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Thursday, October 21, 1999 Published at 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK

UK Politics

MPs suspended over leak

Don Touhig: Suspended for three days

Two Labour MPs have been suspended from the Commons over the leak of a select committee report on child benefit.

Don Touhig, MP for Islwyn, was suspended for three days for requesting a draft copy of the Social Security Select Committee report.

[ image: Gordon Brown: Was considering changes to child benefit]
Gordon Brown: Was considering changes to child benefit
Kali Mountford, a committee member, was suspended for five days for letting Mr Touhig see a photocopy of the draft document.

Mr Touhig quit in July as Chancellor Gordon Brown's parliamentary private secretary after his role in the leak was disclosed.

Neither MP was in the Commons for the debate, following a critical report on the affair by the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Both apologised to the House in personal statements before the summer recess.

Standards and Privileges Committee chairman Robert Sheldon told MPs on Thursday it was of important that the work of committees investigating government departments was "not obstructed by outside interference".

'Serious matter'

He said: "A premature release of a draft report is indeed a most serious matter.

"It is at that stage that outside involvement with the conclusions of the report might be attempted.

"If there was any suspicion that such practices existed, the standing of our whole select committee system could be questioned."

The report, published in February prior to the Budget, had been keenly anticipated as Mr Brown had been considering whether or not to tax child benefit.

In July, Mr Touhig said he had asked for the draft copy of the report after being approached by a number of MPs on the Social Security Committee to see if he could persuade Treasury ministers to give evidence to them.

He said he had only asked for the report in order to help the committee.

After Mr Touhig admitted receiving the draft report, Mr Sheldon wrote to all the committee members asking if they had been responsible.

[ image: Kali Mountford: Initially denied leak]
Kali Mountford: Initially denied leak
They all replied that they had not been. Ms Mountford, MP for Colne Valley, wrote: "My answer is no, I did not."

But after the investigation had been completed, she wrote again to Mr Sheldon admitting that it had been her and resigning her membership of the Social Security Committee.

In a letter to Mr Sheldon, Ms Mountford, who had frequently been absent from the Commons because of illness, said that had been "unsure how to interpret the criticism" following the leak.

She said that she thought she was helping the committee in its work as it had, unsuccessfully, been seeking to take evidence from Treasury ministers.

Earlier this year, Labour's Ernie Ross (Dundee W) was suspended for 10 days for leaking a Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on the arms-to-Africa affair.

Mr Sheldon told MPs: "It is a matter of great regret to me that I should be speaking here for the second time this session, recommending that the House should agree to suspend fellow members from its service.

"The committee, however, unanimously agreed that these penalties were appropriate, given the gravity of the offences and the way in which leaks such as this one do destroy the essential trust between committee members."

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