House of Commons
Thursday 14 July 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Energy and Climate Change
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. What assessment she has made of the potential contribution of deep geothermal as a source of renewable energy. 
If you will allow me, Mr Speaker, may I take this opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), the new Home Secretary, on her appointment, and also of course our new Prime Minister, the former Home Secretary? I wish them both great success. I also welcome the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) to his place; I think this is the first time we have had an exchange over the Dispatch Box. I wish the hon. Members for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) very good luck in their futures, too; I have enjoyed our exchanges.
Owing to our geology, deep geothermal power is likely to make a small contribution to electricity supply. However, Cornwall is one area where the technology can work and I am pleased that this is part of the devolution deal for Cornwall. Deep geothermal heat has greater potential and we are supporting its development through the renewable heat incentive and through feasibility studies funded by the heat network delivery unit.
I thank the Minister for that response. Deep geothermal has the great benefit of being a baseload energy source that is not reliant on variable weather conditions, and, as the Minister points out, Cornwall is one place where great potential for geothermal lies. As she is aware, a scheme is being developed at the Eden project in my constituency. May I invite her to visit Cornwall to see for herself the huge potential that there is for geothermal development there?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend; nothing would please me more than a nice holiday in Cornwall right now. I am very pleased to hear that the EGS Energy and Eden project development is progressing well and, as he knows, it has the potential to produce power for about 4,000 homes and to make a very important contribution to the local community.
The truth is that the Ernst & Young renewable energy attractiveness index shows that the UK has fallen from the seventh most attractive country to invest in to the 13th. Following Brexit, that is only going to get worse, so what is the Minister doing to reverse that trend?
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance the UK has been the fourth highest investor in clean energy globally for the past five years. Over half the total investment in the EU in 2015 occurred in the UK. We have a very proud record and we are set to exceed our own targets for generating renewable energy by 2020. That is a very proud achievement for this country.
Iceland has a fantastic football team, a free trade agreement of its own with China and is outside the EU. It is also the world’s leader in geothermal energy. Are we drawing on Iceland’s expertise to develop this industry in our own country?
If my hon. Friend is referring to the taskforce for the interconnector with Iceland, let me say that I am a huge fan of that, and there will be a statement shortly about the progress that he will be aware has been made between the leaders of the UK and Iceland. I seriously hope we will be able to make progress with all sorts of bilateral energy deals in the future.
Energy Infrastructure: Use of British Steel
2. What steps her Department has taken to increase the use of British steel in energy infrastructure projects. 
Officials in my Department regularly meet developers to make clear the importance we place on sourcing UK content, including steel, in infrastructure projects. For example, EDF says it expects that a large proportion of the steel for Hinkley Point C sourced by its supply chain will come from UK companies.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. As she will know, the Corby steelworks plays a vital role in manufacturing steel tubes which can be used for fracking purposes. Does she agree it is very important that, wherever possible, we use British steel, not just because it supports the industry and the jobs it provides, but because the quality and safety of the product is far superior to that of foreign competitors?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I have had a number of meetings with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to discuss exactly this point. In its 2014 report “Getting ready for UK shale gas” Ernst & Young said there would be significant benefits for jobs and growth from a successful UK shale industry, including a projected need for over £2 billion-worth of steel.
15. The Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Industrial Coatings—SPECIFIC—national innovation centre in Neath Port Talbot relies on EU funding to use Tata British steel to develop buildings that are completely decarbonised. Such buildings lower household and business energy bills and help the UK to achieve its carbon reduction targets. Will the Minister support SPECIFIC in developing its use of British steel in its innovative projects, and replace any EU funds that might be lost as a result of Brexit? 
My Department has been working closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to look at how we can help Port Talbot with its energy costs. We have already made announcements about how we are going to reduce the impact of carbon policies on the steelworks in Port Talbot, and we will continue to look at further ways of helping, including considering how energy-intensive industries across the board can reduce their electricity costs by changing the way in which they generate power.
Does my hon. Friend agree that British steel can be used in energy infrastructure projects not just in the UK but around the world? Last week on a visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the International Development Committee, we saw the way in which Britain is leading in helping to provide energy infrastructure in that country.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. A good example of my own efforts to improve the use of UK steel has been to urge the Offshore Wind Industry Council to do more to promote UK content. The UK is one of the biggest deployers of offshore wind to date and we can certainly hope that, once we start building our export markets, British steel will form a part of those exports.
The Minister will be aware that the two Liberty steel plants, including Clydebridge in my constituency, will be heavily involved in the supply of turbine casings for tidal lagoon projects and tubular steel structures for offshore wind turbines. The renewables industry can provide a huge market for steel produced in Britain, which represents a huge opportunity for British businesses. Will the Minister commit to revisiting the Government’s approach to the subsidy of such renewables?
On the subsidies for renewables, we have made it clear that we must balance the need to keep costs down for consumers with the need of new technologies to be subsidised in order to deploy and keep their costs down. On offshore wind, we have made it clear that we see huge potential for the cost trajectory to go down. The offshore wind industry already has a target of 50% UK content, and I am certainly encouraging it to be more ambitious. That would absolutely include the use of British steel.
Hinkley Point is expected to be one of the largest construction projects this country has ever seen, and it will require more than 200,000 tonnes of steel. Does my hon. Friend agree that this will provide a huge opportunity for the British steel industry?
Yes, and I would expand that to include opportunities for the supply chain right across the UK. The Government are working with the industry to develop a demand model that will provide a capability and capacity picture for the UK against the demand. Part of the aim is to identify the forward requirement for the components, which will include steel. We are working closely with new nuclear developers to create that supply chain right across UK businesses.
Energy Market Competition
3. What her policy is on the proposals of the Competition and Markets Authority on increasing competition in the energy market. 
The Government welcome the Competition and Markets Authority’s final recommendations, which represent another step towards a competitive and effective energy market that works for all consumers, but it is key to understand that it is also the responsibility of energy suppliers to take action in response to the CMA’s recommendations, and we are meeting representatives of all the big six suppliers to urge them to do that.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on answering all the questions this morning and wish her the very best of luck with anything that might happen later. Does she agree that it is only by having greater competition in the market that we can drive down prices, especially for those living in fuel poverty?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I invite any of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to jump up and answer any of these questions, should they wish to do so, but I am quite used to being the last person on the battlefield; I know my place.
The Government have taken a great deal of action to boost competition and to make switching easier for all consumers, and we have absolutely recognised that vulnerable consumers need additional help to engage with the energy market. To help to address that, we have provided about £3 million over the last three years to fund face-to-face support through the Big Energy Saving Network as well as £1 million of funding for this winter and £1.5 million of funding for a programme administered by National Energy Action over the next two years. This is a top priority for my Department.
The Deputy Leader of the House has other important responsibilities and she knows that. As far as the men sitting on the Front Bench are concerned, they all look absolutely fine and are doing the right thing—simply nodding in the appropriate places.
I thank the Minister for her kind comments this morning. I, too, enjoyed our exchanges—and the chocolate peanuts.
The CMA’s final report has been characterised as blaming sticky customers for not switching and condoning penalties on them if they continue not to switch. Does the Minister agree with that analysis?
I also enjoyed the chocolate raisins.
The evidence is clear that customers on expensive standard tariffs could save £325 by switching to the cheapest fixed deal. I do not think that the CMA is blaming consumers; it is recognising a slight inertia or unwillingness to switch. We are trying to urge people to switch. Between January and March this year, almost 2 million energy accounts were switched, over half of which moved to new suppliers, so the push to switch is actually getting through and we are seeing some progress.
I congratulate the Minister on all that she has done to encourage competition, which helps consumers to get a price that is better for them. That is in stark contrast to Opposition Members who often scaremonger about capacity markets driving prices up and scare my constituents into worrying about whether they can pay their bills.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. People all too often fail to recognise that the energy trilemma consists of keeping the lights on, keeping bills down, and decarbonising. He is right that the capacity market is there to ensure the security of supply and that is the payment we make to keep the lights on.
I echo the remarks made about the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) and wish her well in her new role as Home Secretary. I am glad that the Minister is here, because if she had not been, these questions may have been a little more rhetorical than usual.
The previous Prime Minister said in 2012 that he would legislate to ensure that all consumers were on the lowest tariff. We have had four years since then, and an extensive CMA report has come up with recommendations that are a little underwhelming in their scope. Does the Minister think that that will be enough to ensure that energy customers get the best possible deal?
That was a fair question. The CMA has carried out a detailed piece of research and we are committed to implementing all its recommendations as soon as possible. We have also made it clear that if we do not see change, we will take further steps. The hon. Gentleman is right. We will implement the CMA’s recommendations. We will see costs come down, competition go up, and better remedies for people on prepayment meters, but we will also be alert to other opportunities to get costs down for consumers.
I am glad that the Minister says that the Government will remain vigilant on this matter. The CMA found that 70% of customers of the big six domestic suppliers were on the more expensive standard variable tariff. Will she set a target for reducing that so that we know what success looks like and to determine whether the further action that she mentions is required?
As I have just explained, we do not want to set a specific target. However, we are successfully providing support to organisations that then go on to help people to switch. I love the idea that if anybody listening to this really wants to help their grandparents, neighbour or whomever, who may not have the confidence to switch themselves, they could go and help them switch, possibly saving them several hundred pounds. Instead of setting targets and blaming people when they are not met, we need to persuade people of the advantages of switching.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) and congratulate her on her appointment as Home Secretary. Under her charge, the Department of Energy and Climate Change played an important role in securing the Paris climate agreement, and she was a strong and enthusiastic champion for it. Only two weeks ago, some might have suspected that today she would be more likely to be standing at the Dispatch Box saying goodbye to me, but in this place we are beginning to learn to expect the unexpected. She was always courteous and often actually helpful in our exchanges, and we wish her well in her new role.
The CMA report states for the past five years the big energy companies have been overcharging customers by more than £4,657,000 every single day. Can the Minister name any other swindle of such enormous magnitude where the Government would simply say, “It is the customer’s fault. People should have shopped around and switched to another provider”?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I completely refute the suggestion that the Government are saying it is the customer’s fault. We have been clear that we support the CMA’s recommendations; some huge changes are being undertaken. We are rolling out smart meters; simpler tariff rules are coming in; we will enable newer suppliers to pitch cheaper deals to inactive consumers; and there will be improved accuracy of quotes on price comparison websites. A range of remedies are being undertaken, and in no sense is there inaction on the part of this Government.
The hon. Lady said that she was going to be meeting the industry and the big six. The Government’s own figures state that in England 2.38 million households are living in fuel poverty. Her Department could today take action to force—not to talk to, but to force—energy companies to pass on changes in wholesale prices immediately to customers through their tariff structures. In that way, customers would benefit directly from the drop in wholesale prices. Why is she failing to do this?
I am afraid that just shows that the hon. Gentleman does not really understand how the energy market works. His party’s proposal to cap energy bills to consumers was a grave mistake, because we have seen wholesale prices come down and all consumers have benefited from that. I say again that this Government are absolutely committed to getting bills down for consumers at every opportunity, to implementing the CMA’s significant reforms and to looking at what else is available to be done.
EU Referendum: Climate Change Commitments
4. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the outcome of the EU referendum on the ability of the UK to meet its climate change commitments. 
6. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the ability of the UK to meet its climate change obligations. 
The UK’s climate change commitments are grounded in the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008, which commits us to a reduction in emissions of 80% by 2050, from 1990 levels. Our membership of the EU has no impact on our commitment to this Act, as hon. Members will have seen in our decision to accept the Committee on Climate Change’s advice on the level of the fifth carbon budget just two weeks ago.
I thank the Minister for her answer, but she will know that the Committee on Climate change has said that tackling climate change is going to be more difficult outside the EU. The vote to leave does not give the Government a mandate to undermine the global transition to clean energy, so will she confirm that the UK will maintain its commitment to meeting our 2020 clean energy target, which was agreed as part of the EU’s climate and energy package?
The UK is a world leader in tackling climate change. The 2008 Act is a UK Act that we are absolutely committed to. We are outperforming on our target on energy renewables by 2020, and we remain committed to that.
What estimates has the Minister made of the impact there will be on energy costs in this country if we leave the EU?
In my view, leaving the EU will not make a difference to the innate cost of energy or the challenges for the energy sector. Most of our transactions for electricity generation are home-grown. There is a global market for gas. We have very good connections with European and non-European countries on interconnection, and we will continue to make commercial arrangements that are to the advantage of both the UK and those partners in energy.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her ability to do the work of four Ministers with such panache. She will know that normally economists disagree about everything, but one of the few things they are agreed about is that the best way to achieve an objective such as that set by the Climate Change Act 2008 is through a price mechanism. However, if subordinate targets are set, that inevitably means a less efficient and more costly route. When we leave the EU, will we therefore be able to scrap unnecessary targets while maintaining that final target, and thereby reduce the cost to consumers of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050?
My right hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of keeping costs down while we decarbonise. The Department has always made it clear that every opportunity to decarbonise at the lowest cost to consumers will be taken. It is my view that leaving the EU will enable us to do that to an even greater extent than we have in the past.
Since 1990 the UK has decreased emissions by a third more than the EU average. We have now set a target for 2030 that implies a decrease of about double that which the EU put into the Paris INDCs—intended nationally determined contributions. Does the Minister agree that the real concern about Brexit might be that we will no longer be able to influence the EU to make more progress in decarbonisation?
I am entirely clear: European countries remain our friends and great allies, and we will continue to work with them. Leaving the European Union does not mean that we are suddenly leaving Europe in any sense, so it is my expectation and anticipation that we will remain closely aligned on global issues such as climate change, and that we will continue to play a leading role in the world’s attempts to tackle that great threat.
EU Referendum: Policy Implications
5. What assessment she has made of the potential policy implications for her Department of the UK leaving the EU. 
At the heart of our energy strategy is the need to encourage new investment in the UK’s energy system, so my Department will continue to take action to deliver secure, affordable and clean energy for hard-working families and businesses. This work is already under way. Since the referendum we have accepted the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change for the level of carbon budget 5. We have published details of our upcoming capacity market auction and confirmed that our contracts for difference allocation round will go ahead later this year.
In fact, the UK Government’s failure to attract investment to the energy sector has already undermined energy security and sustainability for generations to come, and the Brexit vote has plunged the sector into further insecurity. What are the Minister’s plans to ensure the future of green energy following the leave vote?
I do not recognise at all what the hon. Lady says about our failure to attract international investment—that is clearly not the case. We are attracting a huge amount of investment in offshore wind. We have the successful turbine blade plant that is being created up in Humber by Siemens, we have DONG Energy, and we have various international developers that are putting in bids and building new offshore wind facilities in the UK. Onshore wind in the UK has been a huge success story. Some 99% of all our solar installations have taken place since 2010 and I have already cited statistics about our share of the investment going into renewables, so, I am sorry, but I do not recognise what the hon. Lady says.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on confounding the doom-mongers. Does she agree that COP 22 in Marrakesh in November will be a wonderful opportunity for the UK to showcase its world-beating edge in renewables technology and our industrial base?
I could not agree more; my hon. Friend is exactly right. The UK is leading on the deployment of renewables—we are getting down the cost of those technologies through our policies—and through our commitment to decarbonisation and tackling climate change, and to showing the rest of the world how much we want to lead in this area, which we will continue to do.
Policy favouring small modular reactor technology offers affordable innovation in low-carbon energy, which is important in these days, as well as equally important manufacturing opportunities. Trawsfynydd in my constituency offers the ideal site for SMRs and, indeed, advanced reactor technology. Does not the Minister agree that the DECC process to select an SMR technology for generic design safety assessment should move forward with greater energy and a focus on a realistic shortlist of organisations?
Yes, I agree that we need to move forward with this. The Government have recognised the potential of small modular reactors, and we have announced that we will invest at least £250 million over the next five years in an ambitious nuclear research and development programme that includes the competition the hon. Lady mentions. We have committed to publishing an SMR delivery road map in the autumn to clarify the UK’s plans for addressing the siting issues that she mentions, as well as regulatory approvals and, vitally, skills issues.
7. What steps her Department is taking to reduce energy bills for (a) businesses and (b) households. 
8. What steps her Department is taking to reduce energy bills for (a) businesses and (b) households. 
The best way to deliver lower energy bills for businesses and households is to have a robust and competitive energy market. There are now over 40 energy suppliers in the domestic retail energy market, which is up from 13 in 2010, and independent suppliers have over 17% of the dual fuel market. Competition is improving, but we are not complacent, and we look forward to implementing the recommendations from the Competition and Markets Authority’s final report on the issue.
As a method of controlling its energy costs, CEMEX, which operates a large cement plant in my constituency, has adopted an alternative fuel, called Climafuel, which is derived from household waste and has the benefit of making use of material that would otherwise go to landfill. That is a great example of the circular economy. What steps can my hon. Friend take to encourage other energy-intensive industries to consider the use of alternative fuels?
I really welcome the initiative by CEMEX in my hon. Friend’s constituency. My Department is working closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as well as with the energy-intensive industrial sectors, including the cement sector, on ways in which companies can reduce their emissions while maintaining their competitiveness, and the use of alternative fuels is an important part of that.
What steps does the Minister plan to take to improve the effectiveness of the energy supply market to help small and large businesses to expand in Wiltshire and across the country?
The CMA has said that the energy sector for larger businesses is competitive, but it has put forward some strong and sound remedies for microbusinesses to prevent automatic roll-overs without a business’s consent and to improve online quotations, competition and the service available to microbusinesses.
The Government have guaranteed an electricity price of about three times the wholesale price to EDF so that it will build a nuclear white elephant at Hinkley Point C. How on earth will that help consumers—businesses or households—to reduce their energy bills?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that we get about 16% of our electricity every day from nuclear. He will also know that our nuclear plants are all due to be retired by at least the end of the 2020s. Therefore, new nuclear forms a core part of how we replace our electricity supplies. Hinkley is a good deal for consumers. Of course, the mark-to-market costs change according to the wholesale prices, but the price of the electricity coming out of Hinkley by the mid-2020s is guaranteed, and that is very important so that we provide certainty. The Government do not take the view that we will just see what happens; we have to plan for the future. Why? Because electricity security is not negotiable.
