Page last updated at 16:36 GMT, Monday, 15 June 2009 17:36 UK

In full: Leaders on Iraq inquiry

Here is the full text of Gordon Brown's statement to MPs announcing plans for an inquiry into the Iraq war, followed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg's responses:

"Mr Speaker, the whole House will want to join me in expressing our condolences to the family and friends of the two soldiers who recently lost their lives serving in Afghanistan: Lieutenant Paul Mervis, of 2nd Battalion the Rifles; and Private Robert McLaren, of 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland - the Black Watch.

Mr Speaker, our troops first went into Iraq in March 2003 - now they are coming home. So it is fitting that I should now come to the House to talk of their achievements through difficult times; to chart the new relationship we are building with Iraq; and to set out our plans for an inquiry into the conflict.

As always, Mr Speaker, we can be supremely proud of the way our forces carried out their mission - their valour in the heat of combat - recognised in the many citations for awards and decorations, and their vigilance and resolution amid the most difficult imaginable conditions and the ever-present risk of attack by an unseen enemy.

And today we continue to mourn and to remember the 179 men and women who gave their lives in the service of our country.

Mr Speaker, in my statement to the House last December, I set out the remaining tasks in Southern Iraq for our mission:

• First to entrench improvements in security by putting Iraqis in charge of their own defence and policing;

• Second to support Iraq's emerging democracy through the provincial elections

• And third to promote reconstruction, economic growth, and basic services like power and water - to give the Iraqi people what matters most for their livelihoods in years to come - a stake in their economic future.

And Mr Speaker, I can report that these objectives have been achieved; and that - thanks to our efforts and those of our allies over six difficult years - a young democracy has replaced a vicious 30-year dictatorship.

In recent months we have completed the training of the 9,000 troops in 14 division of the Iraqi Army who are now fully in charge of security in Basra. It was 14 Division who, with our help and the help of the Americans, took on the militia in the crucial 'charge of the knights' operation in spring last year.

And since then violence and crime in the Basra region have continued to fall, while levels of violence across Iraq as a whole are at their lowest since 2003.

Provincial elections were held peacefully on 31st January with 7 million Iraqis turning out to vote for 440 different political groups. The Iraqis ran the elections themselves with only three violent incidents across the entire country. And preparations are now under way for national elections on 30th January 2010.

Since 2003 the UK has spent over £500 million in Iraq - including providing humanitarian assistance, infrastructure, and promoting economic growth. Support to the health sector has included $14 million on 189 projects in Basra including the refurbishment of Basra General Hospital and the building of the Basra Children's Hospital. As a whole, the international community has rehabilitated over 5,000 schools, as well as constructing entirely new schools and new classrooms in existing schools. And despite high unemployment and the scale of the global recession, economic growth in Iraq this year is predicted to be nearly 7 per cent.

Significant challenges remain - including that of finding a fair and sustainable solution to the sharing of Iraq's oil revenues - but Iraq's future is now in its own hands, in the hands of its people and its politicians. We must pay tribute to the endurance of the Iraqi people - and pledge to them our continuing support.

But it will be support very different from the kind we have provided for the last six years.

As the House knows, our military mission ended with the last combat patrol in Basra on 30th April. As of today there are fewer than 500 British troops in Iraq, with more returning home each week.

Mr Speaker, on the day of that last combat patrol, I welcomed Prime Minister Maliki and most of his cabinet to London where we signed together a declaration of friendship, partnership and co-operation, defining a new relationship between our two countries for the future.

At the request of the Iraqi Government, a small number of British Navy personnel - no more than 100 - will remain in Iraq for long-term training of the Iraqi Navy at Umm Qasr. Royal Navy ships will continue to protect the oil platforms on which Iraq's exports depend. And we will continue to offer training to the Iraqi Army as part of a wider NATO mission. We will also offer training opportunities at Sandhurst and elsewhere in the UK for Iraqi officers of high potential.

But at the core of our new relationship will be the diplomatic, trading and cultural links we are building with the Iraqi people — supporting British and other foreign investors who want to play a role in the reconstruction of Southern Iraq.

I have discussed with Prime Minister Maliki a plan for British companies to provide expertise to the Iraqi Oil Ministry. Earlier this year Mesopotamia Petroleum Company signed a joint venture worth $400 million. Shell are working with the Southern Oil Company to bring to market some of the 700 million cubic feet of gas currently lost each day by flaring. British firms are now competing for further contracts totalling $15bn. And Rolls Royce and Parsons Brinkerhoff are currently discussing with the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity proposals for a new power generation infrastructure in Iraq, worth an initial $200 million.

