My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows.
“Mr Speaker, the whole House will want to join me in expressing our condolences to the family and friends of the two soldiers who recently lost their lives serving in Afghanistan—Lieutenant Paul Mervis of 2nd Battalion the Rifles and Private Robert McLaren of 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, the Black Watch.
Our troops first went into Iraq in March 2003 and now they are coming home, so it is fitting that I should come to the House to talk of their achievements through difficult times, to chart the new relationship that we are building with Iraq and to set out our plans for an inquiry into the conflict. As always, we can be supremely proud of the way in which our forces carried out their mission—of their valour in the heat of combat, recognised in the many citations, rewards and decorations, and of their vigilance and resolution amid the most difficult imaginable conditions and the ever present risk of attack by an unseen enemy. Today, we continue to mourn and remember the 179 men and women who gave their lives in the service of our country.
In my Statement to the House last December, I set out the remaining tasks in southern Iraq for our mission: first, to entrench improvements and security by putting Iraqis in charge of their own defence and policing; secondly, to support Iraq’s emerging democracy through the provincial elections; and, thirdly, to promote reconstruction, economic growth and basic services such as power and water, to give the Iraqi people what matters most for their livelihoods in years to come and a stake in their economic future. I can report that these objectives have been achieved and that, thanks to our efforts and those of our allies over six difficult years, a young democracy has replaced a vicious 30-year dictatorship.
In recent months, we have completed the training of the 9,000 troops in the 14th division of the Iraqi army, which is now fully in charge of security in Basra. It was the 14th division that, with our help and the help of the Americans, took on the militia in the crucial Charge of the Knights operation in spring last year. Since then, violence and crime in the Basra region have continued to fall, while levels of violence across Iraq as a whole are at their lowest since 2003.
Provincial elections were held peacefully on 31 January with 7 million Iraqis turning out to vote for 440 different political groups. The Iraqis ran the elections themselves with only three violent incidents across the entire country. Preparations are now under way for national elections on 30 January 2010.
Since 2003, the UK has spent over £500 million in Iraq, including providing humanitarian assistance and infrastructure and promoting economic growth. Support for the health sector has included $14 million spent on 189 projects in Basra, including the refurbishment of Basra general hospital and the building of the Basra children’s hospital. As a whole, the international community has rehabilitated over 5,000 schools, as well as constructing entirely new schools and new classrooms in existing schools. Despite high unemployment and the scale of the global recession, economic growth in Iraq this year is predicted to be nearly 7 per cent.
Significant challenges remain, including that of finding a fair and sustainable solution to the sharing of Iraq’s oil revenues, but Iraq’s future is now in its own hands—in the hands of its people and its politicians. We must pay tribute to the endurance of the Iraqi people and pledge to them our continuing support, but it will be support very different from the kind that we have provided for the last six years.
As the House knows, our military mission ended with the last combat patrol in Basra on 30 April. As of today, there are fewer than 500 British troops in Iraq, with more returning home each week. On the day of that last combat patrol, I welcomed Prime Minister Maliki and most of his Cabinet to London, where we signed together a declaration of friendship, partnership and co-operation, defining a new relationship between our two countries for the future. At the request of the Iraqi Government, a small number of British Navy personnel, no more than 100, will remain in Iraq for the long-term training of the Iraqi navy at Umm Qasr. Royal Navy ships will continue to protect the oil platforms on which Iraq’s exports depend and we will continue to offer training to the Iraqi army as part of a wider NATO mission. We will also offer training opportunities at Sandhurst and elsewhere in the UK for Iraqi officers of high potential.
At the core of our new relationship will be the diplomatic, trading and cultural links that we are building with the Iraqi people, supporting British and other foreign investors who want to play a role in the reconstruction of southern Iraq. I have discussed with Prime Minister Maliki a plan for British companies to provide expertise to the Iraqi Oil Ministry. Earlier this year, the Mesopotamia Petroleum Company signed a joint venture worth $400 million. Shell is working with the Southern Oil Company to bring to market some of the 7 million cubic feet of gas currently lost each day by flaring. British firms are now competing for further contracts totalling $15 billion, and Rolls-Royce and Parsons Brinckerhoff are currently discussing with the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity proposals for a new power generation infrastructure in Iraq, worth an initial $200 million.
