The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr David Jones): Hosting the NATO summit in Newport later this year allows us to showcase Wales on a global stage, and I—and the First Minister, I am sure—will do everything possible to ensure that Wales capitalises on the tourism opportunities it should bring.
Paul Flynn: The delegates will be guests in what is probably the best hotel in Britain, the Celtic Manor. Will they have the chance to visit the other major attractions of Newport—the Roman remains at Caerleon, the magnificent transporter bridge and the splendid Tredegar house—so that they can have a rich and unforgettable experience in Newport?
Mr Jones: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that Newport—and, indeed, the whole of south-east Wales—has a huge amount to offer. As I have said, I believe that the NATO summit will do a massive amount to showcase that part of Wales to the whole world.
It was a real pleasure to meet Emin Milli in parliament this week. I have campaigned against his arrest in July 2009 by the security forces of the Azerbaijan Government. Their alleged crime was mocking the oppressive government.
Emin shook me warmly be the hand and thanksed me . He told me he read this account of my EDM when he was in prison:
"A group of UK politicians is demanding the immediate release of the Azerbaijani bloggers arrested in Baku last week. In the equivalent of an MPs’ petition, 17 politicians condemn what they say is a "rapidly deteriorating human rights situation" in Azerbaijan. The MPs want the British government to put pressure on President Aliev to release the two and end the "prosecution of independent media and opposition activists."
In the motion, Labour MP Paul Flynn says the MPs condemn “the attacks and imprisonment of youth activists in Azerbaijan on 10 July 2009.”
He and the 17 other MPs are calling on the UK government to demand their immediate release.
They also call for the end to what they say is the “prosecution of independent media and opposition activists.”
The two, Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli, are described as youth movement leaders, civil society activists and citizen journalists.
According to reports on several blogs, Facebook and postings on Twitter, the charges against the two could result in their imprisonment for up to two and a half years.
The Education for All campaign calls for every child to be provided with a free, quality basic education. The Global Campaign for Education is a civil society movement working to end the global education crisis. The brilliant pupils at Malpas Court Primary School got on board by creating colourful banners which were hung around Westminster. For more information on the campaign click here
"Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory." Article 26, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.
I've tabled 3 Early Day Motions. One noting Ed Davey's change in opinion toward nuclear power following his elevation to ministerial office. Another raising caution over Chinese nuclear investment, and another calling for the full publication of the Chilcot Inquiry report.
EDM 154: CONDUCT OF THE HON. MEMBER FOR KINGSTON AND SURBITON
That this House notes that in 2006 the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change launched the Liberal Democrat energy policy, Say No to Nuclear, in which he said 'a new generation of nuclear power stations will cost taxpayers and consumers tens of billions of pounds. In addition to posing safety and environmental risks, nuclear power will only be possible with vast taxpayer subsidies or a rigged market'; further notes the change in opinion of the hon. Member following his elevation to ministerial office; is shocked by the financially ruinous commitment he has made to buy electricity from a French nationalised company at twice the current business rate and guaranteed that price for the next 35 years; and believes that taxpayers and consumers will be cheated on the lines that he prophesied.
EDM 155: CHINESE NUCLEAR INVESTMENT
That this House notes that in the closing debate on energy prices the Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change observed the hon. Member for Newport West made an ideological speech about nuclear power which he contrasted with the 'pragmatic and considered investment in our nuclear programme announced today by China'; contrasts the Minister's comments with China being identified in the Annual Report on Global Human Rights and Democracy published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as one of the 'countries of concern' because of 'increased restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly'; believes, in light of appalling human rights violations, that accepting money from the Chinese State Investment Bank to invest in UK new nuclear is accepting money tainted with blood; and calls on the Government to cancel all such arrangements.
EDM 156: CHILCOT INQUIRY
That this House calls for publication in full of the Chilcot Inquiry report to give closure to the loved ones of the 179 UK fallen soldiers, to inform serving soldiers that Parliament's decisions on warfare are founded on rigorous examinations of evidence and to reveal to hon. Members the full truth on the evidence for Parliament's decision to join America's war on Iraq in 2003; and believes that an expurgated version of the report would create an impression of an establishment cover-up by politicians and civil servants to protect their reputations.
One MP's week in Westminster
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The chief inspector stated in his report on Oakwood prison that it was easier to obtain an illegal drug in prison than to obtain a bar of soap. He also stated that one of the main reasons for that is prisoners refusing to be tested for drug use. There is not a single prison in this country that is free from illegal drug use. When can we expect at least one to be cleaned up?
Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the proportion of positive drug tests in our prisons has fallen sharply in recent years; that is to be encouraged. I am confident that Oakwood’s upcoming inspection report will show a significant improvement. The hon. Gentleman is, of course, a Welsh MP; one of the Welsh prisons—Parc, a large new prison that had some teething problems—has turned into one of the best performing prisons in the estate. I am confident that the same thing will happen to Oakwood.
