Rolling coverage of all the day’s political developments as they happen, including Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs
Opening of the Iraq/Blair debate - Summary
- Alex Salmond, the former Scottish first minister, has accused Tony Blair of deliberately misleading MPs in the run-up to the war in Iraq.He made the claim as he opened a debate on an SNP motion (see9.12am) saying that the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee should hold a new inquiry looking at the claim that Blair mislead MPs and recommending measures to prevent a prime ministers doing this again in the future. He told MPs:
This is an opportunity in this motion to introduce another check and balance into a system which is clearly deficient, a process to create a precedent where any future prime minister will know that he or she will have to account for his actions not just to history, but to this House of Commons.
A long time ago I made a speech in this House where I suggested to Mr Blair that he might answer to a higher power than this House. I understand that he found this offensive.
But in the meantime, in her here and now, here on earth would it not be important for us to find a parliamentary process by which a prime minister who grievously misled this House and people into an illegal war can finally be held to parliamentary account?
- Salmond has published a report purporting to prove that that Blair did deliberately mislead MPs. (See 1.11pm.)
- Forty five MPs from seven parties have backed the SNP motion.Most of the MPs who have signed it are SNP members but it is also backed by Conservatives Sir David Amess and Sir Roger Gale, Labour’s Kate Hoey and Kelvin Hopkins, the Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland, Plaid Cymru’s Hywel Williams, the Green MP Caroline Lucas and the SDLP’s Mark Durkan.
- Chris Skidmore, the Cabinet Office minister, has told MPs that the government takes the view that Blair did not lie to MPs. Skidmore quoted what David Cameron told MPs in July when the Chilcot report was published. Cameron said:
On the issue of misleading parliament, there is nothing in the Chilcot report that I can see points to deliberate deceit but there were clearly occasions when more information or better information could have been presented.
Skidmore also quoted approvingly what Chilcot himself said in evidence to the liaison committee earlier this month. Chilcot said:
I absolve him from a personal and demonstrable decision to deceive Parliament or the public—to state falsehoods, knowing them to be false. That I think he should be absolved from.
- Fabian Hamilton, the shadow foreign minister, has said that he will urge Labour MPs to vote against the motion. Hamilton said that, although he voted against the Iraq war, he did not doubt that Blair acted in good faith. He also said the public administration and constitutional affairs committee should focus on what lessons can be learnt from Chilcot.
- Bernard Jenkin, chair of public administration and constitutional affairs committee, has told MPs that if the SNP motion is passed, his committee will carry out the inquiry it proposes.
- Sir Roger Gale, one of the two Tories who signed the SNP motion, told MPs in a speech that he thought the Commons was misled by Blair.
- The Labour MP Paul Flynn was branded “a disgrace” by fellow Labour MP Ian Austin after Flynn used his speech to claim MPs were “bribed” to vote for the Iraq war by Blair. Flynn was referring to the offer of promotion, not to financial bribes.
Hamilton says the SNP are fighting “an old war” with this motion and raising allegations that have already been dismissed, he says.
Hamilton says it would be a mistake to assume all the lessons of Chilcot have been learnt.
And he says this may become relevant if Theresa May ever has to come to the Commons to make the case for war.
He says the public administration committee needs to look at the Chilcot report and establish what lessons it holds for the future.
We may face even bigger challenges in the future, he says.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, asks about the Observer story saying the Chilcot inquiry was set up to avoid blame.
Hamilton says he is not aware of the story. And he does not believe the Chilcot report was set up to mislead the public.
He says he will be urging MPs to vote against the SNP motion. And he will do so so that the public administration and constitutional affairs committee can focus on the substance of its inquiry, looking at the lessons to be learnt from the Chilcot inquiry.
Hamilton says the foreign affairs committee decided that the fears about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction were well founded on the basis of the intelligence then available.
He says the committee rejected claims that the intelligence had been manipulated for political purposes.
He says 13 years and four inquiries later, the conclusions are much the same.
He says he opposed the war. But he never thought Blair was acting in good faith.
The Labour MP Clive Efford intervenes. He says he also voted against the war. But, like Hamilton, he thought Blair was acting in good faith, he says.
Fabian Hamilton's speech
Fabian Hamilton, the shadow foreign minister, is responding now for Labour.
He says he voted against the Iraq war. But he says people who voted for it voted for it it good faith.
He says the claims made by Salmond are exactly the ones examined by Sir John Chilcot.
Chilcot deserves our thanks and praise, he says.
He says it was the fifth and, hopefully, final inquiry into the Iraq war. The first was published by the foreign affairs committee. He was a member, he says.
Skidmore says David Cameron, the then prime minister, was right to say after the Chilcot inquiry was published that it would be wrong to draw the wrong conclusions. It would be a mistake to rule out all future interventions, he says.
He says the government does not see the need for any further inquiries into Iraq.
Ken Clarke, the Conservative former chancellor, says the Cameron government did improve the decision-making process. But he says they did not go far enough. The decision to intervene in Libya was not agreed by cabinet, he says. And he says cabinet ministers should have access to national security advice before decisions of this kind are taken in cabinet.
Skidmore says the decision to intervene to protect Benghazi in Libya was taken in an emergency.
Skidmore says since the Iraq war the government has improved the way it takes decisions of this kind.
Skidmore, like Salmond earlier, has been quoting from Sir John Chilcot’s evidence to the liaison committee earlier this month.
You can read the transcript of Chilcot’s evidence here (pdf).
Chris Skidmore's speech
Chris Skidmore, the Cabinet Office minister, is responding to Salmond on behalf of the government.
He says the Chilcot inquiry had total access to government material.
He says the report is a salutary lesson into what happens when not enough accountability is exercised.
But he says nothing in the Chilcot report suggests Blair deliberately deceived people.
He says the report says the process for assessing the legality of the war was unsatisfactory. But that is not the same as saying it was illegal, he says.
Salmond says soon there will be no MPs left who remember the Iraqdebate.
This motion gives the Commons the chance to set up a mechanism to make sure the same thing does not happen again.
A prime minister who grievously misled the Commons into an illegal war should be held to account, he says.
Salmond says the Chilcot report shows that we have a system of non-accountability.
He says the recent story in the Observer shows that it was set up to avoid casting blame.
Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative chair of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, says his committee is already planning to make recommendations in relation to what the Chilcot report recommended.
He says that, if the Commons votes for the SNP motion, his committee will conduct the new inquiry that the motion proposes. (See 9.12am.)
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