British funding will support lending to 1000 businesses in Southern Iraq, and a youth employment programme — that should give training and work placements to 500 young Basrawis — could be rolled out across the whole of Iraq.

We are supporting the Iraqi Transport Ministry in the resumption of civilian flights; and DFID and the British Council are working on a major education programme; and Iraq has already identified its first 250 students - an early initiative in Britain's contribution towards Iraq's plans for 10 thousand overseas scholarships for Iraqi students.

Mr Speaker, issues in the region still confront us. Iran is an independent nation that deserves our respect, and the Iranian people a proud people who deserve democracy. That is why the regime must address the serious questions which have been asked about the conduct of the elections. The way the regime responds to legitimate protests will have implications for Iran's relationship with the rest of the world.

The House will also note the speech of Prime Minister Netanyahu where for the first time he endorsed the two state solution. His speech was an important step forward, but there remains a long road ahead of us. I will speak to him again later today to press on him the importance of freezing settlements.

So Mr Speaker, with the last British combat troops about to return home from Iraq, now is the right time to ensure we have a proper process in place to learn the lessons of the complex, and often controversial events of the last six years.

Mr Speaker, I am today announcing the establishment of an independent, privy-counsellor Committee of Inquiry. It will consider the period from summer 2001 before military operations began in March 2003, and our subsequent involvement in Iraq until the end of July this year. The inquiry is essential so that, by learning lessons, we will strengthen the health of our democracy, our diplomacy and our military.

The inquiry will, I stress, be fully independent of government.

The scope of the inquiry is unprecedented - covering an eight year period, including the run-up to the conflict and the full period of conflict and reconstruction.

The Committee of Inquiry will have access to the fullest range of information, including secret information. In other words their investigation can range across all papers all documents and all material. So the inquiry can ask for any British document to come before it and any British citizen to appear. No British document and no British witness will be beyond the scope of the inquiry.

And I have asked the members of the inquiry that the final report of the inquiry will be able to disclose all but the most sensitive information, that is, all information except that which is essential to our national security.

The inquiry will receive the full co-operation of the Government - with access to all Government papers and the ability to call any witnesses -with the objective to learn the lessons from the events surrounding the conflict. It is on this basis that I have accepted the Cabinet Secretary's advice that the Franks Inquiry is the best precedent.

Taking into account national security considerations as the Franks Inquiry did - for example, what might damage or reduce our military capability in the future - evidence will be heard in private. In this way also evidence given by serving and former ministers, military officers and officials will, I believe, be as full and candid as possible.

The Committee will publish its findings in as full a form as possible. These findings will then be debated in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It is in these debates as well as from the report itself that we can draw fully upon the lessons learnt in Iraq.

So while the format is the same as the Franks Inquiry we have gone much further in the scope of the inquiry.

No inquiry has looked at such a long period. No inquiry has the powers to look in so much breadth. For while Franks looked only at the run up to the Falklands conflict, the Iraq Inquiry will look at the run up to conflict, the conflict itself and the reconstruction so that we can learn lessons in each and every area.

The inquiry will take into account evidence submitted to previous inquiries.

And I am asking members of the committee to explain the scope, width and breadth of its work to opposition leaders and the chairs of the relevant parliamentary committees.

In order that the committee is as objective and non-partisan as possible, the membership of the committee will consist entirely of non-partisan public figures acknowledged to be expert and leaders in their fields. There will be no representatives of political parties from any side of this House.

Mr Speaker, I can announce today that the Committee of Inquiry will be chaired by Sir John Chilcot and include:

Baroness Usha Prashar

Sir Roderick Lyne

Sir Lawrence Freedman; and

Sir Martin Gilbert

All are - or will become - privy counsellors

Mr Speaker, the committee will start work as soon as possible after the end of July, and given the complexity of the issues it will address, I am advised it will take one year.

As I have made clear, the primary objective of the committee will be to identify lessons learned. The committee will not set out to apportion blame or consider issues of civil or criminal liability.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I am sure the whole House will join with me in paying tribute to the courage and dedication of every one of our armed forces - and also our civilian personnel - who have served our country with such distinction in Iraq over six years - and who continue to do so in Afghanistan and on peacekeeping missions around the world.

