Major says Scott leaks intended to blacken ministers' names

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John Major left himself room to take the final decision on whether ministers are forced to resign in the wake of Sir Richard Scott's arms-to-Iraq inquiry as he condemned the "malicious" leak of a fresh extract from the draft report.

Mr Major said in the Commons that the leaks - which criticised William Waldegrave, the Minister of Agriculture, and Alan Clark and Lord Trefgarne, both former defence ministers - were "intended to blacken ministers' names". The draft report is said to accuse them of deliberately failing to inform Parliament that restrictions on selling arms to Saddam Hussein had been eased.

His denunciation came as Christopher Muttukamaru, secretary to the inquiry, said only three people had received the extracts disclosed by ITN on Monday. Sections of the draft are sent only to those directly criticised to give them an opportunity to comment.

Mr Muttukamaru said he was "quite satisfied" the leak did not emanate from the inquiry team, while the ministers and ex- ministers denied any involvement in the leak and denounced it as highly damaging to the inquiry.

There was further confusion last night over who the three draft recipients were after Mr Clark said he had been assured by the inquiry that he was not under suspicion.

Robin Cook, Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, yesterday called on Sir Richard to release the first part of his report - dealing with export policy to Iraq - rather than wait for the full report, which will include the more sensitive issues of the Matrix Churchill case and the signing by ministers of Public Interest Immunity Certificates.

Mr Cook pointed out that comments from witnesses on the draft of this first section were "now overdue", and said: "It would be better for everyone if the public debate could take place on the authorised version rather than leaks of the text. Ministers would have to stop ducking the difficult questions by asking us to wait on Sir Richard Scott's last word."

In the Commons, Mr Major was pressed by Tony Blair, the Labour leader, to say whether he would abide by the inquiry's findings in the light of his previous statements that ministers who deliberately misled Parliament should resign.

Mr Major confirmed that statement and added: "I am awaiting Sir Richard Scott's report ... I will make my judgement when I have got it and seen it."

Downing Street did not rule out the possibility that Mr Major might reach a different conclusion from Sir Richard over whether Parliament had been deliberately misled.

Mr Waldegrave yesterday expressed fury over fresh leaks from the Scott inquiry. He accused those responsible of "wickedness" and "clearly seeking to damage the Government".

Mr Clark insisted: "I've got a completely clear conscience on this."

He had been perfectly prepared to answer oral questions from MPs about the guidelines at the time, he said.

Mr Clark, famous for his candid diaries, admitted that the guidelines on arms sales to Iraq were changed slightly after the Gulf war, "which would put any alert sleuth in the House of Commons on notice that a certain relaxation had taken place".