Tuesday, 18 March, 2003, 12:20 GMT
At-a-glance: Commons Iraq debate
- Mr Blair said after 8 July, he was content the issue should carry on being handled by the MoD.
- Mr Blair said there was not a strategy to get the BBC to confirm the source. "It would have been somewhat odd" if they had not given the BBC the opportunity to confirm the source.
- He did not quite know what Tom Kelly meant. Because it was less to do with the government versus the BBC than to do with the allegation, "that was the troubling thing".
- Mr Blair said he did not see an e-mail in which Number 10 press officer Tom Kelly referred to the government-BBC row as a "game of chicken".
- Mr Blair said "you never know what people may say when they are actually questioned".
- Mr Blair said he was aware Dr Kelly held "uncomfortable views".
- The prime minister said he thought it was a statement of the obvious that Dr Kelly would need proper preparation before he appeared in front of the committees.
- Mr Blair said the general view was that they could not give people wrong information or mislead them, but on the other hand, "we had not volunteered the name".
- The prime minister said he did not know why further details were given out about Dr Kelly in a 'lobby briefing' to the media.
- Asked if Alastair Campbell showed a desire to use Dr Kelly's appearance for the government’s purposes, Mr Blair said "it would not be for us to decide whether he was interviewed by the FAC or the ISC or not. That decision would be taken by them".
- Mr Blair said he was doubtful how much benefit Dr Kelly's evidence to the FAC on 9 July would be to the government.
- Mr Blair said about the meeting about Dr Kelly: "There was nothing in the discussion that we had that would have alerted us to him being anything other than someone of a certain robustness who was used to dealing with the interchange between politics and the media."
- Lord Hutton asked if it would be more appropriate if the source had been simply named in the press statement. Mr Blair said the reason for the hesitation was they could not be sure about this.
- Mr Blair said: "You know in fairness to the MoD press people I think it was difficult for them. It was difficult for them."
- Mr Blair said: "I did not see the MoD Q&A but I think the basic view would have been not to offer the name but on the other hand not to mislead people."
- But Mr Blair said he was not aware of the existence of the MOD's plans for a defensive Q&A for dealing with the media, but "I would have thought it perfectly natural that the MoD had to prepare to field enquiries".
- Mr Blair said he was aware of assistance given by No 10 in drafting the MoD press statement that revealed a source had come forward, without giving a name.
- Mr Blair said the decisions taken at the meeting would be referred back to Tebbit and that whatever was agreed "should be put to Dr Kelly for his agreement too or any statement that was made should be put to Dr Kelly".
- Mr Blair said he took full responsibilty for those decisions.
- Mr Blair said the consensus was Omand should write to the chair of the ISC and copy it to the FAC for courtesy, and then make public the fact the source had come forward.
- Mr Blair said the first question was if they simply concealed the information on the source, this might be improper as it was plainly relevant to the FAC and the ISC.
- Tony Blair discusses a meeting at 1145 on 8 July. Mr Omand was at the meeting, but Tebbit was not. Tony Blair has said they were fairly clear that Dr Kelly was the source, and therefore they had to decide what to do.
- Mr Blair said on 7 July, Alastair Campbell called him to say that the fact that an individual had come forward should be disclosed ahead of Blair's appearance at the Liaison Committee. Mr Blair said they should continue dealing with it through Tebbit and Omand.
- Mr Blair said there was some surprise the news an individual had come forward had not already leaked on Monday morning. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that if the second interview showed he was the source they would have to disclose it.
Mr Blair said he did not recall John Scarlett saying Dr Kelly needed a proper security style interview.
- Mr Blair said at the meeting on 7 July: "The very clear view of all of us...was that if it became clear that in all probability he was the source, the information could not remain undisclosed."
- Mr Blair said he understood that Dr Kelly knew that he might end up having to give evidence.
- Mr Blair said he understood that Dr Kelly's involvement was to be on the basis of his co-operation.
- Mr Blair said in a discussion with Omand on 5 July that he asked to have as much information as possible, and he was told there would be a follow-up interview.
