Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report


MINUTES OF EVIDENCE - Part 5

Mr Duncan Smith

  175.  I have not actually found it. It may well be. It only came up as a result of Dame Jill's questioning. Fagih says that he does not have anything to do right now, he did very well helping with the PR campaign and then the question was: "Is it true that you felt that Galloway was at times expensive to use?" Fagih: "I am very money conscious. Maybe I said don't use George because it is too expensive." You were asked at that point whether that was true, whether you would be considered to be expensive or to cost money in any way to Fagih and you answered that you did not know whether this was a fair record of what was asked and what was said. I accept that. But what I want to know is, is there any way in which a comment like that, "I don't use George because it's too expensive", could have any foundation at all in truth, in fact in your relationship with Fagih at all?

  (Mr Galloway)  If you forgive me saying so, I think it is entirely unfair to ask me a question from a transcript which turns out, at least in this regard, to be bogus because when the tape recording was played by your Clerk those words were not there. That means that the journalist -

  176.  With respect, I understand what you are saying. I am not asking you whether that is correct. I am simply asking you, could it be possible in any way that a statement like that could be correct?

  (Mr Galloway)  It is a bit of a "When did you stop beating your wife?" question. I was not there. I do not know if Al Fagih did.

  177.  I am not asking whether he said it. I am asking you simply whether there was a relationship that existed between the two of you?

  (Mr Galloway)  Never in all the time I have known him until today has he made any remark remotely approaching that to me. He says he never made that remark to Watts and, lo and behold, in the tape recording of the conversation with Watts it does not appear, so I believe him that he never said it.

  178.  So your relationship with him could never be based upon whether it was expensive or cheap, it was a simple straightforward reimbursement of expenses?

  (Mr Galloway)  No. He was always a man who was careful with the organisation's money. I have said that from the beginning. Indeed, that is one of the reasons for the breach with Al Mass'ari. He was very careful with the organisation's money and I think that is to his credit. But he never at any time said to me, in response to a suggestion of work that I made, that something was too expensive, never, because he was paying the people himself. There is no question of any intermediary or anything of that kind. He knew how much the services of people cost because he was paying them directly.

Chairman:  We do seem to be beginning to go over old ground.

Mr Duncan Smith

  179.  No, Chairman, with respect, I simply wanted the direct answer to that question which I have now got. I am not going to dwell on this, but I simply felt an answer was not given to the previous question. The last question I have is simply that you referred to them paying their bill of three-quarters of a million owed to BT and this would have been done under the auspices of CDLR, would it?

  (Mr Galloway)  I do not know. I do not know who the bill went to, but I do know it has been in the public records, in the British newspapers, that they paid upwards of three-quarters of a million pounds for their telephone and fax bill.

  180.  So you have got that as a matter of general record, not from conversations personally?

  (Mr Galloway)  Clearly it was a matter of much discussion that how on earth could a telephone bill be so large from a small house in Willesden Green and they explained to me, "Well, if you think about it, with 800 faxes every night, it adds up".

  181.  And that is likely to have been under the CDLR auspices?

  (Mr Galloway)  I do not know. It could have been under a named individual or under the name of CDLR. I do not know if BT would have given an account to CDLR, as such, or whether it was in somebody else's name. I do not know.

Mr MacGregor

  182.  Chairman, pretty well all the questions have been asked, but I have just mop-up questions on three points. First of all, can you absolutely confirm that the only payments that you received were for the points you raised in your letter plus the two that you have passed on to the two academics?

  (Mr Galloway)  Yes. I have said in the third last paragraph that there were advertisements in the press around that time, although not for very much, £100 or £200 it was.

  183.  I am including them.

  (Mr Galloway)  You are including them?

  184.  Yes.

  (Mr Galloway)  Yes.

  185.  So that is the case and there is nothing other than that?

  (Mr Galloway)  Nothing.

  186.  And you kept no records of the cash you received for Inland Revenue purposes or for any future purposes?

  (Mr Galloway)  I knew, and I was right, that there were no Inland Revenue implications.

  187.  So you never kept any record of the cash, so there is no external proof as to how much cash you actually received?

  (Mr Galloway)  Well, there is no external proof of any cash that I received, small or large. What there is external proof of is what I expended and I told you there is no record of them reimbursing me.

