Labour keeps up pressure over Scott report

Inside Parliament

Opposition parties yesterday allowed no let-up in their harrying of the Government over Sir Richard Scott's arms-to-Iraq report in advance of next Monday's crucial debate. Tony Blair, the Labour leader, accused the Prime Minister of "walking away" from the truth, while John Major again insisted no ministers had "intentionally misled Parliament".

Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, had handed the Labour leader extra ammunition by having to issue an apology for a Treasury press release and admitting that Scott found Parliament was misled.

"Does the Prime Minister now accept Scott found Parliament was misled?" Mr Blair demanded. This is hardly in dispute - only whether the misleading was deliberate - but Mr Major was reluctant to concede even that. He said Sir Richard had found in the Government's favour on the substantive issues of whether Saddam Hussein was illegally supplied with arms and whether there was a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by improper use of Public Interest Immunity Certificates in the Matrix Churchill trial.

"As far as whether Parliament was misled; none of my ministers intentionally misled Parliament," he asserted. "They did not." If Mr Blair had read the Scott report he would know that William Waldegrave, the Chief Secretary, was "cleared of duplicitous intent, nor was he accused of deliberately misleading Parliament".

As the exchanges grew increasingly testy, he said the Labour leader kept changing his ground, trying to "impute deceit where there was none".

But Mr Blair said the Prime Minister was not prepared to answer the basic question. "How has he come to the position where he commissioned this report to get at the truth - three years, millions of pounds later, he then walks away from the findings he does not like.

"Just like Nolan [on MPs' outside earnings], just like Greenbury [on top executives' pay and perks]. It's a text-book definition of Majorism."

The Government last night applied another turn to the immigration screw, announcing that foreigners who apply to stay in Britain on the grounds of a common-law relationship can expect to be refused, unless there are particularly compassionate grounds.

Timothy Kirkhope, Under-Secretary at the Home Office, told the Commons that people caught by the change would almost certainly be deported if they refused to leave voluntarily.

From now, applicants will be refused unless they can prove they are legally married, or that they are engaged and intending to marry within a reasonable period of time.

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