ASSEMBLY BUSINESS

Report on the Unauthorised Disclosure of a Draft Report of the Public Accounts Committee

Committee: Standards and Privileges

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Reference: NIA 60/11-15

ISBN: 978-0-339-60432-2

Mandate Report Number: Mandate 2011/15 First Report

Committee on Standards and Privileges

Report on the Unauthorised
Disclosure of a Draft Report of
the Public Accounts Committee

Together with the Minutes of Proceedings of the Committee and
other Evidence Considered by the Committee Relating to the Report

Ordered by The Committee on Standards and Privileges to be printed 20th June 2012
Report: NIA 60/11-15 Standards and Privileges Committee

Mandate 2011/15 First Report

Committee Powers and Membership

1. The Committee on Standards and Privileges is a Standing Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly established in accordance with paragraph 10 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and under Assembly Standing Order Nos. 51 and 57.

2. The Committee has power:

  • to consider specific matters relating to privilege referred to it by the Assembly;
  • to oversee the work of the Assembly Clerk of Standards;
  • to examine the arrangement for the compilation, maintenance and accessibility of the Register of Members' Interests and any other registers of interest established by the Assembly, and to review from time to time the form and content of those registers;
  • to consider any specific complaints made in relation to the registering or declaring of interests referred to it;
  • to consider any matter relating to the conduct of Members, including specific complaints in relation to alleged breaches of any code of conduct to which the Assembly has agreed and which have been drawn to the Committee's attention;
  • to recommend any modifications to any Assembly code of conduct as may from time to time appear to be necessary.

3. The Committee is appointed at the start of every Assembly, and has power to send for persons, papers and records that are relevant to its enquiries.

4. The membership of the Committee is as follows:

Mr Alastair Ross (Chairperson)
Mr Kieran McCarthy (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Stephen Agnew
Mr Cathal Boylan
Ms Paula Bradley
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr Fra McCann
Mr Colum Eastwood[1]
Mr David McIlveen
Mrs Sandra Overend[2]

5. The Report and evidence of the Committee are published by the Stationery Office by order of the Committee. All publications of the Committee are posted on the Assembly's website: (www.niassembly.gov.uk.)

6. All correspondence should be addressed to the Clerk to the Committee on Standards and Privileges, Committee Office, Northern Ireland Assembly, Room 254, Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast BT4 3XX. Tel: 02890 520333; e-mail: committee.standards&privileges@niassembly.gov.uk

[1] With effect from 23 April 2012 Mr Colum Eastwood replaced Mr Patsy McGlone

[2] With effect from 26 September 2011 Mrs Sandra Overend replaced Mr Michael Copeland

Table of Contents

Committee Report

Annex A

Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards

Appendix 1

Other evidence considered by the Committee

Appendix 2

Minutes of Proceedings

Committee Report

1. During plenary session on 21 March 2011 the Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) moved that a specific matter affecting the privilege of the Assembly should be referred to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. The Chairperson explained that on 18 January 2011, a draft report on the PAC's inquiry into performance and governance in NI Water was leaked to the media. The PAC had subsequently commissioned an inquiry into the leak but this was not conclusive. The PAC therefore agreed at its meeting on 15 March 2011 that, in its view, this was a matter affecting the privilege of the Assembly and decided that it should seek to have the matter referred under Standing Order 70.

2. The Speaker responded by confirming that in his opinion the requirements of Standing Order 70 had been complied with and that the matter would be referred to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. Correspondence to the then Chairperson from the Speaker setting out this opinion is attached at Appendix 1 of this report.

3. The Committee met on 23 March 2011 to consider the referral. The Committee agreed to refer the matter, under Standing Order 69A, to the interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards so that he might carry out an investigation and report back to the Committee. The Committee agreed the following terms of reference for the investigation:

  • To establish the circumstances surrounding the unauthorised disclosure of the draft PAC report on its inquiry into the performance and governance of NI Water on 18 January 2011;
  • To seek to establish the source of the unauthorised disclosure;
  • To comment on the efficacy of referring such matters as breaches of privilege for investigation by the Commissioner;
  • To report the findings of the investigation to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.

4. In doing so the Committee recognised that this was the first referral such as this to the interim Commissioner and that, as such, there may be lessons to be learned in terms of the effectiveness of this approach in handling such matters in the future.

5. At its meeting on 23 November 2011 the Committee noted correspondence from the office of the interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards which requested that the Committee agree to extend the terms of reference of the investigation to enable the interim Commissioner to include recommendations of a systemic nature in relation to the protection of information and documents more generally. The Committee agreed to this request.

6. The interim Commissioner has now completed his investigation and has submitted his report to the Committee. A copy of his report is included at Annex A. The Committee considered the report at its meeting on 20 June 2012. The Committee wishes to take further time to consider in greater detail the findings of the interim Commissioner's report but has nonetheless decided to publish at this stage his report in full[1] so that his findings can be put into the public domain.

