On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During business questions, it was announced by Sir John Chilcot by means of a letter to the Prime Minister that it will be a further seven months before the Iraq inquiry is published. That means that it will be seven years since it was established and a full 13 years since the war started. At this time of year in particular, would it have been not only in order but a mark of respect to the families of the 179 dead British servicemen if the Government had come to the House to inform us of this decision, so that we could have explored the reasons for the delay in the inquiry’s publication and the possible legal consequences for certain individuals if the inquiry were to allocate responsibility for that illegal conflict?
Perhaps I can call the Leader of the House first. I should say that I am not aware of exactly when the letter was sent or received, but I have long been aware that this is a matter of great interest and concern to Members across the House. The whole situation is extremely unsatisfactory, and if the Leader of the House would like to come to the Dispatch Box, we would be pleased to hear from him.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Let me say first of all that the Government and I share the frustration of Alex Salmond at the amount of time that this has taken. None of us has ever sought to hide that fact. There are clearly lessons that will need to be learned from this whole process. It is in none of our interests that this should have taken so long. We were in opposition at the time, so we have no vested interest in delaying the matter. I understand his concerns, but he will understand that this process is outwith the control of the Government. Sir John’s timetable is entirely in his own hands. On the timing of this announcement, I do not know the time at which the letter was released, but it is certainly not my job to pre-announce a letter from Sir John Chilcot before he has announced it himself.
I just want to hear some further observations on this matter. I call Mr Davis.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I think we all agree with Alex Salmond on this, and indeed with the Leader of the House’s comments. However, the simple fact is that there have been many rumours that the Chilcot inquiry has been delayed by Whitehall not clearing things quickly enough, by not providing enough information and by challenging the ability to release information. It would be extremely helpful to the House if we could have a statement on this issue, and I ask you to encourage that to happen, Mr Speaker. Frankly, this is an insult and compounds the grief of the many families who lost loved ones in that war.
I say gently that I want to hear the points of order—we will hear from Paul Flynn in a moment—but the Leader of the House was absolutely correct to say that it was not for him to pre-empt the delivery or publication of any letters. However, in the light of what I sense to be a strong feeling across the House, it would be extremely helpful if, when the Leader of the House is in full possession of the facts, he were to consider an early, short statement, on which there would be an opportunity for questioning, at the start of next week. I merely put that thought to him now. He will have an opportunity to reflect on it. Let us hear whether he wishes to say anything further in response to Mr Davis.
I simply wish to assure my right hon. Friend that I have seen absolutely no evidence of a desire in Government to stall this matter. Indeed, the Prime Minister has been as keen as anyone in this House, including Alex Salmond and my right hon. Friend Mr Davis, to see the report published, so there is no desire in the Government to slow it up. It has been a matter of frustration that it has taken so long, but it is outwith our control. I will certainly take back with me the point about an early statement.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The Committee that set up the Chilcot inquiry was the old Public Administration Committee under Tony Wright. At that time, there were misgivings about the form of the inquiry, and the suggestion was made that the inquiry should be run by Parliament directly, which would have been an entirely new form of inquiry. Would it not have been better if parliamentarians had had control of it? Furthermore, as we have had no explanation for the terrible loss of 179 lives in Iraq and for the Helmand incursion that resulted in 454 lives being lost when we believed that we would be going there without a shot being fired, can we have an assurance from Government that we will have no more talk about military interventions in the four-sided war in Syria before all those matters are reported on?
May I say to the hon. Gentleman who has taken advantage of this opportunity to make his point, which he has done with his usual alacrity, that a statement by Government to the House on this matter would afford a real opportunity for him to make his point not by point of order to me but by question to the Leader of the House? It would perhaps be an uncontroversial observation that, had there been a parliamentary Committee looking at this matter, it would not have been possible for it to do its work more slowly even if it had made a Herculean effort to do so. I say on behalf of the House, whether or not it concerns or perturbs Sir John, that he should be aware that there is a very real sense of anger and frustration across the whole House at what seems to be a substantial disservice that has been done. Perhaps we can leave it there for now, but I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Gordon
(Alex Salmond) for first raising that matter and to other hon. and right hon. Members for underlining the strength of feeling across the House.
If Jack Dromey could hold his horses for a moment, I shall call Ms Diana Johnson.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. When Ministers speak from the Dispatch Box, I know that they have to ensure that they are factually correct. I am sorry to raise again a point of order today about a factual inaccuracy that has been made by the Leader of the House. In an exchange this morning, he said that Labour had done nothing in 13 years to deal with the issue of VAT on sanitary products. That is factually incorrect, as Dawn Primarolo, as a Treasury Minister, ensured that VAT was reduced from the top rate to 5% in 2001. I hope that the record can be corrected.
I think we should leave the exchange pretty much there, but of course if the Leader of the House wishes to respond, he can do so. The hon. Lady has made her point very clearly and it is on the record—or it will be on the record—in the Official Report. The Leader of the House will speak, but then we must proceed.
It is important to say that it is not always fair or wise to cut sentences short, because if the hon. Lady had listened to what I said she would have heard, “on zero-rating”.