Reply to the Chairman of the Committee
on Standards and Privileges
from the Rt Hon Robin Cook MP
Thank you for your letter of 10 March about the Foreign
Affairs Committee's report on Sierra Leone.
In the second week of January, my office received
a copy of the draft report. The report was seen by John Grant
(Private Secretary), Andrew Hood (Special Adviser), Kim Darroch,
John Williams and Chris Sainty (News Department). Mr Lloyd received
a separate copy of the draft report. He did not show it to or
discuss it with anyone.
John Williams and Andrew Hood discussed the report
with me on 1 February. I had already decided, after my evidence
session to the Committee last year, that I would make clear publicly
my support for officials and my wish to look forward, not back.
Receipt and discussion of the report did not alter our expectations
and plans for responding to the report.
John Williams showed the report to the Permanent
Under-Secretary on 1 February. I saw the Permanent Under-Secretary
on 2 February and told him that I intended to defend publicly
officials against unfair criticism.
2. No-one in the FCO saw the final report until
it was released at 8.00 am on the day of publication. On the day
before publication the Chair of the FAC gave a full briefing to
Andy Henderson, the Head of the FCO Parliamentary Relations Department,
making clear that the bulk of the Report's criticism would be
aimed at senior officials. Mr Henderson minuted that exchange
to officials within the FCO. It has been drawn to my attention
in preparing answers to your questions. On the preceding Thursday
Mr Ross had told Andrew Hood, my Special Adviser, that the final
report had become considerably more hostile to officials.
3. No use was made of either the draft or the
additional information from Mr Anderson or Mr Ross in briefing
the media, nor did the terms of the report give us any reason
to do so. Indeed the only contact we had with the media regarding
the report in advance of its publication was as a result of reports
in The Independent and The Times who had received a leak of the
conclusions of the report from a perspective hostile to the Foreign
5. No-one at the FCO had any contact with Mr
Ross between receipt of the draft and completion of the final
report. Mr Hood had the conversation with Mr Ross referred to
above after the report had been finalised.
6. No, and no amendments were tabled by Mr Ross.
Nor were any amendments discussed with any other Member of the
7. Yes. The draft was sent by fax and contained
his name. Mr Lloyd's copy was sent to him in the House of Commons
in a plain envelope and did not bear Mr Ross' name.
You invite me to offer any further information that
may be of assistance to the Committee. I would offer the following
At no stage did I or anyone acting on my behalf seek
to influence or to interfere with the preparation of the report.
We neither lobbied members of the FAC nor proposed amendments.
Madam Speaker has ruled that the fundamental responsibility of
Members who find themselves in possession of leaked Committee
papers must be to act in a way which does not impede the Committee
in the discharge of its responsibilities to the House. We have
done nothing which could have impeded or obstructed the independence
of the FAC. The text actually became considerably more hostile
to the FCO between the draft and the final report.
Nor did we do anything that might result in premature
public disclosure of the report. It is surprising that the FAC
should have pursued the release to the FCO of the report, which
did not result in public disclosure, but has not pursued the leaks
to The Independent and The Times (attached)
which did result in premature public disclosure. This is all the
more surprising as, when he briefed Mr Henderson on 8 February,
Mr Anderson regretted that Members of the Committee were briefing
the press. The article in The Independent concludes with what
appears to be a quote from a Committee Member.
Existing rules of procedure do not make private knowledge
by an MP of the proceedings of a Select Committee a contempt.
Any Member of the House is entitled to be present at the sittings
of committees, including deliberations of the Committee. It would
not be logical for private knowledge by a member of what happened
at meetings at which he or she had right of attendance to constitute
a contempt or even premature disclosure. Action to influence the
Committee or to make public prematurely its work would be a contempt,
but there was none in this case.
I stand ready to provide any further information
which may be of assistance to the Committee. In the meantime I
can provide the assurance you seek that I have discussed neither
the questions nor the answers with Mr Ross.
17 March 1999
30 Articles from The Independent on 5 February
1999 and The Times on 6 February 1999 not printed. Back