7. Key outcomes and findings from the investigation include the following:

  • The interim Commissioner has been unable to identify with any certainty the source of the unauthorised disclosure of the draft PAC report on NI Water (Paragraph 80);
  • There were three separate groups of individuals who were potential sources of the leak. These groups are the (January 2011) Members of the PAC; the staff of the Assembly Secretariat; and the staff of the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) (Paragraph 104);
  • Whoever leaked the draft PAC report breached the Seven Principles of Public Life (Paragraph 106);
  • It was not, in the interim Commissioner's view, in the public interest to report the PAC's draft findings prematurely, before the report had been considered or tested by the PAC. To do so had significant potential to undermine the work of the PAC and the integrity of the Assembly as a whole, as well as potentially damaging the reputation of the named individuals criticised in the report (Paragraph 109);
  • There were a number of weaknesses in the working processes and systems that were in operation in the drafting and circulation of the draft PAC report. While these did not lead directly to the unauthorised disclosure of the draft report, they did increase the risk to the PAC of its draft findings on NI Water being made known prematurely and without proper authority (Paragraph 74);
  • There are a number of issues relating to the Assembly's systems and business processes that have inhibited the investigation because had they been in place, they would at least have narrowed down the number of possible sources of the leak (Paragraph 83);
  • The interim Commissioner has made a number of recommendations which are intended to provide additional "levels of assurance" that, if accepted, could be applied systematically in order that the risk of disclosure can be reduced as far as is practicable (Paragraph 98 and Appendix 8); and
  • The interim Commissioner considers that the Committee on Standards and Privileges considers the need to review the Code of Conduct for Members to reflect more specifically that the unauthorised disclosure of Assembly information or documents constitutes a breach of the provisions of that Code.

8. The Committee is of the firm view that leaking a draft committee report – or indeed any other restricted committee information - is both dishonourable and dishonest. The unauthorised disclosure of such information serves no public interest yet causes great damage. It betrays confidence and undermines trust. It also undermines a committee's effectiveness. It is unacceptable that Assembly committees, which undertake valuable work, should have their efforts undermined and compromised through such duplicitous behaviour. Clearly anyone who leaks information in this way is acting in a manner entirely incompatible with the Seven Principles of Public Life.

9. The interim Commissioner has identified a number of gaps in the existing processes, working methods and systems at the Assembly. Responsibility for addressing these gaps lies with a range of bodies including the Assembly Commission and the Northern Ireland Audit Office. The Committee agrees that the issues identified by the interim Commissioner should be addressed as a matter of priority and it has written to the relevant bodies to ask them how they might do this. Once it has received this information the Committee will then publish a further, more comprehensive report with its own commentary and views on each of the specific recommendations.

10. The Committee wishes to thank the interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards plus those staff at the Ombudsman's office who have assisted in this investigation. Considerable staff hours and effort have gone in to carrying out the investigation and producing the report. The Committee is very grateful and believes that the interim Commissioner's identification of improvements that could be made will benefit the Assembly and its committees.

[1] The Committee has agreed to redact the names of non-senior staff named at Appendix 3 of the interim Commissioner's report.

Annex A

Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards

Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards
Report by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards

Appendix 1

Other Evidence Considered by the Committee

Other Evidence Considered by the Committee
Other Evidence Considered by the Committee
Other Evidence Considered by the Committee
Other Evidence Considered by the Committee
Other Evidence Considered by the Committee

Extract from briefing paper dated 7th April 2011 from interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards

Case 3

This case involves the referral by the Committee to the interim Commissioner of a possible breach of Privilege arising from the leak to the media of a draft report which had been prepared for the Public Accounts Committee. The draft document was leaked before the Committee had opportunity to consider it.

The interim Commissioner understands based on the advice of a solicitor within his Office and through informal contact with a senior officer within the Office of the Information Commissioner that the leak of the draft document may actually constitute an offence under the Data Protection Act 1998.

If this view is sustained there is the potential of proceedings against a number of parties by the Information Commissioner.

The interim Commissioner therefore requests the permission of the Committee to share a copy of the leaked document with the Information Commissioner and to suspend his investigation until the Information Commissioner has formally considered the matter.

Extract from correspondence dated 9th June 2011 from the Committee on Standards and Privileges to the interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards

The Committee considered the four cases set out in your background paper and agreed that:

  • The relevant papers in relation to the unauthorised disclosure of the draft PAC report may be shared with the Information Commissioner's Office in order to obtain the comments and views of that Office on the matter.

The Committee noted that you would report back to it with the comments and views of the Information Commissioner's Office in order to enable it to determine what additional actions, if any, might need to be taken.

