The Committee on Standards and Privileges has
agreed to the following Report:
UNAUTHORISED RECEIPT OF A DRAFT REPORT
OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY COMMITTEE
1. We have considered the issues raised by the Third
Special Report of the Social Security Committee
in which the Committee reported that Mr Don Touhig, the Parliamentary
Private Secretary to the Chancellor of Exchequer, had been given
a photocopy of a draft report on child benefit. The facts of the
case are set out at length in the letter from Mr Archy Kirkwood,
the Chairman of the Social Security Committee, to the Chairman
of the Liaison Committee, which is printed in Appendix 1 to this
Report. Correspondence between Mr Kirkwood and Mr Touhig is printed
in Appendix 2.
2. The Social Security Committee was unable to discover
how the leak had come about. The Liaison Committee considered
that the leak represented a substantial interference with the
Social Security Committee's work, although in this case the Social
Security Committee itself took a different view following a division
in the Committee on party lines. The Committee nonetheless made
its Special Report "so that the matter of the draft report
given to the Chancellor's Parliamentary Private Secretary may
be placed before the Committee on Standards and Privileges".
3. We have also considered the issues raised by the
discussion between Mr Kirkwood and a journalist, to which the
Social Security Committee refers in its Special Report.
4. We took oral evidence from Mr Touhig and Mr Kirkwood,
which is published with this Report. Our Chairman's letter to
Mr Touhig, and his reply, are printed in Appendix 3 to this Report.
The Member responsible for the leak
5. As a result of Mr Touhig's evidence that a member
of the Social Security Committee had given him the report, we
invited every member of that Committee to answer "Yes"
or "No" to the question "Did you give Mr Touhig
a copy of the report?" All of them answered "No".
Our correspondence with the members of the Committee is printed
in Appendix 4 to this Report.
6. The House expects all Members to answer questions
from this Committee truthfully. Knowingly to mislead the Committee
on Standards and Privileges is a contempt of the House and we
condemn the conduct of the Member who has failed to tell the truth
and take responsibility for his or her actions. We regret that
the leaker's failure to own up casts a cloud unfairly over the
other members of the Social Security Committee and can only damage
the Social Security Committee's standing in the House. We will
wish to return to this matter if the identity of the leaker subsequently
comes to light.
7. We take a serious view of this case. The person
who leaked the draft did so in blatant disregard of the accompanying
circular, which included the words
"Members are reminded that this text is in
confidence for the use of Members of the Committee only, and
that any public disclosure of it would be a prima facie contempt
of the House.
It would also be a prima facie contempt for
any person not on the Committee to be given access to the text,
particularly if attempts were then made from outside the Committee
to influence the Members' consideration of the Report".
The copies of the report which were circulated to
the members of the Social Security Committee on 4 February were
numbered. The leaked photocopy which Mr Touhig later returned
to the Chairman of the Committee was not. Mr Touhig told us that
he did not notice whether the document he was given was numbered.
We conclude that the person who was responsible for the leak made
sure that the version given to Mr Touhig did not include the page
which bore the number, which indicates that he or she was well
aware that giving a copy of the report to a non-member of the
Committee was a breach of the rules, and moreover that he or she
did not want to be found out.
8. Mr Kirkwood explained to us the circumstances
in which the Social Security Committee had decided, at its meeting
on 10 February, that his draft report should be set aside in favour
of a fresh draft which would reflect the consensus of the Committee.
He had invited Labour Members in particular to ask Ministers to
send Treasury officials to give evidence to the Committee, and
the desirability of enlisting Mr Touhig as an intermediary had
also been discussed.
At earlier meetings of the Committee the question of getting Treasury
officials to appear had only been mentioned in passing, if at
Mr Kirkwood considered that the leak amounted to a significant
interference with the work of the Committee only to the extent
that the need to investigate the leak contributed to an atmosphere
of mistrust within the Committee and distracted it from its programme
9. Mr Touhig told us
that he had been approached in the hope that he would make representations
to the Treasury urging that its officials should appear before
the Social Security Committee, as it was felt that the Committee's
report on child benefit would be incomplete without Treasury evidence.
Approaches had been made to him by two (or possibly three) members
of the Committee in the course of 9 and 10 February; two members
had come to see him before he received a copy of the report.
He had asked the first member who spoke to him for a copy of the
report so that he could better understand the problem. He had
received one around tea-time on 9 February and had read parts
of it later that day.
He had had conversations with special advisers at the Treasury
about the Treasury's refusal to give evidence to the Social Security
Committee, but he had not discussed the draft report with anyone,
nor had he shown it to anyone.
In retrospect he bitterly regretted having asked for a copy of
the draft report and apologised unreservedly.
He took full responsibility upon himself for that action and did
not feel that he could name the person who had given him the draft
report unless that person gave permission, which he or she had
declined to do.
10. Mr Touhig's evidence discloses two distinct offences.
First, he asked for a copy of a draft report of a select committee.
Whatever his motives in doing so, that was a breach of the conventions
of the House. Secondly, he has refused to identify the person
who gave him the draft. The House will expect us to uphold its
rights and privileges, and we cannot therefore overlook the fact
that "witnesses ... who have refused to answer questions
... have been considered guilty of contempt".
