Blair promises to quit if Kelly report shows he lied to MPs.
Tony Blair's role in the naming of Dr David Kelly was thrust back into the spotlight yesterday when he said he would resign if the Hutton Inquiry showed he had lied to Parliament.
The Prime Minister stood by his denial of responsibility for the leaking of the weapons scientist's name shortly before he committed suicide.
Mr Blair was forced on the defensive by Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, during heated Commons exchanges, which were seen as a dress-rehearsal for a full-scale clash when Lord Hutton's report is published.
Mr Blair issued a carefully-worded statement saying he stood by the "totality" of comments in July in which he denied that he authorised the naming of Dr Kelly to the press as the source of the BBC's report on the "sexing-up" of the Iraq weapons dossier.
Mr Howard claimed that the Prime Minister's denial had been contradicted by Sir Kevin Tebbit, the Ministry of Defence's top civil servant.
Sir Kevin, told the Hutton Inquiry that Mr Blair chaired a Downing Street meeting at which the decision to authorise disclosure of Dr Kelly's name was taken. "Either the permanent secretary or the Prime Minister is not telling the truth," Mr Howard said.
Mr Blair rejected the suggestion that he had been untruthful, saying he believed the Government would demonstrate that when the Hutton report was published.
He appeared to be drawing a distinction between the Government's strategy of providing clues about Dr Kelly's identity and confirming his name once it was obtained by the media, and actually leaking it beforehand.
Mr Howard, a QC, said he was looking forward to cross-examining him when the report came out. He demanded an assurance that Mr Blair would abide by his own rule that ministers should resign if they lied to Parliament.
"Of course it applies to me as it applies to all ministers," said Mr Blair.
The exchanges followed the disclosure that the Government had made a further, unpublished, submission to the Hutton Inquiry after it stopped taking formal evidence in September. Downing Street had faced accusations from journalists that it was seeking to"nobble" Lord Hutton after officials refused to give details of the additional material.
Lord Hutton issued a statement disclosing that the BBC, its reporter Andrew Gilligan, and the family of Dr Kelly, as well as the Government, had made further written submissions to his inquiry.
He said that in the "interests of fairness" the parties were given the opportunity to make further
points. There was nothing "surprising or unexpected or of special significance in the making of these written submissions".
He decided not to publish the texts after those who submitted additional evidence said it would encourage "trial by media" of various individuals. Lord Hutton said he would consider publishing the documents after his report became public.
His statement gave no date for publication of the report, which was expected next week, and ministers believe it could slip to early February.
Mr Howard's questioning was an indication that the Tories hope to use Lord Hutton's report to challenge Mr Blair's integrity.
Tory officials are combing through the inquiry's published evidence in an attempt to implicate the Prime Minister in the naming strategy.
There was surprise that Mr Blair was not questioned during his appearance before the inquiry about his denials of involvement in the naming of Dr Kelly only a few days after his apparent suicide.
The Prime Minister was thought by some to have been let off the hook by James Dingemans, QC, counsel for the inquiry. He failed to ask how Mr Blair's denials of involvement in the scientist's naming tallied with his chairing a meeting which decided to offer Dr Kelly as a witness to the Intelligence and Security Committee, which sits in secret.
The committee, refusing to have its agenda set by No 10, rejected the private offer, preferring a public statement.
Mr Blair then authorised a press statement he knew would lead to Dr Kelly being called before the ISC and the Commons foreign affairs committee, which sits in public.
Source: Daily Telegraph, London, UK, 08Jan04
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