Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. Did this person offer the Report to you and you said, "Yes, I'll have it"?
  (Mr Touhig) No.

  101. You just said, "I need a copy of the Report"?
  (Mr Touhig) Yes.

  102. Was there a general debate going on outside as to what was going on in the Committee at that time? Were people in the tea room talking about the problems with the Social Security Committee?
  (Mr Touhig) I was not aware of any problems until I was approached on the 9th.

  103. Do you remember what time of day it was?
  (Mr Touhig) As I recall, when I wrote to the Chairman last week, I think it was about tea time, late afternoon. I am secretary to the Welsh Group of the Parliamentary Labour Party and I recall I was going to a meeting at 5 o'clock, and I believe I had it some minutes before then, I went off to the meeting and did not actually look at it until some time after that.

  104. Can I put it to you that you are now effectively a senior member of the House of Commons? Well, you are, you have been here seven or eight years.
  (Mr Touhig) Not quite as long as that. 1995. It feels like that sometimes!

  105. You carry the gravitas of a senior member. Some might argue that a senior member of the House approaching a new member, who in the context of their willingness to leak is pretty green, might overwhelm them, by you approaching them and saying, "Look, it would be very helpful if you were to let us have a copy of that Report." Do you not feel in some respects that the member that was being asked was placed at a disadvantage?
  (Mr Touhig) I think, looking back, you are possibly right but I did not approach it in that way. I did not seek in any way to awe my colleague by asking for this Report. I was genuinely trying to help and understand the problem.

  106. I finally want to ask you about this difficulty which I can say Archy Kirkwood referred to, and that was the Treasury Committee, the Social Security Committee, the Treasury. There is almost a triangle there really, is there not? There is a difficulty in keeping everyone working together. Do you feel you were a conduit at all during the course of all this with the Treasury? You happened to make arrangements. I understand there was a meeting in Downing Street, was there not, with the Social Security Select Committee?
  (Mr Touhig) Yes.

  107. Do you remember the date of that?
  (Mr Touhig) I do not remember off-hand, but the Treasury had quite a good relationship with this particular Select Committee. I was present at the meeting in Downing Street which was an informal meeting, all members of the Committee discussing matters of mutual interest, and it was very constructive and very helpful.

  108. Do you feel you were placed in a conduit role whereby you were a sort of intermediary between the Treasury and the Committee?
  (Mr Touhig) I think in the particular circumstances of this draft Report—and as you have already noted on the 10th the Committee took I think the unique decision to approach me and ask me to lobby on their behalf—yes, I was being used as a conduit, a form of communication between the Committee and the Treasury.

  109. Can I just advise you that I think it is quite outrageous that a Member of Parliament should refuse to allow you to identify them, placing you in this position? My view is that there is an obligation placed on the member concerned to reveal their own name and make a public statement and I think it is quite deplorable that you are placed in the position where you cannot answer for reasons of what you believe, I suppose, are integrity.
  (Mr Touhig) I understand your comment. It is a perfectly valid comment but I want to be fair to my colleague in this and I did ask for the Report and I must take the blame for that.

  Mr Campbell-Savours: Okay.

Shona McIsaac

  110. Like Dale, I feel you have been put in an invidious position as regards the leak of this draft. Do you feel by not saying who gave you a copy of the draft that you are actually therefore casting a shadow over all your colleagues on the Social Security Select Committee?
  (Mr Touhig) Yes, I think that is a problem. I have thought about this from all ways and, quite honestly, if I could come here this morning with the answer the Committee wants, I would do it, but I feel in all conscience I cannot. I do recognise my failure in this respect and I am doing it because I do not feel I have any choice. It does leave a bit of a question mark over people who are wholly innocent of any involvement in this matter and I bitterly regret that but I cannot find a solution to it.

  111. You are aware that there are people on that Committee who want their names cleared?
  (Mr Touhig) Yes, I am sure. I am aware of that.

  112. You are saying you are not willing to say who it was who gave you the draft Report, are you willing to say who it was not?
  (Mr Touhig) I think that would be extremely difficult. If any of you put yourself in my position for a moment I am sure you would have wrestled with your conscience the same way I have and it is extremely difficult to find a solution. In the absence of my colleague being willing to be named, I do not feel able to reveal that name. I bitterly regret this is causing some grief for other colleagues but I must act as my conscience tells me is right at this time and without that person's consent I cannot say so.

  113. You state that when you got the Report just before 5 pm on the 9th, which was before the Committee met, you did not discuss the report with anybody?
  (Mr Touhig) No.

  114. You say you made no use of the Report?
  (Mr Touhig) No.

  115. You did read it though?
  (Mr Touhig) I read some of it, I did not read all of it.

  116. Did you feel the Report was hostile to Treasury Ministers?
  (Mr Touhig) I did not look at it in that sense. I looked at it where there was a clear frustration that the Treasury had failed to give evidence. I knew there was a problem because we were on the eve of the Budget and it is very difficult for Treasury Ministers and perhaps officials to talk about what might be in the Budget. There is a lot of speculation about this. I did feel that the Committee were very frustrated and I well understood that and that is why I felt it was right and proper I should make that frustration known in the Treasury.

  117. Therefore the knowledge of what was in the Report, the bits you did read, did gee you up in a way to approach Ministers and officials to appear before the Select Committee?
  (Mr Touhig) Events moved very rapidly, yes. Within hours of me looking at the copy of the draft Report, the Committee had met and decided not to take any further action on the Report but to renew the appeal to me to talk to the Treasury. Within a day or so, as you will have seen in correspondence, the Treasury agreed to give evidence.

  118. You said just now, Don, "within hours".
  (Mr Touhig) Yes.

  119. You had the Report on the 9th?
  (Mr Touhig) The Committee met on the morning of the 10th, it was not weeks and weeks is what I am getting at. It was a relatively short time frame from about 9th to 11th that this whole matter was resolved, I think, to the Committee's best advantage.

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