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