UK Politics

Commons debate on Iraq war blocked by dark forces - Paul Flynn

Paul Flynn
Image caption Mr Flynn argued that MPs should be able to debate an invasion they voted for 10 years ago

A Labour backbencher has accused "dark forces" in Westminster of blocking a Commons debate marking the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war.

Paul Flynn suggested that party whips had prevented MPs discussing the "wisdom" of the war, despite strong cross-party support from backbench MPs.

He said they were restricting the amount of debating time controlled by the backbench business committee.

But ex-Labour MP Tony Wright urged him not to be "pejorative" about the whips.

Labour's Mr Flynn was part of a group of about 30 MPs - including Green MP Caroline Lucas, Conservative backbenchers Rory Stewart and John Baron, and Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes - calling for an Iraq debate.

Advocating the idea at a hearing of the backbench business committee, Ms Lucas had argued: "The 10th anniversary is an issue of such importance that the media and the public will be looking for some kind of response from Parliament."

'Paramount importance'

She said MPs wanted to discuss "lessons learned, some of the applicability around issues such as exit strategies and what is happening now in places such as Libya, Mali and Algeria".

"As well as looking backwards, it is also about learning the lessons looking forwards. I am sure that some members will want to raise issues such as the absence so far of the Chilcot inquiry and what has happened to that," she added.

Mr Flynn said their proposal had been "approved by the backbench business committee, and it's been denied by the dark forces, to try to avoid a debate on a subject which is of paramount importance".

The Commons had backed the invasion in a vote ahead of the war, he reminded MPs, arguing that it should therefore be able to judge how successful the policy had been.

But Mr Wright gently rebuked his former colleague: "We should stop calling them the dark forces, because they're just doing their job.

"If I had ever had the privilege of being a whip, I would have been a dark force."

Mr Wright was testifying to the Commons political and constitutional reform committee, of which Mr Flynn is a member, on the effectiveness of the changes to the way Parliament works that he instigated while chairman of the Reform of the House of Commons Committee.

Besides the creation of the backbench business committee, one key reform was the establishment of a system by which MPs elect by secret ballot the chairs and members of select committees.

'Absurd'

Mr Wright argued that this reform should be extended to public bill committees, which are tasked with detailed scrutiny of legislation.

He drew attention to the experience of Conservative MP and former GP Sarah Wollaston, who he described as "knowing about the health service, caring about the health service".

"She got in touch with the whips, and said she very much wanted to serve [on the committee examining the Health Bill] and had got some very interesting amendments that she want to put down.

"And of course this was the kiss of death. You'll never get anywhere near the Health Bill if you say things like that. This is absurd."

Former Labour Commons leader, the late Robin Cook, had tried to shake up the system, Mr Wright added, but found there were "forces that stopped him".

"The way this House does legislation is not satisfactory, and part of that story is who sits on committees," he concluded.

"No wonder we end up with poor legislation, because we do it in a poor way."