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Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): I shall not comment for the moment on the murderous conduct of the Serbs, but is not the belligerent intransigence of elements of the Kosovo Liberation Army strongly reminiscent of the behaviour of those fascist mobsters in the IRA? Should not the KLA's friends in the

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region urge its members to play the long game? They have been offered a remarkable degree of autonomy, and autonomy must precede independence.

Mr. Cook: I am not sure that those friends whom the KLA has are necessarily seeking to benefit from a cessation of the conflict, but I agree with my hon. Friend's judgment about the value, on balance, to the people of Kosovo. The settlement would offer an end to the bloodshed and repression. It would mark the start of democracy and freedom of expression, and would create self-governing institutions that could run Kosovo's affairs.

At the end of the conference, we engaged in much discussion about whether there should be a referendum on independence in three years' time. I suspect that, given their present position, if the people of Kosovo were offered a referendum now on whether to accept the political settlement, the result would be an overwhelming yes.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): On behalf of all whom I represent, I wish the Foreign Secretary and everyone else involved well in their attempts to secure a settlement on 15 March, and thank the right hon. Gentleman for the efforts that he has already made.

Given that nearly 40 per cent. of the KLA's troops now come from outside Kosovo, what steps is the international community taking to ensure that, when those fighters return to Albania or Macedonia, they do not take the conflict back with them? What will the international community do to prop up Albania's economy so that such people return with more than the inspiration to fight another war there, and to create a decent environment for them in their own country?

Mr. Cook: Our evidence suggests that, by and large, the Macedonian Government--and, indeed, the Albanian population in Macedonia--have remained distant from the conflict in Kosovo. Indeed, Macedonia is playing host to a substantial build-up of NATO forces, and we welcome its close co-operation.

Northern Albania is more or less outside the rule of law and the remit of the capital of Albania. We have offered the Albanian Government support to try to improve the situation--in particular, we have offered help with the training of the local police force--and we shall continue that work; but, given the present conditions in northern Albania, it has proved well nigh impossible to prevent extra troops and weapons from crossing the border.

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Sierra Leone

5.8 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): Madam Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a statement arising from my parliamentary answer of yesterday on the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Sierra Leone.

Yesterday, I set out the circumstances in which the Foreign Office received a draft of that report. In view of comments made subsequently by a number of hon. Members, I assure the House that neither the Foreign Office nor Ministers took any action on that draft. We did not in any way seek to interfere with the work of the Committee, or to offer comments on the draft. Indeed, the record shows that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) did not table any amendments to the draft. Nor did we publish or disclose any part of the draft to the media or to anyone else. I am therefore confident that neither I nor anyone else at the Foreign Office has committed any impropriety on the basis of the draft, or broken any of the rules of procedure set out in Erskine May; but, Madam Speaker, I shall of course accept any future ruling which you or the relevant Committees may give on the matter.

In the meantime, I remind the House that I gave the Select Committee unprecedented access to Foreign Office documents and telegrams. Indeed, its report acknowledges that the access that it obtained was a quantum leap in openness with Select Committees. I did not obstruct or impede the work of the Committee; I did not interfere with the deliberations of the Committee; and I have fully respected the role of scrutiny of both the Committee and the Chamber.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): No one doubts that the Foreign Secretary has pressing matters before him, on which he has made a statement, but the issues that we are now discussing relate to events in his office in January and early February this year.

Should the Foreign Secretary not have prefaced his statement with an apology to members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, on behalf of the Government, for rubbishing its report in advance of publication, using a document that he and his colleagues knew that they should never have received?

May I ask the Foreign Secretary some specific questions? When did he first see the draft, and did he discuss it with any of his ministerial colleagues or officials? What action did he take to report the leak? Did he show the document to anyone else and, if so, to whom?

Did the Foreign Secretary tell the Chairman of the Select Committee that his office had received a leaked copy of the draft and, if not, why not? Did the Foreign Secretary, his Parliamentary Private Secretary or anyone in his office pass copies to, or discuss the leaked document or subsequent leaked conclusions with No. 10 and the Prime Minister's Office?

We now know who leaked a copy of the draft report in January, but can the Foreign Secretary tell the House how he subsequently became aware of "certain key conclusions", of which he made no mention in his statement, but which were referred to in his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham

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(Mrs. Gillan) yesterday? Can he say whether either document was solicited by anyone in his Department or his PPS? What action did he take to report the second leak? Did he initiate any action as a result of the second leak?

When the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd)--[Hon. Members: "Where is he?"]--replied on 16 February to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham by saying that copies of the report were collected on 9 February, did he know that the Foreign Secretary had received a copy of the draft in January, and that he had received a subsequent leak of certain key conclusions before the report was published?

If the Minister of State did not know, does that not reveal a breathtaking lack of liaison between two senior Ministers? If he did know, was his reply not calculated to give the House the wrong impression? If the House was knowingly misinformed, should the Minister concerned not immediately resign?

How does the Foreign Secretary's dismissive treatment of the leak square with the high moral tone that has been adopted by the Home Secretary and No. 10 about leaks over the past few days? Does not the whole sorry episode confirm all the criticisms of the entire handling of the Sierra Leone affair by Ministers, and reveal that the Government have been caught red-handed doing what we all know they have been doing since they were elected--treating the House with contempt?

Mr. Cook: First, as a number of Conservative Members have asked where the Minister of State is, I can tell the House that he is currently going around all the countries that are party to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, trying to achieve a ceasefire. I would have thought that he would have the good wishes and support of hon. Members on both sides of House in that effort.

Secondly, I have to correct the right hon. Gentleman. There was no briefing--no leak to the press in advance of publication by the Foreign Office or any Minister in the Foreign Office. There were two leaks published in the press on the Friday and Saturday before publication. They were both hostile to Ministers in the Foreign Office. They plainly came from someone in or around the Select Committee, but they did not come from the Foreign Office.

The right hon. Gentleman asks when I saw the document. I understand that the draft was received in the second week of January. I discussed it only with the permanent secretary. We did not disclose it to No. 10 or to anyone else.

On the issue of the key conclusions, my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West has already indicated to the Select Committee the circumstances in which he informed a special adviser in my Department of the key conclusions of the final report.

The Minister of State saw the same draft that I saw, but his answer was an accurate, factual and correct answer to the question that he was asked. The right hon. Gentleman appears to wish that the Minister of State had answered a different question from the one he was asked. That is a matter for which those who asked the question have to take responsibility, not those who answered it.

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Of course I understand that it is proper for the House to discuss these matters and for the right hon. Gentleman to raise them, but his indignation would carry more conviction if he were to assure the House that such an event never happened when he was in office during the period of the previous Government.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): May I on behalf of the Select Committee give you, Madam Speaker, and the House an undertaking that, in this matter, the Foreign Affairs Committee will follow to the letter the procedure that is set out in "Erskine May"? The Committee has agreed--I have already, on behalf of the Committee, written to the Chairman of the Liaison Committee--that the matter will be discussed by the Liaison Committee on Thursday this week. I anticipate that there will be then be a reply to the Committee, which, if it is so minded, will then make a special report to the House. It will then be for the House, not for the Committee or the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, to decide what future steps, if any, to take. The role of the Committee will cease because it is a House of Commons matter.


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