Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Tenth and Eleventh Report


Letter to Mr Don Touhig MP from the Rt Hon Robert Sheldon MP,

Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges

The question of your having received a photocopy of a draft report from the Social Security Committee is being considered by the Committee on Standards and Privileges in the light of the Social Security Committee's Third Special Report.

The Chairman of the Social Security Committee wrote to you on 18 March asking you to let him know in writing whether you knew from whom you had received a preliminary draft of a report, and whether a member of the Committee or its staff was responsible for its being given to you. You replied on 23 March that you were unable to help him. The Chairman wrote to you again on 24 March to ask you whether you could confirm that it was not any of the staff of the Committee who was responsible for your being given a copy of the draft report; and whether you received the draft report before or after the meeting of the Social Security Committee on the morning of Wednesday 10 February. You replied on 30 March that you had acted in accordance with the responsibilities placed on Members by my letter to the Speaker. These letters are printed in Appendix 5 to the Committee's Special Report.

The Committee on Standards and Privileges has asked me to put the following questions to you:

1.  Did you ask for a copy of the draft report?

2.  Who gave it to you?

3.  When did you receive it?

4.  With whom did you discuss it?

I would be grateful if you would ensure that your response is in the hands of the Clerk of the Committee not later than 3.00 pm on Monday 5 July.

If you are unable to provide satisfactory answers to these questions by that time the Committee may wish to take oral evidence from you. I would therefore be grateful if you could arrange to be available from 10.45 am on Tuesday 13 July. The evidence would be taken in private but a record would be kept and the Committee would expect to publish it in full in due course. The Committee might decide to examine you on oath.

If the person who gave you the report wishes to acknowledge what he did, he should speak either to me or to the Clerk of the Committee.

29 June 1999

Reply to the Rt Hon Robert Sheldon MP from Mr Don Touhig MP

Thank you for your letter of the 29 June last. Let me say at the outset that I want to be as helpful to your Committee as I can. I respond to each of the four questions you posed below:—

Question 1

Yes, I did ask for a copy of the draft report. In unique circumstances, members of the Social Security Select Committee approached me to take an interest. At the prompting of the chairman of the Select Committee, members were encouraged to seek me out with the hope that I would make representations to the Treasury urging that its officials should appear before the Select Committee. I was told that members of the Select Committee felt that its report on Child Benefit would be incomplete without Treasury evidence. As a result I asked for a copy of the report so that I could better understand the problem. Looking back, I very much regret having done so and I apologise unreservedly.

I hope the Standards and Privileges Committee will accept my apology and accept too I was trying to be helpful to colleagues. I would ask members to note the fourth paragraph of the Third Special Report of the Social Security Select Committee on May 26 in which it states: 'We do not believe that in the unique circumstances of this case the leak of this particular draft report amounted to a substantial interference in the work of the Committee'. I would suggest the 'unique circumstances' refer to the fact I was asked to become involved in this matter. I did not seek to involve myself. I would also ask members to look at the chairman of the Select Committee's letter to the chairman of the Liaison Committee on April 1 as set out in Appendix 6 of the Select Committee Report on May 26. Here the chairman said of my involvement in making representations to the Treasury: 'This effort appears to have been successful, because the Treasury contacted the Clerk of the Select Committee on 11 February to say that it had been agreed that officials should appear on Wednesday 24 February'. In addition, the May 26 report on page XVIII records: 'No member has reported being put under pressure as a result of the leaks'.

Question 2

I believe that as the Select Committee report states, there are unique circumstances surrounding my involvement in this matter. I was asked by Select Committee members to involve myself. In retrospect, I bitterly regret seeking a copy of the draft report, and I apologise for this. I must, therefore, take full responsibility upon myself for this action and I do not feel able to involve anyone else.

Question 3

I received a copy of the draft report around tea-time on February 9.

Question 4

I discussed the report with no-one at all.

5 July 1999


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