THE SCOTT DEBATE : Allason, the spy-writing outsider who recanted and s aved the day

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

Rupert Allason, whose vote saved the Government from a humilating defeat, has never been in the Tory mainstream.

The Conservative MP for Torbay, better known to the British public as the spy writer Nigel West, was suspended from the Conservative whip during the stormy process of ratifying the Maastricht Treaty for failing to attend to vote.

Since the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial three years ago, he has pursued the issue of the so-called gagging orders, the Public Interest Immunity Certificates, with a doggedness bordering on the obsessive.

He was a television journalist for the BBC and continues to live a double life as author and journalist while serving as the MP for the Devon Riviera seat under siege from the Liberal Democrats. He is the editor of Intelligence Quarterly, and prolific author of factual books about security and intelligence matters.

He was elected for Torbay in 1987 soon after being criticised by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for claiming that a former MI5 boss was a Soviet mole.

Some Conservative members in his constituency were unhappy with his failure to support the government in what John Major declared was effectively a confidence vote on Maastricht, and he was embarrassed to find himself isolated and out of the country on the night.

Labour MPs accused him of wanting to "get back in" with the whips after having been "caught out" on that occasion - when all the usual Euro-sceptic suspects unexpectedly toed the government line. He has consistently argued for open government, as one of the 20 Tory MPs who backed a Bill to change the Official Secrets Act promoted by Richard Shepherd.

Mr Allason, 44, educated at Downside school but described as a lapsed Catholic, is the son of Lt-Col James Allason, Tory MP for Hemel Hempstead from 1959 to 1974.

Last night he claimed he had obtained "absolutely firm undertakings" from public services minister Roger Freeman in the closing moments of the six-and-a-half-hour debate - although Mr Freeman had seemed only to offer a parliamentary debate on the matter.

Only on Sunday did Mr Allason appear to call for Sir Nicholas Lyell's resignation, saying of his advice to ministers in the Matrix Churchill trial: "There was a conspiracy - that was absolutely dreadful."

And in the Commons debate yesterday he said: "If you read the report, it's quite clear that every possible obstacle was put in the way of his defence [in the Matrix Churchill case]. It's also perfectly clear that the support that was given in terms of documents to the defence was given grudgingly."