Reply to the Chairman of the Committee
on Standards and Privileges from Mr Ernie Ross MP
Further to your letter of 10th March 1999 setting
out a series of questions regarding the premature disclosure of
the Foreign Affairs Committee's Report on Sierra Leone, I would
respond as follows.
I had opposed this inquiry right from the outset
particularly as we appeared to be following exactly in the footsteps
of the Legg Inquiry Report, and I am of the opinion that at the
end of our investigations, the Select Committee's Report made
no significant finding with regard to the officials of the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office or Private Mercenary Companies that are
not contained within the Legg Report. Our Report however did make
far harsher criticisms of individual civil servants than Legg,
but unlike Legg those same civil servants could not be afforded
the right to seek to amend our report prior to publication, and
would have no right to reply after publication.
The Draft Heads of Report was discussed on 15th December
and amendments and additions agreed and on 16th December the Foreign
Secretary and Tony Lloyd MP gave evidence to the Committee.
The Foreign Secretary gave a very robust defence
of his decision to establish Legg, and to accept all Legg's recommendations.
He indicated the action taken to act on those recommendations
and then refuted the allegations made in April and May that there
had been a conspiracy on the part of officials to undermine Ministerial
policy. In addition he asserted that there was no connivance by
Ministers at a different policy from the one announced in Parliament,
conceded there were misjudgements, there were errors and failures
of communication, but insisted that there was no conspiracy.
When the Draft Report was published on 5th January
it was quite clear that despite the robustness of the two Ministers
evidence, the most likely outcome of our Report was another very
damning attack on civil servants, who were still having to come
to terms with quite severe criticisms delivered by Legg, and the
changes in working practice in response to the Legg Report.
It was at this point that I decided to alert the
two Ministers that their departments were in for more criticism,
by sending each of them a copy of the Draft Report. I expected
my colleagues to read and absorb the Draft Report and to appreciate
that subsequent discussion and amendments were most likely to
produce an even more critical final Report
In my capacity as Chair of the Parliamentary Labour
Party Foreign Affairs Committee I am in regular contact with the
Foreign Secretary, his Ministerial Colleagues, their Political
Advisors and PPS's on a regular and sometimes daily basis.
I had arranged to meet Andrew Hood, Political Advisor
to the Foreign Secretary on Thursday 4th February to discuss The
Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Kosovo and the Middle East
Peace Process. At the conclusion of our discussions I asked him
to inform the Foreign Secretary that the Select Committee had
agreed the Sierra Leone Report in its final form and would be
Reporting that to the House as of Tuesday 2nd February. A press
conference was to be held on Tuesday 9th February.
I did not have any paperwork relating to the Final
Report at that meeting, so from memory I went over some of the
key conclusions of the Final Report and asked him to relay them
to the Foreign Secretary. I disclosed those parts of the key conclusions
that I could remember in order that the Foreign Secretary would
be aware of how serious they were.
Andrew Hood had no prior knowledge that I would raise
this subject at our meeting and I accept that I placed him in
an invidious position and apologise for this.
I did not, nor did any member of my staff know, who
else saw the Draft Report, or was made aware of the Committee's
conclusions until, the written answers to the Honourable Member
for Chesham and Amersham on 23rd February Official Report col.
259, and the Foreign Secretary's Statement in the House 24th February
Official Report col. 415 and 416.
I can confirm that no one asked me or any members
of my staff to disclose Committee papers to Robin Cook or anyone
In my answer to question number 3 I confirmed that
neither I, nor any member of my staff were conscious of anyone
else in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who may have been
made aware of or had sight of the Draft Report.
In answer to question 2 I indicated my regular and
sometimes daily contact with the Foreign Secretary, his Ministers,
Political Advisors and PPS's on matters relating to the Government's
and the Labour Party's Foreign policy, but for the removal of
any doubt I would confirm that in all those contacts, whether
orally or in written form, the work of the Committee's Draft Report
on Sierra Leone and amendments were not discussed.
I can confirm that neither I, nor any member of my
staff ever discussed possible amendments to the Draft Report with
Robin Cook or anyone else in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
In fact as the discussions and arguments raged over
the Draft Report it became blindingly obvious to me that my actions
in sending a copy of the Draft Report to my two colleagues, had
effectively ruled out any opportunity that I had had of submitting
substantial or indeed any amendments to this Report.
I would also confirm that in all of the above activity
no other member of my staff was involved either directly or indirectly.
In conclusion I would assure the Committee that neither
I nor any member of my staff has discussed the questions set out
in your letter of 10th March 1999 or my answers to these questions,
with any Minister or Official in the Foreign and Commonwealth
17 March 1999