Blair and Campbell will shun Commons inquiry into WMD

Click to follow

Neither Tony Blair nor Alastair Campbell will allow the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to question them about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Downing Street revealed yesterday.

The MPs wrote on Friday to ask if the Prime Minister and his communications chief would give evidence to their inquiry into claims that the Government had "sexed up" intelligence to justify the war.

However, Mr Blair's official spokesman made clear that neither man would be appearing before the committee. He said "precedent" dictated that Number 10 officials did not talk publicly about their jobs.

The Prime Minister will instead meet members of the Intelligence and Security Committee at Downing Street when they publish their annual report on MI5, MI6 and GCHQ today. The committee, which takes evidence in private and which can have its reports censored by the Government, has announced it will conduct an inquiry into the Iraq claims.

But the Foreign Affairs Select Committee has also launched its own inquiry, and Mr Blair and Mr Campbell would have had to give evidence in the full glare of publicity.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, wrote to Mr Blair last night to warn that it would be "quite incredible" for any investigation into Downing Street's use of intelligence material not to take evidence from Mr Campbell.

As the Government's director of communications and strategy, Mr Campbell was "associated with every allegation" and oversaw all the information released in the run-up to the war, Mr Duncan Smith said.

Mr Campbell was in charge of the Coalition Information Centre, which produced the so-called "dodgy dossier" that later turned out to combine genuine intelligence with sections of a student thesis from the internet. Although he denied any personal involvement in the dossier, he has written to intelligence chiefs pledging that "far greater care" will be taken with such documents in future.

Mr Blair's spokesman said that requests from the Foreign Affairs Committee for the Prime Minister and Mr Campbell to appear would be "considered in the usual way".

But he made clear that Mr Blair would not appear before committee because he was already due to make his next six-monthly appearance before the Commons liaison committee next month.

"And there is a precedent that Number 10 officials don't appear before select committees to discuss their work at Number 10," he said.

Mr Campbell has appeared before the Public Administration Select Committee, but that was to "discuss Government communications", not work in Number 10, the spokesman added.

Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, had suggested earlier that Mr Campbell would not be giving evidence.

Asked if she thought Mr Campbell would appear, she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I don't think so. I don't think that any of this is the most important thing. Frankly, an awful lot of people are fed up with the way we keep on going over, over, over, over details of the same issues."