The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, September 25, 2003

Scott and Hutton: a contrast in inquiries (net-wise)

Two inquiries with but a single causa sine qua non - Saddam and his military ambition; and a single field of inquiry: the performance of HMG in the fields of intelligence and arms control.

But, whereas Hutton has provided us plebs gratis with electronic access to the materials - documents and transcripts of oral evidence - for us to make up our own mind on the matters he looks at, online research into Scott is a complete no-hoper.

There is no online copy of the report [1], still less transcripts of testimony or documentary evidence [2]. There is Hansard for the floor of the House of Commons going back to the 1988-9 session - amply far back to include the introduction of the Report to the House (February 15 1996) and the subsequent debate (on February 26) during which Robin Cook had his finest Parliamentary hour.

There is not, it seems, even a decent online summary of the facts and conclusions of the Scott Report - just bits and pieces (sidebars brought forth by the establishment of the Hutton Inquiry, for instance) [3].

The main problem is that Scott was completed before Internet Year Zero - which varies from source to source, but for each source is a date documentation created before which is inaccessible. For instance, the Guardian/Observer archives go back to September 1 1998; the BBC News site's to around the middle of 1997 (exact date unstated) [4].

Whilst debates on the Commons floor go back to 1988, reports of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (an important supporting actor in the Kelly affair) go back online only to 1997/8. Similarly inconsistencies in Year Zero apply between and within institutions of UK government. (The FCO's online documentation is pathetically sketchy - to judge from the main page.)

To use phrase du jour of the boss of the FCO, Jack Straw, the whole thing is a complete Horlicks. The money spent on the wretched Millennium Dome ($1bn+) should have gone to digitising the national archive and the best of the British Library. As it is, records created (roughly speaking) before Monica Lewinsky gulped her last in the Oval Office might as well be Babylonian cuneiform tablets at the bottom of a well in Saddam's back garden. Wherever that is right now...

  1. Dead tree version available - under the snappy title Return to an Address of the Honourable the House of Commons Dated 15th February 1996 for the Report of the Inquiry into the Export of Defence Equipment and Dual-use Goods to Iraq and Related Prosecutions - for a mere 45 quid!

  2. I'm looking at a study of the Scott Report, Under the Scott-light (ha, ha...), which (p13) says that various were published some months after the report, on CD-ROM. No doubt the material is still available in digital form, though no longer in print, it seems.

  3. This is one of the more substantial efforts. There is a transcript of a BBC interview (February 18 1996) by Michael Heseltine (one of the key ministers involved) dealing with Scott.

  4. Even pay archives - a US list for comparison usually go back no earlier than 1990; but, however far back, they all have a Year Zero.

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