David Davis leads criticism of Chilcot Report delays in Parliamentary debate


As reported in the Guardian:
Tory David Davis blames Whitehall for Iraq inquiry delay; Former shadow home secretary says report could have influenced votes on action in Libya and Syria if published earlier

The Conservative former shadow home secretary David Davis has accused Whitehall of holding up the findings of the Iraq war inquiry, saying the process has been “littered with people who were central to the very decisions the inquiry is investigating”.

Speaking during a Commons debate on the delayed publication of the Chilcot report on Thursday afternoon, said he did not think witnesses at the inquiry were to blame, and suggested some of the delay was down to “the conflict between the inquiry and Whitehall – including Sir Jeremy Heywood and others – about what can and cannot be disclosed”.

He said: “What the inquiry can publish is wrapped up in a series of protocols that have criteria so broad that a veto on publication can virtually be applied at Whitehall’s discretion.”

Davis implied that Heywood, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, had a conflict of interest. Heywood was principal private secretary to Tony Blair from the 9/11 attacks through to the first stage of the war in Iraq in 2003, “yet he is Whitehall’s gatekeeper for what can and cannot be published”, he said.

“Even the head of the inquiry secretariat, Margaret Aldred, was deputy head of the foreign and defence policy secretariat and therefore responsible for providing ministers with advice on defence and policy matters on Iraq, and she was nominated to the inquiry by the cabinet secretary of the day,” said Davis.

It was announced last week that the Chilcot report would not be published until after the general election in May, meaning it will have taken more than six years for the inquiry to publish its findings.

Sir John Chilcot is due to give evidence to MPs on the foreign affairs select committee on 4 February on why the report has taken so long to produce. The inquiry finished taking evidence in 2011.

Giving evidence to the public administration select committee on Tuesday, Heywood denied he had held up the inquiry. He told MPs he had a “bias towards transparency” and there would be a “very, very open approach to the release of cabinet minutes, the Bush-Blair memos, all those sorts of issues previously being disputed and held back by departments”. But he said a very small number of redactions would be made relating to diplomatic relations with other countries on non-Iraq matters.

Davis, who voted in favour of going to war in Iraq, said the conflict had been “with hindsight, the greatest foreign policy failure of this generation”. He argued that had the inquiry reported sooner, parliament would have been able to refer to its findings when it subsequently voted on taking military action in Libya, Syria and Iraq.

“When decisions are made without knowledge of all the facts, mistakes are made and sometimes people die as a result. So it is not hyperbole to say that the delay to the Iraq inquiry could cost lives because bad decisions could be made,” he said.

The former foreign secretary Jack Straw warned the house that if the inquiry came under undue pressure it may be persuaded to reach conclusions more critical of the Labour government at the time.

“As the months go past, wholly unfounded suspicions fall on the inquiry about a whitewash and an equal and opposite concern that they may feel obliged to respond to these pressures by conclusions more starkly drawn than the evidence would allow,” Straw said. “Everyone, I would suggest, bears a heavy responsibility for ensuring that the inquiry is not put in a position where it becomes impossible to conduct a fair process and reach a fair and independent conclusion.”

Around 30 members of parliament turned up for the debate, which was on a motion calling for the report’s rapid publication. The debate was secured by Davis with support from 16 cross-party MPs before Chilcot announced that the inquiry would not report until after the election.