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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Have the Government learnt nothing?

Nick Clegg strikes a blow for transparency and accountability this morning with his demand that any new inquiry into the Iraq war should be open, wide in its remit and should report speedily.

He was speaking in the light of indications that the Prime Minister is going to announce the inquiry on Tuesday and that its structure would be "similar but not identical" to the Franks inquiry into the 1982 Falklands war, which was held behind closed doors. It is reported that the Tories are broadly happy with a Franks-style investigation:

Last night, as families of the dead said they would march on Downing Street if any of its deliberations were kept secret, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg stoked the controversy saying he would boycott the entire investigation if it was not open, wide in its remit and did not report speedily.

Clegg told the Observer that, unless those in charge were granted full access to all documents, could subpoena witnesses, had a remit to look back to events at least a year before the war began and reported within months, the inquiry would be seen as a sham.

He said: "If it does not have this kind of remit, my party will not back it or participate. We are talking about the biggest foreign policy mistake since Suez. To lock a bunch of grandees behind closed doors in secret and wait for them to come up with a puff of smoke, like the election of the pope ... would be an insult."

Clegg added that the inquiry could be held on the lines of an open Commons select committee that the public and press could attend. "This inquiry is an acid test for all of Gordon Brown's talk of reforming British politics," he said.

"If he holds it all or partly in secret and kicks the eventual report into the long grass, it will be a betrayal of all those families who lost children serving in Iraq. They need answers, not another Whitehall stitch-up."

The Labour MP, Alan Simpson, chair of Labour Against the War, agreed. He told the Observer that Brown's strategy of using the inquiry as part of a personal political fight-back and to win favour with his backbenchers was in danger of backfiring spectacularly. "If it is done secretively, it could be the final nail in his coffin," he said. "We need no less rigorous an examination on this than we had on the far less important issue of MPs' expenses. A secret examination would be worthless."

Let us hope that the Prime Minister and the Conservatives take note.
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