Iraq and Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Did not the vote of 29 August last year prove that the trust of many Members of this House in military action has been deeply undermined by the terrible decision that we took in 2003 to send 179 brave British soldiers to their deaths in Iraq on the basis of untruths and the hubris and vanity of a Prime Minister? Will not that trust be further undermined if the Chilcot report is expurgated—if it omits the full text of the letters from Tony Blair and George Bush—and will it not be seen as an establishment cover-up by politicians and civil servants to guard their reputations?
Mr Hague: I am sure there will be an occasion to debate that report when it is available. The hon. Gentleman and all of us will be able to give our views then. I think it is true that the vote in the House last August was influenced by a loss of trust in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, whatever side we took and whatever we think about that. It was influenced by that, yes, so we have to conduct ourselves in a way that rebuilds trust in Government decisions on these matters. That is what we are constantly seeking to do.
Oral Answers to Questions
Mr Speaker: Order. There is quite a lot of noise. Let us have a bit of courteous attention to a Member of 27 years standing, Mr Paul Flynn.
T3.  Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The Newport NATO summit is likely to be an event of great political significance. What work is the Secretary of State doing in her Department to ensure that the important issues of international development are prominent on the agenda?
Justine Greening: The hon. Gentleman has raised a pertinent question. Over recent years, we have really understood just how stability in countries is critical for development to take place. If we look at the millennium development goals, we can see that none has been achieved by countries in conflict. It is why we increasingly work with not only the Foreign Office but the Ministry of Defence in helping to have programmes that can give us the best prospect of stability.
Home Affairs Select Committee
Q159 Paul Flynn: You say you understand the anger of families who have been left distraught in recent weeks by worry, by the possibility that their holidays were going to be cancelled, the extra expense of travelling to Liverpool or wherever it might be. Do you appreciate how much satisfaction they might get if you now resigned?
Paul Pugh: I am not sure my resignation—
Paul Flynn: It is worth a try anyway.
Paul Pugh: I am not sure how it would help people in any way. It certainly would not—
Q160 Paul Flynn: It would allow them to vent their anger. Particularly if I asked my correspondents whether they would like you to stay in office, I am quite certain they would say with unanimity, “He should go.” Who is responsible for this? We know the Prime Minister is not, we know the Home Secretary is not, so who is it, Mr Pugh?
Paul Pugh: I am responsible for the operation.
Q161 Paul Flynn: Would you describe your style of running the service as management by panic? The Home Secretary introduced several new measures, obviously brand-new measures, into there to deal with this crisis. Isn’t that worthy of a resignation when you behave in that way?
Paul Pugh: As I have explained, what we have done over a number of months, in response to a wholly exceptional set of circumstances, is implemented with care, with proper planning and with absolutely no compromise on the quality and security of decision making—
Q162 Paul Flynn: So it is the public’s fault for being so inconsiderate as to demand passports at time when it was awkward for the Passport Service? Can I tell you this—
Paul Pugh: I did not say that at all, Mr Flynn. Sorry, I think that is—
Paul Flynn: We are just interpreting as best we can, rather than have another discursive explanation. I have represented hundreds of passport workers since 1972 as a local councillor and as an MP, and a major passport centre has been in my constituency all that time. There has never been a crisis like this, has there?
Paul Pugh: There has never been a challenging situation of this kind, not in recent years certainly.
Q163 Paul Flynn: It has caused a great deal of heartache, you would agree with that, you had the grace to apologise—
Paul Pugh: Absolutely, I apologised earlier and I would just like to say that I absolutely recognise and empathise with the distress and frustration in any case where we haven’t been able to meet the requirements of our customers.
Q164 Paul Flynn: You will be fully compensating financially all those who suffered losses because of failures by the Passport Service?
Paul Pugh: We have a very clear approach to compensation in relation to where someone has suffered a financial detriment as a result of our error.
Q165 Paul Flynn: How much will that and the overtime and all the other additions you had cost?
Paul Pugh: It is not possible to put a figure on something that is part-theoretical.
Q166 Paul Flynn: Would you agree that the present situation was exacerbated or possibly created by cuts made in the past that left the service in a position where they could not respond to unusual demand?
Paul Pugh: No, I don’t think that is a right representation of the position. The size of the organisation has increased by roughly 300 people in the last two years.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. Did she notice a Monty Python-esque moment in the Home Affairs Committee yesterday? It was very similar to the salesman’s explanation that the parrot was not dead, but was very deeply asleep. When the chief executive was asked about the logjam, he said there was no logjam. When he was shown published photographs of rooms of chairs and tables filled with passport applications, he said, “That’s not a logjam; that’s work in progress.” It was pure Monty Python.
Yvette Cooper: We have heard that point made by Ministers, the Home Office press office and officials—“Backlog? No backlog.” Yet that is not the experience of families across the country.
Paul Flynn: Sadly, the Newport office is closed. It is no longer a fully fledged office. It does not have the ability to deal with postal applications. In this crisis, hundreds of people have been forced to go to Liverpool to get their passports. We have half a passport office in Newport, which is a disgrace, as Wales deserves at least one fully fledged passport office.
