Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 130)



  120. He opened the subject on the way out?
  (Mr Hood) He passed these comments on to me. I said absolutely nothing.

  121. When you say "He passed these comments on"—?
  (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.

Mr Campbell-Savours

  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 Secretary".

  124. Which you did not do.
  (Mr Hood) I did, yes. The next day exactly the same information appeared in The Independent.

Shona McIsaac

  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 correspondents—it may have been for diplomatic correspondents—I 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 anyway.
  (Mr Williams) Yes, but I sat through the evidence sessions and—

  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 right—and I believe it was absolutely right. We had a responsibility to do it—politically, 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 returned them.

  Shona McIsaac: They have all now been shredded or returned. Thank you very much.

  Chairman: Thank you for coming along and answering our questions.

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