Blair comes under pressure for Commons vote on Hutton inquiry

By Francis Elliott, Deputy Political Editor

11 January 2004

Tony Blair today faces calls for a Commons vote on the Hutton inquiry so that MPs can deliver their verdict on the David Kelly affair.

Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, is to step up pressure on the Prime Minister by demanding what is sure to be regarded as a vote of confidence.

The Tory leader is already pressing Mr Blair on whether he will lead the debate following the publication of Lord Hutton's report, which is not expected before the end of the month. Now, Mr Howard is to demand that the Government allows MPs the chance to register their verdict.

"It is essential that the Government gives MPs the opportunity to vote on a substantive motion," a Tory spokesman told The Independent on Sunday last night.

A Downing Street spokesman said that "no decisions have been taken" on whether Mr Blair will lead the debate or whether he will allow a vote.

However, there is increasing pressure on the Prime Minister to change tack in his response to the growing list of demands.

The delay to the publication of the report into Dr Kelly's death has derailed his strategy of saying as little as possible, allies concede.

"We are letting Howard pre-set the agenda," one said last night.

Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's former director of communications, yesterday defended his own role in events leading up the suicide of the weapons expert.

Mr Campbell again said that his only input into the September 2002 dossier was presentational, and insisted there was no "naming strategy" to out Dr Kelly.

"You've go to be living in the real world. The reality was there was a huge interest in the media about who this person was," he told The Times.

"It was the biggest thing that was happening in the Government at the time.

"It was a crisis of confidence in the Government born of the fact that the BBC had broadcast a story that was not true.

"That is what we were dealing with. The issue had become the source."

Mr Blair can take some consolation from the fact that senior BBC executives are also suffering as a result of the delay. The Corporation's chairman, Gavyn Davies, last week ruled out "major reforms".

However, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a Blairite think-tank, will today call for the BBC governors, the body which oversees the BBC, to be made independent of the Corporation.

The BBC should not be regulated by Ofcom, the new media watchdog, the think-tank argues in a book to be launched next week.

Significantly, Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, will attend the launch in Oxford on Tuesday.

An IPPR spokesman, Jamie Cowling, said: "There is a need to make the BBC governors more independent of the BBC."

Bringing the BBC under Ofcom risks cutting the diversity of opinion aired by broadcasters, Mr Cowling said.

Meanwhile, it was reported last night that the Hutton inquiry will lead to a big shake-up of the intelligence services.

The reforms will ensure that MI6, MI5, GCHQ and the other agencies are given greater protection from political interference, according to officials.

Lord Hutton heard evidence which proved that Mr Campbell strengthened the wording of the dossier on Iraqi WMD, which was supposedly an independent assessment by the Joint Intelligence Committee