THE SCOTT DEBATE : Thatcher rejects charge on arms guides

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

Baroness Thatcher threw her weight behind the Government yesterday by rejecting the charge made in the Scott report that guidelines on defence- related exports to Iraq were changed while she was prime minister.

The Government also received support in the Upper House from Lord Lloyd of Berwick, a law lord, who backed Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General, against Sir Richard Scott in the interpretation of the law. He said "most judges" would disagree with Scott's view that ministers should not have been advised to sign "gagging" orders to keep documents from the court in the Matrix Churchill trial.

Lady Thatcher told peers: "If there was no change in the guidelines - and there was not - then the question of deliberately misleading the House does not arise." She said she approved the original guidelines in 1984 and no proposal to amend them was put to her until 1990. In the event, no change was made because Iraq invaded Kuwait. She defended William Waldegrave, then a junior Foreign Office minister. "Sir Richard's report shows there were discussions among junior ministers and officials about possible evolution of the guidelines in 1988-89. I was not aware of those discussions at the time but I would not expect to be told every detail of the handling of the guidelines," she said.

She added there would always be issues on which Parliament could not be as fully informed "as might otherwise be desirable". She said: "I accept that the presumption should always be in favour of informing Parliament ... But we should recognise that it will not always be possible. "

Labour and Liberal Democrat peers launched a vigorous attack on the Government, accusing ministers of deception and refusal to take responsibility when their inquiry found them out.