Hoon: type of weapons 'not significant'

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Indy Politics

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said today the type of weapons referred to in the 45-minute claim had not been "a significant issue" when Prime Minister Tony Blair took the country to war with Iraq.

Mr Blair was unaware the claim in the Government dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction referred only to battlefield weapons when he asked MPs to vote for war on March 18.

Mr Hoon told the Commons Defence Select Committee: "I emphasise this was not a significant issue and the Prime Minister did not mention the so-called 45-minute claim to Parliament.

"I am sure that, had this been a significant issue to this committee, Members of Parliament or the public, he would have. It was not a significant issue at the time. It was not a matter that we discussed."

Downing Street has also attempted to play down the controversy over the 45-minute claim, accusing the media of "revisionism" and attempting to "rewrite history."

Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "This does appear to be a bit of an attempt to rewrite history and to inject another element of controversy into this.

"The 45-minute point played little part subsequent to the dossier in the discussion about Iraq. There were two questions in 38,000 written parliamentary questions about it.

"The Prime Minister did not draw attention to it in his statement to the House in March.

"We never claimed that Saddam Hussein could attack the UK in 45 minutes or within any timescale.

"In respect of the dossier, what the dossier makes clear is the Prime Minister and the Government believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that he had the capability to deploy them both in a battlefield and a strategic capacity.

"The Prime Minister and the Government believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was able to deploy them both in a tactical and strategic way. We never claimed in the dossier that the 45-minutes referred to ballistic missiles in this way."

"We are in danger of making this 45-minute point some sort of totemic trigger for military action which it never was."