Mr Touhig explained to us that he had discussed with the leaker
the question of disclosing his or her name, but the person involved
had felt unable to agree.
11. The timing of the leak has some significance.
Mr Kirkwood said in his original submission to the Liaison Committee,
"Mr Touhig has declined to state whether he received the
draft before or after our meeting on 10 February. It could be
argued that to have given the draft to the PPS only after the
Committee had decided not to proceed with its formal consideration,
and in the spirit of securing the Treasury's compliance with the
Committee's unanimous wish to seek further evidence, would not
amount to a substantial interference in the work of the Committee".
Mr Touhig has now told us that he asked for and received the draft
on 9 February, when it was expected to be considered formally
by the Committee on the following day.
12. Mr Touhig said that he asked for the report in
the light of informal requests from members of the Social Security
Committee, made to him on the afternoon and evening of 9 February,
that he should make representations to the Treasury about the
appearance of officials. It was not until 10 February, the day
after Mr Touhig received the draft report, that the Committee
agreed that members would ask Mr Touhig to convey the Committee's
views to the Treasury. On both counts, therefore, it is a more
serious matter that Mr Touhig received the draft before the meeting
on 10 February than it would have been if he had been given a
superseded draft after a meeting at which the Committee had agreed
that he should be approached.
13. Mr Touhig now recognises that he was wrong to
have asked for a copy of the draft, and he has made a full apology.
He told us that his actions were prompted by a desire to assist
the Social Security Committee, and that he made no use of the
leaked draft in order to influence the Committee on his own behalf
or on behalf of the Treasury.
14. Mr Touhig has taken full responsibility upon
himself. He must therefore accept the consequences both of initiating
the leak by asking for a draft report and of refusing to answer
a question put to him by this Committee. A senior Parliamentary
Private Secretary to a major Department may be seen as a member
of the Establishment. Select committees are part of the parliamentary
system that is supposed to keep the Executive in check and under
scrutiny. Mr Touhig has recognised he was wrong to have asked
for a copy of the draft. He caused the leak. We recommend that
Mr Touhig should apologise to the House by means of a personal
statement and that he be suspended from the service of the House
for three sitting days. Our recommendation takes account of the
mitigating circumstances; otherwise we would have recommended
a longer period of suspension.
15. Mr Kirkwood said in his letter to the Chairman
of the Liaison Committee that he had briefed a journalist "to
the effect that the Committee aimed to produce a report before
the Budget, and that it would reflect the evidence received".
An article appeared on 10 February.
16. In his evidence to us
Mr Kirkwood said that he had spoken to the journalist on the telephone
on 8 February. In the course of his conversation with her, after
answering general questions about the work of the Committee, he
had said that the Committee's next report would be on the taxation
of child benefit, that the Committee wanted to publish it before
the Budget, and that the Committee hoped the report would inform
the Budget debate. He had told the journalist that the evidence
indicated that the experts doubted whether it was practicable
to tax child benefit, and that the report would probably reflect
the fact that the balance of the evidence was critical of the
idea. Mr Kirkwood told us that he thought he was entitled to say
what evidence the Committee had received at public sessions, which
the journalist could have read for herself, where the balance
of the evidence lay, and that select committees tended to follow
It was not his normal practice to brief journalists on the possible
content of reports before they were finalised. He acknowledged
that it was an important element as far as the Chancellor of the
Exchequer was concerned. He agreed that it would not have been
difficult to foresee that the Chancellor might have had some difficulties
if an adverse report had been published before his Budget statement.
17. A journalist who has attended a public evidence
session or read a published transcript may well know what evidence
a committee has received. On this occasion Mr Kirkwood was more
forthcoming than was prudent, and it was unfortunate that he departed
from his normal practice. We note that members of the Social Security
Committee have drawn attention to their concerns about Mr Kirkwood's
conversation with a journalist.
There were clearly leaks to the press from a number of sources.
Our order of reference gives us the duty of considering specific
matters relating to privileges referred to us by the House.
We do not have power to institute inquiries into privilege cases
on our own initiative. We would be precluded from taking these
18. Chairmen and other members of select committees
should exercise caution when discussing their committee's work
and possible conclusions with outsiders, and should not indicate
the contents of a draft report to which the committee has not
1 Unauthorised Receipt of Draft Report,
HC 482 (1998-99). A revised draft of the leaked report was subsequently
published as the Fourth Report from the Social Security Committee,
Child Benefit, HC 114 (1998-99). Back
paragraph 4. Back
paragraph 3. Back
11-19, 29-31 and 84-5. Back
1, 2, 8 and 63-5. Back
3; Qs 67-157. Back
90-4 and 152-4. Back
115 and 120. Back
73-4, 135-148 and 150-1. Back
69-72, 79 and 110-2. Back
May, 22nd ed., pp. 109-10.
See also p.653; and see also Q 68. Back
67, 114, 123 and 146. Back
32 and 56. Back
482, Appendix 2, no. 2 (Mr Andrew Dismore) and no. 9 (Mr Chris
No. 149(1)(a). Back