Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. I am only going on what you say in the evidence.
  (Mr Kirkwood) Yes. Yes. I took the view, and you may judge it is wrong, that any public evidence session is in the public domain and if Lucy Ward had been sitting at the back of that room and had listened to what was said by Mr Andrew Dilnot and others, I think she would have come to the same conclusion as me, perhaps not in a hard and fast way because, as I say, I make no bones about the fact that my first initial draft was a very pointed piece of work indeed. I laid it on with the proverbial trowel, Chairman, and said that I did not think the case had been made because of the practical difficulties. But, of course, it is possible that she took the view I was telling her what the conclusions of the Committee were.

  41. Can I put it to you that that was one of two leaks, that there were actually two leaks? There was the Report which was leaked and then there was also the view that you took of what the Committee's position was which was leaked. In the case of the conversation that you had, perhaps I can just quote back to you what Chris Pond said. "However, I believe that the press leaks also undermined our ability to reach agreement ... on a draft... I subsequently learnt that the contents of the initial draft had been made known to members of the press. The result was that my amendments, designed to bring the report more closely into line with the views of the majority of the Committee ... were interpreted as an attempt to `water down' the initial draft as if this had already been discussed by the Committee as a whole." In other words, he is saying that the revealing of the position the Committee was going to take to the press prior to a consideration on 10 February undermined his position and clearly constituted a substantial interference with the work of the Committee.
  (Mr Kirkwood) I do not think that that could have happened actually because none of us had seen this Guardian story until 5 o'clock on Wednesday 10th. None of the Committee at its deliberations in the morning referred to that Guardian article.

  42. I am sorry, I understand that the Guardian report, which I have here, was in the press on the morning when the Committee met.
  (Mr Kirkwood) Yes.

  43. And it would have been seen by people coming in.
  (Mr Kirkwood) That is true but—

  44. So it is true? It would have been seen? You accept it would have been seen prior to the consideration of the Report?
  (Mr Kirkwood) What I am saying to you is that none of us realised that the Report had been published until well on into the afternoon.

  45. How do you know that?
  (Mr Kirkwood) Because we had spent the morning discussing all of this and no one had raised it.

  46. But during the course of that meeting in the morning there was such an argument, I understand, that you were forced to back off from your draft Report. Clearly members had been influenced by the fact they believed a leak had taken place to the Guardian the night before.
  (Mr Kirkwood) You would need to ask other members that. I do not believe that any of us were aware of these two paragraphs, which were buried in a report about some other difficulties that the Government was having. The two paragraphs were only discovered—I was only made aware of those at tea time on the Wednesday. They played no part of any kind in the discussion we had on the Wednesday morning. Of course they were available when the Guardian newspaper was printed, but no one on that Committee in my view knew that. I think if anyone had realised the Report had been carried—certainly Andrew Dismore because he indicated some quite serious displeasure about the publication of the Report—but none of us knew it was in the paper until about 5 or 6 pm on Wednesday 10 February.

  Mr Campbell-Savours: There is no evidence of that actually. Can I say finally to you, that it seems to me that over those two days the culture was leak after leak—this was generally being gossiped about in the tea room—and the two leaks have to be seen in the context of a Committee which could not be relied on to hold Committee confidentialities in the way one would expect Committees to operate.

Mr Williams

  47. Archy, following on that, if one of your members had done the same thing, which was to disclose in effect the contents of a draft report, that would have constituted a leak. Why should it not have constituted a leak when the Chairman does it?
  (Mr Kirkwood) Journalists write their reports the way they want to write them, and as I have said to you, I am perfectly prepared to accept the fact that this is the wrong thing to do. I acted in good faith, I did what I believed to be right in that I had a general discussion with Lucy Ward which was about the programme of activity that the Committee was facing. I said to her two things in relation to the Child Benefit Taxation Report, one was that we were trying our best to get it into the public domain before the Budget, for rather obvious reasons, and secondly that the evidence we had had to date was pretty critical and that the Committee was likely to follow the evidence that had been presented to it. If that is a leak, then I am guilty. I am really very keen to get this clarified because I am making no bones about the fact that I believe—and it is nothing to do with chairmen—any member of a committee is reasonably entitled in these circumstances to have that conversation.

  Chairman: In all my years as Chairman of a Select Committee, I have always said that the report reflects the evidence. It is the standard thing and I assume that is the reality. But there are other aspects here which might be a leak.

  Mr Williams: Can we come back to a point I made to Sir John Kerr about that, which is, yes, that is true about the Committee which you chaired and we were on, because it can only reflect the evidence, because it is a factual, auditing committee, but that is not the case with a Select Committee.

  Chairman: It reflects the evidence.

  Mr Campbell-Savours: It can reject it.

Mr Williams

  48. Yes. You were utterly unaware that there was any opposition on the Committee to the point of view which had been expressed by the witnesses?
  (Mr Kirkwood) Yes.

