To call attention to the Iraq invasion and lessons for the future; and to move for Papers.
My Lords, it is fairly unusual to have two dozen speakers for the second debate on a Thursday afternoon but it shows the importance that this House places on the issues involved. The only sadness is that we have so little time to explore them.
There are many questions which arise in this debate but let me start on a point where there is unity throughout this House. That is to praise the courage and professionalism of the British troops who have fought and have been under fire in Iraq over the past six years. Their effort and dedication has been magnificent, part of which I saw for myself when I visited Basra last year. I saw then everything I wanted to see, given the security position at the time, and was certainly able to put all the questions that I wanted to ask. I thank the Ministry of Defence for that opportunity, although I have to admit that on one occasion I was helped by an unaccountable rumour that I was in fact the First Sea Lord.
The truth is that the invasion of Iraq was deadly serious in intent and deadly serious in its impact. The price that was paid for the invasion was extraordinarily high. One hundred and seventy-nine British service men and women have been killed and several hundred others badly or severely injured. The number of Iraqi dead has been much greater. At a conservative estimate, the figure is 100,000 but many would put it much higher. Many of those killed were also tortured and the reign of terror has had a traumatic effect on ordinary Iraqi lives—so traumatic that an estimated 2 million refugees sought shelter in surrounding countries such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, while another 2 million sought refuge elsewhere in Iraq itself. The war created the worst refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948.
Of course, there have also been gains. A new democracy is, one hopes, emerging. The internal security position has, one hopes, permanently improved. Certainly, the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein has been replaced. We need to weigh those advances against the price that has been paid. There is no agreement on whether they justify the action that was taken.
The decision to go to war in Iraq was almost certainly the most controversial political decision taken in post-war years. Many opposed the invasion from the outset. They took part in the massive demonstrations in London and elsewhere and they maintain that opposition to this day. Others—and I was one of them—supported the action that was taken and relied on the information provided by the Government. What unites us today is the need to know the truth about the decision to go to war and, even given that decision, whether some of the appalling later results could have been avoided.
Among the questions that need to be answered are the following. We need to know whether the Government misled Parliament and the public by overstating the evidence there was of weapons of mass destruction. It does not seem to me that the report from the intelligence community that it knew little about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons since 1998 justified the claim made by the Prime Minister at the end of 2002 that our knowledge was “extensive, detailed and authoritative”. We need to know just how the decision was made inside Government—what advice was proffered by the Foreign Office and whether that information was put before the Cabinet. We need to know what planning there was for the aftermath. The invasion is one thing; occupation is quite another. We need to know what action we have taken to help the refugees who have been created by this conflict. Too often they are the people who have been forgotten. There is an assumption that, as the security position improves, they will all return to Iraq. But frankly that is not the case.
Earlier this year I went to Syria on an IPU delegation. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, was also part of it. In Damascus we interviewed some of the refugees who have been living in Syria for the past few years. We need to face the fact that there are people there who have no intention of returning to Iraq. They have nothing to return to. Their memories are memories of murder and of violence. They are the survivors of torture and of kidnapping. They are men and women who have been persecuted for their religious beliefs. That is why a resettlement programme in other countries is being organised by the United Nations refugee agency. We need to know whether Britain is playing its full part in this. The evidence from Syria was not encouraging. Our help in resettlement was not only behind the United States, which is to be expected, but behind Canada, Australia, Sweden and the Netherlands. We need to know whether we are meeting our obligations.
In essence, we now need closure on a political decision that by any measure has bitterly divided this country. That was why I initiated a debate in this House 18 months ago, calling for an inquiry and saying that I knew of,
“no other way that the lessons from this conflict can be learnt”.—[Official Report, 24/1/08; col. 338.]
That is why, four weeks ago, I tabled the Motion that is being debated today.
In one very substantial way, the story has moved on, with the Government at long last conceding the case for an inquiry; so the crucial question today is not whether there should be an inquiry but whether the inquiry that the Prime Minister announced on Monday meets the widespread and legitimate public concern. In my judgment, it does not; it is in essence a political response, and as such it runs the risk of satisfying no one.
What has the Prime Minister said? He said on Monday that the proceedings will be held in private, which he justified; that there should be no attempt to “apportion blame”; that the committee should include no senior military figures and no experienced politicians; and, of course, that the report should not appear until after the next general election. Perish the thought that the public should be influenced by its findings.
The inquiry is to be held in secret as, according to the Prime Minister, this is the best way of getting “full and candid” evidence. That is an extraordinary reason, coming as it does a week after the Government proclaimed that only openness and transparency would serve the public interest. However, it is worse than that. If this inquiry is to achieve any kind of closure, it has to satisfy a wide national constituency. It needs to satisfy: the relations of those killed in Iraq; those who have been injured; people like me who supported the war that we were not deceived; and people who opposed the war, who should at least be satisfied that this was an honest undertaking. It needs to satisfy the people of Iraq, who have taken the full force of the action, that the cause was entirely legitimate.
I give four reasons why the inquiry as presently constituted will not achieve those goals. First, a secret inquiry of the kind announced by the Prime Minister on Monday simply will not satisfy the public. The Government say that this was the procedure of the Franks inquiry in 1982, but that was 27 years ago. Times have changed, as the Government up to this week have proclaimed constantly. The plain fact is that an inquiry behind closed doors is not what the public expect at the end of the first decade of the 21st century.
I also observe in passing that the Franks inquiry, even at the beginning of the 1980s, did not satisfy everyone. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, a familiar face here now who was then a Member of the other place, called it,
“an establishment cover-up and a whitewash”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/1/83; col. 180.]
while none other than the late Lord Callaghan said that the committee,
“chucked a bucket of whitewash”,
over the issue. I do not deny that when there are undoubted issues of national security, the committee will want to go into private session, but surely the presumption should be the very opposite of what is proposed. It should be that evidence is given in public unless there are overwhelming reasons of national security to do the opposite. That is the test.
We hear today that, somewhat typically of this Government, a letter has gone from the Prime Minister to the chairman of the inquiry and includes, it is claimed, concessions. We are told that the chairman will be allowed some sessions in public, but we already knew that. That was exactly what the Leader of the House of Lords said to me in response to direct questions in this House on Monday; it can be seen in the pages of Hansard. We wait to hear what the Minister says on the Government’s latest position on this, but I suggest that it needs to go beyond reheating Monday’s Statement. We need to know whether the presumption is for openness or secrecy. That is the crucial question which the Minister should answer.
Secondly, I am frankly astonished by the blandness of the Prime Minister's statement that the committee will not “apportion blame”. The truth is that there may well be blame to be apportioned. Even Ministers agree that the planning for the aftermath was utterly inadequate. Are we to say that this was entirely and exclusively the fault of the United States? If Britain was also culpable, blame may well be apportioned, and so it should be.
Thirdly, I am concerned by the make-up of this committee and the absence of military and political experience. If the Government are to quote Franks, it should be pointed out that this was a committee with massive political experience that included Merlyn Rees and Harold Lever, the late Lord Lever of Manchester. The Prime Minister ignores such experience and says that he wants the committee to be as objective and non-partisan as possible. I think he shows a lack of understanding of what happens in such inquiries. As the Select Committee system in this House and the other place shows, politicians are entirely capable of setting party positions to one side.
Then there is the Prime Minister’s later comment that he is relying on the advice of,
“people who have not been involved in commenting on this issue over the last few years”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/6/09; col. 27.]
Frankly, I find that strange. Are we to believe that no members of his chosen committee has expressed any view on the most controversial foreign policy decision for more than 60 years? If that is the case, I am not sure that I want a committee composed of such totally disinterested figures.
The timing of the publication of the report until after the next election of course gives the whole game away. I never met anyone, including those I met in the Army, who believed in the Government’s previous excuse that it would be wrong to hold an inquiry while there were still troops in Iraq. In any event, I am not sure on the basis of what the Government propose how you can be demoralised by a secret inquiry. The Government know perfectly well that this inquiry could and should have been held months ago. They now have the responsibility to find some way, either by an interim report or perhaps by dividing the report into two, of delivering at least some of the results before the public are called on to judge their period of government.
The debate in the other place on the Franks report in January 1983 contained a fundamental point. The terms of reference of the committee of inquiry were agreed by the Opposition—indeed, they were changed because of a request by the Leader of the Opposition—and the membership of the Franks committee was agreed by the Leader of the Opposition and by all the principal parties in the House of Commons. We are entitled to know why there was no serious attempt to do this on this occasion and to find some consensus on the way forward.
An inquiry into the Iraq conflict should have provided the nation with an opportunity to learn the truth and the lessons that could guide future conduct. If we go along the present course, that opportunity will be lost. I hope the Government will recognise that the inquiry that they have set up does not command the confidence of much of the British public, and I very much doubt whether it commands the confidence of Parliament.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for once again giving us an opportunity to discuss Iraq, and I join him in expressing his appreciation of the quality and dedication of all our magnificent troops, of whom we are all justifiably proud.
I made many speeches in this House before, during and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I argued consistently then, as I believe now, that the invasion was legally, politically and morally justified.
It was legally justified because Saddam Hussein failed to comply with 23 separate obligations under a series of resolutions—including Resolution 678 in 1990, through Resolution 687 in 1991, which contained the detailed terms for a final ceasefire, to Resolution 1441 in 2003—under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which uniquely provides for the use of coercive force and authorises collective military action. After Resolution 678, there were in all some 16 Chapter 7 resolutions. Twelve years after the UN had given him 15 days to disarm, Resolution 1441 gave him a final opportunity, which he did not take. Resolution 1441 may have been necessary for political reasons but surely not for legal ones.
It was politically justified because this rogue regime was a huge threat in its volatile region and, through that, to us all. Moral justification is a matter of judgment open to different personal views. As the result of a very close professional involvement with Iraq in 1990 and 1991, I have kept a very close interest in that unhappy country. Even those with reservations about military action acknowledge the terrible nature of that regime, where the merest suspicion of dissidence brought horrible deaths to individuals and their extended families. I consider it a moral action to have relieved the Iraqi people, the region and the rest of the world from the threat of this regime.
There are various lessons that we should learn from our experiences with Iraq. I will try briefly to enumerate some of them in the time available. First, decisions about the timing of an interim ceasefire should not be left solely to soldiers, even to those as distinguished as Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf, because they got it very wrong, with tragic consequences not least for the Shia and the Marsh Arabs, who suffered so terribly at the hands of the vengeful Saddam.
Secondly, a very long Chapter 7 UN Security Council resolution, containing detailed terms for a final ceasefire—as did Resolution 687—should not remain flouted for some 12 years before taking decisive military action to enforce it. Thirdly, the State Department, where detailed plans had been meticulously prepared, described at the time by one insider as “the greatest detailed plans for civil reconstruction since the rebuilding of post-war Germany”, should have controlled the post-conflict situation, not the Pentagon. It was a tragedy that these were never put into effect. To be brutally frank, Secretary Rumsfeld triumphed in Washington over Secretary Powell. Many other mistakes flowed from this, such as dissolving the army and going too far with de-Ba’athification.
