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Lord Strathclyde: Oh dear, oh dear!

Lord Peston: It is not "Oh dear, oh dear!" The Government might as well hear what someone thinks of their behaviour, it will do them no harm because they might learn something from it. When I heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, repeat the Statement last Thursday, my immediate response was: "What's all the fuss about? Why are we wasting our time?" I was sitting here; happily I was not responsible, my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition was dealing with it. I was absolutely bewildered. However, once I had my copy of the report, it took me no time to be able to answer my question. We have here the largest parliamentary scandal of our time and it is fully documented.

The noble Lord, Lord Rees, said that this was no Marconi scandal. He is quite right, it is the arms to Iraq scandal, that is what will be in the history books. It is a scandal. I beg noble Lords' pardon, it is the Export of Defence Equipment and Dual-Use Goods to Iraq and Related Prosecutions scandal. I am so glad noble Lords asked me to spell it out in detail.

One of the things that has horrified me is the use of language not just in the report but in the whole area. We use words like "non-lethal weapons"; the word "defence" is always used when we mean "attack". No weapons are ever used to kill anyone. It is weasel language when we know what it was about. It was about getting weapons.

In terms of how badly the Government behaved, it is worth considering what the alternative was. That is the central question that concerns me. The Iraq-Iran war was over. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, makes it clear, and I agree, that profitable possibilities existed or were coming into existence of selling military equipment or whatever words one likes to use, in that area. It seems to me that he was right and therefore I do not entirely agree with some of my friends. It was right that British industry ought to be able to go into the market, especially as many of our competitors would do so. That is clearly stated in the report, and I have no objection to it.

However, in order to do that, policy changed. My noble friend Lord Callaghan made the point which was connected with the points made in the brilliant maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. The important and correct action was to say that policy had changed and to argue the Government's case. That seemed to me the correct thing to do. There would have been a terrible row in some quarters, I have no doubt. There would have been what Saddam Hussein might call "The mother and father of a row", the Government might even have

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been weakened, but I doubt whether they would have collapsed as a result. In choosing the path of openness, the Government would have done the right thing. In particular, they would have behaved like a government. Instead, however, they chose the covert route and, with almost the inevitability of a Greek tragedy, we are where we are today. It has been such a waste, such a destruction of ministerial reputations and all that sort of thing.

I am reminded of something my late mother once said to me. She said, "Really, you mustn't lie". When I inquired why I must not lie, I did not receive a very philosophical answer. I got the answer: "You'll always be found out". You will always be found out.

Finally, one question has not been asked, and must be asked. It relates to the revelations of the report about the behaviour of Ministers and officials. Incidentally, although the report is full of problems to do with officials, I hope that if not a single Minister accepts responsibility, and not a single Minister apologises, no one will launch an attack on officials. It would be outrageous if officials had to carry the can when no Minister is willing to stand up and be counted. The question is whether this kind of behaviour is specific to this case; or is it endemic in Whitehall today?

Our system of government depends on certain standards of honesty and forthrightness, many of which are implicit and need not be articulated. Noble Lords take it for granted that when they ask a Minister a question they will receive an honest answer. I certainly do. They assume that the ministerial statement is factually correct. Of course we all know that we have to ask the right questions and that, when we do not, we may fail to elicit what we want to know. That is part of the game. We understand that. But what is vital is that we receive a factually correct answer.

Let me go further. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, made this point. I accept that Ministers will wish their actions to be viewed favourably. I have no objection to that. It would be silly if they did not. Certainly, they will want to put a gloss on them. But it must be no more than a gloss. What has happened here is far more serious.

Scott demonstrates--I cannot understand those noble Lords who disagree--that Parliament was misled. He demonstrates that it was misled time and again. He cites example after example. If it were not so late, I would read all of them out. He demonstrates that Ministers at that time were less than frank. I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wright. One must sometimes conceal things from the public, in the national interest. There is no doubt at all about that. In fact, I am rather staggered at how much is told about spying and such matters which it horrifies me suddenly to discover set out in the report. But this was not to do with the national interest. This was not a question of not telling people because it was a threat to the security of this country. This was (to use the term that upsets the noble Lord, Lord Beloff) pure politics.