Mr Speaker, at its peak a force of 46 thousand served tours of duty in support of operations in Iraq. In total, 120 thousand served over the period of the entire conflict.

179 Britons died. 222 were seriously or very seriously injured.

Mr Speaker, I said in my statement in December that the memorial wall in Basra would be brought home. I can now confirm that it will form part of a new memorial wall to be built at the national arboretum in Staffordshire. And just as it is right that we should pay tribute to the memory of those who have fallen, and the wounded, so it is right that we should celebrate the safe return of their comrades, and their shared achievements.

So Mr Speaker, I can also tell the House that in the autumn of this year a service of thanksgiving and commemoration will be held in Westminster Abbey.

Mr Speaker, we salute our forces today. Through their work, the work of their American and coalition comrades, and of the Iraqi Security Forces, and supported by the courage and vision of those within Iraq led by Prime Minister Maliki - Iraq is emerging from the shadow of thirty years of brutal dictatorship and then conflict.

Today Prime Minister Maliki and his Government can work together for a peaceful and prosperous future. That they can now do so is the ultimate tribute

• To all who served in Iraq

• To their skills, commitment and sheer professionalism

• To their great and enduring courage in conflict

• And their immeasurable contribution to reconstruction and to peace.

I commend this statement to the House."

In response to the prime minister's announcement, Conservative leader David Cameron said:

"Can I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Lt Paul Mervis and Pte Robert McLaren, who have been killed in Afghanistan in the last few days.

In the course of the Iraq conflict, 179 British servicemen and women lost their lives. They came from all three services - the army, navy and air force and also included one MoD civilian.

Of course the Iraq conflict caused great division in our politics, our Parliament and our country. But things we can all unite over are the professionalism and the bravery of our Armed Forces, the service they gave to our country, and the debt we owe to all of those who lost their lives.

Can I start with some of the things we agree about with this statement.

Yes, we agree on the need for a strong relationship between democratic Iraq and Britain. We absolutely agree about the need for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, and welcome what Prime Minister Netanyahu said.

Yes we need answers about the conduct of those Iranian elections.

But I want to focus my questions on the Inquiry announced by the prime minister.

Now, we welcome an inquiry, indeed we've been calling for it for many, many months. But I have to say I'm far from convinced that the prime minister has got it right.

The whole point of having an inquiry is that it has got to be able to make clear recommendations, go wherever the evidence leads, establish the full truth, and to make sure the right lessons are learned. And it's got to do so in a way that builds public confidence.

Isn't there a danger that what the Prime Minister has announced today won't achieve those objectives?

The membership looks quite limited. The terms of reference seem restricted. And the inquiry isn't specifically tasked to make recommendations.

And none of it will be held in public.

So will the prime minister answer questions about the following four areas: the timing, the membership, the coverage and content, and the openness?

First, timing. This inquiry should have started earlier.

How can anyone argue that an inquiry starting say six months ago would somehow have undermined British troops?

Indeed, the argument that you can't have an inquiry while troops are still in Iraq has been blown away today by the prime minister saying that some troops will indeed be staying there even as the inquiry gets underway.

In terms of how long the inquiry takes, the Franks inquiry reported in just six months. And yet this inquiry is due to take, surprise surprise, until July or August 2010.

By delaying the start of the inquiry, and prolonging the publication until after the next election, won't everyone conclude that this Inquiry has been fixed to make sure that the government avoids having to face up to any inconvenient conclusions?

At the very least, will the Prime Minister look at the possibility of an interim report early next year?

Second, the people conducting the inquiry.

What is required for an inquiry like this is a mixture of diplomatic, military and political experience.

Now, we welcome the diplomatic experience. There has to be a question mark over the military expertise - no former chiefs of staff or people with that sort of expertise.

But also isn't it necessary - as the Franks inquiry did - to include senior politicians from all sides of the political divide, to look at the political judgements?

The inquiry needs to be, and needs to be seen to be, truly independent - and not an establishment stitch-up.

So will he look at widening the membership in the way that we have suggested?

Third, the coverage and content of the inquiry.

Yes, it is welcome that it will cover the whole period in the run-up to the war, as well as the conduct of the war.

But isn't it wrong to try to confine the inquiry to an arbitrary period of time? Shouldn't it be free to pursue any points which it judges to be relevant?

