23 November 2003

Lib Dems ask for investigation into Iraqi WMD claim

When he tried to press Lord Bach on the vehicles, he was told that his questions could not be answered because: 'We would not release information passed to us in confidence by foreign governments.'

Now Lord Redesdale has got his Commons counterpart, Paul Keetch, to ask the ombudsman to investigate, pointing out that the refusal to release information is subject to a 'public interest' test. The ombudsman is entitled to see internal Ministry of Defence papers and correspondence from the US and the Iraq Survey Group.

Lord Redesdale suspects that the equipment - which could have been supplied by Marconi in the UK - is not suitable for making weapons.

He said yesterday: 'Either British companies supplied equipment that was used to make WMD or not. If these vehicles were indeed WMD, then it is in the public interest for the government to release the information. And if these vehicles are actually harmless, there is even more reason we should be told.

'There is no reason why the government should be withholding this harmless information now that Saddam Hussein's regime is gone. The only plausible explanation can be that it might be embarrassing to Downing Street and the White House.'

This is, at least on the surface, about the famous trailers of mass destruction. The deeper issue is that the Blair government has apparently agreed that the British parliament is not to have access to certain information.

The parliamentary ombudsman's report should be interesting. It would also be interesting to find out if the Australian government has made similar promises.

Why information made available to the US congress cannot be given to the Australian or British parliaments is a very interesting question, one that the Australian opposition and the senate should pursue.

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