Sometimes politics winds me up something rotten. In 1996, the arse-end of the Tory Government got caught bang to rights running the DTI like it was supervising a shady car boot sale. Licences were granted for arms exports to Iraq in clear contravention of governmrnt policy. In the subsequent debate on the Scott Enquiry report, the Tories won a meaningless vote by something like 3 votes. Aldershot's then MP voted in favour, thereby earning my ire. It's not a great letter, there's a limit to the number of times you can use the phrase "utter contempt", but the questions at the end still seem to be good ones. I got a reply. It was a postcard with a single sentence: "your views have been noted". Write to your MP, folks. It's an education.
27 February 1996
Mr. Julian Critchley MP
House of Commons
I am writing to express my disquiet at the result of yesterday's vote in the House of Commons on the Scott report and of your vote in favour of the government. As my elected representative in Parliament, I believe you are obliged to represent my interests in Parliament. I am alarmed by the implications of the Commons vote on the Scott report, and therefore seek clarification of your reasons for voting with the Government. I have concerns on three issues:
a. The findings of the Scott report
and their implications for the quality of democracy and justice
b. The Government's apparent contempt for the findings of the Scott report, and the manner in which it attempted to manipulate the debate.
c. The nature of the vote of 26 February, specifically the lack of a clear motion for the debate.
Findings of the Scott Report
The Scott report considers two main issues: the misleading of parliament, and hence the electorate, over the change of policy regarding arms exports to Iraq; and the attempt by ministers to withhold evidence from the defence in the Matrix Churchill trial. As outlined in 'The Independent' (26 February 1996), Scott's report contains 100 direct criticisms of ministers and their officials. These criticisms appear to me to prove that ministers repeatedly and systematically misled parliament, and that irresponsible advice from Sir Nicholas Lyall could have led to innocent people going to jail. These conclusions are of the utmost seriousness and highlight grave faults in our current system of Parliamentary democracy. As such they demand an objective and responsible response from the Government.
Government Response to the Scott Report
In spite of the nature of the findings of the Scott report, the Government's response and its attempts to manage the debate of the report showed an utter contempt for the opposition parties and the British electorate. The main points of the Government response are set out below:
Taken as a whole I believe these points clearly demonstrate the Government to have held the Scott report in utter contempt.
Commons debate on the Scott report, 26 February
My final complaint is against the nature of the Commons debate on the Scott report. Members were asked to vote on a "technical motion" for the adjournment of the house. I do not understand this motion, therefore I do not understand the criteria upon which members made their voting decision. I suspect that the electorate in general does not understand the mechanism by which the vote took place. I contend that this is yet another example of the Government's contempt for the electorate and attempted suppression of proper debate of the Scott report.
In the light of the above analysis, I find your decision to vote with the Government incomprehensible. In trying to understand the reasoning behind your vote, I have drafted the following questions. I would be grateful for and interested in your responses.
1. Did you read the Scott report
thoroughly before voting in the Commons on 26 February?
2. Do you believe ministers should be accountable for their actions, and should resign if they are found to have misled parliament?
3. Do you believe the Government's use of PII certificates in the Matrix Churchill trial to be fair and in the public interest?
4. Do you believe the Government's response to the Scott report was objective and fair?
5. In voting with the Government on February 26 what were you voting in favour of?
I understand that you are retiring at the next General Election. Please accept my best wishes for a long and healthy retirement.