Taxpayers foot ministers' pounds 1m defence bill

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The Independent Online
CHRIS BLACKHURST

Westminster Correspondent

Ministers have spent nearly pounds 1m of taxpayers' money on legal advice in countering criticisms in the Scott arms to Iraq inquiry.

According to a series of Parliamentary answers, the biggest spender was the Foreign Office which has paid more than pounds 318,000 for advice for Lord Howe, the former Foreign Secretary, and William Waldegrave, the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury who served as Minister of State under Lord Howe. Others who came under the Foreign Office banner were Tim Renton and David Mellor.

The Department of Trade and Industry spent pounds 293,870 on lawyers to help former senior ministers Peter Lilley, Michael Heseltine and Paul Channon, and ex-junior ministers Alan Clark and Lord Trefgarne.

The Attorney General Sir Nicholas Lyell's department spent pounds 71,542 on legal advice. In addition to Sir Nicholas, another five of the former and current ministers who had their legal bills paid by the taxpayer, are also QCs.

A series of Parliamentary answers to Alan Williams, Labour MP for Swansea West and a member of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, disclosed the extent to which ministers have sought legal advice ahead of the Scott report, expected next month.

One of those Cabinet ministers thought to have escaped censure is Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary. He was one of four ministers who signed Public Interest Immunity Certificates in the Matrix Churchill case, denying the defendants access to evidence helpful to their case. Mr Rifkind is one of three former MoD ministers to have had their legal bills covered by his old department - the others are Lord Trefgarne and Mr Clark, who were both at defence as well as DTI. A legal bill of pounds 215,862 for the MoD may indicate how much effort was expended on Mr Rifkind's behalf.

Sir Nicholas and Mr Waldegrave, are expected to be the focus of Scott's criticism among serving members of the Government. As Attorney-General, Sir Nicholas advised ministers on the signing of the gagging orders or PIICs. They are expected to blame Sir Nicholas.

The Treasury is the only other department to have sought legal advice for its former and current ministers, spending pounds 60,110.

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