Fourthly, not enough recognition was given in advance to how the horrors of Saddam’s regime had brutalised and exacerbated tensions between the Sunni, Shia and Kurds. Fifthly, I argued in April 2003 that it was a mistake not to take action against Moqtada al-Sadr then, when he was clearly responsible for the murder of another Shia cleric. To have dealt with Moqtada then could have avoided many subsequent problems.
I end by saying that I am delighted that the committee of inquiry, chaired by the excellent Sir John Chilcot, will soon begin its work. Although there are calls for a public inquiry, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has outlined today, I think it is right that this committee should follow the pattern of the Franks inquiry, which is the nearest parallel for this kind of exercise. However, it is my understanding from the Statement on the committee and its terms of reference that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made in the Commons that Sir John Chilcot could take some evidence in public, if and when he judged that appropriate and desirable.
It is reported that the Prime Minister has now made this explicit, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, indicated. Would my noble friend the Minister confirm that my understanding of the original situation is correct and that Sir John Chilcot has the discretion and the competence to hear evidence in public when he judges it right to do so?
My Lords, I, too, join in the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for introducing this debate, which is of such great importance and has been made of even more importance by the Statement of the Prime Minister about an inquiry into the Iraq war.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, put the case very strongly for this particular inquiry being held in public. He made a very powerful point in saying that the assumption must be that, wherever possible, the inquiry should be in the open and that, only in circumstances where the material is so sensitive that it could risk the interests of national security, should there be a willingness by the panel to accept in camera discussions rather than those which are open to the public.
We live in a world today that is dominated by the internet and by bloggers, bleaters and tweeters. We have a very large young generation that will not trust anything that is not made as open as possible. We have to carry credibility with this inquiry. Frankly, in our society today, a secret inquiry will carry virtually no credibility at all. I powerfully and strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has said.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, who knows a great deal about these matters, talked about the various resolutions that she believes made the war legal. In that case, it is extraordinary that the Prime Minister went to such lengths to try to get a second resolution at the United Nations, which he obviously believed was crucial to making sure that the war was perceived internationally and globally to be a legal war.
Those who will be most affected by this inquiry are the families of the service men and women who, in their brave and devoted service, lost their lives. It is their families, relatives and friends who need to be satisfied by this inquiry. That means that we owe them nothing less than an inquiry that is as open as it possibly can be. In that context, it is not only about the losses of life. It is not only about whether the war was legal. It is highly relevant that no lesser person than the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, in 2004 gave his considered view that the war was not legal or legitimate.
Having said that, many of us also have a deep sense of sadness that our country, one of the beacon countries of democracy in the world, the mother of parliaments, should have engaged in an illegal and illegitimate war. It is crucial therefore that this inquiry demonstrates whether that judgment is right, because it affects all of us.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, asked a number of questions. I will add one or two more. First, when was the decision made for the United Kingdom to be involved in the invasion? The memorandum sent by Sir David Manning to Condoleezza Rice, the United States Secretary of State, in which he declared that the Prime Minister was fully on board for the change of regime in Iraq—incidentally itself not legal under the United Nations—was dated 18 March 2002. This implies that the decision to become part of the invasion of Iraq was made long before the debate and discussion in this country and, perhaps most importantly, long before the inspectors were able to report back on the completion of their mission, which, as all of us know, was in effect never completed because enough time was never given by the allies who were determined to invade Iraq come what may.
The second big question is how the intelligence about the weapons of mass destruction, and, equally important and even more misleading, the intelligence that was supposed to show links between the Government of Iraq and al-Qaeda, was put in the public realm and whether it had the support of the intelligence community. The references to the links with al-Qaeda have been shown to be totally hollow.
I want to make a final point, but I shall abbreviate my remarks for lack of time; although my noble friends Lord Lee and Lord Addington will be asking further questions, particularly about the military aspects. Much of what happened in the Iraq war was based on the assumption by Her Majesty’s Government that they had to follow the United States whatever it said or did. I remind those who, as I do, care deeply about the Anglo-American relationship that the relationship between Roosevelt and Churchill and perhaps also that between Mrs Thatcher—the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—and Ronald Reagan were characterised by frank and candid exchanges in which from time to time the British made it clear that they could not go along with something, as Mrs Thatcher did over the invasion of Grenada. When will our Governments again accept that this country has the right to be heard, and not least when its own service men and women are at risk? Including in this debate, I hope we bear it in mind that we, too, have the right to make judgments and to be listened to.
My Lords, I respectfully applaud the fact that this debate has been arranged, as I respectfully applaud the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has placed this matter before the House. I fear that the arrangements for an inquiry into the Iraq war and its terms of reference are patently unacceptable. The absence of powers of subpoena is a grave flaw. The imposition of total secrecy by the Prime Minister is inappropriate. The explanation that it will ensure, for example, that the evidence of serving and former Ministers will be as “full and candid as possible” lets the cat out of the bag. The condition that the committee,
“will not set out to apportion blame”
is truly absurd. It means that if the committee considers that the previous Prime Minister and the Cabinet were to blame, it is not entitled to find accordingly. It is also extraordinary that nowhere in his Statement has the Prime Minister faced up to the fact that the question of law concerning the legality of the invasion of Iraq was at the heart of the matter. Why cannot that issue be explored in public, and before the next election? Let me explain the point briefly.
One starts with the advantage of the magisterial lecture of Lord Alexander of Weedon QC entitled “Iraq: The pax Americana and the law”, delivered under the auspices of Justice on 14 October 2003. Lord Alexander was one of our greatest lawyers and this was possibly one of his finest speeches. He laid bare the speciousness of the arguments of the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom in favour of the legality of the war. A text of the lecture is now readily available on the web at www.justice.org.uk. For what it is worth, I would mention that shortly after my retirement as a Law Lord, I was for a brief while the chairman of Justice. On 18 October 2005, I paid tribute on behalf of Justice to Lord Alexander’s exposure of the illegality of the Iraq war.
It was necessary for our Government to find a justification for their action in international law. The Security Council was plainly opposed to the use of force. The only argument available to the British Government was to fall back on Security Council Resolution 678 passed in 1990 for the purpose of expelling Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. The sole reason for harking back to it was that it was impossible to obtain Security Council approval for the use of force against Iraq in 2003. Resolution 678, passed in 1990 in a wholly different context, had no relevance to the international position regarding the use of force against Iraq in 2003.
For many legal arguments, some support can be dredged up. While there was limited support for our Government, the overwhelming view of international lawyers was that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. Lord Alexander’s criticism of our Government’s position on the critical matter of international law at issue is quite devastating and fully justifies his view that in their search for a justification in law, the Government were driven to scrape the bottom of the legal barrel. I am in full agreement with what Lord Alexander said about the legality of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Government’s contrary view is plainly absurd and wrong, but the Prime Minister’s decree prevents this debate being aired before the next election.
For the avoidance of doubt, I make clear that my conclusion is based on two issues. First, I was brought up to admire American constitutional traditions, and I still do. There is nothing anti-American in my stance. Secondly, I respect the operational conduct of our brave troops on the battlefield of Iraq.
My Lords, I join in congratulating my noble friend Lord Fowler on initiating this debate. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Steyn, that his comments, which I listened to with great interest, may be the reason why the former Attorney-General, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, had such difficulty at the time giving a legal opinion to justify the war. It is one of the issues that I hope will come out in the inquiry. My noble friend Lord Fowler rightly started by paying tribute to those whose lives have either been lost or shattered as a result of the Iraq war. We certainly owe them and their families, who will bear the scars for the rest of their lives—some 400 have made the ultimate sacrifice or have been very seriously wounded—a proper inquiry into the events.
There is no doubt that in both Houses this is a deeply controversial matter. Very serious allegations have been made at every stage of these proceedings and at the moment we have not set up in quite the best possible way an inquiry to meet the various proper requirements that I know the House has in mind. The Prime Minister has clearly got into a big mess about it, and the news today is that he has now written to Sir John Chilcott suggesting that he can invite public hearings as well, which means that he is adjusting the position. I see that the Conservative Party has said that if it is not satisfied, it will table a debate in the House of Commons next week. I think that that would be a great pity because I would much rather see this resolved in the proper way.
The Prime Minister said the day before yesterday that he has clung closely to the Franks banner, and Franks is what we have got. What we certainly have not had from the start is the way in which Franks was set up, and the noble Lord, Lord Butler, with his diplomacy and technique, will know something about that. Moreover, there is a complete absence of cross-party consultation. The Franks inquiry was set up in response to two Questions for Written Answer, one tabled by Michael Foot, the Leader of the Opposition, and the other by Joe Grimond, emphasising the fact that there had been close cross-party consultation before it was set up. It is tragic that that was not done here. The Prime Minister said rather lamely that that was because they were Written Answers and that he was making an oral Statement, but what he did not point out was that there was then a full day’s debate on the Floor of the House on the setting-up of the inquiry.
I accept that the people the Prime Minister has proposed are very distinguished public servants, but whether the balance between academics and public servants fully meets the need for non-partisan public figures is open to question. The Prime Minister said that it would be impossible for anyone in the House of Lords actually to serve on the committee. I notice that four Members of this House—Lord Watkinson, Lord Barber, Lord Lever and Lord Merlyn-Rees—served under Lord Franks and I do not think for a moment that they were too partisan in their approach to the responsibilities they took on as full Privy Counsellors.
If this is to be a proper inquiry, the Prime Minister’s lack of consultation has done no service to the people who have been asked to take part. The Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons said that they looked like a hand-picked group that the Prime Minister had privately chosen for his own purposes. I make no allegations against these distinguished people, but they have not been helped by the way in which this has been embarked on.
As to the suggestion that if it were held in public it would be impossible to be candid, perhaps some of your Lordships heard Major General Tim Cross today making it absolutely clear that he would regard it as his duty, having commanded troops in Iraq, to be fully candid and in public about the shortcomings that he saw. Sir John Walker, the former chief of defence intelligence, was yesterday quoted in the Evening Standard as making clear that, on the present basis, it seems the inquiry is to be in private only to protect the past and present members of the Government, and that every member of the Armed Forces would feel it their duty to be fully candid and in public.
On the timing, the Prime Minister said he was advised that it would take about year. Who on earth advised him? Who on earth knows how long it can possibly take? The advice was that the Bloody Sunday inquiry would take six months. As it is now in its eighth year, that has not proved very accurate.
