Iraq Inquiry Debate 24-6-09
June Gordon Brown made a statement to the House that there would be an Inquiry into
the Iraq war headed by Sir John Chilcot, but that it would be conducted in secret.
Many MPs called for the Inquiry to be conducted in public, with exceptions only
where genuine issues of national security preclude public disclosure.
The Prime Minister justified his original decision for a wholly private Inquiry by
referring to issues of national security and serving military officers who may wish to
give evidence, as well as people who are working in other related arenas. Senior military
and intelligence officers, including Sir Mike Jackson, condemned this approach, warning
that it looked like a cover up.
Since coming under such forceful pressure to hold the Inquiry in public, the Prime
Minister gradually backtracked. He wrote to Sir John Chilcot saying it was up to him
to decide if some sessions should be held in public. Sir John responded that it was
"essential to hold as much of the proceedings of the inquiry as possible in
The Opposition then called a debate on the Inquiry on 24
June. In an intervention during his speech opposing the Tory motion and
proposing a Government amendment that essentially left decisions about the conduct of the
Inquiry to Sir John Chilcot, I established that Sir John had been consulted about the
terms of the Inquiry before the Prime Minister's statement that it would be in private. I
subsequently intervened on the Foreign Secretary to find out if Sir John had agreed with
the original proposal for a secret inquiry:
24 Jun 2009 : Column 822
Lynne Jones: All I would like to know is whether,
when the Prime Minister consulted Sir John Chilcot about the inquiry, Sir John agreed that
it should meet in private.
David Miliband: My understanding is that Sir John
Chilcot had no objection to the announcement the Prime Minister made on Monday 15 June. He
was very content with that and with the proposal that was made. In the light of the Prime
Ministers subsequent letter of 17 June, Sir John Chilcot considered the best way of
conducting the inquiry.
The fact that Sir John originally 'had no objection' to a private inquiry
demonstrates that he is not the fiercely independent Chair that is needed.
Following my interventions about the Inquiry's Chair, I both spoke and voted in
support of the opposition motion which called for the Government to revise its proposals
to meet objections, including to allow for a mainly public inquiry with a wider and more
diverse membership and to submit proposed terms of reference to the House to allow full
debate and scrutiny by MPs. In my speech, I concentrated on the membership of the
Inquiry. The text is reproduced below:
Speech on Iraq Inqury:
24 Jun 2009 : Column 874
Lynne Jones (Birmingham,
Selly Oak) (Lab): In March last year, on another occasion when we debated the need for an
inquiry on Iraq, the Foreign Secretary expressed surprise at my reservations about the
credibility of the inquiry chaired by Lord Butler. In the speech that I made later in the
debate I set out my concerns, which I will not repeat now.
When that inquiry was set up,
we already knew of Lord Butlers form from his evidence to the Scott inquiry. When
asked about the less than full information being provided in parliamentary answers, he
You have to be
selective about the facts.
Commenting to the inquiry on
other parliamentary answers, he added:
It was an accurate but
incomplete answer. The purpose of it was to give an answer which itself was true. It did
not give the full picture. It was half an answer.
We must ensure that the
inquiry that we set up following todays debate gives the full answer.
Given the outcome of the
Butler inquiry, it is appropriate to consider what we know about the chair and members of
the current inquiryespecially as we heard from the Foreign Secretary today that,
having first announced an inquiry to be held in private, the Government are now putting
their faith in Sir John Chilcot to conduct the inquiry in an acceptable manner, telling
the House that the Chilcot approach meets all reasonable expectations. I think that todays
debate demonstrates that that is not the case.
We also learnt from the
Foreign Secretary today that Sir John Chilcot went along with the proposal for the inquiry
to be conducted in private. In contrast, Sir John is now saying that as much of it as
possible should be held in public. That is good, but what message does it convey about his
objectivity and impartiality, given that he was apparently happy to accept an inquiry
conducted in private? Surely it should have been perfectly obvious to everyoneat
least those with no interest in a cover-upthat that would not do.
By accepting such a
condition, Sir Johna retired civil servant and as such someone who could be regarded
as an establishment figurefailed to exert his independence. He does not seem to be
the sort of person who robustly evaluates evidence and arrives at careful conclusions.