Northern Ireland households and businesses face the highest electricity bills in the whole United Kingdom. Businesses still face some of the highest energy costs in Europe. What discussions has the hon. Lady had with the Minister responsible for enterprise, trade and industry to ensure that everything is done to drive these costs down for Northern Ireland customers?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. My Department and others frequently consult Northern Ireland Ministers to ensure that all the benefits that can be passed on to Northern Ireland consumers are being passed on. I welcome his contribution to the debate.
I call Mr Barry Gardiner.
The hon. Gentleman looks surprised. This could be a first—is this a question on which he does not wish to give the House the benefit of his views?
I am always happy to abide by your ruling, Mr Speaker.
One year ago, DECC’s estimate for the total lifetime cost of the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C was £14 billion. Recently, that estimate was revised to £37 billion. Following the referendum vote, the Government’s expert adviser has said that Hinkley C is extremely unlikely to go ahead. Does this mean that the Minister now does not have to worry about justifying the extra £23 billion cost to the Treasury, or does she just feel that she does not need to explain about the additional burden on taxpayers?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood. The cost of the project has not changed. The difference is because of wholesale prices. As there is a fixed price agreed for consumers, when forecasts and current wholesale prices change, so will the difference between the fixed price and the wholesale price. To be clear, the cost of the project has not changed. It remains a good deal for consumers—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is chuntering at me from a sedentary position, but let us be clear: we cannot just wait and see. We have to make investment decisions and stick by them. We cannot simply magic electricity out of thin air; we need to invest, make decisions, and be committed to them.
9. What progress her Department has made on working with the major energy suppliers on the smart meter roll-out to ensure maximum benefit to consumers. 
21. What progress her Department has made on working with the major energy suppliers on the smart meter roll-out to ensure maximum benefit to consumers. 
Good progress has been made to date on the roll-out of smart meters, with more than 3.6 million meters installed across the country. There is evidence that these consumers are already saving energy. Research by British Gas shows that smart meter customers have reduced their energy consumption by an average of about 3% for both gas and electricity.
Having recently installed a smart meter, I can confirm that it is a very useful tool in managing energy consumption. Will my hon. Friend join me in encouraging my constituents to contact their energy supplier to explore how these very useful little gadgets can save them some money?
Yes. I can also tell my hon. Friend that they are very useful when going away for the weekend, as a parent, because if your electricity use suddenly goes up dramatically, you know the kids are up to something.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. We need to encourage consumers to have smart meters installed in their homes to make sure that they can enjoy the benefits that he sets out. I encourage his constituents, and all our constituents, to find out more about the benefits of smart meters, and to request an installation or visit the Smart Energy GB website.
Many of my vulnerable constituents are on pre-payment meters, so smart energy meters present them with a terrific opportunity to get better value for money. Does my hon. Friend agree that smart meters have a terrific role to play for pre-payment customers?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. Smart metering will transform the experience of pre-payment customers. Topping up pre-payment meters should become as easy as topping up a mobile phone. I welcome the fact that a number of energy suppliers are already offering or trialling pay-as-you-go services for their customers.
May I welcome the Secretary of State to her new post? She has done some very good work despite, as she knows, my disappointment with her views on Brexit. May I urge her to think again about smart metering being rolled out to every home in the country? May I also remind her that the research and innovation behind smart metering happened partly because of university co-operation across Europe? Contracts are already being withdrawn from British universities because of Brexit.
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I am not actually in a new post; I am in my old post. Secondly, I do not recognise any damage to our smart metering roll-out as a result of contracts not being awarded to universities. I have not seen any evidence of that. Thirdly, it is our continued plan that all households and businesses should be offered a smart meter by 2020.
Will the Minister confirm whether her Department is to be abolished? If so, who will take forward the work in progress on smart meters in Cabinet?
The right hon. Gentleman will have to wait and see, but I can tell him that the commitment to our energy trilemma, smart meters and all our polices will remain as strong as ever.
Smart meters can reduce our energy usage, but there were 43,900 excess winter deaths last year and a “Panorama” investigation revealed that more than 9,000 of them were directly related to living in cold and poorly insulated homes. Will the Minister explain why there has been an 80% drop in the installation of major energy efficiency measures in British homes over the past four years, and will she agree to have urgent talks with Lord Adonis to ensure that energy efficiency is a top priority for the National Infrastructure Commission?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that fuel poverty in this country has to be tackled, and that is an absolute priority for my Department. He may be aware that we have launched our consultation on the energy company obligation to ensure that we refocus it on the fuel-poor and do everything we can to ensure warmer homes.
Retail Energy Market: Switching
10. What assessment she has made of recent trends in the rate of switching in the retail energy market. 
I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that switching was at a four-year high in 2015, with 6.1 million electricity and gas switches across the UK. That is an increase of about 15% since 2014. Some 2 million further gas and electricity switches have already taken place between January and March of this year, with 52% of those customers moving to newer suppliers.
Will the Minister confirm that the Government are specifically ensuring that those who are in most need or who are financially challenged, including those in my constituency and across the UK who are in need of lower energy bills, are benefiting from an efficient and easier switching regime?
Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are acting to do just that. In fact, customers on expensive standard tariffs could save £325 by switching to the cheapest fixed deal, which is why we continue to encourage customers to switch through our big energy saving network initiative.
When trying to compare tariffs, most of them remain incomprehensible, which particularly affects my most vulnerable constituents, including the elderly, the disabled and those with mental health issues. What measures will the Minister take specifically to support the most vulnerable?
The hon. Lady is exactly right that this is a very important area. I reiterate that over the past three years the big energy saving network has reached about 350,000 vulnerable consumers, helping them to reduce their bills by switching. Last year we ran a successful national TV and press advertising campaign, Power to Switch, and more than £38 million was saved by 130,000 households switching energy supplier. We continue to support good organisations such as Citizens Advice, which often hosts such initiatives and works face to face with vulnerable consumers to help them with the process of switching. I urge people who are struggling with fuel bills to give it a try; it really is not too difficult.
11. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the Government’s decision on the level of the fifth carbon budget on investment in the low-carbon economy. 
13. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the Government’s decision on the level of the fifth carbon budget on investment in the low-carbon economy. 
The UK’s system of carbon budgets provides the long-term certainty that businesses need to invest in our low-carbon economy. The Government announced last month that we would accept the advice of the Committee on Climate Change on the level of the fifth carbon budget. That announcement has been widely welcomed by the business community.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Will she update the House on what steps the Government will take to involve investors and businesses in the preparation of their emissions reduction plan?
As my hon. Friend would expect, we are already busy working on that plan with other Departments, businesses, consumers and civil society. For example, we are already in discussion with the CBI, the Aldersgate Group and Energy UK among others to arrange specific stakeholder events, ensuring that our emissions reduction plan is built from the ground up, with input from a range of stakeholders.
Westinghouse nuclear fuels is the second largest employer in Fylde and produces nuclear fuel for 15% of the UK’s electricity production. What assurances can the Minister give that this Government will continue to support the UK’s domestic nuclear fuel industry and take us to a low-carbon future?
Nuclear power is a vital part of our work to build a secure, affordable and clean energy system to keep the lights on in the decades ahead. The Westinghouse facility in my hon. Friend’s constituency has a crucial role to play, providing the fuel that powers our nuclear fleet, as well as employment to many in his constituency.
EU Referendum: Investment in Power Sector
12. What assessment she has made of the effect of the outcome of the EU referendum on investor confidence in the UK power sector. 
16. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the outcome of the EU referendum on levels of overseas investment in the UK energy sector. 
20. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the outcome of the EU referendum on levels of overseas investment in the UK energy sector. 
The Government have engaged extensively with investors since the EU referendum, sending a clear message that the UK remains open for investment and business. I am very clear that the UK is an attractive environment for investment in energy. My Department will continue to take the steps needed to deliver secure, affordable and clean energy for families and businesses across the UK.
As one former leadership contender to another, I commiserate with the Minister over the events of the past week and wish her well in the reshuffle today.
The manufacturers organisation the EEF told the Environmental Audit Committee, which I chair, that the decision to cancel the carbon capture and storage competition in the autumn statement came as a huge shock and damaged investor confidence in the industry. We also heard from Siemens, which has invested £160 million in the wind industry in Yorkshire, that the referendum result means it is facing a whole new set of unanswered questions. What steps is the Minister taking to bring confidence to investors in low-carbon industries?
In fact Siemens has recommitted to its investment in Hull, which is great news for that area. I had a meeting a few days ago—it seems like a year ago—with the Offshore Wind Industry Council to talk about confidence in investment. Its members all remain committed to the UK, and EDF has reaffirmed its commitment to the UK.
Specifically on CCS, as I have said many times in this Chamber, we remain committed to looking at what our future strategy for CCS will be. The fact that the competition did not make the cut in terms of taxpayer value for money at the last spending round does not mean that we are ruling out CCS. We believe that it continues to play an important role in the future of our decarbonisation strategy.
The recent EU referendum result has of course created widespread insecurity in this market and, indeed, the wider economy. There is now an increasing number of possible options from the Brexit negotiations, each leading to a number of regulatory and market options for the UK’s relationship with the EU, with each of these having differing implications for the investment in and trade of energy. What steps has the Department already taken to guarantee that overseas investment in our energy sector is protected, whichever of the outcomes is taken?
I believe that we will see huge opportunities in leaving the European Union. As is always the case in the United Kingdom, we will take great steps to ensure business confidence and ensure that those who have invested in this country will be able to use our very sound contract law and investor base to be able to continue to fruition with their projects.
I am sure the Minister will agree that the EU exit vote has caused uncertainty. I am sure that this new and slightly unexpected Government, with the paint still drying on the signs, will want to boost investment and development in the energy sector. Will the Minister tell us how the Government will create incentives for investment and boost consumer confidence?
I think the hon. Lady will accept that my concern about investor confidence led to a very significant move on my own part to make sure that we had certainty in the UK. The new Government will absolutely be keen to reassure investors and to make sure that this remains a very strong place to invest.
14. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that energy consumers are on the best value energy tariffs. 
The most effective way for energy consumers to make sure that they are on the best value tariff is to shop around. I encourage all consumers to engage in the market and to make use of the Ofgem-approved price comparison websites that are readily available. We have taken action to make it simpler and quicker to switch supplier, and we are working with Ofgem to move to reliable next-day switching.
I thank the Minister for that response. Many people remain unaware of how easy it is to switch energy providers and save money. What actions is her Department taking to encourage people to look into switching providers?
My hon. Friend is right to say that we need to make sure that people are aware not just of the benefits of switching, but of how easy it is to do. We are taking steps to raise awareness through the big energy saving network, Big Energy Saving Week and the Power to Switch campaign. We are also working to improve the switching process for customers. We launched the energy switch guarantee last month to give consumers confidence to switch, and we are working with Ofgem to deliver next-day switching.
Security of Electricity Supply
17. What steps her Department is taking to ensure security of electricity supply in winter 2016-17 and in future years. 
19. What steps her Department is taking to ensure security of electricity supply in winter 2016-17 and in future years. 
Our top priority is to make sure that families and businesses have secure energy supplies, and therefore to ensure that National Grid has the right tools in place to manage the system. Our energy security has been strengthened by reforms of the capacity market, including holding an auction this coming winter for delivery in 2017-18.
As the promoter of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, I am very interested in energy supplies in winter. Will my hon. Friend do all she can to encourage investment in new gas generation?
The capacity market is the most cost-effective way to make sure we have the infrastructure to cope with unexpected demand peaks. In May, we committed to buying more capacity and buying it sooner. New build capacity is eligible for 15-year agreements, providing a secure revenue stream and thereby encouraging new gas infrastructure.
Yesterday I launched a new all-party parliamentary group for marine energy, to promote the fantastic potential from our tumultuous seas of energy, whether tidal, stream or wave. Does my hon. Friend agree that when the Hendry review comes out in November this year, the Government should respond as fast and as positively as possible to make us a world leader in what could be one of the great sources of energy in the world?
We certainly recognise the potential that tidal lagoons could bring to the UK, which is why we have commissioned this independent review. We are absolutely committed to providing clean, affordable and secure energy that we can rely on now and in the future. This review will report in the autumn and will help us to determine what role tidal lagoons could play in that.
Finally, Antoinette Sandbach.
22. What steps she is taking to ensure that protected areas remain protected from the development of shale gas. 
Strong protections for sensitive areas are already provided by the existing regimes. Those regulations ban fracking in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and other sensitive areas to a depth of 1,200 metres. In response to our consultation on 28 June, we have confirmed that fracking will not be permitted from wells drilled at the surface of our most valued areas, including sites of special scientific interest.
I am grateful for the Minister’s response. Petroleum exploration and development licences have been granted in areas with green-belt and nature conservation status in my constituency. Can she reassure me that her recent announcement about protection from surface drilling will extend to the green belt and sites of special scientific interest?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that the planning process will take into account all issues related to sensitive areas. I can also tell her that fracking will not be permitted from wells drilled at the surface of areas such as national parks, the broads, areas of outstanding natural beauty, world heritage sites, sites of special scientific interest, Ramsar sites and Natura 2000 sites.
T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. 
As things stand, I am delighted that the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and I are able to take forward the enormous job of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. I am quite sure that there will be further announcements later that we all look forward to hearing.
Worryingly, my constituency is very polluted in parts of Botley and central Eastleigh. What progress is being made to ensure that all cars imported to this country meet our rigorous emissions standards?
I absolutely assure my hon. Friend that the Department for Transport is looking closely at transport and vehicle emissions. Further measures will be brought forward this autumn on meeting the increasingly stringent emissions requirements.
Some 23,000 businesses in the UK have solar panels on their roofs. If proposals in the current review of business rates go ahead, instead of paying £8 per kW, those companies could end up paying between £43 and £61 from next April. Up until last week, the Minister’s Department did not even know about that. Will she find out why her officials have been sleeping on the job, and speak to Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government to get this mess sorted out?
I am not aware of any sleeping on the job. If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to liaise with DCLG I will look into that, but we are certainly not asleep on the job.
T2. I have never known my hon. Friend to sleep on the job and I wish her well in the reshuffle. On the north side of the River Mersey, Fiddlers Ferry power station has closed down, while on the south side we have the blight of the new wind farm being built. Will my hon. Friend reassure my constituents in Frodsham and Helsby that the scientifically significant Frodsham marshes will not be blighted if fracking goes ahead? 
We have more than 50 years of drilling experience in the UK, as well as one of the best records in the world for economic development alongside protection of the environment. All onshore oil and gas projects, including shale gas, are subject to the planning system, which addresses impacts such as traffic movements, noise, working hours and so on. National planning guidance states that any new development must be appropriate for its location and must take into account effects on health, the natural environment and general amenity, as well as any adverse effects from pollution. I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend that his constituency will be protected.
T4. The Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project is hugely important not just to Swansea and south Wales but for potentially similar projects in Newport. When will the Minister have news of the independent report, and what is the timetable for making the decision? 
The hon. Lady will be aware that Charles Hendry was appointed to look into the whole case for tidal lagoons and the contribution they could make to our future energy security, but also, importantly, the cost trajectory. His report will come out later this year. I cannot put a specific time on that, but we are acting just as fast as we possibly can.
T3. What assessment has my hon. Friend made of progress on Hinkley Point following the result of the EU referendum? 
Good progress continues to be made on Hinkley Point C. When I visited the site a few months ago, it was very apparent that a huge amount of work is already going on. As my hon. Friend will have seen, EDF has reaffirmed its full commitment to the project following the result of the referendum on 23 June.
Does the Minister agree that scrapping the Department of Energy and Climate Change could only be taken as a signal that the new Government attach less significance to these important issues?
I absolutely do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The assumption that we have to have a Department for something in order to meet objectives on it is not one I agree with at all.
T5. I have just been sent a report from Southend-on-Sea citizens advice bureau calling for a fair deal for prepayment meter users, who seem to be getting a second-class service. Given that they are the most vulnerable people, will my hon. Friend see to it that her Department looks again at the system? 
I completely agree that prepayment meter customers get a rough deal, with a far smaller choice of tariffs and suppliers than customers who pay by other methods. That is why we are supporting recommendations by the Competition and Markets Authority to make it easier for prepayment meter customers to switch supplier, and to introduce a safeguard tariff cap for those customers until competition in that segment of the market significantly improves.
May I too wish the hon. Lady well in the reshuffle? We worked closely together on early intervention policy, and I know how committed she is to that.
My constituent Margaret Graham recently attended my surgery. She was at her wits’ end over protracted dealings with her energy supplier, npower, which has continually failed her since it made a huge error resulting in a very large overpayment. Since my intervention it has apologised and offered £150 in compensation, but this has been going on since 2013. Can the Minister assure me and the House that energy companies will treat their customers fairly and with respect, and does she agree that they should be held fully to account for their failings?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady—she is exactly right. Energy suppliers must behave properly towards their customers. There are too many complaints and not a good enough service, and that has to change.
T6. I congratulate my hon. Friend on fielding all the questions over the last hour, and on the manner in which she has conducted herself over the past week. I believe that she has done herself a great deal of credit, and I add my voice to those wishing her well later today. Following the historic vote by the British people to leave the EU, the UK once again has full control over our VAT. One way we could help households across the UK with high energy bills would be to cut VAT on energy. Will the Minister support calls for such a move? 
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and to prove that collective responsibility has once again taken effect, I reassure him that VAT is a matter for the Treasury. I agree about the need to reduce the number of households in fuel poverty, which is why we are consulting on proposals to focus more of the energy company obligation on those most in need. We have laid regulations that will ensure continued support for more than 2 million households through the warm home discount.