My only recommendation—there are a range of issues that other noble Lords will wish to address and I do not wish to delay the House—is that it is absolutely essential that the inquiry is split up in some way, perhaps through interim reports dealing with the separate issues. They are quite separate issues so why not start with the terms of reference for the Franks inquiry and how responsibility was exercised in the period up to the start of the war. That would be a good subject for the first interim report before we get into the issues around the appallingly inadequate resources deployed in the war. They were a fraction of what we used for the much more limited objective of liberating Kuwait. A fifth of the forces deployed to liberate Kuwait were used to try to occupy the whole of Iraq and overthrow the regime. Very serious allegations arose over the decision about going to war, including that delays were made in procurement of equipment because we did not wish to give any signal that we intended to go to war when in fact the decision had already been taken. A whole range of issues needs addressing and a proper inquiry, conducted as far as possible in public, is absolutely essential if they are to be properly dealt with.
My Lords, I strike a note of scepticism and discord. I recognise that the Government are honouring an obligation and have to proceed, but I am profoundly unconvinced that the exercise will be worthwhile. It is something of a pipe dream to believe that the inquiry as planned, or any inquiry, will lead to closure. I cite in evidence the letter page of the Guardian yesterday, where so many people have already made up their minds and their responses are already predictable. I recall that when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, was appointed there were paeans of praise about a man wholly incorruptible and fearless, and yet when his report was published and it was considered to be not the one people wanted, it was called a whitewash. Many critics of war do not want a sober analysis; they want an apology andthe heads of Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell on a platter.
I chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee which produced the report. We looked, as far as we were able, at many of the documents. I hope that the Government will at least look at our special report and re-examine our experiences if they are concerned—as they say they are—about improving the powers of Select Committees.
The responses to the Government’s announcement are already mostly critical. On the membership, I agree that there should have been a serious attempt at party consensus. It is wrong that there is no person with serious military experience on the committee. So far as secrecy is concerned, Hutton was in public but was nevertheless called a whitewash. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, that the presumption should be in favour of a public hearing and I hope my noble friend the Minister will confirm that the chairman will have considerable discretion. It is to be hoped that there will be a presumption of openness.
The precedent of Bloody Sunday is not a happy one. Eight years on, with almost £200 million spent, it has been a bonanza for lawyers. It is perhaps cathartic, but it is likely to have little effect. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that if the committee really wants to be almost entirely in public it will be able to do so.
Much of the ground has already been covered, both in the US and in this country. On intelligence; is there any suggestion that relevant information was not supplied to the Butler inquiry and the Intelligence and Security Committee inquiry or that they did not have all the relevant information to reach their conclusions? As to the pre-planning, it is absolutely right in my judgment—and I met Richard Perle and a number of the neo cons—that we relied too much on people like Perle, who were claiming that our forces would be greeted as liberators, without any serious thought to the aftermath. Of course the dismantling of the security structures, the police and military forces—the de-Baathification—has turned out to be a mistake.
So far as the law is concerned, the Attorney-General made a difficult decision. He must have consulted widely, as is normal, before it. There are equally cogent arguments on the other side. It may be that the weight of international legal opinion is on the other side, but is the committee, without any lawyers, to interpose its own legal judgment for that which has already been made? That is surely absurd. There is no legal expert on the committee. Even if there were, that decision, right or wrong, was made in good faith.
As to the military, there must have been many lessons learnt and inquiries held within the Army. Much will depend on resources, on manpower and on equipment; much of it is technical. There should certainly be a military member of the committee. Much of the problem is contextual; what people knew at the relevant time. As a former chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I received briefing from the same individual as the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister, in my judgment, honestly reproduced what he had been told. Mistakes there were, of course, but mistakes of honest judgment.
The political issues include our relations with the US and the European Union; the resources, civil and military; the over-reliance on exiles, Chalabi and others; the intelligence, which was shared by most of our sister intelligence agencies who came to the same conclusion; the misreading by the neo cons of 9/11; and, equally, if perhaps not mentioned, questions of governance and whether it was prime ministerial government or Cabinet government. It was clearly a political judgment; it should be judged politically and not by a committee, whether in secret or public, of the great and the good.
It is inconceivable to expect closure. I predict that the likely response will be relief for the Government, disappointment for the public and cries in unison of “whitewash”, “cover up” and “charade” from the press and from those who currently criticise the Iraq war.
My Lords, you can put some of the great and good into a shuttered room and present them with files and documents into which they can dig and delve, and you can send an occasional witness into the gloom to give evidence in secret. No doubt they will emerge after 12 months, blinking into the light like the political prisoners released from jail in Beethoven’s Fidelio, but I suspect that the chorus they will be singing will not be regarded by the public as an ode to freedom and enlightenment. The alternative is to hold a proper public inquiry, where evidence is called, examined and tested, on oath and in public, for the commissioners to come to proper conclusions that everyone can consider and assent to.
On Monday this week in another place, Sir Menzies Campbell asked whether the inquiry will have the power not just to ask for witnesses but to compel them to attend and put them on oath so that their evidence may be verified against that background. The Prime Minister’s reply was to say:
“I know that the Liberal party wanted it to be held in public, but I think they know also what happens when there are public inquiries. That means lawyers, lawyers and lawyers, whereas people can feel free to give evidence and give it frankly about what we want to hear—that is, the lessons that we can learn from the war”.
Pressed further on whether there would be a power to compel witnesses to give evidence on oath, he said:
“The terms under which evidence will be given is a matter on which we will comment and report later, but I am absolutely sure that everybody who gives evidence will have to tell the truth to the committee. They are under an obligation to do so by the committee’s terms of reference”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/6/09; cols. 33-34.]
Can the Prime Minister be capable of such naivety? The whole point about an oath being administered is not that it is an appeal to someone’s god but that it opens a person to criminal prosecution for perjury if he does not tell the truth.
I can think of a number of instances of this. I was involved in the court martial of the paratroopers three years ago for the death of an Iraqi in Maysan province, when witness after witness came from Iraq and gave evidence. Some women complained that their clothes had been ripped off them, some of them claimed that the deceased had been hit by rifle butts and so on. When subjected to detailed cross-examination and reminded that they had taken the oath on the Koran, they all retracted what they had said; we got to the truth. As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, who has to be congratulated on introducing this debate, said, we need to know the truth.
The Baha Musa court martial, in which I was also involved, revealed unacceptable and disgraceful conditioning that was being carried out in the British Army regarding the way that prisoners were handled. A senior colonel from the legal department arrived at Basra airport and saw groups of prisoners sitting on the ground in the sun with their hands bound and with blindfolds over their heads. When he made a fuss about it, all the way up to the Ministry of Defence, he was told, “Well, the Attorney-General says it’s all right, and if you think any better then you should be the next Attorney-General”. Of course, the House of Lords held that the Human Rights Act applies to soldiers in the field, but that has not helped the career of that particular officer.
The Baha Musa inquiry into the death of a single person and the circumstances surrounding it was announced in May last year. There have been directions hearings; it is to open on 13 July; evidence will start in September; and it is expected to last until June or July next year. That is for a single death. The concept that the inquiry that has been announced by the Prime Minister will take in the order of 12 months is, obviously, not worthy of consideration. It is a serious matter to start an inquiry, but we are concerned with extremely serious issues that have to be determined in public. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for bringing this matter forward. I know that we will return to it again and again.
My Lords, I also pay tribute to our brave service men and women who have done their duty in very difficult circumstances. I hope and pray, with everyone else, that Iraq, which is still the most dangerous place on earth, may yet turn out to be better than we feared.
I intend to focus on only one aspect of the invasion of Iraq: the intellectual and moral framework in which the original decision to invade was made. The intellectual framework for decisions about military intervention, which has been developed in the West through the Christian Church and now forms the basis for UN thinking about intervention, sets out a number of questions that have to be addressed before an intervention can be morally justified.
The first question is: is there lawful authority? In the Christian tradition, that means the highest authority available for resolving disputes. In the international sphere, in most circumstances, it means the United Nations. Here, a very important distinction arises between what is legal and what may be ethical. They usually overlap but they are not always coterminous. As we know, a debate continues to rage about whether the invasion was legal. Already today the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, has said that she believes it was legal while the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn, has argued that it was not. My point is that what is legal may not be enough. The fact is that there was no significant international consensus, and those opposed were not just the usual suspects but serious heavyweight players such as Germany and France.
A useful comparison may be made with the intervention in Kosovo. That did not have a specific authorisation from the Security Council but, as Michael Quinlan, whom we honoured this morning at his memorial service at Westminster, pointed out, it differed from Iraq in at least four pertinent respects: the intervention was directed to halting an immediate and manifest humanitarian outrage in full swing; it was not a regime-changing invasion; it was supported by the great majority of countries in the region and a wide international grouping of major countries; and it was validated soon afterwards by the United Nations itself. Not long before, the UN Secretary-General had publicly recognised that the Kosovo situation was a threat to international peace and security.
The second question concerns just cause. The original stated reason, as we know, was the possession of WMD by Saddam Hussein. In my opinion, it was a very reasonable belief at the time that he had such weapons, even though up to that point the inspectors had not been able to locate them. Taken by itself, though, this was not a good enough reason for intervention. Other criteria had to be met as well and other, perhaps less destructive, possibilities might have worked out to be intellectually and morally better. There was an alternative to intervention: deterrence and containment, which had been working well. Very often, in a world where there is a choice of evils, we have to put up with a less than perfect solution. We have to live with a problem, containing it rather than solving it, because trying to solve it in one fell swoop would unleash even greater evils.
The third question is whether every possible step to achieve a resolution by peaceful means had been tried first and found to fail. I think perhaps that had actually been met. The fourth question is about the very difficult political and military judgment over whether the evils unleashed by the war would outweigh the good that might be achieved.
That is very closely linked to the fifth and last criterion which is so crucial: how do we define success in these kinds of terms? If it is purely in terms of a military victory, then that indeed was very speedily gained. However, political leaders in the USA and the UK have only very recently woken up to the fact that ought to have been in the forefront of their minds right from the outset, that the struggle in the modern world is primarily one against terrorism and success in that strategy means ensuring that terrorists do not gain and hold the hearts and minds of those in whose name they say they carry out acts of terror. Counterterrorism is primarily a battle of hearts and minds in which military force has an important but subservient place. That was very far from the thinking of those who took us into the conflict in the first place and is one of the reasons for what I continue to regard as a very tragic misjudgment.
So my focus in this debate has been on the continuing relevance of the intellectual framework for considering the morality of military interventions, which very much needs to be borne in mind whenever such interventions are considered in the future. I believe that, judged by those criteria, the legal and ethical implications, which are not always coterminous, were not thought through significantly, while the actual meaning of success in the battle against terrorism was not thought through at all.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Fowler for introducing this remarkably timely debate. The legal aspects have been mentioned by many speakers already and that is what I want to concentrate on, not only to look back on the past and find out what did happen, but also to consider its effect on the future. It is clear that the suspicions about the apparent mishandling of the legal advice has left long-term damage to the perception of the office of the law officers and the Attorney-General. That needs to be looked at very carefully and we cannot do that unless we get to the bottom of what really happened.