Indeed, as a member of the Butler committee, he must have gone along with the remarkable
decision to support the Governments claim that Iraq had sought to procure uranium
from Africa, ignoring the conclusion of the International Atomic Energy Agency that the
allegation was unfounded. Moreover, it did so without giving any reasons for disagreeing
with the IAEA, and without addressing probing questions that I and the former Member for
Blaenau Gwent, Llew Smith, submitted in our dossier to the inquiry.
I am not the only person who
is raising questions about the selection of Sir John to chair the inquiry, as we heard in
earlier comments from the Opposition Benches. In an article in last Sundays edition
of The Observer, Professor Philippe Sands talks of the role of the chairman as crucial,
but says questions abound about the choice of Sir John. He asks:
What was it about his
role in the Butler inquiry that caused the prime minister to conclude he was suitable?
Some who have worked closely with him, including on the Butler inquiry, fear he
24 Jun 2009 : Column 875
is not the right person. Someone who has seen him first hand described his approach as one
of obvious deference to governmental authority
as is, perhaps, indicated by
his acceptance of an inquiry in private. Philippe Sands continues:
This is a view I have
heard repeated several times. More troubling is evidence I have seen for myself.
He then refers to the
occasion when the Butler committee took evidence from the former Attorney-General, Lord
Goldsmith, on 5 May 2004:
transcript shows some members of the inquiry pressing him hard. By contrast, Sir Johns
spoonfed questions give every impression of being designed to elicit a response from the
attorney general that would demonstrate the reasonableness of his actions and those of the
Let me now turn to the other
members of the inquiry team. Sir Roderic Lyne is a former ambassador to Russia. He retired
in 2004 and took up a number of posts in the private sector. He was a special adviser to
BP, which currently has major interests in Iraq. Regardless of whether that represents a
conflict of interests, it does not help public confidence given the concern that we went
to war for oil.
There are also two
historians on the committee. Sir Lawrence Freedman is a military historian and professor
of war studies. The Scotsman reports that he previously praised Tony Blairs attempts
to influence US foreign policy in the run-up to the warattempts at influence that
proved fruitless. The other historian, Sir Martin Gilbert, compared George W. Bush and
Tony Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill in an article in The Observer in 2004. Both
historians could be seen as establishment figures.
Another member of the
committee is Baroness Usha Prashar. She has a virtuous CV but, as other Members have said,
would it not have been more appropriate to include Members of this House? Public
confidence in the inquiry would be enhanced if its membership included at least one Member
who has questioned the decision to go to war. Some names have been mentioned in the
debate; I suggest my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), as I think he would
be an excellent choice.
I would also like to suggest
another member. John Morrison was an analyst at the Ministry of Defence with wide
experience of the British intelligence community. When he retired in 1999, he took up a
post as the Intelligence and Security Committees investigator, but he was sacked
after he was interviewed, with the Committees agreement, on Panorama in
July 2004. In that interview he referred to the collective raspberry that went
around Whitehall when the Prime Minister stated in the UK dossier of September 2002 that
Iraqs weapons of mass destruction posed a serious and current threat. John Morrison
Prime Minister was going way beyond anything any professional analyst would have agreed.
The former chief of defence
intelligence and former deputy chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Air Marshal
Sir John Walker, worked with Mr. Morrison and has expressed concern about the non-renewal
of his contract. The ISC had previously described Mr. Morrison as a valuable asset to the
Committee. Sir John is reported as saying:
Morrison is an extremely experienced and extremely good intelligence operative. I have the
highest regard and respect
24 Jun 2009 : Column 876
for him. He has broken ranks, together with people like Brian Jones and David Kelly,
because of a considerable concern about what was going on. If...people of John Morrisons
calibre...break ranks it is very serious.
He also said that it was
beyond belief that Mr. Morrison was going because his contract was up and that he would be
surprised if pressure had not come from No. 10 after the embarrassment of the Panorama
criticisms. A member such as John Morrison would add credibility to the Committee.
It is essential that we have
an inquiry in which all shades of opinion in this House and the public can have
confidence. It is supremely evident from this debate that that is not the case. I still
cannot understand why the Government could not simply accept the motion in the name of the
Leader of the Opposition. It would have been a way to make progress. It is still not too
late to do so.
Previous posting, March 2008