I have two immediate reactions to the Hutton Report, which sit uneasily with each other; and two subsequent ones.
The first is to accept the conclusions and to hope that the clean bill of health which Lord Hutton has given to the Government might do something to raise the esteem in which the political classes are held. While it might have been convenient for my Party for Lord Hutton to have been critical of the Goverment, the fact is that he wasn't. That he has found that we do not have a duplicitous or underhand Prime Minister should be seen as a plus and not a minus. So far so good.
But second, Lord Hutton appears to have beeen more critical of the decision-making process within the BBC than that within Government. I confess I did not follow the enquiry as closely as some, but it struck me that some awkward issues were raised about the decision-making process within government; for example the interaction of the security people with the communication people; the lack of an audit trail of certain key decisions; the centralisation of meetings at No 10; the lack of obvious logic in who attended which meetings; and the somewhat obsessive preoccupation with the BBC. This is not to cast apersions on anyone's integrity; but it is to suggest that we do need to look afresh at the inner working of the Blair administration in the light of the unprecedented access that Lord Hutton has given us to its processes.
My third reaction concerns the BBC. Although I have been beaten up by nearly every interviewer who has ever worked for the BBC, I have never complained, and I have a deep admiration for the professionalism of the journalists I have met, and the genuine attempts they make to report news objectively and to ask the right questions. I hope morale does not collapse and this spirit of independence is not extinguished. Yes, things went wrong and they should be put right. But let us try to keep it in perspective.
Fourth, I was expecting Lord Hutton to say something about Select committees and how we interview people. We should remember that we want people to give evidence to our Select Committees, because that assists us to find out what is going on. And its OK to be robust when we interview MP's and Ministers; they can look after themselves. But we don't want people who are unaccustomed to this rough trade to dread giving evidence and to lie awake at night worrying about it.
There are other issues to which I may return later - possibly when the Liaison Committee interviews the PM on Feb 3rd