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From the Order Paper, one of the central questions for the Secretary of State is: what is that “scope” for taking an oath? Ministers must have questioned, and been advised on, that central proposition, but earlier we saw the Foreign Secretary, in that wonderful, elegant and nonchalant way, dance away from the question—all the time. It was about the scope, and people should inquire, ask around and find out. The Government do not know? Of course they know. Those are the deceits that follow from propositions that are foisted upon this House by the Executive on the advice of Whitehall. I have no idea what the advice in Whitehall was, but I do not doubt that Whitehall would have asked itself the question and advised the Government that the decision about whether evidence would be on oath or not had implications.

That is why this matter is a struggle for this Chamber—we, as elected representatives of the people, checking and holding to account a Government. Since I voted for the war, I have noted and shared some of the emotions of other Members. Events have moved on, and we have had the inquiry into the circumstances of the death of Dr. Kelly. What a revelation! There were all the e-mails. Who were they from? Alastair Campbell to John—now, Sir John—Scarlett, the head of intelligence. The Prime Minister’s special adviser also said that the contents of one memorandum—the dodgy memorandum—did not seem to lead to the conclusion. What conclusion? The conclusion to go to war. It was altered. We know that from the Hutton inquiry and from the silence of the Foreign Office—the dog that did not bark in the night. There are no e-mails coming from the now Lord Chancellor—the lord high panjandrum—to inquire about intelligence. There is MI6, too. What about the Ministry of Defence, the Department at which the former Chief Whip of the Labour party was then Secretary of State? The defence intelligence unit was querying what the single source was.

Here am I, having taken the word of a British Prime Minister, seeing unravel the very props with which I reinforced my vote. I want to know, in a proper and full inquiry, the circumstances surrounding how we went to war. I want to be able to reconcile in my mind the contradictions between, “I know nothing about the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. Kelly,” and,
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“I am responsible for all these matters.” That was the then Prime Minister in front of Hutton and in conversation on an aeroplane. When I asked the then Prime Minister about the issue on the Floor of the House, he said, “Oh! We must wait until the outcome of the Hutton inquiry.” Did Hutton answer the question? Did he reconcile the two seemingly contradictory statements? Not a bit of it.

I want an inquiry, as does every Member who is really serious about the business of the House and our representative function. It should explicitly look into the matters of concern affecting a matter of great public policy—going to war. As the Prime Minister tolls out the lives of others who have been sent to Iraq, we are tolling our own bell. We need no servants to inquire; we should be the dynamic in the process of establishing the appropriate form for an inquiry.

6.6 pm

Mr. Dai Davies (Blaenau Gwent) (Ind): As I look around the Chamber, I see that I am probably the junior Member. Today Members have made some of the most powerful and incisive speeches that I have heard in the more than three years I have been here, and that shows the importance of the decision to go to war with Iraq. I have considered why I came to this House, and the main reason is that I could not get 55,000 people into the Chamber. So I have come on their behalf, to express their views and concerns.

I fully understand that the Prime Minister cannot visit supermarkets or pop down the pub, as some of us can, to hear what constituents say on the street. But I cannot accept the fact that the policy of the Government is being made by people who are not elected to the House. The Government came here and made a statement on the Iraq inquiry, which they said would be in private, and someone unelected then changed the mind of the Prime Minister. That cannot be right.

We have waited six years for an inquiry. None of us, inside the House or outside it, criticised the armed forces once war was declared, and rightly so; we have supported them and should continue to do so. However, the inquiry has been on the books for a considerable time. For the sake of a few more days, we must hold fire and allow the House to make the decision on the composition, remit and powers of the inquiry. If we do not, its very legitimacy will be lost. That legitimacy is needed to put at rest the minds of the families of those who have been killed and injured, and for the sake of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people who died during the war. We must make sure that the inquiry has the legitimacy of public debate.

Within that debate, we understand that some things—they should be the exception—might have to be discussed and considered in private. But the vast majority of the debate must be held in public. The people of this country have rightly expressed their anger and concern, given how the expenses issue has blown up in the press. But I would rather that the press had a field day with a public inquiry than made things up because the inquiry was held in private. We need to be open and transparent, and we must achieve that through the House.

