Sir John Chilcot tells MPs his long-awaited report on the Iraq war will be released as soon as possible and denies he was put under pressure to delay publication because of the election.
Speaking to the Commons foreign affairs committee, the chairman of the Iraq inquiry also refuted claims that witnesses had used the so-called “Maxwellisation” process to slow down proceedings.
This involves contacting individuals criticised in draft form so they have an opportunity to respond.
He said he had “no reason to think” anyone had sought to “spin out” the process, but was not going to give those criticised an “indefinite amount of time” to respond.
Sir John said he could not accuse government departments of “unreasonableness”, was satisfied with the evidence that had been made available to him, and did not believe there had been “an unreasonable refusal to authorise disclosure at this point”.
He said the inquiry would report “as soon as we possibly can”, but he repeated that he saw “no realistic prospect” of it being finished before May’s general election.
He explained he had accepted a summons to explain why the report had taken so long because he recognised the “exceptionally high level of parliamentary and public interest in our progress”.
Will the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war ever be published? Read Jon Snow's blog.
Prime Minister David Cameron is among those expressing frustration that the report has yet to be finalised, more than five years after the inquiry was set up.
There have been calls for his correspondence with George Bush to be revealed, and it has now been agreed that 29 of his notes to the former president will be published as part of the report.
The inquiry had to deal with the ill-health of panel member Sir Martin Gilbert, whose death on Tuesday was revealed by Sir John at the start of his evidence.
The report investigating the US-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath – a nine-year period – was initially expected to take a year.
Sir John said the inquiry had underestimated the amount of time it would take to analyse the evidence it had gathered, which he said had come from over 150,000 government documents and 150 witnesses.