Tony Blair was accused of "running scared" of the political controversy over the Hutton report last night after Downing Street suggested that he may not turn up to the Commons debate on the affair.
The debate, which could be the most electric Parliamentary event of Mr Blair's premiership, will take place the week after the publication of the report into events surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly.
Mr Blair has promised to make a short Commons statement on the day Lord Hutton's findings are made public, probably later this month.
But MPs had always assumed that he would also lead the Government's case in the all-day debate. Michael Howard will lead for the Tories and Charles Kennedy for the Liberal Democrats.
As Mr Blair and Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, were the only ministers to testify before the inquiry, it would be highly unusual for another minister to represent them.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman confirmed that the issue of who would represent the Government in the all-day debate was as yet undecided.
The spokesman made his comments after Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, refused during Business Questions to give assurances that Mr Blair would be present.
Andrew Mackay, Tory MP for Bracknell, had said that the Prime Minister should open the debate and remain in his place throughout. "If he does not we will assume the Prime Minister is on the run."
Mr Hain dismissed the suggestion as "outrageous", adding: "The Prime Minister has made it clear that he is coming on the day the report is published to answer questions from you and anybody else."Reuse content