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I ask my noble friend two questions. Will this inquiry cover the diplomatic exchanges in advance of the military action as they related to our allies, and also as they related to others in the region, such as Iraq’s neighbours? I hope that that will be the case. Will the inquiry also cover the diplomatic exchanges after the invasion in the period when there was a build- up to the greater internal violence in Iraq? I think the diplomatic exchanges at that time, between ourselves,

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the United States and other interested parties, are of the utmost importance as to what happened after the military action was taken and why things went the way they did.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding me that, throughout the period when she was standing at this Dispatch Box, she did not on any occasion allege any link between al-Qaeda and the invasion of Iraq. To my knowledge, I do not think the Prime Minister made any link either. I would reassure my noble friend that the committee will consider the diplomatic exchanges with our allies and Iraq’s neighbours before, and also in the period following, the invasion.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, the Minister will recollect that her Government introduced a strategic defence review in 1998 that committed our Armed Forces to one medium-sized continuing conflict at a time. When we intervened in Iraq, that became two. Will the inquiry include the visits that the Chief of the Defence Staff made at the time to Prime Minister Blair to say that there should be a step increase in defence expenditure? Each time he was referred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, which did not get him very far. The result has been irreparable damage to our Armed Forces.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I absolutely refute the allegation that our Armed Forces have been irreparably damaged by the war in Iraq. They have done a fantastic job, as I know that the noble Lord would recognise, but they have also been equipped and serviced as they should have been.

I honestly do not know whether the committee of inquiry would want to look at issues such as the strategic defence review and subsequent discussions. I would not wish to make any undertaking on the committee’s part, but I am sure that the noble Lord could ask its members themselves.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, while I welcome her Statement, will the noble Baroness consider two further points? First, I particularly welcome the transfer of the wall of memory, which I had the honour to be at during last year’s poppy celebrations, to the National Memorial Arboretum in the UK. Would the Government consider a special plaque in the British embassy in Baghdad to recognise the sacrifice of so many British soldiers?

Secondly, during the investigation, will the Government ensure that the commission has full, unexpurgated access to the Arabic evidence that has already been given in many different trials in Baghdad, particularly the evidence in the “Chemical Ali” trial, in the north and in the south, and the upcoming trial on the genocide of the Marsh Arabs that should start next month? I would be grateful if the Government could reassure us to that effect, as British evidence is just a small fraction of the knowledge that is available.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s welcome of the transfer of the wall of memory to the National Memorial Arboretum.

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A special plaque in our Baghdad embassy is an excellent idea. I cannot make that commitment, but I will certainly take it back to the department.

On full and unexpurgated evidence, it would seem sensible that the committee of inquiry should have access to that. I will certainly make inquiries.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the scope of the inquiry seems unprecedented in its breadth, lasting over eight years and covering in detail legal, humanitarian, intelligence, military, reconstruction and diplomatic issues. Surely the Franks committee was not a happy precedent in this sense. There must surely be a danger that the inquiry will drag on for a very long time indeed, as noble Lords are now asking for even more aspects to be added to it.

Can my noble friend give an assurance that a steer will be given to the chairman to be as rigid and firm as he can, and that members of the committee will be asked to ensure that their other commitments are put aside so that they can proceed as expeditiously as possible with this important inquiry? Presumably the committee will not start its proceedings for a month or two in any event.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the chairman of the committee has great experience, and I am sure that he will do everything he can to ensure that everybody’s diaries are cleared and so on. I agree with my noble friend that we need the inquiry to be carried out as expeditiously as possible. The Prime Minister has asked that it report within a year. I am sure that everybody would wish to ensure that the report was received within a year.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, one of the most important documents to emerge in recent years, as far as the military is concerned, did not come from this country. It was produced in America and is called Counterinsurgency Operations. It resulted from a direct and in-depth inquiry into what had happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how well the military was prepared for the sort of operations that both entailed. The interesting thing about the composition of that inquiry is that although it was militarily led, it included a large number of experts from right across the field.

I am interested that the Minister says that the inquiry is meant to go into “lessons learnt”. However, I find in what she said, unless I have misheard, that there is no military member of the inquiry, who might be able to lead such an inquiry into the in-depth lessons which are, after all, hugely important to the future development of our Armed Forces.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I certainly recognise the noble Lord’s points. However, the majority of the committee members have great experience in dealing with defence issues and great contact with the MoD. I am sure that they may well be calling on some MoD experts for advice.

Lord Lyell of Markyate: My Lords—

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Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords—

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, there is time for both noble Lords to speak—perhaps the noble and learned Lord first?