- Mr Blair said he was told it was not an Official Secrets Act matter, and that Dr Kelly had effectively been told off.
- Mr Blair said "his firm view" was they had to proceed in a way that Sir Kevin Tebbit, the MoD's top civil servant, and Sir David Omand were entirely content with, consistent with the MoD's internal procedures. Mr Blair told Alastair Campbell to proceed in a careful way.
- Mr Blair said on the Saturday Alastair Campbell phoned him, saying he wanted to write privately to the BBC governors. But Mr Campbell also raised the issue of the source. He was worried they would be criticised for withholding it.
- Mr Blair said his own judgement was that there was a "fair possibility it would leak in any event" (referring to the fact an individual had come forward).
- Asked about developments over the weekend 5/ 6 July, Mr Blair said he thought an article in the Times newspaper made it more probable the individual who had come forward was the source.
- Mr Blair said they had to be able to say "we handled this by the book, in the sense of with the advice of senior civil servants, not as I say in order to pass responsibility to them but in order to make sure that this was not as it were the politicians driving the system."
- Mr Blair said the quandary was that they never really wanted the FAC to look at the issue, they wanted the ISC to do so.
- Mr Blair replied: "I think there was a real concern on the part of everyone... we were in a quandary frankly right from the very beginning... the FAC is about to report on the Monday, the report is going to deal precisely with the Gilligan allegations and here is somebody who suddenly emerges as the person who may be the source of those allegations"
- Lord Hutton asked why very senior officials like Sir David Manning, Mr Blair's foreign policy advisor, Sir David Omand, chief intelligence co-ordinator in the Cabinet Office, and Mr Scarlett were involved.
- His reaction was to proceed with caution - they needed proper information and to keep the information to themselves. He did not know the name at this stage.
- Tony Blair said he heard an individual had come forward re the source of the story on 3 July, when he was phoned by Jonathan Powell.
- Turning to the Foreign Affairs Committee Mr Blair said the coverage of its report was "in balance probably negative. It was at best a muddied picture...you would not have in any shape or form thought the next day: 'Well, that is the government in the clear'".
- In notes of the conversation, Gavyn Davies said he could not apologise because the source had not been disproved. Blair said to him that it looked like the source is not going to back up Andrew Gilligan's story.
- Tony Blair has said on 7 July, he had a private conversation with BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies, to see if they could come to an agreement. But they were unable to do so.
- James Dingemans QC asked if Mr Blair felt Alastair Campbell's appearance on Channel 4 news had any effect on the escalation of the dispute. Mr Blair replied that the dispute was in a sense not what was important. What was important was the correction of the story.
- Tony Blair said he recognised the fact that there is a difference between the BBC making an allegation and the source making the allegation.
- The inquiry is being shown the correspondence between Alastair Campbell and the BBC's Director of News Richard Sambrook.
- He added that the allegation: "Affected the credibility of the country never mind the PM. It was a very, very serious charge."
- Mr Blair said the real problem was that the original allegation had "booster rockets put on it by the Mail on Sunday article" [written Mr Gilligan].
- Referring to the Today programme Mr Blair said "look any person listening to that would think we had done something improper, not that we just got our facts mixed up".
- Mr Blair said the only way the dispute was going to go away was if the BBC said "clearly and unequivocally" that the original story was wrong, and it was pretty obvious they were not going to.
- Mr Blair smiled at the suggestion by the FAC that he preferred the ISC because it was appointed by and reports to him, and meets in private.
- Mr Blair said "I did not I confess right at the very beginning think that FAC were the right people to deal with it... I worried at the beginning that when a select committee is looking at an issue that is such a huge and hot political issue in a sense, that the danger always is that it splits down party lines".
- Mr Blair said the involvement of Alastair Campbell in the controversy made it an even bigger issue.
- Mr Blair said "there was a raging storm going on". He thought the ISC [Intelligence and Security Committee] were "the right people to deal with this".
- Mr Blair said he asked for the allegation to be checked out with Scarlett and JIC.
