An MP has called for private investigators to be used by the House of Commons to find the source of a draft report about arms sales to Saudi Arabia leaked to The Guardian and Newsnight.
The draft report by an MP on the Commons arms control committee calls for arms sales to Saudi Arabia to be stopped over alleged human rights abuse in Yemen.
Newsnight and The Guardian this week apparently received extensive leaks about the issue, to the consternation of Crispin Blunt MP (pictured Newsnight yesterday) who chairs the foreign affairs select committee and apparently wants to the report to be watered down.
Yesterday he raised a point of order with the Speaker of the House of Commons about the matter.
He said: “On Monday, The Guardian reported the central recommendation of a draft report being put to the Committees on Arms Export Controls. The meeting to consider this was held yesterday in private.
“On Tuesday, Newsnight produced excerpts of the text of the draft report, and that was the subject of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order.
“Yesterday, the Committees met and resolved to report the matter to the Liaison Committee. As I understand our procedures, the Liaison Committee will have to consider the matter and decide whether it should be referred to the Privileges Committee, which would then have to decide whether and how to pursue this matter.
“Subsequently, last night, Newsnight reported extracts of the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) and me, which can only have come from the consolidated list of amendments circulated to members of the Committees on Tuesday…
“Mr Speaker, this amounts to a prima facie case of a deliberate campaign to influence a Select Committee, relying on in-confidence information provided by a Member of this House or their staff.
“Will you confirm, Mr Speaker, that it would not be open to the Privileges Committee, if this is referred to it, to call in the police, as this is not a criminal matter, but that it would be able to call on the services of private investigators?
“They would have the capacity to interrogate the electronic records, including deleted emails, relating to potential sources for this confidential and private consideration by Committees of matters, in this instance, of the greatest seriousness, involving life and death issues and the employment of tens of thousands of our fellow citizens.
“Will you encourage the Liaison Committee to consider this as a matter of urgency, and confirm your view of the seriousness of this attempt to undermine the work of Select Committees?”
Speaker John Bercow said: “This is a very serious matter, indeed. If the Committees of this House are to work effectively, we cannot have a situation in which individual members of a Committee leak information, in advance, to advance a particular point of view or to retard the progress of another. That is wholly against the spirit of the operation of the Select Committees of this House.”