First Special Report from the Foreign
Affairs Committee (Session 1998-99) HC 293
1. The Foreign Affairs Committee's Second Report
of the current Session, entitled Sierra Leone, was agreed
to by the Committee in the early hours of Wednesday 3 February,
and reported to the House later that day.
Two draft versions of the report had been previously circulated
to the Committee, on 5 January and 21 January. The report was
published at 10.00 am on Tuesday 9 February, with copies of the
report released under the terms of Standing Order No.134 to the
press, witnesses and government departments at 8.00 am.
2. Mr Wilshire, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee,
raised the question of a possible leak to the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office of the Committee's Second Report with the Speaker after
Question Time on 9 February.
He was advised by the Speaker to pursue the matter inside the
Committee. He did this at the Committee's next meeting on 16 February.
At the meeting, the Committee agreed to write to the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office (FCO) to ask whether they had received a copy
of the report, or any confidential documents relating to it, before
8.00 am on 9 February. The Clerk's letter to the Head of the Parliamentary
Relations Department at the FCO is attached at [Annex A]. It had
been intended that, once a reply to this letter was received,
the Chairman would write to each member of the Committee and its
staff to ask if they could explain how the leak came about.
3. At the same time, parliamentary questions relating
to the time at which the Government might have had sight of the
report were tabled by members of the Committee and other members.
Though the answers to these questions are germane to the leak
from the Committee, we express no opinion upon them since this
is a matter which the Committee on Standards and Privileges may
wish to consider. However, we draw the attention of that Committee
to the first paragraph of the Foreign Secretary's Answer to the
Hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham on 23 February at Col. 259
indicating that there were two leaks from the Foreign Affairs
Committee, not one.
On 24 February the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House
concerning the answers given to these questions by his Department.
4. At the beginning of the Committee's meeting on
23 February, Mr Ernie Ross made a statement to the Committee admitting
that he had sent a draft copy of the report to the Foreign Secretary
and had subsequently spoken to the Foreign Secretary's political
adviser about the Committee's final conclusions. He handed the
letter, which is attached at [Annex B], to the Chairman of the
Committee. The Committee is of the view that had Mr Ross failed
to acknowledge his culpability in this affair then suspicion for
the leak might well have fallen upon one of his colleagues. His
admission, at least, is worthy of commendation.
5. The Committee believes that the leaking of a draft
report and certain of its key conclusions to a Minister is likely
to constitute a substantial interference with the select committee
system. The Liaison Committee considered this matter on 25 February
and took the same view. For this reason, the Committee has decided
to invoke the procedure set down by the Privileges Committee in
its report on Premature Disclosure of Proceedings in Select
6. The Committee takes a serious view of this
matter, and therefore concludes that this Special Report should
be considered and reported upon by the Committee on Standards
23 HC 116. Back
Deb 9 February 1999 c.126. Back
reply of the FCO to the Clerk's letter set out in [Annex A] was
received on 25 February. It is set out in [Annex C]. Back
of these questions, and the replies to them, are set out in [Annex
Answer is reproduced in full in [Annex D]. Back
Deb 24 February 1999, cc.415ff. Back
Report, HC 555 (1984-85). This is set out on page 670 of the
22nd edition of Erskine May. Back