Looking specifically at the issue of terms of reference: isn't it extraordinary that the Prime Minister said it should try to avoid apportioning blame. Shouldn't the inquiry have the ability to apportion blame?

If mistakes were made, we need to know who made them and why they were made.

Specifically on the inquiry, the prime minister was very clear that it would have access to all British documents and all British witnesses.

Does this mean that the Inquiry may not have access to documents from the USA or the Coalition Provisional Authority or the Iraqi Government, even if they are kept in the British archive - that is I think an important specific question and one we need an answer to.

Will the inquiry be free to invite foreign witnesses, to give evidence written and oral?

On the issue of the scope of the inquiry, will he confirm that it will cover: relations with the US; use of intelligence information; the function of the machinery of government; post-conflict planning; and how DFID, the FCO and the armed forces work together.

Turning to the issue of openness and transparency.

Given that this inquiry is of great concern not just to us politicians, but also to the public and to the families of the servicemen and women who gave their lives, shouldn't there be some proper public sessions?

Isn't that what many will want and many will expect, and part of the building of public confidence that is absolutely necessary?

Finally, aren't the limitations of this inquiry reflected in the way the House of Commons is being treated by the Government over this issue?

Before the Franks inquiry - and we're told this is a Franks-style inquiry - there was a proper debate on the terms of reference of the Inquiry on a substantive motion in the House of Commons.

This time there's just a statement and no debate. Yet last Wednesday the prime minister promised us a new era of Parliamentary accountability and democratic renewal.

What happened to that? It hasn't even lasted a week.

Mr Speaker, a proper inquiry must include a range of members, including senior politicians.

It needs to have the freedom to range widely and to speak frankly.

And its terms of reference must be debated properly in a democracy like ours. So when he stands up, will the prime minister put those failings right?"

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg gave his reply to the prime minister's statement:

"I would like to thank the prime minister for his statement, and join him in paying tribute to our brave servicemen and women who have served our country in Iraq over the last six years.

And in particular to the 179 who have lost their lives. They and their families are in our thoughts today.

I passionately believe we were wrong to invade Iraq but I am second to none in my admiration for the bravery and dedication of our service men and women.

Everyone knows that the invasion of Iraq was the biggest foreign policy mistake this country has made in generations; the single most controversial decision taken by government since Suez.

So Mr Speaker, I am staggered that the prime minister is today seeking to compound that error, fatal for so many of Britain's sons and daughters, by covering up the path that led to it.

Liberal Democrats have called for an inquiry into the build-up and conduct of the Iraq war for many years, and we can be grateful that finally, the prime minister has acceded to that demand.

But, as so often, he has taken a step in the right direction but missed the fundamental point. A secret inquiry will not deliver what Britain needs.

Does the prime minister not understand that the purpose of an inquiry is not just to produce a set of dry conclusions, but to allow the people of Britain to come to terms with a mistake made in our name?

To allow veterans, and the families and friends of those who gave their lives in this disastrous war, to come to understand how it happened?

I have met the families of these soldiers.

And just an hour ago I was asked to speak in their name and tell you that nothing short of a fully public inquiry - held in the open - will satisfy them.

Will the prime minister not listen to what they need?

He says it the inquiry has to be in private to protect national security.

But it looks suspiciously like he wants to protect his reputation and that of his predecessor, not Britain. Why else would he want it to report after the general election?

It is perfectly possible to have particular sensitive sessions in camera while retaining the fundamental principle that this inquiry should be open to all.

I am grateful that he has listened to my representations and extended the inquiry to cover the origins of the war.

And to give it full access to the documents and files it will need.

But I am disappointed he made such a feeble attempt to secure consensus on the panel that will conduct the inquiry.

The experience of successfully established inquiries like the one being held in the Netherlands shows that consensus can be secured if the government conducts painstaking consultation.

Why did the Prime Minister not even attempt that sort of constructive discussion?

The government must not be allowed to close the book on this war as it opened it: in secrecy.

Last week he stood there and spoke eloquently about the need for more public accountability and transparency.

This was his first test.

He has failed. He chose secrecy instead.

For six years, we have watched our brave service men and women putting their lives on the line for a war we did not support and cannot understand.

To rebuild public trust, the inquiry must be held in public.

Will the prime minister, even now, reconsider?

Will he make this inquiry a healing process or will he continue to deny the British people's legitimate demands?"



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