The Minister suggested that there has been no loss of confidence in investment in clean energy as a result of the vote to leave the EU. Will she explain why the Swedish firm Vattenfall is reviewing its investment in the UK, which will put £5.5 billion of investment in offshore wind at risk?
I made it clear that continued, enormous investment is coming to the UK from offshore and onshore investors. I am not aware of the hon. Lady’s particular point, but the UK remains an attractive place to invest. The Government are doing everything they can to ensure that we get even more overseas investment in our energy infrastructure.
What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure the effectiveness of the capacity mechanism in bringing forward new gas-fired power stations such as that at the Carrington site?
The capacity market is incredibly important for ensuring secure energy supplies. We recently announced that we will bring forward an earlier auction for 2017-18, to secure more capacity. We hope that that will enable us to get over this short-term issue where wholesale prices are so low that the viability of power stations is at risk. By having that capacity mechanism firmly embedded in our energy supply, we believe that we will bring forward new, attractive gas investment through longer-term contracts that will benefit the UK energy consumer.
The Government have estimated that the capacity auction this winter could put £36 on customer bills. Given that today the Minister has talked about keeping down customer bills, how does she think that that auction will affect those bills?
Our central assessment is that the impact on bills could be up to £28, but our impact assessment also shows that if we did nothing, further power station closures could add a further £46 to consumer bills. We believe that this auction is good value for consumers, and it provides the energy security on which we all rely.
What opportunities does my hon. Friend see for both inward investment and selling our services abroad as a result of breaking free of the shackles of the EU?
I personally believe there will be huge opportunities. We now have the chance to negotiate free trade deals with the rest of the world. We have the opportunity to determine policies for energy without the need to constantly look for EU state aid. The opportunities for the future are enormous, and I look forward to being able to promote UK plc in the world.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 18 July—Debate on a motion relating to the UK’s nuclear deterrent.
Tuesday 19 July—Second Reading of the Higher Education and Research Bill.
Wednesday 20 July—Opposition day (6th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 21 July—Debate on a motion relating to a ban on manufacture, sale, possession and use of snares, followed by general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. Both subjects were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 22 July—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 5 September will include:
Monday 5 September—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill (day 1).
When can we have a debate on recidivism? This problem has not been reduced by any Government in the past 43 years. The cycle of repeated offending goes on and on, and it is now afflicting politics.
Yesterday’s Prime Minister committed political suicide by giving into his party and ordering a referendum that guaranteed the destruction of his premiership. Are we seeing the same thing repeated today? The hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) might have made a perfectly adequate Minister for the import of second-hand water cannon, but he is now the Foreign Secretary—especially for his services to Europhobia. He has been sacked twice from previous jobs for not telling the truth; he has insulted the President of the United States; and he has attacked people from all parts of the world from Liverpool to Papua New Guinea. Do these qualities mean he will be supreme in an area where the qualities of diplomacy and truthfulness are in demand?
The right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) is returning to the Government without any explanation of why he was disgraced and sacked from his previous appointment. At the time, Sir Philip Mawer was the independent adviser on ministerial conduct. He said that the right hon. Gentleman should have been investigated for what happened at the Ministry of Defence. The Prime Minister refused to refer the case to the adviser and Sir Philip resigned. The right hon. Member for North Somerset received absolution by resignation. What this means—this is a matter of concern for the Leader of the House, because it is his responsibility—is that the return of the right hon. Member for North Somerset to the Cabinet is a degradation of the probity of this House and the advances made by the previous Government. A Government are being created not in the best interests of the country but to deal with the perpetual internal war in the Conservative party between Europhiliacs and Europhobes.
Chilcot has given its verdict. It is a thunderous verdict of guilty not just for one man but for this House, the previous Government, the Opposition and three Select Committees. We are guilty, and are judged guilty, of commanding our valiant troops to fight a vain, avoidable war, and the Leader of the House is uniquely qualified and responsible for answering the charge.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has apologised on behalf of the Labour party: 179 of our gallant British soldiers died; their loved ones have a wound of grief that will never heal; 3,000 have been maimed in body and mind; uncounted Iraqis were killed, made homeless or exiled; the cycle of terrorism continues to this day—and all because of an act of folly, incompetence and vanity by this House. Will the Leader of the House take responsibility—it is his job—and arrange a formal apology, preferably face to face with the bereaved and surviving injured? This is the least a grateful nation can do for those we have grievously wronged.
I will come back to the last point in a moment, but I should start with congratulations: we are both still here; the hon. Gentleman is on his third week in the job. He has not yet acquired a new job, but with changes in the structure of Departments, perhaps he will have the opportunity of a third one—shadow International Trade Secretary—to go with his existing portfolio. If Labour party Front Benchers were a football team, they would have him in goal, him in defence, him in attack, lots of people on the left wing, nobody willing to play on the right and endless own goals.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the Foreign Secretary. I will take no lessons from a party that has the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) as its shadow Foreign Secretary. We have on those Benches a party that is not fit to be an Opposition, let alone an alternative Government. Over the past few months, we have heard from people now holding senior positions on the Opposition Benches views that undermine our armed forces and defences and are wholly unaligned with the national interest.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned matters of propriety. I simply remind him—he has raised this at business questions before from the Back Benches—that if he has complaints about any Member, there are channels available by which he can pursue them. But he has not done so. He also talked about internal war. This week of all weeks, a Labour politician talks of internal war in another political party. Labour Members have been trying again and again to get rid of their leader, but they just cannot do it. He is on the ballot paper and will probably win again, and they will be resigning all year. It is a complete shambles and Labour is a complete disgrace to this country politically. I will take no lessons from the Opposition about internal wars within a political party.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Chilcot and says it is my responsibility to answer the charges. I simply remind him that it was a Labour Prime Minister who stood in the House and explained why we should support his decision to go to war in Iraq. It was a Labour Prime Minister, and it is for the Labour party to explain itself, not those of us who were in opposition at the time.
Last weekend, I and Members from across the House attended a rally for the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Unfortunately, we had to go to Paris to meet those good people and their brave leader, Maryam Rajavi. Why can we not invite the leader of the resistance to this country, so that we might help free Iran from the shackles of the mullahs?
I know that my hon. Friend believes passionately in this cause, and I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will have heard his comments and will want to give them careful thought.
May I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend, in his capacity as deputy Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, and the Chairman, who is also here, for returning to the tradition of a pre-recess Adjournment debate? It is something that the House values, and I am glad that they have done it.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. In the night and morning of the long silver spoons, the nation was glued to the television. “What would Grayling get?” was the question that perplexed the nation—the man who designed and fashioned the new Prime Minister’s leadership coronation would surely get a top job, but he is back here with us this morning, and the nation can only breathe a collective sigh of relief.
We had thought that the new Prime Minister did not have a sense of humour, but she has proved us totally wrong on that one by appointing the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) as the Foreign Secretary. We could almost have heard the guffaws of laughter from Parliaments and ambassadors last night as news got around that “Boris” was in charge of the UK’s foreign policy—and he is in charge of MI6, too. Perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us a little about how this new restructured Government are going to work. When will we see the new diet of departmental questions and how this is all going to come together?
Is it not ironic that the first motion that the new Prime Minister will put before this House on Monday is for a new generation of weapons of mass destruction? That will be resolutely opposed by my hon. Friends and me, and we hope that the Labour party will join us in opposing it. When this country is facing the disaster of Brexit and further austerity, in what world is it right to spend billions and billions of pounds on new nuclear weapons and nuclear re-armament?
Lastly, we are not even sure whether the Labour party has enough personnel resources to fill the places in all the new Departments that will be created. I have asked you this question already, Mr Speaker, but at what point do they fail to meet their obligations as the official Opposition as clearly set out in “Erskine May”? Can we have a debate about what is expected from Oppositions? Perhaps the Leader of the House will support a rearrangement of the furniture, so that this Government and he can experience some real opposition in this House.
I was slightly surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman talk about the role of the Leader of the House as not being a top job; of course, he has the Scottish National party equivalent of that job, so I take it that he is, in fact, a junior member of his Front-Bench team.
On departmental questions, the hon. Gentleman knows that the Government are in the middle of a process of restructuring. We will make further information available shortly, and the House authorities will set out plans for a revised schedule for parliamentary questions. That is inevitable, and it will be in place for the start of the September sittings. As it stands, next week has a fairly routine collection of oral questions and I do not think there is any need for change there.
On Trident, the hon. Gentleman and his party have been very clear about their views. I am delighted to say that a large number of Labour Members will support us on Monday, and I am grateful to them for their support. What puzzles me is this: the SNP is vigorously opposed to Trident, but are SNP Members actually arguing that the Rosyth facility should be transferred south of the border? Are they suggesting that? Are they suggesting that the facilities in Scotland that provide jobs for people in Scotland should be transferred south of the border? [Interruption.] Are they or are they not suggesting that? I suspect that a lot of people who work in the nuclear sector in Scotland and who support those submarines would be deeply distressed if their jobs disappeared.
The Labour Front Bench is an issue on which the hon. Gentleman and I can clearly agree. It is an extraordinary situation to see multi-tasking and to see people who resigned from the Labour Front Bench 26 years ago making a comeback, as the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) has done. It will be fascinating to see over the next few weeks whether they will be able to get their act back together again or whether this shambles is going to continue for month after month.
One of the reasons why many people voted for Brexit was that they believed it would provide this country and our communities with more opportunity to shape their own futures. May we have a debate, in turn, on a regional strategy for transport infrastructure to sit alongside other provisions such as health and education, so that any additional housing can be sustainable?
My hon. Friend has made a similar point before, and I know she feels strongly about the devolution of powers to the regions. I am absolutely certain that, as we leave the European Union, there will be more opportunity for that to take place. Ironically, I suspect there will be more powers heading for Scotland, as well as for Wales and Northern Ireland. The point that she makes is a good one. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be in his place to answer questions on Monday, and my hon. Friend might like to bring the subject to the Floor of the House through an Adjournment debate.
I thank the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for filling in for me over the last two weeks. Two weeks ago, I visited the Somme, which ironically seemed like a place of real tranquillity in comparison with this place recently. Last week, we saw the opening of the A1 road-widening scheme in Gateshead, which has brought immense calm to the town centre as a result of displacing traffic. We are very grateful for that.
Will the Leader of the House please confirm that Thursday 8 September will be available for Back-Bench business? If business is to be tabled for that day, we shall need to consider it and table it next Tuesday, but without confirmation of the date, we shall not be able to do so.
Let me begin by welcoming the hon. Gentleman back to the Chamber. We have missed him over the last couple of weeks.
I am delighted to hear about the opening of the widened A1. There is something that I find very encouraging nowadays. Ten years ago, when I was shadow Transport Secretary, I travelled the country visiting marginal seats and other areas where industrial development was taking place but essential transport projects were not. Now, I am delighted to discover that such projects are being developed wherever I go, and the widened A1 is one of them. It will bring real bonuses to the north-east, and it is a sign that we care about areas—including the north-east—that are really important to the country.
As for that date in September, I will have a look at it. We have planned business only up to the day on which the House returns after the recess, but I will give careful thought to whether we can accommodate the hon. Gentleman in this regard.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for whoever happens to be the Minister responsible—I think it unlikely to be me—to make a statement about the status and protection of the green belt? My constituents in Burley in Wharfedale are facing a planning application for the building of 500 houses on the green belt in that village, and my constituents in Baildon are facing similar proposals. Surely, the whole point of the green belt is that it should be immune from house building. My constituents do not trust Bradford Council to look after their interests, and look to the Government to ensure that they are properly protected.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend is so pessimistic about his prospects in the reshuffle. I think we would all value his contributions were he to appear at this Dispatch Box.
Questions to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will take place on Monday, and my hon. Friend will then have an opportunity to raise an issue that I know is important to him and his constituents. As ever, he is a powerful advocate for Yorkshire and will continue to be so, even if it is still from the Back Benches.
Has the Leader of the House received a request from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for him to provide Government time for a debate on the fantastic contribution that the leisure industries make to the UK economy? Such a debate would allow Ministers to tell us how UK manufacturers will fulfil demand for major new infrastructure: a transcontinental network of zip wires to enable our new Foreign Secretary to travel around the world cheaply, with low environmental impact, and in the style to which he is accustomed.
It is an interesting idea, but I think we will probably be investing in infrastructure that is more used to cars, trains and buses.
The outgoing Chancellor was a great proponent of the northern powerhouse, and policies connected with that initiative are vital to constituencies such as mine. May we have an early debate on how new Ministers will develop the northern powerhouse concept?
The new Chancellor will take questions in the House on Tuesday, but I can also say that there is no question of a change in our focus on supporting the development of the northern part of the country, and encouraging economic growth and new investment. That will remain a priority for the new Government, and we are committed to a continuation of the progress that we have already made.
One of my constituents is currently detained at Yarl’s Wood. She is suffering ill health, and does not feel that her health concerns are being addressed. There is evidence to corroborate that. According to a recent report from the National Audit Office, 35% of recommendations from the chief inspector of prisons have yet to be implemented. Will the current Leader of the House offer an urgent debate on the issue?
I do not know about the individual constituency case, but I am sure that the hon. Lady will raise it with the new Home Secretary. Of course there are lessons to be learnt from the inspections that are carried out in institutions such as Yarl’s Wood. It continues to be a priority for the Government to ensure that we detain people decently, but also to ensure that we detain people when there is a serious question mark over their right to be in the country, and I think that that is right and proper.
Last night, GHA Coaches—which is in the constituency of Wrexham but has two depots in my constituency, in Tarvin and Winsford—went into administration, with the potential loss of 300 to 400 jobs. I should be grateful if the Leader of the House encouraged the new Secretary of State for Wales to liaise with the Department for Transport, and indeed with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, to establish what support can be given to those who may be facing redundancy.
I am very sorry to hear of what must be very difficult and distressing news for my hon. Friend’s constituents and those in the next-door constituency of Wrexham, and all our good wishes in this House go out to those affected. When a business is put into administration, one always hopes that it is possible to save it. I know that the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Wales Office will do everything they can to provide appropriate support, where they are able to do so.
Life in Iraq: imagine your phone rings and the question is, “Are you a Christian?”, and the answer is, “Yes, I believe in Jesus.” The second question is, “Are you in the police?”, and the answer is, “Yes, I am,” and then you are told that you must leave or die. This is what happened to Franco Said, a policeman in Baghdad, and his family. They fled to Irbil in northern Iraq the very next day. No one is safe from Daesh in Iraq. Murdering the Christian faith in Iraq is truly a reality for many. Will the Leader of the House agree to there being a statement on this matter as soon as possible?
I have every sympathy with the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. The tragedy is that parts of the middle east used to be beacons of stability, with religions standing side by side, having done so for hundreds of years. The persecution that has taken place of Christian populations, typically by extremists, is absolutely unacceptable and a tragedy. I know the hon. Gentleman’s comments will have been listened to by the new Foreign Secretary. We as a Government continue to do everything we can to encourage an end to this kind of persecution, but of course we face extraordinarily difficult security situations there. We will carry on doing our best.
The Government are preparing to negotiate Brexit, which will rightly secure the future of EU nationals in the UK and UK citizens living abroad. Does the Leader of the House agree that this is a fine opportunity to settle the issue of the lettori, foreign nationals working in Italian universities who have been discriminated against in their pay and working conditions for decades, despite several EU judgments against the Italian Government? May we have a statement from the Government to say that the issue of the lettori will be dealt with during the Brexit renegotiations? It would be very satisfying, on leaving the EU, to resolve an issue that we are completely unable to deal with while we are in the EU.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has campaigned on this issue for a long time; he has raised it with me before at business questions. The Foreign Office continues to put pressure on the Italian Government over this. Our ambassador in Rome has made representations recently about it, and will continue to do so. It is, and should remain, unacceptable for discrimination of this kind to take place in any civilised country.
Last week, this House debated claims by the Vote Leave campaign that an extra £350 million a week would be available for the NHS if we voted to leave the EU. The problem with that debate was that none of the Members who made those claims attended the House to answer for their claims, so may we have that debate again, please, only this time will the Members associated with that claim attend and answer for their actions?
It is the job of the Government to respond in this House. Those who stand at this Dispatch Box speak for the Government, not for campaigns for either side in the referendum debate.
In the light of growing concerns about the increase in childhood obesity, may we have a ministerial statement on what the Government are doing to tackle the problem, and will the Leader of the House confirm whether that will include bringing forward a childhood obesity strategy?
I can confirm that work has been taking place in the Department of Health on such a strategy. Of course, I hope that the decision we took to introduce a sugar tax in the Budget will help improve the situation with childhood obesity.
I am delighted that the Leader of the House is still here, but we all know that soon one of the great offices of state will undoubtedly be his. In the meantime, may we, through him, congratulate the Prime Minister on her choices and the quality of her sackings and dismissals from Government over the last 24 hours? I think that we can agree on that, on a cross-party basis. The new Secretaries of State—the right hon. Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), and for North Somerset (Dr Fox)—are serious politicians, but it seems that their boss is the court jester: the new Foreign Secretary. Will these serious politicians have their own Departments of State, or will they be answering to the new Foreign Secretary?
All the new Secretaries of State will be accountable to this House in the normal way when they head a Department. The Department that will take us out of the European Union has been expressly designed by the new Prime Minister to be a separate Department, and its Secretary of State will be accountable to the House in the normal way.
Will the Government make a statement on the implications for the House’s Select Committees of any changes in the organisational structure of the Government?
That is also something that we will have to address, probably during the September fortnight. Clearly there is a relationship between a Government Department and a Select Committee, so as new Departments are established, or existing ones are reshaped or renamed, the Select Committee structure will have to change as well. That is something that we will address over the next few days in preparation for either renaming Select Committees or appointing members to new ones when we return after the summer recess.
