1990-1999 | Arms exports | Backing dictatorships | Iraq

Arms to Iraq Inquiry report published

John Major (US Fed Gov. via Wikimedia), William Waldegrave (Univ of Salford – cropped – via Wikimedia) and Alan Clark (Open Media Ltd. – CC BY-SA 4.0 – cropped – via Wikimedia)

15 February 1996

On 15 February 1996, the Arms to Iraq Inquiry, chaired by Sir Richard Scott, a senior judge, was finally published after a three year long investigation. It revealed that, despite signing up to a United Nations ban on exporting arms to either party in the Iraq-Iran war, the British government had deliberately and secretly relaxed criteria for the export of arms and equipment of military use to the Iraqi dictatorship. The objective had been to give Saddam Hussein’s regime a crucial technical edge in its conflict with Iran, while also winning a lucrative share of the country’s bloated defence budget.

John Major, who at the time of these covert exports was acting as Foreign Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer or Prime Minister, claimed he had not been briefed on any policy changes.1 Despite such assertions, Scott observed that Major ‘knew that the government had decided to change the guidelines.’2 In 1989, William Waldegrave, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, had given his approval for their relaxation, while at the same time assuring MPs that there had been no change of policy. The inquiry exonerated Waldegrave of ‘duplicitous intent,’ although noting that he had ‘strenuously and consistently asserted his belief, in the face of a volume of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that policy on defence sales to Iraq had indeed remained unchanged.’3 He had therefore unwittingly given ‘inadequate and misleading replies to parliament.’4  It would, however, have stretched credulity to have reached such generous conclusions for the entire government and the inquiry concluded, that it had disregarded its duty to report what amounted to an effective change of policy to parliament, and attributed this to the fear of public opposition.

As a consequence of the failure to notify parliament, a case had been brought against Paul Henderson, managing director of Matrix-Churchill and two colleagues for attempting to export high precision machine tools to Iraq, which could be used for a military purpose without the required permission.  According the International Atomic Energy Authority, they were of the highest quality, possessing a dual-use capability and could be used in the manufacture of artillery shells and medium range missiles. However, the trial collapsed in November 1992 when Alan Clark, who had served as Minister of State for Trade and Defence Procurement, was called as a witness. Clark admitted that he might have inadvertently prompted Matrix-Churchill to ignore the possibility that their equipment was intended for military use when framing their export license application. As Scott put it, ‘Mr Clark had encouraged the exporters to stress the potential of their machine tools for civil use.’5 Henderson and his colleagues were not the only individuals to be wrongly accused as a result of such covert encouragement and after the Scott Inquiry was published, convictions against three others, linked to companies similarly entrapped in the arms to Iraq affair, were also quashed.


  1. Paul Vallely, ‘Scott Report: The Essential Guide,’ The Independent, 15 February 1996, accessed at url https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/scott-report-the-essential-guide-1319094.html
  2. The Scott Report, D 4.51, cited in Chris Blackhurst, Kristina Cooper and David Hellier, ‘100 damning criticisms but Scott that MPs must consider today,’ The Independent, 26 February 1996, accessed at url https://www.independent.co.uk/news/100-damning-criticisms-by-scott-that-mps-must-consider-today-1321149.html
  3. The Scott Report, D 4.6, cited in Ibid.
  4. The Scott Report, D 4.62, cited in Ibid.
  5. The Right Honourable Sir Richard Scott, Report of the Inquiry into the Export of Defence Equipment and Dual-Use Goods to Iraq and Related Prosecutions, Volume IV, HMSO, London, Section H1.21. p. 1549.

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