18 Jun 09. PASC: ONLY A PUBLIC IRAQ INQUIRY CAN RESTORE PUBLIC CONFIDENCE
PASC warns that an inquiry held in secret will not achieve the fundamental purpose of identifying the truth and securing proper accountability. The Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) today publishes a report calling for the Government’s recently-announced Iraq inquiry to be held in public. PASC argues that only an open process, and one which is consulted on widely and formally endorsed by Parliament, will ensure the inquiry has the credibility and legitimacy needed to restore public confidence. In the report, PASC welcomes the establishment of the inquiry and its comprehensive scope. However, PASC also voices its concern about the proposed form of the inquiry and the way in which it was set up. PASC recommends several changes to the terms of the inquiry on the basis of these concerns:
*Inquiry proceedings should as a rule be held in public, with only very limited exceptions to consider the most sensitive evidence. Decisions to conduct particular proceedings in private should be made by members of the inquiry itself, not by the Government.
*The formal terms of reference should explicitly reflect the fundamental purpose of the inquiry: to identify the truth and ensure that the Government can be held properly accountable for its decisions and conduct in relation to Iraq.
*It is wrong in principle that the executive alone should determine the terms of this inquiry, when the conduct of the executive is a central part of what the inquiry will have to consider. Parliament should be given a formal role in establishing the inquiry, to help secure the inquiry’s legitimacy. There should be a debate and free vote in the House of Commons on the Government’s proposals for the inquiry.
*The inquiry would benefit from the appointment of additional members with political experience, as a minority of its membership, to provide the necessary perspective on political judgements it will have to consider.
The report draws on the findings of a high-level seminar PASC held on 11 June to consider the possible form and conduct of an Iraq inquiry. The seminar brought together a number of key figures including chairs of previous inquiries, Members of both Houses of Parliament, former
diplomats and others with relevant knowledge and expertise. PASC has previously published two reports that bear on the conduct of an Iraq inquiry: Government by Inquiry (First Report of Session 2004-05, HC
51-I), and Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry (Ninth Report of Session
2007-08, HC 473).
Tony Wright MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
“The Iraq inquiry concerns one of the biggest and most contentious issues in British politics in recent times, and it is essential that we get the inquiry right. Unfortunately, the proposed inquiry is the wrong kind of inquiry, decided and announced by the Government in the wrong kind of way. There is, however, still time to change the terms of the inquiry before it starts work in July.
“This is an opportunity to restore public confidence, and to separate fact from fiction, but as things stand there is a real danger the opportunity will be missed. What we need is an inquiry that is able to get at the truth and ensure proper accountability. The formal terms of reference need to make clear that this is a fundamental purpose of the inquiry. It is also crucial that the inquiry be conducted openly and in public, and that Parliament has a role in establishing it. Only an open, legitimate and credible process of this kind will satisfy a sceptical
public that this inquiry is not a whitewash.”
Committee Membership: Tony Wright (Chairman) (Lab) (Cannock Chase), Mr
David Burrowes (Con) (Enfield, Southgate), Paul Flynn (Lab) (Newport
West), David Heyes (Lab) (Ashton under Lyne), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab)
(Luton North), Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Con) (Bridgewater), Julie Morgan
(Lab) (Cardiff North), Mr Gordon Prentice