Chief Secretary leads Commons counter-attack

BY COLIN BROWN

Chief Political Correspondent

Brushing aside calls for his resignation, Jonathan Aitken yesterday led a counter-attack in the Commons over allegations that he had been on the board of a company which broke government guidelines over the export of arms to Iran.

Tory MPs cheered and waved their order papers when the Chief Secretary to the Treasury rejected a challenge by Andrew Smith, Labour's Treasury spokesman, over whether he had the confidence of the country to remain in office.

He accused Gerald James, the former chairman of Astra, BMARC's parent company, of being "bitter" and in an "unholy alliance" with the Independent over the disclosures that the company, of which Mr Aitken was a director, had exported arms to Iran via Singapore. He also denied any knowledge of the exports, codenamed Project Lisi.

Reading from a prepared statement, Mr Aitken said: "Yes I do and I believe so because the facts are clear and I welcome this opportunity to reiterate again, since you have challenged me.

"Let me make it crystal clear that at no board meeting of the company I was on the board of seven years ago and in no board paper of that company was I ever given the slightest indication or information that could suggest that the company's wholly legitimate contract with Singapore might subsequently result in components being shipped to Iran. My view of these matters has now been publicly supported by four former directors of the company, including General Isles who was responsible for the contract, including the managing director of the company, and so the deposed and bitter chairman [Gerald James] is now isolated on his own in making irresponsible comments."

He added: "What we are seeing here is an unholy alliance of a failed chairman and a failing newspaper and it's no reason to challenge my integrity or my position in this government." However, the challenges continued as Denis MacShane, the Labour MP for Rotherham, called on Mr Aitken to resign. The Chief Secretary tersely replied: "no."

John Major also faced a call to sack Mr Aitken during Prime Minister's questions in the Commons. His office earlier had said that Mr Aitken had Mr Major's support, but the Prime Minister refused to go further in the House when challenged by Nigel Griffiths, Labour MP for Edinburgh South.

"I believe Mr Aitken dealt with that matter very forcibly and to great acclaim from most of the House just a few moments ago. He has made his position absolutely clear. No evidence has been found to counter that either by the Independent newspaper or anyone else."

The row spilled over into questions to Tony Newton, the Leader of the House. Ann Taylor, Labour's Shadow Leader of the House, underlined Labour's frontbench demands for an inquiry into Mr Aitken's involvement. She said some issues had not been clarified and told Mr Newton: "Will you ensure there is an immediate, specific and independent inquiry to look at these new allegations [so] that Parliament can learn and then assess the full facts surrounding this case."

Mr Newton said Mr Aitken had made two "very full" statements on Wednesday about his role and had spoken to the House. "I certainly do not intended to add to what they have said."

Earlier, Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow and a veteran campaigner for probity in public affairs, asked what had happened to the "doctrine of ministerial responsibility" under which ministers were expected to resign, pointing out that the late Nicholas Ridley had complimented Customs and Excise for their pursuit of the export of arms to Iraq and the seizure of the supergun, which is at the centre of the Scott inquiry. David Heathcoat- Amory, Paymaster General, said nothing had happened to the doctrine. As for criticism or blame that may accrue from the inquiry, "we must await the report".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Written protest: Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, has sent an open letter to the Culture Secretary
books
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Sport
footballDoes Hodgson's England team have an identity yet?
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss