David Owen's open letter to David Cameron

On 18 November, Lord Owen has sent an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron following a correspondence between Sir John Chilcot and the Prime Minister himself in which Chilcot stigmatized the resistance by the government to block the relesae of several documents relating to conversations between George Bush and Tony Blair, dating back to the months and weeks before the war in Iraq in 2003. While highlighting a serious conflict of interest which is likely to affect the credibility of the Chilcot Inquiry, involving in particular the man who should make the final decision on whether to publish the documents, Lord Owen puts forward a possible solution.

Lord Owen served as Foreign Secretary (1977-1979) under the Labour Government of James Callaghan. He was co-founder, in 1983, of the Social Democratic Party which then merged with the Liberal Party in the Liberal-Democrats in 1987 under the leadership of David Steel. He was created a Life Baron – Lord Owen of the City of Plymouth – in 1992 and sits as an independent Crossbencher in the House of Lords. He was a Member of Parliament for Plymouth from 1966 to 1992.


Dear Prime Minister,

I have read your correspondence with Sir John Chilcot about the failure to agree the publication of documents requested by the members of the Iraq Inquiry. I am more than a little puzzled by the references to 'Maxwellisation'. Surely there can be no comparison with the Inquiry involving the late Robert Maxwell, apart from technical questions, of how people mentioned in the draft Report have the right to make representations to the Inquiry?

The Iraq Inquiry involves a decision to declare war and from the moment it was established it was clear it would involve examination of international discussions between British Prime Ministers and US Presidents. If there is a precedent it is the inquiry held during the First World War to examine the Dardanelles.

Sir Jeremy Heywood was Principal Private Secretary to Tony Blair in No 10 from 1999-2003, the very time when the decisions to go to war were being taken. I cannot believe that now as Cabinet Secretary he can be the arbiter as to whether documents should be published between Sir John Chilcot and Tony Blair. It is obvious that there are differences of opinion as Sir John writes in his letter to you that it is "regrettable that the Government and the Inquiry have not reached an agreement". Who is the Government? You as Prime Minister? The Cabinet? Surely not for the reasons I have given, the Cabinet Secretary?

I suggest you ask the Lord Chancellor (Alan Crayling) to form a judgement on behalf of the Government as to what papers can be released. As you will know, the Lord Chancellor and his Advisory Council on National Records and Archives are already charged under the Public Records Act 1958 with deciding whether information should be withheld from publication after the expiry of the 30 year rule and this has been an acceptable mechanism to Parliament over the years.

Yours sincerely

David Owen