Tory backbenchers signal Scott revolt

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Anyone found to have acted wrongly during the arms-to-Iraq affair should be "chucked into the Thames", a senior Tory backbencher declared yesterday amid signs of a potential backbench revolt when Sir Richard Scott's report is voted on in a fortnight.

Sir Teddy Taylor, the MP for Southend East, became the fourth Conservative to suggest publicly over the weekend that ministerial heads should roll if they were censured by the judge for misleading Parliament or impeding the course of justice in the Matrix Churchill trial.

It came in the strongest possible contrast to comments by the former foreign office minister Tristan Garel-Jones, the signatory of the first Matrix Churchill "gagging" certificate, who said the inquiry should never have been set up and should be "disregarded".

Sir Teddy said his advice to the Government was "you have got to act quickly and decisively the day the report is announced. And as far as I'm concerned if someone has misled or someone has knowingly signed a paper incorrectly, my feeling is that they should be chucked into the Thames".

But writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Garel-Jones, the MP for Watford, claimed the judge lacked the background and experience to understand the framework in which ministers took decisions.

Sir Richard is expected to recommend reform of public interest immunity certificates - so-called "gagging" orders - that govern the disclosure of sensitive government documents.

Mr Garel-Jones said he expected any advice that Sir Richard might have would be "inimical to the interests of the state".

He added: "Nor do I expect him [Sir Richard] to show any understanding of the skill and integrity with which William Waldegrave [a foreign office minister at the time] upheld Britain's position in difficult and shifting circumstances."

Tony Blair said Labour would lose no opportunity to press for Mr Waldegrave and Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General who advised ministers to sign the immunity certificates, to quit if they were heavily criticised by the report, while denouncing the Government's handling of the run-up to publication as "contemptible".

In an attack on the three and a half hours to be allowed to opposition spokesman to read the 2,000-word report before it is officially unveiled in Government statements in both Houses of Parliament on Thursday, Robin Cook, the Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, said the Government had already spent more on monitoring and lobbying the Scott inquiry than the inquiry itself spent on preparing its report. Some ministers have been in possession of copies of the report since last Wednesday.

He told BBC TV's Breakfast with Frost: "I'll have to read it at the rate of ten pages a minute . . . there must be an awful lot in this report that they don't want the opposition to find by the publication deadline."

Labour would hold a press conference the following morning to give its full response, Mr Cook said.

John Major's slim overall Commons majority means that he could be at risk of a Tory revolt when MPs have a full debate and vote on the report next Monday fortnight.