I for one am extremely pleased to see the Leader of the House still in his position, because in April I advised him that Porthcawl primary school, with its Porthcawl power team, had won second place in the Jaguar Formula 1 primary schools challenge, demonstrating the great capabilities of science, technology, engineering and maths—STEM—teaching in Wales, and I can now bring him the good news that the school won the national championship. Will he give the House a statement of his support and congratulate Porthcawl primary school’s power team on its great success in demonstrating the importance of STEM teaching across the UK? Before I sit down, may I say—on behalf of myself, of the First Minister of Wales, my Assembly Member Carwyn Jones, and of the leader of my local authority, who is our armed forces champion—that in our view, the Labour party strongly supports the armed forces?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that last point. There are those in the Labour party who do not take that view, or who have misgivings about aspects of the way in which our armed forces work, and many of them sit on the Front Bench, but I know that a large number of people across the ranks on the Labour Benches are as committed to our armed forces as anyone on our side of the House. I am also glad to be able to respond to this latest success. I remember the hon. Lady asking her earlier question and my telling her what a great achievement that was, but to win the national prize is excellent. The school must be enormously proud, and I am sure that everyone across the House would wish to send it their congratulations. She has every reason to be proud of her young constituents.
The death toll from recent protests in Indian-held Kashmir continues to grow, and hundreds have now been injured in the violence, most of them young people. Many face losing their sight after being blinded by shotgun pellets. Given the widespread concern in the UK about the situation in Kashmir, may we have an urgent debate on the violence there?
The reports of the disturbances, injuries and deaths in Kashmir are very worrying, and they will be a matter of very great concern indeed to members of the Kashmiri community in this country. Of course this Government will continue, as we always do, to provide support and encouragement to—and put pressure on—other Governments where this kind of ongoing trouble is taking place. We will continue to do everything we can to facilitate peace in that troubled part of the Asian subcontinent.
When the Leader of the House was talking about Chilcot earlier, he said that, on the issue of why we went to war in Iraq, it was “for the Labour party to explain itself, not those of us who were in opposition at the time”. That is not entirely true, however, because the Government of which he is a member are refusing to release the confidential advice that Whitehall officials gave to Gordon Brown about the remit of the inquiry. That advice made it impossible for Sir John Chilcot to rule on whether the 2003 war was illegal. The Government’s refusal flies in the face of an Information Tribunal ruling ordering the material’s release. This means that the public cannot see what options were considered when the nature and scope of the inquiry were decided on in 2009. May we have a statement on the reasons for the refusal to release that advice?
I can see the report here in front of me, and the one thing that cannot be said about the Chilcot inquiry is that it was not exhaustive. Over the past couple of weeks, what has emerged is a really detailed piece of work about what happened, the mistakes that were made and the lessons learned, and I think we should all be grateful to Sir John for the work he has done. I do not think that there is any shortage of evidence about what took place.
Following the excellent report a few weeks ago by the Select Committee on Transport, may we have a debate on the full-lane running of motorways without the hard shoulder? Such motorways have recently come to my constituency, and I welcome the investment, but I agree with the Committee’s safety concerns, particularly as at least 20 miles more of this type of motorway is coming to Staffordshire over the next few years.
I absolutely understand my hon. Friend’s point. Full-lane running can make a real difference on our motorways, particularly because cars are so much more reliable today than they were a generation ago, but I am aware of the Transport Committee’s concerns. The Government will respond to the report in due course and will always put safety right at the forefront of their considerations.
May we have a debate on Islamic extremism in UK prisons? The Acheson report is worrying and states that the National Offender Management Service does not have coherent strategy to deal with the threat.
I will certainly ensure that the new Justice Secretary is aware of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I tracked the issue closely when I was Justice Secretary. I looked very hard, talked to people on the frontline and made significant changes to how we handle Islamic extremism in our prisons, but we clearly need to watch the issue continually, and ensure that all the lessons are learned and that the report’s recommendations are studied carefully. I am sure that the Ministry of Justice will do that.
Both Corby and Kings Cliffe are suffering as a result of post office branch closures, so may we have a debate next week on the importance of putting alternative arrangements in place before branches are closed? Will the Leader of the House join me in calling on the Post Office to sort out this mess as a priority?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I join him in hoping that the Post Office will be careful and proactive in how it approaches closures, including looking for places where alternative provision can be made, particularly for the older generation, who often depend on their local post office. I am sure that the leadership of the Post Office will have heard his comments today and will take note.
The Government recently closed the consultation on reform of the civil service compensation scheme, which has seen significant reforms that the Government claim are fair and affordable in the long term, though we know what the Government’s track record on pensions is like. May we have a debate on that issue? My constituent Libby King transferred within the civil service from Northern Ireland to Scotland with 11 years’ service, and was told that she could not transfer, losing £25,000. May I also ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office—whoever that might be—to carry out an impact assessment and publish its findings, and to respond to the letter that I sent to the Minister some weeks ago?
I clearly do not know the details of the case concerned. If the hon. Lady has written to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, I will ask my office to chase that up on her behalf. She mentioned our record on pensions; I remind her that it was us who relinked the state pension to earnings and created the triple-lock guarantee. We are doing more for our pensioners than previous Governments did for a long time.
Speaking from the Dispatch Box on Monday, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said:
“there is a very real systemic issue with DB”—
“pension schemes that we need to look at”.—[Official Report, 11 July 2016; Vol. 613, c. 12.]
He is right. Of the 6,000 defined benefit schemes in the UK, 5,000 are in deficit. The Pensions Regulator has raised concerns about additional risks to such schemes following the vote to leave the EU. We are talking about a real risk to pension fund members. May we have a debate in Government time on this crucial issue?
There is no doubt that defined benefit schemes face enormous pressures because, most fundamentally, of the change in lifespan over the past few decades. It is a good thing that we are living longer, but it makes it much more difficult to fund a pension fund through a vastly longer period of retirement. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about this issue, which the Department for Work and Pensions is monitoring carefully, and he will no doubt take advantage of the opportunities in the House, either in oral questions or in an Adjournment debate on the Floor of the House, to raise the matter directly with Ministers.
Public Health England recently reported a dramatic rise in the incidence of sexually transmitted disease in the UK since 2012. The figures should set alarm bells ringing about the availability of sexual health services, and the strong link between poor sexual health and higher levels of deprivation. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the provision of sexual health services and investment in prevention to begin to address this growing health crisis?
One reason why we devolved responsibility for public health to local authorities is that it provides the opportunity for them to put in place tailored approaches to suit the needs of their local communities. Smart councils can now address very well precisely the kind of problem that the hon. Lady is talking about.
In yesterday’s Adjournment debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) made an excellent case for a city deal for the Tay cities area and, to be fair, the Minister was very positive in response to that. Stirling has also applied for a city deal, so will the Government make a statement on the status of current bids, including Stirling’s, and in particular on the timescales, given the change of Government and the recent Brexit decision?
The city deals are proving to be a very positive thing. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be here on Monday for Community and Local Government questions. He has been heavily involved in city deals. It is worth remembering that if Scotland were independent from the United Kingdom, there would be no city deals.
With the news that the new Prime Minister has sacked not only the Culture Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Justice Secretary, but the Education Secretary, would this be a good opportunity to debate improving the teaching of geography and of classics? Improving the former would allow the Leader of the House to learn the difference between Faslane and Rosyth, while improving the latter would enable the children of this country to learn that the appointment of the new Foreign Secretary must be the most remarkable appointment since the Emperor Caligula appointed his horse a senator.
Even the Leader of the House can get momentarily confused between two places, but I am still certain that the Scottish National party would struggle to convince the communities adjoining the base at Faslane that it is a jolly good idea to lose that facility to somewhere else; it makes no sense at all. On learning classics, I remind the hon. Gentleman that more than 1 million more children than in 2010 are being educated in good or excellent schools, and I am very proud of that.
We now have a Prime Minister who, as Home Secretary, led the charge on scrapping the Human Rights Act. People will be concerned, given her promotion, that this assault on human rights will continue, possibly at a faster rate. May we have a debate on the matter, as that would give the new Cabinet a chance to spell out their intentions clearly?
Clearly, the hon. Lady did not listen to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) a couple of weeks ago when she launched her campaign to be leader of our party and Prime Minister of this country, in which she said that she was not currently planning to pursue the option mentioned.
May we have a debate on the powers of trading standards officers, particularly to deal with unscrupulous builders, as I have encountered a number of cases where people have been ripped off?
I know that this is a matter of concern, and these things have happened on one or two occasions in my constituency. I believe that trading standards officers have the powers to intervene, but if the hon. Gentleman has specific ideas about where those powers could and should be strengthened and wants to write to me with them, I will pass them to the appropriate Minister.
Was the hon. Lady present at the start?
In that case, I am afraid that the hon. Lady’s words of wisdom—I do not doubt they will be just that—will have to be put into storage and used on another occasion, to which we all look forward with bated breath and beads of sweat upon our foreheads in eager anticipation.
Westbourne House is a hostel run by Humbercare in my constituency, and it deals with people who have a variety of issues. When it was set up, the chief executive of Humbercare decided not to consult the local community, and he also did not tell me about what was happening. Since then, despite the good efforts of the police and the front-line staff in the hostel, there have been ongoing problems with antisocial behaviour. Would it be possible to have a debate about the responsibilities of people who hold office—chief executives of charities and organisations—when they take decisions that cause real problems in local communities? It seems very difficult to get any action taken in cases such as this.
The hon. Lady makes her point in her customary forthright way. I know that this will be a matter of great concern to her constituents. It is essential that when such facilities are established, they are established in the right place. All of us over the years have discovered cases where that has not happened. The matter will have to be dealt with by the local authorities, but I understand the point that she makes, and she has made it very well.
In recent weeks, Clydebank Asbestos Group has brought to my attention the fact that requests to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for workplace histories for those suffering from mesothelioma conditions, such as my constituents George Cairney, Dennis Dunn and Alistair McDermind, are still unresolved after almost a year. Will the Leader of the House urge the new Chancellor of the Exchequer to review HMRC’s procedures and seek early compliance with workplace history requests for those suffering from life-threatening conditions, and to bring that review to the Floor of the House?
I understand how desperately difficult it is for people suffering from mesothelioma, which is a horrible, horrible condition. The new Chancellor will be here on Tuesday, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to come to the House and make that point. It is a very important one.
On a point similar to that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell), I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 310 on the civil service compensation scheme and the Government’s proposals to cut exit payments drastically by between 25% and 60%.
[That this House is concerned by the Government’s proposed reforms of the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (CSCS); notes the proposal to drastically cut civil service compensation payments by between 25 and 60 per cent, affecting thousands of civil servants across the UK; is alarmed that these reforms are being brought forward at the same time as hundreds of government offices are closing and departments are facing immense pressure to downsize, putting thousands of civil service jobs at risk; is aware that the then Minister for the Cabinet Office introduced changes to the CSCS in 2010 which he described as fair and sustainable in the long term; further notes that an equality impact assessment on these proposed new reforms has not been carried out; is concerned that cuts to the CSCS may affect older workers, women, those with disabilities and BME civil servants; notes that civil servants across the UK are facing an uncertain future and that additional uncertainty regarding exit payments has had a negative impact on staff morale and health; and therefore calls on the Government to halt its plans to further cut the CSCS and instead invest in the civil service through staff training, decent pay rises and honouring the terms and conditions of all civil servants.]
May we have a debate in Government time on this issue, as it is severely affecting civil servants’ morale?
This is one of the difficult challenges that we have faced as a Government over the past six years. Ever since we took office in 2010, the compensation schemes have been very much out of kilter with what would happen in the private sector. There comes a point when we have to say that we have a duty to the taxpayer to have a system that is balanced, appropriate and consistent with what people would face in other employment.
I am sure the whole House agrees that the UK Government should support the families of service personnel who have died while serving, but a group of UK military widows are prevented from receiving pensions if they remarried before April last year. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time on how we can close this illogical and deeply unjust loophole?
This is an issue that the hon. Lady and other Members have raised before. I understand the point that she makes. I will make sure that the Defence Secretary is aware of the concerns that she has raised, and will ask him to write to her.
May we have a debate on Cabinet appointments? It strikes me that aside from insulting foreigners, the new Foreign Secretary is not actually interested in foreign affairs. Since the beginning of this Parliament, he has tabled no written or oral questions to the Foreign Office and has bothered to turn up for only four Foreign and Commonwealth Office statements. Should we move to a position in which Parliament approves Cabinet appointments, as we do in Holyrood, rather than those being made at the Prime Minister’s discretion?
Judging by the extent to which Members are going on about the new Foreign Secretary this morning, they must be quite afraid of his appointment.
Last week, I asked the Leader of the House a question about the House of Lords, and I got the worst answer that I have received in this place to date. That is quite an achievement, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman. When asked about the Government’s position, his answer was that the SNP should have brought forward private Members’ Bills. He knows full well that his Back Benchers would talk out private Members’ Bills, and his Government have refused to implement the recommendations of the Procedure Committee to improve the private Members’ Bills system. I will therefore try again. Why does the Leader of the House think it is acceptable to have 26 Bishops of the Church of England sitting in the House of Lords making legislation? Why should they be allowed to vote on legislation that affects Scotland?
I am going to give the hon. Gentleman the same answer again. I do not believe it is a priority for this country to start reforming the House of Lords. If SNP Members feel so strongly about it, why have we had no Opposition day debate about it and no private Members’ Bills about it? They talk about the issues that they are concerned about, but when they have the chance to act, they simply do not.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a matter of record that, in recent weeks, there has been a significant escalation in misogynistic abuse and threats of violence, and those have been aimed disproportionately towards female MPs on both sides of the House. It is apparent that this abuse is completely out of hand now, with many Members fearful for their and their staff’s safety, to the point where a number of Members have told me they are worried about their personal health. As we all know, this comes just four weeks to the day after our dear colleague was murdered. This cannot be allowed to continue. Could you advise the House what action it can take to make it clear that this behaviour will not be tolerated from any party and that all perpetrators will be punished appropriately?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, to whose point of order I will, in a moment, respond in very truncated terms, but the Leader of the House is signalling a desire to contribute, and it is important that we should hear from the right hon. Gentleman.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I say first that I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady? A lot of work is taking place on measures to improve the security of right hon. and hon. Members. There is a project group looking in detail at what lessons can be learned from the tragic events of a few weeks ago. Next week, the Commission will consider improvements to the approach we take. Included in that approach will, I hope, be a greater opportunity for individual Members to raise concerns about their safety and to have those concerns acted on. Would everyone in the House please be reassured that you, myself, the Chairman of Ways and Means, and House officials are very mindful of the need for us to step up the security that is available to Members of Parliament and the service we provide to watch over their safety?
I am extremely grateful to the Leader of the House for saying what he has said. Traditionally, we do not discuss security on the Floor of the House, for very good reasons. That said, the Leader of the House has just pointed out the extent of the work that is taking place behind the scenes, and it is only right that Members should know that what the right hon. Gentleman has said about co-operation between senior colleagues is, of course, absolutely pertinent and on the money.
The Leader of the House, I and the Chairman of Ways and Means are in regular discussion about these matters and, indeed, co-operated only a matter of a few days ago in putting together a letter to register our concerns and constructive proposals—that letter being to another senior colleague. It is also true, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that these matters will be broached at the meeting of the House of Commons Commission on Monday. By definition, I cannot elaborate, because the discussion is to be had, but it is important that Members know that we are not in any way hermetically sealed from the rest of our colleagues; we share and take very seriously these concerns. Moreover, those of us who are quite fortunate in our living accommodation are very conscious of those who are not, to whom we have a very particular sense of responsibility.
So far as the hon. Lady is concerned today, I just make the point that if any individual Member has particular personal concerns as of now, the best course of action is to approach the parliamentary security director for his best advice. He is immensely experienced and better placed at a practical level to give guidance than any of us laypersons could be. I hope that that is helpful, but doubtless there will be further updates in due course.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. If I may, Sir, I would just like to thank you, the Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) for their contributions, which were very reassuring.
May I seek your guidance about the rules of this place as they refer to the language we use when referring to each other? We call each other honourable Members, and the underlying assumption is that we act honourably and honestly. However, in business questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) raised the question of claims being made during the referendum campaign that we now believe to be palpably untrue. If I were to accuse a specific hon. Member of making those statements knowingly, you would instruct me to withdraw those comments, and if I refused, you would instruct me to leave this place. Nevertheless, I and other hon. Members believe that claims were made that were false, and I am looking for a mechanism by which to call out those Members we believe knowingly made them. Is there a mechanism within the rules of the House whereby I can make suggestions without falling foul of the rules, which, of course, we all hold dear?
There are procedures available for that purpose—procedures with which some very experienced Members of the House are well familiar. I think that for now my best advice to the hon. Gentleman is that he should go to the Table Office, where the staff will be very well able to point him to the approach or mechanism that might enable him to pursue his objective. It would be a profitable visit for the hon. Gentleman, and it would consume—he will know the whereabouts of the office in question—very little energy.
Report of the Iraq Inquiry
[Relevant documents: First Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2015–16, on Flexible response? An SDSR checklist of potential threats and vulnerabilities, HC 493, and the Government’s response, Fourth Special Report of Session 2015–16, HC 794. Eleventh Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2014–15, on Decision-making in Defence Policy, HC 682, and the Government’s response, Third Special Report of Session 2015–16, HC 367. Seventh Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2014–15, on The situation in Iraq and Syria and the response to al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq al-Sham (DAESH), HC 690, and the Government’s response, Twelfth Special Report of Session 2014–15, HC 1126. Fourteenth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2013–14, on Intervention: Why, When and How?, HC 952, and the Government’s response, Fourth Special Report of Session 2014–15, HC 581.]
Debate resumed (Order, 13 July).
Question again proposed,
That this House has considered the Report of the Iraq Inquiry.
Before I call the first speaker—from the Back Benches, as this is a continuation of the debate that began yesterday—I should say to the House that at this stage I have not imposed a time limit on speeches. The House will be aware that there will have to be wind-up speeches from the Opposition Front Bench and the Government Front Bench tonight, for which I have to allow, but beyond that, I will wait to see how things go. My best advice to colleagues is that if each feels able to contribute for 10 minutes, but not much more than that, it may not be necessary to have any formal limit. There is therefore a burden on the shoulders of distinguished colleagues as they commence their contributions. That burden, I am sure, will be keenly felt by the Chair of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis).