Mrs May: Obviously, I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s very particular constituency interest in this issue, but he does make the statement, as others do, that the Newport passport office has closed. The Newport office continues to operate as a customer support centre with 150 full-time equivalent posts.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The Newport passport office was closed in 2011, despite fierce opposition from all the political parties in our area and from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden). It was a tragedy from which the city has never recovered. It took the passport office out of the heart of the city. We now have half a passport office service there. The decision was taken for managerial reasons, and authorised by a civil servant. I am sure that her career will have prospered. However, the lives of 150 people in Newport were devastated by the change.
It is nonsense to say that the closures did not lead to this crisis; of course they played an important part. There would be 150 trained, skilled people working there to keep the backlog down if it had not been closed. When the Government start to restore the emaciated passport service that is left, they have an obligation to put the jobs back into the places from which they were so cruelly torn away in 2011.
I believe that this foul-up will become one of the signature foul-ups of this Government. They will be rejected by the public not because of Europe or any other great issue, but because they are guilty of creating an ineptocracy. Virtually nothing that they have done has worked. What has happened with Atos, Capita, G4S and the rest of those great enterprises that have been set up—with the mountain of complaints, hurt and anger from the public—will be the reason why the Government are rejected.
The Government’s reaction to the crisis has followed the usual pattern. First, they say that there is no crisis and ignore it, thinking that it will go away. They deny that the crisis is taking place. When it becomes a national scandal, as this one has in the past fortnight, their response is panic. There is management by panic. The Home Secretary came to the House and introduced half a dozen new measures. That is no way to run the place, when the whole crisis was predictable and, indeed, predicted. There is then a refusal to take responsibility and to accept blame. I asked the Home Secretary last week whether she had the humility and common sense to apologise. She did not.
Paul Pugh did apologise yesterday, but he then put forward the preposterous argument that, having been responsible for the foul-up, which he admits, he is the only person who is qualified to put it right. That is like saying that the greatest criminal is the best person to run the police service. It is an extraordinary argument. There would be great satisfaction among the many people who have been badly treated by this Government and Mr Pugh if he resigned. It would please those people and it would be no loss to the country.
We look forward to seeing what can be done with the passport service. It is a service with a great history. I have represented passport workers since 1972. The passport office came to Newport in 1967. I was a local councillor at that time and I know the service well. The last crisis that everyone made a big fuss about was a computer disaster. We virtually had two passport staffs—one employed by Siemens and one employed by the passport service—running in parallel.
That crisis was nowhere near as bad as this one. At no time has there been such a sense of anxiety and of being betrayed, with trips being made to places so far away. It is unprecedented. The public will not forget this and will not forgive the Government for it. When the reckoning is made, we will find that the costs have been enormous. The Government are not coming up with any figures at the moment, but they are compensating people here and there for lost holidays and all the rest of it. The huge amount of compensation will dwarf any savings that the Government made through their cruel cuts in 2011. The people of Newport will remember that and I am sure that they will do the right thing when they vote next year.
This is a Government of incompetence who have created an ineptocracy. That will be their political doom.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Quem deus vult perdere, dementat prius. I know that I do not have to translate those words for your benefit, Mr Speaker, nor for the beneficiaries of comprehensive education in good Catholic authorities or the papal knights on the Opposition Benches, but perhaps I should explain for the victims of the public school system on the Government Benches that those words, which came into my mind while the Secretary of State was speaking, of course mean: “Those whom the gods intend to destroy, they first make mad.”
The Secretary of State went to great lengths to shut me up. I tried with great difficulty to intervene on him, but he chose seven others and left me speechless. What terrible things can I have been saying that have alarmed him so much? I should perhaps warn my friends on the Opposition Front Bench that what I say might cause a little trauma to them. It might be a good idea, if they want one, to go out and have a cup of tea.
I wish to make a very simple point about the future cost of electricity. Incredibly, and almost without public controversy, we have done an extraordinary deal with money from China that will not do much for our energy security. We have done another deal with a corporation from France. Those are the countries that we will depend on for our energy security in future. That was the process for deciding on the Hinkley Point C power station.
The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey), who is now the Secretary of State, explained to his constituents in 2009 that he was against any nuclear power stations because they would cost taxpayers and consumers billions of pounds. I wonder if that is what he was afraid I would say. I am sure that his constituents would love to know, when they voted for him thinking that they would get a nuclear-free future, why they now find—possibly because of the lure of the red box—that he has changed his mind. I would like to know why, and perhaps he can explain that. The Liberal Democrat party is in a sorry state, and the gods are certainly sending a message, in the European elections and elsewhere, about its imminent extinction in the political fold. It is about time he forgot the lure of high office and returned to his anti-nuclear roots.
