Pressure on Blair to publish evidence for 45-minute claim

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair was under pressure yesterday to publish the evidence behind the Government's controversial claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

Michael Howard, the Tory leader, led demands for the Prime Minister to agree to the call in yesterday's Independent by Brian Jones, the former leading expert on WMD at the Ministry of Defence, for the evidence to be disclosed.

Mr Blair triggered further controversy over the 45-minute claim yesterday when he told MPs that he did not know that it related to only short-range battlefield weapons until the crucial Commons debate last March which authorised the Iraq war - only a day before it began. His official spokesman insisted later that it made no difference, saying: "Battlefield weapons which are modified to carry WMD are WMD."

Yesterday's Commons debate on Lord Hutton's report had to be suspended for 10 minutes when protesters in the public gallery disrupted Mr Blair's opening speech.

Responding to The Independent report, Mr Howard said: "I think that this is very serious indeed. The Prime Minister should publish this intelligence or explain why he can't."

The Tory leader said Dr Jones's article might change his view of the Hutton report, which he accepted last week. "If new evidence becomes available which casts doubt on the Hutton findings, then it would be foolish not to take that new evidence into account."

Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, said: "The Government hopes that this story will lie down. Every time it tries to drive a stake into it, the story just jumps up again."

Labour's Tam Dalyell challenged Mr Blair about the report when the Prime Minister addressed the Parliamentary Labour Party yesterday.

Downing Street said it would be "foolish" to publish the intelligence behind the 45-minute claim as it could compromise sources. Mr Blair's spokesman said: "Brian Jones is an expert in his field but, as Lord Hutton heard, his concerns were considered by his superiors in the Defence Intelligence Service, both of whom gave evidence and were on the Joint Intelligence Committee, and who did not take up his concerns."

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