Chris Patten 'misled' Parliament over Pergau

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The Independent Online
CHRIS PATTEN, the Governor of Hong Kong, is being accused of misleading Parliament over the Pergau dam affair. As Overseas Development Minister from 1986 to 1989, Mr Patten was responsible for first sanctioning assistance for Pergau. He told MPs in 1989 that aid and arms were not linked; the Opposition is claiming that points to a government cover-up.

It is now clear that arms and aid were once tied. In March 1988, Lord Younger of Prestwick, then Secretary of State for Defence, signed a protocol in Malaysia calculating the amount of aid to be paid as a percentage of future arms orders. Three months later, after pressure from Mr Patten and Lord Howe, then Foreign Secretary, the formula was withdrawn. Yet in June 1989, Mr Patten told the Commons select committee on foreign affairs: 'The fact of the matter is that aid has not been used as a sweetener for defence deals anywhere.'

A transcript of that evidence has been circulated to the committee which will next week decide whether to ask him to explain the apparent discrepancy. 'Mr Patten's evidence was misleading,' said Mike Gapes, a Labour member of the committee. 'He gave a very explicit statement that aid was not used as a sweetener anywhere. That is a very strong statement. In my own view we have to get him back before us. There are very strong questions to be asked about his previous evidence.'

David Sumberg, a Tory member, who surprised observers this week with his aggressive questioning of Baroness Chalker of Wallasey, the Minister of State for Overseas Development, said yesterday: 'We will be having a meeting on Wednesday to discuss progress and I am sure the question of Mr Patten's attendance will be discussed then.'

Government sensitivity over relations with Malaysia, already strained by a ban on future public sector deals, has been heightened by a behind-the-scenes row over landing and take-off rights at Heathrow airport. The last time Malaysia imposed a block on trade with Britain, in 1981, it was resolved only by promises of state aid and more slots at Heathrow.

Now, in what is proving to be an uncanny re- run, Malaysia is demanding further space at the airport. British Airways sources confirmed yesterday that Malaysia Airlines was asking for the right to fly the Atlantic, to New York and Mexico City, from Heathrow. The Malaysian and British governments have discussed the service.

However, the move was being resisted by BA, which saw it as a further erosion of its lucrative transatlantic operations. The Economist reported yesterday that BA wanted pounds 90m compensation.

Letters, page 11