British funding will support lending to 1,000 businesses in southern Iraq, and a youth employment programme, which should give training and work placements to 500 young Basrawis, could be rolled out across the whole of Iraq. We are supporting the Iraqi Transport Ministry in the resumption of civilian flights. Also, DfID and the British Council are working on a major education programme; Iraq has already identified its first 250 students—an early initiative in Britain’s contribution to Iraq’s plans for 10,000 overseas scholarships for Iraqi students.
Issues in the region still confront us. Iran is an independent nation that deserves our respect, and the Iranian people are a proud people who deserve democracy. That is why the regime must address the serious questions that have been asked about the conduct of the elections. The way in which the regime responds to legitimate protests will have implications for Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world. The House will also note the speech of Prime Minister Netanyahu, where, for the first time, he endorsed the two-state solution. His speech was an important step forward, but there remains a long road ahead of us. I will speak to him later today to press on him the importance of freezing settlements.
With the last British combat troops about to return home from Iraq, now is the right time to ensure that we have a proper process in place to learn the lessons of the complex and often controversial events of the last six years. I am today announcing the establishment of an independent privy counsellor committee of inquiry. It will consider the period from summer 2001, before military operations began in March 2003, and our subsequent involvement in Iraq until the end of July this year. The inquiry is essential; by learning lessons, we will strengthen the health of our democracy, our diplomacy and our military. The inquiry will, I stress, be fully independent of government.
The scope of the inquiry is unprecedented, covering an eight-year period that includes the run-up to the conflict and the full period of conflict and reconstruction. The committee of inquiry will have access to the fullest range of information, including secret information. In other words, its investigation can range across all papers, all documents and all material, so the inquiry can ask for any British document to come before it and any British citizen to appear. No British document and no British witness will be beyond the scope of this inquiry. I have asked the members of the inquiry that the final report of the inquiry will be able to disclose all but the most sensitive information—that is, all information except that which is essential to our national security.
The inquiry will receive the full co-operation of the Government, with access to all government papers and the ability to call any witnesses, with the objective to learn the lessons from the events surrounding the conflict. It is on this basis that I have accepted the Cabinet Secretary’s advice that the Franks inquiry is the best precedent. Taking into account national security considerations, as the Franks inquiry did—for example, what might damage or reduce our military capability in the future—evidence will be heard in private. In this way, evidence given by serving and former Ministers, military officers and officials will, I believe, be as full and as candid as possible.
The committee will publish its findings in as full a form as possible. These findings will then be debated in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It is in these debates, as well as from the report itself, that we can draw fully on the lessons learnt in Iraq. So while the format is the same as the Franks inquiry, we have gone much further in the scope of the inquiry. No inquiry has looked at such a long period. No inquiry has the powers to look in so much breadth. While Franks looked only at the run-up to the Falklands conflict, the Iraq inquiry will look at the run-up to the conflict, the conflict itself and the reconstruction, so that we can learn lessons in each and every area. The inquiry will take into account evidence submitted to previous inquiries.
I am asking members of the committee to explain the scope, width and breadth of the work to opposition leaders and the chairs of the relevant parliamentary committees. In order that the committee should be as objective and as non-partisan as possible, the membership of the committee will consist entirely of non-partisan public figures acknowledged to be expert and leaders in their fields. There will be no representatives of political parties from any side of this House.
I can announce today that the committee of inquiry will be chaired by Sir John Chilcot and will include the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, Sir Roderick Lyne, Sir Lawrence Freedman and Sir Martin Gilbert. All are or will become privy counsellors. The committee will start work as soon as possible after the end of July and, given the complexity of the issues that it will address, I am advised that it will take one year. As I have made clear, the primary objective of the committee will be to identify lessons learnt. The committee will not set out to apportion blame or consider issues of civil or criminal liability.
Finally, I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the courage and dedication of every one of our Armed Forces and our civilian personnel who have served our country with such distinction in Iraq over six years and who continue to do so in Afghanistan and on peacekeeping missions around the world. At its peak, a force of 46,000 served tours of duty in support of operations in Iraq. In total, 120,000 served over the period of the entire conflict; 179 Britons died and 222 were seriously or very seriously injured.
I said in my Statement in December that the memorial wall in Basra would be brought home. I can now confirm that it will form part of a new memorial wall to be built at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. Just as it is right that we should pay tribute to the memory of those who have fallen and the wounded, so it is right that we should celebrate the safe return of their comrades and their shared achievements. I can also tell the House that in the autumn of this year a service of thanksgiving and commemoration will be held in Westminster Abbey.
