Howe rails against Scott

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Westminster Correspondent

Lord Howe, the former foreign secretary, yesterday launched a ferocious attack on Sir Richard Scott, as the Conservatives appeared to open a concerted pre-emptive strike against his arms- to-Iraq report, due next month.

Lord Howe castigated Sir Richard in the Spectator. Sir Bernard Ingham, Baroness Thatcher's former press secretary, simultaneously fired another broadside in the Daily Express, claiming Sir Richard, a senior judge, risked causing "grievous bodily harm" to the judiciary. Robin Cook, Labour's shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "We had expected there to be a backlash. The Conservatives are clearly worried about what the report might say".

Both authors pursued identical themes. "This is a story in which there are no villains," wrote Lord Howe. "British policy was in principle almost sanctimoniously virtuous. Almost alone among the industrial nations, we had banned the supply of 'defence-related equipment' to Iran and Iraq alike. From one or other of our competitors - the Soviet Union or Germany, China or France - these weapons were always available. Not from Britain."

Sir Bernard's article continued the theme: "Judges dry or wet - and Sir Richard is waterlogged - should not be asked to pronounce on how governments have reconciled the national interest in the shifting sands of Middle East politics, when our less scrupulous competitors are scrambling for every arms contract they can lay their hands on."

Lord Howe lambasted Sir Richard for not allowing legal representation for witnesses, which was recommended for inquisitorial inquiries by the Salmon Commission in the1960s. He said it was an elementary right for a witness to be examined by one's own lawyer, and of having adverse evidence tested by cross-examination. "But not, astonishingly, by the Scott Inquiry."

Sir Richard, Lord Howe wrote, "had indeed explicitly discarded the established principles." This was echoed by Sir Bernard: "Sir Richard will make what are essentially political judgments after astonishingly adversarial hearings, which ignored half the principles for the conduct of inquiries laid down by Lord Justice Salmon in 1966."

Lord Howe criticised "Sir Richard's iconoclastic decision thus to engage himself at the inquisitorial heart of matters".