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Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that, in the Nolan committee, we drew to the attention of all hon. Members--most of all, to Ministers and senior Members--the responsibility that we all share for maintaining the highest standards of conduct in public life? May I say to him that we also drew attention to the damage that leaks cause to confidence in the integrity of officials, in the civil service and in the working of Government and of Parliament? As a very senior parliamentarian, he knew that the document he received was a document that should not have been given to him.

In those circumstances, does the right hon. Gentleman not believe that the response he has given so far is not maintaining the highest standards of conduct in public life? May I urge him very seriously indeed to consider--in the further representations that the Chairman of the Select Committee said will be made--whether the attitude and approach to what he considers to be his responsibilities should usefully change?

Mr. Cook: I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. If there had been a leak of the report, if I had received it and if I had used it to disclose the report, I would indeed deserve all the strictures that he has offered. There were two leaks in advance of publication of the report. Neither of them came from the Foreign Office; both of them came from people who were motivated to be critical of the Foreign Office.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that, on the date of publication of the report, the Prime Minister went public, and on television two hours before the report was published, made references to recommendations in the report and rubbished the report as he could not have done unless he had been shown part of the report or it recommendations? How is it possible that that could have happened if the

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situation is as the Foreign Secretary describes it? Should not we be condemning not only the Foreign Secretary, but the Prime Minister for the whole matter?

Mr. Cook: If I followed the right hon. Gentleman correctly, he was referring to the Prime Minister's interview on the "Jimmy Young Show", which took place two hours after the press conference in which the right hon. Gentleman participated. Therefore, there was no difficulty in knowing what the report contained or what the right hon. Gentleman's view was. For the record--once again--the Prime Minister did not see the draft that I saw.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West): Will my right hon. Friend please clarify his answer to a previous question: was the draft report handed over personally to the Secretary of State himself by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross); if not, to whom was it handed over; and to whom was the envelope addressed?

Mr. Cook: No, it was not handed over to me; I understand that it arrived by fax. I do not know to whom the envelope was addressed, but I shall happily answer the questions.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): When the right hon. Gentleman calls in aid the performance of the previous Government, does he not appreciate that he and other Labour Members were elected to do rather better than the previous Government? Does he not accept that the appropriate response is frankness, not the type of sophistry revealed in the reply that the Minister gave on Monday? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that, given the seriousness of the criticisms in the Select Committee's report of senior officials within his Department, he was quite wrong to have prejudged the issue before giving the Committee's report the reading that it deserved?

Mr. Cook: My answer yesterday was fully frank, as I think would be accepted even by those who tabled the questions. On the subject of prejudging, I must remind the House that the report did not arrive suddenly; indeed, probably no Select Committee report has been longer in gestation than this one. The findings of the report were no surprise to those of us who gave extensive evidence to the Select Committee at repeated sessions. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's last question, I do not think that I was wrong; whether it was that day, the next day or now, I believe that I was right to defend officials against what I thought was disproportionate and unfair criticism.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am totally opposed to the leaking of reports, which does Select Committees no good? I do not understand why our hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) did it, but he has admitted it and apologised. However, what would the people of Sierra Leone--who are suffering brutality, deprivation, crimes and atrocities--think of the scene in the House of Commons in the last 10 minutes? Are there not more important matters in the country concerned than this particular minor issue?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend highlights something which, throughout the past seven months, has been an area

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of bewilderment to the people of Sierra Leone, who know perfectly well that Britain has given more support to their elected and legitimate Government than any other nation. They cannot comprehend the way in which this has become a matter of deep division within our Parliament. They themselves only wish that they were allowed to have a Parliament in which they could have such debates.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Which fax machine received the message? If the Foreign Secretary cannot tell us now, will he undertake to do so subsequently? Will he put into the public domain a copy of the fax received, so that everyone can see where it came from and where it went to?

Mr. Cook: Everyone knows where it came from--my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West has already said that. I cannot say which fax machine it came on. The Foreign Office has many fax machines.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Did one copy come out of the fax or several? [Laughter.] I would appreciate if the Foreign Secretary could listen for a moment. If there was just one, did the Foreign Secretary show it to the Minister of State, or did the Minister of State show it to him? Does that constitute a leak?

Mr. Cook: All I can confirm is that it came on fax paper--which is normally white--and had black lettering. The descent of this question into trivia illustrates how little of substance there is actually here.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Will the Foreign Secretary clarify something? He referred earlier to other leaks in the press. I do not know whether I misunderstood him, but I understood him to suggest that those emanated from the Select Committee. Will he reconsider that and state that there is no basis whatever for that assumption about reports which were, in any event, inaccurate?

Mr. Cook: What I said was "in or around the Select Committee". It certainly came from somebody who had the ability to obtain the draft of the report. [Hon. Members: "Your office."] The reports that appeared in the press were certainly not inspired by the Foreign Office. The one in The Independent was fairly accurate about exactly what was to happen, and was placed by somebody who was hostile to the interests of the Foreign Office.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Why does the Foreign Secretary not simply admit that, when the Minister of State said on 16 February that his Department received copies of the final report on the morning of 9 February, the impression that he was seeking to give was that Ministers in the Department had no foreknowledge whatever of the likely contents of that report? Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept, in retrospect, that by splitting hairs in his pathetic fashion this afternoon, he has managed to discredit himself further even than he has accomplished in the past 21 months?

Mr. Cook: The Minister of State answered the question that he was asked. Yesterday, I answered the question that I was asked. We both answered those questions fully and comprehensively, and the full facts are now in the public domain.

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Points of Order

5.35 pm

Mr. Shaun Woodward (Witney): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. If an hon. Member or a Minister finds himself this evening or tomorrow in receipt of an advance copy of a Select Committee report which has not been published or given to the House, what would be your advice? Should the Minister or hon. Member sit on the document, or should he immediately report having received it?

Madam Speaker: I fear that the hon. Gentleman is trying to continue questions on the statement.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: Is the hon. Gentleman trying also to continue the questioning of the Foreign Secretary?

Mr. Wilshire: I am seeking clarification, Madam Speaker. If I understood the Foreign Secretary correctly--

Madam Speaker: Order. I am sorry, but we have had quite some time on this matter. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understood the Foreign Secretary correctly. That is not a matter for me. If he has a point of order, I will listen to it. However, I do not want an interpretation of what he thought the Foreign Secretary said.

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