We salute our forces today. Through their work, the work of their American and coalition comrades and that of the Iraqi security forces, supported by the courage and vision of those within Iraq led by Prime Minister Maliki, Iraq is emerging from the shadow of 30 years of brutal dictatorship and then conflict. Today, Prime Minister Maliki and his Government can work together for a peaceful and prosperous future. That they can do so now is the ultimate tribute to all who served in Iraq—to their skills, commitment and sheer professionalism, to their great and enduring courage in conflict and to their immeasurable contribution to reconstruction and to peace”.
I commend this Statement to the House.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I, at the outset, join her in sending condolences to the families of the men who have so recently lost their lives in service to our nation. Of course, the Statement is welcome in many ways. Under four years ago, a British woman was arrested in the heart of London for reading out names of those who had died. Now at last we have some admission that the truth cannot be indefinitely covered up. The ranks of the dead and injured of all nations, including Iraqis, have the right to demand that. The war provoked the largest public demonstration seen in London in modern times. Many people were deceived—I put no finer point on it—into thinking that the Saddam Hussein regime presented a direct threat to regional security and, specifically, to this country’s security with weapons of mass destruction.
Thanks to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, we now know that the intelligence was not as extensive, detailed and authoritative as Mr Blair told Parliament that it was. Why did he do that? I very much hope that the inquiry will tell us. If not, it will have failed.
The noble Lord’s skilful inquiry into the use—some might say abuse—of intelligence was one of several into limited aspects of the events surrounding the war, but we have never had a comprehensive review into how this massive foreign policy disaster occurred. What were our war aims? Was regime change, now frequently cited as an alleged benefit of the war, a covert objective from the outset? When and in what detail was this discussed with the US Administration and other coalition allies? Why did we have no proper post-conflict plan? Will all these sorts of questions be covered in the inquiry? Should the terms of reference not be the widest possible, to enable the inquiry to go wherever it needs and to see whatever document it requires to get at the truth?
The report by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, did not address the diplomatic exchanges preceding the war and the international commitments that our Government may or may not have given at that time. It did not focus on the legal case for war or the structure or motivation of the political decision-making that led to it. It threw a troubling sidelight on sofa government and its consequences and on the involvement of the No. 10 spin team in these events, but these have never been fully probed. As for the infamous “dodgy dossier”, two former Cabinet Ministers, the late Robin Cook and Clare Short, have asserted that the public were misled, while Mr Straw called the dossier, “a complete Horlicks”. These are shameful admissions of serious government incompetence and need to be examined with the greatest care.
It would not be to criticise the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, into the death of Dr David Kelly—one man who told the truth—to say that the spin machine’s role needs rigorous re-examination. Can the Minister assure us that senior politicians—the Franks committee included two senior former Cabinet Ministers from the Opposition—will be involved in the inquiry, people familiar with the nature of political decisions? If she cannot give those assurances, will she tell us why not?
On the legal background, the advice of the Attorney-General and the mysterious political meetings and conversations noted in paragraphs 366 to 387 of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, surely deserve further scrutiny. The availability and use of diplomatic reports and policy advice by experienced officials need to be examined.
In 1982, following the invasion of the Falklands, there was a prompt inquiry by Lord Franks and six privy counsellors into the way in which the Government had carried out their responsibilities in the run-up to the war. The inquiry reported in six months. It made recommendations and commented on blame. Why is this inquiry not reporting on a similar timescale and with similar powers? Is it because the Prime Minister intends to drag out this Parliament for another year and has decided in advance that no one was to blame? In the Franks inquiry, the Prime Minister—the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—three other Prime Ministers, many Cabinet Ministers, civil servants, intelligence officers, MPs and journalists all gave evidence. Will this inquiry have legal powers to subpoena witnesses and submit them to detailed examination?
I acknowledge that the Franks committee met in secret, but that was over 25 years ago. Some participants have published memoirs, some have signed lucrative contracts to publish memoirs and others have spoken freely to journalists and authors. In this age of so-called democratic renewal, should the presumption not be that, except where national security is involved, the inquiry should be in public?
It would be churlish not to welcome this inquiry simply because it is overdue. Its terms of reference need further work and the Statement leaves questions still to answer. My noble friend Lord Fowler has tabled an important Motion for debate on Iraq on Thursday and I very much hope that the Minister who replies to that debate may be able to shed even more light on this process than can be done in the short time available today.
