Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Lang: As the House has already been told, the report contains a long chapter on the super-gun. I urge the hon. Gentleman to read it. There he will find his answer.

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton): Is it not especially sad that Opposition Members giggle and laugh when there has been a total vindication of the honour of two Ministers? May I direct Opposition Members' attention to paragraph K8.15, the very last page of volume iv, which explains how things can happen? It says:

Sir Richard Scott says that the Cabinet Secretary's point was that

Is it not obvious that that is the explanation, and is not my right hon. Friend absolutely right to say that the mistakes--which have undoubtedly been made--will be looked at, and also to say that Ministers of the Crown do not deserve the blame originally attached to them by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) for their behaviour in the matter?

Mr. Lang: My hon. and learned Friend makes a serious and worthwhile point. These are matters which should be debated. I illustrate the point by quoting from the article in The Times of 24 March by Mr. Gilbert Gray QC, one of the counsel for defence in the Matrix Churchill case. He said:

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Why was it that the reservations of the Deputy Prime Minister were not passed either to Alan Moses QC or to the trial judge?

Mr. Lang: The judge acknowledged that the PII claims were properly made. He saw all the documents and expressly noted the terms of the PII certificates signed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. Although it may well be, as Sir Richard Scott says, that more specific action should have been taken to ensure that

15 Feb 1996 : Column 1160

the matter was brought to the judge's attention, it had no effect on the trial. The judge saw the document and expressly noted the terms of that certificate.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to paragraphs F4.56 to F4.66, which concern the accountability of Select Committees to the House? He will be aware that Sir Robin Butler and Sir Michael Quinlan said to the Select Committee that two retired civil servants should not attend to give evidence. That is perfectly understandable in view of the then memorandum of guidance for officials appearing before Select Committees. The memorandum says:

The officials concerned had retired.

Surely the Select Committee sought to inquire into facts, not into ministerial policy. We have, therefore, the suggestion in the report that Ministers' duty to account to Parliament should be recognised as extending to an obligation to assist an investigating Select Committee to obtain the best first-hand experience available. In his review of the recommendations, will my right hon. Friend consider changing or adjusting the memorandum of guidance for officials appearing before Select Committees so that we can avoid the requirement that officials have to follow ministerial instructions on how to answer questions?

Mr. Lang: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. All these matters will certainly be further considered.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): I refer the Secretary of State to page 487, which says:

A Foreign Office note apparently said:

that is, the DTI--

Sir Richard Scott says:

who had asked a similar question--

Those of us who witnessed at first hand the victims of Halabja and realised that the shells that were delivered on Halabja were made by the lathes of Matrix Churchill, those of us who saw the wretched Kurds fleeing across the mountain tops in 1991, those of us who heard the shells of Saddam Hussein and those of us who realised the complicity of the British Government in all this are sickened by the Scott report today because it shows clearly that those on the Treasury Bench are the guilty men.

Is it not the case that at the core of the report is the simple big lie--that Britain, a decent democracy, does not sell arms to tyrants? We did so and we still do so. The Government assist in that process and the big lie has now exploded in their face.

Mr. Lang: The hon. Lady is absolutely wrong. I accept that she has not yet had an opportunity to read the report.

15 Feb 1996 : Column 1161

When she does, she will find that Sir Richard Scott, after three years of painstaking inquiry, acquits the Government of those charges, which have been repeatedly levelled at them.

The hon. Lady may like to know that between 1988 and 1989 machine tool exports to Iraq did not increase, as would be implied if the guidelines had been changed in some dramatic way: they actually fell to two fifths of the 1988 level.

Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley): Does my right hon. Friend recall that my constituency is a manufacturing constituency? Firms there are furious that NATO companies and European Community companies export to countries to which they are not allowed to export.I have sent letters to Ministers, I have raised questions on the Floor of the House and I have brought representatives of firms to visit Ministers. Never once have the prescribed guidelines been subject to an exception, whichever Minister I have written to or been to see. Never once has any company in my constituency complained that other British companies got favours that they did not.

Mr. Lang: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There can be no doubt that this country, uniquely, conducted a policy that was far more rigorous and far more principled than that of almost any other country involved in the export of arms and defence equipment.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West): Will the President of the Board of Trade now have the decency to apologise to the House on behalf of the Government, who were responsible for what Sir Richard Scott calls "deliberate" concealment from Parliament? If the Government had any respect for truth and open democracy, they should resign en masse and have a general election.

Mr. Lang: When the hon. Gentleman reads the report, he will find that Sir Richard Scott specifically exonerates my right hon. and hon. Friends from any intention deliberately to mislead Parliament. He accepts that their approach was principled and sincere.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): My constituents who work in the defence industry and related industries will be appalled if the outcome of the Scott inquiry and the navel-gazing that will go on in the House over the next few weeks is that they will not be able to export legitimate materials or to create jobs. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that whatever changes are made to the way in which sensitive information is released to the House, it is not done at the expense of British jobs?

Mr. Lang: My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the importance to our economy of this industry. Some 400,000 jobs in this country are directly or indirectly related to the defence industry. Provided that the policy is conducted in a principled and consistent way, as the policy of this Government consistently has been, it is important to recognise the economic benefits to be derived.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch): Does the Secretary of State recall that early in 1994 Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary, gave

15 Feb 1996 : Column 1162

evidence to the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service in which he adumbrated the ministerial right to lie to Parliament? Does he further recall that in March 1994 the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told us that ministerial lying to Parliament was part of the natural order of things and that it would be naive to believe it could be otherwise? Now that the Chief Secretary has been convicted of deliberate concealment from Parliament, ought he not to take his odious theories and practices to the Back Benches?

Next Section

IndexHome Page