Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Sunday, 21 June 2009 14:48 UK

Straw relaxed on open Iraq probe

Jack Straw: 'I have no difficulty in giving most of my evidence in public'

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has said he has "no problem" giving evidence to the Iraq war inquiry in public.

Mr Straw, foreign secretary during the 2003 invasion, said he believed then Prime Minster Tony Blair would also be ready to testify in an open hearing.

The government has been criticised for announcing that the inquiry would take place in private.

Downing Street and Mr Blair's spokesman dismissed claims it was prompted by pressure from the ex-prime minister.

Sensitive intelligence

Mr Straw told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show that Sir John Chilcot - who will lead the inquiry - had indicated that it would be "mixed" between public and private sessions.

The justice secretary said he would be prepared to testify publicly on matters that did not relate to sensitive intelligence or that put the lives of British forces at risk.

Mr Straw said: "As foreign secretary at the time I have no problem with giving most of the evidence I have got to give in public.

"In fairness to Tony, he has given the equivalent of evidence in public scores and scores of time.

"I'm completely comfortable giving most of my evidence in public and I'm sure he is."

He added that the government had set up the probe along the lines of the Franks inquiry into the Falklands war in response to calls from the Conservatives.

If it's a government u-turn and the inquiry is now going to be held in public then I welcome that
Theresa May
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary

But BBC political correspondent Vicky Young said pressure was building for the probe to be conducted publicly.

When he announced it on Monday, the prime minister said the inquiry would hear evidence in private so witnesses could be "as candid as possible".

Following widespread criticism Mr Brown appeared to backtrack, saying it would be up to Sir John to decide which session of the inquiry could be held in public.

A Downing Street spokesman said Gordon Brown took "full responsibility" for Monday's statement.

But the spokesman added: "He has asked Sir John Chilcot to come forward with recommendations on how the inquiry should best be conducted, so the suggestion that some in principle decision has already been taken is just plain wrong."

Transport Minister Sadiq Khan told the BBC's Politics Show that he suspected "many, many parts" of the inquiry would be conducted in public.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May said the apparent turnaround by ministers was "amazing".

She added: "If it's a government U-turn and the inquiry is now going to be held in public then I welcome that."

Secret discussions

The Observer newspaper says Mr Blair urged Gordon Brown not to hold a public inquiry because he feared being subjected to a "show trial".

Before the inquiry was announced Mr Blair - who took Britain into the war in 2003 - is said by the paper to have put pressure on the prime minister via the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell.

Nick Clegg: "The prime architect of the war (Tony Blair)... should give evidence in public"

The paper alleges Mr Blair did not want to give evidence in public, and under oath, about the use of intelligence and secret discussions held with ex-US President George W Bush during the run-up to the conflict.

Responding to the claims, a spokesman for Mr Blair said: "As we have already said, Mr Blair will of course co-operate with the inquiry but any decisions on the format are for Sir John Chilcot and the prime minister."

A Downing Street spokesman said: "We have always been clear that we consulted a number of people before announcing the commencement of the inquiry, including former government figures

"We are not going to get into the nature of those discussions."

But Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show that it appeared Mr Brown had been "dictated to by his predecessor".

Mr Clegg added: "If the inquiry is to have any legitimacy, the prime architect of the decision to go to war in Iraq alongside George Bush should give his evidence in public under oath.

"I think anything less will make people feel this is just a grand cover-up for, after all, what was the biggest foreign policy mistake this country has made since Suez."

The inquiry will start next month and aims to identify "lessons learned".

On Wednesday the prime minister is due to face a Commons vote on a Conservative motion that evidence given to the Iraq inquiry should be heard in public "whenever possible".

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