Geoff Hoon admitted today that he was not shown secret letters in which Tony Blair allegedly told President Bush that Britain was committed to military action against Iraq.

Geoff Hoon

Geoff Hoon - In the Dark

The former Defence Secretary said that he initially feared the Armed Forces would struggle to cope and thought it was a “big ask” for Britain to be part of the Iraq land invasion because of the ongoing operation in Afghanistan.

But he said that he agreed with the decision to prevent the Cabinet from debating or voting on the Attorney-General’s controversial ruling that the war was legal.

Mr Hoon said he was not aware of the secret notes sent from the Prime Minister to Mr Bush until they were mentioned by Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s spin doctor at the time, in his evidence to the Iraq inquiry last week.

“I did not see those more private communications,” Mr Hoon told the hearing. “The Prime Minister was a great note writer and it would not surprise me at all that there were private notes that he would send to the President, moreover that he would have had private conversations with the President that I would not necessarily have been privy to.”

Mr Hoon, Defence Secretary from 1999 to 2005, said that he would expect to have been sent copies of letters which committed the UK to military action.

“That’s why I do not believe he was ever unconditionally committing us to anything,” he told the inquiry. “I never assumed that we were in a position of unconditionally resorting to military action actually right up until the vote in the House of Commons.”

Sir Roderic Lyne, a member of the inquiry panel, referred to Mr Campbell’s evidence that Mr Blair reassured President Bush in private letters that: “If it has to be done militarily, Britain will be there.”

Mr Hoon replied: “I was not aware of that specific exchange, but I was aware of the general tenor of our position.”

He aid he was shown “round-robin” letters from Mr Blair to Mr Bush but not the secret notes sent after the leaders met at the President’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002.

The former Defence Secretary said that he wrote to Mr Blair before the Crawford meeting saying that Iran was a greater risk than Iraq.

He told the inquiry that he had not been told anything “directly” by Mr Blair about the meeting at which the Prime Minister is alleged to have “signed in blood” to supporting an America invasion of Iraq.