What was the continuing role of the then Attorney-General? It ought to have been that he and his department were closely involved in the months and indeed years running up to the invasion. When one got close to it, what was he actually told by the then Prime Minister? We know from the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Butler—he is here and will possibly tell us a little more—that his inquiry found it necessary to say that the then Prime Minister had been disingenuous in relation to the handling of the intelligence. That became very important because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn, has adverted to, there were enormously deep issues on the legality.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who sadly cannot be in his place, first of all boldly and correctly advised that regime change was not a justification for the war—in America it is widely believed to be a justification—but we have not seen the full advice on that. Also, Tony Blair as Prime Minister quite rightly persuaded President Bush that it was necessary to try and get a further resolution from the United Nations. The position here was entirely different from the situation in the Falklands and that in the first Iraq war. In the Falklands we had a right to defend ourselves under Article 51 of the United Nations charter—I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Michael Havers at that time—and that was always the keystone of our position. That also applied in relation to the first Iraq war and the position of Kuwait, but of course it was then reinforced by an actual United Nations resolution.
When that could not be obtained, it seemed that the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, sought to fall back on some form of Article 51 justification on the basis that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was able with the aid of some improved Scud missile or in some such way to drop a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon that could cause mass destruction, either over the Israelis or on to our bases in Cyprus. It was never very clear exactly what it was, and we do not really know what the then Attorney-General was told. We do not know exactly what advice he gave, and we do not know exactly what was told to the Cabinet, though it seems to have been extremely little. We ought to know those things.
Sometimes an obfuscation is raised: it is sometimes said the tradition is that the law officers’ advice is not revealed. That has nothing whatever to do with this case. It is always open to the Government, who are the client, to waive the privilege. Although the law officers, for practical reasons, are the gatekeepers, the privilege is that of the client, and the client is the Government. The Government should make it perfectly clear that they waive their privilege. This inquiry must get legal assistance if it needs it, and it probably does need it. It must look into this carefully and give us a full report. Nothing else can satisfy us.
My Lords, the last time I spoke on this issue was in another debate on a Motion commendably tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. I spelt out then my views on what I saw as the failure of the Iraq occupation after the conflict. My noble friend Lady Ramsay has also drawn attention to the important post-conflict failure and to the profoundly important failure to build consensus, particularly in the region itself. I do not wish to repeat that; I have said it before and written about it, and I really do not want to go there again at the moment. What I want to talk about today, and it touches a little on what the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, is the morality issue and the law issue.
I would dearly love the rule of law to apply throughout the world. I am a politician, and I come to the law looking at it as a politician. The law does not apply like this in the rest of the world. I would say to lawyers: beware of sounding like the medieval theologians who kept arguing about how many angels can stand on the head of a pin when you are dealing with some of the most brutal dictators. I say to the lawyers that one of the lessons we have to learn from situations like this is that we have yet to find effective ways of dealing with this deadly combination of extreme dictators, failing states and weapons of mass destruction. I say to the lawyers that if their argument had prevailed in the past then Pol Pot would still be running Cambodia, because the Vietnamese illegally removed him; Idi Amin would still be running Uganda, because the Tanzanians illegally removed him; and East Pakistan would still be running what is now Bangladesh, because the Indians illegally removed it.
As I have pointed out here before, one of the most important interventions of all time was particularly important to this House—the 19th-century intervention by the British, using the Royal Navy, to stop the transatlantic slave trade. Captains of Royal Navy vessels were successfully sued in court cases in this House for arresting slave traders on the high seas and for entering the ports of other countries and burning the empty slave boats. All the usual complaints were around saying that we should not do it. Why? In the Times at that period you could read about the cause to bring our British sailors home because they were dying of tropical fevers and so on and it was felt that it was not a war for us. Slavery was normal. Trading slaves was normal. It became abnormal because we made it so, even though it was fully lawful at the time.
People have to be very careful in that if they get the balance of morality and law wrong, they could end up defending the indefensible for legal reasons. I have made this argument before. The lawyers today are very much in the position of lawyers in the 1950s and 1960s who argued that if a man beat his wife and kids in the street he could be arrested but if he did it in his own home he could not be touched. That is what we do in international affairs. The Treaty of Westphalia means that the nation state is still the dominant idea of the day. So if Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait, we will have him, but if he gases his own people we will let him get on with it. You just put your fingers in your ears, cross over to the other side of the road and hope that you do not hear the cries of the kids.
I heard the cries of the kids because in Hammersmith I used to get waves of refugees. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has been very good on the refugee issue. However, at that time I was getting refugees from Saddam and they were pleading for something to be done. There was a breach of the 1991 ceasefire under Chapter 7 of the United Nation charter and people were asking me why we could not make the United Nations intervene. We could not. In the House of Commons debates on 18 March 2003, which I took part in, relatively few Members on either side of the issue actually used WMD as the argument. WMD became important not only in their own right but because they triggered the legal condition.
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way?
I shall, my Lords, but I have only one minute left.
My Lords, I apologise, and I am grateful. I was at that debate as well. Why did the Prime Minister and his Ministers concentrate so hard on seeking to justify it as a matter of law?
My Lords, I think that I just answered that. As I said, it became a matter of law partly for that reason. But it is not the real issue; that was not the judgment that was made.
I come back for my final moments, and I will still finish on time. The balance of power in the world is changing. The United States is in relative decline. That does not mean that it is going down—it is in relative decline to the powers that are coming up. We know that great wars start when great powers are in decline relative to others. That is what happened with Britain when Germany, Russia, Japan and the United States rose in the early 20th century. Now we have the deadly problem of failed states, dictatorships and weapons of mass destruction. If we rely simply on trying to get the law right before we intervene, it is only a matter of time before some of these brutal dictators use weapons of mass destruction far outside their own borders. Saddam Hussein did it—we and the lawyers conveniently forget that.
I say to the lawyers: use your time to start working out how we should deal with these situations by creating international institutions that will enable us to deal with extreme dictators of this type. You cannot justify it; do not try to justify it; and do not end up like the medieval theologians whom you sound like at the moment.
My Lords, I intervene with trepidation. This is a timed debate and the limit for speaking is five minutes. I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate, on being the only speaker to have stayed within five minutes. When the digital clock reads five, it means that the five minutes are completed. We had five minutes of bonus time, courtesy of one noble Lord not speaking. We will now eat into ministerial time if any noble Lord goes beyond five minutes.
My Lords, I put my name down to speak because, when we went to war in Iraq, regardless of the legality—and I am with my noble friend in thinking that the legal position was extremely tenuous—the fact that we did it in a hurry and did not prepare properly exposed the troops whom we sent into combat to unacceptable risk, and gave them an almost unachievable job.
We sent British troops into a foreign country, which we had starved for 10 years, having already attacked. We then hit it with a massive bombardment—or rather, our allies did most of that. We then said, “We bring you democracy and freedom because you are really just like us”. Apparently they did not want to be just like us—or like the version that was on offer—and we then wondered why we were badly received. We then put on the ground troops who were not properly trained or prepared for the situation and said, “Deal with it”.
A duty of care was missed to the entire Armed Forces, people who are prepared to put their lives at risk to carry out the wishes of the politicians who send them into these situations. What happened was that, for reasons that I do not think anybody will understand fully in the short term, the British Government told the troops to go in and do something primarily because our allies were doing it. We went in to take on a second-rate Stalin—brutal and unpleasant, but hamstrung and contained—on tenuous grounds; we sent our young men to do the job. Why? Making the assumption that things could get a little better, we sent in people to risk their lives.
I have always felt that one of my party’s finest hours was when Charles Kennedy said that we would not play along with this. Can we have an assurance from the Government that any future mass deployment of troops, for any level of occupation—it was clear in Iraq that there would have to be a long occupation—will be accompanied by a doctrine that says what happens if we have to be there for three years, five years or whatever? It should say, “Long-term deployment is always going to be an option and we will always support it”.
These are wars of choice, to use the expression of my much missed friend Lord Garden. We did not have to go. We were not stopping Saddam Hussein from storming up Brighton beach. We went to him; we carried the war to him. We did not have to be there—that is clear. The regime, unpleasant as it was, was contained and controlled. We went in and effectively let the genie out of the bottle. There was a low-level civil war and we placed our troops in the middle of it. Will we ever allow this to happen again? If we do, I suggest that we have learned nothing from this, and that would be probably the biggest failure of the whole process.
My Lords, I join the congratulations and thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for giving the House the opportunity to hold this very timely debate.
The Government’s political interest in an inquiry in the form proposed by the Prime Minister is obvious. The Government have conceded the inquiry which they promised, and the arrangements proposed for it ensure that we will hear no more about it until after the general election. The question is whether the Government have allowed their political interest to overcome the national interest.
There must be two purposes to a further inquiry. One is to learn lessons from the policy decisions taken in connection with the Iraq war. The second is to act as a sort of truth and reconciliation process for those, including the bereaved, who think that they were misled, even deceived, about the Government’s reasons for joining the war. I think it possible, indeed probable, that an inquiry on the lines proposed can suggest useful policy lessons from the war. Certainly, I make no criticism in that respect of the distinguished people appointed to the inquiry, particularly its chairman, for whom I have a very high regard. But there is no prospect that an inquiry conducted entirely in private can purge the national feeling of mistrust.
I do not find the national security arguments in favour of an inquiry in private convincing. The review that I chaired published verbatim the Government’s intelligence assessments on which the decision to go to war was based. If there is confidential material—for example, about discussions with allies—or if there are witnesses who are prepared to speak openly only in private, it would be possible for the inquiry to hold in camera sessions for that purpose. Nor am I persuaded by the arguments that an open inquiry would be a field day for lawyers. Not every inquiry has to be like the Saville inquiry and, if witnesses need protection from the inquiry, they need protection whether it is in public or in private. So I reluctantly conclude that the form of the inquiry proposed by the Government has been dictated more by their political interest than by the national interest, and that it cannot achieve the purpose of purging mistrust which so many people hope for from it.
There is an additional point for Parliament, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. There are many differences from the circumstances in which the Franks inquiry into the Falklands War was established, but there is one crucial difference. That inquiry was set up with the support and participation of all parties in Parliament. In this case it is clear that neither the Official Opposition, nor the Liberal Democrat party, nor many government Back-Benchers, nor many noble Lords who have spoken on this side today are happy about an inquiry conducted entirely in private. It is therefore doubtful whether the form of the inquiry, if submitted to a vote in Parliament, would obtain a majority. The question arises: should the form of an inquiry into the actions of the Government be determined exclusively by the Government?
