Cook: We received two more leaks

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THE LEAKING of a Commons committee report on Sierra Leone was one of no fewer than three such breaches, Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, admitted last night.

An inquiry was already under way after it emerged that a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs gave ministers a report on the arms- to-Africa affair before its publication. Last night, a further leak inquiry was launched.

The Conservatives described the leaks as "blatant contempt for Parliament and the democratic process". The Foreign Secretary's admission came in a written answer to David Wilshire, the Tory MP for Spelthorne. He said he had also seen drafts of reports on European Union enlargement and on human rights.

Ernie Ross, a member of the committee and Labour MP for Dundee West, resigned last week after admitting leaking the report on the sale of weapons to Sierra Leone.

When Mr Ross first made his admission Mr Cook said the MP was not the only one to leak. Details of the report in The Independent four days before its publication had not come from the Foreign Office, he insisted.

Mr Ross said yesterday: "I have been reported to the Standards and Privileges Committee. Until they decide how to proceed I will be saying nothing."

In last night's answer Mr Cook said he had seen the human rights report but the enlargement report was seen only by officials and Derek Fatchett, a Foreign Office minister. "No action was taken to publish or disclose any part of these reports, or to interfere in any way with the preparation of the committee's deliberations on them," Mr Cook said.

Last night, the Conservatives said they were asking Tony Blair and all cabinet ministers to say whether they had had advance sight of select committee reports.

Michael Howard, the Tories' spokesman on foreign affairs, said Robin Cook's integrity had been called into question "yet again. This astonishing answer shows there are no limits to government leaks and no bounds to its contempt for Parliament and the entire process of Parliamentary scrutiny," he said.

One Labour committee member, Norman Godman, (Greenock and Inverclyde) said he was "mystified and deeply disappointed" by the leaks. "All I am saying is that I am not the person responsible," he added.

Mr Cook and his officials had hoped the issue would go away once an official inquiry and the select committee investigation were both complete. But last night the hope seemed a forlorn one.

The committee chairman, Donald Anderson, was writing to Mr Cook to ask him when he received the three reports. The committee was also writing to MPs and officials linked with the first inquiry to ask if they had been responsible for the further leaks.