Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Second Special Report

Letter to the Chairman of the Committee from Rt Hon Robin Cook MP, Foreign Secretary, 19 March 2001

Thank you for your letter of 14 March. As I have said in replies to Parliamentary Questions and elsewhere, Nicholas Jones's allegations contradict nothing in the evidence available to the Standards and Privileges Committee.

The BBC Radio Four news bulletins at 6, 7 and 8am on 9 February 1999 led with claims that the Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee would severely criticise me. Even before the Report was released under embargo at 8am, the Today programme carried clips with Michael Howard, then Opposition foreign affairs spokesman, and with David Wilshire, then a member of the Select Committee, commenting on what the former expected to be in the Report and on what the latter presumably knew to be in it. As the passage you quote from my written answer of 23 February 1999 (Official Report, column 259w) shows, I have always made clear that we responded to leaks by others.

That same written answer made clear that the FCO received the final Report at 8am on 9 February, and that subsequently the press were briefed orally on my initial reaction.

That reaction was based on the three-page summary of the Report, which helpfully points the reader to paragraph 99 of the substantive report. At no stage did I or any FCO official brief on the basis of the draft Report.

As is shown by Francis Maude's comments on the afternoon of Tuesday 13 March, ahead of the midnight embargo on the Quadripartite Committee Report on Strategic Export Controls, the practice of briefing the press on reports released under embargo is not unknown to others.

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Prepared 21 March 2001