On 6 July 1982 the then Prime Minister announced the membership and terms of reference of the Franks inquiry. On 8 July 1982, two days later, she moved a motion seeking Parliament’s approval and a substantial debate followed before the motion was passed. So I ask the Minister: will the Government similarly seek Parliament’s approval for this inquiry, or does the Prime Minister’s pledge to return power to Parliament not stretch to giving it the opportunity to approve and, if it wishes, to amend the proposal for the inquiry? If the Prime Minister’s decision to return power to Parliament does not stretch to that, it now looks likely that the opposition parties in another place will, next week, take matters into their own hands and pass an amendment seeking that the inquiry should be conducted in public. I suggest that that is not the way in which these things should be done.
My Lords, the invasion of Iraq on the side of the USA was one of our most unpopular military actions and it received condemnation not only at home but internationally. It resulted in insurgency, mayhem, criminal activities, bloodshed and human tragedies and it drove a wedge between the Sunni and Shia communities. Flawed reasoning and bad intelligence were at the heart of the decision to invade. We were told that there were weapons of mass destruction, which proved to be wrong. If the intention was to effect regime change, then that is not permitted under international law. We invaded Iraq without a clear mandate and the United Nations was rendered supine, which should not have happened.
The invasion did not receive support from the major countries in Europe or from other countries in the world. We relied heavily on the US, which did not have an effective plan to implement post-defeat of Saddam Hussein. We should have undertaken our own intelligence and due diligence before deciding to be part of the invasion. There were large-scale demonstrations in the country and the serious concerns expressed by senior former British diplomats with considerable knowledge of Iraq were disregarded.
We, of all countries, should have realised the problems, as we had a mandate to rule Iraq after the First World War and were a close ally of that country. The invasion and occupation opened up old wounds between Shias and Sunnis and resulted not only in fighting between the two communities but in both communities being against the occupation. The mayhem also resulted in insurgents coming to the country from other parts of the world. As a person who appreciates the art and culture of other countries, it broke my heart to find out that a number of cultural heritage sites and museums were not protected, which resulted in the damage or loss of priceless artefacts. Iraq, of course, has one of the oldest civilisations in the world.
I believe that a grave error was made in disbanding the Iraqi army, but there are efforts now to rebuild it and the police. Those should be continued. Another problem that must be addressed is that of the displaced Iraqi citizens, while the humanitarian situation is also a cause for concern. There are nearly 2 million internally displaced persons in Iraq. About 30 per cent of Iraqi citizens are thought to be living in abject poverty, with limited access to basic provisions such as clean water, electricity and proper sanitation. I would be grateful if the Minister would tell your Lordships’ House what assistance Her Majesty’s Government are giving the Iraqi authorities to tackle that situation, which will be essential in rebuilding the country.
The torture that was inflicted on Iraqi citizens at Abu Ghraib must be totally condemned and we must ensure that it is never repeated. The soldiers who committed those horrible acts took pride in their actions by taking photographs and later claimed that they were following orders to obtain information. We should establish where the commands came from and the people concerned should be held to account. I would like the Minister to comment on that point.
Although many people in the United Kingdom have negative opinions about what happened in Iraq, we should all pay tribute to the bravery of our Armed Forces. They have played a vital role in improving the situation in Iraq and we owe them a debt of gratitude for their courage and tenacity.
Although we welcome the decision by the Prime Minster to launch an inquiry into our involvement in Iraq, following the withdrawal of troops in July, I am concerned at the lack of transparency in the inquiry. The British public will not welcome the decision to hold it behind closed doors. The basis on which it is to be held is totally unsatisfactory and needs to be revised.
What are the lessons to be learnt from the Iraq war? I should like to summarise these as follows. First, we should not get involved in any military action until we are satisfied that our intelligence is sound and we have a plan for action after vanquishing the enemy. Secondly, we should of course protect our national interest and not be subordinate to any other nation. Thirdly, we must look at the cultural and religious beliefs of people in the country and ensure that our actions will not result in inflaming the situation. Fourthly, the reasons for any invasion must be sound and clearly explained to Parliament and the British public. Fifthly, we must always think about the exit strategy and leave behind a suitable legacy. Sixthly and finally, any action must not result in overstretching our military capability, and our forces must be adequately resourced in every way.
My Lords, perhaps noble Lords will permit me to say that this is the 18th anniversary of my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for allowing us an opportunity to debate this question. I was, and continue to be, supportive of the decision made by the Government to invade Iraq. Many of the reasons have already been described by my noble friends Lady Ramsay and Lord Soley.
Let me start by saying this: I am absolutely in favour of a very open inquiry. It should be like the Bloody Sunday inquiry. Let it take seven or eight years, or whatever; but at the end of it people will not be satisfied that an answer has been obtained. They are not satisfied with the Hutton or Butler inquiries, because the point is that people know the answer they want and if they do not get the answer they want they will not be satisfied.
On the question of law, we had a debate in your Lordships’ House that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, opened. I spoke in that debate and carefully examined books on international law. I came to the conclusion that there was no clear and decisive opinion either way—nor was there in that debate. Lawyers are worse than economists. There are many views on either side; economists do not get paid for holding opposite views, but lawyers do and they have an incentive to hold opposite views; but that is another question. The issue of legality will not be settled, no matter how many lawyers we consult.
I pay tribute to the 179 soldiers who died. What they did will be rewarded by a liberated Iraq. More soldiers died in the Falklands War, which lasted seven weeks; 179 died in Iraq in five years. Millions of Iraqis today and tomorrow will be grateful that Iraq is now at last a democracy. Iraq will be the first Shia-majority Arab democracy in the Middle East. We must not forget that Saddam was not just a secular leader but was viciously partisan. He was not only in favour of Sunnis against Shias but in favour of his own regional Sunnis. Saddam Hussein was a genocidal dictator, and I was against him in the 1990s when my honourable friend Ann Clwyd in another place started a campaign against him.
I have described myself as a humanitarian warmonger. I would again go to war to save people who are being tortured and brutally oppressed by their own ruler. I do not believe that the fact that the ruler is of the same skin colour—
My Lords, would the noble Lord just take into account the approximately 150,000 Iraqis who have been killed since our invasion?
My Lords, yes, indeed, but what about the number of Iraqis killed under the regime of Saddam Hussein? If the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, was in her place she would describe how the ecology of the Marsh Arabs was destroyed so thoroughly that it has taken years to restore the marshes in southern Iraq. People do not realise. We somehow have this prejudice—especially towards countries east of the Bosphorus, if I may say so—that if those people torture their populations, that is their culture and we should not interfere. We like democracy and human rights but “dusky” people—to quote Kipling—are denied them and we let them murder.
The United Nations is worst in this respect. See what happened in Sri Lanka and what the UN Human Rights Council agreed to there. As my noble friend Lord Soley said, if the law had not been broken by Tanzania and India, there would still be oppression. There is still oppression in Darfur, North Korea and elsewhere because the United Nations is a passive and rather fragile body. Do not rely on the United Nations. Trust your instincts. It is always worth saving lives if people are being tortured, no matter by whom.
My Lords, the Afghanistan war was, to my mind, a necessity, but the Iraq war was an expensive mistake. It cost hundreds of thousands of lives and made millions homeless. It led to mass hostility all over the Arab world. In the end it removed a tyrant, but it dismantled the Sunni machinery of state security. The Americans turned it around only by reversing their policy and creating the new Sahwa militia out of former Sunni insurgents, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, has admitted. As we have heard, the war was also illegal in the eyes of the world. Our then Prime Minister was, by February 2003, so committed to the President’s axis of evil that he went ahead without the necessary international support.
I remind the Minister that the 2006 report of the Constitution Committee, on which I served, recommended the end of the royal prerogative to make war except in cases of emergency. The Iraq war was an executive decision and the last-minute parliamentary vote in 2003, with 130 Labour rebels, was hardly an expression of popular will. The Government promised to look at this war-making power again under the heading of “constitutional renewal”. Could the Minister confirm that this will be in the Bill, although it will not of course be in the remit of the inquiry?
Then there is the question of the 45-nation coalition against terrorism, claimed by the United States. Did terrorism exist in Iraq, or did we attract it? What happened to the Baker-Hamilton plan to involve the neighbouring states? Iran is still responsible for much of today’s violence. Whatever the outcome of last Friday’s election, the US and Iran urgently need to find new common ground of a stable Iraq and a lasting political settlement along the Iranian border. We cannot blame the Army. With a few exceptions, our troops performed at their best and Basra has seen some of the fiercest action in the war. It is true that we lost the confidence of the people. We were unable to control the Shiite militia. I hope that the inquiry will concentrate on the original decision to go to war, since soldiers are there to obey orders.
“It was bad under Saddam, but now it is worse” is a familiar cry. Violence is still part of daily life. Corruption in the army is so bad that officers are charging new recruits hundreds of dollars to join. Food rations from the trade ministry are on sale in the markets, and the militia still rules. Who is going to cope with these problems? It will not be the US or the United Nations. My guess is that Iraq will need another tyrant. That tyrant may well be the present Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. The vicious circle of security and development must end, because a referendum on the security agreement would mean a hurried exit by the US in the course of the next year or so.
Our Government have to make up for their past mistakes. One can understand the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, and others writing up Iraq for the benefit of British investors. It is also important to attract skilled Iraqis back into the country. An Iraqi MP summed it up yesterday: no security, no oil, no budget. More than 50 oilfields lie waiting for development. Many of our investors are still sitting it out. What matters as we look forward is that Iraqis gradually gain confidence in their Administration and that the international community makes a contribution in line with people’s needs, rather than being driven by profit or greed, as was the case at the end of the war.
Building local capacity to lay the foundations for development is critical. Some of this is being done through civil society and the NGOs. What are our Government doing to encourage the UN to regain its previous status? It is labouring under excessive security restrictions. Is our humanitarian assistance really enough? An estimated 4.8 million Iraqis were displaced. As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said, refugees are slowing returning but many will not ever do so. According to the International Rescue Committee, large-scale resettlement of refugees to third countries is still essential to protect the most vulnerable Iraqis. The UK is well behind others in this, even though it promised to fill its quota of 500.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Fowler for introducing this debate. He said that the price was high. It is: the public will never again believe the Prime Minister on a matter of national security
I have an interest to declare. I served on Operation TELIC 1 in HQ 1 (UK) Armoured Division. I arrived in Kuwait on or about 13 March 2003. I expected to engage in about four weeks of exercises, having left your Lordships’ House with the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, ringing in my ears that war was neither imminent nor inevitable. So when I arrived in theatre, I was a little surprised when the question was, “Are we crossing the start line this week or next week?”.
The coalition, and the UK in particular, moved very fast. In December 2002, UK forces were planning for a very different operation, and no doubt the Iraqis were as surprised as we were. Those of us who served on that operation are very proud of our achievements. We caused the regime to collapse while taking minimal casualties ourselves, although I assure your Lordships that in the headquarters we felt for the families and friends of every serviceman who was killed or seriously injured. Every casualty hurt us deeply.
