Iraq — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 18th December 2008.

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Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 2:37 pm, 18th December 2008

My Lords, first, I welcome the Statement made earlier by the Prime Minister in another place and repeated by the Lord President. I also commend and thank the Prime Minister for again visiting troops in Iraq, which I know is greatly appreciated by the Armed Forces. In an article in today's Guardian, Sir Jock Stirrup argues that our Armed Forces should leave Iraq with their heads held high. I do not think there is any doubt at all that they will and that they have every right to do so, and we on these Benches salute the courage and professionalism of our armed services. We remember all those who have died, including Lieutenant Aaron Lewis and the other recent casualty, as we remember the many hundreds more who have been injured and will carry disability with them for the rest of their lives.

However, in commending the Army, one has to say some very harsh things about the political decisions that put it into those circumstances. In so doing, I look at people I have known for most of my political life and who have grown up with me politically. They are people I know to be honest and decent, but when faced with probably the greatest decisions of their political lives, I fear that they made disastrous choices. I joined the million-strong march against the war, with its very powerful slogan, "Not in my name", and I still count it as something that I am most proud of in my life. My party, under its then leader Charles Kennedy, had to endure cries from both Benches of "Charlie Chamberlain" as we warned against the war.

There is a need for an inquiry into the conduct of the Government and for an inquiry into the conduct of the Official Opposition, who failed so lamentably to ask the right questions and joined in the general scramble to war. I hope we get the inquiry in 2009 because this war, for all the flowery language in the Statement, leaves Iraq's future desperately uncertain. In this country, as we saw in the most recent trial, the claims by the then Prime Minister, Mr Blair, that there was no link between Iraq and domestic terrorism is being proved wrong daily. I also believe—and will to the end of my days—that the so-called "shock and awe" bombardment of Baghdad, an undefended city, was a war crime as much as Guernica was a war crime. So let us have that inquiry.

If we are going to switch our forces to Afghanistan, I echo the demand by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, that we make proper preparations for that commitment. There is a need for guarantees from the Government of Afghanistan about corruption and there will have to be some frank talking about burden sharing if we are to sustain public support in this country for a long-term commitment to Afghanistan.

I have three questions. When does the new naval commitment start and what kind of deployment does it involve permanently in the north Gulf? When on earth does the expansion of commercial, cultural and educational ties start and what kind of security guarantees can we give to the people who will work in this expanded British embassy? Finally, I received today a Christmas card asking me to remember the five British hostages held in Iraq. Did the Prime Minister have talks about their future while he was there?

Sir Anthony Nutting called his memoirs of the Suez debacle No End of a Lesson, and, unless mistakes are to be repeated, we need to learn the lessons of the Iraq war. I believe that the inquiry—as happened under the Conservatives after the Falkland Islands war—should be implemented while memories are fresh and while people can give valid evidence. Mr Blair said he was prepared to wait for the judgment of history. I fear that that judgment will be harsh—and rightly so.