Considering why we went to war is the primary reason for the inquiry. There is no doubt about that, and we have heard it said many times this afternoon.
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That must be the main focus of the inquiry, but many of my constituents are concerned also about the strategy of the war and the fact that we had no exit strategy. We did not really know how we would leave Iraq, and in fact there is still a lot of answering to be done about that.

One major concern that has been expressed to me on many occasions is the equipment that has been used in Iraq, or the lack of it. That is a concern for today, not just in Iraq but in the war that we are fighting in Afghanistan, and it must be addressed.

The Hutton inquiry was held in public and reported regularly throughout the time for which it was held. I hope that that will be the case as and when we settle the terms of reference for this inquiry. There must be regular reports, and certainly having to wait 12 months for the first part of the report is unacceptable. If the Government cannot step back tonight and think again about how the inquiry will be set up, and especially about the composition of the inquiry panel, I urge all hon. Members to support the official Opposition’s motion.

6.11 pm

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak at the end of this important debate. Right hon. and hon. Members have made some powerful arguments, to which I hope the Government have listened. I wish to place on record my concern about what the outcome of the inquiry will be, because some basic schoolboy errors have been made in Iraq that we could learn from. We do not need an inquiry to understand where mistakes have been made, but we are now leaning on one to tell us that. I wonder why the Government are not learning some of the lessons that could already have been put into effect in other theatres of operation.

For example, we know that the justification for going to war in the first place was based on what the Americans wanted to do. General Tommy Franks was told by President Bush to make preparations for a potential war in Iraq back in November 2001, when he was in charge of the United States Central Command, having just succeeded in launching the invasion in Afghanistan. We know that the evidence of weapons of mass destruction was based on a single source, an Iraqi chemical officer who went into a German refugee camp. That was never authorised or seconded, but it ended up being translated into the claim of the existence of tactical weapons that could be used in 45 minutes and possibly hit Cyprus.

Hon. Members voted on resolution 1441, which did not allow the invasion of Iraq. It allowed us to return to a previous resolution, resolution 678, written 11 years earlier in 1990, to allow the use of force. Huge mistakes were made, and I hope that the inquiry will pull them out. We walked blindly into a war with Iraq, which turned out to be a massive distraction from another operation that had already started, in Afghanistan, which is still ongoing.

Everybody has repeated the need to learn lessons. That is the point of an inquiry, but my argument is that we know some of the lessons already, yet we are failing to recognise them. Once the decision to go to Iraq was made, I was astonished to learn—but pleased with the honesty of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) for admitting it—that there was no plan by the Department for International Development about what to do once the war fighting started.

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The invasion took place in March 2003, and of course there was huge euphoria, particularly about the liberation of Basra considering what had happened under Saddam Hussein. I have had a discussion with General Robin Brims, the commander of 1 (UK) Armoured Division, who said that in April 2003 he went into the middle of Basra when the dust had settled and knew straight away that things were going to go pear-shaped. He knew that gangs would be formed and militias created, simply because there was a massive vacuum as there was no plan. He did not know what to do except watch very sadly as the security situation deteriorated.

Clare Short: Just to make this clear, I have not said that there were no plans. Detailed plans were made with the State Department, the UN and other international agencies. The hon. Gentleman is from the military. DFID and the humanitarian agencies cannot bring peace in an occupied territory—that is a military job. I do not honour the attempt to pass over to the humanitarian agencies the responsibility for the chaos after the invasion.

Mr. Ellwood: The right hon. Lady is actually making my point for me. Whose responsibility is it to make peace? Is it the military’s? The military provide the security on top of the hill. Something else has to happen in the village below, however, to ensure that the reconstruction takes place, that the schools are built and that the electricity is turned on—all the things that are involved in nation building. That is not the role of the military, although I would like it to be; rather, it was the responsibility of DFID. The right hon. Lady admitted to sending a diktat to the directors in her Department saying, “Do nothing. We’re not even sure that this war is legal.” I admire her consistency in the matter, but it does not help anybody in military uniform being sent over the start line by this Government then to realise that once the war fighting has stopped, we do not have a plan to keep the peace. That is where things went so pear-shaped.