All of us in the headquarters believed that we faced attack by chemical weapons of mass destruction. I shall never forget the day when I first put on my full chemical protection suit and respirator for real. I honestly believed that if my drills or those of my friends were poor, we would die, and die horribly. I well recall one night when the NBC warrant officer looked like death warmed up. When asked, he explained that the meteorological conditions were perfect for a chemical attack.
We had a plan for what we would do when we found the weapons of mass destruction, especially how we would convince the rest of the world that they were not a plant. We had reward schemes for informers; we searched all likely places; we dug up fresh tarmac; we used ground-penetrating radar; and we hoped to find, say, 5,000 rounds of 155 millimetre chemical shells. However, we found absolutely nothing. By the time I left theatre in late May, weapons of mass destruction were right at the bottom of the commander’s list of priorities. It was a case of, “Oh, and if we do find any WMD …”. So far as I was concerned on 1 June 2003 when I got back to the UK, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in militarily significant quantities at the time we crossed the start line.
Many noble Lords have talked about the inquiry being held in secret. If it was correct that the inquiry has to be in secret, this would have been apparent five years ago; so why the delay? The fact that we still have troops in theatre is irrelevant. They are not the same troops and officers as those that planned and took part in Op TELIC 1. Very little needs to be kept secret or is sensitive. What does need to be kept secret and might be relevant to the inquiry are: future plans that are still extant; intelligence-gathering capabilities, or lack of them; weaknesses in our equipment that we have not yet resolved; or weaknesses in an opponent that they might not be aware of. What else can there be?
Major General Tim Cross, who I have served under, has already stated that his evidence can be given in public, and I know that will be very useful to the inquiry when it starts looking at post-conflict planning. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, talked about Rumsfeld and Powell in terms of post-conflict plans. She may be right in her analysis, but I hope the committee will explore why we acquiesced to those plans, because this was a war of choice, as pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams.
I also hope that the committee will look at the grand strategic issues. We started operations in Afghanistan in 2001 and caused the Taliban regime to collapse. We are now told that operations in Afghanistan are absolutely essential to our security. They are certainly essential to the credibility of NATO. In 2001-02, the MoD spent £221 million in Afghanistan and £311 million in 2002-03. In 2003-04, it had dropped to £46 million, and it was £67 million in 2004-05. But Afghanistan had very serious difficulties in 2003; so why did we start a large-scale, deliberate operation in Iraq, which would cause the UK to operate at over 100 per cent of defence planning assumptions?
I well recall the publication of the Scott report. I wanted to know what, if anything, had gone wrong, but I still do not know. The report would not fit into my briefcase, and there was no summary. I hope that the committee, when it does report, will produce a summary that is short and succinct enough for all your Lordships to read.
My Lords, in my brief intervention after the Statement three days ago, I asked for an assurance that the inquiry would look into what I described as the “genuine considerations” which led to the American decision to invade Iraq. Unfortunately, most of the evidence establishing the genuineness or otherwise of those considerations could be satisfactorily provided only if the inquiry were able to secure the personal evidence of President George W Bush, Vice-President Cheney and Defence Secretary Rumsfeld.
I hope that the inquiry will at least be able to establish from Mr Tony Blair what he was told by his interlocutors in the White House and how he responded. Was their objective to remove Saddam Hussein? If so, did Mr Blair make it clear to our American allies, as Ministers did repeatedly to this House at the time, that it was no part of HMG’s policy to achieve regime change, whether in Iraq or elsewhere? Was it to punish the Iraqis for their supposed involvement in 9/11, or for their involvement with al-Qaeda? If so, Mr Blair was presumably aware, from our shared intelligence resources, that there was no evidence at all of either involvement. Furthermore, was Mr Blair aware of the extent to which the White House was not only ignoring the advice of the many American experts with a deep knowledge of Iraq and the wider Middle East, both in the State Department and in academia, but had taken active steps to exclude them from the chain of advice?
Finally, will the inquiry attempt to reveal the extent to which, if at all, the British Government availed themselves of the similar British diplomatic, military and academic experience available to them, warning them of the dangers inherent in an invasion of Iraq? If so, were these warnings discussed with our American allies? One of the lessons which should be learnt from this tragedy is that, if Ministers are too busy to study history themselves, they should at least have been ready to learn the many lessons from Britain’s troubled history of involvement in Mesopotamia and Iraq.
Perhaps I may add two postscripts on the Franks report, because there have been several mentions of it. The first relates to transparency. Your Lordships may be interested to know that I gave extensive evidence to the Franks committee. If you read volume 2 of the Franks report in the Library, you will not find one word of what I said. The reason is not that my evidence was particularly sensitive; it was that I was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, a job that did not exist at that time—it was not avowed.
More seriously, I draw your Lordships’ attention to one of the criticisms of the Franks report, which was that Ministers had failed to meet in committee for six weeks, I think, before the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands. One recommendation of Lord Franks was that the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee, or whatever it is called nowadays, should meet often when dangers are coming over the horizon. Your Lordships may remember that immediately after the invasion of Iraq, I asked Questions in this House about how often the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee had met in the run-up to the invasion. I received extremely woolly replies that Ministers had had a lot of discussion. That was it. I hope that the inquiry will be able to look at the extent of ministerial and Cabinet consultation in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.
My Lords, it is quite apparent that the inquiry announced by the Prime Minister in its present form does not enjoy the full support of Members of your Lordships' House, but it is not too late to do something about that. Attention has been drawn to the fact that there are no military figures on the committee, and there are no serious politicians there. I draw attention to the fact that there is nobody there with any experience of mounting an inquisition, a cross-examination. In my view, it is not necessary that people with those talents and abilities are part of the committee; they could be co-opted to be advisers to the committee.
First, I hope that my noble friend can assure me that there is no restraint whatsoever on Sir John Chilcot as to who he can retain to advise him on the committee. Secondly, there has been some confusion—in my mind, if nowhere else—as to whether the inquiry is to be conducted completely in secret, in private. I have heard the words “total imposition of secrecy” used. On the other hand, I understand that the Prime Minister has written today to Sir John Chilcot saying that there will be something less than total imposition of secrecy. I imagine, and I hope that my noble friend can reassure me, that it will be left entirely to the discretion of Sir John Chilcot as to which of the meetings he holds in secret and how much of his evidence he sees fit to publish—although I fully understand that there must be prime ministerial oversight of that last point, because of questions of national security.
I think that the Prime Minister was unfortunate in his reference to how long he thought that the committee would sit for. I saw no reason for him to do that; it seemed to me to be giving an enormous hostage to fortune. I am absolutely confident that the committee will do its work at a speed that it sees fit and will take the amount of time that it sees fit. It may wind up its work in six months; it may take three years; I do not have the faintest idea. None of us today should prejudge how long the committee will take to do its work.
I want to respond to a couple of other things that I have heard in today's debate, which has been remarkable. I pay tribute above all to the speech made by my noble friend Lord Soley. It is one of the most brilliant speeches that I have heard since I have been in your Lordships' House. He was attacking the lawyers. I feel very much the same way as he does about lawyers. Nothing irritates me more than hearing lawyers say that something is illegal as though it were a matter of fact, rather than having the diffidence to say that it is illegal in their opinion. Whether something is legal or illegal is a matter of a lawyer’s opinion. That is why we have lawyers and judges, and judges disagree with one another and come to decisions that are overruled by other judges. So to say adamantly that something is illegal strikes me as the most preposterous arrogance and it irritates me intensely. I have now got that off my chest. As my noble friend was pointing out, what is legal at one time can become illegal later on in precisely the same set of circumstances.
I personally supported the liberation of Iraq—that is what it was. It was a military undertaking of extreme brilliance. There were a handful of casualties and, your Lordships may remember, it was undertaken without the best American infantry division getting on to the scene of battle while the fighting was going on. I thought it was magnificent.
The second most brilliant speech, if you will forgive me for saying so, came from my old friend the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. I thought it was one of the most thoughtful speeches we have heard in a remarkable debate. I did not agree with a lot of it but it was admirably argued. He asked a very pertinent question: what is success? I think he got the answer from my noble friend Lord Desai—that one of the foulest dictatorships this planet has ever seen has been removed, and a lot of Iraqis, at danger of being machine-gunned, stood in line to vote in far higher proportions than people voted in this country in three elections. That is success.
The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, who is unfortunately not in his place, asked about the over 100,000 Iraqis who were killed. It was appalling but they were not killed by us; they were not killed by the allies. They have overwhelmingly been killed by their fellow Iraqis. We should remember that. Much that happened after the liberation was most unfortunate and I am happy to have a debate limited to that subject, but the last thing we should be asking ourselves is why we went into Iraq. We should be asking ourselves why we did not go into Cambodia and why we did not go into Darfur. As my noble friend Lord Desai said, there we abdicated our responsibility to look after our fellow men.
My Lords, I apologise to the House that a pressing engagement with an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill meant that I could not hear all the speeches that have preceded me. Coming at the end of some remarkable tours de force around the House, to concentrate very much on the Armed Forces may perhaps be happy timing at the end rather than at the beginning of the debate.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on obtaining this debate. He must be thinking that it was fortunate that the timing coincided with the announcement of the inquiry. It is therefore hardly surprising that there have been many references to the inquiry, how it should be conducted and by whom. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Butler about parliamentary endorsement, not least because of the families the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, mentioned who are looking for something public to endorse what they have been through, particularly inquests which they have gone to hoping to learn more of the truth of why something happened than inquests can actually provide.
I have absolute confidence in Sir John Chilcot as the chairman, knowing him as I do, but as I said after the announcement, I still feel very strongly that whether it is Sir John inviting somebody to be an adviser or not, it is absolutely essential that there should be military representation somewhere in this inquiry because of the military implications of what has happened.
I was going to declare a slight interest as a council member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies at the time and mention the dossier we published on 9 September 2002, which as my noble friend Lord Butler knows was proved to be absolutely correct after the war. It having been put in the hands of both Mr Blair and Mr Bush before they had their discussions later in September that year, I have often wondered how the truth as presented by the IISS became so distorted in subsequent dossiers for different reasons.
I do not want to concentrate on that; I want to concentrate on another document that has been produced since the invasion. It is a remarkable American document—the Counterinsurgency field manual—which was produced as the result of close work orchestrated by General David Petraeus, the orchestrator of the surge. In typical United States fashion, it agreed that the air-land battle—on which the Cold War had been fought and for which many organisations, including the British Armed Forces, had equipped themselves—while a perfectly satisfactory model for carrying out the invasion of Iraq and the destruction of the Iraqi army, was wholly and utterly unsuitable for the operations that followed.
The preface to the manual starts:
“When an insurgency began in Iraq in the late summer of 2003, the Army was unprepared to fight it. The American Army of 2003 was organized, designed, trained, and equipped to defeat another conventional army … It was … unprepared for an enemy who … chose to wage war against America from the shadows”.
We have found exactly the same.
