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Chilcot Inquiry

Volume 758: debated on Tuesday 6 January 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to suggest that the report of the Chilcot inquiry is published before the start of the pre-election purdah.

My Lords, as I said to the noble Lord in my Answer of 3 November, the inquiry is completely independent of government. It is up to Sir John Chilcot to decide when to submit the inquiry’s report to the Prime Minister. I continue to hope that its conclusions will shortly be available for all to see.

I am certainly not blaming my noble friend, and least of all Sir John Chilcot, but is not this continuing delay an utter and total disgrace after so much time has elapsed? Is my noble friend aware that more and more people think that it is some kind of attempt to prolong the agony for Mr Blair facing possible war crimes charges?

My Lords, we all regret the delay, but I wish to stress that this is not unusual for inquiries of this sort. I know that we were all looking at the al-Sweady inquiry as part of our Christmas reading. That took five years to report on two battles in one afternoon and cost £24 million. The Baha Mousa inquiry, looking into the death in UK custody of one Iraqi civilian in September 2003, took three years and cost £13.5 million. This inquiry has been looking at nine years of British policy and operations within Iraq. It is not entirely unexpected, therefore, that it has turned out to take a long time.

Does the Minister agree that my noble friend’s point is at the heart of this whole matter? This has dragged on beyond the questions of mere negligence and forgivable delay; it is becoming a scandal. This is not a matter of trivial importance; it is something to which a large number of people in this country look anxiously for the truth. Is it not time that the Government exerted themselves to make sure that that reasonable demand is met?

My Lords, we all regret the amount of time that has been taken. I think in retrospect, as an outside observer, that it might have been a good thing to have recruited a larger staff at the beginning of the inquiry, because the sheer volume of the documentation that the inquiry found itself looking through was much greater than had originally been anticipated. It is, however, an independent inquiry. The Government will receive the report. The one decision that the Government will then take is when it will be published. It is up to the chairman of an independent inquiry to decide when and how it completes its report.

My Lords, in setting up the inquiry, Mr Gordon Brown made a sweeping statement that all British documents, save those involving the most sensitive national security, would be made available. Has that promise been breached, in either spirit or form? The House also needs a clear, unequivocal statement as to who is responsible for apparently kicking publication into touch until after the election. Is it former or present Prime Ministers, Cabinet Secretaries or Sir John Chilcot and his committee?

My Lords, there were two questions there. The Government made all documentation available to the committee at the outset. The further question, which has taken rather longer than anticipated, was the subsequent discussion as to how many of those documents should be published. After all, some of them are highly classified and deeply sensitive about British foreign policy and relations with other major Governments and allies. I understand that that process is also now complete. When the report comes out, it will contain more than 1 million words and will publish substantial documentation from more than 200 Cabinet meetings. That is all agreed and under way. In terms of the publication, the Prime Minister has not intervened at any point—and nor, as I understand it, did his predecessor. It is up to the inquiry and its chairman to decide when the process is complete. As we know, Maxwellisation is part of the process of completing the report. When that is complete, it will be published.

My Lords, I join those who wish for an early publication of the Chilcot report, if for no other reason than to put a stop to the conspiracy theories multiplying. The ridiculous comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, are a disgrace to this House and a disgrace to him.

My Lords, I also wish for an early publication, but we are waiting for the inquiry to submit the report to the Government. The Government have taken the decision, as my honourable friend Rob Wilson and I have both said on previous occasions, that if it is submitted after the end of February it would not be appropriate to publish it until after the election because part of the previous Government’s commitment was that there would be time allowed for substantial consultation on and debate of this enormous report when it is published.

My Lords, when the inquiry was announced, some of us took the position that it should be a two-part inquiry: one part into the conduct of the war and one part into the events that led up to the war. Would my noble friend agree that that would have been the better way to deal with it? In other words, we should have produced a report on what led up to the war itself and left in the long grass the business of the conduct of the war. In that event, we would certainly by now have had the answers and the truth that the British people seek.

My Lords, that might have been wise, but I am afraid that we are being wise a little after the event. We are well under way with this inquiry. Indeed, I hope that we are very close to the finishing line.

My Lords, will the Minister join with me in asking people to stop calling this intervention “illegal”? It has never been declared illegal by any court, national or international, and, since it was the first intervention ever to be approved by a vote in the House of Commons, it has more authority than any other intervention.

My Lords, after all the excitement and excitable nature of yesterday’s proceedings, would not pre-election purdah be rather a good idea?

Pre-election purdah does not formally start until late March, but the Government have committed that if the report is not available for publication by the end of February, it will be held back until after the election.