and DAVID HELLIER
The potentially explosive arms-to-Iraq report of Sir Richard Scott will be given to the Government this week in conditions of unparalleled secrecy, after intense negotiations between Whitehall and the Scott inquiry team.
A strictly limited number of copies will be sent on a "need to know" basis only to some Cabinet ministers and a small group of senior officials charged with drawing up the Government's response - to be unveiled in a Commons statement on Thursday week by Ian Lang, the President of the Board of Trade.
The Government has agreed to the stipulation that all advance copies - thought to be upwards of 20 - will not only be numbered, but also sent to named recipients and that none of them will be photocopied for wider distribution in Whitehall.
Meanwhile, the judge, speaking in an interview to be screened on Channel 4's Dispatches programme on Wednesday evening, the day the Government is due to receive a final draft, robustly defends the way he has conducted his inquiry, suggesting that "party political concerns" will influence reactions to it.
Sir Richard's remarks follow criticism from Government supporters such as Lord Howe and Sir Bernard Ingham, Baroness Thatcher's former press spokesman, and are sure to inflame the public row over the merit of the inquiry ahead of its publication next week.
He says: "It would be naive to believe that they [people's conclusions] will not be affected to some extent by party political concerns, particularly being so near an election. That's going to happen. It's rather a fact of life. In a way I regret it, but we live in the real world."
The judge adds: "Criticism in advance of reading the report has got to be worthless and I hope the public will realise that."
Later on he makes a reference to his foremost critics and without naming them says: "The people who have uttered these criticisms weren't on my Christmas card list anyway and they're not about to go on it."
Sir Richard's critics have argued that they do not believe his investigation should have been run on inquisitorial lines. Some of them have argued that interviewees should have been given the option of taking legal representation with them to the oral hearings.
But Sir Richard says: "I'm not quite sure whether one could have had an inquiry if it wasn't inquisitorial . . . the important requirement is that the procedure should be fair to all persons who are involved in the proceedings.
"If it had been necessary for there to be cross-examination conducted by lawyers on behalf of clients then that could have been provided for, but I simply don't agree that is an essential requirement in every case.''
His report had taken more than three years to complete partly because he had to go a large number of witnesses to get evidence, both oral and written. He also went through a long process of giving witnesses provisional criticisms which they could respond to.
Sir Richard, who has been described by some government supporters as something of a "maverick" and egotist, described himself during the interview as a "part of the Establishment".
"I think every judge is a member of the Establishment," he said.Reuse content