April 23, 2014 Wednesday
BYLINE: LORD MORRIS
SECTION: EDITORIAL; OPINION COLUMNS; Pg. 10
LENGTH: 870 words
It is now four years and nearly five months since the inquiry into the Iraq War was launched.
Yet two years after Sir John Chilcot was due to deliver the results of his £7.5 million probe, nothing has been heard.
Last week Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg hinted that former Prime Minister Tony Blair had been delaying its publication.
Today Lord Morris, ex Labour MP and Attorney General in Mr Blair's Government from 1997 to 1999, calls for its immediate publication...
The delay in the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War is a national scandal. Following the precedent of the Franks Inquiry into the Falklands War, a committee of Privy Councillors was set up to hopefully clear the air, remove doubt and try to pin down what happened to make us launch into the Iraq War together with our American allies.
The inquiry was announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in June 2009. The Falklands Inquiry took just six months. It was envisaged that because of the scope of the Iraq War inquiry, more time would be required, say about a year.
David Cameron, then Leader of the Opposition, complained that a year was too long and people would conclude that the inquiry had been fixed to tide the Government over until after the election.
It was the 2010 election that Mr Cameron was thinking of when he complained. Now the real danger is that the publication will run into the 2015 election.
Who is responsible for the delay? Not Chilcot and his colleagues, who must be anxious to publish.
Two past Prime Ministers - Gordon Brown and Tony Blair? A cabinet office fighting to maintain a precedent that cabinet minutes and discussions between the two previous Prime Ministers should be permanently kept private? Parliament deserves a clear statement from Mr Cameron as to the reasons for the delays.
It was reported six months ago that the Cabinet Office was resisting requests to make public the record of the exchanges between Tony Blair and George W Bush. I was a former Attorney General at the time of the Iraq War and despite repeated requests I did not comment on the legal basis for us going to war. Such decisions, like the ones I had to take over the earlier war in Kosovo, are difficult enough.
My only comments were in my recent memoirs, Fifty Years In Politics And The Law. I said the equivocation of the French was not an argument for failing to try again to get an agreement in the United Nations Security Council to authorise action in Iraq.
But I added: "Or was the die already cast? The Chilcot inquiry may tell us".
We are still in the dark. One of the excuses for the delay is to allow an opportunity to those who might be criticised in the report to comment to the inquiry - this is called the Maxwellisation process after a case involving t he late press tycoon Robert Maxwell.
But the opportunity to comment and counter-comment could go on for ever and we would never be told the truth. A firm decision to publish well in advance of the next General Election should be taken by the PM.
The Information Commissioner was disappointed that a ministerial veto was used to override his decision that the proceedings of two Cabinet meetings should be disclosed in the public interest.
When the Freedom of Information Act was introduced it was stated that an overriding Government veto against disclosure of Cabinet meetings "should only be used in exceptional circumstances and only following a collective decision in cabinet".
A veto has been used twice. The cabinet, it seems, was consulted.
What urgently needs clarification now is where the main hold-up is.
Prevarication by either of the two ex- PMs? Masterly inactivity by the present Prime Minister and his Cabinet? Opposition by the Cabinet Office, who must have advised Gordon Brown in his statement to Parliament? Or the stringing out of the process of Maxwellisation? Prime Minister Brown, in announcing the inquiry, said: "No British document will be beyond the scope of the inquiry" and that the final report "will be able to disclose all but most sensitive information, that is all information, except that which is essential to our national security". As an ex-Attorney General I would agree 100% with that.
The Information Commissioner ruled that material that could provide a better understanding of how the decision to go to war was made is subject to an exceptionally strong public interest in disclosure.
In the light of that carefully considered and balanced ruling on the need to publish, a blanket refusal to disclose Cabinet discussions in these special circumstances seems miles wider than Mr Brown's promise to Parliament.
The Government reply to the debate I initiated in the Lords in February was one of the lamest I have ever heard in over 50 years in Parliament.
Has Mr Brown's promise to Parliament to clear the air been breached either in the form or spirit? Parliament was deceived at the time of Suez.
It would be particularly unsatisfactory if any allegations of that nature were not disposed of by the publication of the Chilcot Report which Mr Brown promised "would receive the full cooperation of the Government."