Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
TUESDAY 15 JUNE 1999
GRANT CMG, MR
1. Welcome to the Committee. Mr Grant, you were
the Principal Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs until April of this year; Mr
Hood, you are the Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and Mr Williams, you are Deputy
Head, News Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I have
a number of questions which I am going to put to you and then,
of course, my colleagues will come in. First of all, we are looking,
obviously, at the premature disclosure of reports from the Foreign
Affairs Committee. The first question I have to put is, in what
circumstances did you come into possession of the leaked draft
of the report on Sierra Leone? This is to Mr Hood.
(Mr Hood) I think the Secretary of State has already
dealt with some of these questions in his written evidence to
the Committee. What I can add is that I found the draft when I
was looking through a collection of documents, that the documents
were on one side for sorting in Private Office to see if they
needed to be shown to the Secretary of State, that I found the
leaked draft among those papers but I was not expecting to find
it and I was not looking for it. When I found it I was quite surprised
to have done so, so much so actually that I commented out loud
and also commented on the source of the leak because the person's
name was on the top of each page. The fax details were on the
top of each page. I was only standing a few feet away from John
Grant's desk at the time and John overheard my exclamation of
surprise, which is actually how John came to know about it. I
told John Williams separately.
2. Why did you not inform the Foreign Secretary
(Mr Hood) This was an extremely busy period for the
Foreign Secretary and I did make attempts to bring it to his attention
but it was not possible to find an appropriate opportunity to
raise it with him before 1 February. In terms of the different
activities that were going on, the Secretary of State during that
time was in the Netherlands, he had a two-day conference in Swansea,
he was twice in Brussels, he was in Belgrade, he was dealing with
the hostage crisis in Yemen, the aftermath of the Raca massacre
and arrangements for the contact group in London and the establishment
of the Rambouillet talks, he made two statements in the House
on Kosovo and one on Yemen, he did foreign affairs questions in
the House, he met with ten foreign ministers other than those
at the contact group, a visiting prime minister and a king and
he made two speeches. So it was actually an unusually busy period
and I had to reach a judgment on how to balance the need to bring
the leak to his attention with an assessment of what constituted
an appropriate opportunity, given the other priorities that he
was facing. In an ideal circumstance, with no other priorities
confronting him, I would have told him immediately but I had to
reach a judgment on how pressing it was and how urgent it was
for him to know. I considered it very carefully and the view I
took was that there was no immediate action required on the basis
of the leaked draft. That was for two principal reasons: first
of all, we had it and we could not undo the fact that we had it,
and I was aware of neither guidance or ruling that required us
to act once we had received a leak; secondly, I was absolutely
clear that we should not ourselves take any action on it. So I
reached a judgment myself on how pressing it was to bring it to
the Foreign Secretary's attention on the back of that judgment
about the need for action. The view I took at the time was that
there was not a significant enough difference between telling
him immediately and telling him after a short delay to warrant
forcing bringing this to his attention. Instead, my priority was
to ensure that we took what I considered to be the right and proper
course of action, which was to take no action on the basis of
the report and to wait for an appropriate opportunity to raise
it with the Secretary of State. So I did reach a view on how to
handle the report that was my own judgment at the time and, with
the benefit of hindsight, I do regret that that was the view that
I reached. I am very pleased that the Committee has produced a
new ruling and new guidance in March and, looking back on the
issue, I regret that I did not reach the same conclusion that
you did, but at the time that I reached my view, I believed that
the primary responsibility was with the leaker and that, as far
as I was aware, we had not breached any rules or guidance in receiving
the report and were not required to act once having received the
report, and that my priority at the time, what weighed on my mind,
was to ensure that we did not breach the rules in the way we handled
it from that point onwards.
3. You said Mr Williams was near to you at the
time the fax was received. What did you expect him to do?
(Mr Hood) No, I said Mr Grant was a few feet away
from me at his desk and when I came across it I commented.
4. But you did give it to Mr Williams?
(Mr Hood) I did, yes.