My Lords, we on these Benches join in offering our condolences regarding those recently killed in Afghanistan and in remembering the important sacrifices made by the 400 people killed or seriously wounded in the course of the intervention in Iraq. We remember also the enormous cost of invasion and occupation; the impact on our Armed Forces; the opportunity costs for domestic spending that the costs of Iraq over the past several years have involved; and the extent to which British support for the Bush Administration was crucial in the American decision to go ahead with the invasion.
We have here a major failure of British foreign policy that aroused immense disquiet among the British electorate as a whole. I and my family were among those who marched before the invasion took place. I recall getting off the train at Waterloo with my wife, and the first two people we recognised on our way to the march were a consultant from Guy’s and St Thomas’, and a City banker we had known for years—not your average marchers. It was a very widespread, popular movement of disquiet among middle class and working class, old and young. This inquiry must answer that disquiet. We are all conscious of the extent of popular distrust of the political elite. The inquiry must begin to rebuild popular confidence in what the Government and political elite are doing. There are constitutional implications, as we talk about constitutional renewal, in the nature and structure of this inquiry.
The crucial issue is the approach to war—the 12 months ahead of the invasion in March 2003. The lessons of post-war reconstruction, by comparison, are secondary. There are many byways that one could go down in such an inquiry. One could look at the extent to which the United States consulted Her Majesty’s Government in responding to the Iranian initiative of the spring of 2003, which was a major missed opportunity in the immediate post-war period. One could look at the whole balance of Middle East policy over the past five years—but that would take an enormous amount of time. The crucial questions are: why did we go to war, were we misled, and what options were available to the Government?
The Franks report is not a comfortable model. I remember it well. I was a researcher at Chatham House at the time and reviewed it at length for International Affairs. It was a very successful distraction, written in Civil Service language, which enabled the Government to spin the line that basic mistakes were made by the intelligence services and the embassy in Buenos Aires, thus distracting attention from the extent to which the crucial failures were within the Government—I refer to the recognition by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and others in the Foreign Office, that you could not get the Prime Minister to agree to negotiations with Argentina when she had finally accepted that she had to negotiate on Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia as it then was. That was the political failure at the heart of why we drifted into the Falkland Islands conflict, together with the failure to co-ordinate the defence review in which John Nott cut the Navy, including the Falklands guard ship, giving a clear but unintended signal to the Argentines that we did not regard the islands as important. This is not a good model 25 years later—here I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—when the age of deference has left us even further behind, and when people expect as far as possible to have public accounting.
Much of the material is already in the public domain. More ought to be. Perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us whether Sir Jeremy Greenstock’s memoirs—an important contribution to understanding what happened during that period—which have been blocked from publication, will now be published as a matter of urgency as part of the background to the inquiry. The members of the committee are a very respectable, creditable and expert group; but again, I regret that there was not fuller consultation about the composition of the committee. It would have increased public confidence if there were senior politicians from other parties on the committee, and it would have been appropriate, as we are talking about constitutional renewal, to have had clearer parliamentary involvement in the establishment and membership of the committee.
Lastly, I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said on timing. It is possible to take minutes and years. In this respect, what one wants is, clearly, a quick response. Is the committee intended to report before the next election or is it intended to kick the issue into the grass until after the next election? We on these Benches expect it to report well within the next 12 months. If we are told that it is going to take a great deal of time, we will be extremely unhappy.
My Lords, we are addressing a very difficult and important issue today. At the outset, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I must say that we have not been covering up the truth. We have said that we would undertake an inquiry, or ensure that an inquiry was undertaken, as soon as appropriate—and we always felt that it would be appropriate when our troops left Iraq. Our troops are leaving Iraq in July, when the inquiry will begin its work.
The inquiry will have a very wide remit. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, mentioned previous inquiries. All evidence that was before previous inquiries will go before the committee. All issues relating to diplomatic exchanges and international commitments, as well as the failure of the UN, a subject that has not been addressed by past inquiries, will be before the committee and will be very widely probed. In relation to senior politicians, the committee will be able to call before it any senior politician, any civil servant and any member of the Armed Forces. That is why it is along the lines of the Franks inquiry and why it is meeting in private—so these people have the confidence to give sensitive information. However, the Prime Minister is consulting the Cabinet Secretary on whether some parts of the hearings can be held in public.
