Page last updated at 15:59 GMT, Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Iraq inquiry being 'suffocated' - Lib Dem leader Clegg

Nick Clegg: "This protocol includes nine seperate reasons why information can be suppressed"

The government has been accused of "suffocating" the Iraq inquiry in its guidance on what can go in the report.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said Whitehall departments had been given "rights of veto" over its contents.

He said a protocol issued by ministers listed nine reasons why information could be suppressed "most of which have nothing to do with national security".

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said it was up to the inquiry chairman to decide what information he published.

The long-awaited inquiry into the build up, conduct and aftermath of the Iraq invasion in 2003 began on Tuesday.

Truth 'vital'

When Gordon Brown announced it in June, he initially said it would be held in private for security reasons but after widespread criticism he said committee chairman, Sir John Chilcot, would have the option to hold sessions in public.

But at prime minister's questions on Wednesday, Nick Clegg asked for further reassurances, saying it was "vital" the inquiry was "able to reveal the full truth about the decisions leading up to the invasion of Iraq".

I believe that Sir John Chilcot and his team are happy with the way that they are being asked to conduct the inquiry
Gordon Brown

He said the inquiry team should be able to publish everything "with the sole exception" of information relating to national security.

The government had issued a protocol to members of the inquiry governing the publication of material in the final report.

Mr Clegg said it included nine reasons for not publishing details and "outrageously gives Whitehall departments individual rights of veto over the information in the final report".

"How on earth are we, and is the whole country, going to hear about the full truth of the decisions leading up to the invasion of Iraq if the inquiry is being suffocated on day one by his government's shameful culture of secrecy?," he asked.

Mr Brown responded that Sir John had been "given the freedom to conduct the inquiry in the way he wants" and would choose what information to publish.

He said: "The issues affecting the inquiry that would cause people to be careful are national security and international relations.

"As I understand it, these are the issues referred to there and I believe that Sir John Chilcot and his team are happy with the way that they are being asked to conduct the inquiry."

The inquiry is expected to take months and will not report back before the general election, which must be held by June 2010.

Its chairman, Sir John, told the BBC on Monday it would not be a "whitewash" and the inquiry panel was determined "to do not merely a thorough job but one that is frank and will bear public scrutiny".

He has previously said it was "essential" to hold as much of the inquiry as possible, bearing in mind national security concerns and the need to "ensure and enable complete candour in the oral and written evidence from witnesses".

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