Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Eighth Report

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.

Question 1

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

Question 2

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.

Question 3

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.

Question 4

I can confirm that no one asked me or any members of my staff to disclose Committee papers to Robin Cook or anyone else.

Question 5

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.

Question 6

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 Office.

17 March 1999

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