Other Evidence Considered by the Committee
Other Evidence Considered by the Committee
Other Evidence Considered by the Committee
Other Evidence Considered by the Committee

Appendix 2

Proceedings of the Committee Relating
to the Report

Wednesday, 23rd March 2011
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Declan O'Loan (Chairperson)
Mr Billy Armstrong
Mr Mickey Brady
Mr Willie Clarke
Mr Paul Frew
Mr Paul Maskey
Mr Brian Wilson

In Attendance: Mr Paul Gill (Assembly Clerk)
Ms Hilary Bogle (Assistant Clerk)
Mr Michael Greer (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Christopher McNickle (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: None

1.17pm The meeting commenced in closed session.

5. Matter of Privilege

Members noted correspondence received from the Speaker referring a matter a Privilege to the Committee.

Mr Maskey declared an interest as Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee.

Agreed: Following discussion the Committee agreed that the matter of Privilege should be referred to the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards for investigation as per the terms of reference set out in the Clerk's Paper.

Agreed: Members also agreed the line to take for use by the Assembly's Information Office in response to enquiries as set out in the Clerk's Paper.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 8th June 2011
Room 21, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Alastair Ross (Chairperson)
Mr Kieran McCarthy (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Cathal Boylan
Ms Paula Bradley
Mr Michael Copeland
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr David McIlveen

In Attendance: Mr Paul Gill (Assembly Clerk)
Ms Hilary Bogle (Assistant Clerk)
Mr Christopher McNickle (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Steven Agnew
Mr Fra McCann
Mr Patsy McGlone

3.00pm The meeting commenced in open session.

5. Briefing by the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards

Members noted the briefing paper received from the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards.

3.04pm The Chairperson welcomed Dr Tom Frawley, Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards and Mr John MacQuarrie, Director for Standards and Special Projects, Ombudsman's Office and invited Dr Frawley to brief the Committee.

3.34pm The Chairperson thanked Dr Frawley and Mr MacQuarrie for attending the meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that:

  • The relevant papers in relation to the unauthorised disclosure of the draft PAC report may be shared with the Information Commissioner's Office in order to obtain the comments and views of that Office on the matter;

The Committee noted that the interim Commissioner would report back to it with the comments and views of the Information Commissioner's Office in order to enable it to determine what additional actions, if any, might need to be taken.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Clerk should write to the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards informing him of the outcome of the Committee's deliberations.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 29th June 2011
Room 21, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Alastair Ross (Chairperson)
Mr Kieran McCarthy (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Steven Agnew
Ms Paula Bradley
Mr Michael Copeland
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr Fra McCann
Mr Patsy McGlone
Mr David McIlveen

In Attendance: Mr Paul Gill (Assembly Clerk)
Ms Hilary Bogle (Assistant Clerk)
Mr Christopher McNickle (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Cathal Boylan
Mr Jonathan Craig

1.17pm The meeting commenced in open session.

7. Correspondence from the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards

Members noted correspondence from the Interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 23rd November 2011
Room 144, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Alastair Ross (Chairperson)
Mr Kieran McCarthy (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Steven Agnew
Ms Paula Bradley
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr David McIlveen
Mrs Sandra Overend

In Attendance: Mr Paul Gill (Assembly Clerk)
Ms Hilary Bogle (Assistant Clerk)
Mr Christopher McNickle (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Cathal Boylan

1.17pm The meeting commenced in open session.

7. Correspondence from the interim Commissioner for Standards

Members noted tabled correspondence from the office of the interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards and the Chairperson, Chairpersons' Liaison Group.

Agreed: Following discussion the Committee agreed that the Clerk should write to the interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards to confirm –

(a) that the Committee has agreed to extend the terms of reference in relation to the investigation into the leaked PAC Report to include recommendations of a systemic nature in relation to the protection of information and documents more generally; and

(b) to request an update on the likely timescales in relation to this investigation.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 20th June 2012
Room 21, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Alastair Ross (Chairperson)
Mr Kieran McCarthy (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Steven Agnew
Mr Cathal Boylan
Ms Paula Bradley
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr Colum Eastwood
Mr Fra McCann
Mrs Sandra Overend

In Attendance: Mr Paul Gill (Assembly Clerk)
Ms Hilary Bogle (Assistant Clerk)
Mr Christopher McNickle (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr David McIlveen

1.30pm The meeting commenced in closed session.

5. Consideration of Report from the interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards on the Unauthorised Disclosure of a draft Report of the Public Accounts Committee

Members noted the report received from the interim Commissioner for Standards on the Unauthorised Disclosure of a draft Report of the Public Accounts Committee.

1.32pm Mr Colum Eastwood joined the meeting

1.35pm Sandra Overend joined the meeting

1.43pm Fra McCann joined the meeting

1.43pm The Chairperson welcomed Dr Tom Frawley and Ms Gillian Coey, Investigation Officer, Ombudsman's Office and invited Dr Frawley to brief the Committee on his Report.

Following discussion the Committee thanked Dr Frawley and Ms Coey for attending the meeting.

Agreed: Members discussed and agreed the draft Committee Report and ordered that the report be printed today and will be published by tomorrow morning.

[EXTRACT]

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