Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report


MINUTES OF EVIDENCE - Part 4

Dame Jill Knight

  135.  I wish we could. You did say, Mr Galloway, that 18 times in this transcript Al Mass'ari says that he is not involved.

  (Mr Galloway)  No, no, no, 18 times he said that Al Fagih is in charge of the money.

  136.  That is not what you said.

  (Mr Galloway)  It is exactly what I said more than once - in fact, more than ten times.

  137.  The point that was being raised then was very important. If there are 18 times that this has been said in the script, I cannot find them.

  (Mr Galloway)  Mr Chairman, I have it written down here. If I may quote from page 2: "Al Mass'ari freely acknowledges no less than 18 times in the transcript that Dr Saad Al Fagih was in sole charge of the organisation's financial affairs." The record will show that.

  138.  Is that from this transcript?

  (Mr Galloway)  Yes.

Dame Jill Knight:  From the clean transcript.

Mr Davies

  139.  George, I wonder if we can just move on a bit because you say that Al Mass'ari said several times in the transcript that he does not think you are getting any personal benefit, you are just distributing the money, although his view of the amount of money you are distributing is very different to the account you have given the Committee today. He expresses some doubt about that. He says he does not know whether you were receiving any personal benefit. It all depends upon whether this bodyguard and secretary he says he was paying exists. I think a relevant quotation there is on page 10 of the transcript, where Mass'ari says, "I never had the need to find out if she exists. Maybe she does not exist, but I think she does." So he is open-minded about that. He does not seem to mind whether you are making personal profit out of it one way or the other. That does not concern him. What did concern him was the global sum.

  (Mr Galloway)  Can I correct you on an important point? He says in this transcript that Al Fagih paid the bodyguard.

  140.  Yes, but -

  (Mr Galloway)  We cannot throw things in like that.

  141.  George, I think it is quite clear from this tape that Al Mass'ari is not himself concerned with whether or not you are making a personal profit. He says at certain points, no, I think he is probably not, but then at other points he says he may be. He is not really concerned with that. He does not mind. What he does mind is the global sum that is being paid out of CDLR funds to you and he is saying there must be a limit on that. If we have more of him we have to have less of John and Pat. I do not want to get rid of John and Pat so there is a limit on that. That is really what he is saying, is it not?

  (Mr Galloway)  No, he is saying several different things. He said several times that I received nothing personally and he said it in the letter of October to my lawyer, explicitly, not in a tape-recorded transcript but in his own handwriting he says it. He says I received nothing personally.

  142.  I accept that there is a conflict between that statement in writing to your lawyer and the statement on the tape. The statement on the tape makes it clear that he does not know whether you are receiving anything for your own account out of these cash disbursements and he does not seem to be particularly exercised if you are. Did you ever ask him for money, George?

  (Mr Galloway)  Never.

  143.  You never talked about money to him?

  (Mr Galloway)   Never.

  144.  Again, if I can refer you to a bit higher up on page 10 about when Hawk stopped working and so forth. Al Mass'ari says, "They have not stopped. They are still working." "Are they still charged the same sort of amount?" Al Mass'ari: "I don't know. The last time I talked to George was in February. He said that something was due. Saad had not paid." So you are telling the Committee that Al Mass'ari made that up?

  (Mr Galloway)  No, he did not make it up. I said that Saad had not paid. It was for one of the expenses, which, I will tell you, has still not been paid, that I paid for Al Mass'ari in Glasgow during the rectorial election in January.

  145.  So you did ask Al Mass'ari for money?

  (Mr Galloway)  No, I did not ask Al Mass'ari for money. There would have been no point because Mass'ari does not even have any pockets in his robe. He did not carry money and had nothing to do with money.

  146.  You did not ask Al Mass'ari for money.

  (Mr Galloway)  He asked me if Dr Saad had reimbursed me for all the expenses in Glasgow because he knew that Dr Saad was very tight and I said that he had not.

  147.  So you did ask Al Mass'ari to prompt Saad to pay money?

  (Mr Galloway)  By then they had almost drawn weapons. The last person in the world one would have asked to ask Al Fagih for money would have been Al Mass'ari at the time. They were on the point of locking each other out of the office and calling in the police.

  148.  Then why did you raise the matter of money owed to you by Al Fagih?

  (Mr Galloway)  Because one of the reasons for the break was that Al Fagih was so tight with money and that he would not, according to Al Mass'ari, pay up money that Al Mass'ari thought was due. So he asked me had I got all the money that I had expended in Glasgow for the rectorial campaign and I said I had not.

  149.  So it is not strictly true, your earlier answer to me that you never talked to him about money. You did talk to him about money.

  (Mr Galloway)  That is sophistry. You asked me if I had asked him for money.

