BUSINESS QUESTION – MINISTERS AND IRAQ – 13 March 2003

Dr Julian Lewis: When the debate on Iraq takes place, will the rule on collective Cabinet responsibility be relaxed for Ministers other than the Secretary of State for International Development [Clare Short]? Would that not give Cabinet Ministers such as the Leader of the House an opportunity to explain to the House why they opposed the first Gulf War in 1991, when Saddam had invaded one of his neighbours, but apparently support the forthcoming second Gulf War when Saddam has not yet invaded any of his neighbours?

Robin Cook: I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his interest in my views –

John Bercow: He has a detailed record.

Mr Cook: I have never doubted it. Fortunately, so have I. At that time, the point on which I expressed concern was whether a bombing campaign lasting so many weeks was really required. The short answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is yes, I think Cabinet responsibility will apply. It will apply to all who are in the Cabinet at the time of the debate.

[NOTE: Robin Cook resigned from the Cabinet on 17 March 2003. In his memoirs, entitled 'The Point of Departure', he wrote on p. 321:

"At Business Statement I began with a short statement promising that there would be a debate on Iraq as soon as we knew the outcome in the Security Council. I got that in first as I knew that otherwise I would be drowned in a tidal wave of impatience when I announced the business for the fortnight, which did not include a single reference to Iraq. I nearly got through the hour without taking any hits, partly because those against the government line now suspect that I am on their side, and did not bowl as hard as they might.

"Unfortunately, towards the end Julian Lewis produced one of his typically well-researched questions which slightly threw me and I finished my reply to his question whether collective responsibility would apply in the forthcoming debate on Iraq by saying that 'collective responsibility would apply to all who are in the Cabinet at that time'. The last phrase produced gasps from the Tory benches and I was immediately irritated for letting my tongue run on."]