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1996: Arms-to-Iraq report published

The long-awaited report into the sale of arms-to-Iraq in the 1980s has been published and contains strong criticisms of the ministers involved.

Having taken three years to produce, the report outlines mistakes made by ministers but rejects claims MPs were seeking to deprive defendants of a fair trial in the Matrix Churchill case.

Attorney General Sir Nicholas Lyell and Treasury Chief Secretary William Waldergave were singled out for criticism in the report, which was carried out by senior high court judge Sir Richard Scott.

One of the main problems highlighted in the report was the decision of the government not to inform parliament of reforms to arms export laws for fear of public outcry.

The report concluded government policy towards the export of non-lethal military goods was changed following the Iran-Iraq ceasefire in 1988 in a way that should have been reported to the Commons.

Matrix Churchill in court

The failure to report the changes led to the case against Matrix Churchill.

The weapon-makers were taken to court for attempting to export arms without the required permission of parliament. It later emerged they did have permission under the changed rules.

The report also criticised the Attorney General for trying to obtain a Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate during the trial.

These certificates were used to prevent the disclosure of documents which showed that the defendants had been working for British secret services.

The report recognised there was no intention to send innocent men to jail but said the prosecution should have been informed of Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine's reluctance to use a PII.

Responding to the report's findings, the Prime Minister's spokesman said the ministers' jobs were safe.

However, a backlash from backbenchers and opposition parties is expected.

The report was ordered as a result of public and ministerial pressure to investigate the failure of the trial of the weapon making company Matrix Churchill.

It had emerged the government were aware of the exports.

In Context
Following the publication of the report the then Shadow Foreign Secretary Robin Cook called for implementation of the inquiry's recommendations in full.

Since coming to power in 1997 Labour have failed to introduce the changes advised by the Scott report.

"The current legislation is appallingly outdated ... it allows export controls to be used for any purpose whatever the government desires to use them for" said Lord Scott in 2001.

In November 2001 it was revealed the directors of Matrix Churchill would receive an undisclosed amount of compensation.


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