Thank you very much for calling me, Mr Speaker. I shall endeavour to follow your injunction to be brief. There is a very good reason to be brief at this stage of consideration of the Chilcot report, and that is that we have had very little time to consider a very large mass of detailed information.
I generally find, when trying to unravel what has happened historically, that it is sensible to look back at some of the original sources. In the very short time available, I have picked out a few original documents that have been included in the mass of published material. One of them is the Joint Intelligence Committee assessment dated 29 January 2003 and entitled, “Iraq: the emerging view from Baghdad”. I shall refer to two quotations. At paragraph 10, the JIC says:
“We are unlikely to receive any advance warning of a pre-emptive attack on the Kurds. We judge that a pre-emptive limited artillery strike on Kuwait using CBW could be launched in as little as two hours.”
At another point in the report, a list of things that might be the result of an attack on Saddam Hussein is given. One of these possibilities is described in the following terms:
“to inflict high enough casualties on any coalition ground forces, perhaps in Kuwait, including through the use of CBW, to halt a coalition attack and to swing public opinion in the West against hostilities.”
Another note, entitled, “Saddam: The Beginning of the End”, which was prepared by the assessment staff following a discussion at the JIC on 19 March 2003, states:
“We judge Iraq has a useable CBW capability, deliverable using artillery, missiles and possibly unmanned aerial vehicles. We judge Iraq possesses up to 20 al-Hussein missiles with a range of up to 650km and 100s of shorter range missiles, mostly with a range of 150km or less. These missiles may be able to deliver CBW, although intelligence suggests that Iraq may lack warheads capable of effective dispersal of such agents.”
The reason I quote those two documents is that they were top secret documents that were never intended for publication until the archives eventually came to be released many years later. They show, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the advice received by the Labour Government at that time was that Saddam Hussein did possess, in the assessment of our intelligence agencies, chemical and biological weapons. We now know that that was wrong, but we also know, as a result of the release of those documents, that the Labour Government of the day did not lie to Parliament over the question of their belief that chemical and biological weapons were kept.
More contentious is the question of whether or not Tony Blair exaggerated. That is a matter of harder judgment, but I sometimes wonder what the reaction of Parliament would have been if he had come to us and said, “We really don’t know for certain whether Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons. We know he has had them in the past and used them. Because we can’t be certain that he hasn’t got them now, because of the events that happened only a matter of months earlier, which put al-Qaeda and its suicide brand of terrorism on the world stage, and because we cannot be sure that, for reasons of his own, he might not seek to supply such weapons to suicidal terrorist groups, we judge that we can’t take the chance.”
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s useful approach in going back to the primary sources. Does not the information to which he refers, though, highlight just how dangerous it is to go to war on the basis of intelligence alone, which is essentially what marked the Iraq war out from every other one? Does he agree that the process of making intelligence available for assessment by this House has to be improved, or we could risk doing it again?
That is very tricky, because there are two scenarios where we can go to war. One is quite straightforward: somebody attacks us and we get on with it, because we are given no choice. The other is a situation such as that under discussion, where we have reason to believe that something horrible could happen and the question arises of whether we should intervene.
One of the most problematic aspects of the Chilcot report is its statement that military action was “not a last resort” and that the peace process could have been given longer. The reality is that, unless an attack is launched on us, we can always go on talking for longer. I cannot think of any point at which it would be possible to say, “We have to launch an attack now because there is no prospect of continuing to try to find out without taking military action.”
The right hon. Gentleman talks about this House having to assess the intelligence, but I am not sure that that helps us too much. We can never be certain that what we are assessing is the whole picture, because sometimes, as those of us who have served on bodies such as the Intelligence and Security Committee will know, there are sources of intelligence that cannot be revealed. Therefore, to present raw intelligence to the House, without being able to say that there is other intelligence not being presented to the House, leaves the House in an anomalous position.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in 2003, the House voted not just, or even mainly, on the intelligence? If you look at the debate, Mr Speaker, you will see that the House voted on Saddam Hussein’s repeated and unprecedented non-compliance with mandatory United Nations resolutions and on his record. Does the right hon. Gentleman think from his reading of the report that Saddam Hussein executed a massive bluff on the international community and his own people by pretending that he still had the weapons we know he had, or does he agree with the current Iraqi Government that Saddam sent them across the border to Syria?
I agree with a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. Although it is not a matter of primary concern to us now, the fact is that Saddam Hussein was the author of his own misfortune. We must remember that, apart from being a brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein had invaded and occupied Kuwait in 1990. He chose to try to convince his own people that he had not given up these weapons, when either he had given them up or, as the right hon. Gentleman said and as rumours persist to this day, he had spirited them away, possibly to Syria. However, although I see a degree of agreement with me from those on the Labour Benches over this issue, they may find it a little harder to accept the next point that I wish to make.
I have great respect for my right hon. Friend, as he will know. However, I suggest that, on this issue, it was not just about intelligence sourcing from here. The United Nations inspectors at the time were pleading for more time because they could not find the WMDs upon which premise we were going to war. We should have listened to them as well. Ultimately, the reason they could not find the WMDs is that they did not exist.
Yes, but the problem that the inspectors and we would always have faced was summed up by something that was said at the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly. I was going to quote this later, but I shall do so now. On 21 August 2003, I attended the Hutton inquiry. In the course of giving evidence, Nicolas Rufford, a journalist, made a statement about a telephone conversation that he had had with Dr David Kelly in June 2003. Dr Kelly was, of course, a weapons expert, and knew all about the difficulties of detecting weapons stockpiles if they were hidden. In the course of that telephone conversation, Dr Kelly said to Mr Rufford that
“it was very easy to hide weapons of mass destruction because you simply had to dig a hole in the desert, put them inside, cover them with a tarpaulin, cover them with sand and then they would be almost impossible to discover”.
So the question that we come back to once again is: if Tony Blair had come to this House and more honestly highlighted the question marks against the reliability of the intelligence, would he be as excoriated today as he has been? Let me be counterfactual for a moment. Let us suppose that some stocks of anthrax had been discovered and there had been a secret cache. Would we still be saying that the people who took the decision in 2003, on the basis of what clearly was an honest belief that Saddam Hussein might have deadly stocks of anthrax, were wrong? I have no hesitation in saying that although the Government may have exaggerated—and probably did exaggerate—the strength of the evidence they had, I believe that they genuinely expected to find stocks of these weapons.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Yes, but I am taking a lot of interventions, and I am keen not to abuse the fact that I do not have a time limit.
Given the right hon. Gentleman’s wisdom and expertise, he is a focal point in this discussion. Does he accept that there are some on these Benches who think—and who feel that this is justified by the Chilcot findings—that the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction was an artificial casus belli that was used to effect regime change? If weapons of mass destruction were an issue, why wait 13 years to invade? Why not go in at the time of the first Iraq war?
The answer to the second question is easy. What happened during those 13 years was the appearance on the international stage, in September 2001, of a group that had been around for a long time but had not previously succeeded in killing 3,000 people in the heart of New York and Washington DC. [Interruption.] Therefore, the issue at question, as we often hear quite rightly said in debates about international terrorism, was that the traditional policy—the technique of containment, which is usually the best technique to deal with rogue regimes that have weapons stocks—could no longer apply under the circumstances. It was feared that if an international terrorist organisation was, for any reason, supplied with a substance such as anthrax, rational deterrence would be ineffective in preventing the organisation from using it, no matter how suicidally.
Given the role that my right hon. Friend plays as Chairman of the Defence Committee, I wonder whether he could qualify the statement that he has just made, which caused a reaction in the House. He suggested that somehow the events of 9/11 created a different scenario in Iraq. Does he not agree with me that in 2003, al-Qaeda was not present in Iraq, and therefore the relationship between 9/11 and Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, cannot be made?
I do agree that al-Qaeda was not present in Iraq at the time, but that is not the point that I was making. The point that I was making was that the west was in a major stand-off with Saddam Hussein, and people use other groups and organisations for their own ends. The danger was—the then Prime Minister said this at the time, and it is what convinced me to support him—that Saddam Hussein might, for reasons of his own, decide to make some of these weapons available to certain groups, not because he was allied to such groups but because he and al-Qaeda shared a common enemy in the west.
I want to move on. Some Members will agree with what I have said, and others will not. Let me continue with the second branch of my remarks, and then it will be for other Members to put their own perspective on the matter. I hasten to add that although my chairmanship of the Defence Committee has been referred to a number of times, I am, of course, speaking entirely on my own behalf as someone who was here at the time and took part in the debate and the vote.
When I look back at those circumstances, I say to myself that the primary reason why I supported and spoke in favour of military action was that I believed what I was told by the then Labour Government about the possession of anthrax and other weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein. But here is where I have to make a major admission. At the back of my mind, and at the back, I believe, of many other hon. Members’ minds, was a second belief. It was the belief that if Saddam Hussein were removed, we might see the emergence of some form of democracy in Iraq. I was profoundly mistaken in that belief. From looking at the scenario as it developed, it is quite clear that what emerged was not any form of democracy; instead, there re-emerged the mutual hatreds between different branches of fundamentalist Islam that has led to bitter conflict for more than 1,000 years.
That was the lesson I drew from the Iraq war. It is also why, when it subsequently became clear that the same scenario would be played out in other theatres for the same sort of reasons—in particular, in relation to Syria in August 2013—I was determined not to make the same mistake again. Along with 29 other right hon. and hon. Members of the Conservative party and nine Liberal Democrats, I therefore voted not to take the same sort of action against President Assad as we had taken against Saddam Hussein. I remember hearing exactly the same sort of arguments in favour of removing Assad as everyone now accepts had been inadequate arguments for removing Saddam Hussein.
Members who feel strongly that it was the wrong thing to do in 2003 ought to check what the consequences have been of not taking the same sort of step in 2013. Since 2013 huge bloodletting has continued in Syria, but many of us still argue that if the choice is between an authoritarian dictatorship and totalitarian civil conflict engaged in by people who believe that suicide terrorism is the answer to the world’s problems and the fastest route to paradise, we should appreciate that very often there are no simple or easy answers in such dilemmas.
I have great respect for the Chairman of the Defence Committee—in fact, I believe I voted for him. Is he saying that if he had his time again he would vote against the Iraq war in 2003 and for the Syrian conflict in 2013?
I am saying that I was absolutely right not to vote to remove Assad in 2013 and absolutely wrong to vote as I did in 2003, but that I did so because I believed what I was told about weapons of mass destruction and also believed—wrongly—that there was a chance for Iraqi society to advance along more democratic lines. That was my terrible error.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I shall make a little more progress first.
My last point leads me to a second question. I hope that I have, in effect, shown that when the Labour Government of the day said to the House that they believed there were weapons of mass destruction they were not lying, and that there was a reasonable case to be made on those grounds for taking the action that was taken. However, the papers also show that the Prime Minister of the day, Tony Blair, was not unaware of the possible consequences of removing Saddam Hussein. In his public statement, Sir John Chilcot said:
“We do not agree that hindsight is required. The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and Al Qaida activity in Iraq, were each explicitly identified before the invasion.”
“Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate.”
In a briefing note in January 2003 from Mr Blair to President Bush, the then Prime Minister wrote:
“The biggest risk we face is internecine fighting between all the rival groups, religions, tribes, etc, in Iraq, when the military strike destabilises the regime. They are perfectly capable, on previous form, of killing each other in large numbers.”
Let us remind ourselves that the vast total of deaths that have taken place in Iraq are not people who have been killed by westerners; they are Muslims who have been killed by other Muslims once the lid of authoritarian repression was removed.
I am nervous about opening up a new front for my right hon. Friend, but some of the deaths in Iraq were clearly of our soldiers, and Chilcot said that there were some
“serious equipment shortfalls when conflict began”.
Two of my constituents died in action in Iraq—Sergeant Roberts died because he did not have the right body armour, and Flight Lieutenant Stead died because his Hercules did not have the proper suppressant foam fitted. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should never, ever, again send our armed forces into combat without properly equipping them for the task in hand?
Never, ever, again is a strong statement, and when a conflict arises, especially when it is the result of unforeseen events, it is seldom the case that the armed forces are fully equipped in every respect. The history of our engagement in many conflicts is of a disastrous start that is usually gradually rectified as the conflict goes on. The report clearly brings out that, for far too long while the conflict was going on, equipment deficiencies were not identified and remedied—I will leave it at that for the moment.
I have two points on which to conclude. First, we must now accept that societies are unready for western-style democracy while their politics remain indissolubly linked to totalitarian, religious supremacism. I am not saying anything racialist in making those remarks, because only a few hundred years ago, religious wars devastated Europe, and here in England heretics were treated just as barbarously as they are in the middle east today. If the democratic model is to work, it usually has to evolve. If it does not evolve, a country must be totally occupied for many years in order for such a model to be implanted and to take root.
Secondly, the then Foreign Secretary said yesterday that he believed that some of those decisions, which were mistaken at the time, would less likely be taken in future because of the creation and existence of the National Security Council, and that that council is a forum where such matters could be thrashed out more realistically. I am not sure that that forum is quite strong enough. In bygone years, the heads of each of the three services had a direct input into the policy debate. The Chiefs of Staff Committee was a body that had to be reckoned with, even by Prime Ministers as forceful as Winston Churchill. Our current arrangements, in which the Chiefs of Staff are supposed to funnel their views to politicians through the medium of just one person—the Chief of the Defence Staff—are entirely inadequate.
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary is continuing in his post and I am pleased he is here to hear me say something that I hope he will be hearing more about from the Defence Committee, which is that there is too much of a disconnect between our top military advisers and the politicians. It is easier for a Prime Minister with a bee in his bonnet about overthrowing one regime or another to brush aside the words of one man, no matter how authoritative any given Chief of the Defence Staff may be, than it is to brush aside the contribution of the heads of the armed forces as a body.
The Defence Committee suggested, in one of its final reports under my predecessor as Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), that the Chiefs of Staff Committee needed to be constituted as the military sub-committee of the National Security Council. The recommendation was ignored in the reply to that report, but I reiterate it today. We must have authoritative and expert people who are in a position to stand up to a Prime Minister on a mission, whether to remove Saddam Hussein or to remove Gaddafi while telling this House that we are just going to implement a no-fly zone to protect the citizens of Benghazi. It is very important that the strategic calculus should be properly presented to politicians, so we do not ever again have a situation, as we are told happened over Libya, where a Chief of the Defence Staff is told to do the fighting while the politicians do the planning.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who very helpfully gave the House the product of his lucubrations and interpreted my guidance loosely. He had to take lots of interventions—that is certainly true. There is no time limit. I am leaving the House to regulate itself, but Members will want to take account of the fact that people might try to intervene on them. I say in all sincerity that we want everybody to get in. I thank the right hon. Gentleman. The next contributor will be Ben Bradshaw. [Interruption.] No, the right hon. Gentleman does not now wish to contribute. I rather hope that Mr Pat McFadden does.
I am happy to be a substitute for my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), Mr Speaker.
The decision to go to war in Iraq was, certainly in foreign policy terms, the most controversial decision of the Blair premiership and, indeed, of the entire Labour period in government. One hundred and seventy nine British troops died, as did more than 4,000 American troops, and many thousands of Iraqi civilians in the chaos and destruction afterwards. Sir John’s inquiry was asked to look at how the decision was taken and what lessons can be learned.
First, there is the crucial question of whether the war was based on a lie. On this, the report concludes:
“there is no evidence that intelligence was improperly included in the dossier or that No 10 improperly influenced the text.”
Prior to the report’s publication, there had been years of accusations about fabricating intelligence. In the wake of its publication a different question has been raised, which is why the intelligence was not challenged more.
The right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) quoted from some Joint Intelligence Committee reports. I do not need to repeat those particular quotes, but in 2002 the reports say that the intelligence was “sporadic and patchy”. They also say:
“it is clear that Iraq continues to pursue a policy of acquiring WMD and their delivery means”,
“Iraq has an offensive chemical warfare programme”
“Iraq has a chemical and biological weapons capability and Saddam is prepared to use it”.
This view turned out to be wrong, but it was genuinely felt and reported to the Government time after time. It was shared by many intelligence services around the world, including in countries fiercely opposed to the war. Sir John makes important recommendations about how intelligence is to be assessed and challenged in the future, but they are not the same as accusations of fabrication, lying or using intelligence deliberately to mislead.
Sir John concludes that the war was “not a last resort”, that the inspection process should have been given more time, and that the decision to use military action “undermined the authority” of the UN Security Council. This finding raises a huge and fundamental question, particularly in view of the fact that Saddam Hussein had been in breach of a whole series of UN Security Council resolutions over a period of 12 years, and that he had in the past used chemical weapons against his own people. One therefore has to ask who was really undermining the UN. Was it the country in breach, or the countries trying to enforce the UN’s will?
What does this finding mean for the responsibility to protect? My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) raised that issue yesterday. Is one of the lessons that we should never engage in military action, no matter how multiple the breaches of previous UN Security Council resolutions, unless there is full support from the Security Council itself? If that is our conclusion, what does that mean for the authority of the UN? This was not the view that we took in Kosovo. That action, although it was opposed by some, is generally felt to have produced a positive outcome for the people and to have prevented a disaster in the Balkans.
Thirdly, I turn to the aftermath, and the chaos and destruction that ensued.
The question for the House is whether there is the weight of evidence to justify action, not if we should never act without express authority from the UN Security Council, which would be just one piece of evidence that the House should take into consideration. In the case of Kosovo, which is a good example, there were other reasons for acting as we did. I supported that action then and continue to support it now.
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention. My point is that the finding about undermining the authority of the UN raises huge questions. It is one of the most controversial findings in the report.
Colin Powell famously remarked:
“If you break it, you own it”.