The European Commission is looking at Hinkley Point, and I hope that the Commission will do the right thing and say that the £17.6 billion subsidy that the power station receives puts it wildly in conflict with competition rules. For those of us with long memories—one can forget about things after four years—the Liberal Democrats agreed in 2010 that there would be no subsidies on nuclear power. I suppose that £17.6 billion is a trivial matter that is not worth considering.
We have got into an extraordinary deal whereby we have agreed to pay EDF £92.50 per MWh, which is three times what it charges its French customers and twice the going rate for electricity. Not only that, but we have guaranteed that price for the next 35 years. It is scarcely believable. We have even paid to insure EDF against any potential reduction in prices. The deal is wonderful for the French, and French newspapers have praised it, saying that it would mean 15,000 new jobs—not in Britain, but in France. No explanation for the situation has ever come forward. The Government are closing their eyes and hoping that they can just carry on.
What is the story of the success of nuclear power in recent years in Europe? Two new power stations have been built. One, in Finland, should have been generating electricity in 2009, so it is five years late and €4 billion over budget. The other, at Flamanville in Northern France, is in a similar state. There is an atrocious record of nuclear power that is never delivered on time or on budget. We also have the chilling lesson of Fukushima, which is where we come into really serious money. The compensation that is thought to have been paid for Fukushima is £250 billion. In addition, as the Germans and many other European countries have realised, the anxiety that is created by being a neighbour to a nuclear power station is simply not worth it.
I strongly support what my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) said about proceeding with the tide as a power source—an immense cliff of water that goes up and down the Severn estuary twice a day.
It is a fine example of the trials and tribulations of the job of chairing these sittings that you, Mr Weir, had to endure in silence some parts of the speech by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope). You would have been entirely justified in breaking new ground by asking to intervene on his speech at certain points.
The Chair remains neutral.
It must be painful for you to do that, Mr Weir. The Committee that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) chairs, brilliantly and with great wisdom, contains the entire political spectrum, from the deepest red to the densest blue. Somehow or other, the reports, with compromise and good sense from the Chairman—he acts as a peacemaker and compromise seeker—turn out to be unanimous. The Committee’s work is not on the immediate, the current or the things that are in the headlines of the day, but on issues that are of deeper importance when we take a broad look at the way things are going.
Going to war is one of our gravest responsibilities, and there have been few times in our history when Parliament has been divided on such decisions; it is normally well united, with the possible exception of the Boer war, which was rightly opposed at the time by Lloyd George and others. I believe, however, that there has never been a division in opinion in the country as there was in 2003, when at least 1 million people—some say 2 million—marched in the streets. Some 139 Labour Members, six Conservatives and virtually all the Liberal Democrats voted against that war. The nationalist parties were passionately opposed, as was public opinion, and public opinion was right. It was in advance of opinion at the top of the political tree at the time.
The decision to go to war was reported with equal enthusiasm by the leaders of both the major parties, and that is the great difficulty. There is a splendid book by David Owen that I commend to people, if they have not read it, about hubris in politics. He writes about what happens to Prime Ministers when they hear the drumbeats of war. It is their opportunity to escape from the dreary minor matters of the day and write their page in history, which is usually, sadly, a bloody page. They become different people, and we can see it. They walk in a different way. They strut and stand with a Napoleonic stance. They talk in a different way, dredging up all the Churchillian rhetoric and speaking in these great rounded phrases. It is the most exciting time of their lives. In David Owen’s view, they become at least a little mad, and their judgment is in question. That thesis is absolutely right.
By example, by convention and by the fact that MPs were allowed to vote in 2003 because the then Government were convinced as to how we would vote—we would not have been allowed otherwise—a principle has been established and cannot now be reversed. Power has moved from the exercise of the royal prerogative by the Prime Minister to a decision by the House of Commons. Thank goodness for that. As I said in an earlier intervention, it is far better to trust the wisdom of 650 Members of Parliament with differing views than the overexcited hubris of a Prime Minister, who might be motivated by vanity or seeking a place in history for himself or herself. It is a major advance.
Returning to the heroic work done at the time by my hon. Friend, it is good that we are reminded of what happened during that period. Many of us regard it as the most important vote—or votes as it turned out—that we will take part in during our political careers, even if we are here for many more years. There was huge pressure at the time to vote a certain way. The political establishment was united in going one way. The Intelligence and Security Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Defence Committee, the Government and the main Opposition were absolutely united that we had to go to war to defend ourselves against what turned out to be non-existent weapons of mass destruction that threatened to attack us within 45 minutes. We were not deciding whether there would be an Iraq war, which was going to happen anyway. Saddam was going to be deposed. We were deciding whether to collaborate with George Bush in that war. George Bush said that he did not want us and made it clear, publicly, that we were not needed, but somebody wanted to take us into war and we deserve to know the truth about what happened between the then Prime Minister and President Bush.
The reasons why we need to know are crucial. The first is for the loved ones of the 179 brave British soldiers who died in that war. They died because we in the House of Commons made a decision in March 2003. They would not have died otherwise. Many of their relatives have expressed, some of them publicly, the torment of not knowing whether those soldiers died in vain. They deserve some closure for their grief. That is why every word and syllable of the letters should be published.
