The head of the civil service has denied that he had any influence in delaying the publishing of the Chilcot Inquiry.
Speaking to a panel of MPs on the Public Administration Committee, Sir Jeremy Heywood said that he did not have any knowledge of when the inquiry may be published, or what would be in the final report.
“I don’t think I have been responsible for delays… the role I played was a very limited one,” he said.
Sir Jeremy said he was “very frustrated” with the process and that “nobody expected it to go on this long”.
The inquiry report was expected to be published around 2010-2011 according to former prime minister Gordon Brown, but has suffered repeated delays. It was announced last week that the report would not be published until after the 2015 election.
He explained that his role in the process was for resolving disputes within government departments and deciding which documents should be published. An agreement has been made with chair of the inquiry Sir John Chilcot who is “entirely satisfied”, he said.
"I have got absolutely no evidence to think that anybody in receipt of a maximisation letter is deliberately trying to hold this up”
Sir Jeremy said that he had a "bias towards transparency" and there would be a "very, very open approach" to the report.
“You will see a very, very open approach to the release of cabinet minutes, the Bush-Blair memos, all those sorts of issues previously being disputed and held back by departments,” he stressed.
The cabinet secretary also said that there would be a “very small number of redactions” that were based on “non-Iraq matters” relating to diplomatic relations with other countries.
After being pressed repeatedly on whether individuals who had received letters informing them of criticisms about them in the report were holding up the delay, he said this was not true, to his knowledge.
“That process is currently underway and isn’t complete,” he said. He refused to comment on reports that some of the letters had only gone out this month.
“No, I have got absolutely no evidence to think that anybody in receipt of a maximisation letter is deliberately trying to hold this up,” he argued. “I am not saying they are deliberately trying to delay it… I don’t know, I’ve not spoken to them, I don’t know who they are… but they are in good faith, considering what has been said about them, and trying to reply within a reasonable time.”
He rejected the idea of publishing a ‘narrative’ record of events, as he indicated it would probably delay the publishing of the report further, and expressed concern over whether it would be possible to separate that from the opinions and criticisms of the parties involved.
Chair of the Committee Bernard Jenkin expressed his dissatisfaction with the delays to the report.
“We are not happy with the way this has taken so long,” he told Sir Jeremy. “Long grass turns out to be so long for the convenience of those who might be criticised.” Mr Jenkin also indicated that in future, deadlines on important inquiries may be put in place to prevent a repeat of the situation.