Thatcher faces Iraq questions: Major and former PM asked for evidence in judge's inquiry into export of arms to Baghdad before Gulf war

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR, Baroness Thatcher and several cabinet ministers, including the former Minister of State for Trade, Alan Clark, will be asked to give evidence to Lord Justice Scott's inquiry into the arms-for-Iraq affair.

They will be among dozens of witnesses, including civil servants and businessmen, to be questioned when the inquiry begins formal hearings next month. The judge said yesterday that he saw no reason why they should refuse to attend, but admitted he had no powers of subpoena.

Last night, the Prime Minister's office said Mr Major 'would be happy' to give evidence in public. Whether Lady Thatcher, who was returning from New York last night, gave evidence was 'a matter for her', said the source. Mr Major would be the first Prime Minister to give evidence in public to an independent judicial

inquiry.

Sir Richard Luce, former Foreign Office Minister, will be the first to be questioned about knowledge of British companies arming Iraq before the Gulf war. The inquiry should finish this year.

Lord Justice Scott said his main aim would be to establish the extent of government knowledge of, or complicity in, exports to Iraq which breached official guidelines or export control legislation.

The investigation of suspected crimes was a matter for the police or other 'investigatory authorities'.

He promised hearings would be held in public unless there was a question of 'overriding national security'. His decision on public hearings appeared to discount arguments put forward by Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary; in correspondence released yesterday Sir Robin wanted closed sessions if information 'damaging to the public interest' was disclosed.

Witnesses would not give evidence under oath because an obscure Act of Parliament passed in 1835 made it unlawful, Lord Justice Scott said. In his experience if people were determined to lie they would do so irrespective of an oath.

The Scott inquiry had already received nearly 70,000 pages of documentary evidence from government departments and the security services. The oral hearings would be used to clarify points, fill in gaps and allow witnesses to defend themselves.

He refused to say if he had reached any conclusions from the documents but said he had not read anything which led him to suspect the involvement of Mark Thatcher, the former Prime Minister's son, in supplying arms to Iraq, and would not be asking him to give evidence.

The judge also said he would not be asking for further investigations into the deaths of Jonathan Moyle and Gordon Glass because they would not further the inquiry. Mr Moyle, a defence journalist, was found dead in a hotel room in Santiago, Chile, in March 1990. Gordon Glass, an engineer working for Matrix Churchill, died after being mugged in a Baghdad street in May of that year. Both deaths were allegedly linked to Britain's arms trade with Iraq.

Opposition parties will be asked their opinions on export control and licensing procedures. Labour yesterday broadly welcomed the judge's proposals but Dr David Clark, Labour's shadow Secretary of State for Defence, said some of the relevant documents had been destroyed by the Ministry of Defence.

Dr Clark also claimed the MoD was withholding documents. 'This refusal to tell the truth is a national disgrace, and an insult to those who fought and died during the Gulf war.' Lord Justice Scott said some documents requested were outstanding but that did not surprise him because of the amount of work involved.

The Government moved swiftly to set up the inquiry in November 1992 after the collapse of the prosecution in the Matrix Churchill case. Three executives of the Coventry-based machince tool company were acquitted at the Old Bailey of evading export controls after the court heard that the Government knew about the export of arms-making machinery used to make munitions for an Iraqi military build-up.

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