The second reason is our soldiers. They are entitled to know that when Parliament decides to order them into battle and to put their lives at risk that that decision has been made on the basis of the most rigorous examination of the evidence and not on untruths or politicians’ vanity. The other people who need to know are the hon. Members of this House. Unless we can discover what happened in 2003, are we in a position to judge new wars now?
However, there was a worse decision than the one in 2003 and it was made without a vote in the House. In 2006, we moved into Helmand province on the basis of a claim that we were going to clear up the opium trade and to perform a bit of reconstruction and with the hope that not a shot would be fired and that we would be out in three years. There was a debate about that in this room, during which one Member said that it would be like the charge of the Light Brigade and would stir up a hornets’ nest. This time it was:
Bush to the right of them,
Blair to the left of them,
Holler’d and thunder’d,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die,
Into the valley of Death,
Into the mouth of Helmand,
Drove the five thousand.
The number of soldiers killed in combat in 2006 before we went into Helmand was two. The number now is 463, which is three times as many who died in the charge of the Light Brigade. We should look not only at declarations of war, but at what happens when we escalate wars. If we had had a vote on going into Afghanistan, it would have been supported by perhaps 95% of Members, but it was the escalation that did the great harm. We must take that into account when we look to war.
The extraordinary events of 29 August 2013 have changed Parliament for the better and represent a change of view in that no longer do we have absolute trust in the claims of Prime Ministers in such situations. History will tell us the real tale of what happened during that week, but there was unanimity among the leaders of the three main political parties at the beginning of the week that we needed to go into Syria. Soundings were taken, meetings were held by the political parties and different views were expressed, all of which meant that a majority could not be obtained in the House. Part of the reason was the collapse of faith in the decisions taken on Iraq and possibly on Helmand. The House made terrible blunders. MPs made those blunders and 620 soldiers died as a result.
We must have the courage to face the truth and to decide our future. We are still obsessed—it happens at the top of all parties—with punching above our weight as a nation, but doing so militarily means that we spend outside of our interests and we die beyond our responsibilities. We would be greatly helped as a nation and our soldiers would be well served were we to accept our position in the world. We are not the masters of the universe or the leaders of empires, as we were in the past. We should escape from the idea that every crisis in the world is Britain’s crisis when it often is not. Our involvement in such crises leads to intense problems and enormous costs and, in future, we must look to the decision on Helmand.
The report, “Parliament’s role in conflict decisions: a way forward”, cannot be expurgated in the same way as the Chilcot report. John Major, the former Prime Minister, has said that, if the full truth is denied, the whole issue will continue to fester and doubts will persist. A Minister recently told the Public Administration Committee that Chilcot did not report to Ministers, but he reports to the Prime Minister. Changes can be made. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee offers this report to confirm the improvements that have taken place and to ensure that decisions on warfare are not made by a tiny clique at the top of the tree. Looking at the first world war, errors were made and the reasons for getting involved were extraordinarily trivial, resulting in a tremendous number of casualties. The Committee has served us well and we will serve our nation well if we look at Parliament’s role in warfare and strengthen it to the benefit of all.
Q478 Paul Flynn: Do you accept that the paramount need for politicians—all of us—is to restore public trust in us as individuals? We have not done that, as the European election results proved: many people were putting two fingers up to the whole political system. One of the main areas for suspicion, quite rightly, is how Members, former civil servants, former Ministers, former admirals and so on have prostituted their experience or their contact pages in order to profit from jobs in retirement. It is also a possibility that while they are actually doing the job they might have had their judgment changed by the prospect of getting a retirement job and a hacienda in Spain from some company that they favour. It is a deeply corrupting situation. We have had 21 months with no answer and no reform. You are going out of office within 12 months, and we haven’t moved an inch on reforming—
Mr Maude: There is certainly an election in 12 months.
Paul Flynn: Well, let’s be realistic about it. You are entitled to your fantasy of continuation, but if the public’s vote is based on your action on ACOBA and stopping the revolving door, you would richly deserve to be thrown out of office and so would your party.
Mr Maude: Is there a question?
Paul Flynn: Yes. The question is, why have you delayed so long—
Mr Maude: Well, I have explained that.
Paul Flynn: —and haven’t you driven politics into further disrepute by your indolence?
Mr Maude: No. The main effect of these rules is not on politicians, it is on civil servants and lifetime public servants. I want to see a public service where people can come in from outside, to bring new perspectives and different experience into Government and the Civil Service, and then feel that they can go out again as well. Rules that were excessively restrictive, to prevent what you rather derogatorily refer to as a revolving door, would put anyone who came into the Civil Service from outside into some sort of detoxification tank, in which they would have to remain indefinitely, and that would be very much against the public interest.
These are difficult things to get right, which is why we have taken time—too much time, I freely concede—but actually there is no evidence that the rules are working really badly at the moment. They need to be refined and to work better, and to have more clarity about them. That is what will emerge.
