Iraq Inquiry

Part of Opposition Day — [8th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:24 pm on 25th March 2008.

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Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe 6:24 pm, 25th March 2008

That is exactly what the Scott inquiry examined at length. It was right to hold an inquiry into those matters. The previous Government set it up and it duly reported.

Our debates about the need for an inquiry into events surrounding the invasion of Iraq before and after it took place were clothed in a language that had an arcane theology of its own. That was when the former Prime Minister was still in office and before the Defence Secretary's announcement in 2006, to which my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague referred. The Government position then was that no full inquiry was needed because of those that had already taken place.

Those debates were punctuated with obscure arguments about the precise terms of reference of the previous inquiries and the extent to which they had been implemented. The Government's position at that time and in the context of those arguments was not only inconsistent with that which the Foreign Secretary advanced today but directly contradicted it. Their argument then was, "We've had all these wide-ranging and comprehensive inquiries—there's nothing left to inquire into." Fortunately they realised—I suppose that they deserve some credit for it—that that position was untenable. They therefore changed it and accepted that the case for an inquiry was unanswerable. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, as we have heard today, the Government's position is, "Yes, we'll have an inquiry, but not yet. We won't tell you when or precisely what circumstances must be satisfied. It'll happen sometime, but not yet." That exposed a vulnerability in the Government's line, which, as we have witnessed this evening, was obvious, clear and wholly indefensible. There is no good reason for not holding an inquiry now, and everyone, including the Government, knows it.

It is interesting that when the Prime Minister responded to the case for holding an inquiry that the Fabian Society put forward, he limited himself to just one reason. He said that it is

"vital that the government does not divert attention from supporting Iraq's development as a secure and stable country."

That prompts the question, which has already arisen in this debate: whose attention would be diverted from that task? It would not be our troops on the ground in Iraq whose attention would be diverted. Indeed, it is difficult if not impossible to see how they would be involved in such an inquiry, so there is no cause for concern there. The Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary, who we hope are spearheading the United Kingdom's support for Iraq's development as a stable and secure country—they have the political responsibility for that task—were not involved in the events surrounding the invasion, so they are not likely to have their attention diverted from that important task, either.

The House is entitled to know whom the Prime Minister had in mind when he uttered those words. We are entitled to an answer. Who are the people whose attention would be diverted from that task? I hope that the Minister, who has the unenviable task of replying to this debate, will respond to that question. If the Prime Minister says that the reason for not holding an inquiry now is that we must not divert people's attention from that task, we want to know whose attention would be diverted.

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