  49. You did not realise that any of your colleagues were dissatisfied?
  (Mr Kirkwood) On the Monday when I talked to her, I was pretty clear in my own mind that we were all seized of the practical difficulties. My Report, which by that time of course was in the post and was in the hands of colleagues, was arguing a very definite point of view and I had no inkling because I did not get Chris Pond's series of detailed amendments—I think 40 in number—until the Tuesday, when my clerk said to me that he felt that my Report was not likely to survive the meeting on the Wednesday.

  50. Had you previously on other reports briefed journalists before the report was finalised on the possible contents?
  (Mr Kirkwood) Not at all.

  51. So it was not your normal practice?
  (Mr Kirkwood) It is my normal practice to explain the programme of activity of the Committee—

  52. The programme, but we are talking about the content. You said it was not your normal practice to do what you did on this occasion?
  (Mr Kirkwood) No.

  53. Okay, no. Let us take it a stage further using, as closely as I have managed to write them down, your own words. This was just before the Budget. It was known that this was an important element as far as the Chancellor was concerned.
  (Mr Kirkwood) Indeed.

  54. I did not get precisely the words but I got most of them, you said, "It would not be difficult to foresee that the Chancellor might have had some difficulties if an adverse report were published before his Budget statement."
  (Mr Kirkwood) Yes.

  55. Do you not think it might have been regarded by some of your colleagues and by others as having a political impact to leak—which is what you did—your perceived version of your draft Report that you hoped would become the ultimate one before the rest of the Committee had had a chance to register their opposition? Some people might see that as an attempt to pre-empt and take advantage of a political situation.
  (Mr Kirkwood) I cleave in my defence to the view that, as the Chairman indicated earlier, departmental committees are expected to follow the evidence. At that point, on the Monday, when I was having this conversation with Lucy Ward, anyone who had been sitting at the back of the public session of evidence on 16 December would have come to the very clear conclusion that there was a body of evidence about administrative difficulties that had to be addressed if this policy was to be successful. I am absolutely as clear as I can be about that. I was simply reflecting what was by that time on the Internet, indeed I cannot say for sure but I think even the hard copy published minutes of evidence of that session on 16 December would have been in the public domain. So I am absolutely prepared to stand corrected on this. I am not trying to hide anything at all. I am trying to recollect what I said because what I said might have been different from what she wrote, but I think I was entitled, until this Committee tells me differently, to go as far as that in terms of discussing the work of the Committee with journalists.

Mr Foster

  56. In fairness, I think what you did was more of a proclamation than a leak, was it not, because you were very open and you told her? The point I wanted to ask is this, there is a distinction as I see it, and I am really putting it to you, between discussing the evidence which you say was already in public and suggesting an analysis of that evidence which was that it was going to be critical. I see a difference between those two things. Do you?
  (Mr Kirkwood) Yes, I do, I clearly do. If as a result of all of this the Committee takes a view and can crystallise rules, then of course I am perfectly happy to confess to having inadvertently breached them. I am not hiding from that at all. I think it would help other colleagues, because I believe there is a genuine understanding amongst my fellow chairmen that they are at liberty to say that committees do follow the evidence and talk about what evidence has actually been held in public session in advance of publication of their reports. But clearly there are members of the Committee here who take a different view and I would be guided by what the Committee thinks, obviously.

  57. So given that is right, then the world knows what the analysis of your Committee is or is likely to be when you make that statement to the press? Would you agree?
  (Mr Kirkwood) As I think Dale was saying earlier, even a chairman, who has the privilege of putting a draft to his colleagues, might have an analysis but that analysis may not survive the examination of the report when it comes to amendments. So you would not really be on secure ground to say that your analysis was going to survive the process of amendment, as mine clearly did not.

  58. Can I put to you that the difficulty I see is this, if the public know your view of the analysis, does that not to some extent prevent a subsequent unanimous report if others take a different view? The point is that the whole purpose, as I understand it, of Select Committees insofar as it is possible is one achieves unanimity, and the knowledge there is not unanimity of itself may affect the ability to reach it.
  (Mr Kirkwood) I can answer that question obliquely by saying that if I had had the conversation with Lucy Ward on Tuesday and I had had the benefit of the 40 amendments from my distinguished colleague, Chris Pond, whose judgment I trust in these things, I think I would have been much more guarded in what I said about the analysis of the evidence. Because clearly, from the amendments he had tabled, Chris Pond's analysis of the evidence was significantly different from mine. I recognised that by immediately withdrawing the Report when it became clear that it was just a bridge too far for most of my Labour colleagues on the Committee. But at the time, when I spoke to Lucy Ward, I believed the Committee would stick to the direction in which the evidence was pointing.

Shona McIsaac

  59. What time of day did you speak to Lucy Ward on Monday the 8th?
  (Mr Kirkwood) It must have been the back end of the afternoon because I would have been travelling down from Scotland, but I could not be more precise than that.

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