It is undoubtedly the responsibility of countries that remove a brutal dictator to put in place security measures afterwards. On this point, Sir John’s report is understandably critical of the UK and the US. With intervention comes responsibility. Security is a key part of that responsibility, but we should be clear about two other points: first, the killing of innocent civilians in Iraq was carried out not by UK or US armed forces, but by terrorists and militias that blew up the UN headquarters, attacked mosques, destroyed already fragile infrastructure and bombed marketplaces; and, secondly, that sectarian violence and killings in Iraq did not begin in 2003. Prior to that, it was carried out by the Saddam regime itself: the Anfal campaign; the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in the north; and the brutal suppression of the Shi’a uprising after the first Gulf war in 1991. It was a reign of terror. Decades on, mass graves are still being discovered. I pay tribute to the courage and determination of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who was campaigning for the victims of Saddam’s brutal regime long before the Iraq war in 2003.
Fourthly, what is the lesson for our own security? I believe that people supported the Iraq war for different reasons, and many opposed it for different reasons. They should not all be put in the one bracket. Not everyone has drawn a direct line between this intervention and all the security problems we face, but some have. Foreign interventions will anger jihadists, and may also be used as a recruiting sergeant for jihadists, but it would be a fundamental mistake to believe that the mass murder of innocent people is only a response to what we do, and that if we stopped doing it, they would leave us alone. We should remember that Islamist terrorism existed long before the Iraq war. The USS Cole was bombed in 2000. The World Trade Centre was first bombed in 1993 and then destroyed in 2001, with the loss of 3,000 innocent lives. In Bali in 2002, we saw the murder of hundreds of innocent tourists, and there have been many more attacks around the world since, including last year in Paris. That attack took place in the country in Europe that was the most opposed to the Iraq war.
Let me repeat something I have said here before. Understanding Islamist terrorism simply as a reaction to what we do infantilises terrorists, fails to confer responsibility on them for what they do, and fails to stand up for the pluralism, equality, diversity and religious freedom that we hold dear. Whatever lesson we learn from past interventions, it should not be to franchise out our foreign policy decisions for the approval or veto of the terrorists who oppose our way of life.
Finally, there is the lesson on intervention itself. Sir John makes a number of recommendations on this point—about how intelligence should be treated, ministerial oversight, the challenge of arguments and so forth. The recommendations look eminently sensible, and I am sure that any future Government will take them on board. The truth is, however, that this is not just a matter of process.
My right hon. Friend made a strong critique of one of Sir John’s findings about the undermining of the United Nations. Another finding that I consider problematic is the “last resort” suggestion, which was also criticised by the Chair of the Defence Committee. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, at that time, it was clear that time was running out? Saddam had been given 90 days when the resolution specified 30 days, so saying that other avenues could somehow be explored was not realistic at the time.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. At some point, there is always the issue of deciding. Every debate about intervention since 2003 has taken place in the shadow of this decision. Iraq has already increased the threshold for military action and the Chilcot report will raise it further. There is an inescapable question, however. To put it bluntly, we can have all the committees and processes that we want, but we still have to decide. The decision can go wrong, and everything that will happen in the aftermath cannot be predicted.
Much has been said about the size of the report, with its 2.5 million words. If we stack the volumes on top of one another, the paper would stand about 2 feet high. The very sight of the report will be a warning to future Prime Ministers. Since 2003, Prime Ministers and Presidents have been very conscious about learning from Iraq, and this report will make them even more conscious in the future. The biggest question of all is this: in reflecting on what went wrong after the invasion and the findings of the report, and adding in the reduced size of our armed forces in recent years, what if the conclusion was, “Never intervene again”? What message would that send out to the oppressed of the world, to dictators or to terrorist groups?
I was not an MP in 2003, so I never had to face the responsibility of voting for the war in Iraq. The most significant vote on foreign policy since I was elected was over Syria in 2013, and that vote was heavily coloured by our experience in Iraq. I have a slightly different interpretation from that of the right hon. Member for New Forest East. I voted against military action in 2013, even after Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people. Yet Syria, where we did not intervene beyond the limited airstrikes we voted for last year, has been a humanitarian disaster even worse than Iraq. Hundreds of thousands are dead, millions have been displaced, and we have seen the greatest movement of refugees since the end of the second world war. It is not a vote to intervene that has troubled me most in my 11 years here; it is that vote not to intervene, as the international community, with the exception of Russia—where have the demonstrations outside its embassy been?—stood back and decided that it was all too difficult. There is no Chilcot report on Syria. We can tell ourselves that because we did not break it, we did not buy it, but that makes absolutely no difference to the human cost.
So let us learn, but let us not sign a blank cheque for despots and terrorist groups around the world, or delude ourselves that the security issues that we face stem only from our foreign policy decisions, rather than from an ideology that encourages the killing of innocent people in countries around the world. Yes, intervening has consequences—2.5 million words detailing those consequences are before us—but so does standing back, and leadership is about deciding the difference.
I suggest that Iraq 2003 ranks with Suez in a catalogue of British foreign policy disasters. It cost the lives of more than 200 British nationals and many tens of thousands of Iraqi nationals and citizens, and set in train a terrible sequence of events, including a vicious civil war and a fundamental alteration in the balance of power in the region. Thirteen years later, we are still living with many of those consequences.
Given that I resigned from the shadow Front Bench in 2003 to vote against the war, I suppose it could be said that it marked a pivotal point in defining my political career, such as it has been, so for me it has been of rather more than passing interest to observe the progress of the Chilcot report. I defended the time that Sir John Chilcot took, and I want to take this opportunity to thank him and his team for the thoroughness of the report.
As a former soldier, I believe that, whatever has been said previously, war should always be the measure of last resort, to be taken when all other possibilities have been exhausted. We should never lose sight of that simple fact. Of course there is such a thing as a just war, but at the same time we owe it to our citizens, to our Parliament and, above all, to the soldiers whom we are committing to battle to recognise that it must be the measure of last resort. In my view, the overriding, the most important and the most damning conclusion of Sir John’s report was that Iraq was not, in fact, that last resort and that other possibilities had not been exhausted.
The report made other points. It said that the premise on which we went to war—the existence of weapons of mass destruction—was oversold and that there was a discarding of caveats attached to the intelligence. It referred to a lack of preparedness in respect of our armed forces, to deficiencies in equipment and to an absence of post-war planning, all which have been touched on before. That litany of errors was compounded by an overestimation of our influence over the United States. We could not, at the time, believe that it could be in our interests not to be on the frontline. I think that one of the proudest and best moments for Prime Minister Wilson was when he said no to the Americans over Vietnam. That did not fracture the so-called special relationship, which, within 15 or 20 years, was on a very firm footing indeed.
I do not intend to look back at all the errors in that litany, but I suggest that there are two key lessons from this episode on which we would do well to reflect. First, Parliament should have done more to question the evidence put before it. That was a failure at almost every level. If the legislature does not examine the evidence and question the Executive at times like that, when is it going to do so? There was also the failure of those in the know—at all levels, in my view, but particularly in the Cabinet—to challenge what was being presented to the public. I think that the one figure who stands proud among that select group of people in the Cabinet is Robin Cook. Everything that he said during that eventful debate in 2003 has been proved right. I contributed to that debate as well, but his was one of the best speeches that I had heard for a very long time.
We should have questioned more. We should have examined the detail. I was told to stop asking awkward questions, but we, the official Opposition, were asking so few awkward questions that it was suggested to me from the other side that we were trying to play political games with the issue, perhaps hoping that, if it blew up in the Government’s face, we could take advantage of the fact. That is how bad it got during that debate in 2003. We were simply not asking enough questions, and we should have done so.
I was here in 2003, and I was one of those who rebelled against the leader of my party and voted against action in the Iraq war. I think that the hon. Gentleman is being disingenuous, because it was one of the biggest rebellions that there had been against a Government from that Government’s side.
I remember how difficult it was to make that judgment against the leader. When someone is being led by a party leader whose judgment they respect, it is a tough call to say, “I am going to disagree, and vote against action of that kind.” I had a difference of opinion, and I have had no cause to change my mind about the decision that I made, but can the hon. Gentleman not accept, as I do, that the people who made those decisions did so believing that they were doing the right thing?
I do not think that we are saying different things. I am not suggesting that there was intentional deceit. What I am suggesting is that many of us in this place did not question sufficiently the evidence that was before us. The report from the Joint Intelligence Committee was full of caveats and holes, yet we relied on the Prime Minister’s interpretation, which was given in his foreword to the report.
I fully respect Members’ views as expressed on that fateful evening itself. If one cannot trust the Prime Minister, standing at the Dispatch Box making the case for war and, perhaps, privy to intelligence that we have not seen, it is a sad turn of events. However, I must return to the fundamental point that we should have questioned more, because there was a firm lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and such evidence was the premise for war. We must not forget that central consideration.
The reason the United Nations inspectors were pleading for more time, by the way, was that they could not find any weapons of mass destruction, and they could not find them because they did not exist. We should remember that it was the UN that was asking us to give it more time. The problem was that, at that point, we were marching to a military timetable.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman and you, Mr Speaker, will indulge me for a second. My speaking time was reduced to four minutes yesterday, so I did not have an opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, Robin Cook. Had it not been for his untimely death, I would not be in this place, and he was my Member of Parliament when I was growing up. I wanted to say that we might have disagreed on many things, but on Iraq we did agree. I know that he is missed very much by his family, his friends and his party.
I thank the hon. Lady for what she has said. I am sure that it will be taken on board by all concerned.
I am conscious that time is pressing on, Mr Speaker, so I shall try to wrap up my speech in the next few minutes; I know that many other Members want to speak.
The second important lesson that I think we should learn from Iraq is that we need a properly functioning, properly funded and well-sited foreign policy apparatus. There is no doubt that Iraq revealed clear deficiencies in that apparatus, and subsequent interventions suggest that, in large part, we have still not put them right. Helmand is one example. While most of us supported the initial invasion, or rather intervention, in Afghanistan to get rid of al-Qaeda, we made a massive mistake in allowing that mission—a mission that was wholly under-resourced—to morph into one of nation building. In Libya, we did not understand events on the ground: we could not believe that once we had knocked the door down, which was the easy part, we would lay open all the tribal rivalries.
As for Syria in 2013, there was a suggestion we would be arming the rebels, not realising that lurking in the shadows was ISIL-Daesh and how that would eventually play out. There was a clear deficit of strategic analysis, with a loss of expertise at all levels of the machinery of foreign policy. That is a problem particularly felt within the FCO. In this country, we have quite a narrow pyramid in foreign policy making. In the States, it is much more open and diverse; there are lobbyists and political analysts, and the politicians and experts can buy into and influence the system. In this country, it is much more narrowly defined; it is the preserve of the select few, and the FCO is part of the few, which is why it must be firing on all cylinders, but it has not been doing so.
That is why we need proper funding of the FCO. Its budget has been continually eroded, with a hollowing out of expertise and staff. Traditional skills like languages and knowledge of events on the ground and of peoples and places have all been downgraded, as illustrated by the closure of the in-house language school and the gutting of the venerable library.
How did we get to the point that when Russia intervened in Ukraine we did not have one Crimean expert in the FCO? How is it that when the Arab uprising took place we had so few Arabists that we were calling them out of retirement? How is it that we have a DFID budget 10 times the budget of the FCO? This does not serve us well. We need to increase the budget and have long-term investment to make sure we are as well-sighted as we can be, which is not the case at the moment. There is a continual pressure on the FCO budget, and we need to put that right.
It is no surprise that Parliament—the legislature—has raised the bar with regard to interventions. It expects to be consulted. That is one of the positive developments from the Iraq intervention. The rationale is straightforward: if we believe there is a loss of expertise at the heart of our foreign policy apparatus and if there is a lack of trust not just because of Iraq, but because of Helmand, Libya and Syria, the bar needs to be raised, but this is not a healthy position in the longer term. In this increasingly challenging international environment, we need a knowledgeable Executive to be firing on all cylinders. A well-informed and resourced FCO is essential to that, both to act as a better counterweight to the impulses of No. 10 and possibly to help us avoid costly errors and conflicts in the future. There must be within the system a readiness to speak truth to power, and I am not sure we are quite there yet, but that is one of the key lessons from Iraq.
The UK and the west face enormous geopolitical challenges. The world’s population will rise to 9 billion by 2050, with changing distribution—which is particularly of relevance to Africa—and urbanisation and the consequent strain on natural resources. Today, 1 billion people lack access to sufficient potable water, and by 2050 three-quarters of the world’s population could face water scarcity. A whole array of security and environmental challenges is caused by economic and political uncertainty. In today’s global information world, success will depend not only on who prevails by force but on who wins the story.
One of the lessons from the Iraq failure is that it is symptomatic of a wider malaise: the deficiency of strategic analysis at the core of our foreign policy apparatus. The greatest challenge for policy makers is to ensure we embrace flexibility and foresight. This is perhaps diplomacy’s greatest challenge. We must restore our foreign policy and defence capabilities, otherwise the country risks being left behind. This is happening at a time when the international community is failing to produce co-ordinated responses to many of the challenges facing mankind, including poverty, organised crime, conflict, disease, hunger and inequalities.
We must have a properly resourced and respected foreign policy apparatus and investment in soft power and old friendships and strong defence, because diplomacy and soft power cannot succeed by themselves. We must have this proper funding in place for our FCO, because if we are not well-sighted, the next intervention challenge— there will be more—might not be as local in its ramifications as these past errors have been. The costs of getting it wrong might be much greater next time.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and to follow the previous speakers, who have a great wealth and depth of information and knowledge to bring to it. If I wanted to sum up my comments I would say, “Mistakes made and lessons learned.”
British forces peaked at 46,000 during the invasion phase, but of course due to the way the tours system worked at the time, more actually served. I pay tribute to the 179 very brave and courageous servicemen and women who gave their lives during the campaign, and also to those gallant Members of this House and the other place who served.
The Chilcot inquiry and report have raised many questions, and the general public need answers. The lack of answers on key issues is the cause of much of the public’s rage. We followed the American lead without properly analysing intelligence. That is absolutely clear from the now public comment of Mr Blair to the then President of the United States:
“I will be with you, whatever”—
We need to be much more discerning about the way we interrogate intelligence material and information. It is imperative to note that the plan for success was absent. In 2003, there was outrageous and unexpected success, for which we had no plan. No one was able to foresee Hussein capitulating so early, and thus Iraq fell apart with no one to deliver the stable, successful programmes that existed, such as the oil for aid programme. We did not have a plan, a vision or an understanding of what would happen if we were successful in battle at that time. The vacuum that plunged the entire region into instability is felt strongly to this day, not only in the region but across the world.
We also did not understand the complex society of Iraq. There was no understanding of cultural sensitivities or local divisions, sectarianism or politics, which meant that our presence was further resented as time went on and things did not get better. There was also the unprecedented Shi’a majority uprising in Basra, where the Iran-Iraq war was most pronounced. All these things were unforeseen.
We cannot keep sending forces to places that they are unprepared to go to, in terms of equipment and understanding the reason. Estimates of the length of time a mission may take need to be more conservative and honest in future, not only to prepare our armed forces fully, but to regain the much-damaged public trust. I was not a Member of this House at the time of the Iraq war, but constituents have come to me who were sending socks, boots, food, body-warmers and, on one occasion I am aware of, body armour, to their people in Iraq. There is something wrong when our people serve overseas and we, their families, have to send them stuff the Army should give them when they first go out. There needs to be an honest conversation about that.
A lot of the things that went wrong can be explained by a lack of resources. We simply have not got the capacity to fight on so many fronts anymore. It is now clear that we greatly underestimated the capability of the enemy. What worked against rocket-propelled grenades in Ulster was not fit to take on 250-lb improvised explosive devices in Iraq. That is another important learning point that must be taken forward.
I want to talk about veterans, and the family support package when the soldiers were away. At that time, just two soldiers were left at headquarters to look after family affairs, and given the number of deaths and injuries, the situation became almost overpowering for them. I know things have changed, and I welcome those changes, but we have to build on this and make sure that the veterans are not forgotten, as some in the past have been. We need foresight, and we need to build on lessons learned and to continue learning, so that we only move forward in how we treat our armed forces.
I want to talk about the pension of a gentleman who served in uniform. His story will be well known to those who read The Sunday Times. His name is Chris Braithwaite, 41, a former major in the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment who served in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq. He said:
“When we were in Basra, we were subjected to rocket and mortar attacks daily for seven months. This was a great worry for my wife, Laura, but we believed that the financial support which is provided by the army in recognition of long service would reflect that family sacrifice—until the rug was pulled from under us.
On the same day that I received the Queen’s diamond jubilee medal in recognition of my service, I was given the news that I would be made redundant just 87 days short of the 16 years’ service I needed to receive an immediate pension.”
We are talking about people who fought for Queen and country. They did their bit, but when they needed support back home, it fell short with a vengeance. We must take care of our veterans. We must make sure that they receive absolutely first-class service from the state. It is vital that they are offered, and get, the best.
I have asked this question before and I ask it again today: will we see the statistic some day that more Iraq veterans have committed suicide than were killed in the conflict? We must confront the issue of how we treat our veterans. The Chilcot report gives us the opportunity to do just that, and it must be fully assessed. More British soldiers and veterans took their life in 2012 than died fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan over the same period. These are statistical facts. I do not like having to put them before the House, but we need to recognise them.
I want briefly to mention the reserves. This is another imperative issue, and there could be awful consequences if it is not addressed. We were using the highest number of reservists on record, and we have no method of tracking what happened to them when they came home, or of finding out whether they have fallen victim to any of the problems associated with veterans. Despite all this, the number of reservists was cut from 45,000 to 30,000 after the Iraq war. Clearly there needs to be a rethink.
Referring to the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the Belfast-born commander Tim Collins, who led the Royal Irish Regiment into Iraq in March 2003, has said:
“It may well be he was actually drunk on his self-importance having had successes in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, and having brokered the Good Friday Agreement, he genuinely believed he could do no wrong”.
