Armed Conflict (Parliamentary Approval)

Part of Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:59 pm on 15th May 2007.

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Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer PPS (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry 6:59 pm, 15th May 2007

I do not want to get too deeply into debate with the hon. Gentleman about the precise wording of previous motions. Frankly, if he had been here he would not have been in any doubt.

We must avoid the illusion that a parliamentary approval mechanism alone would drastically change the outcome of a vote: it would not. Those of us who were here at the time of the Iraq vote will recall that public opinion had swung substantially in favour of voting to go to war. That is always the case. In any example that I can recall, with the possible exception of Suez, public opinion at the time we are about to go to war has been in favour of doing so. We know why that is. The press and the public tend to rally around the Government of the day and say, "Right, if push comes to shove, we are ready to go to war." I cannot conceive of a situation whereby the Government of the day goes to Parliament and says, "We've got this desperate situation and it's necessary to have an armed conflict—do you agree?", and Parliament says no. In practice, that does not happen and will not happen. From that we conclude that it is not just a single vote, or even two votes, on deployment and use of force that is needed, but a well-defined process in the run-up to a potential conflict.

Let me turn to the issue of intelligence. Most of us agree that what happened in the case of Iraq was that the intelligence community was asked, in effect, "Are you able to confirm the suspicion held by many countries around the world that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction?" Intelligence is very much like looking into a fog with little glints of light, and we ask the intelligence community to piece them together and make a pattern. Asked that question, the intelligence community thought, "We are being asked whether we can confirm that Saddam probably has weapons of mass destruction." So it looked at the fog, picked out the elements that seemed to confirm that and delivered them, with the results that we know. That is where the weakness lies. Well before any parliamentary consultation takes place, there is that difficulty in assessing the evidence. I, and others, would suggest that the Intelligence and Security Committee, which generally meets in private and under Privy Council rules, should be given access to the full range of evidence for and against any hypothesis that may be being made as a basis for war and come to a conclusion, which it reports to Parliament, on whether it considers that that evidence was convincing.