Q487 Paul Flynn: Isn’t the likely explanation for the delay that everyone involved—civil servants and politicians—has a vested interest in keeping a watchdog like ACOBA continuing in its futile way without teeth or claws and with no powers to impose its views? Isn’t it that we have got the establishment deciding not to act, sitting on their hands for 21 months to protect their prospects for retirement jobs?
Mr Maude: No.
Q488 Chair: We will move on. We have all made our points, but I hope that there will be learning from this episode. Can we move on to the Chilcot inquiry, which we also gave you notice that we wanted to raise? You kindly wrote me a letter, which I have circulated to the Committee. Can you explain what factors have been delaying the Chilcot inquiry report?
Mr Maude: No, I can’t, really. The inquiry does not report to Ministers, and certainly not to me. Sir John Chilcot is in charge of the inquiry. If I may say so, I think that your letter was helpful in bringing to a head the issues that need to be resolved. Sir John Chilcot, in his letter to the Cabinet Secretary, makes clear the kinds of issues which are very sensitive and important and need to be resolved satisfactorily. They have now been settled to the satisfaction of Sir John and his inquiry, who, as far as I am aware, are pursing their task in an extremely robust and independent way.
Q497 Paul Flynn: Above all the considerations of international protocols, there are three main reasons why every word—every syllable—of the correspondence between Tony Blair and Bush should be published. May I put them to you? The first is to give closure to the tormented loved ones of the 179 British soldiers who lost their lives in the Iraq war—they still do not know whether they died in vain.
Secondly, it is important for the military to have absolute confidence that when Parliament orders them to put their lives at risk, it is done in the best possible way, with the best information available, and not for the vanity of politicians or because of mistakes, errors or lies.
Thirdly, it is also important for Members of Parliament, because, since 2003, we take the decisions to go to war; it is not the Prime Minister exercising the royal prerogative, it is MPs who decide. On 29 August last year, the House decided not to follow the Prime Minister into a war in Syria; that was the first time that that had happened for centuries.
Those are three reasons why there is a collapse in trust in Government and Prime Ministers, and a grave doubt about whether we as a Parliament might send soldiers to die in vain. John Major says that unless the full truth is published, the suspicion will fester of a cover-up by those involved, both politicians and civil servants. Is this not a situation in which the Government must intervene and say, “We will publish all the information and let the public decide”?
Mr Maude: Whether I agree with you and Sir John Major on this is, frankly, immaterial, because I have no power to do anything about it. The arrangements were made by Gordon Brown when he was Prime Minister, and they are the conditions that bind the inquiry.
Q498 Paul Flynn: When Gordon Brown set up the inquiry as a result of a request from this Committee—as a result of campaigning and a seminar from this Committee—he set it up to be held in secret. This Committee met again and denounced that decision, and it was changed: the inquiry was largely held in public as the result of Gordon Brown’s decision. The current situation is really not good enough. I challenge you to look into the faces of the relatives, the people who are worried about why their sons were sent to war and died. Reginald Keys is one of those people—say to him, “We can’t do this because it is the fault of the previous Prime Minister.” You are the Government; you can do almost anything. Of course you can publish the full details of Tony Blair’s letters at least, even if there might be a problem with George Bush’s. The reasons are so overriding in order to replace public trust.
Mr Maude: I hear what you say and I understand the arguments, but, as I have said, it is not in my gift to do that.
Paul Flynn: The person responsible—
Chair: Last question on this.
Q499 Paul Flynn: Jeremy Heywood and Gus O’Donnell are blamed for holding up publication. Jeremy Heywood was working as a close aide to Tony Blair at the time. Whether true or not, the suspicion is there that Jeremy Heywood is covering up his own reputation, his own actions then, and those of his boss, Tony Blair. The situation will not be resolved, the crisis will continue and the collapse of confidence will go on—we will never be able to take part in a war again. Parliament will not decide to go to war because it no longer believes the assurances that it has been given. Is that not something worth changing?
Mr Maude: Well, I hear what you say, but I think that the aspersion cast on Sir Jeremy Heywood is unfair.
Paul Flynn: But he is—
Chair: No, we are going to have to stop. In the end, I must say that what intelligence is released is less a matter for this Committee than for the Intelligence and Security Committee.
Paul Flynn: Who were cheerleaders for the war.
Chair: They weren’t all cheerleaders for the war by any stretch.
Paul Flynn: No, but they have a vested interest in covering it up.
Chair: I think we must move on.
Paul Flynn: No, Chairman, you can’t get away with that. I vividly remember 2003: the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Defence Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee were all lined up in favour of the war and were promoting this fiction about weapons of mass destruction. We went into the war on the basis of a lie; 179 deaths are a hell of a price to pay for one man’s vanity.
Chair: We will recommend it, then.
Q543 Paul Flynn: Were you aware of Nicholas Macpherson’s intention to publish his advice to the Chancellor?
