Blair blocks attempt to question No 10 chief

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Tony Blair came under attack from a House of Commons committee last night after he blocked moves to force his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, to give evidence about his job.

Tony Blair came under attack from a House of Commons committee last night after he blocked moves to force his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, to give evidence about his job.

The move came after a similar invitation to the Prime Minister to appear in person before the Public Administration Committee was also rejected.

MPs on the committee argued that Mr Powell had been given unprecedented powers over staff at No 10 Downing Street, and that he should be answerable for his decisions. They also questioned the political activities of Mr Blair's official spokesman, Alastair Campbell.

The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard Wilson, said he had discussed the invitation to Mr Powell with the Prime Minister. "I think the view was taken that it would be better if I attempted to deal with your questions," he told the committee.

Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP for Chichester, complained that Mr Powell, a political appointee, appeared to be in charge of most No 10 staff. He also questioned whether Mr Campbell had broken the rules when he met the former Conservative MP Shaun Woodward to encourage him to defect to Labour last year.

Sir Richard said Mr Campbell had not taken part in political activity during his working hours. "What he does in his own time to support the Labour Party is his own business," he said.

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