Select Committee on Standards and Privileges First Report



  720. During the course of autumn 1996, and in particular following the collapse of the libel action brought by Mr Hamilton and Mr Greer against The Guardian, a number of reports appeared in the press concerning alleged payments made by Mr Greer to the campaign funds of various Members in connection with the general elections of 1987 or 1992 (or, in some cases, both).

  721. In her statement of 14 October 1996, the Speaker referred to the cumulative effect both of these allegations and of the other allegations addressed in this inquiry and she expressed her concern that "the reputation of the House has been called into question".

  722. In my initial discussions with the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges about my terms of reference for this inquiry, it took the view that it was undesirable for such widespread allegations to be left unanswered, even where no formal complaint against the Member concerned had been made.

  723. At that stage The Guardian had not made clear whether it intended to proceed with such a complaint against the Members concerned, who were: Mr Robert Atkins; Mr Alan Beith; Mr Vivian Bendall; Mr John Bowis; Sir Graham Bright; Mr Nirj Deva; Sir Anthony Durant; Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody; Mr Doug Hoyle; Mr Norman Lamont; Mr David Mellor; Mr Michael Portillo; Mr David Shaw; Mr Chris Smith; Sir Malcolm Thornton; Sir Gerard Vaughan; and Sir John Wheeler.

  724. Two other Members named, Sir Andrew Bowden and Mr Gerry Malone, were the subject of allegations which went wider than the question of election donations from Mr Greer. Their cases have accordingly been considered in conjunction with those of the relevant groups of Members earlier in this report.

  725. My initial expectation was that The Guardian would, indeed, lodge a complaint against all these Members, since, both in correspondence with me and in public statements questioning the adequacy of the resources available to my inquiry, the editor had referred to the number of Members whose conduct would need to be investigated as anything up to thirty. Moreover, many of the previously published references to Members who had received election donations from Mr Greer were repeated in The Guardian's book Sleaze.

  726. I was therefore somewhat surprised when, in a letter dated 10 January 1997, Mr Rusbridger told me that, with the exception of Sir Andrew Bowden, he had, in fact, never had any intention of complaining formally about these Members.

  727. Nevertheless, the tone of the press articles had been such as to imply that the Members had committed an irregularity by failing to register these campaign donations from Mr Greer in the Register of Members' Interests.

  728. The rules, as they applied at the time of the 1987 and 1992 elections, stated that registration was obligatory in respect of any sponsorship of a Member in his capacity as a Parliamentary candidate "where to the knowledge of a Member the sponsorship in any case exceeds 25 per cent of [his] election expenses". In this context the term "sponsorship" covers any form of financial support, including one-off payments, and "expenses" means the amount included in the statutory election return as having been actually incurred by the candidate.

  729. In the light of the Speaker's statement of 14 October 1996 and the views expressed by the Select Committee, I decided - not least out of fairness to all those concerned - to write to each of the named Members in order to establish the facts and to satisfy myself, where any payment of the sort alleged was received, that any registration requirement had been observed.

  730. In my letter I asked each Member to state:

    -    what donations either he or his constituency association/local party received from, or on behalf of, Mr Greer towards general election campaign funds, however described, in respect of the 1987 and/or 1992 elections, specifying the exact amount or amounts, where applicable;

    -    what, in respect of the election at which any such donation was received, was the total figure for the election expenses actually incurred by him, as declared in his statutory return;

    -    whether, during either election period, he received any other benefit, for example in the form of research or secretarial assistance or accommodation paid for, wholly or in part, by or on behalf of Mr Greer; and, if so, what was the nature of the assistance.

  731. With two exceptions (Mr Deva and Mr Lamont), I was able to satisfy myself, on the basis of the detailed responses to these questions, that no contravention of the rules on registration had occurred. All the donations involved were of amounts which fell comfortably within the 25 per cent threshold for registration. I reported this conclusion to the Select Committee on 19 March and the Committee endorsed it in its Fifth Report of 1996-97.[334]

Mr Deva

  732. In Mr Deva's first reply to me he stated that, so far as his candidacy in Hammersmith in 1987 was concerned, he had personally received nothing from Mr Greer, but he had "no idea" whether he [Mr Greer] had contributed towards his association. He added that, as far as he was concerned, the statutory return of election expenses was a matter for the party agent. He did not deal with the position in 1992.

  733. Although Mr Deva was not elected in 1987, I wrote to him again pointing out that the obligation to register, where necessary, was on the Member, not the constituency party, and asking him to provide the information requested. In his second letter, Mr Deva again repeated his view that this was a matter for the local Conservative association.

  734. I did not pursue this issue any further with Mr Deva since I had no reason to believe that he or his constituency association had ever received a donation which would have exceeded the permitted 25 per cent limit.

Mr Lamont

  735. Mr Lamont's reply raised rather different questions. He told me that in 1987 his association had accepted a cheque for £2,000 from Ian Greer Associates, and that, in 1992, it had received, at Mr Greer's prompting, £5,000 from DHL, the courier service company. On the face of it, both these donations breached the 25 per cent limit.

  736. Mr Lamont maintained, however, that these sums had been paid to his association and were "not the funds of their candidate". He also argued that in the run-up to both elections the association's continuous fighting fund was boosted by appeals for donations. He understood that Mr Greer's 1987 contribution had been made before the appeal had been launched. In both elections some £21,000 had been raised in this way and the campaign expenses had been paid out of this general pool, not from the individual donations by Mr Greer or DHL. Mr Lamont added that, so far as the registration rules were concerned, he did not consider himself to have been sponsored either by DHL or Mr Greer (who by the time of the 1992 election had become a constituent of Mr Lamont's and an active member of his association).

  737. Mr Lamont's remark that the contribution from Mr Greer in 1987 was paid before the fighting fund appeal had been launched raised the further question of when the election campaign is regarded as having started for the purposes of the registration rules. A similar point arises in relation to donations made after the campaign is over, but which are clearly intended as contributions to election expenses. (I have dealt separately in the Report with this point as it arises in the case of Sir Andrew Bowden).[335]

334  HC (1996-97) 362. Back

335  See paras 296-306. Back

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