I was asked whether the inquiry would identify and punish individuals who made mistakes. The object of the inquiry is to identify lessons learnt that we can apply in other conflict and post-conflict solutions. We are not looking to lay blame or expose individuals to legal challenge.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked why no senior political figure was on the committee. The members of the committee that I named have great experience working closely with government, and I have every confidence that they will do an excellent job.
Both noble Lords asked about the timing of the inquiry. We would all like to have the committee report back as soon as possible, but these are complex issues. Everybody in this House would agree that we want a thorough report. The advice from the Cabinet Secretary was that, with such a remit in terms of reference, a year would be appropriate. This is not kicking the matter into the long grass. The Franks committee dealt with a very short timescale, but it had a restricted remit looking specifically at events leading up to the Argentine invasion of the Falklands and could therefore report within six months. This committee is looking at precisely what the noble Lord said was so important—it is looking at the time leading up to the invasion, from mid-2001, until next month. That is an awfully long time for a committee to consider, and a year would seem appropriate.
I was asked whether the inquiry would cover issues such as, “Why did we go to war?”. Yes, it will cover all those issues. Will Jeremy Greenstock’s memoirs be published? I do not know, but I shall certainly come back to the noble Lord in writing.
With that, I think that I have covered all the questions that have been raised to date.
My Lords, in the run-up to the invasion I argued consistently against it both in this House and in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the other place. Will the Minister give an assurance that the inquiry will look into the genuine considerations that led to the invasion of Iraq? It is widely believed that the main argument for invading Iraq was the presence of weapons of mass destruction, which, as we all know, were later found not to be there. Will the inquiry examine the extent to which a wish or a desire to punish Iraq for its role in 9/11, which, as we now know, simply did not exist, led to that invasion? Secondly, will it examine the extent to which information was invented to show that the Iraqi regime had links with al-Qaeda, which led to the explanation of the reasons for invading Iraq? I believe that we were seriously misled in both respects. I should like the inquiry to look into that and into the extent to which we were told by the Americans what the real reasons were.
My Lords, I recognise that the noble Lord has taken a consistent position on the Iraq war. I can assure him and the House that the remit of the committee of inquiry is such that it will take into consideration what the noble Lord calls the “genuine considerations” that led to the war. It will take evidence from the widest possible group of people and will consider all evidence that has been given to earlier inquiries. Therefore, I am confident that it will deliver what the noble Lord asks for.
My Lords, my noble friend says that it will take evidence from the widest possible group of people. Will she give us an assurance that provision will be made to take evidence not only from the political elite in Iraq but also from representatives of the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds who no longer suffer under the vicious dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein?
My Lords, it will of course be up to the committee and the chairman of the committee to decide exactly from whom it wishes to take evidence. I have no doubt that it will wish to take the widest possible evidence and I cannot see why it would not wish to talk to Iraqis who suffered in such a way under Saddam Hussein.
My Lords, as my noble friend said, many of these questions can be taken up further in Thursday’s debate. I have a specific question on the scope of the inquiry. One of the worst failures has been in dealing with the hundreds of thousands of refugees created by this conflict, some of whom were employed by this country. Will the inquiry cover British policy towards those refugees? Does the noble Baroness agree that there is no reason why such evidence should be taken in secret? It should be open and we should be able to see it.
My Lords, refugees are such a pertinent issue that I have no reason to doubt that the committee would not wish to take evidence about them. I cannot bind the committee, but I imagine that it would wish to. Advice will be taken from the Cabinet Secretary as to whether that session would be in public. However, as the noble Lord said, it does not relate to security so perhaps it is an issue for a public inquiry.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that by speaking as she did, in answer to a question, of the failure of the United Nations she indicated a partisan view, which was far from independent and, indeed, was prejudging what the inquiry may find? Further, does she also recognise that, by spreading this inquiry not only over the events that led up to the war but over the conduct of the war and later reinstatement of Iraq, she is projecting the inquiry way beyond the term of this Parliament? That will be seen widely as an attempt to evade government responsibility.
My Lords, I am certainly not doing two things. I am not taking a partisan view; I am trying to take a rounded view. I was trying to mention one issue that I know has not been dealt with by former inquiries. That is why I mentioned the UN. All the other issues that noble Lords in this House care so deeply about will be considered by this committee.
