Politics: Speaker demands report on Sandline inquiry leak

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The Independent Online
THE LEAKING to Robin Cook of a select committee report on the arms-to-Africa affair is to be investigated by MPs after the intervention of Betty Booth-royd, the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Last night Miss Boothroyd wrote to Robert Sheldon, the Labour chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, asking the committee to investigate whether the leaking to the Foreign Secretary of the hard-hitting report on the breach of an arms embargo by the British company Sandline had been a breach of Commons privilege.

The Foreign Office was able to prepare a line of defence before the report was published by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. The report found there had been an "appalling" failure by the Foreign Office in its handling of the affair. In her carefully phrased letter, the Speaker said: "My view on what is or is not a breach of privilege is advisory. Only the House can decide if a breach of privilege has occurred."

The Tories hope to exploit the dispute in a full-scale debate on the affair today.

The latest development came as senior Labour MPs warned ministers yesterday to treat Commons select committees with more respect after backbench complaints of cabinet "arrogance". Robert Sheldon, chairman of the powerful Commons liaison committee, said he was reviewing relations with the Government in the light of the concerns.

The liaison committee has heard a catalogue of complaints about the Government's attempts to influence and control them. Chairmen of the select committees have been told to draw up dossiers of complaints from MPs who feel that they have been bullied or their work undermined by ministers.

Select committees are supposed to be independent bodies holding the Government to account. The review would represent the most thorough inquiry yet into relations between the executive and the legislature.

Ernie Ross, Labour MP for Dundee West, was forced to resign from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee last week when he admitted sending the report to Mr Cook.