Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)

TUESDAY 15 JUNE 1999

MR JOHN GRANT CMG, MR ANDREW HOOD AND MR JOHN WILLIAMS

  100. Mr Grant, we have just heard now that Andrew was informed that this report, in its final form, was about to be published. Did Andrew tell you that?
  (Mr Grant) I think we already knew. I do not think that the information about the date of its publication was new. It may have been a confirmation of what we expected.

  101. The question basically is: did Andrew tell you that the report had been agreed in its final form?
  (Mr Grant) Probably. I do not think I would have found that particularly noteworthy. The fact that it had been agreed was already known to us by open channels.

  102. How?
  (Mr Grant) I am not sure. I think the Committee.

  Mr Campbell-Savours: The Committee does not inform you until it is set up the day before publication through the CFR.

Mr Forth

  103. Mr Grant, as Principal Private Secretary, you are, are you not, the main point of contact between the Secretary of State and basically the rest of the department and other officials?
  (Mr Grant) That is correct.

  104. That would apply in both directions, would it not?
  (Mr Grant) Yes. Advice from officials to him and instructions from the Secretary of State to the department.

  105. You are also, are you not, responsible for the overall conduct of ministerial private offices within the department? You have a management role.
  (Mr Grant) I have a direct management role for the Secretary of State's private office. I am certainly available to discuss issues with other private offices but the way things work at present is that ministers of state themselves take a keen interest in the management of their private offices. They do not often consult me about it.

  106. Indeed, but you are the line manager effectively.
  (Mr Grant) I do not write the reports actually.

  107. The point I am trying to make is that the role you played at the time is a pivotal and crucial role with regard to the Secretary of State and the support mechanism that exists for the Secretary of State.
  (Mr Grant) Certainly.

  108. Therefore, you also have intimate contact with the Secretary of State?
  (Mr Grant) Certainly.

  109. By the minute, by the hour and by the day.
  (Mr Grant) Certainly by the day.

  110. Would it not have occurred to you that, when this unusual event happened that we have all agreed is not only unusual but very important, in terms of the relationship between a government department and the parliamentary process, it would have seemed natural to mention it to the Secretary of State if only because the Secretary of State is a distinguished and experienced parliamentarian and might therefore have been expected to have a view about the document, its appearance in the department and perhaps might have some words of wisdom about what should be done with the document?
  (Mr Grant) You said, "Would it not"; it should have, yes, I am afraid. If I had wanted to bring this document to the Secretary of State's attention immediately, I could have done so.

  111. Presumably all of you see the difficulty that the Committee is in here. Here we have a document important to the department, fairly widely in circulation within the department at senior level, at a level normally close to ministers and to the Secretary of State, but we are being told that the Secretary of State and other ministers are in ignorance of this document's circulation within the department for a period of what would appear to be at least two weeks and maybe nearly three weeks.
  (Mr Grant) I see precisely that difficulty. I recognise the virtually explicit point you are making, if I may say so. I can give an explanation which is that I was treating this document in terms of its operational relevance. There would be a time closer to the date of publication—let us assume, hypothetically, it is a document which had no relationship to Parliament. The time to have shown it to the Secretary of State would have been in the week before the publication of the report. What I think now—but I of course defer to whatever view the Committee reaches—is that it is precisely the status of the document that I made an inappropriate assumption about. I do understand that you think it is strange but I was approaching this issue from a different vantage point, a vantage point that I will certainly not approach the same issue from again.

Mr Williams

  112. Mr Grant, you said that you felt it was important you kept the confidence of the person who sent the document to you. Why? This was someone who was in breach of parliamentary rules. As a member of the executive, is it your role to protect someone like that?
  (Mr Grant) No. I see that now. The best answer I can give is that, by analogy—this is not meant to be an exact comparison; it is an explanation rather than a justification—it is not unheard of for officials in, say, other governments or international organisations to show a Foreign Office official a document in confidence. Before you say, "Yes, but the relationship of the Foreign Office with Parliament is not the same as the relationship of the Foreign Office with Government", I accept that entirely. I am just saying that cases where we are shown documents in confidence which somebody appears to believe they would have the right scope and freedom to show us are not unique. What is unique is that it should be a document of this status. I did think we must respect the confidence of the person who passed it on and I did not think: what this person has done is breach the rules and it is my responsibility to rectify that. That position is now clear beyond peradventure.