- Mr Blair said "This was an absolutely fundamental charge. It is one thing to say we disagree with the government, you should not have gone to war. People can have a disagreement about that. This was an allegation that we had behaved in a way that, were it true, as I say tested - the allegation being true it would have merited my resignation".
- Mr Blair said they issued a strong denial "which did not really go anywhere".
- Mr Blair said his reaction was that "it was an extraordinary allegation to make and an extremely serious one".
- Mr Blair said he was in Basra [southern Iraq] when he was told about the Andrew Gilligan broadcast.
- Mr Blair said he did not imagine they were the first government to have doubts about the way the BBC were covering the war.
- Mr Blair said it was "absolutely wrong" for BBC witnesses to suggest he did not use the 45 min claim again after it appeared in the dossier, because the government had doubts about it. Mr Blair said "there was absolutely no reason for us to doubt the intelligence at all".
- Mr Blair said a lot of people said the dossier was done in a "fairly prosaic way".
- Mr Blair said they described the intelligence in a way that was "perfectly justified".
- The inquiry is being shown the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which said the language used was more assertive than traditionally used in intelligence documents.
- Mr Blair said "the clamour for us to produce the evidence for this was obviously very very strong" so in a sense the dossier was unusual.
- Asked about a letter of complaint from a senior intelligence officer about how intelligence was used, Mr Blair said none of those sorts of complaints reached the JIC or him.
- Mr Blair said he was not aware of any unhappiness amongst members of the intelligence services with the dossier drafting process.
- Mr Blair said the important thing was that once the decision had been taken for Mr Scarlett and the JIC to own the document, everything that was done was subject to that.
- Mr Blair said he was not aware of Mr Scarlett's replies, but it seemed to him "a perfectly right way of proceeding".
- James Dingemans QC asked about comments made by Alastair Campbell to John Scarlett about the dossier. Mr Blair said he could not say he was aware of each and every comment but he was certainly aware of the fact that he would be making comments on it, subject to the fact they were backed by the JIC.
- Mr Blair said: "I am very careful in my statement to make it clear what we were and were not saying... the purpose of the dossier was to respond to the call to disclose intelligence that we knew, but at that stage, the strategy was not to use the dossier as the immediate reason for going to conflict."
- The inquiry is being shown revised forewords to the dossier. Mr Blair said it was more the facts in the dossier than the statement that were key items. There could well have been discussion about drafts of the foreword.
- Lord Hutton asked if Mr Blair agreed that the wording in an e-mail for the document to be as strong as possible within the bounds of available intelligence was a fair way of describing Number 10's view. Mr Blair said only if the intelligence agencies thought so and there was "no improper weight" given to any aspect of it.
- Mr Blair said he was aware of a process going on. It was important that they made the best case they could. It had to be owned by the JIC.
- Mr Blair said he did not think he made a comment on the 45 minute claim.
- Mr Blair said he saw the 10 Sept draft and commented on drafts of 16 and 19 Sept. He also saw the JIC assessment on 9 Sept.
- Mr Blair said he was in "no doubt" that Alastair Campbell would assist in the presentation of the dossier but "I also knew that it had to be a document that was owned by JIC [Joint Intelligence Committee] and the chairman, John Scarlett".
- James Dingemans QC asked about the meeting on 5 September chaired by Alastair Campbell in which it was decided to have a substantial rewrite.
- Mr Blair said he decided to announce the publication of a dossier because there was a renewed sense of urgency. He had a phone call with Bush and they decided they had to confront the issue, devise a strategy and get on with it
- Mr Blair said the decision to have a dossier on Iraq alone was because Iraq was a special case in breach of UN resolutions and a history of using WMD against it own people.
- Mr Blair said after September 11, there was a new sense of urgency on the question of rogue states and weapons of mass destruction, and the link with terrorism. And there was some thought given to trying to bring all that together.
- James Dingemans QC is asking about the dossiers.
- Tony Blair called to stand.
- The prime minister is due to start giving evidence at 1030 BST.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites