9th March 1981. Incompetent and Slippery with the Truth.
The City Page in Punch Magazine in 1964 was recommending the Coventry-based, Machine-Tools Company, Matrix-Churchill as a good investment.(1)
Twenty-five years later the Company collapsed after becoming enmeshed with Government Departments in intrigue, lies and deception.
It was a story which would have seemed even bizarre in the BBC2 series of ‘Yes Minister’, which profiled the slick cynicism and secrecy of the bureaucrat, Sir Humphrey and hapless Minister, Jim Hacker.
In those innocent times it was Today 1981 when the 10th episode, The Death List, was screened dealing with surveillance, bugging and phone tapping, which at the time might only have raised a wry smile.
Only later in high-profile cases were we to become aware how widespread was the abuse of unaccountable power of arrogant government officials.
Secrecy in government is endemic and William Waldegrave MP related how this had developed in the aftermath of War. As a Civil-Servant in 1971, he said the men at the top had a secrecy mentality and backed a shift to more open government.
Little could he foresee his becoming a key figure in the Churchill-Matrix scandal, which related to the sales of arms to Saddam Hussein’s, Iraq at a time of the 1991 Gulf War.
At that time Waldegrave now Minister of State at the Foreign Office, was responsible for setting policy on the arms to Iraq, which the 1992 Sir Richard Scott Report found he had agreed in February 1989 to relax. However crucially this was not reported to Parliament, and 38 letters were sent to MPs stating the policy was unchanged.(2)
In 1989 as a result of debt Churchill-Matrix was acquired by the Iraq Government and two new directors working for the Iraqi Secret Service began shipping components to Hussein’s secret weapon programme, with the Ministry of Defence advising Matrix Churchill on how to make the munitions so no attention would be attracted.
By 1991 Matrix-Churchill was prosecuted by the Customs and Excise for breaking export controls and four Directors were put on trial in 1992, when it was revealed that Managing Director Paul Henderson had worked unpaid for British Intelligence for 15 years.(3)
At the trial Alan Clark MP, a Minister of Defence Procurement (in 1989), admitted under oath that he had been ‘economic with the actualite’ regarding policy. The trial collapsed and triggered the Scott Report. The Company collapsed.
If the trial had continued there was every chance that innocent men could have been imprisoned owing to Public Interest Immunity Certificates, used by the Government to protect themselves.
Since then we have become used to almost daily, crude attempts at cover-up, remember the MPs expense scandal, exposed by the Daily Telegraph. If only life was as really innocent as Yes Minister.
The publication of the Scott Report came in 1996 with, you guessed it, much secrecy. Waldegrave and Lyell (Attorney-General) were criticized, but what it did do was undermine John Major’s Tory Government, paving the way for 13 years of Labour under Blair and Brown.
(1) 21st Oct. 1964. Lombard Lane, Punch.
(2) Miles Kington in the Independent Thursday 10th March 1994 wrote that William Waldegrave had told a Parliamentary Select Committee that on occasion Parliament is lied to and that Parliament knows and accepts that lying is necessary part of the political process.
(3a) Reported in the Economist January 1st 1992.
(3b) The Economist: Headline quote and finished ‘and mislead Parliament’.
Ref: wikipedia.org/list_ of_yes_minister_programmes.
Ref: theguardian.com/Richard Norton Taylor. 9.11.2012.