Unauthorised disclosure of a draft Report of the Committee of Public Accounts Contents



1.On 17 November 2015 this Committee published a Special Report, indicating our intention to ask the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to investigate the unauthorised disclosure of a draft Report from the Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) by a Committee member.1 The disclosure had taken place in 2013 but had only recently come to light and been drawn to the attention of the PAC.2 Justin Tomlinson, the member concerned, immediately accepted the facts of the case and apologised to the PAC. The Commissioner decided to conduct an investigation and subsequently reported her findings to the Committee on Standards, as required under the House’s Standing Orders. In view of her conclusion that the case touched upon matters of privilege, the Committee on Standards referred the Commissioner’s memorandum to us for determination. We are grateful to the Commissioner for her thorough investigation and to the Committee on Standards for its cooperative approach to areas of possible overlap between our two committees.

2.The Commissioner’s memorandum, published with this Report, clearly sets out the circumstances of this case and the findings of her investigation.3 She found that Justin Tomlinson had shared a draft Report with an outside party in breach of the confidentiality rules which apply to all committee papers and was therefore in breach of paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct which states:

Information which Members receive in confidence in the course of their parliamentary duties should be used only in connection with those duties. Such information must never be used for the purpose of financial gain. 4

The Commissioner dismissed newspaper allegations that Mr Tomlinson had gained financially from his actions. There is no dispute about the Commissioner’s findings and Mr Tomlinson cooperated fully with her inquiry.

3.Erskine May states that “disclosure of a draft report which has been submitted to a committee, before such a report has been agreed to by the committee and presented to the House, may be treated as a contempt”.5 Such unauthorised disclosure of committee papers may constitute a substantial interference in the work of the committee concerned. It therefore falls to us to determine whether Mr Tomlinson was in contempt of the House based on the facts uncovered by the Commissioner’s investigation.

Mr Tomlinson’s evidence

4.We offered Mr Tomlinson the opportunity to give oral evidence to this Committee. He took up this offer and appeared before us on Tuesday 6 September. In advance of his evidence, he also wrote to us. Mr Tomlinson’s letter is published at the end of this Report. The transcript of the hearing is published on the internet.

5.Mr Tomlinson told us that he “absolutely” accepted that he should not have shared the draft Report.6 He explained to us, as he had to the PAC and the Commissioner, that he had done so in order to strengthen its recommendations and ensure that they were technically feasible as part of his long-standing and “ongoing work [ … ] to protect vulnerable customers against payday lenders”.7 At the time, he “consciously did not think there was anything wrong with what I was doing [ … ] I was just doing research before submitting my comments”.8

6.Mr Tomlinson stressed that he had made an “unreserved apology at the beginning” of the inquiries into his conduct and that “it was not something that [I set out to do] to try to make further gain for me, or to try to buy favours with anyone”.9 Rather than seeking to assist the company whose employee he consulted, he told us that “all I was ever doing was helping to decimate its business model”.10 As he explained in his written evidence, he considered that the view on industry reform put forward in his contribution to the draft Report “was at odds with Wonga company policy as ultimately the regulations recommended would significantly reduce their business profits”.11

Our conclusion

7.The Committee on Standards and Privileges concluded in 2008 that:

The unauthorised disclosure of a draft Report or of advice to a select committee not only betrays confidence but can damage trust between Members, and between Members and those who work for or with them. It also undermines the effectiveness of a committee’s work. Leaking is a reprehensible act and in any case where this Committee is able to discover the source of a leak it will be prepared to recommend appropriately severe sanctions.12

8.In this case, the PAC considered that Mr Tomlinson’s actions represented a substantial interference in the work of the Committee in the last Parliament.13 This is supported by the Commissioner’s memorandum which clearly shows how the draft Report was altered as a direct result of the unauthorised disclosure.

9.We conclude that Mr Tomlinson committed a contempt in disclosing a draft committee Report to a third party and that his actions constituted substantial interference in the work of that committee.

10.There are significant mitigating factors to consider. Mr Tomlinson did not act in the way he did for financial gain nor with the intention of reflecting the views of the company concerned. The recipient of the draft Report was not the Government which would have given those to whom the Report was directly addressed a chance to influence its recommendations. Mr Tomlinson has described his actions as the “result of my own naivety and stupidity” in failing to appreciate the full confidentiality attached to committee papers,14 especially draft Reports, but we are concerned that a member of a select committee was able to be in such a position.

11.We have also borne in mind Mr Tomlinson’s unreserved acceptance of the findings of the Commissioner and his cooperation throughout three different inquiries (those of the PAC, the Commissioner and ourselves). He has also had his reputation tarnished as a result of unsubstantiated media stories following the revelation of his action in leaking the draft Report. Although a correction has been published by the newspaper concerned, he rightly fears that the allegations “will forever appear in internet searches of my name”.15 Nevertheless, this a serious matter and we are obliged to recommend a serious penalty.

12.We recommend that Mr Tomlinson apologise to the House by means of a personal statement and that he be suspended from the service of the House for two sitting days. These days should be consecutive and not be divided by non-sitting days or recesses which would inadvertently extend the period of suspension beyond that specified.

1 First Special Report from the Committee of Privileges, Session 2015–16, First Special Report from the Committee of Public Accounts, HC596

2 First Special Report from the Committee of Public Accounts, Session 2015–16, Unauthorised disclosure of a draft report in the previous Parliament, HC 539

3 Appendix 1

4 Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament (Session 2010–12, HC1885). Provision repeated in the current Code of Conduct which came into effect in May 2015.

5 Erskine May (24th edition), p838

6 Q9

7 Q1

8 Q5

9 Q9

10 Q1

11 Submission from Justin Tomlinson, Appendix 2

12 Committee on Standards and Privileges, Twentieth Report of Session 2007–08, Premature disclosure of select committee papers, HC 1212, para 10

14 Submission from Justin Tomlinson, Appendix 2

15 Submission from Justin Tomlinson, Appendix 2

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14 September 2016