By Ray Fleming

YESTERDAY'S debate on Iraq in the House of Commons did not bring into the open any information that was not already in the public domain. Indeed, the fact that so many speeches covered ground that has been a commonplace of radio and TV programmes for months past served to show how devalued the Commons has become as the nation's principal debating chamber. In a deeply–felt and dignified speech moving the amendment in his name, the former minister Chris Smith concluded with these words: “it grieves me to be seeking to amend a motion put forward by the government of which I was once a member. But these are serious times which require serious judgement. The judgement that war is necessary has not yet been made.” From the Conservative benches Kenneth Clarke took a similar line. He dismissed the idea that there was a threat to London or New York from Saddam Hussein. He called it “an insult to our intelligence” to say that a link between Iraq and al–Queda had been established. The counter arguments to these views concentrated on the need to confront Saddam Hussein as an evil man who could not be trusted and would exploit every sign of weakness; some of those who took this approach were lavish in their praise for Tony Blair's leadership – among them some Conservatives. Although nothing new came out of yesterday's debate and the outcome of the voting was broadly predictable, at least the government was made to realise that the general public's profound unease with its policies, which it has tended to dismiss, is substantially reflected among their elected representatives on all sides of the House.