Of some sadness to me since 2003 has been the fact that, because our Armed Forces were similarly unprepared to take part in the proper reconstruction of Iraq, our standing, particularly with our allies the United States, has gone down. In no way has the United States lost its admiration for the courage and performance of individuals; the issue is the overall contribution that we have been able to make. It is therefore hugely important that this inquiry should get to the bottom of why the Armed Forces were still structured for a Cold War setting rather than for the sort of operation that we are geared for in Iraq. Why was there an absence of things such as flak jackets? Why do we have an armoury that contains weapons such as the Eurofighter when we do not have the sort of vehicles that we need to fight the sort of combat that we need to fight in Iraq?
I beg the inquiry to pay close attention to the remarks of Major-General Brims, the commander of the division responsible for the invasion, who told me when I asked him what the battle-winning factor was: “It was the American marine air wing which was put under my command, because it had everything that we needed, none of which the Royal Air Force could provide”. That is why I hope there will be a serious military examination not only of the past but particularly for the future, because these are the operations in which we will be involved and we must make certain that future Armed Forces are properly equipped to carry out the tasks required of them.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on securing this very timely debate.
In the pre-Iraq invasion debate in March 2003, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said:
“This is a debate that, as time has gone on, has become less bitter but no less grave. So why does it matter so much? Because the outcome of this issue will now determine more than the fate of the Iraqi regime and more than the future of the Iraqi people who have been brutalised by Saddam for so long, important though those issues are. It will determine the way in which Britain and the world confront the central security threat of the 21st century, the development of the United Nations, the relationship between Europe and the United States, the relations within the European Union and the way in which the United States engages with the rest of the world. So it could hardly be more important. It will determine the pattern of international politics for the next generation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/03; col. 761.]
Few could have put the issues more clearly.
Six years later, let us attempt an assessment. It is true that Saddam Hussein has gone and a democracy of sorts is in its infancy in Iraq. Only time will tell whether it survives and whether the fragile peace holds on the departure of allied forces, but has the terrorism threat receded? As Tam Dalyell said in that debate:
“What could be more calculated to act as a recruiting sergeant for a young generation throughout the Islamic and Arab world than putting 600 cruise missiles … on to Baghdad and Iraq?”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/03; col. 769.]
Has the development of the United Nations been helped by the controversial invasion? Has the relationship between the European Union and the United States been enhanced? We recall the opposition of Germany and France, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said a little earlier. As the late-lamented Robin Cook said:
“The reality is that Britain is being asked to embark on a war without agreement in any of the international bodies of which we are a leading partner—not NATO, not the European Union and, now, not the Security Council”.—[Official Report, 7/3/03; col. 726.]
Has the way that the United States engages with the rest of the world been endorsed and applauded? Hardly. The reality is that the Bush approach was decisively rejected, even in the US itself as Obama swept to power.
The irony is that virtually everything that Tony Blair set as a purpose has ended up achieving precisely the opposite. As the noble Lord, Lord Wright, said a little earlier, looking back, we are still no clearer as to what motivated and drove George Bush to invade. Was it to complete his father’s unfinished business? Was it revenge for 9/11? Was it oil? Was it to remove a tyrant? Was it an assault on an assumed terrorist base? Was it weapons of mass destruction or perhaps some combination? Maybe the order came via communication with the almighty.
Whatever the cause, it seems increasingly clear that Tony Blair pledged his own, and the United Kingdom’s, support for military action at a very early stage, probably in 2002, as my noble friend Lady Williams said a little earlier. With the United States, he then set about seeking UN approval, justifying the legality of such action and endeavouring to obtain parliamentary and popular support for it.
Last Saturday evening I watched a television programme that featured the families of a number of those 179 service personnel who had fallen in Iraq. It was a very moving experience. Inevitably, a mix of emotions was revealed: pride, grief, bitterness and a questioning of the motives of the then Prime Minister. We must all be conscious of the consequences of military action and of pressing the button on the lives of so many, as we heard a little earlier from my noble friend Lord Addington in his very passionate and effective speech.
I personally believe that Tony Blair did what he thought was right. These Benches, and indeed Liberal Democrats throughout the county, and many others, strongly opposed going to war. With the benefit of hindsight, with no weapons of mass destruction found, with all the death and destruction, not forgetting the cost and the vast number of refugees, 2 million or so as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said a little earlier, I now believe that the vast majority of parliamentarians and of our people regret the war and consider themselves to have been conned by No. 10.
As we know, coalition forces were spectacularly successful as the Iraqi forces crumbled, with control of the skies having been achieved before open conflict began. Major combat operations were officially declared over on 1 May 2003. We listened to the very fascinating personal contribution from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who was there.
Would that the post-conflict planning had been anything approaching that of the military planning. I accept the caveats that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made a little earlier. As General Sir Mike Jackson said in 2007:
“All the planning carried out by the State Department went to waste”.
For Rumsfeld and the neo-cons,
“it was an ideological article of faith that the coalition forces would be accepted as a liberating army”.
The first American administrator, Jay Garner, arrived with no professional translators or interpreters on his staff but, instead, a motley crew of former diplomats, retired military people and neo-conservative firebrands. Garner was replaced by Paul Bremer, who took the decision to disband the Iraqi army. That was commented on a little earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. The compulsory redundancy of 400,000 trained and armed men, following hard on the heels of de-Baathification, created a large pool of resentment, a fresh reservoir for insurgent recruitment. An effective security and stability tier had been destroyed, rendering the restoration of government services well nigh impossible, certainly in the short term.
I turn now to the inquiry announced by the Prime Minister earlier this week. Virtually all noble Lords who have spoken today have condemned its secrecy and I suggest that the terms of the inquiry have been totally demolished in the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Butler, while the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, drew attention to the lack of military representation on the committee. As Nick Clegg said in the other place,
“everyone knows that the invasion of Iraq was the biggest foreign policy mistake that this country has made in generations”.
He went on to say:
“A secret inquiry conducted by a clutch of grandees handpicked by the Prime Minister is not what Britain needs”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/6/09; col. 28.]
These Benches, most of the media, the general public and the families of those who so bravely fought and died in Iraq demand a public inquiry. As General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the Army at the time, said in the Independent yesterday:
“I would have no problem at all in giving my evidence in public”.
Air Marshal Sir John Walker, the former head of defence intelligence, said:
“There is one reason that the inquiry is being heard in private, and that is to protect past and present members of this Government. There are 179 reasons why the military want the truth to be out”.
I should like to ask the Minister two specific questions. First, given that the inquiry is to be held in private despite our strong objections and the objections of so many, what possible reason was there for not starting it considerably earlier? I hope that we will get an answer this afternoon. Secondly, as the inquiry is estimated to take a year, a long time given the intense public concern and interest, will the Government consider publishing an interim report in, say, early 2010, as suggested earlier in the debate by the noble Lord, Lord King? The invasion was a very serious mistake and so is the decision to hold the inquiry in secret.
My Lords, I offer warm thanks to my noble friend Lord Fowler for initiating this debate with exceptionally good timing. I share the views of others that there are no words to express our pride in the military forces and the way they have performed over the past few years, or indeed words to express the sadness at those who did not return. One of those who did return, from Basra, was my own son, who served in the early days before the terrible policy errors began to accumulate which created a downward path from the early promise.
As to the inquiry, let me make it clear at the outset that we wanted, have asked for, and therefore in a sense welcome the decision that there should be one, but are far from happy about the form proposed. We agree with practically all noble Lords this afternoon that where possible it should be held in public. That is what military leaders have argued for very vigorously and it is what the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has argued for with devastating force in this debate. I would be surprised if there is any reasonable answer at all. I very much hope that the Government will now change their position and ensure that the presumption is that hearings should be held in public except in cases of clear and obvious national security.
It is not true that the Opposition agreed the form of this report, as the Foreign Secretary claimed on the radio the other morning. We were consulted at a late stage, but we disagreed with the membership and the proposal that it should be conducted entirely in private. The membership that was presented to us was that there would be four men, it so happens, on the panel and we argued that it would be right for a lady to be included. Then, of course, it was decided that the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, should be included. She is a very distinguished and respected Member of this House, and that is excellent, although I notice that at present she is a non-executive director of the Cabinet Office. She might want to consider whether that impedes her role as a member of a completely independent inquiry. But even so, that still leaves the membership with no one of military experience, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and others have pointed out, and yet we need desperately to know what went wrong and how we cope with asymmetric warfare in the coming phases, as there are bound to be around the world. We need to learn from the inquiry on that matter.
There is no one on the committee with legal experience, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn, and my noble and learned friend Lord Lyell pointed out. That is incredible, because major legal issues arose in the move towards the invasion which remain to this day. There is no one on the committee with political experience. That is in great contrast to the Franks committee, which was supposed to be a model. It is not a model at all. The invasion was a highly political issue and a highly political decision, and yet on Franks there were senior politicians from all parties but in this case there are none. I am reminded that when the Franks inquiry was set up, my noble friend Lady Thatcher negotiated personally with the other party leaders to ensure who should be members of that committee. This time, I gather, the Cabinet Secretary simply informed the leader of my party. I am not sure about the Liberal Democrat Party, but I gather it too lacked any serious consultation. We think all that is deplorable.
It is also deplorable that the report will take a full year—the inquiry should have started earlier, of course—and it is very unsatisfactory that no responsibility for major errors is to be apportioned. I hope what I have said does not leave anything in the Minister’s mind to the effect that we think this is being handled in the right way, because it is not.
I turn now to the focus of the inquiry. I think it was originally Mr Brzezinski and Richard Haass who said, but many others have repeated, that this was a war of choice, not of necessity. The original Kuwait war was of necessity and had to be fought; this one was a policy decision. In my view, like Suez, in a way, the Iraq venture marked a turning point in international affairs when the hegemony of the western powers finally had to yield to new realities, which are only just dawning now as power shifts away from the West, as many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Soley, observed. We need to examine how that war of choice came to be made, as well as the consequences and the violent aftermath in the years following the invasion.
With hindsight, we can see that the project was based on flawed ideas—not only the obvious one that there were no weapons of mass destruction when we were all briefed to the eyeballs that there were, but the even deeper error that democracy is a kind of western artefact that can be exported in our form to other cultures. I hope the historians who are members of the panel will realise that the idea of democracy and self-government began in the area now covered by Iraq and Syria. As my noble friend Lord Sheikh reminded us, it began a thousand years before it came to Athens and several thousand more before it reached the West, let alone America. It is a particular irony that we should be talking about bringing democracy to the Middle East region and to Iraq just when our own democracies might be sleepwalking into deep trouble themselves.