  150.  The transcript says: "The last time I talked to George was in February. He said that something was due. Saad had not paid." That is a correct account of that conversation you had with Al Mass'ari, is it?

  (Mr Galloway)  It is a partial one. Insofar as it goes it is correct.

  151.  You said that money was due basically.

  (Mr Galloway)  I said that money was due. That is not asking him for money.

  152.  Since on your own evidence he was not talking to Saad at that time then you would have hardly expected him to be able to use the influence of Saad to pay the money, so essentially the only way you would have got money is from Al Mass'ari direct.

  (Mr Galloway)  I could have lied to him in answer to his question. I could have said, yes, he has paid me, but, no, I told him the truth, I said, no, he has not, that is all.

  153.  So you were hoping that he would reimburse you directly?

  (Mr Galloway)  No, I was not hoping that. He had never any money. He is like the royal family, he does not carry money.

  154.  George, I must say that if I had been owed money by Al Mass'ari I would have not hesitated to ask for it back.

  (Mr Galloway)  But I was not owed money by Al Mass'ari. Al Mass'ari had nothing to do with money as he makes clear over and over again, as Al Fagih makes clear over and over again and as I am making clear to you now over and over again.

Chairman:  Can I venture the thought that it is not immediately obvious to me that there is anything more to be established on this particular point.

Mr Davies

  155.  I think what we are trying to establish really is what sort of financial relationship George had with CDLR. That was a relationship which was never declared either in the debate or in the Register. Money passed hands, that is quite clear. George was making disbursements on behalf of CDLR, that is quite clear. He had a financial relationship with the two gentlemen who we have just talked about, Al Mass'ari and Al Fagih, of a slightly different kind, as he has just outlined. What we do not really know is whether that was a declarable financial interest. Clearly if there was some personal benefit it was. Maybe if there was no personal benefit and George was just a channel of distributing these secret payments to the academics and paying for some expenses it was not, but I think George can probably see that there are an awful lot of unanswered questions. This is a very unusual relationship for a Member of Parliament to have anyway with people and it is important for us to be clear about what the relationship really was.

  (Mr Galloway)  Well, yes, but I repeat what I said in my initial statement: that Al Mass'ari unequivocally states that he did not give me any money and that I derived no financial benefit from my relationship with the CDLR. More importantly, Al Mass'ari says that Al Fagih was in charge of all the finances. Al Fagih unequivocally states that I had no financial benefit from that relationship and I am stating here on oath that I had no personal benefit from that relationship. The only person who is saying that I did is an unknown journalist who lied about his provenance, who has doctored the tape-recording and has kept us occupied and me with a cloud over me for the best part of a year.

  156.  If we accept, and our inclination must be to accept what a colleague says even if he is not on oath, and you are on oath, if we accept that you received absolutely no personal benefit and had no financial relationship with these two people, then what is in the tape is wrong because the tape clearly does not suggest that. The tape suggests that there is at least an ambiguity about whether or not you benefitted personally from this relationship. The tape gives a different figure from the amount of money you were receiving, substantially different from the amount that you are alleging to this Committee that you received and there is a clear difference of perception as well about what your relationship is with Al Mass'ari. You originally said he never used money and you never talked about money to him, or that is what I understood you to say, but you now accept that there was at least one occasion when you did raise money with him -

  (Mr Galloway)  When he raised money.

  157.  All right, when money was raised between you, so he was aware that you were receiving money and that you were owed money. This is the point I am trying to establish.

  (Mr Galloway)  He was not aware that I was owed money. He asked me if the costs of the rectorial campaign had been fully reimbursed to me. Now, I had two choices, three choices: I could have remained silent in response to that question; I could have told a lie; or I could have told the truth, which is what I did.

  158.  Were these expenses you had incurred on behalf of CDLR or on behalf of Al Mass'ari personally?

  (Mr Galloway)  They were on behalf of the "Mass'ari Must Stay Campaign" which we had mounted as soon as the deportation notice was issued and a part of which was running him for rector of Glasgow University and he, because he had reached a crisis in his relationship with Al Fagih at that time, had the belief that Al Fagih would renege on the expenses of his rectorial campaign and that is why he asked me if the expenses had been reimbursed.

  159.  In other words, he thought that Al Fagih might have embezzled money given to him?

  (Mr Galloway)  No.

  160.  No? Well, I still do not understand this point, George. I am sorry.

  (Mr Galloway)  You are a very gifted man and I find it difficult to believe that I am unable to get it through to you.