By 2004, the number of civilian deaths had risen to 20,000 a year and the number of UK military deaths had risen to 800 a year. By 2007, the situation had deteriorated so much that we had become part of the problem. We went from liberators to occupiers. A personal friend of mine who was leading 2nd Battalion the Rifles was made to leave Basra palace with his tail between his legs because he had become part of the problem. He had to return to the comfort of the air base, never to participate in proper patrolling again. Why? Because we did not have the plan for peace. That is the big lesson to be learned by the Government, but we do not need an inquiry to learn it. That is the point that I am stressing. I am afraid that we are making exactly the same mistakes in Afghanistan.

It should not be that we spend three weeks war fighting and six years engaged in failed stabilisation. We must look at the type of warfare in which we are now involved. It is not called warfare any more; it is counter-insurgency, and we must recognise that we are not very good at it. General Petraeus has said that it is no longer good enough simply to defeat the enemy; we have to go further and enable the local. Until we get that into our heads, we will continue to fail as we are doing.

I stress that we cannot expect the military to do that work: they are not trained to do it, nor are they equipped. We need a different type of equipment to do post-conflict
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stabilisation operations. As we have heard, DFID does not do that either. DFID does what it says on the tin: it tackles poverty. There is therefore a huge void that needs to be filled if we want not only to win wars, but to win the peace as well. At the moment, we are winning wars but losing the peacekeeping. Those are the lessons that we can learn without the need for an inquiry.

I hope that the inquiry looks into what Whitehall did. I would like a huge overhaul of the way in which we approach post-conflict operations. It is no good trying to get soldiers to maintain a level of security when they see the demise of the infrastructure around them, with nobody willing to step forward and do the job. It is in that fragile window of opportunity—those few weeks to months after the war fighting has finished when the dust settles—that we want to win hearts and minds.

Mr. Heald: My hon. Friend is making a powerful case, with which I strongly agree. Does he agree that it is vital to put in place a proper civil justice system, so that we do not face the sort of situation that we face in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have been left to provide the judging and resolve disputes?

Mr. Ellwood: My hon. Friend makes such a valid point. That is the level of detail that needs to be looked at. It is not just the justice system that is important, however; it is the training of the police and the armed forces. Who is doing that now? Our armed forces are doing it, because of an absence of anybody else. Let us bite the bullet and recognise that our military are in the best place to do that. Our Royal Engineers are capable of making the roads and rebuilding the schools and so forth. They are capable of showing the locals that they mean business—that they want to help and then to go home. They do not want to hang around in a conflict zone for six years and watch the security situation deteriorate.

What happened in Iraq was appalling, and I am afraid that Whitehall should take the blame for that. As the security situation deteriorated, because nobody bothered to try to fill the power vacuum, who came into Iraq? Al-Qaeda did, making its home there and making the job of providing security all the more tough. Those are the lessons. Do we need an inquiry? Yes, of course, it would help; but boy, we could have learned those lessons many moons ago. I am pleased to see the Secretary of State for Defence in the Chamber now. I stress that we need to wake up to our capability and to what we are doing. The Americans have done so, but we have not. Until we do so, we will struggle to win these campaigns after the war fighting has finished.

In the long history of British engagements, Iraq was far from being our finest hour. That was no fault of our armed forces, who can hold their heads up high. The blame falls squarely on Whitehall, which failed to plan for peace. We cannot totally blame the Americans. I am now aware that Colin Powell had 15 737s on the runway with all the reconstruction gear and an army of civil servants, but Basra was our responsibility and we failed to make the effort to make the reconstruction work.

I hope that the inquiry will exonerate our military forces of mismanaging the peace. They are feeling the blame at the moment and, although they cannot say so publicly, they are deeply angry about the demise of the
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security situation, supposedly on their watch. I hope that these blatant errors will be recognised and acknowledged by the inquiry so that lessons can be learned, although I am afraid that some of the errors are already being repeated in Afghanistan. There is a gaping hole in our post-conflict stabilisation capability, and I hope that the inquiry will expedite a desire to fix it.