I am also certainly not trying to dilute the work of the committee so that all that noble Lords wish to see from this committee is not brought about. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, asked just now whether or not I thought that refugees would be considered by the committee of inquiry. As I explained, it is up to the committee of inquiry. I would think that, if I were on the inquiry, it might well be covered. However, I am not seeking to dilute the work of the committee in order to ensure that the Government are not tainted in any way. I am trying to show noble Lords that the remit is as wide as most noble Lords would wish it to be.
My Lords, as the person who at the time was the Minister called upon most frequently in this House to defend the Government’s position over the military action in Iraq, I welcome this inquiry. I welcome the opportunity to learn for myself some parts of what went on that maybe were not as clear as they might have been at the time.
My noble friend might recall that, at the time of the run-up to the war, I was asked repeatedly in this House about the links to al-Qaeda and to terrorist organisations. At no time did I, as a Minister, say that there were any such links. Indeed, I went out of my way in this House to say that there was no evidence of any such links, even though some of your Lordships thought that the Americans had showed conclusive evidence.
I ask my noble friend two questions. Will this inquiry cover the diplomatic exchanges in advance of the military action as they related to our allies, and also as they related to others in the region, such as Iraq’s neighbours? I hope that that will be the case. Will the inquiry also cover the diplomatic exchanges after the invasion in the period when there was a build- up to the greater internal violence in Iraq? I think the diplomatic exchanges at that time, between ourselves, the United States and other interested parties, are of the utmost importance as to what happened after the military action was taken and why things went the way they did.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding me that, throughout the period when she was standing at this Dispatch Box, she did not on any occasion allege any link between al-Qaeda and the invasion of Iraq. To my knowledge, I do not think the Prime Minister made any link either. I would reassure my noble friend that the committee will consider the diplomatic exchanges with our allies and Iraq’s neighbours before, and also in the period following, the invasion.
My Lords, the Minister will recollect that her Government introduced a strategic defence review in 1998 that committed our Armed Forces to one medium-sized continuing conflict at a time. When we intervened in Iraq, that became two. Will the inquiry include the visits that the Chief of the Defence Staff made at the time to Prime Minister Blair to say that there should be a step increase in defence expenditure? Each time he was referred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, which did not get him very far. The result has been irreparable damage to our Armed Forces.
My Lords, I absolutely refute the allegation that our Armed Forces have been irreparably damaged by the war in Iraq. They have done a fantastic job, as I know that the noble Lord would recognise, but they have also been equipped and serviced as they should have been.
I honestly do not know whether the committee of inquiry would want to look at issues such as the strategic defence review and subsequent discussions. I would not wish to make any undertaking on the committee’s part, but I am sure that the noble Lord could ask its members themselves.
My Lords, while I welcome her Statement, will the noble Baroness consider two further points? First, I particularly welcome the transfer of the wall of memory, which I had the honour to be at during last year’s poppy celebrations, to the National Memorial Arboretum in the UK. Would the Government consider a special plaque in the British embassy in Baghdad to recognise the sacrifice of so many British soldiers?
Secondly, during the investigation, will the Government ensure that the commission has full, unexpurgated access to the Arabic evidence that has already been given in many different trials in Baghdad, particularly the evidence in the “Chemical Ali” trial, in the north and in the south, and the upcoming trial on the genocide of the Marsh Arabs that should start next month? I would be grateful if the Government could reassure us to that effect, as British evidence is just a small fraction of the knowledge that is available.
My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s welcome of the transfer of the wall of memory to the National Memorial Arboretum. A special plaque in our Baghdad embassy is an excellent idea. I cannot make that commitment, but I will certainly take it back to the department.
On full and unexpurgated evidence, it would seem sensible that the committee of inquiry should have access to that. I will certainly make inquiries.
My Lords, the scope of the inquiry seems unprecedented in its breadth, lasting over eight years and covering in detail legal, humanitarian, intelligence, military, reconstruction and diplomatic issues. Surely the Franks committee was not a happy precedent in this sense. There must surely be a danger that the inquiry will drag on for a very long time indeed, as noble Lords are now asking for even more aspects to be added to it.
Can my noble friend give an assurance that a steer will be given to the chairman to be as rigid and firm as he can, and that members of the committee will be asked to ensure that their other commitments are put aside so that they can proceed as expeditiously as possible with this important inquiry? Presumably the committee will not start its proceedings for a month or two in any event.