This is in keeping with the
“I will be with you, whatever”
memo that was sent to President Bush. It is increasingly clear that our soldiers were being sent to war by Tony Blair, no matter what. Tim Collins said at the time that people believed there had been a plan in place for the aftermath. Sadly, we all know now that this was not the case, and the results of the lack of planning were disastrous for too many. It is easy to point the finger at Tony Blair, but there were others involved. Alastair Campbell, Geoff Hoon and others in that circle of friends, or of decision makers, should take this on board as well.
Right hon. and hon. Members will be aware of the poem by Rudyard Kipling entitled “Tommy”, and I should like to read out two verses from it—the second and the fifth. Its theme is just as applicable today as it was in its time.
“I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ’adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-’alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an ‘Tommy, wait outside’;
But it’s ‘Special train for Atkins’ when the trooper’s on the tide
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s ‘Special train for Atkins’ when the trooper’s on the tide.”
“You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extra rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’
But it’s ‘Saviour of ’is country’ when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool—you bet that Tommy sees!”
We have a duty to look after our veterans, and to ensure that those who have served this country well are looked after.
The Iraqi vulnerable persons resettlement scheme was set up after the war, but it has not delivered the capacity that it should have. The current reflections on Iraq are important, but they will have no impact on the ongoing dire situation in that country. The right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) made the point yesterday—I shall make it again today—that many Yazidis, Shi’as, Syriac Catholics, Protestants, Sabean-Mandaeans and Sunnis, as well as many others, continue to be targeted by Daesh on the basis of their identity. Around 3.3 million have been displaced due to the instability in Iraq, and many minority groups are on the verge of disappearance.
In June, the United Nations independent international commission of inquiry on Syria determined that Daesh had committed genocide against the Yazidis. Around 90% of Yazidis are Iraqi. Despite this evidence, the Gateway, Children at Risk and Mandate resettlement schemes, which are not nationality-specific, have taken in only a very low number of Iraqis—up to 300 in 2015. While some Iraqis might fit all the criteria under the current Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, they are not eligible for asylum in the UK because they are not Syrian nationals.
I want to call for a modest expansion of the SVPRS and the Iraqi vulnerable persons resettlement scheme to permit Iraqis who fit the SVPRS vulnerability criteria to qualify for asylum in the UK. A modest expansion is particularly pertinent, because Iraqis have suffered as much as their Syrian counterparts at the hands of Daesh, and the death toll in Iraq continues to rise. The UK cannot absolve itself from assisting Iraqis, and making them eligible for resettlement in the UK, with the UNHCR’s recommendation, is the least we can do.
We have heard about the mistakes, and we can learn from them and move forward. We can make the world a better place for our soldiers to serve in, with the uniform and equipment that they should have and with the support for veterans and their families that they need when they come home. Let us learn from the Chilcot report, and from those mistakes, and move forward.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for this opportunity to speak in the debate. The Chilcot report, published last week, made sobering reading. Many things have been said already on the issue—I shall not repeat them—and the chief protagonists at the time have received, in my view, fair criticism. I am in the fortunate position of both having been in the Army at the time of the Iraq war and now being a Member of this place. I did not serve in combat in Iraq; my theatre was another unpopular war, in Afghanistan.
At the time of the Iraq invasion, the Army was a strange place to be, particularly if you were just beginning your career. It is difficult to be positive about a mission when over 1 million people march against your deployment just before you go. But it is testament to the character and professionalism of the UK armed forces that the initial operation was the success that it was, despite cruel losses—including from my own regiment on 23 March 2003, when Ian Seymour, Les Hehir and Welly Evans of 29 Commando were killed during the insertion into southern Iraq.
However, what happened following the initial operation in that country and for the following seven years—indeed, perhaps right up to today—has been a tragedy for Iraq. I visited the country last autumn and met the President. It remains a place of extreme violence, heavy corruption and deep division. It was a challenge to return from a visit to Baghdad with much of a sense of optimism, although recent changes in the Iraqi security forces, and the international coalition’s mammoth efforts in the fight against Daesh, give real cause for hope, and I want to pay tribute to all UK forces engaged in that fight today.
How did we get to this point? I absolutely understand the public rage. The actions of some of those at the top of Government at the time—and yes, at the top of the military—were negligent. I am concerned, however, that the public’s fixation on Tony Blair could make us miss some of the learning points that must be taken from Sir John’s comprehensive work. Those learning points are the whole point of this process. It was encouraging to hear the Prime Minister who left office yesterday say that it would be impossible for these events to happen again today because of the structures he and his team had put in place, and I commend him and the Secretary of State for Defence for that.
However, there is a deeper issue here—one of basic moral courage—that I have found most distressing. In the military, that moral courage can be a rarer and therefore more treasured commodity in an organisation configured to imbue and nurture physical courage in the face of the enemy. That ability to stand up for your men in the face of a seemingly unstoppable sequence of events, and to speak truth to power, is an integral part of the military’s duty to this nation. We drill it into our subordinates and we preach it to anyone who will listen. So where was that courage in the build-up to this disastrous war?
It is inconceivable to me to allow a political Administration in this country to hamper preparations for war because they did not politically want to be seen to be making those preparations. It is inconceivable to me to allow soldiers out of patrol bases and into contact with the enemy without body armour, not as a tactical decision or a result of enemy action against a supply route, but simply because of bad planning. It is inconceivable to me continually to allow patrolling in Snatch Land Rovers when they were known to provide no protection whatever to our men and women against a well known and obvious threat from improvised explosive devices. But those things happened, and they directly cost UK military lives. These lessons must not be missed amid the almost visceral fixation of hatred on Tony Blair, lest we do a further disservice to our men and women who serve.
The Prime Minster does not make tactical decisions. She does not plan logistics; she is advised by those who do. I cannot in all honesty conceive of a time when I, as a very junior and insignificant commander in another unpopular war in Afghanistan, would ever have sanctioned an operation knowing that it lacked the equipment required to protect my men from a threat that I clearly knew about, because I was not prepared to say no. I find it hard, as do many of my cohort, to understand why that was sanctioned, yet it was.
We as a military betrayed the individuals who lost their life in this conflict as a direct result of equipment shortages. That is the point that really sticks in the craw. The political arguments and the strategic comings and goings will be debated ad infinitum, as they must be, to ensure that we do not make the same mistakes again, but the military and tactical lessons must also be learned. What happened in Iraq had a profound effect on my whole generation of junior commanders in the military. We grew up with a deep sense of distrust in our superiors as a result of their actions, or lack thereof, during the Iraq war. That affected many of us at a formative stage in our career.
Finally, I want to speak strongly against the idea that the lives of British servicemen and women were somehow wasted in this war, or that they died for nothing. I simply cannot reconcile it with my not insignificant personal experience of commanding men in combat that lives lost in the pursuit of protecting the freedoms and privileges that we enjoy in this country were lost in vain. For the families, many of whom I know intimately, nothing—no mission, no cause—can be worth losing a loved one. As a soldier, however, I feel that I must represent the intimate conversations we shared, and the deep motivations that we fell back on to get through yet another day in the sweat, heat, blood and dust of these recent wars. We soldiers are drawn from all backgrounds, races, religions, colours and creeds. We all have different views—usually much more informed than anyone gives us credit for, and no doubt crafted by our own personal experiences—but we wear one uniform, with one Union Jack on our sleeve. We sign up to the same core value of protecting this nation, in exactly the same tradition of immense sacrifices as our forefathers, who wore the same cap badges and were under the same flag.
The truth is that, when a soldier leaves his patrol base in the morning, he is not thinking about how his particular contribution that day will help to advance the cause of Iraq’s future prosperity or Afghanistan’s place in the world. He is not thinking about whether we should have believed the dossier about weapons of mass destruction or whether he is going to stumble upon Osama’s house in downtown Sangin. He is thinking of calling his wife later, of covering his arcs and of trying not to blink in case he misses something. He is making sure he has some spare batteries for his radio. He is more frightened of letting his mates down than he is of the enemy. He is more focused on doing his section, his platoon, or his battalion proud than whether he should be there in the first place. In those endeavours he is showing that courage, that fortitude, that resilience, that commitment, that discipline and that humanity that we all aspire to on the most revealing stage of all: warfare, where norms do not exist and brutality and raw human emotion are everywhere.
We aspire to those things because they are good, because they are noble, because they are to be desired, and young men and women made sacrifices demonstrating such qualities, which those of us who witnessed it and were lucky enough to return refuse to remember as futile. They did make a difference. They saved comrades’ lives through their bravery. They shielded civilians from a brutal enemy intent on showing the very worst of humanity. They improved individual communities and made them safer and better—perhaps not on an overall strategic level, but it was not all a waste. That courage, that resilience, that discipline, that commitment, they are what we must remember from these conflicts. They cannot and must never be forgotten, for that would be an even greater betrayal than the ones laid out in the report. The lives were not wasted; they were engaged in noble pursuits in the generational struggle of our lifetime.
In conclusion, let us learn these painful lessons. Let us not fixate on Tony Blair—he is yesterday’s man. Let us not commit to things that we cannot fulfil and pass the buck to the lower end of the command chains.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his powerful speech. One thing that has always worried me about the Iraq war debate is the idea of the military as victims who were forced to go to fight when they in fact were trained and wanted to do so. What they did not want, however, was bad equipment, and they do not want bad equipment today. Does it not behove this House and its Members to be much more interested on a daily basis in what we are providing service personnel with, rather than just focusing on past decisions?
Absolutely. I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. We have come an extraordinarily long way. The processes at the time were simply unacceptable. Under this Government and this and previous Defence Secretaries, we have made real progress, but she is right that we do not want sympathy. We want a little more empathy and understanding of what we are doing. There is sometimes too much sympathy. We sign up and are proud to do so, but we do not expect to be ill- equipped or to be part of a mission that is ultimately badly planned and resourced.
Let us never lose the courage to speak truth to power—no matter our rank or position in life. Let us remember with humility the courage and sacrifice of our servicemen and women in Iraq. Let us make sure that we learn the lessons for the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives on either side, civilian or military. The human race can only evolve if we learn, and I sincerely hope we do.
It is an absolute pleasure to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer). He made such a powerful contribution—it is always right to make those points. The entire House should congratulate him on his speech and remember the people who went to war on our behalf.
I was here on the day the House voted to go to war, and the Chilcot report offers a bit of closure for some of us. There is a real sense of vindication for people such as me who resolutely opposed the conflict all the way through. I remember that day. It was a horrible, brutal, ugly day. It was a day that should be indelibly imprinted on this House’s collective consciousness. I had a look at the proceedings of that day to refresh my memory of the atmosphere and culture. It sounds a bit masochistic to watch YouTube recordings of Tony Blair and others making their speeches, but it was important to get a sense of what that day was like because it was such a long time ago. We had to listen to Tony Blair lay out that exaggerated, fabricated case and listen to those flights of fancy. Of course, we now know, because of the Chilcot report, that it was mainly nonsense and invention.
I was the Chief Whip of what was a small group of SNP MPs in 2003, and I remember observing the Government Whips rounding up the recalcitrant, the doubters and those who were trying to make up their minds. Let us never forget that that Labour Government imposed a harsh three-line Whip on their Members that day. Really good women and men were dragooned into the Aye Lobby to support that fabricated case and their flawed Prime Minister. The House passed the motion by 412 to 149. I was among the 149 and it is the proudest vote of my 15 years in this House.
It was a vote that more or less defined and characterised the previous Labour Government—just as the vote to leave Europe will characterise this Conservative Government. There are parallels if we look underneath what happened. Both were a reckless gamble. There was no planning for what transpired when it comes to Brexit and there was no planning, as we have learned from Chilcot, by the Labour Government and the rest of our allies for what transpired once they embarked upon that campaign. It is curious when big events characterise particular Governments and the previous Labour Government will forever be characterised by Iraq.
However, the war was all about one man. My apologies to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View, but it is about Tony Blair. There is no escaping the personal association of the former Prime Minister with what transpired in Iraq. It will follow him to the grave and will be on his headstone. Such is his association with the Iraq conflict that he might as well have it tattooed on his forehead. It was about that man and about how he approached the war.
I have listened carefully to many of the speeches from honourable colleagues who were Members of this House on that day in 2003. I think we can group them into three categories, and I will try to help the House by defining what those are. I am in the first category, which is those who voted against the war, took a consistent line and did not accept for a minute the nonsensical case presented to us. Today, we feel in a pretty good place. I am looking around at some of my honourable colleagues who were in the House that day, particularly the Liberal Democrats. I pay tribute to the Liberal Democrats, who had our place back in 2003, for the way they led the case against the war. [Interruption.] I also pay tribute to the Labour Members—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) can take it easy, as I acknowledge the Labour Members who opposed their Whip. As he said, it was the biggest rebellion during that Government. I pay tribute to those Members, too, because they saw through this and were prepared to reject the fabricated, nonsensical case from the Prime Minister. They did the right thing, and I congratulate them, too.
On a brief point of information, I should say that historically this was British political history’s biggest rebellion within a governing party. Some 122 Back-Bench colleagues in the Labour party voted on the motion that the case was not proven; only 119 voted with the Government—under immense pressure from the Whips and others, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of that, and he is right. This is why it is important to set out the context of what that day was like. It was a horrible, ugly, dreadful day, and we can never get around some of the things that went on.
Let me get on to the Conservatives, as the second category is mainly comprised of them. I have listened to several Conservative Members. I cannot recall which one made this case earlier, but there is a sense among Conservative Members that they were misled. They range from those who are angry and upset about the way they were duped by the former Prime Minister, to those like the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron), who resigned as Prime Minister yesterday, who are a bit more morose and philosophical about it. They say, “A Prime Minister was giving us information. We had to go along with it because it was a Prime Minister and of course he will know all this.” What the Conservative party failed to do—it absolutely failed to do this on that day—was hold that Labour Government to account; it did not question and it was not inquisitive. It did not look at the case presented to it and say, “Hold on a minute, this is a lot of nonsense.” It should have known—the rest of the country knew this was wrong.
Some 100,000 people marched through Glasgow—I was at the front of that procession with my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond)—and 1 million people in London marched against that war. More than that, there was an atmosphere in the nation among the public, who just knew profoundly that something was wrong with this case. They knew instinctively that what they were hearing night after night from Tony Blair and all his cronies was uncomfortable—there was something wrong. The Conservatives should have picked that up. Had they done their job, we would not have been presented with this utter failure and disaster.
Let me now deal with those in the third and last category, and I have listened to some of them today. They seem almost still to be making the case for war, as if that was somehow justified and right. They point to all sorts of things, saying, “The world’s a better place without Saddam.” Well, of course it is, but what a price we have paid. What world do these people live on? We have seen half a million people dead; a region destabilised; a generation radicalised; foreign policy discredited like never before—and it is unlikely that we will ever restore that faith in foreign policy again; and distrust in politics. That was a key point when the public fell out of trust with what we did in this House. And what about the place where Saddam was removed? Of course, we all welcome that, but no one, least of all the Iraqis who have to live with the consequences, would start to suggest that Iraq is a better place now than in 2002.
The hon. Gentleman just said that this decision led to the public losing faith in this House, but many of the accusations that were made against the Government are not found in the Chilcot report. Those led to people coming to that conclusion about this House. Does he not accept that that day was difficult for all of us? Even those who voted against were not certain that we were making the right decision. We cannot be so exact about our judgment call on that day. Surely he can accept that those who voted in favour did so believing that they were doing the right thing. At least he could be graceful about that.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that, as it brings me on to my next point, which is that we should look at the case for the war. I believe he was in the House in 2003—
The hon. Gentleman, like me, will therefore have been recalled to Parliament in September 2002. We would march to the Members’ Lobby and take out what has become known as “the dodgy dossier”. Did he, for a minute, believe the fabricated nonsense it contained? The case for war was appalling. As we find out from Chilcot now, most of it came from the post-doctoral thesis of a student called Ibrahim al-Marashi. I have just read a report from him, and he is now saying that his evidence and his post-doctoral work were doctored by the Government at the time. That was the case for war—the hon. Gentleman had to make a judgement on it, as did I—and it was nonsensical. It was fabricated and it was a flight of fancy, but it was what we were asked to go to war on. It was a disgrace. This was like a comedy sketch for a case to go to war on; it was more sexed up than some teenage starlet embarking on their first video. That is what I would say about the dodgy dossier. It was an appalling document and this House should never have been taken in for a minute with the rubbish included in it.
I listened to Tony Blair last week and I was appalled at what I heard in his response: the lack of contrition; the half-hearted apology, which will probably do nothing other than incense the victims; the flights of fancy still there, almost with an attempt to rewrite several sections of the Chilcot report; and the failure to acknowledge the enormity of what was unleashed. What happened was appalling, and so several things now have to happen.
My view is that we are not at the end of the process, despite having had 1 million-odd words; there is still a journey to go in this sorry saga in which this House has been involved. We are not at the conclusion in terms of what happened in Iraq. That is mainly because of a point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) have raised: Chilcot was not able to judge on the legality of this conflict. We still have that extra mile to go to see whether this was an illegal war. Until we get that verdict, big issues will remain outstanding on the assessment of the conflict. There are further journeys to go on, which may disappoint hon. Members who have waited years and years for the Chilcot report.
The second thing that must happen is that those who are responsible for the biggest foreign policy disaster ever—this is bigger than Suez—must be held to account for the decisions they made, for the things they did in the course of the conflict and for how it was pursued. I overwhelmingly support the case that the chief architect—the designer—of the Iraq war, Mr Tony Blair, should be brought in front of this House to face the charges that have been suggested. I hope that the House gets that opportunity to discuss this, because the public expect us to do it. They do not want us, after all this time, to let it go. The only people who have lost their jobs in the course of the conflict are two BBC journalists. Is that not an appalling way to leave things? That has to be addressed and I believe that there is a real public desire to move to the next stage now, which is holding people to account. I hope we do that.