5. What did you expect him to do with it?
(Mr Hood) I gave it to John because You may
recall that when Sandline first arose it was I who brought the
letter from Sandline's solicitors to the Foreign Secretary's attention
and from that point onwards I was involved in pulling together
advice on the political side for the Foreign Secretary. John Grant
and John Williams, when he later joined the News Department, which
was a few weeks after the affair started, formed a team, a nucleus
of three, that co-ordinated the advice for the Foreign Secretary.
We were the first line of counsel for him on dealing with Sandline.
We were the team that dealt with it in the Foreign Office, pulling
together the Foreign Office response. John was the only person,
I think, certainly the only one of the three of us, who had sat
through most, if not all, of the Foreign Affairs Committee hearings,
so he had unparalleled expertise on the detail of the Sandline
affair and so it was perfectly natural for me to make sure that
he, John and I had the same state of knowledge at the point when,
as I rightly anticipated, the Foreign Secretary would want to
discuss it with us and with John and myself. So it was on that
basis that it felt proper to me to make sure that John was in
the same state of knowledge as I was.
6. Have you received leaked copies of any other
draft report from the Foreign Affairs Committee?
(Mr Hood) No, I have not, no.
Chairman: Thank you. Shona?
7. You said earlier that you received the draft
report and that you were surprised at the source because the name
was on the top. Surely you would be able to determine, therefore,
the exact date and time that the draft report was sent to the
Department because I understand this was faxed through? Is that
(Mr Hood) I did not receive it; I came across it.
I did not receive the fax; I came across it in a pile of other
documents and it was not sent to me. I was just the first person
who came across it.
8. However, the person's name
(Mr Hood) It was, yes.
9.the person who leaked it, their name
was on the top of the document?
(Mr Hood) It was.
10. When faxes are sent through it does record
(Mr Hood) No, it is very true actually that I could
have looked at the top and registered the date and time. Remember
that on the day when I discovered it I knew what day it was that
I was discovering it. I did not know that at a future point I
was going to have to recall what day it was, so I did not either
take a note at that time that that was the date that I had come
across the leaked document, nor did I at any time register what
the details were at the top of the page, other than the fact that
it had someone's name emblazoned across it. What I do recall and
what I am confident about is that it was the second week in January
but that is because of the other events that were going on that
11. You say there was a large pile of draftthere
was a pile of papers you were sorting out. How long would that
paper have been lurking there and somebody had
(Mr Hood) Various documents
12. Can you say whether it would be a day or
a week later?
(Mr Hood) Yes, documents like that are dealt with
promptly in the office. They do not hang around for long, and
it was simple circumstance that I was looking through it and came
across it. It might just as easily have been someone else.
13. So it was a matter of days rather than weeks
for somebody to
(Mr Hood) Certainly, yes.
14. You said you had not breached the rules
in receiving it. Of course you did by distributing it, and you
realise that is a breach of parliamentary privilege. Did you keep
(Mr Hood) For the first couple of things, I did not
realise that was a breach of parliamentary privilege and that
it is very difficult to reach a conclusion on who distributed
it in that John Grant was standing next to me when I got it, so
he had knowledge of it from the fact that I said, "Oh my
God, we've got a leak." I think I recall that actually it
was John Williams, or I told John Williams but, John asked me
if he could take a copy. I at the time was not aware of any reason
why he should not have a copy.
15. So now, in addition to having one dangerous
piece of paper, you proliferated that dangerous piece of paper
by copying it. So who had the copy and who had the original and
why is not the date on both of them? There would, for example,
have been a date on them?
(Mr Hood) It would have been but nobody was asked
to register the date at a time when we had them.
16. You did not have to, it is on the paper
at the top?
(Mr Hood) No, nobody was asked to register it at a
time when we still had the document.
17. So how many copies were produced then? How
many copies did you produce?
(Mr Hood) I did not actually copy any of those.
18. Who copied it then to Mr Williams?
(Mr Hood) John took a copy, as I understand it, from
19. So that is one you know of. We will come
to Mr Williams later. You did not produce any other copies yourself?
(Mr Hood) No.