Mr Maude: No. Nor would I have expected to have been.
Q544 Paul Flynn: Is it entirely a matter for the civil servant?
Mr Maude: Well, with the agreement of his Minister, who is not me.
Q545 Paul Flynn: You, or the Government, do not have any role in this as such.
Mr Maude: Not in instructing a Permanent Secretary in another Department whether it is appropriate, no.
Q546 Paul Flynn: But you rightly said that the top civil servants and Government Ministers have closed ranks on this in defending themselves—
Mr Maude: That is not what I said, but—
Paul Flynn: It is a rare situation: you have to go back a long time to find a civil servant publishing advice that he has given to a Minister. Normally, the advice is given and the Minister has to put the policy forward. This sets an interesting precedent and presumably the floodgates are now open. If a civil servant took a piece of advice to Government that disagreed with what they were saying and agreed with the Opposition, would that civil servant be free to publish such advice that would undermine his Minister’s policies?
Mr Maude: Two points. First, you suggest that this has never happened before. I think that Sir Nick Macpherson was able to quote some precedents, but he made the point that—
Paul Flynn: It is pretty rare—
Mr Maude: Yes, and he said that it should be rare. So I do not think that there is any point of contention here. The second part of your question was: could a civil servant unilaterally decide to publish advice against the wishes of his Minister? The answer plainly is no.
Q547 Paul Flynn: But why not? The Government has a partial campaign on the Scottish referendum. Is it the Government’s strength of feeling to maintain the status quo that allows the civil servant to behave in this very unusual way?
Mr Maude: I think Sir Nick described, very lucidly, the approach he took that led him to conclude that, if the Chancellor agreed, he should publish the advice.
Paul Flynn: He did not convince all of us, I can assure you.
Mr Maude: The chances of me convincing you, if he couldn’t, are probably slight.
Q548 Paul Flynn: Well, his defence was that he was an important, senior civil servant and that the matter was of some importance for the strength of the pound and our fiscal position. Even if so, it still remains the Minister’s job to put that case, not the civil servant’s. What was unusual? He did not seem to establish that this situation was so unusual and rare that he should act in this way.
Mr Maude: I don’t think I can improve on the way in which Sir Nick made the case. He did so lucidly and articulately and, I thought, persuasively.
Q549 Paul Flynn: His advice was a headline in one of the Scottish Sunday papers this weekend. He gave the advice in February, but it is being treated as a piece of hot political propaganda for those who want to maintain the status quo in Scotland. Is it appropriate for a Minister to be involved in raw political controversies in this way?
Mr Maude: I don’t think I can improve on what Sir Nicholas said at the Committee when these matters were explored very fully.
Q550 Paul Flynn: It was suggested that this was an exceptional circumstance. How was it exceptional, and how would you define such a circumstance?
Mr Maude: I don’t think I can improve on what Sir Nicholas said. It was his judgment that it was appropriate. He is an extremely experienced, senior, well regarded civil servant, and I think he made a very powerful case.
Q551 Paul Flynn: But isn’t this again a case of how, over and over again, when people are in trouble, they do one of a number of things? They usually blame the last Government, or the EU, or sack the SpAd or whatever. And here we have the establishment of civil servants and Government Ministers closing ranks to defend some action, which is a dangerous precedent for the future.
Mr Maude: I don’t believe there is a precedent. I think there were already precedents, but what everyone has made clear is that we expect this to continue to be rare.
Q552 Paul Flynn: We are going to have another referendum of even more significance on Europe. Whichever Government is elected, it is likely to happen anyway. Is this a model for what should happen in the European referendum? The last time we had one, the parties were arguing on both sides. Harold Wilson gave advice and Tony Benn gave different advice as the campaign went on. Do you think civil servants for or against continuing in the EU should be free to join in the political fray and have their names in the headlines of the papers?
Mr Maude: I think we have the advantage in that context of there being a precedent, because 40 years ago there was a referendum on membership of the European Union, and no doubt these matters were fully explored; I don’t know. I am sure they were following Mrs Gillan’s excellent suggestion, and that it was codified at the time. So we at least have a precedent for that.
Q553 Paul Flynn: Do you have a precedent for last weekend’s situation in which a civil servant spoke not impartially or in a neutral way, but came down fiercely on one side in a very hot political issue? What a civil servant said was the main headline on the front page of a Sunday newspaper last week. It carried some weight, because he is not a politician. Is this an appropriate use of a civil servant’s role?
Mr Maude: Is this a reference to Sir Nick Macpherson’s advice?
Paul Flynn: Here is the headline: “It’s boom or bust. Treasury chief’s sensational verdict on independence.” That was last Sunday. He said it in February, but it takes a while for the news to get out.
Mr Maude: They are slowing catching on. He said it some time ago.
Paul Flynn: But are you happy for a civil servant’s role to be altered in this fundamental way?
Mr Maude: I am sorry to be slow on the uptake. Is that a reference to Sir Nicholas’s advice that was published two or three months ago?
Paul Flynn: Yes.
Mr Maude: So he has not said anything new.
Chair: Actually, I want to correct Paul. It was a subsequent comment that Sir Nicholas Macpherson is alleged to have made.
Paul Flynn: It is even worse if he is getting more deeply embroiled in this political row. This is not what civil servants do. To find themselves right in the middle of such an argument is contrary to the whole tradition of civil servants. Is this a signal—when the European debate comes up, will civil servants’ views be all over the place? Will they send press releases to the Sunday papers and appear on “Newsnight”?
Q554 Chair: I think what this demonstrates is that once a civil servant has put themselves in the public domain on one side of an argument, they are then hunted for what they might subsequently say, and this is a case in point.
Mr Maude: And those are very good reasons why this should be a rare occurrence.
Q555 Paul Flynn: How rare? What are the circumstances that would permit it?
Mr Maude: I thought Nick Macpherson made a really good case.
Q556 Chair: Isn’t there, again, a case for trying to define or codify the circumstances in which this exceptional step should be taken?
Mr Maude: Perhaps.
Tony Blair lives in a fantasy world where he is infallible. He was warned by most of the Labour Party in 2003 that slavishly following the warmonger Bush would create a more dangerous world.
In late March 2003, I wrote to Tony Blair:
"Our involvement in Bush’s war will increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks. Attacking a Muslim state without achieving a fair settlement of the Palestine–Israeli situation is an affront to Muslims, from our local mosques to the far-flung corners of the world. A pre-emptive attack of the kind we have made on Iraq will only deepen the sense of grievance among Muslims that the Western/Christian/Jewish world is out to oppress them. This will provide a propaganda victory to Osama Bin Laden and can only increase his support and the likelihood of more acts of terrorism.
In the Commons you repeated that it is an article of faith to you that Britain and the USA should have a common foreign policy. Fine when there is an American President such as Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Carter or Clinton: disastrous when it is a right wing fundamentalist Republican such as Bush. "
The vote on the Iraq war was the foulest episode of the Blair government. It was the whips who won it for Tony. The 139 Labour MPs who voted on a severe three-line whip against British involvement w. There were 80 other Labour MPs who had indicated their worries by their support for amendments and Early Day Motions. They were bribed, bullied and bamboozled into voting for war, or abstaining. I wonder if Tony and the whips ever dwell on the thought that 179 British lives would not have been lost if they had told the truth and desisted from bellicose bullying.
Later Tony pontificated on the merits of ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’ military interventions. He exulted in the merits of deploying ‘hard power’. Experience proved otherwise.
It was the ‘hard’ choice to back Bush’s war in Iraq and to invade the Helmand province. Hundreds of British soldiers and an uncounted number of Afghans have been killed and little has been gained. It was ‘hard’ of Israel to invade Lebanon. It was ‘soft’ to call for a cease-fire. According to a Labour minister that would have been a ‘meaningless gesture’. Not for the children buried alive at Qana, the thousand killed and the millions whose homes were bombed to rubble.
It was ‘soft power’ to use our brilliantly effective troops to save hundreds of thousands of lives in Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Bosnia. If we had not over-committed ourselves in Iraq and Afghanistan, we could have embarked on ‘soft’ peacekeeping missions in Darfur
It was an abysmal performance by Theresa May today on the abject failures of her department. Two years ago, Newport was told that the job losses were regreattable but would create a 'smaller but more efficient passport service'. The present crisis is one of predictable and predicted chaos.The cost of overtime and emergency staff will outweigh any reductions that the cuts achieved. Many thousands of people have suffered severe worries and financial losses because of the failures to distribute passports on time. Today's measures are panic ones. They must be replaced with a restructing of the Passport Service.
Two years ago, the lives of 150 loyal and efficient workers in my constituency were devastated by a closure that the Government described as creating a smaller but more efficient passport agency. Others predicted today’s chaos. Will the Home Secretary find it in herself to have the common sense and the humility to apologise for the ineptocracy the Government have created?
Yes, there have been changes in the way the Passport Office operates. The Passport Office has been operating efficiently and effectively in dealing with people’s applications since those changes were made. We now have a period of higher demand than we have seen for 12 years. That high demand is now being addressed by a number of steps that have been taken, but we will look at how the Passport Office should operate more efficiently in the future to ensure that it offers the best possible service.
When the Government get around the restoring the Passport Office from its present emaciated and failing state to the efficient service it had been for the previous century, may we have a debate on the need to ensure that those areas that suffered the savage cuts two years ago, such as Newport, have the first call on new jobs?
The hon. Gentleman had a chance to ask the Home Secretary a question about that earlier. I fear that his characterisation of the Passport Office is not helpful, not least for his constituents and others. As he will have heard from the Home Secretary, the Passport Office is continuing to provide substantially the service intended. Where problems have occurred, new staff are being deployed, both in call centres and in case handling, and the Home Secretary has just announced other measures that will enable constituents to get the service they are looking for.