Censored: Cabinet minutes on Iraq war will stay secret
A DECISION by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, to veto the publication of key Cabinet minutes about the decision to invade Iraq has been greeted with fury.
Mr Straw yesterday blocked a ruling from the Information Commissioner ordering the release of the notes documenting discussions in the days before the 2003 war.
The decision was lamented by Labour MPs, who said they were ashamed that their government would continue to keep the conversations under wraps by using the ministerial veto for the first time since the Freedom of Information laws came into force.
Andrew Mackinlay, the Labour MP for Thurrock, condemned as "breathtaking" and "appalling" the move by the Justice Secretary.
The Labour back-bencher said he would "take to the grave" his regrets over listening to arguments from ministers and backing the government in its decision to go to war.
Mr MacKinley pointed to the nearly empty Labour benches in the Commons and suggested Mr Straw was isolated. "Could it be they are ashamed and embarrassed by this announcement?"
He added: "I bear the scars of having trusted the Prime Minister on this matter and I will take to the grave the fact that I regret having listened to the porky pies and the stories of this security and intelligence committee, (and] the Prime Minister.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, said: "If the process of reaching the decision to embark on an illegal war against Iraq is still supported by the government, why haven't they the courage to let us see the minutes of the Cabinet?
"The truth is that this was one of the most significant foreign affairs decisions in history which a supine Cabinet nodded through."
In remarks backed by the Conservatives, Mr Straw told MPs that publishing Cabinet minutes would inflict "serious damage" to government as it would erode the principle of confidentiality. There is a balance to be struck between openness and maintaining aspects of our structure of democratic government," he said.
Dominic Grieve, the shadow justice secretary, agreed that publishing Cabinet minutes would make ministers more reluctant to properly discuss contentious subjects. Releasing the documents would "lead to even more sofa government than we've already suffered from you and your colleagues", Mr Grieve said.
However, Edward Leigh, a senior Tory MP, said: "Surely the people have the right to know the legal basis of a war in which up to 600,000 people died? This whole thing stinks."
Angus Robertson, the SNP's Westminster leader, described the move as a "cover-up" and renewed his call for a public inquiry. "The public feels it was lied to about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, and those responsible must not be allowed to hide from an inquiry," he said.
The Information Commissioner ruled last month that the minutes should be published, but Mr Straw used section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act to veto the decision.
QUIT THREAT OVER ROYAL MAIL SALE
MINISTERIAL aides may quit over plans to part-privatise Royal Mail.
Hundreds of postal workers protested outside parliament yesterday over plans to sell a stake to Dutch-owned TNT, but the government insisted the deal was essential to safeguard pensions.
Two parliamentary private secretaries (PPSs), David Hamilton, the Midlothian MP, and Stephen Hesford, the Wirral West MP, have signed a Commons motion opposing the sale. Mr Hamilton has refused to rule out quitting his position. And a leaked letter from the office of David Henderson, the PPS at the Foreign Office, also underlined "concerns" about bringing in a private partner. "I hope we can find a way forward that is acceptable to all parts of our party," the MP wrote.
Some Cabinet ministers are also believed to have doubts over the plans, including Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary.
But Adam Crozier, Royal Mail's chief executive, warned staff pensions were facing a 9 billion deficit.
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