Waldegrave in 'Wonderland', Clark says: Arms-to-Iraq inquiry told minister failed to disclose rule change to Commons. David Connett reports

ALAN CLARK, the maverick former trade and defence minister, said Parliament should have been told about a ministerial decision to relax government guidelines permitting the export of defence equipment to Iraq.

In characteristically frank evidence to the Scott inquiry, he blamed his former ministerial colleague William Waldegrave, currently minister for open government, for failing to make any announcement. He described Mr Waldegrave's position as a 'slightly Alice in Wonderland situation'.

Mr Clark claimed the guidelines were so 'elastically drafted' as to make them 'fair game' for wide interpretation. He described them as 'presentational packaging to wrap round different decisions'.

He also claimed he was not told of the existence of the inter-departmental committee which vetted exports to Iraq while he was a minister at the Department of Trade and Industry. He found this 'unsatisfactory and incomprehensible'.

It was the former minister's admission he had been 'economical with the actualite' at an Old Bailey trial last year which led to three Matrix Churchill executives charged with illegally breaching export policy being acquitted.

The collapse of the trial, after ministers tried unsuccessfully to suppress evidence that the Government knew all along what the firm was doing, led to the setting up of the Scott inquiry.

Mr Clark said his approach while in office was to push through as many exports to Iraq as possible. He did not believe the 1984 guidelines limiting UK defence related exports to Iraq and Iran restricted him.

Describing them as a 'brilliant, magnificent piece of drafting', he likened them to the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland - 'high sounding' but drawn up imprecisely and 'as elastic as the English language would tolerate'.

This flexibility meant ministers were able to use them to support almost any decision they chose to take on exports to Iraq, he claimed.

His evidence contradicted Mr Waldegrave's statement to the inquiry last September when he said there had been no announcement because there was no change in policy, only a change in the way the guidelines were interpreted.

'I certainly don't want to land former colleagues in it, Mr Waldegrave least of all,' he said. 'I suppose by stretching the meaning of words you could say they hadn't changed. One is back to a slightly Alice in Wonderland situation where I remember Mr Waldegrave was saying because something hadn't been announced it hadn't happened.' He insisted the revision of the guidelines, though 'slight', was significant and should have been announced to Parliament.

Mr Clark said there had been a reluctance to 'stir up' MPs at a time of concern about Saddam Hussein's gassing of Kurds. The House of Commons was a 'volatile place, full of rows and scenes' and MPs were seen as a 'bit of a nuisance', he said. 'You have to respond to get the machinery going and ministers had an aversion to this unless they are very exhibitionist.'

He said confrontation between the Commons and the Government had been recognised for centuries. 'It is the duty of MPs to probe and seek information and there is a kind of corporate - conspiracy is too strong a word - convention to engage in duelling and try not to invite too much intrusion.' He said ministers should not lie, and if caught, should resign.

Mr Clark claimed a few MPs were 'very good' at probing but most were not. Nevertheless, ministers could not do their work for them. 'Spoon feeding' MPs by giving them information about the guidelines would remove the incentive to probe and 'diminish the effectiveness of the House of Commons'.

He said he volunteered to take the issue 'by the throat' on several occasions and announce the change. 'I was quite ready to detonate this once and for all and get it out of the way.'

MPs were 'trailed a clue' change had taken place in the way answers to parliamentary written questions about the guidelines were altered. They were told they were now being 'kept under review'. This clue meant an experienced observer should have spotted something was happening, Mr Clark claimed.

He also accused the intelligence services of 'obsessional possessiveness' and said they appeared more concerned with competing and keeping information from each other. 'Things were even kept from the Secretary of State, I am pretty sure,' he said.

He was criticised last night by Robin Cook, Labour trade and industry spokesman. 'Alan Clark has now admitted that the guidelines on arms to Iraq were relaxed. Perhaps he can now tell us why two prime ministers kept telling Parliament that the guidelines had not changed and why three businessmen were put on trial for breaking the original guidelines.'

The inquiry continues today.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
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
  • 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

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£35-45K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer / Web ...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Manager - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Commercial Manager is required to join a lea...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£18000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first ...

Recruitment Genius: .NET Web / Software Developer - ASP.NET

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Small and agile digital marketi...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders