Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  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 straightaway?
  (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?

Shona McIsaac

  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 correct?
  (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 the day?
  (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 week.

  11. You say there was a large pile of draft—there 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.

Mr Williams

  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 the original?
  (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 the original.

  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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 30 June 1999