Tuesday, September 26, 2023

MP Regrets Iraq

Thurrock MP Andrew Mackinlay spoke passionately on the floor of the House of Commons about his views on the war in Iraq and his avowed belief that any inquiry should be have the witnesses swearing on oath.

His speech is as follows:

“I am one of those who voted for the conflict. I have told the House before that I shall deeply regret that until the day that I die. I believe that I was hoodwinked. I also think that my judgments were unsound.

I remember that we all went through a crisis at the time, as we examined whether it was a just war. We looked into what Thomas Aquinas said and we tried to understand the international law, but the background was that a British Prime Minister came to the House and told us that there was an immediate and serious threat. That certainly influenced me, and perhaps I will be able to amplify on that on another occasion.

The House and the nation were misled, and I am angry at having been fooled and at the way that I was bounced into voting for the war. I am bewildered by how anyone could consider not voting for the Opposition motion before the House this evening, because it sums up what must be done. It says that there should be an independent inquiry, and that there should be a resolution of the House of Commons to confirm its terms of appointment and its membership. The Prime Minister keeps going on about rejuvenating Parliament and constitutional reform. That is one reason why he should embrace the motion, but I shall refer to another in a moment.

The Government amendment makes me very angry. At last Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time, I cautioned the Prime Minister that I wanted to know whether people would give evidence under oath. Until the past few hours, there was no great response or interest from Members of Parliament or the press. Even some very good Members of Parliament from all parties still did not seem to understand that no one will be able to give evidence under oath because it is not a statutory inquiry. The amendment says that the Government will but I know, and the Prime Minister knows, that that is complete nonsense. The only way to get evidence given under oath is by the House passing a swift Act of Parliament to facilitate an extraordinary, one-off inquiry. I think that I am only person in the House to have given evidence to the Hutton inquiry. None of that evidence was given under oath, and I shall say more about that in a moment.

Both Prime Minister Blair and the current Prime Minister try to claim that there have been numerous inquiries on this matter, such as the ones by the Foreign Affairs Committee, Butler and Hutton. Not one of those so-called “inquiries” was held under oath, and as a member of the FAC, I can say that extracting the truth was like extracting teeth from a whale. Every obstruction was put in our way. There were redactions in the report, as was mentioned earlier. The Butler inquiry was held behind closed doors, and we do not really know what evidence it received. We can look at the report, but no evidence was given under oath.

I have said already that the Hutton inquiry was informal and non-statutory, albeit headed by a distinguished judge. No evidence was given under oath to that inquiry either, and our witness statements are covered by the 30-year rule. My humble little witness statement will not be seen for 30 years; neither will the witness statements of the Defence Secretary at the time, Mr. Hoon, or of the then Prime Minister, or of people in the security and intelligence services see the light of day—unless, of course, this new inquiry is independent and appointed under the tribunals of inquiry legislation.

Of course, the establishment dare not do that, because all the documents seen by Hutton, Butler and the Foreign Affairs Committee would then be out in the open as documents before an independent inquiry. We know that there has been extensive dissembling—untruths told by a number of parties and agencies since the Iraq war and before it. We need to expose that and find out the motive for the dissembling, the misleading and the downright lies in some cases.

Over the past few days, the Whips have come to me, saying that they do not want a Saville-type inquiry, as that one went on a long time and cost a lot of money. Actually, I do not want a Saville-type inquiry and I am not advocating such an inquiry, as it is not necessary. The Saville inquiry related to one traumatic and heart-rending incident, but in terms of the volume and level of deceit, the Iraq war is much bigger than the awful events in Londonderry a quarter of a century ago—I am not minimising what happened there, of course. Saville’s was a judicial inquiry, at which people had to give evidence under oath, and the same was true of the Lawrence inquiry. If I may go back in history, Winston Churchill gave evidence under oath at the Gallipoli inquiry. Although that was a long time ago, it is the sort of inquiry that is required to deal with the Iraq war today.

Why am I so upset by the Government trying to spin the yarn that, somehow, evidence can be given under what I think they say is the equivalent of an oath? That cannot be done and the Government know it. If I am wrong, let the Minister tell me where I am wrong when he replies to the debate. The fact is that the oath not only makes people tell the truth, but protects those who are being leaned on by superiors and other agencies. History would have been different if evidence had been given under oath to the Foreign Affairs Committee and, I believe, to the Hutton inquiry.

I regret to say this, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the problem is the Prime Minister. The fact is that he does not understand that he does not understand. He came along last week to announce the inquiry and he handed it down like tablets of stone. What he basically said is, “We are the Government, so we decide.” That simply will not do. Things have moved on since last week. We were told that it was going to be a Franks-style inquiry—quite wrongly, I think, for reasons I have explained—but it has now mutated into something completely different. The Prime Minister and, downwards from him, his advisers, were panicking, so he wrote to Chilcot and asked him to see what he could do about having some sessions in public, using what is said in their phrase to be some “equivalent to the oath”. There is no equivalent to the oath; there would be more value in the wolf cub’s promise than what they are proposing. That is the fact of the matter. There is no such equivalent to the oath and the Prime Minister knows it. [Interruption.] If the Minister thinks I am wrong, I repeat my call for him to explain when he replies from the Dispatch Box what this equivalent is that will have the force of law and criminal sanctions if it were ever to be abrogated.

As I have said, the Prime Minister does not understand that does not understand. The real test of all the stuff he has been saying about rejuvenating Parliament—he almost puts the blame on the rest of us for bringing Parliament into disrepute—is whether he is prepared to acknowledge that this Parliament has the right to decide the nature of the inquiry into why and how it was misled on the Iraq war. I am buttressed in my arguments by many of the people the Prime Minister relied on to say what a good idea a Franks-type inquiry would be. One after the other over the past seven days, those civil servants and members of the judiciary, for example, have said that that idea is nonsense. A few nights ago, I cheered when General Mike Jackson said on “Newsnight” that evidence to the inquiry must be given under oath. It showed that the Government cannot hide the fact that some military people who have seen the conflict and seen the evidence knew what was going on. They say this must be an independent inquiry and that evidence must be given under oath. Why does the Minister not understand that? Why does his boss the Prime Minister not understand that?

It is time the Minister went behind the Chair and phoned the Prime Minister to tell him to accept the motion. If the Prime Minister does not do so, he may win the vote—I am not certain—but he will certainly lose the debate. The arguments for an independent inquiry will go on and on and on until one is conceded.

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