I hated every minute of the debate about the Iraq war—the build-up to it and the post-conflict resolution. It was dreadful; it was this House at its worst. We must never get there again. If there is one thing we can take from this, it is to learn lessons and never to do this again. We must hold the people responsible to account. We must apologise for that conflict and start to try to move on from all of this. Let us vow that we will never do something like the Iraq war ever again in this Parliament.
Many important lessons will emerge over the coming months and years, and of course deep sympathy must persist for the people of Iraq and the families of the members of our outstanding armed forces who fell in the line of duty. I shall focus on the Iraq inquiry’s immediate lessons for the leadership of our country, in which this House has such a vital role.
First, may I offer some historical perspective? It is worth noting some similarities between the times that we are living through now and the last period of our recent history that was similarly defined by what I would describe as political sclerosis. During the first half of the 20th century, we witnessed the collapse of empires—the Ottoman empire and our own; we saw the failure of an intergovernmental institution—the League of Nations; and we endured economic turbulence and depression. Such dramatic geopolitical change was fuelled by remarkable technological change, with the mass transit of people and advanced weapons of war, along with large armies, which resulted in appalling human cost in two world wars.
Today we are experiencing similar geopolitical change with an expansionist China, a resurgent Russia, and a socially unstable and perhaps more parochial United States of America. We have the mass transit of data rather than of people, and globalisation, which brings with it opportunities and costs. Drones have replaced tanks and the potential for space-based weaponry looms. Within the context of this dramatic change, the new Government must set their path. A crucial lesson from the Iraq inquiry’s report is that we have to be better prepared to provide great leadership at historic tipping points for our nation and for our world.
It was not wrong to wish to depose Saddam Hussein, but the way in which the US-led coalition went about it has had effects that were predicted by many experts. Those effects were perfectly foreseeable, and they were catastrophic for the Iraqi people and also for our own regional interests. Our own country’s leadership at every level, from the Prime Minister down, was far too weak to deliver a good outcome.
I note that we are again at a critical moment—this time in the history of our own nation and continent. Delivering a good long-term outcome once again depends on this House supplying the best possible leadership now. The ties that have bound our nation, our communities and our people at home and abroad are severely strained, and some are breaking. Our people mistrust those whom they have elected to represent their interests and lead our nation. As in 2003, decisions taken quickly today will have enormous ramifications over the coming decades, like the proverbial flap of the butterfly’s wings in one part of the world that creates a hurricane in another.
It is at such critical moments that we require great leadership: leadership with the experience and perspective to see our nation’s role clearly; leadership with the wisdom and understanding to realise what must be done; and leadership with the vision to set clear direction, the tenacity to deliver a plan, and the good sense to adapt when the context changes, as it always does. In other words, we must not be sclerotic. We need leadership with the selflessness and self-awareness to put the public interest and public service at its heart. We need leadership that will forge our future, not allow us to be carried off on the currents of history to an unknown and unwanted destination.
Our new Prime Minister has taken an important step in setting out her vision for a country that works for everyone. This Government and the previous one have made welcome changes. Notably, the National Security Council structures enable more strategic decision making in our national interests.
One of the lessons that I took from the Chilcot report was about a habit that we who have been to Sandhurst had beaten out of us: starting with our aim and retrofitting justifications to suit that. At this time of change in our national leadership, would my hon. Friend welcome any calls that might be made to the new Prime Minister to have a robust team of people to provide counter-narratives at times of key decision making, to test hypotheses and to make sure that when difficult decisions have to be made, that is done in the best possible way?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Yes, over the past 10 to 15 years, we have seen too much evidence of the absence of people speaking truth to power in the room that matters. I am hopeful that the elevation of our new Prime Minister will usher in a period in which we do listen to experts, and in which we are prepared to listen to those who might have a different view and a different approach to the world in which we live.
The changes to the National Security Council are nowhere near enough to guarantee good leadership, which means that we are running an unacceptable level of risk with the security of our people, our nation and our world. The referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union is the latest example. I was no fan of our country’s previous relationship with the EU. It had to change, but holding a referendum on our membership was, I fear, a strategic blunder that will have an adverse impact on our country and our world over the coming years and decades.
We must avoid further such blunders in the future because we face existential threats, and those threats cross borders. They are by their very nature trans-national: international terrorism; radicalisation; a resurgent Russia and an expansionist China that do not respect current borders; cyber-security; organised crime; pandemics; and environmental degradation. Dealing with all these requires us to work with other nations.
We must now set out our geopolitical priorities. We must properly fund the objective to increase our influence around the world. We must revisit government and how it works. Wisdom and experience must be at the heart of our decision making. We must put people who know what they are doing in charge of delivering, and they must stay in their jobs long enough to see them through.
We must urgently overhaul how we identify and nurture future leaders. Our people must once again be able to trust the aims, intentions and abilities of those who lead our country. We have to provide leaders who are worthy of that trust. Earning it back will be painstaking work. This House must insist that we now go much further. Only then will Members be able, in all conscience, to reassure those whom we represent that our nation will have the leadership it needs, when it needs it.
I have had a very long involvement with Iraq. For Members who were not here in the 1980s, the 1990s and even the beginning of the 2000s, let me say that I spoke many times in this Chamber about the regime in Iraq. I chaired an organisation called CARDRI—the Committee against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq—which had many members in this country and overseas. We published several books by academics and people who lived in Iraq about the situation in the country. Somebody who is now the representative of Iraq in South Korea would come here almost every other week with a list of people who had been executed at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Sometimes the accounts of their executions and their torture were so dreadful that I would say to him, “Are you sure this is right?” He would then come back, perhaps a week later, and say, “Yes, it was right, and here’s another long list.” We therefore had no doubt what the situation was in Iraq, and CARDRI existed for a number of years.
When I came back from the European Parliament in 1984, I was asked to chair an organisation called Indict, which was set up with American and Kuwaiti backing. The Kuwaitis, of course, had a particular interest in finding those Kuwaitis who had been captured during Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. For many years we searched for those missing people—or their graves.
The organisation had a team of researchers and its aim was to collect evidence against Iraqi war criminals. In particular, we had a list of the 12 most wanted, and we collected detailed evidence about a great number of them because the idea was to bring them to court. By the mid-1990s, a body of law existed that allowed human rights abusers to be brought to court. The development of international law was slow; even though laws existed, their application depended on institutions and Governments that had their own political agendas. A new ruling by the International Court of Justice, for example, blocked indictments of ruling heads of state. Therefore, whatever evidence we had against Saddam Hussein, we could not use it in a court of law, unlike in the case of Slobodan Miloševic, who was brought before an international court.
That still left key members of the regime open to indictment, however. We had a great deal of evidence, for example, against Tariq Aziz, who was then the Foreign Minister in Iraq. We also had plenty of evidence against Ali Hassan al-Majid—Chemical Ali. I had meetings with the UN special rapporteur on torture, Max van der Stoel, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, and with Secretary-General Kofi Annan. I also addressed several international conferences and tried to spell out what we were doing.
We needed evidence that would stand up in court, so we dismissed a lot of the evidence that we felt would not. We had guidance from a top human rights barrister, Clare Montgomery, QC. Our researchers worked hard interviewing thousands of people over five or six years to collect testimonies. Once the evidence had been gathered and analysed by our legal team, the role of myself and Indict’s other board members was to persuade lawmakers in the relevant country that there was enough evidence to indict the people concerned. We came close to a prosecution in Belgium, but it changed its laws at the last minute because someone had tried to indict Israeli leader Ariel Sharon.
The right hon. Lady is trying to persuade us that Saddam Hussein was a vile dictator. We all accept that, but that was not the case for war. The case for war was based on weapons of mass destruction. She argued strongly in favour of the war. Has she changed her mind on the basis of the evidence?
When I come to the relevant section in my speech, the hon. Gentleman will get his answer.
We went to Switzerland, Norway and Belgium. We had a good case in Norway, and I travelled there several times to meet senior law officers. However, just as in Britain, there were lots of warm words, but there was no action. We were therefore trying hard to avoid a war; we thought there was an alternative. We tried to make the case—I made it in this Chamber over many years, and the hon. Gentleman would have heard it had he been here—that there were alternatives. Unfortunately, all the authorities prevaricated, and the issue dragged on without getting anywhere.
Meanwhile, our main funders, the Americans, were having a change of heart. The Clinton Administration had originally been enthusiastic, wanting us to campaign in the US as well as in Europe, but they suddenly changed their mind. They had moved to a policy of containment, not indictment, so our activities no longer really fitted in with their plans. However, the organisation had been set up in this country, so we continued collecting the evidence.
We turned our attention, in particular, to Tariq Aziz, because of his involvement in the taking of British hostages. People forget that British hostages were taken in Kuwait, and we never had proper answers about why they were there and why their plane landed there. Saddam Hussein had already taken Kuwait, and those people were taken as human shields.
I presented our evidence to the Attorney General, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I had several meetings with him and continually pressured members of his team to take action, because they were not moving fast enough. They kicked their heels for a number of years, and our top barrister could not understand why, given the evidence that we had presented. We had as much evidence as we could possibly need. Apart from getting a signed confession from Saddam Hussein in his own blood, there was nothing further, legally, we could have done.
I would occasionally spot Lord Williams at Westminster, and I would take off after him, chasing him down the corridors. He would frequently joke that he was having to duck into the gents to try to avoid me. One day he said, “I’ve got good news for Indict.” He said he was going to refer the case against Tariq Aziz to Scotland Yard. I looked at him and said, “You’re kicking it into the long grass,” but he denied that that was the case. The Indict team, which was obviously made up mainly of Iraqis, duly visited a Chief Superintendent Bunn in New Scotland Yard. We talked about the evidence we had and offered to help him by providing more, but we never heard a single word back. That is understandable in some ways; it was not Scotland Yard’s remit, and it had neither the resources nor the expertise, and certainly not the interest.
We came in for some ridicule from the British press —the typical tabloid fare, with cartoons of British bobbies apprehending Saddam Hussein—but a good opportunity was missed. I make that point because there were alternatives, but those alternatives, for whatever reasons, were not pursued in the way that I and many other Members would have wished.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), who was of great assistance when we were looking at many of these matters. He was a very wise counsel, and he assisted the Iraqis in many ways.
I became aware of human rights atrocities in Iraq before I was a politician, in the 1970s. I met Iraqi students in Cardiff, and I am sure some of my Scottish friends will have met Iraqi students in Scotland. Some of those students had been imprisoned. I met a couple from Basra. One of them—he was a student activist—had been in prison and gone through a mock execution. I came to learn later on that that was only the tip of the iceberg.
In 1991, when I was the shadow Secretary of State for International Development, I stood up in Parliament and described what I had seen in the mountains of Iraq and Iran when the Kurds fled from Saddam’s helicopter gunships. Those scenes were appalling and typical of the attacks made by the Iraqi regime on Iraqis. Sometime later, I met an Iraqi who made the point that Saddam had killed hundreds of thousands of his own people. He said, “The biggest weapon of mass destruction was Saddam. Why did it take so long for him to be removed?” Many Kurds were killed during the genocidal Anfal campaign, including as a result of the barbarous use of chemical weapons in Halabja.
In 1988, I took some women Members of all parties to a London hospital to see a number of the horribly burned victims. Many people were killed brutally, in cold blood, in a maze of prison and torture chambers all over the country. Repression, abuse, ethnic cleansing and extra-judicial killings continued right up until 2003.
Saddam, without doubt, was a serious threat to domestic, regional and global stability. I had hoped that the international community could remove or neutralise him without force, but sanctions failed, international indictment never took place and UN Security Council resolutions were ignored time after time. All had been tried; all had failed. So from 1997 to 2003, I worked to get Saddam and leading members of his regime prosecuted under international law for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, on the basis of rock-solid witness testimony. The evidence was finally used in the trials of Saddam, Tariq Aziz and others when they eventually stood trial in Baghdad. I was very pleased to be there to witness some of those trials. I knew that our evidence was being used; I saw it in the rooms behind the chamber where they were being tried.
In February 2003, the Kurds were terrified that chemical weapons would be used against them again. I saw the rockets in mountains on the Iraqi-Kurdish border. From 2003 onwards, more secrets of this evil and despotic regime were revealed. I stood on a huge mound in the open air, on several acres in al-Hillah, near Babylon, where about 10,000 bodies were being disinterred from a mass grave, mostly Shi’a Muslims.
On one of more than 20 visits to Iraq as special envoy on human rights, I opened the first genocide museum in Kurdistan. It was snowing, the sky was black and people crammed into the building, where their relatives had been tortured, many to death. There were photos of skulls and shreds of clothing. Former detainees had written messages on the cell walls. Sometimes, the writing was in blood; sometimes, there were just marks to cross off the days of the week. One very old woman came up to me with a bit of plastic in her hand. I unwrapped it and saw three photos. They were of her husband and two sons, who had been killed in that place.
Over the past few days, since the report of the Chilcot inquiry, to which I gave evidence for a whole afternoon, very few voices of Iraqis have been heard. I have here the words of Dr Latif Rashid, who is currently the senior adviser to the Iraqi President. In 2003, he was appointed as Water Minister in Baghdad, and he was very successful. He managed, over a few years, to re-flood the marshes where the Marsh Arabs had been so cruelly displaced. This is what he says:
“It must be remembered that at the time not only did Prime Minister Blair and President Bush wish to remove Saddam Hussain from power in Iraq, but so did most of the entire spectrum of the Iraqi opposition (including Kurds, Arabs, Shia, and all other minorities that make up the Iraq) and most of the international community.
The Iraqi opposition lobbied Governments throughout the world, and we, as representatives of the Iraqi opposition, believe that Prime Minister Blair and President Bush were acting in response to the Iraqi people and to protect them, on the basis of evidence available at that time.
There was concrete evidence that Saddam Hussain was complicit and had instructed organised campaigns of genocide, torture, war, ethnic cleansing and use of chemical/biological weapons against the Iraqi population as well as neighbouring countries. We are still finding the mass graves of the nearly one million Iraqis murdered as a result of his actions.
Although Iraq currently has its problems, I believe they are the result of Iraqis themselves. We will always remain grateful for the support shown by Tony Blair, and the British Government and British Parliament at that time.”
I have the utmost respect for the right hon. Lady for all the work she has done over the years to try to get evidence against this regime. It is incredible work, and I pay great tribute to her. I have one question. I have never really understood where the chemical weapons went—where did they go?
That is a very interesting question. I can only speculate, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has done. There is evidence that some of them went to Syria, but there are still unanswered questions. The Kurds, in particular, truly believed that there were weapons of mass destruction. I myself never used that argument for intervention, because I did not know the answers. However, I did use the humanitarian argument, because I thought it was important that the world should not turn its face away from the horrors that were going on in Iraq.
I want to make a plea for continuing engagement with Iraq. The needs of the Iraqis are great. I, personally, have continued my association with Iraqis and with the Kurds. I am very well aware of their problems at this time, particularly the continuing threat of ISIS and Daesh. It is not true to say that such people did not exist in Iraq before the war. They existed in Kurdistan, for example, under the name of Ansar al-Islam, and at that time the Americans managed to get them out. We still need to protect the minorities of Iraq—there are so many of them. We have a responsibility to continue to assist that country in any way we can.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. To try to accommodate all remaining colleagues, there will now be a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, with immediate effect. [Interruption.] I hardly think that is a cause for the exhalation of air; 10 minutes is perfectly adequate. I know that what colleagues have to say is immensely important, but I dare say they can do it in 10 minutes each.
So we now have the Chilcot report. Seven long years we have waited for this report of 2.6 million words. It has cost a huge amount of money. After seven years, Sir John Chilcot comes up with this sentence:
“We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.”
It took seven years to come up with that conclusion. It took so long that one of the five members of the inquiry actually died during the proceedings. I pay tribute to the speeches that were made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), and my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), and to today’s speech by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart).
I was absolutely sickened when I saw the interview with the former Labour Prime Minister on television. I thought that if anyone deserved an Oscar, it was him. After everything that we now know has happened, instead of apologising, like the noble Lord Prescott, the then Deputy Prime Minister, who has admitted that he got it wrong and made huge mistakes, the then Prime Minister told us that if he was presented with the same facts—what a joke!—he would do absolutely the same again.
I am delighted that we are having a two-day debate on the Chilcot report, but to be frank, the timing is not great, because both the major parties are distracted by the question of who will lead them. At least the Conservatives have come to a conclusion on that, but I have no doubt that Conservative Members are today distracted by the question of who will become a Minister. Given how distracted we have been over the past two days, the Chilcot report deserves better scrutiny, because it has affected the whole world, not just the future of the Labour and Conservative parties. I am very disappointed that the two Prime Ministers did not intervene and say to Sir John Chilcot, “Seven years is absolutely ridiculous. We should have had the report much more quickly.”
I want to draw on five elements of the report. The first centres on the misrepresentation of French declarations relating to their potential veto of any further UN resolution. Sir Stephen Wall, Mr Blair’s European Union adviser, told the Iraq inquiry that, following Chirac’s statement, he heard Mr Blair telling Alastair Campbell, the director of communications at No. 10, to play the anti-French card with The Sun and others. Well, that is nice, isn’t it?
Secondly, on statements relating to suspected Iraqi stockpiles of chemical weapons, Mr Blair gave a speech that gave the impression that the overwhelming evidence supported the view that Iraq had retained significant stocks of chemical weapons, in material breach of United Nations resolution 1441. In reality, the report did not claim that Iraq possessed banned weapons, merely that material was “unaccounted for”.
The third element I want to draw on centres on statements relating to suspected Iraqi stockpiles of biological weapons. Mr Blair confused the distinction between biological weapons existing and their being unaccounted for, and the evidence did not support his representations to the House that Iraq had significant stockpiles of viable biological weapons.
Fourthly, on statements relating to Hussein Kamel’s evidence regarding Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programme, by selectively quoting from General Kamel’s evidence and by omitting his claims that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programme had been closed in 1991, Mr Blair misled this House of Commons as to the extent of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons pr