Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Eighth Report


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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]

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.[26] 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.[27] On 24 February the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House concerning the answers given to these questions by his Department.[28]

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 Committees.[29]

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 and Privileges.

23  HC 116. Back

24  HC Deb 9 February 1999 c.126. Back

25  The 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

26  Two of these questions, and the replies to them, are set out in [Annex D]. Back

27  This Answer is reproduced in full in [Annex D]. Back

28  HC Deb 24 February 1999, cc.415ff. Back

29  Second Report, HC 555 (1984-85). This is set out on page 670 of the 22nd edition of Erskine MayBack

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