Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. Did you issue any warnings to people that they had to be careful that this was kept close to the chest?
  (Mr Hood) Yes, certainly, when John and I met we discussed the sensitivity of it, yes.

  21. But was there any agreement that circulation was to be strictly limited?
  (Mr Hood) There certainly was an understanding, that John and I understood at the time and discussed the need to make sure that this was not distributed any further or certainly not widely.

  22. There is a difference between the two. Which one was it—not any further or widely?
  (Mr Hood) If you ask me to recall, I cannot remember exactly which of those it was, but certainly I was happy that John understood that this was a document that was extremely sensitive and was a document where we needed to be extremely careful to ensure that it did not proliferate throughout the office, as you said.

Mr Forth

  23. Do you see the Secretary of State every day?
  (Mr Hood) No, not always, no.

  24. How frequently would you say you saw the Secretary of State?
  (Mr Hood) It depends actually on how busy it is. Most of my work in the office is longer term in that he has good enough short-term political antennae and when he is dealing with particular issues that are in front of him he is quite capable of handling those without me standing behind him whispering in his ear. Most of what I do is looking at the longer-term strategy on issues, trying to make sure that the development of policy is in a direction that is coherent with the development of policy in other government departments and coordinated with all the other special advisers and making sure it is consistent with manifesto commitments, that we are delivering on those. It is essentially the political work that the Foreign Secretary himself is not able to deal with because he is dealing with the day-to-day issues. So it is actually not unusual for me to go one or two weeks without speaking to him.

  25. One or two weeks? You have told us that, in fact, it was something more like three weeks, 21 days, between the likely time that this document was in your possession in the first place and the time at which apparently the Secretary of State was first aware of it?
  (Mr Hood) It was certainly a considerable period of time. It was the first opportunity I had to bring it to his attention on 1 February.

  26. The first opportunity?
  (Mr Hood) Yes.

  27. So would you not have seen him at all during that three weeks?
  (Mr Hood) I did try to bring it to his attention at an earlier time but I had to make, as I have said, a judgment about how urgently it needed to be brought to his attention given the other issues he was dealing with, and I reached that judgment and I have already said that, in hindsight, I regret that I did not reach a view on the handling of this document and the need for action that would have better fitted the view of the House, because one thing I had been keen to do was to make sure that we did not breach guidance or rules. What I would not have wanted to do was to cut across the view of the House about how documents of this kind ought to be handled and I do regret the fact that it seems that that is what we have done.

  Mr Forth: I am sure, Chairman, we will come on later to other people who have knowledge of it and perhaps their frequency of contact with the Secretary of State, but for the moment I will leave it there.

Mr Foster

  28. What fax machine did it come in on? Was it a sort of general fax, your fax or—
  (Mr Hood) I actually do not know, I am afraid.

  29. Why were you the chosen one to have it in your pile?
  (Mr Hood) It was not in my pile, it was in a pile of documents that were waiting to be sorted to see if they needed to be shown to the Secretary of State.

  30. But presumably someone decided? When you say "a pile", there must be lots of piles in the Foreign Office? It was a pile that you were dealing with, so someone must have—
  (Mr Hood) No, I was actually looking through it for something else.

  31. No, what I am asking about is, how did this particular pile arise? You do not go through all the piles in the Foreign Office, so whose pile was this? Was it the Foreign Secretary's pile that you look at or somebody else's pile or you have your own personal pile or what?
  (Mr Hood) I have my own personal in-tray and it was not in my in-tray. It was in a collection of documents that are in the Private Office waiting to be sorted to see if they need to be brought to the Secretary of State's attention. It does not in that sense belong to anyone other than the Private Office. It is a collection of documents that has been submitted to Private Office. It is not a collection of documents that come into my office and I am afraid I cannot say other than that.

  32. So it came into the Private Office fax, did it, on the Private Office fax?
  (Mr Hood) I do not actually know which fax it came through.

  33. Someone had made a judgment that it should be you who had first access to it?
  (Mr Hood) No, actually they did not at all. It was pure circumstance that I was looking through that particular pile of papers at that particular moment on that particular day. On other days I would not have looked through that pile at all. It is certainly not a pile that— It is normal for me to look for documents through collections of—through any tray in the office if I am looking for something in particular, in the same way that if you are trying to track down something you look through any heap, I think, for the thing you are searching for, but it certainly was not—it is not a routine matter for me to go to that particular collection of documents. If someone had wanted to get something to me they would have done it in a way that came into my in-tray. This was purely circumstantial.

  34. Did it have a front sheet suggesting who it might be directed to?
  (Mr Hood) No, it did not.

  35. You used the words, "Oh my God, we've got a leak." This was an extreme sort of response.
  (Mr Hood) It was something along those lines, yes.

  36. You had never had a leak before?
  (Mr Hood) I was not aware of any other leaks that had come into the Foreign Office.

  37. So it is a unique situation that you are faced with, the first time ever in your whole career that a document of this magnitude, a leak from a Select Committee, has come to your attention?
  (Mr Hood) It was certainly the first time that a leak from a Select Committee had come to my attention. I was aware, I am aware, of cases where leaks have been sent to government departments and Westminster folklore is full of stories of leaks that have been sent out, and that is not to understate the significance of receiving a leak in the office. I did not understate that significance but, as I say, I reached a judgment at the time that the primary responsibility lay with the leaker and not with us for having received it.

  38. You have told us that it was a very busy time—
  (Mr Hood) Yes, it was.

  39.—and the Foreign Secretary was extremely busy, that you sometimes do not see him for one week and perhaps longer. This was a three-week period. Can you tell us how often you saw him during that three-week period?
  (Mr Hood) I cannot actually. I cannot remember how often.

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