Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. Specifically, did you know that Andrew Hood had made the decision not to inform the Secretary of State at that early stage?
  (Mr Williams) No.

  81. Did he know that you had decided a few days later to pass a copy to Kim?
  (Mr Williams) I do not think so.

  82. Did you tell him?
  (Mr Williams) I do not recall telling him.


  83. Mr Grant, why did you not inform the Foreign Secretary immediately when the leaked draft report arrived at the office?
  (Mr Grant) I think I made two assumptions which governed the way I handled the document. The first assumption was that, subject to the need to respect the confidence of whoever had sent it, which was an important consideration in my mind and extended thus to the overall need to handle the document with care and to make sure that it was handled carefully in the office, it was reasonable for us to retain the document and for me to use my discretion about when to consult the Foreign Secretary. Naturally, any private secretary frequently uses discretion about when to consult his minister about a particular document. I move on to my second assumption which was that operationally there was no need to seek the Foreign Secretary's instructions on the document because there was not a need for a decision by him or action by him. I do think that if the first assumption had been correct the second assumption would have been correct. I recognise now that the first assumption was not correct and that the status of the document meant that I did not have discretion to act as a private secretary looking at a document, saying, "When does my minister need to see this?" I regret that very much. If I could anticipate a question that one of the other Members of the Committee asked one of my colleagues, I am not doing the job any longer but there would be no question of any private secretary in the Foreign Office acting in that way now because the issue and the status of these documents is already clear as a result of—

  84. Did you think it right for the draft report, which after all was confidential to Members of the select committee, to be seen by officials in the news department without the approval of the Foreign Secretary?
  (Mr Grant) I did not think it was wrong because otherwise I would have taken steps, since I was aware of it. I am not sure at what stage, but I was certainly aware of it. The assumption that I made was the assumption that I first described, applied to that point as well. I did not assume that, because a member or more than one member of the news department had seen it, some public use would be made of it. I was very aware of that from one vantage point, that I now see very clearly is not the vantage point of the House or this Committee, namely that the important thing was to ensure that this document was handled carefully and it should not become known outside the office that we had it.

  85. The other question I want to put to you concerns the draft report on the European Union enlargement. Was that leaked document received in your office?
  (Mr Grant) Yes.

  86. Did you tell the Foreign Secretary about it?
  (Mr Grant) No, at no stage until we were asked a parliamentary question about select committee documents.

  87. Why did you not tell him?
  (Mr Grant) For the same reason as in the case of the other report. I made the same assumption, the first assumption I described, and the question I then asked myself was: is there anything in the substance of this report—I draw this distinction again between the substance and the status of the document—to which we need to alert the Foreign Secretary? Not surprisingly, given the fact that enlargement is an issue on which there is broad consensus, in the country and a broad measure of agreement between the Committee and the Foreign Office and indeed government as a whole, there was not. But that would not happen again either.

Mr Campbell-Savours

  88. During the period, this famous two to three weeks, did you and Andrew Hood discuss what was happening over this document?
  (Mr Grant) In other words?

  89. Did you have discussions about it?
  (Mr Grant) I simply do not recall.

  90. Did you perhaps sit down and think: maybe we should not be handling material like this; what should we do with it?
  (Mr Grant) The assumption I made was the assumption I tried to describe, which was somebody has chosen to send this document to the Foreign Secretary's office. Although it is right for me to exercise great care in the handling of the document, it was not of itself wrong for me to retain it.

  91. You did not have any sort of pang of conscience about what you should do or how you should proceed while you had it in your possession prior to the Secretary of State seeing it?
  (Mr Grant) I would have said to myself, "This is a document which needs careful handling."

  92. Andrew, what did you feel during that period? Were you concerned about the fact that it was in your possession? Were you worried about the implications of it?
  (Mr Hood) I took the view that the one thing we could not do was use this in any way, but it was a considered view. I take this opportunity to clear up one point that Mr Williams made earlier that I did not get a chance to address properly, which was that it was a breach of privilege to copy it.

  93. You were aware of that?
  (Mr Hood) No. I tried at the time to reach a proper considered view on what we should do with it. To the best of my abilities at the time, I concluded that we were not in breach of guidance or the rules to have received it but we would be if we acted upon it. As a result, the decision I made was that we must not in any circumstances act upon it.

  94. In other words, you were obviously concerned about having the information and this was all prior to the Secretary of State finding out on 1 February?
  (Mr Hood) Yes.

  95. You then met Ernie Ross on the—?
  (Mr Hood) Thursday before publication.

  96. 4 February?
  (Mr Hood) I think it was, yes.

  97. Can I read to you what Ernie says about what happened at the meeting? "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." He has the date wrong. "A press conference was to be held on Tuesday 9th February." He may have the date correct, but the point is that, when that conversation took place, did you say to him, "I am sorry. I cannot get involved in all of this"? You just now told us that you were concerned about this document; you were uneasy about handling the material in it. Did you say, "I am sorry but you are placing me in a difficult position"?
  (Mr Hood) At the end of the conversation, as we were leaving the meeting, he passed that information to me and my immediate reaction was I did not want to engage in conversation with him about it and I did not engage in conversation with him about it.

  98. Did you say, "You should not have sent me that document, Ernie"?
  (Mr Hood) No, I did not say anything else to him at all. I did not want to talk to him about having received it. I did not want to talk to him about anything. My decision at the time was that the last thing I wanted to do was to start discussing things with Ernie of that nature. That to me is clearly dangerous.

  99. You have already told us that you were concerned about having the information. You had the documents for getting on for three weeks. I would have thought you would have protested and said, "Why are you compromising me into this position?"
  (Mr Hood) He passed the information to me. Once he had done that, I could have protested but it struck me that the best thing to do was not to say anything and leave.

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