Lord Lyell of Markyate: My Lords, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House kindly assure the House that the legal issues will now be looked at really carefully by the inquiry? Does she recognise that there was no issue in relation to the Falklands War and its legality because it was so plainly covered by Article 51 of the UN charter? There are very serious questions here, and the time has now come for all the legal advice that was given to be most carefully examined and all the factual information which was given to the then Attorney-General and others in preparing their advice to be fully disclosed—at least to the inquiry and then, in so far as national security permits, to the House and the country.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, some of these issues have been dealt with in previous inquiries—for example, the Butler inquiry. However, if the committee believes that this issue must be addressed, I am confident that this issue must be addressed, and it is certainly within the remit.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that it stretches credulity a little to look at the scope and the timeframe of this inquiry and to imagine that there is not a political imperative here? If we accept in good faith that there are two aspects to this—the events leading up to the war and the conduct of the war itself—may I suggest a two-part inquiry, with part 1 reporting within months on the events leading up to the war and then a longer, more considered part 2 that can take witnesses from all over the world, and take its time but may report well afterwards, that will look at the conduct of the war itself?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, Members of this House are saying, “We want the inquiry, we want it now, we want it to report tomorrow”, and then everybody is telling me all the different things that they want to be in the inquiry. This committee is going to be faced with some very difficult challenges and some extraordinary time constraints. It is up to the committee how it structures its work. It may want to come back in two parts—I do not know; that is a matter for the committee. Many of the issues that the noble Baroness raises are inextricably linked so the committee may wish to see them in the round, as it were.

Lord Morgan: My Lords, I welcome, as many on these Benches will, that we are going to have this inquiry. I was also one of those who took part in the march against the war. I wrote against it in the press. I thought then and I think now that it is a deeply shameful episode which brought discredit on the Prime Minister of the day and also on the Conservative Party of the day, from David Cameron downwards, who supported it. I think the lack of trust in our politicians began from this episode.

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I thank my noble friend for her Statement. Can I ask two things? First, can I reinforce the point about looking about the legality? There was a statement about the criminality not being looked at. In the views of virtually ever professor of international law in the country, this was a deeply criminal act which had the same justification legally as Hitler had in 1939 when he invaded Poland. I hope Martin Gilbert will look at this, as a historian.

Secondly, I hope that this inquiry will take very much a transatlantic context. It was not an episode of British policy alone. There is every reason to believe that decisions were taken, not in Whitehall, not in Westminster, but in Crawford in Texas. I hope that this inquiry can consider that broader remit.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I have high regard for my noble friend, but some of his comments were inflammatory, if I might put it like that. The remit is extremely wide and I am sure that it will look at what he called the transatlantic context. It is entirely within the committee’s remit to look at the legal aspects should it so wish.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, can the Leader of the House clarify a point about the publication of evidence? This inquiry is likely to be held largely in secret, but its effects will be crucially influenced by the amount of evidence that is actually published. A report without evidence is much less valuable than one which is accompanied by the evidence that has produced the conclusions. Can the noble Baroness clarify the extent to which evidence will be made available?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, what the committee will ultimately wish to publish is a matter for it to decide. If the material is secret or sensitive, publication would not be appropriate; however, I am sure that the committee will wish to publish the maximum amount.

Political Parties and Elections Bill

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Report (1st Day) (Continued)

4.40 pm

Amendment 2

Moved by Lord Tyler

2: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—

“Review: the procedures for local referenda on recall for misconduct

The Secretary of State shall, within 6 months of this Act being passed, in exercise of his powers under section 6(2) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (c. 41) (reviews of electoral and political matters), request the Electoral Commission to review and report on the procedures for local referenda on the recall by constituents of a Member of Parliament found guilty of misconduct.”

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I want to make it clear that the new clause we are proposing fulfils the promises made by all three party leaders in recent days that the eventual decision about whether a Member of Parliament

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found to have behaved dishonestly should rest with constituents. The amendment is effectively a facilitating amendment; it would set in place a responsibility on the Secretary of State to call from the Electoral Commission, within six months of the passage of this Bill as an Act, a request to review and report on procedures for local referenda on the recall by constituents of a Member of Parliament found guilty of misconduct.

As with so many things on the reform agenda, we are providing an opportunity this afternoon for all those who say that they favour change to put their votes where their rhetoric is. The amendment introduces the prospect of constituents being able to recall their Member of Parliament—ultimately, then, to give him or her the sack—if, and only if, they have been judged by an independent body to have made a serious transgression of the rules. People have been asking why MPs who have announced their quiet exit from Parliament should be allowed to wait and why, if they have been found out for charging the taxpayer for duck houses or dry rot, or have learnt how to flip their second home arrangements like pancakes to make extra cash, they should not be subject to recall now. Why should constituents wait until the Prime Minister calls a general election for an opportunity to choose a new Member of Parliament?

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, will the noble Lord give way?

Lord Tyler: I have only just started, my Lords, but of course I will.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I should like the noble Lord to clear up a fundamental point. The procedure he is outlining is possible at the moment, because each Member of Parliament represents a particular constituency and is elected by first past the post. The noble Lord and his party favour some sort of proportional system. Would it not be a thousand times more difficult, if not impossible, to have this kind of recall system in the electoral system that he favours?

