Examination of Witness (Questions 40 -
TUESDAY 13 JULY 1999
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
(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
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
(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 discoveredI
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
carriedcertainly Andrew Dismore because he indicated some
quite serious displeasure about the publication of the Reportbut
none of us knew it was in the paper until about 5 or 6 pm on Wednesday
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 leakthis
was generally being gossiped about in the tea roomand 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.
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
(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 believeand it is nothing to do with chairmenany
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.
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
(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 amendmentsI think
40 in numberuntil 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 leakwhich is what you didyour 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.
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
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.
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.