Foreign Affairs Committee

Session 2002 - 2003: Thursday 17th July 2003

Statement by the Chairman

The Foreign Affairs Committee has just had a 2 hour private session with Mr Gilligan, Defence Correspondent of the BBC Today Programme.

In the view of the Committee this was an unsatisfactory session with a most unsatisfactory witness. Mr Gilligan clearly changed his ground in the course of the evidence: in particular, in relation to serious allegations concerning Mr Campbell, Director of Communications at Number 10, and any responsibility of Mr Campbell for the insertion of the "45 minute point" in the Dossier of September 24 2002.  Potentially there is a grave danger of unfairness to Mr Campbell as a result.  On this point the press and the public can make up their own minds when the full transcript is available which will be done as soon as Mr Gilligan has had an opportunity to correct it. 

This raises an important general issue on which the FAC has decided to make an immediate Special Report to the House.  Freedom of the Press is a fundamental principle which must be strenuously upheld in our democracy.  However, this principle should be accompanied by a sense of responsibility to protect individuals against whom very serious allegations may be made which when they are made before a select committee of this House are protected by Parliamentary Privilege.