My Lords, the chairman of the committee has great experience, and I am sure that he will do everything he can to ensure that everybody’s diaries are cleared and so on. I agree with my noble friend that we need the inquiry to be carried out as expeditiously as possible. The Prime Minister has asked that it report within a year. I am sure that everybody would wish to ensure that the report was received within a year.
My Lords, one of the most important documents to emerge in recent years, as far as the military is concerned, did not come from this country. It was produced in America and is called Counterinsurgency Operations. It resulted from a direct and in-depth inquiry into what had happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how well the military was prepared for the sort of operations that both entailed. The interesting thing about the composition of that inquiry is that although it was militarily led, it included a large number of experts from right across the field.
I am interested that the Minister says that the inquiry is meant to go into “lessons learnt”. However, I find in what she said, unless I have misheard, that there is no military member of the inquiry, who might be able to lead such an inquiry into the in-depth lessons which are, after all, hugely important to the future development of our Armed Forces.
My Lords, I certainly recognise the noble Lord’s points. However, the majority of the committee members have great experience in dealing with defence issues and great contact with the MoD. I am sure that they may well be calling on some MoD experts for advice.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House kindly assure the House that the legal issues will now be looked at really carefully by the inquiry? Does she recognise that there was no issue in relation to the Falklands War and its legality because it was so plainly covered by Article 51 of the UN charter? There are very serious questions here, and the time has now come for all the legal advice that was given to be most carefully examined and all the factual information which was given to the then Attorney-General and others in preparing their advice to be fully disclosed—at least to the inquiry and then, in so far as national security permits, to the House and the country.
My Lords, some of these issues have been dealt with in previous inquiries—for example, the Butler inquiry. However, if the committee believes that this issue must be addressed, I am confident that this issue must be addressed, and it is certainly within the remit.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that it stretches credulity a little to look at the scope and the timeframe of this inquiry and to imagine that there is not a political imperative here? If we accept in good faith that there are two aspects to this—the events leading up to the war and the conduct of the war itself—may I suggest a two-part inquiry, with part 1 reporting within months on the events leading up to the war and then a longer, more considered part 2 that can take witnesses from all over the world, and take its time but may report well afterwards, that will look at the conduct of the war itself?
My Lords, Members of this House are saying, “We want the inquiry, we want it now, we want it to report tomorrow”, and then everybody is telling me all the different things that they want to be in the inquiry. This committee is going to be faced with some very difficult challenges and some extraordinary time constraints. It is up to the committee how it structures its work. It may want to come back in two parts—I do not know; that is a matter for the committee. Many of the issues that the noble Baroness raises are inextricably linked so the committee may wish to see them in the round, as it were.
My Lords, I welcome, as many on these Benches will, that we are going to have this inquiry. I was also one of those who took part in the march against the war. I wrote against it in the press. I thought then and I think now that it is a deeply shameful episode which brought discredit on the Prime Minister of the day and also on the Conservative Party of the day, from David Cameron downwards, who supported it. I think the lack of trust in our politicians began from this episode.
I thank my noble friend for her Statement. Can I ask two things? First, can I reinforce the point about looking about the legality? There was a statement about the criminality not being looked at. In the views of virtually ever professor of international law in the country, this was a deeply criminal act which had the same justification legally as Hitler had in 1939 when he invaded Poland. I hope Martin Gilbert will look at this, as a historian.
Secondly, I hope that this inquiry will take very much a transatlantic context. It was not an episode of British policy alone. There is every reason to believe that decisions were taken, not in Whitehall, not in Westminster, but in Crawford in Texas. I hope that this inquiry can consider that broader remit.
My Lords, I have high regard for my noble friend, but some of his comments were inflammatory, if I might put it like that. The remit is extremely wide and I am sure that it will look at what he called the transatlantic context. It is entirely within the committee’s remit to look at the legal aspects should it so wish.
My Lords, can the Leader of the House clarify a point about the publication of evidence? This inquiry is likely to be held largely in secret, but its effects will be crucially influenced by the amount of evidence that is actually published. A report without evidence is much less valuable than one which is accompanied by the evidence that has produced the conclusions. Can the noble Baroness clarify the extent to which evidence will be made available?
My Lords, what the committee will ultimately wish to publish is a matter for it to decide. If the material is secret or sensitive, publication would not be appropriate; however, I am sure that the committee will wish to publish the maximum amount.