Major's Scott vote hand revealed

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The Independent Online

Chief Political Correspondent

A Tory MP yesterday said he had voted to save the Government from a humiliating defeat in the Scott arms-to-Iraq debate because the Prime Minister had warned the Ulster Unionists were "putting a pistol to his head".

John Marshall, who had threatened to vote against the Government, changed his mind after two meetings with Mr Major because the Prime Minister was being blackmailed by the Ulster Unionists to give concessions which Mr Major feared would have wrecked the Northern Ireland peace plans.

The Government won by one vote, and last night Labour warned it will challenge the Prime Minister over the disclosures by the Tory MP for Hendon South when Mr Major returns from the Far East.

Robin Cook, shadow Foreign Secretary, questioned how many more Tory MPs changed their minds over the Scott affair - avoiding the resignations of William Waldegrave and Sir Nicholas Lyell - because of warnings on Northern Ireland.

Mr Marshall said: "The Prime Minister did not go into the precise details of the Ulster Unionists demands. But the mere fact they were metaphorically 'holding a pistol to his head' was sufficient."

His remarks last night revived Labour demands for the sackings of Mr Waldegrave, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Sir Nicholas, the Attorney General, who were heavily criticised in the Scott report. If the Government had lost the vote, the two ministers would have faced intense pressure from Tory backbenchers for their resignations.

Mr Marshall said: "In my view, those who made mistakes should have walked."

David Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionists, denied any deal had been sought.

But Mr Marshall's account supported the Government's version of the tense negotiations, which broke down when Mr Major refused to give way any further, leaving the nine Ulster Unionists to vote against the Government.