Bmarc

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:22 pm on 19th June 1995.

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Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North 6:22 pm, 19th June 1995

No, I will not give way.

The case for an independent inquiry similar to the Scott inquiry is, as we have demonstrated in the debate, unanswerable. We have not heard any worthy answers from Conservative Members. The outrageous conduct of Ministers—Ministers who still hold office—towards the directors of Matrix Churchill forced the Government to establish the Scott inquiry, with a remit to investigate only matters related to arms for Iraq. All the prima facie evidence, including that referred to in the statement on Tuesday by the President of the Board of Trade, suggests that BMARC gives rise to questions as serious and as wide-ranging as Matrix Churchill and that arms for Iran is just as much a part of this filthy saga as arms for Iraq. The difference is that Ministers have managed to keep the lid on BMARC and arms for Iran for two years longer than was possible with Matrix Churchill and arms for Iraq.

That success, if it is worthy of the name, should certainly not be rewarded with a process of scrutiny that is any less rigorous than that established under Lord Justice Scott. The President of the Board of Trade did himself no credit today, in a blatant piece of casuistry, when he said that an independent judicial inquiry would have to start with a blank piece of paper. Equally, the Select Committee will have to start with a blank piece of paper unless it is in receipt of the conclusions of the Scott report.

The President of the Board of Trade mentioned a figure of £2 million, as if it were some exorbitant amount, for conducting the Scott inquiry. It is less than the single illegal order to which I referred a few minutes ago. What is the price of the sword of truth? How much is the country expected to pay to find out about the deceits and deceptions that were the stock in trade of the Government for such a long time? Two million pounds does not seem an excessive price for that process.

The Ministers involved in the affair, including the President of the Board of Trade today, have been anxious to suggest that they are dealing with matters that belong to some distant period and that have left a legacy which regrettably now has to be dealt with; far-off events of which they knew nothing. The spate of cock-ups, leading to the suppression of evidence and the misleading of Parliament, in which we are invited to believe give the convenient impression that the matter is something that has nothing to do with Ministers today; that it is all in the past. That is a false impression.

I do not intend to talk about what happened in the 1980s, because that is the proper material for an independent inquiry to deal with. I shall concentrate only on what has happened since the offices of Astra, the parent company of BMARC, were raided in April 1990.

Last Tuesday, from this Dispatch Box, I asked the President of the Board of Trade a straightforward question, which he conspicuously failed to answer. I repeat it now. I said: Does he accept that, as far back as 1990, the Ministry of Defence seized files from Astra, the owner of BMARC, as part of a fraud investigation? Those files referred to Astra and BMARC trade with Iraq and Iran. Were the files handed to the DTI then? If not, why not? If they were, why have we had to wait five years for this statement?"—[Official Report, 13 June 1995; Vol. 261, c. 605.] Tonight I add the words, "and this debate and this inquiry".

Let me bring the summation of events right into the period when the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) held his present office. On 27 January 1993, Detective Inspector Berry of the Ministry of Defence police wrote to the receivers for BMARC, ostensibly offering the return of all the property seized from Astra holdings and subsidiaries during our inquiries into allegations of corruption. Let us leave aside for a moment the clearly inaccurate use of the word "all". I should be interested to know who gave the political authority to Detective Inspector Berry to make that offer. I should like to know what consultation there was between the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry between the date in 1990 when the raid on the Astra offices took place and 27 January 1993, when the offer, ostensibly to return everything that had been taken, was made.

It is beyond peradventure that the material taken from the offices—all the material, the totality of the material—could have painted a full and startling picture of BMARC's activities during the years in question. It would have brought BMARC within the ambit of the arms to Iraq as well as the arms to Iran inquiries. It would have provided vital information about the role of the intelligence services in facilitating Britain's role as gun runner to the world.

So is it conceivable that the material was merely offered for return to the receivers without its full import being assessed at the highest levels of government and then acted upon? The question is rhetorical. The answer is no, it is not conceivable. The Prime Minister announced the setting up of the Scott inquiry in November 1992. By that time, the researches of the Ministry of Defence police were well advanced. The material obtained from BMARC was in the possession of the Government. Will the President of the Board of Trade confirm that, from that day to this, the Ministry of Defence has returned none of the material that it took from the offices of Astra or BMARC to the Scott inquiry?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the indictment is even more serious? Will he confirm that the Scott inquiry was set up with a remit restricted to arms to Iraq, to which Lord Justice Scott has subsequently adhered, to the exclusion of the BMARC affair, at a time when Ministers knew that what was in the BMARC papers—the President of the Board of Trade's statement last week was the merest tip of the iceberg—should have led to the Scott remit being widened to include both BMARC and arms to Iran? That is what the Government frustrated, not in the late 1980s but right up to the mid-1990s.