Minister faces resignation calls over Sandline leak

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The Independent Online
THE FOREIGN Office minister Tony Lloyd faced calls for his resignation last night after allegations that he misled the House of Commons over a leaked committee report.

The Labour MP Ernest Ross was also facing possible disciplinary action after admit-ting that he gave the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on Sierra Leone to Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary.

Mr Cook defended his department in the House of Commons yesterday after cancelling a hearing with the committee, at which he was bound to have been questioned on the issue. "We did not seek to alter the opinion of the committee or to offer comments on the draft. Nor did we publish or disclose any part of the draft to the media or anyone else," Mr Cook said.

Mr Lloyd was in particular trouble because he said in a written answer to Cheryl Gillan, a member of the Conservatives' foreign affairs team, that no one in his department had seen the report before it was published.

Mr Cook maintained yesterday that the answer was not misleading because he had seen only a draft report.

Several Conservatives called for the resignation of Mr Lloyd, who is on a tour of Africa.

Sir George Young, shadow Leader of the House, said Mr Cook had handled the whole affair badly. "The Government have been caught red-handed doing what we all knew they had been doing since they were elected, namely treating this House with contempt," he said.

A liaison committee of chairmen from select committees will meet today to discuss possible action against Mr Ross, who resigned from the Foreign Affairs committee over the leak. It will then advise the Foreign Affairs committee, which may decide to refer the matter to the Standards and Privileges committee for possible disciplinary action.

The draft report was received at the Foreign Office in the second week of January, four weeks before the final report was actually published.

When the final version came out, it was scathing in its criticism of Foreign Office officials, saying that civil servants had failed to warn ministers of Sandline's breaches of the arms embargo and that a Foreign Office once regarded as a Rolls-Royce now looked more like an "old banger".

Donald Anderson, the committee chairman, said the committee would follow the rules of the House to the letter in investigating the leak.

It was likely there would be a special report to the House on the affair, he said.