The Butler report certainly went deep into intelligence failures and it had some sharp criticisms of the Government’s behaviour, although frankly, in the public and media comment on that excellent report this did not come over as sharply as it should have. I wonder why. It was the Butler report that exposed the absurdity of the 45-minute claim and the misleading nature of the dodgy dossier, which Mr Jack Straw described as, “a complete horlicks”. That sentiment was echoed by such leading figures as Lady Kinnock, who we look forward to seeing as our Minister for Europe in a few weeks’ time. She said in an article last year that,
“there is the sense that Iraq was ‘Bush and Blair’s war’ and that it was built on a lie”.
That is a terrible indictment. The Butler report pointed out the disastrous impression created by Tony Blair in telling the Commons that the “intelligence picture” presented was “extensive, detailed and authoritative” when it was none of those things. It also highlighted—in discreet language, of course—the truly terrible bypassing of Cabinet government when it spoke of the reduction in,
“the scope for informed collective … judgement”.
The Foreign Affairs Committee—we have heard wise words today from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson—pointed out that it was “fundamentally wrong” to allow the dossier to be presented to Parliament in the way that it was.
As to the future, the occupation and the next stage in UK/Iraq relations, we have to look at the disastrous decisions that were taken, at the way in which Iran was given a free run once Iraq was removed from the map and at why Iraqi forces were disbanded by our American friends, and we have to look hard at how our relations with the USA evolved. It is important, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said, that we do not become a lap-dog; we must remain a friend of our great American allies but not be their poodle. We have to look at the refugee issue, which my noble friend Lord Fowler mentioned, and at whether we got value for the enormous amount of money we spent. Britain has spent anything up to £5 billion on military operations. I agree that that is trivial compared with the $3 trillion to $5 trillion that America may have spent, but it is still an enormous amount of resources.
The news from Iraq is still bad. Murders and bombings continue, and Prime Minister al-Maliki has said that worse may be to come. We in Britain may say, “never again”, but the truth is that bad leaders will always make bad mistakes. At the moment all our journalists are busy blaming the so-called “political class” as though they come from outer space, but I wonder whether society is prepared to recognise that it is people themselves who choose their politicians or, by inertia, let them be chosen, and therefore, I am afraid, they get the politicians that they deserve. All one can say is that a wiser society ought to pick wiser guides and leaders in future, which is the best guarantee against future catastrophic mistakes.
The Government’s approach has had almost no defenders today. Light is clearly needed on many aspects of what has gone disastrously wrong. An open inquiry is essential, and the Government have made a complete misjudgment in proposing the inquiry in the form that they have. They must now think again.
My Lords, I rise with humility on two scores. First, it is a tribute to this House, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, that we are today debating the fact that there will be an inquiry. When he tabled a debate 18 months ago, that was a much less certain outcome, and all of us in this House who spoke that day realised that we were contributing to pushing this issue forward to the point that it has arrived at now.
Like others who believe that an inquiry is enormously important to heal the wounds of this country and our relations with the great abroad—I say that as a former UN official—I think it is extraordinarily important that my colleagues and I reflect carefully on what has been said today. It is enormously important that any inquiry, whatever form it takes, enjoys public confidence.
There is some truth in the words of my noble friend Lord Desai that this war has so divided us as a country that whatever the form, process, terms and manner of the inquiry, we may at this stage still be at the point where not everybody will accept its results because, as I have said, the wounds go deep.
Like others in this House, I think it is important that whenever we raise this subject we do not forget to pay tribute to all of those in our Armed Forces who have served with such courage and dedication over the last six years in Iraq and over an even longer period in Afghanistan. We especially note, as others have done, the 179 who have lost their lives serving in Iraq, and who, along with our civilian staff and coalition partners, have made such a contribution, together with Iraqis themselves, towards progress. Whatever the differences between us on the causes of the war, the circumstances under which it was entered into and the justness or otherwise of it, I hope everybody in this House would agree that we have arrived at a point where there really is dramatic improvement in the situation in Iraq, and that we can look back on what we are leaving behind which is an Iraq where violence is at its lowest levels since 2003 and where Iraqis themselves have run successful provincial elections in January this year and are now planning for national elections.
While challenges remain, it is the case that perhaps was not so when we had that debate 18 months ago that a corner does seem to have been turned. An effort which we all feared might be cursed with a dreadful ending has indeed arrived at a situation where we can all hold our heads high and say that we have made an important contribution as a country to a new and free and democratic Iraq which is now able to focus on issues such as the improvement of its citizens’ lives and their participation in the country’s future without having to fear the authoritarian, brutal rule of the past.
A lot of issues have been raised today which turn to the original subject of the debate about what are the lessons we should be seeking to learn from this war. I think probably everybody would agree that the best thing I can do in regard to those issues is to make sure—I do not think they will need any help from me—that Sir John Chilcot and his colleagues carefully read the Hansard of this debate to see the kinds of issues that should be raised. Today I should concentrate on the issue of the inquiry itself and the terms under which it is being held.
While I very much appreciated the support I got from these Benches, I find myself oddly forced to do something I never expected to do, which is to jump to the defence of lawyers. Having lived in America for too long, I always find this a hard thing to do, but I think, while it is perfectly the case, of course, that lawyers disagree, if this inquiry is ever to have the confidence of public opinion, it is enormously important that it is felt to have a form that enjoys the support of our colleagues who have spoken today and those who have interested themselves in this issue more fully. Certainly it is the intention of our Prime Minister and this Government that this inquiry does indeed enjoy that confidence and that it looks in as forensic a way as possible at the issues which drew us into this war, and that we do not hide behind just a defence of the outcome as having overthrown Saddam Hussein. We all recognise that there are wars of choice. It may well be that we wish with hindsight that we had intervened against Pol Pot or today in Darfur. The fact is that these are wars of choices. There are brutal leaders out there. We have to be selective when we take them on and we need to do it in a framework which is consistent with international law and in a way which enjoys the support and understanding of the international community expressed through the Security Council.
The question was raised whether any of this inquiry can be held in public. I think that it is worth quoting the letter that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister sent today to Sir John Chilcot, in which he confirmed that he was committed to,
“a thorough and independent inquiry”,
and guaranteed the Government’s full co-operation. The Prime Minister said: “As Privy Counsellors, you”—the committee—
“will have unhindered access to government documents”,
and that he will ensure that that happens. He continued:
“I hope as part of this that you will consider whether it is possible for there to be a process whereby they”—
“give their contributions on oath”.
As to the public nature of it, he said:
“It is also essential that the families of those who gave their lives in Iraq are properly consulted on the nature of the inquiry. I hope therefore that you will be able to meet them as part of the preparations and as you continue your work, to explain how you are proceeding. This could be, at their request, in public or private”.
And then he quite properly allows further discretion to Sir John and his colleagues to establish the exact form and conduct of their inquiry by saying:
“Once you have established your plans in more detail, I would encourage you to hold an open public session to explain in greater depth the significant scope and breadth of the inquiry”.
I acknowledge that that does not meet the full requirements of openness that have been raised today, but I also want to point out that, in a sense, the thinking in this House about the inquiry has also evolved in that regard. When we spoke in this House on this subject in January 2008, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said:
“I believe that issues such as this should be investigated by a committee of privy counsellors together with others with expert knowledge. It is right that it should be … answerable to Parliament. It is certainly not the occasion for a lengthy judicial inquiry, such as that into Bloody Sunday, or, for that matter, the marathon of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott. The focus of such an inquiry should not be on blame, but on learning the lessons—lessons which might help us in formulating policy elsewhere”.—[Official Report, 24/1/08; col. 342.]
It is certainly also the case that, in the other House, the opposition Front Bench have similarly stressed the importance of a privy counsellor inquiry, including the fact that it might make only limited public disclosure. On 11 June 2007, in response to a question during a debate in the other place, William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said:
“That is one of the arguments for having a Privy Council inquiry. It would have to make its own judgment, as would any inquiry at any stage, about how much of the information could be published. All the conclusions would certainly have to be published”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/6/07; col. 535.]
So I think that there has been a very genuine debate about the appropriate degree of public disclosure.
My Lords, I may have misunderstood the Minister, but it seems from what he has said and read out from the letter that the whole form of this inquiry is up in the air. The Prime Minister seems to have passed it to Sir John Chilcot to determine, after meeting the families of those involved or who have lost their lives, the exact arrangements for the inquiry. Is that correct?
My Lords, the Prime Minster has given Sir John Chilcot a certain discretion to find a form that enjoys as broad a competence as ever. However, I think that there is a bridge that the Prime Minister does not wish to cross, and that is not to move to the point of a judicial public inquiry where it became necessary for witnesses to engage legal counsel and to get into a protracted public defence of their position in a way that risks continuing controversy before conclusions have been arrived at, and, in the worst of circumstances, for certain innocent individuals to be all over the press for weeks before they had the chance to rebut the claims made about their performance. It is not correct that we have moved to a public inquiry but, in our anxiety that this inquiry enjoy public support, we wish to give those leading it as much discretion as possible.
My Lords, will the Minister explain why it is right to hold a public inquiry into the death of one man, investigating the way in which he died and other people were treated? There was a proper public inquiry with a website being used and all documents and transcripts of evidence being displayed there so that everybody knows what is going on. Why should there be a public inquiry into that limited instance, but not into something that concerns the whole of the war?
My Lords, the noble Lord has in a way answered his own question. It is precisely the vast scope of this inquiry—covering some eight years, from two years before the conflict began through to now, the end of the conflict—which means that, if this is to be done with some dispatch, and conclusions arrived at, it must be a process in which information and disclosure are managed in an effective way.
Noble Lords must forgive me—I stood up late because we had such a full discussion of the issues—for drawing the debate to a conclusion without having answered many of the critical questions. However, I will address the point about why, if it is a private inquiry, we are only now entering into it. Again, the issue is, as the press debate has already shown, that even a private inquiry generates a lot of controversy and heat and we felt it important that military operations were brought to a conclusion first. From Gallipoli onwards—and even before—that has been the tradition.
I will make one further response, to the very important intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Butler. I am sorry that I cannot respond more fully to his forceful critique. The Government will de facto seek approval from Parliament for the inquiry, courtesy of the Opposition, who have tabled a resolution for next week. This will now be an inquiry that, one way or another, does or does not get the endorsement of the other place.
My Lords, we have one or two minutes, and I thank everyone who has spoken. In many ways it has been an outstanding debate, although occasionally the time restraints have been irritating. It is impossible to go through all the speeches; there were some outstanding and devastating ones. I pay particular tribute to the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn, from the Cross Benches. Every issue was raised: the legality of the whole operation, whether intelligence justified the position, and what meaningful consultation took place before the inquiry was launched.
The question that remains unanswered, even after what the Minister said, is, “What is the presumption in this inquiry?” Is the presumption that it should be an open inquiry, or that it should be private and secret? If the presumption has changed, it makes a nonsense of everything that the Prime Minister said on Monday.
I am afraid that the Minister’s response at the end was not adequate, through no fault of his own and I make no complaint. We will come to this issue again—I promise him that—but at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.