COMMONS

Leaks must be dealt with consistently and robustly

25 July 2019

Those who leak confidential communications are reckless and dangerous, and must feel the full force of the law, says the Foreign Affairs Committee in its report: Stemming the flow: An urgent look at tackling a culture of leaks.

The FCO must adopt a zero-tolerance approach to all leaks, urges the Committee. Whether from ministers, civil servants or others, all leaks must be treated equally with an absolute determination to find and punish the source and combat a corrosive culture of leaking.

In Stemming the flow: An urgent look at tackling a culture of leaks, the Committee says that the unauthorised disclosure of material sent by Sir Kim Darroch, the UK's former Ambassador to the US, caused the resignation of a dedicated and skilled public servant, undermined the influence of the United Kingdom around the world and potentially caused a damaging rift with the USA.

The Government must consider alternative ways of sanctioning those who seek to cause harm in this way, says the Report. Sanctions for leaking sensitive material could include the loss of pension or other employment related benefits, the retrieval of costs for damages caused by leaks and the cost of investigating them.

However, the penalties of the most serious breaches must be severe enough to act as a deterrent to others. The Government should review whether the current sentencing framework as set out in Section 10 of the Official Secrets Act is sufficient.

Confidentiality is at the heart of our diplomacy

The Chair of the Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP said:

"The Foreign Affairs Committee condemns this leak completely. We greatly regret that it resulted in the resignation of Sir Kim Darroch after such a long and distinguished career.

Confidentiality is at the heart of our diplomacy. The effective functioning of Government depends on it. Leaks are corrosive and undermine the work of the FCO, the civil service and the wider Government at home and abroad. They place civil servants in untenable situations and betray the trust placed in us to serve our nation.

The FCO must commit to rooting out all sources of leaks; there must be consistency in approach, sending a clear signal that leaking will not be tolerated at any level."

Given the importance of this particular appointment to the United States, the Report recommends that the candidate is subject to a pre-appointment hearing with the Committee to provide an additional layer of scrutiny, helping to protect civil servants from unfair accusations of political bias.

The Committee also recommends that Government should review its classification and distribution policy and assess whether it is appropriate in an age where every system allows individuals to simply forward information to other users.

Further information

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