Commons Standards: MP suspended for leaking report to Cook

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The Independent Online
A SENIOR Labour MP was suspended for 10 working days from the Commons last night for leaking a report on the arms-to-Africa affair to Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary.

Ernie Ross, the MP for Dundee West, accepted the criticism made of him by the Standards and Privileges Committee yesterday during a brief personal statement. He apologised to the Commons for his conduct, which the committee said "fell below the standards the House is entitled to expect from its members".

Mr Ross resigned from the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs after he admitted passing to Mr Cook a draft copy of its highly critical inquiry into the Foreign Office's handling of the arms-to-Sierra Leone affair.

Mr Cook came under fresh attack during the debate when MPs accused him of giving misleading information to the Commons watchdog about the briefing by Donald Anderson, the chairman of the select committee, to civil servants on the report prior to its publication.

Mr Cook previously came under fire after the standards committee report criticised him for his failure to return the leaked document. Tony Blair has since accepted recommendations by the committee to change the ministerial code to make clear that any minister who received leaked select committee papers should return them "without delay".

Mr Ross said in his statement: "I believe all Members of this House should accept reports of the House that are critical of them and, of course, I do so. I would therefore wish to apologise to the House for my actions in this matter." He then told Betty Boothroyd, the Commons Speaker: "With your permission, I now wish to withdraw from this House."

The MP left the Chamber ahead of a debate on the decision to suspend him. Opening the debate, Sir George Young, the shadow Commons leader, said what had happened was "symptomatic of the way this Government has treated the House of Commons and its institutions... Mr Ross has apologised. The Government has not."

But Margaret Beckett, the Leader of the Commons, intervened to stress that Mr Cook had given the committee unprecedented access to Foreign Office papers and telegrams.

Robert Sheldon, who chairs the Standards and Privileges Committee, said it was accepted now that guidance issued to MPs, that leaked documents should not be made use of and should be returned without delay to the committee, should also apply to officials.