The Shadow Foreign Secretary led an Opposition debate calling for an inquiry into the Iraq war. The Government successfully defeated Mr Hague’s motion but twelve Labour MPs voted with the Conservatives. Highlights of Mr Hague’s contribution and David Lidington MP’s closing remarks are pasted below.
There are signs of things improving in Iraq: "For those of us who supported the invasion of March 2003, recent signs of hope in Iraq are welcome indeed. The security situation has improved, the Iraqi economy is growing, stumbling but genuine steps towards political reconciliation have taken place and optimism among the people of the country has risen. But we all have to recognise that the path to this renewal of hope has lain through a painful trauma, including the deaths of 175 members of our armed forces. While the 23 days of the initial military campaign to overthrow Saddam were astonishingly successful, the constant theme of those who have written about their involvement in subsequent events is that things went seriously wrong in the preparation for, and execution of, the occupation of the country."
An inquiry into the Iraq war will be less useful the more it is delayed: "As it enters its sixth year, the conflict in Iraq will soon have lasted as long as the second world war. The formative decisions—about the occupation of Iraq, the disbandment of the army, de-Ba’athification and the overall manner in which the military occupation was conducted—were made either in the immediate aftermath of the invasion five years ago, or in some cases well before it. Decisions and analyses relating to the origins of the war and its planning were therefore made up to six or seven years ago. Any inquiry would presumably take many months to hear and assemble evidence; so even if the Foreign Secretary were to announce an inquiry at the Dispatch Box today, it would entail key participants of those early decisions trying to give a crystal clear recollection, by the time they gave evidence, of events of perhaps seven or eight years earlier. An inquiry announced next year or the year after would require those recollections to stretch back anything up to a decade, with accompanying documents, e-mails and files intact. With the best will in the world, that is going to be difficult for those involved. A continuing delay of months or years—for all we know, the Prime Minister may well mean years—is not merely the postponement of an inquiry, but the diminishing of its value. Its task at a later date would be more difficult, and the accurate and detailed picture of important moments and key meetings would necessarily be more difficult to assemble."
America has conducted searching inquiries without undermining the morale of troops: "There have been far more searching investigations and discussions in the US Congress—and, indeed, in the Iraq study group, as far as we can see—about the nature of the United States’ involvement in Iraq than anything that we have seen in this country. Indeed, there are far more regular reports to Congress—General Petraeus is about to testify to Congress again—than anything that we see here. This is a separate point that the Government should attend to. There should be regular quarterly reports about progress in any theatre of war."
Our soldiers are hardy enough not to be undermined by an Iraq inquiry: "I often speak to soldiers and senior officers who have returned from Iraq, and the notion that their morale would be in any way undermined by our commencing an inquiry into the origins and conduct of the Iraq war is one that most of them would consider truly laughable. The morale of those wonderful people is made of far sturdier stuff than that. It depends on their training, their colleagues, their leadership and their equipment. Far from their being undermined by an inquiry, there are few who would not welcome it, for they above all others want to know that all of us politicians have learned from mistakes for which some of their colleagues paid with their lives."
The Government has launched reviews into fifty other areas of policy: "Since the current Prime Minister took office, the Government have announced at least 50 separate reviews of different areas of policy, all presumably designed better to inform future policy making. They cover a vast range of subjects, from casinos to 24-hour drinking to the promotion of tourism and to sunbeds… Many of these reviews are in the military area, such as the review of support for the armed forces, the armed personnel review and the review of the role of the military. It defies credibility that there should be time and resources to review a vast range of subjects, including many in the field of defence, but that any review or inquiry into probably the most important events of the decade is too much of a distraction from the matters in hand."
Closing the debate David Lidington MP offered the following:
"I want to believe that the Government of my country, whichever party happens to be in government at any one time, measure the advice given to them by their professionals in the diplomatic service, the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces. I want to be confident that the Prime Minister and the full Cabinet have access to all the information, including the dissenting opinions, available in Whitehall and from outside advisers. I also want to be confident that the Government will be straight with Parliament and the public about the decisions that they recommend on the nation’s behalf. The debate has shown that the Government are bereft of any plausible reason to resist an inquiry. It is in our national and democratic interest to press ahead with one, and I hope that hon. Members of all parties will feel able to support the motion this evening."