Thursday, January 15, 2004
Blair's Test

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman confirmed that Blair would make a statement and lead the debate on the Hutton Report after it was published on January 28th. The government was emphasizing that the reaction to the Report would be dealt with appropriately. However, it was clear that the opposition Parties will have to ensure that the government passes the Report to them in good time so that they can contribute to the parliamentary debate after digesting the findings.

Asked if it was up to the Government to decide whether the Opposition parties - and journalists - could be given copies of the Report in advance, the PMOS said that it was up to Lord Hutton to choose how to present his Report publicly. While it was not up to the Government to decide how journalists should receive it, it was, however, a matter for Government to decide when the Opposition received copies. We would be releasing further details about this in the appropriate way and at the appropriate time.

The record of the Blair government on the impartial release of any information is poor. Now, either the record of the No. 10 website is wrong, or the Conservatives did not fully understand the statement of Adam Boulton. Michael Howard, in a press release today, attacked Blair for stating that Hutton alone was responsible for issuing the report to opposition politicians:

?In answer to a question about when the Opposition will have access to the report, you said that Lord Hutton alone should decide that.
?That was clearly untrue. Lord Hutton, in his letter to me of 8th December, copied also to you, said that `the time when you [Michael Howard] should be given sight of the report is a matter for him [the Prime Minister] and is not one for me to decide'.

The Liberal Democrats are silent on the issue of Hutton except for Charles Kennedy's attack on the Tories over the issue of the Report, as part of their strategy to undermine the official Opposition and set up favourable conditions for a coalition. However, Menzies Campbell has picked up teh ball tonight and Kennedy is writing...

The Scotman confirms that the opposition parties will not receive advanced copies of the Report from Hutton.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs, which has handled media enquiries for the inquiry, said in a statement that the parties to the inquiry would be given advance copies of the report 24 hours before publication.

They will have to sign an undertaking not to reveal its contents.

Advance copies will go to the Government, the BBC, the Kelly family, counsel for the Commons Speaker, and BBC journalists Andrew Gilligan and Susan Watts.

It is within the gift of the Prime Minister to provide the leaders of the opposition parties with copies of the Report, under Privy Council confidentiality. The test is whether New Labour can resist its addiction to the political advantages that a 24 hour monopoly would bring in favour of a fair debate on this most important of issues.

(22.47, 15th January 2004)

Update: The opposition parties were granted a six hour preview and the debate on the Hutton Report will take place a few days after.

Two members of the Conservative Party and two Liberal Democrats will have access to the report behind closed doors from 6 a.m.on January 28, Blair's spokesman said. That gives them time to prepare their questions to Blair, who has said he will resign if found to have lied over Kelly.


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