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Chilcot Inquiry — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:06 pm on 1st July 2014.

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Photo of Lord Morgan Lord Morgan Labour 7:06 pm, 1st July 2014

My Lords, I think that the Chilcot inquiry is of such a nature that too much should not be expected of it. Many of the main issues confronting the inquiry were legal; the resignation of Elizabeth Wilmshurst from the Foreign Office was, I recall, on the legality of the Iraq operation. The Netherlands inquiry consisted entirely of lawyers and dealt very thoroughly with the issues. The Chilcot inquiry does not have a single lawyer. It has a couple of historians, which is a good thing, but not a single lawyer. We have been told—among others, by the late Lord Bingham—that the invasion was in clear breach of international law.

Why is the delay so crucial and worrying? First, because the inquiry explores the operation of government—indeed, the operation of government is a major reason for the delay. How could government so malfunction? How could the Cabinet be kept in almost total ignorance? How could the advice of the Attorney-General be so ambiguous and change from week to week? How could the security committee operate in such a way and briefly be chaired, incredibly, by Alastair Campbell? How could the Prime Minister arrogate such overwhelming power? How could he get away with such astonishing mis-statements, including the fact that it had all been agreed with Bush in Crawford a year before yet he pretended that it had not? Those things are very dangerous and should be explored. All serious students of the constitution—of whom I consider myself to be one—should consider them.

Secondly, how could perceptions of policy in the Middle East be so utterly wrong? How could the internal politics and history of Iraq be so misread? How could anyone seriously believe that the British and American invaders would be greeted as democratic saviours, not as brutal invaders killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in their wake? How contemptible a line of logic is that? How could so few preparations be made for the aftermath of the war? We are now seeing the effect in the ISIS militias operating in Iraq. How could people seriously believe that Iraq had its own integrity and that the Government of al-Maliki could be credible? The country of Iraq is now fragmenting into at least three parts. My noble friend rightly said that journalists should be well informed, and I rely heavily on my good friend—I think, the best journalist in Iraq—Patrick Cockburn of the Independent, who has shredded so many of the arguments in this area.

Iraq is a shameful episode. The moral was learnt by some in Syria. It was perhaps learnt the second time around in Iraq. It generated enormous popular protest, as the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, observed. I took part in the march, the greatest statement of popular opposition, popular protest, since the time of the chartists. I also wrote in the


, which I heard get some praise in the opening speech. It was a debacle comparable to Suez, as we have heard. Suez marked the end of empire; Iraq, I think, marked the end of British foreign policy. Our legacy has been shredded in Syria, Libya, and Iraq as well, and there is nothing left.

It raises, finally, the problem of democratic control and, indeed, the role of Parliament, of which the noble Lord, Lord Owen, spoke. The issue of democratic control of foreign policy was first raised during the First World War—we will not hear much of that in the commemorations. We now need democratic control by Parliament to be explored in order to make sure that it never happens again. Michael Foot, of whom I once wrote, talked about the Guilty Men in relation to Munich and appeasement. This time we need to expose and bring to justice these latest guilty men.