Select Committee on Standards and Privileges First Report


Note on the Procedure adopted for the Inquiry

Inquiry by Sir Gordon Downey,

Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards,

concerning Mr Neil Hamilton and other Members of Parliament

1.  Terms of reference

  To enquire into allegations of misconduct against Mr Neil Hamilton and other Members of Parliament with a view to establishing whether there has been any breach of House of Commons rules, in the letter or in the spirit, and to report the findings to the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges.

2.  Objectives

  The objectives of the procedures adopted for this inquiry are to seek to achieve the following ends:

  (1)  that there is a fair and thorough investigation into the allegations of misconduct - fair to those whose activities are under investigation, and whose interests and reputations may be affected by any adverse conclusions, and fair to those who have made the allegations;

  (2)  that the investigation is pursued and completed efficiently and with expedition having regard to the public concern arising from the allegations;

  (3)  that the cost and duration of the investigation is kept within reasonable bounds.

  In general, the procedure proposed for the inquiry will be as set out in the following paragraphs - however, the Commissioner will consider any requests to make exceptional, ad hoc, adjustments to further the objectives set out above, in particular to ensure fairness.

3.  Organisation of the inquiry

  It is inevitable that in such an investigation, information will be received and considered at different times and at different stages. Further, it will be necessary for there to be a degree of flexibility to ensure that the inquiry is fair to all concerned (and seen to be fair), but is concluded within a reasonable period of time. Notwithstanding those caveats, the inquiry can be divided, broadly, into the following stages:

  Stage 1 -  The reception and organisation of the detailed allegations of misconduct, together with supporting documentation;

  Stage 2 -   Putting the allegations to the various Members of Parliament concerned to allow them to present a preliminary written response to the allegations, supplying any documentary material to be relied upon;

  Stage 3 -  The gathering together of evidence to support and counter the allegations, including further documentation, and identifying witnesses.

  Stage 4 -  Written statements from witnesses - provided in response to requests from the inquiry team.

  Stage 5 -  Oral evidence - some witnesses will be invited to give oral evidence. Witnesses may attend with legal advisers to assist them when they give evidence. Oral evidence will not be given on oath.

  Stage 6 -  Finalisation of evidence - witnesses may be invited to return, or provide further written statements. Additional documents may be obtained.

  Stage 7 -  Preparation of the report, and submission of the report to the Select Committee.

4.  Expansion of the comments on Stages 1 to 7 above

4.1  Stage 1 - The reception and organisation of the detailed allegations of misconduct, together with supporting documentation

  Allegations of misconduct will, primarily, be set out in written form. However, it may be necessary for such allegations to be elaborated or clarified orally. It is hoped that this stage will be completed by the end of November 1996.

4.2  Stage 2 - Putting the allegations to the various Members of Parliament

  The Members of Parliament will be supplied with a written summary of the allegations made and the principal documents relied upon will be identified. Each Member of Parliament will be invited to submit a written response to the allegations (with legal assistance if necessary) within a specified period. Members will also be invited to submit any additional documents which they wish considered. Copies or summaries of these statements and additional documents will be provided to the complainants.


4.3  Stage 3 - The gathering together of evidence

  The inquiry team will seek any further documentation (from any source) which they consider may assist in their investigation of the allegations of misconduct. Copies of additional documents, if to be relied upon by the Commissioner, will be supplied to interested parties for their comments. By this stage the complainants, and the Members of Parliament, will have identified relevant witnesses, or even provided written statements. Further witnesses may be identified, and contacted by the inquiry team.

4.4  Stage 4 - Written statements from witnesses - provided in response to requests from the inquiry team

  If necessary, brief written questionnaires will be given to witnesses inviting written response. Each witness will be informed that he/she may be invited to give oral evidence, and informed of the right to legal advice. Written statements will be considered and, if necessary, a further questionnaire may be sent to a witness to seek supplementary answers or additional information. At this stage, further lines of inquiry identified by the witness statements may be pursued.

4.5  Stage 5 - Oral evidence

  In so far as the Commissioner considers it necessary to assist in the assessment of the evidence, witnesses (including those making the complaints, and the Members of Parliament against whom the complaints are made) may be invited to give oral evidence.

  Their evidence will be heard in private.

  A witness attending the inquiry to give oral evidence may be accompanied by a legal or other adviser.

  It is not expected that those who accompany witnesses (legal advisers or others) will be invited to address the inquiry or to question any other witness. Advocacy by legal or other advisers will not be permitted.

  However, witnesses may consult with their advisers before answering questions and advisers may be asked to elucidate questions of fact.

  Each witness will be supplied at the hearing with a copy of his/her own written statement (if any), and with a bundle of documents.

  Questions will be put to witnesses, primarily, by Mr Nigel Pleming QC (Counsel to the inquiry). Questions will also be put by Sir Gordon Downey.

  Evidence will not be given on oath but any attempt to mislead or obstruct the inquiry is likely to constitute a contempt of Parliament. Moreover, the Select Committee has decided that, if having received the Commissioner's report, it wishes to take further evidence, it will examine witnesses on oath and will seek sworn confirmation that evidence previously given to the Commissioner is full and correct.

  If evidence given to the Committee, whether on oath or not, indicates that a witness has deliberately misled or otherwise obstructed the inquiry, this could be a contempt of Parliament.

  A transcript will be taken of each witness's oral evidence.

  After the questioning of a witness has been completed, the witness will be given an opportunity to consult with his/her adviser in private, and invited to make any final remarks.

  Every witness will be provided with a copy of the transcript of his/her evidence and will be invited to correct any factual errors in the transcript and submit, if so advised, a further written statement.

  If the Commissioner considers it to be necessary, one witness may be invited to comment on the evidence of another witness - and, for that purpose, relevant extracts from the transcript of the evidence may be provided. However, the record of evidence will not, as a general practice, be shown to other witnesses.

  If considered necessary, a witness will be invited back to give further oral evidence.

  The reasonable costs of the attendance of a witness will be met from funds provided by Parliament.

  Legal costs will not be met.

4.6  Stage 6 - finalisation of evidence

  No further comment necessary.

4.7  Stage 7 - preparation of report

  It is not expected that the report to be prepared by the Commissioner will be shown to any party to the inquiry before it is delivered to the Select Committee. However, extracts of the report (in draft) may be sent to witnesses (including those making complaints and Members of Parliament) for comment on facts set out in the report to ensure that factual errors (rather than conclusions on the facts or inferences from the facts) may be corrected.

  The Select Committee have indicated that there is a presumption that the report will be published.

5.  Time scale

  It is not possible to set out a detailed time scale for the various stages of the inquiry, or for the conclusion of the investigation and delivery of the report to the Select Committee - much will depend upon the amount, and complexity, of the information submitted. Further, the time scale will be affected by the degree of cooperation obtained from the parties (whether submitting complaints, or the subject of complaint) and the various witnesses in submitting written statements and attending to give oral evidence. However, it is hoped that all stages of the inquiry can be completed early in 1997.

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Prepared 8 July 1997