That places noble Lords in serious difficulties. Are we from now on to scrutinise what Ministers say more severely? In particular, from now on are we to work on

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the assumption that if a ministerial statement in any form cannot be proved to be true, we must assume it to be false? I have to tell the House that that would be a temptation; but I am not yet willing to accept defeat on quite that scale. However, it emphasises the terrible risk that the party opposite has taken with our system of parliamentary democracy.

11.59 p.m.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I must begin in traditional fashion by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, on his maiden speech and on his eloquence. The noble Lord has long and varied political experience, and I have no doubt that in the fullness of time he will enrich our debates. I particularly admired his audacity in asserting that a speech on this issue was not a controversial one. Although I mention him specifically, I trust that I shall be forgiven, after more than 35 contributions, if I do not mention all the others who have contributed to this debate--and, my Lords, that is a threat.

Let me first repeat what I said when I repeated the Statement. I defy noble Lords to look at anything that I said last week or anything that I said today in opening which can be construed as an attack personally on Sir Richard Scott in what he undertook. I note particularly what he has to say in paragraph A2.10, where he points out that it was a unique decision to leave to him the discretion to publish the report. As he explains, the reason why that was allowed was because of the allegations that had been made outside this House of a cover-up.

Noble Lords may wish to turn to paragraph G18.106, where the report spells out the charges that have been made: that there was a cover-up; that there was a secret conspiracy to sell arms and weapons to Saddam Hussein and to send innocent men to prison to cover that up. This is not a matter of putting up phoney charges and then knocking them down. Charges were made and made in such a serious fashion that Sir Richard Scott considered that he had to address them specifically in his report. What he did at the end of the day was to emphasise the falseness of those charges.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, made a quite uncharacteristic speech. I felt that we might have encountered from him for the first time in your Lordships' House something of the honour of the shadow Attorney-General, who, so far as I am aware--I have not heard the debate in the other place this evening--is the only Member of the Opposition Front Bench to acknowledge that the core charges made at the outset when the inquiry was first set up were without foundation. I am very disappointed that no one else has been prepared to do so.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I am sorry that my speech disappointed the noble and learned Lord. I shall do better tomorrow when we discuss chemical weapons. I

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understood that the shadow Attorney-General did ask for the resignation of Sir Nicholas Lyell. He may note that I did not, but I think that my honourable friend did.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: The noble Lord should read Hansard and make a more careful examination of what was said. (I wonder whether the noble Lord would be silent for a moment when I am trying to address a point made by his noble friend). If he looks at the report of Question Time last week, he will see precisely what the shadow Attorney-General said with regard to a number of the charges that were made against the Attorney-General.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, upbraided me for taking time to spell out what we accepted of the recommendations put forward by Sir Richard Scott and what action we intended to take. He criticised me for doing that. That is about the most astonishing criticism to which I have ever been subjected. Can your Lordships imagine the position if, in opening the debate, I had given no indication whatsoever of the recommendations that we accepted and the action that we intended to take on them? I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, who listened to what I had to say and acknowledged that there were a number of areas where we had indicated that we wished to take action. I am grateful also to my noble friends Lord Rippon and Lord Beloff, and, surprising as it may seem, to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, for recognising that we did seek to address a number of the recommendations made by Sir Richard Scott.

I accept that I did not mention my colleague William Waldegrave in my opening remarks. But, if I had done so, I should have quoted in full what Sir Richard Scott had to say about him. I can think of few more obvious examples of tendentious and selective quotation than that by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who quoted from D4.6:


    "Mr Waldegrave knew, first hand, the facts that, in my opinion, rendered the 'no change in policy' statement untrue".
That is where he stopped. The very next sentence is:


    "I accept that, when he signed these letters, he did not regard the agreement he had reached with his fellow Ministers as having constituted a change in policy towards Iraq".


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