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

There was obviously a problem with gathering intelligence. There is a general problem of having sufficient agents on the ground and so on. My suggestions would not help with that. A problem lay with the intelligence community's interpretation of the available evidence. Like most people, my understanding of all the facts is incomplete, but my impression is that the intelligence community felt that it had been asked to give a yes or no answer to the specific question, "Does Saddam have weapons of mass destruction?" It then examined the available evidence for indications that that might be the case. I believe that an all-party committee could legitimately be asked to scrutinise that element of judgment. Such a committee could get it wrong, too. It could examine the evidence and reach the same conclusion, but at least there would be no corrosive suggestion that one party had over-interpreted the data and the other party would have done things differently. If an all-party, trusted committee, which considered the evidence, said that it appeared convincing, I would feel that that was reasonably persuasive, even if the Government were of a different party from mine.

I conclude by reverting to my original reference to the opinion poll about reluctance to engage overseas. We need to envisage not only consulting Parliament in future conflicts, but making a commitment to consult internationally, on a multilateral basis. I believe that there will still be occasions when most countries in the western world agree that a specific situation is so horrific that collective action is necessary. I note that, in Afghanistan—as opposed to Iraq—there remains a broad consensus among western Governments and, indeed, some non-western Governments that our involvement there is necessary.

Multilateralism is also a test of the validity of the arguments that take us to war. If we conclude that war is justified and we find that several major countries have reached the same conclusion, the decision is more likely to stand the test of time than if we play our traditional role of claiming that we have an almost unique ability to judge the needs of the world.

Yes, let us consult Parliament and do it as a process rather than a one-off action, but let us also try to commit British forces as part of a multilateral effort rather than an heroic lone mission.