Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, was given a rough ride in the Commons yesterday over Iraq and the death of David Kelly as he struggled to regain his authority.
Mr Hoon came under fire from Labour and Tory MPs and was ticked off by Michael Martin, the Speaker, for announcing a decision to send another 1,200 British troops to Iraq in a written Commons statement, which limited MPs' ability to question him on the deployment.
The Defence Secretary looked uncomfortable and hinted for the first time that he would resign if he is criticised in Lord Hutton's report next month. He told Sky News: " If he's critical of me, I will have to accept that. I'm content to await his results and to read what he has to say."
However, Mr Hoon also hinted that his own witness statement to the inquiry, which has not been made public, included a full account of his role in the unmasking of Dr Kelly.
"I'm happy for the Hutton inquiry to judge all of the evidence that I have given them and it's for Lord Hutton to reach a conclusion," he said.
Answering Commons questions, Mr Hoon was repeatedly taunted by Tory MPs about the inquiry evidence suggesting he was not in control of his department as the Government decided how to handle Dr Kelly. Eventually the Speaker intervened to spare him further embarrassment, ruling that MPs could not ask questions about the inquiry while it was in progress.
Mr Hoon said the extra troops, from 2nd Battalion, the Light Infantry and the 1st Battalion, the Royal Green Jackets, could be followed by a further deployment to guarantee regular power and water supplies.
Bernard Jenkin, the Tories' shadow Defence Secretary, said the announcement was a "humiliation" for the Government. "This reinforcement does underline the fact that the Government's policy is a shambles in Iraq," he said. He asked Mr Hoon: "For once will you take responsibility for what is going on in your own department. Or are you still playing the part of the 'not me guv', Secretary of State?"
Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, asked Mr Hoon whether he was aware of reservations by his Defence Intelligence Staff on the September dossier, for example that the claim Iraq could deploy weapons within 45 minutes was based on "nebulous intelligence".
Mr Hoon appeared to blame John Scarlett, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman, for the fact that such dissent was absent from the dossier. He said intelligence questions of this kind were resolved through the JIC "and not by departmental discussion".
Several MPs demanded an "exit" strategy for British troops, with both Tory and Labour members raising the prospect that the forces would be sucked into another Vietnam.
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, told MPs that sending more troops would speed up the process of handing control of the country back to the Iraqi people. Challenged over whether evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction would be found, Mr Straw said the work of the Iraqi Survey Group would be a "long term task". He said the group was "doing its job in much more difficult circumstances than anticipated because of the security situation caused by the terrorists".
Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, said yesterday that Tony Blair should resign if the Hutton inquiry found he "misled the country" on the case for war in Iraq and if he knew about the way Dr Kelly was treated before his death.Reuse content