By Christopher Hope
Tony Blair could face war crimes charges as a result of the Iraq war inquiry report, the House of Lords has been told.
Lord Dykes of Harrow Weald, a Liberal Democrat peer, claimed that the publication of the inquiry by Sir John Chilcot was being delayed “to prolong the agony” of the former Labour Prime Minister.
Lord Hurd – who as Douglas Hurd was Conservative foreign secretary from 1989 to 1995 – said the delay was now “becoming a scandal”.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a Government minister, disclosed for the first time that talks over the publication of the gist of conversations between Mr Blair and George W Bush, the former US president, were now completed.
These talks have held up the publication of the report. But he said that if the report is not published by the end of February, it will be delayed until after the general election.
Speaking in the House of Lords, Lord Dykes – who as Hugh Dykes was a Tory MP from 1979 to 1997 – asked: “Is not this continuing delay an utter and total disgrace and so much time has elapsed?
“Is my noble friend aware that more and more people think it is some kind of attempt to prolong the agony of Mr Blair facing possible war crimes charges?”
Lord Hurd added: “This has dragged on beyond the questions of mere negligence and forgiveable delay – it is becoming a scandal.
“This is not something which is of trivial importance, it is something which a large number of people in this country look anxiously for truth.”
Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a Government minister, replied that the Chilcot inquiry was not delayed compared to other recent comparable reports.
He said that the £24million Al Sweady report into alleged maltreatment of Iraqis by British troops took five years report “on two battles in one afternoon”.
The £13.5million Baha Mousa “inquiry looking into the death in UK custody of one Iraqi civilian in September 2003 took three years”.
He added: “This [Chilcot] inquiry has been looking at nine years of british policy and operations within Iraq, it has not entirely unexpected that it has turned out to take a long time.”
Lord Wallace said the timing of the report’s publication was in the hands of the Government but he hoped “we are very close to the finishing line”.
He added: “It would be inappropriate for it to be published if it is submitted within the next few weeks after the end of February unitl after the election because part of the previous government’s commitment was there woul dbe time allowed for substantial consultation and debate of this enormous report when it is published.”
Lord Wallace added that the one million word report will contain details of discussions of more than 200 Cabinet meetings.
The delay so far was caused in part because the inquiry did not have enough staff to leaf through the huge pile of documents required.