Many Labour MPs stayed away from the Commons for
Brown's Iraq Inquiry statement.
David Cameron welcomed the Prime Minister's statement on the importance of good relations with democratic Iraq, Prime Minister Netanyahu's embrace of a 'two state solution' and the need for scrutiny of Iran's elections.
The Tory leader then expressed concern that the inquiry won't build public confidence because of its restricted terms of reference, limited membership and the fact that it will meet in private.
Mr Cameron raised four broad concerns (not verbatim):
- Timing: This inquiry should have started six months ago. By delaying it until now (although British troops are still in Iraq – the Government's original excuse for delay) and prolonging it for a year (much longer than the Franks Inquiry into the Falklands War) there will be suspicions that it has been "fixed" so no conclusions are published until after the next General Election. He urges the Prime Minister to produce an interim report so that the Government can be held properly to account.
- Inquiry membership: It is a mistake not to include political representation as Franks did. It risks looking like an "establishment stitch up".
- Coverage and content: Why does the Prime Minister say the inquiry should not "apportion blame"? If mistakes were made we need to know who made them and why. Will the Inquiry be free to invite foreign witnesses to give evidence? On scope will he confirm that the Inquiry will cover relations with the US, use of intelligence, post-conflict planning and coordination between DFID, the FCO and the military?
- Openness: Shouldn't there be some open public sessions in which British families affected by the war can be heard and feel involved? Mr Cameron ends by comparing the Franks report – the terms of which were debated in the Commons – to this Inquiry – the terms of which are announced to the House by a Prime Minister who only last week was promising a new era of democratic accountability?
Responding Brown says the Opposition has got the Franks-style Inquiry it wanted. The Inquiry covers eight years, can interview any witnesses and has access to all official documents. Franks, in contrast, only covered the run up to the Falklands War and was announced in a written answer. Mr Brown said that he was excluding politicians because of the contentious exchanges of the last eight years. He invited the Tory benches to question the knowledge and expertise of any of the individuals that would sit on the Inquiry.
7.45pm WATCH: William Hague attacks Brown's terms of reference for Iraq inquiry