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Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, for his efforts to explain. Perhaps my noble friend will advise the noble Lord to take the opportunity to read the judgments before he enters into the matter further. Does my noble friend appreciate that I completely follow the sheriff's judgment in saying that it was perfectly reasonable for the council to bring this matter before the court? What was grossly improper--I hope that my noble friend will agree--was to exhibit the litigious pugnacity which the sheriff attributed to the council.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, as I said, I have read the judgment. It is quite graphic in its description in various areas. I believe I suggested that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, might read the judgment. However, one other point has not been made. In his supplementary question, my noble friend Lord Peyton asked why the accounts between the legal advisers had not yet been settled. He stated that Mr. Errington was out of pocket by whatever the amount of his costs. I do not believe that that is true. The accounts will be settled

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direct between the local authority, its legal adviser and the legal adviser acting for Mr. Errington. Mr. Errington will not have to be out of pocket on his legal fees.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, if Clydesdale District Council is shown to have acted improperly, will the people who acted improperly be liable to surcharge?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I read the noble Lord's supplementary question when the matter last came before the House. I am by no means an expert on the subject but I understand that to be liable for surcharge someone must have acted ultra vires. I believe that nothing has been said in the judgments to suggest that anyone is outside the law.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, can the noble Earl say how much the local authority has spent of council tax payers' money in prosecuting Mr. Errington?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the figures have not been finalised.

Iraq: Ministerial Replies

2.50 p.m

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of their recast first paragraph of Questions of procedure for Ministers, they will review all replies given on the subject of exports to Iraq since January 1989, and whether they will issue a statement correcting errors in accordance with the background note Ministerial Accountability and the Release of Information on Defence Related Exports issued by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): My Lords, the Government take the view that the Howe Guidelines were not changed and do not consider that a statement on replies to questions on exports to Iraq is necessary.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, will the noble Earl agree that paragraphs E6 and E7 of the Scott Report, Volume II, reveal that the Government appear to have used Saudi Arabia as a conduit country for licensing prohibited lethal defence exports to Iraq; and Portugal as a conduit country for Iran? In a Written Answer to my Question of 24th May 1993 at col. WA1 of Hansard, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, said:

    "No lethal defence equipment has been supplied from the UK to Iran since 1979".
Will the Government agree that they must have known that that was not the case and that a huge quantity of ammunition was, for example, being exported to Portugal under licence, greatly in excess of what the Portuguese military could possibly have used? It was actually en route to Iran. For accuracy, I quote--

Noble Lords: Reading!

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Lord Jenkins of Putney: One can, according to the Companion, quote in such circumstances. Was the information known to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, or was it retained at Cabinet level, thus making a junior Minister an innocent party to the deception? May I say--

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is the House aware that I have informed the noble Baroness of my intention to mention the matter this afternoon?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I reject the noble Lord's suggestions. There would have been no difficulty about amending ministerial letters or Written Answers had such changes been warranted. However, we have checked all the replies on the topic. We still believe that they are fair and accurate, and we therefore see no need for corrections.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will my noble friend agree that since it was the consensus of all the senior lawyers in this House that Sir Richard Scott did not understand the law, which is his speciality, it is pretty unlikely that he could get right matters of administration, which are not his speciality?

Earl Howe: My Lords, it is not for me to criticise Sir Richard Scott's working methods, but my noble friend makes a powerful point.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that it will do the history of the Government and Parliament no good if continued efforts are made to bury the matter without thorough corrections being made? Has not a deliberate effort been made to rubbish Sir Richard Scott's findings? It will not do. Sooner or later the records will have to be corrected, if only for the recovery of the Government's honour in the matter.

Earl Howe: My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, to suggest that we have tried to rubbish Sir Richard Scott's report is absolute nonsense. We have accepted the criticism levelled by Sir Richard Scott on the distribution of intelligence material. We have accepted his criticism about export controls and licensing procedures. We accept the principle of the need for greater supervision, by the office of the Attorney-General, of Customs and Excise prosecutions and many of Sir Richard's other recommendations.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that even the greatest top lawyers sometimes disagree?

Earl Howe: Yes, my Lords.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Minister claims that he has not rubbished Scott but he is happy to accept the rubbishings of Scott by persons on the Benches behind him. Is it not the practice not to attack judges, except by means of substantive resolutions? Does that not

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equally apply to judges who are appointed to conduct inquiries on behalf of the Government, such as Sir Richard Scott?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I made a particular point not to rubbish Sir Richard Scott in response to my noble friend's question. I reject what the noble Lord says.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I do not understand the Answer he gave to my noble friend Lord Jenkins? This has nothing to do with the Howe Guidelines; it is to do with Questions of procedure for Ministers. The Question was directed at that. Sir Richard Scott examines the procedure in relation to Ministers answering Questions in Parliament and reaches certain conclusions. One conclusion was:

    "The justification for a refusal to answer Parliamentary Questions on sales of arms or defence-related equipment to other countries requires, in my opinion, to be re-examined".
Do the Government accept that? Are they re-examining the matter? If so, when will we know the result?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the Government have prepared a memorandum setting out their understanding of ministerial accountability and the conventions governing the provision of information by government to Parliament. That document has been placed in the Library. As indicated in the debate on 26th February, the Government are willing to consider the matter positively and hope that the memorandum will provide the basis for a constructive discussion.

Lord Richard: My Lords, will the Minister answer the question I put to him? Do the Government accept Sir Richard Scott's statement:

    "The justification for a refusal to answer Parliamentary Questions on sales of arms or defence-related equipment to other countries requires, in my opinion, to be re-examined"?
For ease of reference, that is taken from page 1803, K8.8. Do the Government accept that or not?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I had hoped that my reply just now would have answered the noble Lord's question directly. It was intended to do so. The position is that the Public Service Committee is currently looking at questions of ministerial accountability and openness. The Government are co-operating fully. That speaks for itself.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is that not a case, not only of a refusal to answer, but of giving an answer which was inaccurate when, according to Scott, an accurate answer should have been given? Is it not in accordance with the Government's statement in the background note from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that the Government intend to correct any mis-statements of that kind? Is the noble Earl saying that they are not now doing what they agreed to do in the statement?

Earl Howe: My Lords, it is fair to say that this Government have done more than any other to improve transparency and openness. There will always be accepted reasons why, in some areas, full information

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cannot be made public. That has been a convention of successive governments. However, we have said that we will look positively at Sir Richard Scott's views on ministerial accountability. We are doing just that.

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