Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:21 pm on 24th January 2008.

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Photo of Lord Tugendhat Lord Tugendhat Conservative 12:21 pm, 24th January 2008

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Fowler not only for introducing this debate but for his balanced, eloquent and persuasive speech. I also agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said. My noble friend Lord Fowler and I go back a long way: we first met as young officers in the Essex Regiment at the time of Suez. On the merits of that escapade, he was right and I was wrong. He was quickly proved to be right. That was more than 50 years ago. It was a great disaster. It is fair to say that what has happened in Iraq is the biggest disaster that has occurred to British foreign and strategic policy since that time. It is of the first importance and of great significance and we must learn lessons from it.

I will not speak about how we got into the war. I agree with my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that it has been extensively inquired into, but not comprehensively. If there is no inquiry, more and more information will leak out and more are more will be known, but in a disordered fashion and in a manner from which it is difficult to draw conclusions. Nor will I speak about the war itself. That was short, sharp and successful. I want to address myself to what has happened post war—what has happened since President Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier in front of a sign proclaiming "mission accomplished". If only it had been: if only all that has happened since that hubristic and theatrical act could have been avoided.

Although I agree with what has already been said on the need to know more about how we got into this war and what information Ministers, officials, generals and so forth had, we need an inquiry into what has happened post war, whether as part of a broader inquiry or on its own. We specifically need answers to the following questions. First, to what extent did Her Majesty's Government share in the decision making? What was Her Majesty's Government's input into the policy that has been followed since the end of the fighting? Secondly, to what extent were Her Majesty's Government overruled by our great ally, the United States, and to what extent was the advice of Her Majesty's Government simply ignored? Thirdly, to what extent did Her Majesty's Government simply leave it all to the Americans as the senior partner in the adventure—let them take the big decisions and confine our actions to our own limited area of responsibility?

I suspect that there will not be any such inquiry because the findings would be too humiliating for the Government. I suspect, too, that to a very large degree we simply left it to the Americans. I hope that the Minister can assure me that I am wrong and that however badly the situation turned out, Her Majesty's Government fully participated in all the big decisions. Meanwhile, I draw two preliminary conclusions from what has happened, on which I hope he may feel able to comment.

First, whenever British troops are committed we must be sure to have an adequate say in all strategic and political decisions before, during and after the fighting. If that is not possible in a particular operation because of the imbalance of power between the United States and ourselves, we should stay out. Secondly, the corollary of involving Parliament in decisions to commit troops—I applaud the change introduced by the Prime Minister soon after he took office—is that the Government should be held accountable to Parliament for the outcome, not only for the military operation and how we got into that but for the occupation, the reconstruction, and the fulfilment—or not, as the case may be—of our war aims.

As we all know, the Suez debacle led the British Government to decide not only always to stick as closely as possible to the United States but never again to embark on a military operation that the United States could thwart. But that did not mean having to follow the United States wherever it led. Here I think the Labour Government could take a look at their predecessor, Harold Wilson—I know that he is not a popular man in Labour circles—who showed that it is perfectly possible to remain on very close and good terms with the United States, but he did not follow it into Vietnam, although President Johnson put a great deal of pressure on him to do so, and although other American allies, notably the Australians, did indeed follow the United States down that path.

Therefore, it is not just a question of whether we agree with what the United States wants to do in a given situation, nor is it a question of not wanting to leave the United States isolated in a particular situation, although I can understand the previous Prime Minister's concerns on that point.

It must also be a question of whether and to what extent a British Government can have an influence on the formation and conduct of policy when British troops are involved. We may have been the junior partner in Iraq but we were and are a partner and therefore we are responsible for what happened in Iraq. We share the responsibility with the United States and others for what happened in Iraq and we must draw lessons from it. The final lesson I draw from it is that, as a result of the decisions taken by this Government, we find ourselves in a position where we have responsibility without power, where we share in the responsibility for what happened but were not able to influence the big strategic decisions, and that is a very humiliating position for this country to be in.