Lord Tyler: My Lords, your Lordships' House is famous for the ability, often taken, to divert from the subject on the Bill in hand and go off on a tangent, but I refuse to be tempted by the noble Lord. I promise him a personal seminar in the different systems of proportional representation—of which he, of course, has been a beneficiary in Scotland—after we have dealt with the Bill.

I want to make it clear that our amendment is not a charter for party Whips—I confess to having previously been the Chief Whip for my party—star chambers, scrutiny panels or kangaroo courts. I utterly reject, indeed, the selective approach of some party hierarchies to make sure that awkward colleagues are for the high jump at the election, while trusted lieutenants are quietly reinstated. This amendment is about providing due process in Parliament and then clear, transparent processes for the public to censure and dispense with their representatives when it has been proved by the relevant authorities that they have broken the rules.

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Members of your Lordships' House will recognise that we are somewhat inhibited at the moment by the lack of certainty over the proposed parliamentary standards authority. The PSA is still a gleam in the Prime Minister’s eye and, perhaps, in the Minister’s eye. However, my right honourable friend Nick Clegg has already backed the idea of independent monitoring and an investigative agency of this sort, and I understand that the Conservative leader seems equally well disposed to this. Of course, we cannot specify its precise role in this amendment because it does not yet exist, so we aim to show how responsibilities could be set if and when it comes into being. Incidentally, we do not yet know whether the PSA will have a specific role in these matters as far as this House is concerned. No doubt we will see that in due course when other legislation is brought forward.

4.45 pm

We can assume that the parliamentary commissioner for standards will be responsible to that authority and not to either or both Houses of Parliament. That, at least, is clear. It is surely a welcome development, which rightly separates the defendant from the judge and jury. Our whole political system, as well as the individual, is on trial at the moment. Only in those cases where the independent judgment has been made, by the proper authorities, that someone has done something so serious that they should be suspended from the House, would we envisage using this new right for the final—and perhaps the highest—court of public of opinion to have its say. I make it absolutely clear that if a Member is thought by his or her constituents to have done something politically wrong—such as voting the wrong way on Iraq—as opposed to breaking the rules, this system cannot be triggered. It is only triggered when the parliamentary standards authority has taken full account of the incident and the views of the Member concerned.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, does the noble Lord not think that it would be difficult to define the difference between political and other offences? For example, if a party leader accepted £2.4 million from someone who was later convicted for giving that money illegally—the money belonged to someone else and the party leader failed to return it to the rightful owner—would that be the kind of offence that could trigger a recall?

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord has been following my argument. We will have, as we are told by the noble Lord’s leader the Prime Minister, a parliamentary standards authority. It will be responsible for the investigative system that will be undertaken by the commissioner. Presumably that will be the present commissioner with a new remit. If that due process is completed properly, and is not in any way affected by party considerations, with a decision that a particular Member has so infringed the rules of the House that he or she should be suspended, it will be possible—on demand of, say, 5 or 10 per cent of voters signing a special petition—to call a by-election. That is what the Prime Minister and the Conservative

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leader have been talking about in the last few days. That is what I am talking about. With this amendment we seek to give effect to the intentions of all three party leaders. Today we should agree, in principle, that those steps should be taken to give effect to the promises that have been made on behalf of all three major parties.

Much has been made in recent days about the special link between MPs and their constituents. As a former Member, I know that there can be a very strong sense of connection for constituents in that they talk about their local MP as “their” MP. Many MPs are, in that sense, servants of their constituents, who send them to this building. If they break the rules, surely the constituents, and not their parties, party leaders, kangaroo courts or the Chief Whip, should have the right to say, “You are not our MP any more. You have broken our trust and you must go”. That is a sound principle for us to agree to. Today is Parliament’s earliest opportunity to make that statement. If we dodge this issue now, I fear that the public will think that we have deliberately forgotten it already, despite the promises of recent days from all three party leaders. Delay will be interpreted as a further broken promise. Let us show this place, at least, in a good light this afternoon by deciding to change rather than just to debate change.

Our amendment will not be the final word as it expressly confers that responsibility on the authorities—the Electoral Commission in the first place and in due course on the newly created PSA—to report the details and to set out options for Parliament to agree. For once, instead of just talking about the merits of an idea, let us vote this afternoon to make it happen. I beg to move.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, I do not know whether I misheard the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, but I think he said something to the effect that procedures for local referendums are not in place. His amendment is quite misconceived. It is putting the cart before the horse. He wants to put into the Bill before us today something to do with the powers of the Electoral Commission, which exists and has several new powers given to it by this Bill, but only on the basis that there are procedures for local referendums on the recall by constituents of an MP found guilty of misconduct. The detail of how that would be done, how the referendums would take place, or what is meant by misconduct, to which my noble friend Lord Foulkes, referred, is all left unexplained. That is hardly surprising because, as the noble Lord admits, there are no such referendums for recall at the moment. The amendment should be ruled out—not out of order, although it is practically out of order because it depends on things that do not currently exist.

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