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MPs demand Blair ends his presidential style and gives cabinet ministers more say

Andrew Grice, Political Editor

16 July 2004

Tony Blair was under continuing pressure over the Butler inquiry yesterday as MPs demanded a change of his presidential style and the resignation of John Scarlett as head of MI6.

Although Blair loyalists claimed he had survived one of the biggest tests of his premiership, the arguments over his taking Britain to war in Iraq on a false prospectus refused to die down as MPs digested the report by a committee chaired by Lord Butler of Brockwell, the former cabinet secretary.

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, led demands for Mr Scarlett, who accepted ownership of a now discredited dossier on Iraqi weapons as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), to be blocked from taking up his new post as head of MI6 on 1 August.

Mr Duncan Smith said Mr Scarlett's position was "untenable" and warned that his appointment would weaken trust in MI6. Insisting he was "not picking" on Mr Scarlett, he said: "If it's shown, as it has been shown, that elements were missing from that report, that were knowingly omitted, the chairman - in this case John Scarlett - must take responsibility. That responsibility means that he has made a serious mistake and therefore his future position as head of the intelligence service is definitely called into doubt."

Despite Lord Butler's plea that Mr Scarlett should keep his new job, Mr Duncan Smith said: "If you are trying to show that you have rectified the problems and therefore these mistakes will not exist again, to rebuild the credibility of government you have to show people taking responsibility for those mistakes. I am afraid he must carry that responsibility."

Nine MPs signed a Commons motion deploring Mr Scarlett's promotion in May while his role in preparing the September 2002 dossier was under scrutiny by the inquiry.

After being accused of running scared, Mr Blair last night bowed to pressure to lead a full Commons debate on Iraq and the Butler inquiry next Tuesday. When the Prime Minister refused to open it, leaving the task to Jack Straw, the Tories fielded Michael Howard, forcing Mr Blair into a U-turn.

In an attempt to reassure his critics, the Prime Minister is to publish proposals in the autumn to guarantee the impartiality of civil servants and put the Whitehall code of conduct on a statutory footing.

The draft Civil Service Bill, to be followed by legislation next year, is designed to separate the role of political advisers, such as those in Mr Blair's inner circle, and neutral civil servants. It has long been demanded by critics who claim that Whitehall has been politicised since Labour came to power in 1997. Mr Blair also came under pressure to give cabinet ministers more say after his informal approach to decision-making was criticised by the Butler inquiry.

Although Downing Street insisted yesterday that cabinet government was "alive and well," Mr Blair is being urged to go further by demonstrating that his ministers are fully involved in sensitive decisions and not kept out of the loop. Lord Butler said in his report on Wednesday that ministers outside a "small circle" were given oral briefings in the run up to the Iraq war but denied access to detailed papers written by officials.

Yesterday Labour MPs tabled a Commons motion saying they were "dismayed" at this revelation by Lord Butler and deplored "the way in which vital decisions ... were taken on the full authority of the Cabinet without the active participation and engagement of all its members."

The MPs urged Mr Blair to give an undertaking to Parliament that the concerns expressed by Lord Butler about the machinery of government would be fully addressed. Gordon Prentice, the Labour MP who tabled the motion, told the Commons: "Powerpoint presentations to cabinet ministers can be no substitute for considered briefing papers, circulated in advance so that cabinet ministers make a considered and informed judgement on important decisions."

Ministers rallied behind Mr Blair, insisting that there had been detailed discussions about Iraq in the run-up to the conflict. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, rejected suggestions that there had been a failure of proper collective cabinet decision-making.

"I can tell you, as one of those who participated in the cabinet discussion, we did back the judgement of Tony Blair," he told BBC Radio 4. "We did receive the information and judgements from our colleagues and in some cases we had papers to discuss, and in all of these areas we made a collective decision."

Despite the flaws in the intelligence revealed by the Butler inquiry, Mr Prescott defended the decision to go to war. "Acting as we did at that time on the information given to us, yes, we made the right decision," he said.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said: "The idea that there were these halcyon days of a perfect form of cabinet decision-making is not the case. Under Thatcher, there was endless concern and criticism over so-called safer government."

He added: "The key decisions were handled by the Prime Minister, by Geoff Hoon and by myself. It was ever likely to be thus. But if you look at what Robin Cook was saying, there was the most extensive discussion in Cabinet week after week after week."


Greg Dyke, Former BBC director general

"As far as I'm concerned, it totally justified our decision to broadcast our story as it was broadcast last year.

"I feel that Gavyn Davies resigned as chairman of the BBC, taking collective responsibility for what were identified as failings by the Hutton inquiry. It's interesting that no one in government takes collective responsibility leading to their resignation.

"The report also identified that all sorts of caveats were taken out of the intelligence reports but it does not tell us who took them out. That's what the whole Gilligan story was about. I feel that we are entitled to know who changed the reports. I don't feel bitter. Life is life. But as a life-time Labour supporter, I just find it all very disappointing.''

Lord Goldsmith, Attorney General

"As is clear from the written answer the Attorney General gave in Parliament on 17 March 2003, the basis of his view of the legality of military action in Iraq was the repeated failure of Saddam Hussein and his regime to comply with successive UN Security Council resolutions. Lord Butler's review has seen the Attorney General's advice. His report confirms - as we have always maintained - that it was 'based on the interpretation of relevant Security Council resolutions and negotiating history in the United Nations, and not on WMD-related intelligence'.

"So the lawfulness of the conflict is not undermined by the failure to find WMD or by any reassessment of the intelligence. The Attorney's view is that the military action taken in Iraq was lawful."

Clare Short, Former international development secretary

"It is extraordinary that he [Tony Blair] got away with it, the falsifying of the record. The Butler report showed that Hans Blix [the United Nations chief weapons inspector] should have been given more time for the Security Council to consider his report.

"The Prime Minister gave a totally misleading account of the possibility of giving more time. There was support from Germany, China and Russia for Blix to be given more time but Mr Blair feared that it would not achieve military action. The Butler report found there was no link between Iraq and terrorists. Tony Blair was always saying there was a link and that weapons of mass destruction could get into the hands of terrorists."

Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary

"They concluded after the most comprehensive study of the intelligence, and everything else we knew, that Iraq had the strategic intent of resuming the pursuit of prohibited weapons programmes including, if possible, its nuclear weapons programme.

"Lord Butler's report highlights an important fact about the nature of the case. If another country's territory is invaded, or the nation's television screens are filled with ethnic cleansing, the case for inter-national action, including military action, is relatively easy to make. But many of today's threats are not those of the past ... [now] we have shady networks of terrorism and proliferation often inside regimes closed to the world. With Saddam removed I have no doubt the region and world are safer."

Andrew Gilligan, Former 'Today' defence correspondent

"The report substantiated my story. I think it's slightly incredible that three heads have rolled for a one-sentence slip in a pre-dawn radio interview while the people responsible for this fiasco have kept their jobs or been promoted.''

Alastair Campbell, Former director of communications and strategy at Downing Street

No comment.

Sir Richard Dearlove, Director of MI6

No comment.

John Scarlett, Director-designate of MI6

No comment.