who has thought about that for a moment will understand that, 30-odd years after Franks, it is not possible to announce that an inquiry of this kind on a central public policy issue could be conducted entirely in private. We have only to sniff the air to know that that is not doable any more.

It is right to say that, after Hutton, some people will damn all inquiries even before they start. Yet the Hutton inquiry operated in public and had its own website: all the material was posted there for people to interrogate for themselves, and the sky did not fall in. Government did not become impossible, and in the present circumstances it was just not sustainable—and nor should it be—to announce an inquiry into the Iraq war and say that it would be held entirely in private.

The composition of the inquiry is well worth attending to, as several hon. Members have noted. What is the best balance of expertise that will be required? How will the inquiry be conducted? There is much merit in thinking about segmenting the inquiry. The huge, dominant issue has to do with the run-up to the war and the decision to go to war, but a second issue is what happened with the preparation for after the war. What was the cause of all the trouble then?

I can see that it would be possible to conduct the first part of such an inquiry in a much shorter time than the whole thing would need. It may well be that Sir John Chilcot will think that a sensible way to proceed, but he certainly could have been pointed in that direction.

I want to repeat, very quickly, the point that I made in my intervention on the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), as the House needs to understand why it has been marginalised in these matters. I set out the position under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 because it inserted Parliament, albeit in a formal sense, in the centre of the process involved in setting up an inquiry. That process gave an inquiry all the powers of a High Court judge. All the procedural rules were in place, and the inquiry had all the authority of Parliament behind it. That was converted into a parliamentary resolution, with terms of reference. What we have done is to allow the Executive to remove Parliament’s residual role from the process of setting up an inquiry.

When our Select Committee looked at this, we were particularly concerned about circumstances where Governments did not want to set up an inquiry, but having one was in the public interest. In those circumstances, how could Parliament itself initiate the process of having an inquiry? For a time, that was the issue with Iraq. It looked as though the Government were less than keen about having an Iraq inquiry, and Parliament did not have any mechanism to bring one about.

Now we have had the announcement on the Iraq inquiry, but Parliament has not been involved in the process of thinking about some of the issues—about purpose, terms of reference, composition and so forth. That would have been the normal procedure until the previous position was abolished. I thus invite the House of Commons as part of its general project at the moment of reclaiming—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

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