Government officials wanted
to avoid a committee of MPs re-considering whether to publish the confidential
official audit report on the “Al Yamamah” arms deal.
A document released under the freedom of information act (FOIA) reveals that the ministry of defence (MoD) considered releasing a redacted, or “abridged” version of the report by the national audit office (NAO) on the multi-billion pound agreement between the UK and Saudi Arabia.
MPs on the cross-party parliamentary public accounts committee (PAC) had agreed to suppress the report, which was completed in 1992. It is the only NAO report to remain confidential.
A “loose minute”, sent by an unidentified MoD official to civil servants at the NAO as well as the foreign and commonwealth office (FCO), records that discussions took place between Whitehall departments about releasing a version of the report after “blanking out sensitive sections”.
The minute, dated April 28, 2003, says: “This option has been discussed with the NAO in the past, as indeed has the proposal to separately release [redacted] of the report; although this would require the prior approval of the PAC and the subsequent risk of additional disclosure by the new committee.”
This suggests that the MoD was worried that inviting the MPs who by then sat on the committee to consider whether to publish a version of the report might lead them to re-visit the whole issue of publication.
And it is bound to increase the mood among some MPs to re-consider the original decision to keep the report confidential.
The NAO report followed its scrutiny of the MoD’s accounts in 1990-1991 dealing with its role in the supply of Tornado aircraft and other equipment to Saudi Arabia under the Al Yamamah agreement running since 1985. Al Yamamah has long been embroiled in bribery allegations.
Following a series of FOIA disclosures related to the NAO report, the committee met earlier this week and discussed whether the report should finally be published.
However, its current chairman, Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, said that the committee decided it had no powers to release the report because the decision to suppress it was made by a previous parliament. He said it could only be released on a resolution of the whole house of commons.
Another version of this article first appeared in The Daily Telegraph.
Comment on this article
NAO never cleared ‘Al Yamamah’ of bribery claims
Comments on Al Yamamah (1)