  161.  I am not being deliberately thick, but I may be being naturally thick and I cannot help that.

  (Mr Galloway)  He never implied that Al Fagih had embezzled money that had belonged to him. All the funds for the organisation were held by Al Fagih. He had come to believe, indeed it was one of his grounds for breaking with him, that Al Fagih was so tight with money that he was starving Al Mass'ari of his justifiable expenses. By the time that the rectorial election came up, the relationship had reached breaking point, which we kept secret from the world because we were still in the court case at that stage. He asked me on the telephone if Al Fagih had paid all the expenses of the Glasgow rectorial campaign. I said that he had not. That is the facts.

Chairman:  Quentin, that does seem fairly clear. Does that conclude your questions?

Mr Davies:  Yes.

Mr Duncan Smith

  162.  Most of these questions have probably already been asked, but I just want to mop up on one or two things which may not be clear. Early on you said in response, and I cannot remember, but possibly to Mrs Taylor, I do not know, that when you originally set up the company and you went through the proceedings and I think you referred to the period around Oslo and the Gulf War, you said at the time it was to follow your inclination to set up this company which you said was not likely or you anticipated they would not make a profit, but it would certainly trade, and that you anticipated all of that and, therefore, created the company. I am interested really as to why at that stage, and I just want to come back to the original registration. You said also, and this is connected, that you discussed the matter or took advice from the Clerk to the Committee at that stage because there was no Commissioner obviously and it was a different system and the Clerk, either he or somebody to the Committee, had advised you that if you anticipated those circumstances, ie, trading with a possible profit, with remuneration to yourself, that you should register it accordingly.

  (Mr Galloway)  That was for the 1995 Register.

  163.  I just want to clarify this in my own mind. Because we have been through this once already, I do not want to dwell on it too long, but I just want to be absolutely certain on this. Because the registration was different for 1994 and then 1995, you registered it in 1994 which was about the time that you established this operation, but when then did you have the discussion with the Clerk?

  (Mr Galloway)  Prior to 1995.

  164.  So after you registered the first time?

  (Mr Galloway)  Yes.

  165.  So this was after or about the time of that first bank entry?

  (Mr Galloway)  Whenever it was. The record will show when I submitted an entry for the 1995 Register. I do not know the gentleman's name and I do not see him here, but I remember him very well and he is a chap who has appeared on many committees that I have been on. He was, I think, in charge at that time. I went to see him and explained the situation, and explained the situation that this company actually was not trading, had never traded, but that I wished, nonetheless, to register it and it came out in the Register in the form that you see in 1995.

  166.  And that was as a result of the conversation that you changed the registration?

  (Mr Galloway)  Yes.

  167.  Coming on just simply to the references to the House of Commons envelopes, and I suspect that means general stationery, but I do not know and perhaps you will correct me on that, it is fairly clear from that that if this was going on, do you consider that to have been an abuse of the use of such stationery which is supposed to be used directly for constituency purposes?

  (Mr Galloway)  Well, I will tell you frankly, although it does not appear in either transcript. The journalist put to me when he doorstepped me when this originally came up that I had left a pile of House of Commons envelopes in the CDLR headquarters. I was aghast at that because if I had done that, that clearly would have been an abuse and negligence because clearly anyone could have used those envelopes for any purpose. I was somewhat relieved that that allegation was not repeated anywhere in the paperwork or on the tape. I believe that it was not an abuse for the reasons I set out in earlier correspondence and I think in my opening statement. After all, as an individual Member of Parliament, I have a right to say where I think public policy in this country is wrong and where it in fact is leading this country into problems and, therefore, is against this country's interests. I believe that. The Government had all the resources at its disposal to put a contrary view. The Saudi regime has an enormously expensive operation in London to put a contrary point of view. I was, together with Lord Avebury, part of a two-man team crying a different song and I believed that by - there was no attempt at hiding and it was not as if documents were put inside the envelope without a letter from me - that by putting a House of Commons letter signed by me and outlining the reasons why I thought public policy was wrong and putting the letter and the report in the envelope to chairmen of major multinationals in this country who were dealing with the Gulf, to think-tanks and foreign editors and editors of newspapers and other luminaries, I believed that was a proper use of parliamentary resources.

  168.  You do not at any stage consider that what you were doing was essentially subsidising, whether it is a legitimate concern or not, but subsidising something by using the resources of the House of Commons and that might be interpreted by some to have been an expense, et cetera, that was illegitimately used?

  (Mr Galloway)  I have given that some thought, but I ask you to bear this in mind: that an organisation that paid a telephone bill of nearly three-quarters of a million pounds did not require the subsidy of a maximum of 300 first-class stamps. There could clearly be no financial reason for putting them in House of Commons envelopes in an organisation which was deploying the kind of resources that they were deploying, so I know that that is an unkind construction that can be put on it, but if I had been doing it on behalf of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign which has 19s 6d to spend, that might have been a more credible allegation, but an organisation as well tooled as theirs seems to me, I hope anyway you will agree with me, that it is unlikely it was done for that reason.

