The Government was accused yesterday of "running scared" of a full investigation into the death of David Kelly when Tony Blair rejected calls for Parliament to be recalled to approve the inquiry's terms of reference.
Lord Hutton, a senior law lord, will announce today how he plans to run the judicial inquiry he will head into the circumstances surrounding Dr Kelly's death. It will start work after the scientist's funeral and will be held mainly in public.
Mr Blair promised yesterday he would give evidence and Lord Hutton would be able to call all the witnesses and papers he required. But the Opposition parties warned that witnesses would not give evidence on oath because the investigation was not being set up under the 1921 Tribunals of Inquiry Act. That would require a vote in both the Commons and Lords, who could widen the terms of reference to include the Government's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Bill Cash, the shadow Attorney General, said: "The death of Dr Kelly is inseparable from the general handling of intelligence about the Iraq war. It is impossible to separate the two." He added: "The Government is in the dock. The Government should not decide without parliamentary debate and involvement on the terms of reference. The Government is trying to escape from a full inquiry."
David Davis, the shadow Deputy Prime Minister, said: "We need an inquiry where evidence should be given on oath and witnesses should be compelled to give evidence. That can only happen by Parliament granting statutory powers to Lord Hutton's inquiry."
The Tories want a two-stage process, with an interim report into Dr Kelly's death within weeks and a longer investigation into the Government's intelligence on Iraqi weapons to report in six months.
But ministers rejected the criticism, saying the WMD issue has been investigated by the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee and would be covered by the parliamentary Security and Intelligence Committee, which will report in September. "We want to get on with it; we don't want a long, drawn out inquiry," one minister said. Lord Hutton's inquiry should be completed in between six and eight weeks.
Mr Blair said yesterday that recalling Parliament from its summer break "would generate more heat than light". He said: "I don't think it would be appropriate. I think we should have a period of reflection and a period in which the judge can carry out the inquiry, and also allow the family time to grieve. In the light of what's a terrible tragedy it's right that there is a proper independent inquiry.'
Interviewed on Sky News during his visit to Japan, the Prime Minister said: "I do think this is a time for respect and restraint, not for recrimination of any sort, and in addition I would say that of course there are things that I will talk about to the inquiry, as will others.
"But I think the right and proper process is that I speak to the judge who is the head of the inquiry, in the way that other people will, and he's allowed to get on with his job and establish the fact."
Describing Dr Kelly's death as "a terrible, terrible tragedy", Mr Blair said he would act on the inquiry's findings. "In the end, the Government is my responsibility and I can assure you the judge will be able to get to what facts, what people, what papers he want," he said.
Mr Blair insisted he was still "absolutely confident" that evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons programme would be found still, despite no clear signs, saying he was not surprised no evidence had been discovered so far. "What I have constantly tried to emphasise to people is that there was an organised programme of concealment," he said.
THE KEY QUESTIONS
- Did Alastair Campbell or somebody else in the Government leak Dr Kelly's name to the press?
- Did the Ministry of Defence threaten Dr Kelly after he came forward - for example, by warning he could lose his pension or be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act?
- Did the Foreign Affairs Select Committee put undue pressure on Dr Kelly when he gave evidence to it? Should he have been questioned in private?
- Did the BBC governors ask Mr Gilligan to name his source? If so, why did they back him when it was said Dr Kelly was not the "senior intelligence source" claimed?
- Did Mr Gilligan have another source for his story? If so, why did the BBC say he had a single source? If not, did he "sex up" what Dr Kelly told him during their meeting?
- Should the BBC have admitted Dr Kelly was its principal source to reduce the pressure on him?