Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 60 - 65)



  60. About 3 o'clock? 4 o'clock? Something like that?
  (Mr Kirkwood) I think probably about 4 o'clock.

  61. Obviously she felt she had got a scoop having spoken to you because of the reports—
  (Mr Kirkwood) I would contest that, because these two paragraphs were buried at paragraphs 4 and 5of an eight-paragraph report which was about something else, so there was no scoop involved. She did not think she was being told anything at all. She thought she was getting a discussion about the general programme and she wrote a lot of things down about what our other activities and plans were for a visit we were planning at that stage. There was no sense that she was running to a telephone and started shouting, "Hold the front page", it was a completely matter of fact conversation which turned up in paragraphs deeply buried in a report about some other difficulties the Government was having at the time. I considered they were filler paragraphs rather than anything else. Why was it none of the Committee noticed them until half way through the day on Wednesday the 10th?

  62. You received the amendments from Chris Pond on the 9th. At what time of day did you see those amendments?
  (Mr Kirkwood) The system is that the amendments would be lodged with the Committee Clerk in the office, they were not handed to me. The way my Committee works is that amendments are never handed to me—I do not think people would trust me with them, I would probably lose them—so there is a system whereby members are encouraged to make sure the Select Committee office at Millbank are provided with any amendments they want to move. I understand that was what happened on this occasion but I could not tell you at what stage in the day because I genuinely do not know.

  63. You have said that you did not consider that any of this was substantial interference with the Select Committee system, if Don Touhig got the draft before the Committee met would you consider that to be a substantial interference? Do you feel the timing is crucial to this, whether Don Touhig got the Report before the Committee met on the day or after?
  (Mr Kirkwood) I think what I am saying is that the only circumstances in which a substantial interference could have occurred, in the facts and circumstances as I know them, would have been if the act of a Member of my Committee handing a draft copy of the Select Committee Report to Don Touhig had direct consequence in feeding through to the 40 amendments that Chris Pond subsequently tabled. I do not believe that these two events were connected in any way. I believe that Chris Pond would have moved those amendments, whether Don Touhig had received a copy of the Report or not. I think that my knowledge of Chris Pond's experience of the subject—the general demeanour and the way he conducts himself in the Committee, he is a technical expert in this area -he was perfectly able to work up the content of these amendments and move them in the effortless way that he did. I think if someone had come along and taken a draft of the Report, rushed to the Treasury, got experts in the Department to work up a series of 40 amendments and handed them to Chris Pond, I think he would have struggled, maybe not for the first five but when he got to amendment 37 and I was pushing him to get on I think he would have started saying: "Now, what is this one about? What is the purpose of this amendment". He never for a moment hesitated. So I do not think that the two events were related. The serious interference would have occurred if the handing over of the Report—because we know that happened because the Chancellor tell us so—had anything to do with the amendments that Chris tabled. Subject to this—

  64. You only feel it is a substantial interference if amendments which have come from a Department are tabled?
  (Mr Kirkwood) Yes.

  65. You do not consider that the leak itself was an interference or briefing the press?
  (Mr Kirkwood) I think the two things are in different categories but we take them one at a time. Certainly I believe that the act of handing the Report—which we know happened—Don Touhig must know who gave him it, and he must know when he was given it and he must know why he was given it, these are questions for him to answer because he refused to answer these questions when I wrote to him and asked him to address these points. Certainly the handing of the document is an offence under the Standing Orders. It is a serious offence. It creates precedents and I think that these things cannot be ignored. Although I say that I do not think the two events were connected—the Pond amendments and the handing over of the Report to Don Touhig—certainly I think the atmosphere in the Committee has deteriorated as a result of the inevitable work that the Committee now has to do to go through this leak inquiry. So it has had that impact on the work of the Committee and it creates difficulties for you as a Committee trying to judge whether this is a precedent that needs to be handled in a particular way. The one thought I want to leave with you clearly is that my opinion, for what it is worth, is that Chris Pond was not suborned by Don Touhig or anybody else when he tabled the amendments that he did. That is my opinion. I have no way of being able to prove it either way but that is my own judgment on the matter.

  Chairman: Thank you, Archy, for coming along and answering our questions today. Thank you very much.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 21 July 1999