A prominent member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee apologised yesterday for unwittingly contributing to the pressure that led David Kelly to take his life.
The Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay, whose intense questioning was criticised after Dr Kelly's disappearance, became the first person to openly acknowledge his part in the tragedy.
He said in a statement: "I deeply regret Dr Kelly's death. I am sorry for any of the stress that, albeit unintentionally, I may have caused him during his questioning before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. I wish to express my sincere condolences to his wife and family."
Mr Mackinlay's approach was in contrast to that of fellow committee member Greg Pope, Labour MP for Hyndburn, who branded attempts to lay blame for Dr Kelly's death "insensitive and distasteful". "Some people are already looking for scapegoats in a way and at a time which I believe to be deeply insensitive," Mr Pope said. "In particular, some sections of the media have sought to lay responsibility with the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for the nature of its questioning of Dr Kelly on Tuesday July 15.
"I can only answer for my own actions. I have read the draft Hansard transcripts and seen television extracts of my own questions to Dr Kelly and I believe them to be reasonable in both tone and content."
But Dr Kelly's death and the role played by his appearance before the committee have prompted MPs to look again at whether the select committee system - one of the most powerful parliamentary checks on government - is working.
Several MPs believe that the time has come for the system, set up in 1979, to be reviewed. Many believe there needs to be a more professional approach to hearing evidence, with the introduction of paid advocates to ask questions.
One Labour MP said: "The whole system is a bit of a shambles really. The committees are not as independent as they should be and MPs are not trained to properly carry out the work and the investigations they are designed to have."
Another said the select committee system needed more fundamental reform. "I think what this [Dr Kelly's treatment by the committee] underlines is that select committees are entirely inappropriate bodies to deal with this kind of investigation.
"You cannot have what is in essence a judicial inquiry conducted by any committee, and certainly not by a committee of MPs."Reuse content