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Last Updated: Monday, 4 August, 2003, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Hutton inquiry
Lord Hutton
The Hutton inquiry has begun. It became clear he'll dig deep but not too wide.

He takes a narrow interpretation of his terms of reference in investigating how the government scientist David Kelly died.

So, Lord Hutton intends to call Tony Blair, Geoff Hoon and Alistair Campbell - but to ask them how Dr Kelly was treated after he came forward as a BBC source - not about presentation of intelligence on Iraq more generally.

That suggests the inquiry will centre on the government's battle with the BBC - something that could be fraught with danger for both Downing Street and the Corporation. And the risks will go on and on because there are hints the inquiry will last months.

Mark Urban was joined by Oliver Letwin, Menzies Campbell and Gisela Stuart.

To assess the political impact of all this are Oliver Letwin for the Conservatives, Menzies Campbell for the Liberal Democrats and Gisela Stuart for the Labour Party. Oliver Letwin if I can start with you. What is the question you want answered most of all by this inquiry?

(Shadow Home Secretary)

Well, I suppose, what we most needed to understand is how that dossier came to be in the condition that it did come to be in and what role the various actors played in it. That is a more important question about the trust worthiness of the information given to Parliament and the electorate.

He is not going to about the dossier in those terms is he? If you read his statement today, as far as he is concerned the clock starts, as it were, at the moment that David Kelly goes to his superior and says "I think I may be the BBC source." That's what Lord Hutton said today.

I'm not sure about that. I hope that you will prove to be wrong. We have to let Lord Hutton conduct his own inquiry. And he has to conduct it of course against the terms of reference the Prime Minister has given to him.

He has given us a pretty good idea how it will go?

I have also read that, but I'm not sure I've read it the same way. But its pointless to debate because we will know when we see it. But what I am clear about is, that if we don't get to the bottom, not only the question of how David Kelly came to his tragic death, but also to the question of how that dossier came to be as it was, then the British public isn't going to know the answer, or part of the answer to the critical question:
can it trust what its told by a government at a moment of great national emergency?

Gisela Stuart, what is the key question from your perspective?

(Labour, Foreign Affairs Select Committee)

I think what the inquiry, certainly from my perspective on the Foreign Affairs Committee threw up, is that the process of holding the executive to account on a number of occasions simply came up against a closed door. Either because it was confidential information. But in that sense I didn't have so much of a problem as we had a sister committee, chaired by Anne Taylor, having access to those documents. But also when we tried to verify certain stories we were then simply told "I cannot reveal that to the committee." That was part of the sense of the frustration of the committee towards the end, that we were simply being denied access to information which would have allowed us to make an informed opinion.

So your key concern as a Labour member of the Foreign Affairs Committee is to get a Labour government to give straight answers?

I think that has been rather unfortunate over the last few weeks. That there was always an assumption that the committee divided on strict party political lines. That has not been the case. We have taken our duty very seriously and have not seen it as a party political exercise. We had pointless information, like there was an assumption that a Labour members had a set of blue sheets of questions from which we asked our witnesses. These are the kind of sheets that every select committee clerk prepares for every select committee for every member. One of the things I hope Lord Hutton will take up is the offer of a full set of documents of the committee including notes and preparations. Which will allows us for the first time to really see the complete picture on the basis of which we arrived at our decisions.

Menzies Campbell, do you think there will be straight answers this time or do you think the likely narrowness of the interpretation of the terms of reference will mean the big questions about war and peace simply aren't on the agenda?

(Liberal Democrats, Foreign Affairs)

It would be difficult, for example, for Alastair Campbell to conduct himself in evidence in the way he did in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee. At the end of his evidence, it was pretty clear he was enjoying himself. The nature of the questioning and the examination to which he will be subject, and the form of this inquiry, will make it much more essential for him and others to be precise and clear in the answer that is they give. But I go back to the question with which you began, which is the issue as to what this inquiry ought to be dealing with. In my view the issue which we ought to be dealing with is whether the UK went to war on a false prospectus, either because intelligence was inadequate or because of the way the Government handled that intelligence. That is not Lord Hutton's remit. Having listened very carefully to him throughout his address at the opening of the inquiry I find it difficult to see him going beyond the narrow terms of his remit. I think at the end of this inquiry, which will no doubt be conducted with professionalism and with painstaking care, that fundamental question will still not have been answered. Although we may know much more about the inner recesses of Number Ten Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence and the way in which government is conducted in this country today.

Now, as this process goes on, it seems a matter of months, people are talking about even spring next year as the concluding point, there is every prospect of leaks, like what we saw today, from one side or the another. Gisela Stuart, do you really think the Government can maintain the line that they are just not going to comment on this until the committee reports? Or will they be drawn into the same political slugging match we have seen this summer.

I very much hope we give Lord Hutton the opportunity to have the debate conducted in the way he has planned, ie in two stages where you simply gather all the facts and evidence. I think it will require restraint on all parties concerned. The biggest challenge is for the media, in the course of these daily reportings, of not jumping to conclusions. What I've seen, on the small part of the inquiry, having been on the committee, that in terms of changing the goal posts and changing the story it really doesn't help the public to get proper information. What I think will also come out, that is something which we have seen continuously on the committee, is that intelligence gathering is not an exact science. Provided the due processes, that he goes through the Joint Intelligence Committee, that it is cleared by the proper authorities, then that is simply the best evidence that is available at the time.

Oliver Letwin, we have seen this row between the Government and the BBC, so far, in opinion polls, doesn't seem to have been a great political Phillip from the Government's point of view. What do you think of the dangerous though on the other hand, for the BBC, in this process that has now been started?

I don't know. Throughout, I have maintained that the point is none of us quite know. On this programme, a few days ago, Menzies and I were agreeing, I think, that although it is asymmetric and although there has been and will probably continue to be much more fall out for the Government, than anyone else, the fact is that the way this whole thing has gone is causing an intensification of what already, alas, exists, which is a great deal of scepticism on behalf of most of the voters about politics, politician, the media and the whole Westminster establishment. At the end the worst feature of all of this, and indeed of the way things have been conducted over the past five or six years, I think, is that people have lost what residual faith in many cases they had in Westminster politics.

Will resignations be required to restore it, do you think?

Its far too early to talk about who does what. I doubt actually that anything will restore the faith quickly. I think the inquiry is important. I think for it to begin to restore faith it will have to do a much more thorough, more wide-ranging job than you were suggesting it was going to do. It will have to give us some sense on how the Government used intelligence.

Menzies Campbell, as we look at the months that lie ahead of political cut and thrust in this inquiry, do you think that apart from Lord Hutton himself anyone can emerge with credit from it?

Well, that is a question that is almost impossible to answer. It's inevitable that there will be, if you like, accompanying commentary. Gisela's hopes I think are vain. The precedent of the Scot inquiry is not all that long ago in our minds, throughout the course of that there was essentially a running commentary as witnesses came and gave evidence and that evidence was subject to very considerable scrutiny by press and politicians alike. From the Government's point of view the next two or three months will be pretty difficult indeed. So as far as the Government and the BBC are concerned, let me say this by way of conclusion, and it's not because this is a BBC programme, if it comes to a shoot out between the Government and the BBC, as to which is to be regarded as more credible, I think the Government may be in for something of a shock.

All right. Thank you all very much indeed.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Mark Urban
discussed if the Hutton inquiry will satisfy those hoping for a verdict on the government's case for war on Iraq.


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