Protests halt Commons debate over Hutton report

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Indy Politics

A Commons debate on the Hutton Report was today suspended after the Prime Minister's opening speech was interrupted by protests from the public gallery.

Several demonstrators were ejected amid shouts of "whitewash" and "no more illegal war" as Tony Blair attempted to open the six-hour debate.

As Mr Blair struggled to make himself heard above the protests, Commons Speaker Michael Martin took the rare step of halting proceedings.

The public gallery was cleared before the debate continued after delay of around 10 minutes.

When the Prime Minister resumed after the suspension, the public gallery was entirely empty.

Meanwhile, seven protesters were being questioned by officers in the police room. They were trying to find out where they obtained their tickets for the gallery and whether they came from an MP.

The suspension came as Mr Blair was commenting on an article in The Independent today by Brian Jones, a former branch head in the Defence Intelligence Staff. He said that the most senior intelligence officials might have "misinterpreted" the evidence.

When the House resumed, Mr Blair said that Dr Jones was wrong in claiming there was intelligence about the 45 minute claim which had been withheld from him.

Mr Blair said that concerns expressed about the claim that Iraqi WMD could be fired in 45 minutes by defence intelligence officers, including Brian Jones, may have been "the grain of truth that led to the mountain of untruth" in BBC reports.

But he told MPs that the BBC report which sparked the Hutton Inquiry was "100 per cent wrong".

Flanked by the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, Mr Blair agreed with one MP that opposition to the Hutton report's findings were sparked by "frustration" that no ministers had been forced out by the issue.

The Conservative leader Michael Howard said earlier today that he was very concerned about Dr Jones's remarks.

Mr Howard said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think that this is very serious, very important indeed. One of the things that Dr Jones does is to call on the Prime Minister now to publish the intelligence behind the Government's claims that Iraq was actively producing chemical weapons and could launch an attack within 45 minutes.

"He says that intelligence should be published now so that everyone can form their proper opinion of the extent to which it was taken into account and of the extent to which it was turned into something else in Dr Jones's words which was misleading."

Mr Howard went on: "The Prime Minister should publish this intelligence or explain why he can't. That is what Dr Jones is asking for this morning, it seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable request."

The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell said Dr Jones's comments were a new blow for Mr Blair.

Sir Menzies said on the Today programme: "I think this is a case of Dr Jones perhaps trying to get his retaliation in first before the examination of intelligence by the inquiry set up by the Government.

"And if the Government hoped that the Butler inquiry was going to be no re–run of Hutton, then I think it is pretty clear that Dr Jones and others of similar view are going to prevent that happening.

"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."