PMQs: Clegg to Brown on Chilcot Inquiry – “What have you got to hide?”

by Stephen Tall on January 13, 2010

Missed PMQs? Here’s the catch-up …

Nick Clegg pressed Gordon Brown to volunteer to appear before Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the Iraq war this side of the general election “before people decide how to vote on his record in government?” The Prime Minister replied that it wasn’t a matter for him. (Odd how when you become the most powerful person in Britain, you seem to lose the power to volunteer to do something inconvenient).

So Nick asked again, telling the Prime Minister he “should insist on going to the inquiry now”, and asking “What has he got to hide?” Again Mr Brown said, “Sorry, guv, more than my job’s worth” (or words to that effect).

Nick still wasn’t happy, so has now written to the Prime Minister, chalenging him to do the decent thing:

Dear Gordon,

I am writing to urge you to indicate immediately to Sir John Chilcot that it is your strong preference to go before the Iraq Inquiry ahead of the General Election.

Following developments yesterday at Alastair Campbell’s hearing, your personal role in the decisions that led to the war in Iraq has now come under the spotlight. The notion that your hearing should take place after the election in order that the Inquiry remains outside of party politics therefore no longer holds. On the contrary, the sense that you have been granted special treatment because of your position as Prime Minister will only serve to undermine the perceived independence of the Committee.

As I said to you across the floor of the Commons today, people have a right to know the truth about the part you played in this war before they cast their verdict o n your Government’s record. I urge you to confirm publicly that should Sir John Chilcot invite you to give evidence to the Inquiry ahead of the election you will agree to do so.

Nick Clegg

Well, I don’t suppose Mr Brown will change his mind – but Nick has at least exposed the Prime Minister’s relief-cum-satisfaction that he can dodge the Chilcot bullet, dominating the main political headlines as a result. And by the time Mr Brown does eventually appear he will be a genuinely powerless ex-Prime Minister so who’ll care what he has to say any longer?

Meanwhile David Cameron asked some windy, unfocused and instantly forgettable questions of the Prime Minister who gave at least as good as he got. Score-draw for theatrics; no-score draw for content.

Here’s Nick’s questions, courtesy the BBC. The Hansard transcript’s below it.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I want to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Captain Daniel Read from the Royal Logistic Corps, who tragically lost his life serving in Afghanistan on Monday. I also want to add my expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Rupert Hamer, the distinguished defence editor of the Sunday Mirror who died in an explosion on Saturday, and of course to the family and friends of his injured colleague, Philip Coburn.

As the Prime Minister said, as news is coming in of the terrible earthquake in Haiti, all our hearts go out to the many, many people who will be so terribly affected by that natural disaster. I am grateful for what he said about the Government’s humanitarian response.

Given everything that has come to light in the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, will the Prime Minister now do the decent thing and volunteer to give evidence to the inquiry before people decide how to vote on his record in government?

The Prime Minister: The Chilcot inquiry has drawn up a list of those people that it wishes to interview and has invited the people on the dates that it has done. I will follow the recommendations of the Chilcot committee. I have nothing to hide on this matter and I am happy to give evidence. Equally, at this time, I thought that the debate in the House was that the Chilcot inquiry should decide when people were heard.

Mr. Clegg: The point is that this is not just a question for Sir John Chilcot; it is a question for the Prime Minister’s own conscience. When the decisions were taken to launch this illegal war, he was not only in the room—he was the one who signed the cheques. He should insist on going to the inquiry now. People are entitled to know before they decide how to vote at the general election what his role was in this Government’s most disastrous decision. What has he got to hide?

The Prime Minister: Nothing, and the right hon. Gentleman was the one who wanted Chilcot to make the decisions about whom he called. He cannot on one day say that Chilcot should decide and then say that he or someone else should decide what happens.

On the Iraq war, we have given every single document to the Iraq inquiry. We have given it the opportunity to look at every document and to ask for which documents it wants to be declassified. The only documents that will be withheld from publication are those that directly affect national security and international relations. This is a full inquiry being run by Sir John Chilcot. People are being interviewed, rightly so, and asked for their evidence, but it is for the Chilcot committee to decide how it proceeds—that is what the right hon. Gentleman proposed.