Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
TUESDAY 15 JUNE 1999
GRANT CMG, MR
120. He opened the subject on the way out?
(Mr Hood) He passed these comments on to me. I said
121. When you say "He passed these comments
(Mr Hood) He told me that the report had been finalised
and was going to be published. He did say that it was going to
be very critical for officials.
122. Can I read to you what Ernie said? "I
did not have any paperwork relating to the Final Report at that
meeting, so from memory I went over some of the key conclusions
of the Final Report and asked him to relay them to the Foreign
Secretary. I disclosed those parts of the key conclusions that
I could remember in order that the Foreign Secretary would be
aware of how serious they were." You are saying basically
that you did not want to know about these matters. You wanted
to terminate the conversation as soon as possible and Ernie is
saying that he has given you a substantial amount of detail of
what is in the report.
(Mr Hood) When Ernie was telling me about the date
for publication, that was not a matter for controversy but in
terms of the fact that it had been finalised the details of the
publication were not to my mind controversial.
Chairman: There was no question of breach
of privilege at that stage because the report had been agreed.
123. The view taken by the adviser as to what
extent he should discuss this matter with a Member when clearly
he was concerned
(Mr Hood) It should not have been discussed with a
Member but he then went on and where I realised it was becoming
dangerous was where he said to me, "It is going to be very
critical". He then added, "It is going to be particularly
critical of John Kerr. I want you to relay that back to the Foreign
124. Which you did not do.
(Mr Hood) I did, yes. The next day exactly the same
information appeared in The Independent.
125. There are a few issues about the copies
of the report and the use of the report. There certainly were
reports in the press about the select committee report prior to
publication. Did you three or anybody have a discussion about
rebutting some of the allegations in the press about the Foreign
Secretary, about the criticisms of officials?
(Mr Williams) In the conversation held on 1 February,
which was the first time I mentioned it to him, the reason why
I mentioned it to him that day was because the publication was
a week or so away. One of the things I said to him was, "We
can expect this to start appearing in the newspapers. We can expect
speculation over the coming week and perhaps leaks of it to the
papers. I would like, with your permission, if I am rung about
the speculation, leaks, whatever, to say: "if what you are
saying is right, if that is the way the report comes out, Robin
Cook will back those officials because he regards this as unfair,
as he has been saying all along." That is what I did. It
appeared in The Independent on the Friday morning. I was
phoned at midnight by the duty press officer and told about that.
The following morning, I saw the Foreign Secretary. I think he
had a briefing as he was about to leave for one session of the
Rambouillet talks and at the end of that briefing for political
correspondentsit may have been for diplomatic correspondentsI
said to him, "You have seen this in The Independent
this morning. I will get other calls now. I will start saying
what we agreed I should say." That was what I did. I had
subsequent calls from The Times, The Sunday Telegraph,
Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, all claiming to
know what was in the report. To all of them I said, "I am
interested in what you say. If it is true, he will back those
officials because, as you know, he regards it as unfair."
126. You knew what the report was going to say
(Mr Williams) Yes, but I sat through the evidence
127. The knowledge of it would have been useful
to you in rebutting those stories.
(Mr Williams) If you sit through several hours of
evidence sessions, you do get the point after a while. They were
mostly pretty hostile evidence sessions. All we did on the day
was to say, "These officials have been criticised".
The Foreign Secretary said right at the beginning of this process
that he regarded it as unfair on them that they should be subjected
to what he called double jeopardy and I was obviously aware that
if I said anything that depended on knowledge of that leak that
would be wrong. I did not do so.
(Mr Hood) Over this period I was in the happy circumstance
of being ill with appalling 'flu on that Friday and right through
to the following Tuesday so I did not have any contact after Thursday
evening with anyone in the office, nor the Foreign Secretary,
until the report was actually published. I was around at a time
when John was not when the Sandline affair first broke and we
got extremely heavy criticism. The Secretary of State got extremely
heavy criticism for not defending officials at that time, unfairly
as it happened. But it was absolutely crystal clear, both to me
at that time and to the Foreign Secretary, that the one thing
we had to make sure we did, both in response to the Legg Report
and in response to the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee,
is that we resolutely defended the officials. Leave aside issues
of justice, about whether that was rightand I believe it
was absolutely right. We had a responsibility to do itpolitically,
it was absolutely foolish to do anything else. I am confident
that we were entirely scrupulous in not allowing the fact of the
leak to affect the way the press campaign was handled. There was
only ever one option for the way we could conduct this.
128. Copies were taken of the report. Does anybody
still have a copy of that locked away in a desk or filed away
anywhere or have you returned, destroyed or shredded or whatever
all those copies of that leaked document?
(Mr Hood) I can only speak for myself and for what
happened to the original copy. It went in my shredding tray when
it was superseded by the published document. This happens to 200
documents a day in the shredding tray.
129. Mr Grant, do you still have a copy?
(Mr Grant) No.
(Mr Williams) Nor me.
130. Anybody else?
(Mr Hood) There are no other copies. We would have
Shona McIsaac: They have all now been
shredded or returned. Thank you very much.
Chairman: Thank you for coming along
and answering our questions.