» Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iraq Inquiry

Asked if the Prime Minister would be prepared to make a statement to Parliament on the terms of reference for the Iraq Inquiry, the Prime Minister s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that there was a debate in Parliament about this today. The Prime Minister had already made a statement to Parliament on the subject of the Iraq Inquiry and had set out further details of that in his exchange of letters with Sir John Chilcot.

Put that in that exchange of letters Sir John Chilcot seemed to be saying it would take time to draw up terms of reference and when he had done that would the Prime Minister make a statement, the PMS said that Sir John Chilcot had said in his letter that what would take him time was examining all of the evidence and particularly the sensitive evidence. That would be the initial stage of his inquiry, before he moved to the next stage of the inquiry, which was when he was likely to hold public sessions.

We had already had one statement on this, followed by questions to the Prime Minister and we would be having a debate about it today. There had also been this exchange of letters.

Asked if the Prime Minister was happy to give his own evidence in public and would he expect other Ministers called to give evidence to do the same, the PMS replied that who the inquiry called to give evidence was a matter for Sir John Chilcot. If the Prime Minister was called he would of course co-operate fully. Asked if the Prime Minister would give evidence in public, the PMS said that the Prime Minister s letter to Sir John Chilcot made clear that there was no issue of principle around holding sessions in public, providing that the aims of the inquiry could be properly met and national security protected. If those conditions were met then the Prime Minister would have no difficulty in giving evidence in public.

Asked whether the Prime Minister would expect others to follow his example, the PMS said that who Sir John Chilcot called was a matter for him.

Asked what the position was on whether an oath was desirable or appropriate, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister s position on this was set out very clearly in his letter to Sir John Chilcot on the 17th June, which stated that, I hope as part of this you would consider whether it was possible for there to be a process whereby they gave their contributions on oath.

This was something the Prime Minister had asked Sir John Chilcot to consider and Sir John Chilcot had replied on this point in his letter of the 21st June.

Asked if the Prime Minister was prepared to revisit the make-up of the committee panel, the PMS referred people to Sir John Chilcot s letter of the 21st June, where he said that the inquiry would need expert assessors at the highest level, including in military, legal and international development and construction matters. So Sir John Chilcot had already said in his letter how he intended to ensure that he had the expertise he needed in military and other areas.

Put that there were calls to go further than that, the PMS said that we had announced the people who had been appointed to the committee of inquiry. This had followed consultation with the opposition parties. The issue was whether Sir John Chilcot had the expertise that he needed in order to conduct the inquiry and in Sir John Chilcot s view, the inquiry would need expert assessors, including military assessors.

Put that presumably the cost went up and the timeframe expanded if you held a public inquiry, the PMS said that all of these factors would need to be balanced off; the key issue for us was whether the objectives for the inquiry could be met. This was why we asked Sir John Chilcot to consider how best he should conduct the inquiry in order to best achieve the objectives.

As we had made clear consistently, what we did not want, and this was not a criticism of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry which was set up for different purposes, was a lengthy Bloody Sunday-style inquiry that went on for many years, involving many lawyers and all of the bureaucracy associated with that. That was one of the criteria that we had set out to Sir John Chilcot; he had been considering this and he had come to the view that it was possible to hold some sessions in public, consistent with meeting the objectives of the inquiry.

Asked if the Government was prepared to revisit apportioning blame, the PMS replied that we were clear that the purpose of the inquiry was to learn the lessons and to get to the truth.

Asked if it fell under Sir John Chilcot s remit to call for foreign politicians to give evidence, the PMS said that we had made clear that Sir John Chilcot was free to call whoever he felt it was necessary to call.

original source.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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