LETTER: FLEXIBLE GUIDELINES AND SECRETIVE DECISIONS

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From Mr Roger Vignoles

Sir: We may expect to hear Richard Needham's argument ("The price of openness is jobs and trade", 16 February) peddled with increasing frequency during the next 10 days, along with other knowing smokescreens on the lines of "it's a murky business, the arms trade". Whether or not the Government should issue guidelines on sensitive exports is a fair question, as is that of whether we wish to encourage the export of arms to unsavoury regimes. There is nothing to stop Parliament debating both issues, together with how they bear jobs in this country. But, as Mr Needham knows perfectly well, that was not the point of the Scott inquiry.

The fact is that the guidelines were in place and MPs had a legitimate right to know whether they had been changed in any way. If, as Mr Needham suggests, it was merely a matter of acting within those guidelines more flexibly, why didn't Mr Waldegrave just say so, rather than making statements to the House and writing 27 letters to individual MPs that deliberately concealed the truth of the matter?

Incidentally, Mr Needham makes an interesting Freudian slip by referring to "every minister involved in arms sales to Iraq". I thought the whole point was that they were not.

Yours faithfully,

Roger Vignoles

London, NW5

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