  169.  Putting on one side the amount of money they had which I consider to be to some degree irrelevant, were this to be done, were it to happen again, would you say that it is the right position and just actively go and use this stationery? At some point it is referred to as thousands. I do not know the exact figure and I suppose only you would know that. Clearly there is considerable amounts of stationery possibly used and there is a cost in that. I want to establish whether you considered that to be correct or not?

  (Mr Galloway)  I did say in my opening statement that the maximum number could have been 300. I will tell you how I arrived at that. I have a database now of 385 and then, as that database grows all the time, I considered that it was probably well below the figure of 300, but I wanted to err on the right side and I said 300 and that was twice, so that is 600 envelopes, 600 House of Commons' letters. And yes, subject to being told by this Committee that that was wrong, I would do it again. If it is the view of the Committee who decide these things that this is an improper use then obviously I have to accept that. But I believe that a Member of Parliament sending out to important public personages a case that British policy in an area is wrong and against the national interest must be surely the right of an individual Member of Parliament.

Chairman:  Can I just make one point for clarification? Any question of improper use of House of Commons' stationery would not really be a matter for this Committee but for the Administration Committee. Obviously it is a matter that arises in relation to this, but it is not the main focus and it would not be for us to make a judgement.

Mr Davies

  170.  George, you say that it must be the right of a Member of Parliament to circularise anybody who wants to say that something is wrong with policy and I think no one would dispute that. But the question is whether it is right to use the free post system for doing that. Why, if the organisation we are talking about was so wealthy and paid half a million, three quarters of a million or whatever it was for its telephone bills, did you not ask them just to pay for the postage and then your secretary could have bought stamps and sent them off in envelopes at their expense, not at the taxpayer's expense?

  (Mr Galloway)  As I think everyone here would acknowledge, a letter arriving in a House of Commons' envelope with a House of Commons' letter inside is far more likely to reach the target than any old circular letter. It is my experience that organisations who receive letters from Members of Parliament in House of Commons' envelopes are far more likely to pay attention to them and that is why I did it.

Mr Davies:  George, you can get envelopes which say House of Commons but which are not franked. That has the same effect, does it not?

Chairman:  There clearly are points here, but I honestly think that it would be inappropriate to spend a huge amount of time -

Mr Davies

  171.  George, is not the fact that you did not put it to this organisation that they ought to pay for postage not consistent with the view that there was a tight budget and that you were under that budget and if you charged them more for this you would have to charge them less for something else?

  (Mr Galloway)  I hope the implication of what you are saying is not what I suspect it is, which is that I used House of Commons' envelopes in order to leave more money for myself. Is that the point you are making?

  172.  No, mainly to leave more for other services that you are providing within the budget of £1,500 or something else.

  (Mr Galloway)  I volunteered the information very early in this meeting that this was an organisation which spent almost three quarters of a million pounds on its telephone and fax bills. That is hardly an organisation that would have balked at a maximum of 300 first-class stamps.

Chairman:  It does seem to me clear that points have been raised in relation to the use of House of Commons' stationery which this Committee may well feel it ought to draw to the attention of the Administration Committee, not least because the current rules - and I presume they were the rules at the time - do actually say that these envelopes should not be used for circulars of any description, apart from anything else. I am not seeking to stop anybody asking any more questions about this, but it is either not the principal issue for this Committee or one on which this Committee can make the conclusive judgement.

Mr MacGregor

  173.  You would have a record of what you actually sent out in these envelopes, presumably?

  (Mr Galloway)  I did it on their machine, but I dare say it could be resurrected.

Mr MacGregor:  If that was available for this Committee or the other Committee then that would clarify the matter.

Dame Jill Knight

  174.  Is it your view that there is a difference in using House of Commons' envelopes for an organisation which has a lot of money and permitting them to be used for an organisation which does not have very much money? Is that something that you would regard as a principle?

  (Mr Galloway)  No, none whatsoever. My point was - this goes to the credibility of the allegation - that it was somehow to subsidise, to use a word that was put to me, the organisation with which I was working. It clearly stretches credulity that such an organisation as we were talking about here would have required the subsidy of 300 first-class stamps.

Dame Jill Knight:  There is an implication there.

Mr Duncan Smith:  I accept that you have said this original transcript is full of clear changes and is therefore inaccurate and should not be accepted by us as an accurate record, which I am quite happy to accept and that we use PCC7g. If I could come on to this transcript because I was intrigued by phraseology here. It does not give a page number. I will try and quote it back to you.

Mrs Taylor:  Is it in both transcripts or just the first one?


 
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