Wounded Major wins by one vote

The Scott debate: Tories saved in Commons cliffhanger by Allason change of mind

DONALD MACINTYRE

Political Editor

John Major last night won the critical Commons vote on Sir Richard Scott's arms-to-Iraq report by a single vote in a wafer-thin victory which lifted a looming threat to the jobs of William Waldegrave, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General.

The Commons victory - albeit by just 320 votes to 319 - came as a huge relief to ministers after a night of high-wire drama for the Government in which all nine Ulster Unionist MPs finally decided to line up with the Opposition against after John Major refused them fresh concessions on the Northern Ireland peace process.

The victory followed a massive last-minute push by whips and Cabinet ministers, which whittled down a Tory revolt to just three MPs: Quentin Davies, Richard Shepherd, and Peter Thurnham - the dissident and now independent backbencher who had already resigned the whip last week.

Rupert Allason, the spy-writer and maverick MP for Torbay, finally voted in the Government lobby - thus turning a potential defeat into victory. He had earlier appeared certain not to support the Government and had publicly declared that the Scott report showed there had been a "conspiracy" to subvert justice in the Matrix Churchill trial.

The victory, which saw every party in the Commons at full strength, apart from the three abstaining Democratic Unionist Party MPs, averted a full- scale crisis in which the Government would have been forced to table a confidence vote to ensure its survival. Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, had reinforced an appeal to his own party to back the Government by announcing a limited review of possible changes in Whitehall procedure, as recommended by Sir Richard's report.

Mr Lang promised a review of ministerial openness in dealing with parliamentary inquiries about arms sales; improvements in the distribution of intelligence material between government departments; and a possible reappraisal of the use by ministers of Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificates, the so-called "gagging orders" used in the Matrix Churchill trial which triggered the Scott inquiry. The one firm pledge which he gave was for greater supervision by the Attorney General's office of Customs and Excise prosecutions.

In another last minute concession which appeared to have swung Mr Allason behind the Government, Roger Freeman, Public Services Minister, gave an assurance that in the use of PII certificates there should be a presumption that the documents would be disclosed, and promised a debate on the issue.

The arm-twisting before last night's vote was seriously complicated for the Government by its parallel efforts to secure outline agreement between the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland in time to finalise a summit tomorrow between John Major and John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister's appeal for support at an early evening meeting with Mr Trimble was hindered by suspicions within the UUP that the Government was preparing to agree to a formula for Northern Ireland elections which it opposes, and which involves treating the whole province as a single constituency. That method is the one favoured by both Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party and the nationalist SDLP.

Mr Major made it clear to Mr Trimble that he was not prepared to trade a promise on the form of elections as the price of support in the vote and Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said the Government had rejected any "clandestine deals".

Instead, Sir Patrick wrote to the UUP promising that no final decision had been taken on the form of elections - which are intended to lead directly to all-party negotiations. The UUP was told that the form of the elections could be thrashed out in so-called "high-intensity talks". That assurance failed to satisfy David Trimble, the party's leader.

Mr Trimble - who had expressed strong concern over Sir Richard's Scott's findings on Sir Nicholas Lyell's conduct of the Matrix Churchill trial - insisted last night that his party had voted exclusively on the merits of the Scott issue. But the UUP's rift with the other two parties over the form of elections could cast a shadow over efforts by Dublin and London to reach agreement before Wednesday's planned summit.

The Government is now proposing two firm starting dates for all-party talks - either seven or 12 weeks after agreement is reached to go ahead with the process of elections and a probable referendum.

Tory backbenchers, and many ministers, had earlier sat glum- faced as Robin Cook, the shadow Foreign Secretary, in one of the most formidably persuasive Commons performances for more than a decade, appealed to Tory MPs to vote against the Government. "They should not look at tonight's vote as to whether or not it is a defeat for the Government. They should look on it as a vote which will decide the quality of the democracy in which we live."

Mr Cook said that if Tories did vote for the Government "they will convince the public outside that this is an arrogant Government that has been in power too long to remember that it is accountable, accountable to the people, and the time has come when the people must turn them all out of office".

Mr Shepherd said"page after page" of the 1,800-pagereport "resound with criticisms of the conduct of public business". He asked: "Is anyone accountable for this? Is anyone responsible?"

As the nine Ulster Unionist MPs kept ministers on tenterhooks, Lady Thatcher, in her first public reaction to the Scott report, took issue in the Lords with one of Sir Richard's central findings - that the 1985 guidelines on arms exports to Iran and Iraq were changed in 1988. "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.

Mr Major avoided public gloating, but said: "I have consistently acted to open the public sector up to scrutiny... I intend to continue to do so."

Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Consultant

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Urgently seeking a Dynam...

Test Lead - Financial Reporting - Banking - London

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Banking, Financial Reporting, ...

Business Analyst, Retail Bank, £375-400p/d

£375 - £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Embedded Software Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + V. Competitive : Progressive Recruitment: Embedded...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game