Rebel MP meets Chilcot

by Chris Ames

On Tuesday Labour MP Graham Allen met Sir John Chilcot. Allen was one of the organisers of the rebellion of Labour MPs against the war and wanted to highlight “the three fundamental institutional flaws which were revealed by the lead-up to the Iraq War so that they are not repeated.”

Allen told me: “I wanted to give Sir John Chilcot a perspective he has not been exposed to before. I’m hopeful that the story of those who tried to stop the war will form part of the report. The three things I put forward, had they happened the first time round, would have significantly diminished, if not eliminated, the prospect of Parliament authorising the war.” Although he declined to reveal what Chilcot’s response was, Allen told me that he was “extremely generous with his time” and “open and frank and well-informed”.

Allen’s three proposals are:

• Parliament should be able to re-call itself. As the summer Bush/Blair talks and build-up took place only Government had/has the power to recall Parliament. The Speaker should – perhaps on the receipt of a given number of requests from MPs – be able to recall Parliament.

• Parliament should be able to commission its own independent legal advice. I attempted to do this, but no facility or budget exists for this, despite potential war-crimes liabilities for MPs, who could of course not access Government legal advice.

• Parliament should have clearly defined powers and rights in respect of being consulted/debating and/or authorising the nation going to war. I have repeatedly tabled the outline of how such a post-hoc consent could work without inhibiting speedy Government response at a time of attack.

In his press release, Allen said:

“The unaccountable power of Government and the weakness of the legislature were seen at their starkest in the build-up to war in Iraq and the failure to prepare for peace. Proposing a proper democratic response for similar circumstances in future should be the cornerstone of the Chilcot Inquiry recommendations.”

The Inquiry did not publicise the meeting but Allen did, with a press release. It is only because of this that the meeting has become public knowledge. It is not clear how many other private meetings the Inquiry is holding.

One comment to this article

  1. chris lamb

    on February 26, 2010 at 9:04 pm -

    There are important lessons to be learnt from the way that the Government managed the Parliamentary vote on the Iraq invasion (18 March 2003).

    The first, to strengthen Parliaments independent power of scrutiny and to lay a pre-condition for reaching the best judgement, is a requirement that a case for war should be tested and satisfied against the highest threshhold of all available evidence before a vote takes place. In facilitating this test, Parliament should have power to access all relevant information held by government.

    Secondly, as argued by Graham Allen, Parliament needs its own legal officers or advisors- appointed independently of party interests- to thoroughly test the legal soundness of the government’s case for military action prior to a vote.