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House of Lords

Thursday, 29 January 2004.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Iraq

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will now set up an independent inquiry to investigate whether the United Kingdom's declared reasons for war against Iraq were justified by the available evidence.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we have no plans to do so.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Given that up to 20,000 people may have died in the war against Iraq and a similar number may have been maimed or injured, is it not reasonable for people to want an answer to the question which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, quite understandably, declined to enter into—namely, whether the intelligence on which the decision to go to war was taken was soundly based? Whenever this question has been asked in the past, the Government have said we should wait for the survey group to report. Now that the chairman of that group has resigned, telling a US Senate Committee yesterday that we were almost all wrong, is there not an argument for following the precedent of my noble friend Lady Thatcher after the Falklands War and setting up an independent inquiry?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord must bear it in mind that there have already been three inquiries. The inquiry conducted by the Foreign Affairs Committee produced its report on the decision to go to war on 7 July. The inquiry conducted by the Intelligence and Security Committee reported on 11 September. I remind the noble Lord that that committee was not in being at the time that the Franks committee was set up—it is important to remember that. In addition, the Hutton inquiry reported yesterday.

Mr Kay was very clear in what he said to the Intelligence Committee in a number of respects. But he also said that his views were partial; they were his own; and that more evidence may become available. So I suggest that we are patient on this issue. I know that there is a bit of disappointment on the Benches opposite over what happened yesterday, but instead of

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repeating the errors of rushing to judgment in the light of what Mr Kay has said, it would be sensible to wait for the ISG to report.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, when the ISG reports, will we be given a chance to debate that report as well as the US Congress? Is it the settled policy of Her Majesty's Government that all further inquiries on the wider case for war will be conducted by the US Congress and not by the British Parliament?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that there may be issues around the report that cannot go into the public domain. He will know that with the interim report, we put as full a report as possible into the public domain. I want to be clear about this because I do not want there to be any misapprehension over what I am saying. In the same way that we have had an enormous number of opportunities to debate the issues around why we went to war with Iraq in the first place—even last night we were debating the issues around the costs of that war—I am sure that there will be opportunities, and the usual channels will be able to fix those opportunities, to debate anything appropriate.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister recall that many of us on these Benches strongly supported the Prime Minister and saluted his courage at the time of the invasion and his decision to ally ourselves with the Americans in invading Iraq? All we questioned at the time was the clarity of some of the justification given by the Prime Minister. We questioned the two dossiers which are now universally reckoned as dodgy—indeed, the second dossier being very much dodgier than the first one.

Would it not now be very helpful to all—including the Government's case, which is not looking very good in Iraq—to have an investigation or inquiry, which, as my noble friend has reminded us, is being proposed in the United States, to show the real and good reasons for regime change in Iraq, for removing the hideous Saddam, and to bring home to all people the considerable achievements which are now taking place in Iraq but which hardly ever get reported? The wheels of commerce are now turning in that country and there are many benefits which we do not hear enough about from the media or the Government.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am bound to say that if the noble Lord had been in his place yesterday evening, he would have heard a great deal about that. I know that there were others taking part in that debate, but the fact is that we debated a lot of the benefits to flow from Iraq, only last night in this House. I, like him, wish that that received more publicity.

I do recall that the noble Lord was among many who—very rightly in my view, but courageously as well, given the politics—supported the Government at the time we went into military conflict with Iraq. I also recall that much of the intelligence we had available was shared at that time. I believe that more evidence

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will be found of weapons of mass destruction, but let us see what the ISG reveals and whether those programmes existed. At that point, the noble Lord will no doubt be able to make his case again. However, it is important to remember that this was not the sole reason for going to war. The reason for going to war was the way in which Iraq had repeatedly flouted the United Nations—the way in which the whole world believed, in passing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, that Iraq was in material breach of its obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions 678 and 687. We had a debate about that in this House before the military conflict started. So to be partial about this is a mistake.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that rather than spending a great deal of time going back over the genesis of every detail that led to a war which the vast majority of Members of both Houses of Parliament supported, it would be more useful now if we concentrated on winning the peace and heard something from opposition parties calling on all parties in the United Nations fully to observe all the requirements of Resolution 1441? Many of their political friends in other countries are currently ignoring their responsibilities there, and if they called on their political friends to observe that resolution, perhaps we could do something constructive towards securing the peace.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with that wholeheartedly. I hope, given what the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, has said today, that he will be on the front foot on this issue about winning the peace and that the Opposition will be on the front foot about telling the world what a good job we are making of many issues in Iraq. We do not hear that from the party opposite. I remind those who attack the Government on this issue that the United Kingdom's declared reasons for war against Iraq were discussed fully in both Houses, with a vote in the House of Commons, a move unprecedented in modern times. I look forward to what the noble Lord will say as a result of these exchanges, to the media and elsewhere, about how well the coalition is doing in Iraq.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, when the ISG report or part of it is published, can the Minister assure the House that it will be published in the words of the ISG alone and that there will not be any suggested "adjustments", shall we say, to the wording from any member of the Prime Minister's private office?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, in the light of the findings of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, the implication behind that question is totally inappropriate. The noble Baroness is trying to revisit issues around the accusations of spin. The Government were cleared entirely of those accusations by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton. If the noble Baroness does not understand that, she can read the report in full.

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UK Economy: OECD Report

11.14 a.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they respond to the latest report on the United Kingdom economy by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My Lords, the OECD's assessment of the UK economy was published on 20 January 2004. The Government welcome the report and note the positive assessment of the performance of the economy over the past few years.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, glowing as the report is in parts, nevertheless it points out that the budget deficit will exceed the euro-zone's 3 per cent limit by next year. Furthermore, the report casts doubt on whether the,


    "massive spending increases will fully pay off in terms of improved service".

Is not the Chancellor's golden rule on balancing the budget of the economic cycle under serious threat? Should we not be encouraging him to think about cuts in public spending as he himself suggested at the enterprise summit earlier this week, before he increases taxation or we return to the dreaded boom and bust?


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