The Sketch: Honest, generous and concerned: The minister becomes the injured party

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The Independent Online

What a contrast there is in the way Lord Hutton and the House of Commons conduct their business. I have to say, it will be refreshing to go back to the Royal Courts of Justice next week. The Commons' Intelligence and Security Committee has pronounced on the case of Geoff Hoon's ministerial mendacity in a typically political report. It combines its opposites: brutal secular revelations and other-worldly forgiveness.

The Defence Secretary stood accused of misleading the House by failing properly to alert this committee to very serious reservations members of the intelligence service had over September's sexed-up dossier. Their report levelled new and damning charges but had a wholly redemptive conclusion. As a result, Mr Hoon is not toast but he must be crumbling a bit as the toaster heats up.

"It would be churlish not to recognise the contrite way the Secretary of State has come to the House," began the Conservatives' defence spokesperson, Bernard Jenkin, which cleared up the mystery of Mr Hoon's face. I'd thought it was expressing relief, sly pleasure and concealed triumph. And why not? Everyone was being so nice to him. How the House is disabled by acts of contrition.

In the most egregious act of spin of the post-spin era, Mr Hoon presented himself as an injured party. He'd never had any intention of being other than open. His only mistake - apart from being too honest, too generous, too concerned with the welfare of his staff - was not to have revealed that the pedantic objections to "linguistic" elements in the September dossier had been made in writing.

In fact (and we only know this because Lord Hutton had published the document) the objections were substantive, serious and suppressed. Far from being part of the normal debate, the written complaint was something the intelligence expert had never done before, not in 13 years of service.

Michael Portillo asked a more interesting question than he had for years. He was trying, he said (falsely, we have to hope), to put himself sympathetically into the position of the Minister of Defence. He couldn't understand why Mr Hoon hadn't volunteered freely the objections of these intelligence experts, particularly as they very clearly matched allegations that Andrew Gilligan had made.

Paul Keetch, the Liberal Democrats' defence spokesman, made this very good argument: if the dossier had made clear Saddam Hussein wasn't threatening the British mainland; if it made clear that there were no links between al-Qa'ida and Iraq and that military action there would increase the terrorist threat to Western interests; had it made clear that the 45-minute claim referred only to battlefield and not to mass destruction weapons ... if the dossier hadn't been redrafted to political imperatives in order to make the case for war - would the Commons still have voted for it?

The question remains: if Alastair Campbell didn't sex up the report, who did? After all, it was sexier than any Joint Intelligence Committee report that had ever been written. It was sexier than the American dossier, for Brigitte Bardot's sake! It was, is and ever will be the sexiest intelligence dossier in the history of intelligence dossiers. How? Who? Why?

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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