Ministers accused of secretly changing arms policy

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The Independent Online

William Waldegrave and two former junior ministers were named last night in another leaked extract from the draft Scott inquiry report, which says the Government "designedly misled" MPs and the public over the arms-to- Iraq affair.

Mr Waldegrave, Agriculture Secretary, and the former junior trade and defence ministers Alan Clark and Lord Trefgarne were said by ITN to have been accused by Scott of having secretly changed Government policy to allow the export of arms to Iraq in contravention of stated guidelines and in defiance of a UN arms embargo. Ministers, he says, turned a "Nelsonian blind eye to exports of weapons to Saddam Hussein".

The latest in a series of damaging leaks was greeted by Opposition politicians last night as a further body-blow to an already seriously undermined Government. More disturbingly for Mr Major was the tenor of Sir Richard Scott's remarks. Not only does he go wider than Mr Waldegrave - also targeted in a previous leaked extract - but the judge also rails against the Government's overall conduct, saying that once the three had taken the decision, there was a "deliberate failure" to say what had occurred.

"Parliament and the public were designedly misled to believe that a different policy...was being applied than was in fact the case...The answers to Parliamentary questions in both Houses of Parliament failed to inform Parliament of the state of Government policy. This failure was deliberate and was the inevitable result of the agreement between the three junior ministers that no publicity should be given to the decision."

Also, according to ITN, Sir Richard said in the leaked draft that he believed the decision not to publicise the change in policy - shortly after the gassing of Kurds by President Saddam - had been taken because of fear of upsetting public opinion. "I have come to the conclusion that the overriding and determinant reason was the fear of strong public opposition to the loosening of the restrictions and the consequential fear that the pressure of opposition might be deterimental to British trading interests," he said.

Sir Richard also criticised ministers over their decision to allow firms such as Matrix Churchill to sell machine tools to Iraq despite intelligence warnings that they were being used to make weapons. He said ministers had placed too much reliance on the possibilty that the machines could also have civilian applications.

"The reliance on the possibility of civilian use and the lack of certainty of the intended military use had become, in my opinion, the equivalent of the Nelsonian use of the blind eye," he said in the leaked draft.