Lib Dems shun WMD intelligence inquiry

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Indy Politics

The Foreign Secretary Jack Straw today announced a wide-ranging review of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, but said the Liberal Democrats would play no part.

He announced to the Commons that a review chaired by ex-Cabinet Secretary Lord Butler would look at intelligence on weapons of mass destruction programmes and the global trade in WMD, as well as the accuracy of pre-war intelligence on Iraqi WMD and any discrepancies with what was eventually found.

But he told MPs the leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy had chosen not to support the inquiry.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell said his party was unwilling to take part in the inquiry because the remit fixed by Mr Straw was too narrow and excluded consideration of the use the Government made of intelligence.

Sir Menzies said that the reception of last week's Hutton report showed that "an inquiry which excluded politicians from scrutiny is unlikely to command public confidence".

The Conservative leader Michael Howard said that questions about the use the Government made of the intelligence provided to it were "fairly and squarely within the remit of this inquiry".

He said he was "very surprised" by the reasons given by the Liberal Democrats for boycotting the review.

"I am confident that these terms of reference cover the use made by the Government of the intelligence," he said. "Indeed, I was told that that was what the Prime Minister wanted them to do, amongst other things."

Mr Straw said the review committee would report to the Prime Minister and would look at "countries of concern" involved in WMD. He added that the committee, which would follow precedents set by the Franks inquiry into the Falklands conflict, would report before Parliament's summer recess in July.

The Foreign Secretary said the committee would be made up of Lord Butler, Sir John Chilcot, Field Marshal Lord Inge, chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee Labour's Ann Taylor and Tory MP Michael Mates.

He went on: "The committee will submit its final conclusions to the Prime Minister in a form for publication, along with any classified recommendations and material."

The Shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram welcomed the inquiry, saying that Mr Blair had executed a "spectacular U-turn" for a Prime Minister "with no reverse gear".

Mr Ancram said the inquiry should consider the use Government made of intelligence material to determine whether ministers had "cherry-picked" information which supported the case for war.