Blair 'unwittingly misled Commons' over Iraqi weapons

Government hits back at BBC over allegations of 'sexing up' case for war as Prime Minister comes under new pressure
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Tony Blair faced fresh allegations yesterday of misleading Parliament over the "dodgy dossier" on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

On the day Downing Street demanded the BBC answer 12 questions over its reports on the dossier, the Government came under attack for its behaviour from the Opposition front benches.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, said that Mr Blair had "unwittingly" misled Parliament over the dossier published in February, and challenged the Prime Minister to give evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which questioned Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's director of strategy and communications.

Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, accused Mr Blair of "unknowingly" misleading the House about the document, and called on him to make a statement to MPs.

The accusations intensified the pressure on Mr Blair to explain his role in the affair after Mr Campbell admitted the document detailing Iraq's campaign of concealment had not been cleared by the Joint Intelligence Committee.

The dossier was designed to highlight Saddam's efforts to hide his weapons of mass destruction but proved to be a disastrous blunder after large sections were shown to have been copied from academic articles taken from the internet.

Mr Blair suggested that the document had the intelligence agencies' stamp of approval, in a statement to MPs on 3 February, the Monday after the dossier was issued to selected Sunday newspaper journalists.

He said : "It is obviously difficult when we publish intelligence reports, but I hope that people have some sense of the integrity of our security services. They are not publishing this, or giving us this information, and making it up. It is the intelligence that they are receiving, and we are passing it on to people."

But in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Wednesday, Mr Campbell attempted to portray the document as merely a "briefing note" for journalists that Mr Blair had later placed in the Commons library for the information of MPs.

Mr Kennedy and Mr Ancram piled fresh pressure on Mr Blair yesterday. Mr Kennedy said: "Mr Campbell says he made a 'mistake'. But that mistake meant the Prime Minister, unwittingly, misled Parliament and the public in his statement on 3 February.

"When a few days later it became clear that the mistake had occurred, the Prime Minister should have come back to the House to admit the mistake or clarify the position over what the intelligence sources were saying about Iraq.

"This is a serious matter and the Prime Minister should now go to the select committee in person and explain what really happened."

Mr Ancram said: "The unanswered question by Alastair Campbell was whether Tony Blair knew the February 'dodgy dossier' was not an intelligence document, in which case the Prime Minister knowingly misled the House, or if Blair had not been told by Campbell, in which case he unknowingly misled the House."

He added: "In either case, according to Tony Blair's ministerial code of conduct, the Prime Minister should now come to the House of Commons to set the record straight."

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, will face fresh questions about the affair today when MPs question him behind closed doors about the intelligence argument for war.

MPs will also have a rare opportunity to question the role of the security services next week when the Commons holds a full-day debate on the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee's annual report.

The former health secretary Frank Dobson accused the security services of trying to divert attention from intelligence failures by making allegations to the BBC that ministers "sexed up" evidence against Saddam's regime.

He said: "I'm sure they will find some material in Iraq that eventually could be used, but all the evidence of everybody's eyes and ears is that the basic intelligence, whether spun up a bit or not, was rubbish."

The number of MPs signing a Commons motion demanding the Government produce its intelligence evidence for Iraq's arsenal has risen to 90, including 66 Labour backbenchers.

The former Labour defence minister Peter Kilfoyle, who put down the motion, said: "The crucial issue remains whether, intentionally or unintentionally, the House of Commons or the British people were misled."

Downing Street's Questions For The BBC

* Does the BBC still stand by the allegation it made on 29 May that Number 10 added in the 45-minute claim?

* Does it still stand by the allegation made on the same day that we did so against the wishes of the intelligence agencies?

* Does it still stand by the allegation made on that day that both we and the intelligence agencies knew the 45-minute claim to be wrong?

* Does it still stand by the allegation on the same day that we ordered the September dossier to be "sexed up" in the period leading up to its publication, that it was "cobbled together at the last minute", with some unconfirmed material that had not been approved by the security services?

* Does it still stand by the statement made on 6 June that the Joint Intelligence Committee is not part of the intelligence community but a Number 10 committee whose job is to arbitrate between Government and the intelligence agencies?

* Does it stand by the claim on 3 June that the chairman of the JIC only "kind of bureaucratically signed off this report"?

* How many sources was the original allegation about 45 minutes being added based on? Was it one source or more than one source? Was that source on the JIC, given the fact that only the JIC had the full picture?

* Why did the BBC not check the story with us before broadcast?

* Is this now normal BBC practice for all stories? If so, would it broadcast a story, for instance, alleging financial malpractice by a member of its board of management without checking first?

* Finally, does the BBC believe that its one anonymous source outweighs the combined weight of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the chairman of the JIC, the security and intelligence co-ordinator and the heads of the intelligence agencies?