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The Blog of Adam Price AS/MP, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Adam Price MP / AS - Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

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Archive for June 25th, 2009

25th June 2009

Those who lead us cannot mislead us and expect to get away with it: My speach for the Iraq inquiry debate

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC):

At this point in the proceedings, we begin to echo each other, and we are doing so today across the Floor of the House. It might be repetitive but, at times such as this, we begin, as a House, to get to the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is that this inquiry is not just about the specific events leading up to the war or about its aftermath. It is also about our constitution and the way in which we conduct our democracy. That is its importance. The House has an opportunity today to restore the proper balance of power in this country.

We need to accept our share of the collective responsibility. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) referred to the many institutional failings that lie at the heart of this terrible, tragic, unnecessary war. Unfortunately, Parliament also played its part in that, on 18 March 2003, and it is now up to Parliament to play its part in making amends for that mistake. We have the opportunity to do that today.

Most of the Labour Members who have spoken today—indeed, most of the Labour Back Benchers who have attended the debate—voted against the war on that day. I ask them to join us in voting for the motion in the name of the official Opposition today. I speak as a miner’s son from Ammanford, and I mean no personal disrespect when I say that, on occasion, it is difficult for me to join the Conservatives in the Lobby. Today, however, the Opposition are doing what an Opposition should do: we are probing the contradictions in the Government’s stated position. We had a new Prime Minister who said that he wanted to restore the proper balance of power between Parliament and the Executive, but does anyone seriously believe that he would have rowed back so fast and so furiously if the Opposition had not tabled this motion on the openness of the inquiry?

Today, we have to push the Prime Minister even further, on the key question of the terms of reference. The line of accountability on this issue, which is a stain on our democracy, has to lie through Parliament to the people, who are the ultimate arbiters. It should not

involve the Privy Council or a hand-picked group of people whose accountability is fundamentally to the Prime Minister. We cannot allow that mistake to happen again. It was that very concentration of power that got us into this mess in the first place.
Let us go back a century, to the time when some would say we moved away from a balanced constitution. The House of Lords lost its power to this House, then, in the 20th century, this House lost its power to the Cabinet. Finally, the Cabinet was sidelined and power was concentrated in the hands of one man. The power symbolised by the Mace—the royal prerogative—was placed in the hands of one man and a small cabal of advisers. That was what led to the terrible tragedy of the Iraq war, and that is what we, as a House, must now put right. We shall do that by voting for the motion and insisting that this inquiry into the war has to report to us in terms that we have set.

I remember when the then Prime Minister spoke at that Dispatch Box on that terrible day for our democracy. He referred to the UN inspectors’ reports, which contained, he said, unanswered questions and

“29 different areas in which the inspectors have been unable to obtain information”.—[ Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 763.]

He used that terrible Rumsfeldian logic. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; the fact that there was no evidence of WMD did not mean that the WMD were not there. That was sufficient reason—justification—for the war.

I did not believe a word that the Prime Minister said, but many hon. Members believed that it was not possible for a serving Prime Minister to lie to the House and to the people. Because he is no longer a Member of the House, I no longer have to fear being ejected for saying what many people believe: we were misled and the House was misled on a matter so serious—life or death, peace or war. That is why it is our responsibility tonight to get to the heart of the matter, both the specifics of the Iraq war and how our democracy and our machinery of government were so terribly undermined. We have to establish the truth and ensure that that never happens again—and yes, if as a result of that the inquiry believes that it must attribute blame, it should be free to do so if there is individual culpability, as many of us believe.

There are three key issues that the inquiry must consider and which have been touched on by many hon. and right hon. Members. On the motivation for the war, I believe that WMD were the pretext. As we have heard, various minutes and the Downing street memos that have emerged subsequent to the Butler inquiry suggest clearly, as Wolfowitz said, that WMD were simply the bureaucratic rationale. The real reason lay elsewhere, and it was regime change all along.

On legality, the contribution made by the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) was fascinating and it chimes with what Philippe Sands said in his book, “Lawless World”: the Butler inquiry saw correspondence between Ministers that the Cabinet never saw and which raised serious doubts about the legality of the war, and indeed shared some doubts that Colin Powell had about its legality.
We now know that the legal advisers in the Foreign Ministry of the Dutch Government believed that

“the Netherlands would lose any case brought before the International Court of Justice”.

Interestingly, written on that memorandum were the words:

“Bury it well in the archives for future generations.”

Our memorandums will not be buried. We owe it to future generations to ensure that this does not happen again.

Will there be prima facie evidence? Will the inquiry conclude that there is evidence that the war was indeed unlawful? We must remember that in November, Lord Bingham, former Lord Chief Justice and senior Law Lord of the United Kingdom, said that the Attorney-General’s advice to the British Government contained

“no hard evidence”,

that Iraq had defied UN resolutions

“in a manner justifying resort to force”

and that the invasion—the Iraq war—was

“a serious violation of international law and of the rule of law”

in this country as well.

Barry Gardiner:

Does the hon. Gentleman recall the words of resolution 1441, which includes the words:

“Determined to secure full compliance with its decisions,
Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations… Decides that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including resolution 687”?

Chapter VII, of course, is the only chapter of the UN charter that justifies the use of force.

Adam Price:

That point was dealt with by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood when she said that there was no automaticity as a result of that resolution and that a second resolution was required. The Government changed their position when they could not get the second resolution—that is the reality of it—and they misled the House, the UN and the people of this country.

I believe that if the inquiry concludes—as the senior Law Lord of the United Kingdom has concluded—that the war was indeed unlawful, the Government should voluntarily report themselves. They should report the Iraq war to the International Court of Justice for a declaratory opinion so that we can ensure that, for the avoidance of doubt, it is established in international law for future generations, and so that the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and the 179 British servicemen and women who lost their lives will not have lost them in vain. We will then have established a core principle in our democracy: that those who lead us cannot mislead us and expect to get away with it.

There is a fundamental principle in the way in which we govern relations between the nations of this world, and it is called the law. It is time for us, as a House of Commons, to undo the wrong of six years ago and vote for the motion. Sometimes it is necessary to have a parliamentary insurrection. I believe that Labour Members would be in tune with the best principles and traditions of the Labour party if they joined the official Opposition in the Lobby tonight. They may have their own reasons for doing so—many of us are mixtures of altruism and self-interest—but we know what it is right for us as a House of Commons to do tonight, and that is to unite behind an amendment calling for a proper inquiry that deserves the respect of the people of this country.