LONDON - The House of Commons on Monday rejected a motion by the opposition Conservative Party calling for a formal inquiry into the British government's decision to go to war in Iraq.
Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the government's view was that "there would come a time when these issues will be explored," but she added that "it would be wrong to launch such an inquiry" while British troops are engaged in Iraq.
In a separate vote, lawmakers voted 274-229 to adopt a government resolution warning that an inquiry would divert attention from the vital task of improving conditions in Iraq.
Although the government defeated the inquiry motion as expected, the vote was closer than Labour's 61-seat majority, indicating some party members voted against Blair, who angered many in his party by joining in the war.
Blair gives up the premiership June 27 and will be replaced by Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who made a surprise visit to Iraq on Monday to study Britain's participation in the war and to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Liam Fox, the Conservative Party's defense spokesman, said before the inquiry vote that it was important to examine how British leaders decided whether to back the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
"We want the principle established that there must be an inquiry. It's about making sure we don't make the same mistakes again," said Fox, whose party at the time strongly supported Blair's decision.
In a key House of Commons debate on March 18, 2003, shortly before the war began, 90 percent of Conservative legislators voted for the invasion, compared to 62 percent of Labour members. All the Liberal Democrats, the third-largest party in the Commons, voted against.
The Conservatives' foreign affairs spokesman, William Hague, urged lawmakers to bow to the "gathering consensus" and hold an inquiry into the war, which has been very unpopular with the British public.
"This government and future governments need to learn the lessons and the country needs to be assured that they will have done so," he said.
Hague, who led the Conservative Party from 1997 to 2001, spoke in favor of the invasion in the debate four years ago.
At that time, he said it was part of Britain's "national interest to act in concert with the United States of America in matters of world peace and stability."