I, too, would have acted as William Waldegrave did

The Scott inquiry leak raises ugly questions, says Tristan Garel- Jones
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Can I be alone in being taken aback by the insouciance with which Peter Snow on Monday's Newsnight read out a statement from Christopher Muttukumaru, secretary of the Scott inquiry, that the use of extracts from Sir Richard Scott's provisional report "would be an improper use of confidential material"?

No argument was advanced as to why our public broadcasting service had decided to ignore the judge's request. Without a blink the BBC, with Robin Cook in attendance, embarked on a series of captious questions aimed at traducing my friend and former colleague William Waldegrave.

The BBC will, of course, plead the journalistic equivalent of the First Amendment. Public interest, old boy. Couldn't possibly reveal our source. But where does the public interest lie? Surely in allowing Sir Richard to carry out his inquiry in the manner he sees fit and presenting his report in the form and at the time he regards as appropriate.

The consequences of the leak are substantial and raise ugly questions. Was the leak offered to the BBC out of the blue - or did they dig it out themselves? Did money change hands - or was the motive purely political? Who was responsible? Sir Richard himself? - impossible. Someone on his staff? A civil servant? Or maybe a politician. Any number of entirely innocent people may fall under suspicion. In the public interest we have a right to know.

This action by the BBC calls into question the integrity of the whole inquiry. Sir Richard, quite properly, has decided to give all those referred to in his investigation the opportunity to comment on his provisional conclusions. In doing so he was prompted by considerations of natural justice. In his own words the BBC has adopted a course of action "which will result in unfairness to individuals". The damage is done, and I am not sure how it can be repaired.

For those of us who have yet to receive and reply to Sir Richard's provisional conclusions the question now arises: will we be able to conduct our discussions with a senior and respected judge alone or will Robin Cook and Peter Snow be alongside, too? Given the serious damage Sir Richard himself believes has been done, one is bound to ask why an injunction was not sought to prevent the dissemination of the leak. Will that be done in future?

The fact is that a judicial inquiry, set up by the Prime Minister and presided over by a senior judge, has had a horse and carriage driven through it. That is the immediate matter of public interest.

So far as William Waldegrave is concerned I doubt if there is a single Member of Parliament who believes him capable of deception. He was responsible for the interpretation of guidelines against constantly changing strategic considerations. Those guidelines, by definition, admitted an element of judgement and an element of flexibility. In the middle of this squall I assert that had I been in his position - which I might well have been - I believe I would have acted as he did. It is absurd to suggest that Foreign Office officials would connive to mislead Parliament, and beyond belief that William, for no personal or political advantage, should agree to do so.

William Waldegrave is my friend and some may think that warrants a discount on any observations of mine. But I choose my friends with care. Waldegrave is my friend because I believe him to be ambitious, yes - but more ambitious for his country than for himself. He is my friend because he is clever, but not too clever by half. He is my friend because I believe him to be incapable of an ignoble act. But even if he were my enemy I believe, as does Sir Richard Scott, that his integrity is entitled to be safeguarded, and that I have a right to know who perpetrated this monstrous injustice upon him.

The writer is former minister of state at the foreign office and MP for Watford.