6.21 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I have been present at virtually every debate on Iraq for the past seven years. I never thought that, seven years on, we would still be debating the legality of, and responsibility for, the war, and how to conduct a proper investigation into it. The image of Parliament has suffered enormously over the past few weeks—nay, the past few months. If we fudge this issue tonight and decline to hold the kind of open, public, legally based, oath-taking, subpoenaed inquiry that is required, yes, there will be a report—some kind of bowdlerised version of what happened will be produced by a group of Privy Counsellors, and everyone will go away and say, “That’s fine”—but the demand for an inquiry will still be there, culpability will still be sought and the responsibility will still rest on those people who took us into the conflict. Fudging the issue tonight will merely delay the debate until another day, and another day after that.

I was one of those who helped to organise the massive demonstration in 2003, and I have attended hundreds of meetings all over the country against the invasion of Iraq and the legality of the war. The 1 million and more people who came to London on that day in 2003—and the millions more around the country who attended local demonstrations, wrote to their MPs, sent e-mails, signed petitions or simply expressed an opinion against the war—felt very let down by Parliament on that occasion. They also felt very let down by the political system, and a whole generation of young people have now been radicalised to question the effectiveness of this place and to wonder what is the point of a political system that can take us into a war that turns out to be illegal and then blinker its eyes to the consequences. We need to take some serious decisions tonight.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Like me, my hon. Friend was on that great march in 2003. Does he agree that part of the disillusion with the political system stems from people’s sadness and bitterness that so many people could have been out on the streets of London that day and yet be ignored by the political establishment?

Jeremy Corbyn: Absolutely. My Friend gets that message about Iraq in her constituency, as every Member does, and it simply will not go away. Many Members—on this side of the House and on the Opposition Benches—publicly regret the way they voted on that occasion, and many, many more do so privately. They know that they were told falsehoods in the lead-up to the war, and they have also seen the consequences and the costs of it.

The Prime Minister of the day, Tony Blair, said in terms in the House that this war was about removing the weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. A short time later, he, the then Foreign Secretary and others
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were involved in ensuring that Hans Blix and Mohamed el-Baradei were not allowed back into Iraq to continue the process of inspection and disarmament that they were so effectively carrying out at that time.

The Prime Minister also said in a broadcast the day after the vote in Parliament that this war was about getting rid of Saddam Hussein and regime change. George Bush, on the other hand, was relatively straightforward in that he said it was always about regime change. They cannot have it all ways and there should have been honesty towards us in that respect.

I use the figures carefully, but well over 500,000 Iraqis have died since 2003. The living standards of many are no better. Instability in many cases is far worse, and I say that not as somebody who was ever an apologist for or defender of the Saddam Hussein regime. Indeed, there is plenty of recorded opposition from me and some other Members to arms sales to Iraq in the 1980s.

We have spent billions of pounds of UK public money on this war. We have lost 179 soldiers. Many more have been seriously injured and traumatised by the experience. During the activities of the Stop the War Coalition, I have had the good fortune to meet many military families who have joined Military Families Against the War. They tell in graphic detail what it was like to lose their son or daughter, how their son or daughter has been badly injured and traumatised by this event and how angry they feel at how they were led into this situation.

The legality of war is an interesting concept; the idea that going to war can be legalised is itself an interesting concept. Nevertheless, there is such a concept and it revolves around the UN charter, a real and credible threat to an individual country, and the UN itself. If resolution 1441, as we were told later, gave us the authority to go to war, why did the Foreign Secretary and others put such great effort into getting a second UN resolution that was then not possible? The Secretary-General of the United Nations said in terms at the end of the conflict that he believed the actions to be illegal.

We must look now to what an inquiry can do. A week ago, the Prime Minister announced in the wake of the famous parliamentary Labour party meeting that there would be an inquiry on the war in Iraq. I thought, “Good news, at last a real change. Let’s have an inquiry.” We would have been better off having no inquiry whatever than what we were presented with a week ago—a private inquiry of Privy Counsellors sitting around together.

The Government have made concessions in saying that some of the inquiry will be held in public, but the idea that the chair of the inquiry should consult on the terms of the inquiry with people who themselves may be subject to that inquiry seems a little wide of serious and strong inquisitive action on the whole process and the war in Iraq.

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