  113. You have a unique role because you are the interface between the political head of the department and the rest of the department. You have direct access both to the Minister and to the Permanent Secretary. It is your job to alert the Permanent Secretary if there is anything happening. We all understand this flow of information takes place. If there is anything in relation to the minister that could be dangerous to the department and/or to the minister, you have a duty to inform him. It is one of the reasons why you are there, is it not? Why did you not tell the Permanent Secretary, if you did not tell the Minister?
  (Mr Grant) In this case, I would have told the Secretary of State. I would not have gone to the Permanent Secretary and said, "I wonder whether I should tell the Secretary of State about this." If I had thought that I should tell the Secretary of State immediately for reasons we have already discussed—

  114. Would not the Permanent Secretary expect to be alerted to the fact that the department was vulnerable? You have this dual responsibility. It is a difficult role. That is why people are carefully groomed for the job. Your job is to keep the department out of trouble and to help to keep the Minister out of trouble. If you did not feel it necessary to speak to the Minister, since you say you recognised the sensitivity, surely you should have told the Permanent Secretary?
  (Mr Grant) I had not thought about that. It is an entirely fair point. Perhaps I should have done.

  115. We have three people saying they should have done. You knew it was sensitive and you have said that. You certainly knew the high sensitivity of it in relation to the press, from your previous experience and as a political adviser you knew it was sensitive. You could not tell the Minister that for three weeks or two and a half weeks, whatever it was. He was so busy you did not have a chance to talk to him. You chose not to for your reasons and probably you did not feel it was your job to tell the Minister since these two had a personal relationship. Why did not either of you just put a three sentence note in the Minister's red box?
  (Mr Grant) Could I come back to give a more complete answer to Mr Williams's last question? The reasons I did not alert immediately the Permanent Secretary were the same reasons I did not alert the Foreign Secretary. I go back to this vantage point thing. I was not saying to myself, "Here we are, here the department is now, vulnerable by virtue of its mere possession of this document." Of course that was a factor but I was not giving the kind of weight to it that I would have given before this evidence session and all the more so after it. That is now a very clear point. The Permanent Under-Secretary became aware of it at a time close to the publication of the report, but I think it was the same assumption and the same degree of consideration of status that led me to act that way in both cases.

  116. Mr Hood, you have a different role. You are essentially responsible to the Minister and between you you are the people who keep the Minister off the slippery ice. If you two are not doing your job and if he does not know what is going on, he could end up in trouble through no fault of his own. Mr Hood, why did you not think it appropriate to put a three sentence letter in his box saying you had received this?
  (Mr Hood) I did think I was doing my job and I did consider the guidance on what we should do very carefully. It is not the case that I took the decision not to tell him. I took the decision that he should be told. The difficulty was what priority I should give to that, given the other pressures he was under. It is true that I could have put something in his box on paper. The reason I did not is essentially because I did not realise it would be a two week or longer period before I got chance to tell him. I assumed that I would be able to tell him face to face reasonably soon.

  117. As political adviser, were you not aware of his forward programme?
  (Mr Hood) It was a time when we were dealing with a lot of events that were coming up at very short notice. We had the Contact Group; we had the issues on Kosovo going on. I think we had hostages in Uganda at the time.

  118. I can see why you did not go charging into his office and say, "Look, Secretary of State, I must interrupt your discussions on Kosovo and your phone call to your counterpart in Moscow to tell you this", but a note is not a problem, is it?
  (Mr Hood) If I can finish that point, I was anticipating that there would be an opportunity to raise it with him face to face. Secondly, I would prefer to raise it with him face to face, particularly because I was concerned about pieces of paper floating around the office saying we had a leak. I wanted to make sure that I put it to him directly. I did not want there to be any greater risk of knowledge of the leak proliferating around the office.

Mr Campbell-Savours

  119. You were saying you had said to Ernie that you did not want to discuss these matters with him. Do you remember what happened? Were you pretty firm about the fact that you did not want to discuss it with him?
  (Mr Hood) No, I did not say anything to him about not discussing it.


 
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