  188.  And because of that, it is not possible to find out where the cash came from?

  (Mr Galloway)  No. Theoretically, they could have given me, you know, £1 million a year and I could not prove that they did not. How do you prove a negative? I am telling you that that is all they gave me.

  189.  You are saying that that is all you received?

  (Mr Galloway)  I am saying that is all I received.

  190.  Secondly, given that the company was effectively wound up at some point in 1995, why did you not take it off the Register?

  (Mr Galloway)  I think the Register lasts a year.

  191.  But you had not taken any step to take it off because the Register is also one - it is not just the published Register, but it is also the Register that is available.

  (Mr Galloway)  Well, I do not know. The records will show that. At some point I must have because by -

  192.  You did not repeat it the next year. Well, actually I will come to that in a second, but it is open to one, if you have ceased to have an interest, to take it off the Register and you did not do that.

  (Mr Galloway)  It would appear I did not.

  193.  You understand, therefore, why some people might have thought that you had an interest to declare in the debate on 24 January because they would have looked at the Register and seen that there was one?

  (Mr Galloway)  Well, I can see why there might have been, but I took the view, as I said earlier, in the course of an adjournment debate, which is time-limited, that where I did not have an interest to declare, it would have clearly been superfluous for me to state that I had no interest to declare.

  194.  Would it not have been much simpler if you had simply said that because the reference to Hawk Communications was actually made in the intervention?

  (Mr Galloway)  In a point of order, yes.

  195.  So would it not have been much simpler if you had simply said, "That company is no longer trading. Therefore, I have no interest to declare on it"?

  (Mr Galloway)  Well, it would have been, though it might not have closed the matter and, as I indicated to the Chairman earlier, it would have taken time from a very carefully timed speech.

  196.  It would have added about two seconds to the speech -

  (Mr Galloway)  I do not know about that.

  197.   - if you had simply said that the company no longer trades and, therefore, there is no longer any interest.

  (Mr Galloway)  Well, I dealt with it in a peremptory fashion, I grant you that, and obviously if you are saying it would have precluded all of this, then clearly I wish I had.

  198.  You removed it from the Register a week later?

  (Mr Galloway)  Possibly I did. I do not know when I did.

Chairman

  199.  A week or two later is the information we have.

  (Mr Galloway)  Well, clearly it was no longer relevant.

Mrs Taylor:  Just for John's information, this Committee was then sitting and the new Register should have come out in January 1996, but because we were changing the rules and the guidelines, I think that is why it did not come out until the March of 1996 because we were actually then changing the rules so that people would have to declare any contracts of that kind.

Mr MacGregor:  So it came off the Register because you did not re-register it, but not because you asked for it to come off?

Mrs Taylor:  You have got to specifically ask for things to be taken off, otherwise they will automatically go on from year to year.

Mr MacGregor

  200.  So you did take steps shortly after?

  (Mr Galloway)  I must have. The public record shows when the company was wound up. You do not have to take my word for that.

  201.  Obviously it would have been much clearer if you had taken it off before the debate rather than immediately after?

  (Mr Galloway)  Clearly.

  202.  Just finally on the envelope question, can I just confirm to you that it would be helpful, I think, in clarifying this, whether it was right or not to use franked envelopes, if you could give some evidence of what actually went in the envelopes.

  (Mr Galloway)  I could tell you now what was in the envelopes.

  203.  I mean actually the text.

  (Mr Galloway)  I will have to try and recover that from someone else's machine in a headquarters that no longer exists and in an organisation that is now split, but I will try.

  204.  So it was not done from here?

  (Mr Galloway)  No, it was done on their computer in Willesden Green and it was a one-page letter setting out my views on where British policy on Saudi Arabia was wrong and drawing the addressee's attention - and on that point, it was not a circular, but it was specifically addressed to specific individuals - drawing the attention of the addressee to our report which was produced by British academics which was enclosed.

Dame Jill Knight

  205.  They were not constituents?

  (Mr Galloway)  No, they were not constituents, no.

Chairman

  206.  I have been trying to, as it were, steer away from the envelopes because whatever we think about it, it is in the end a matter for somebody else, but there is now another inconsistency, I am bound to say, because what Al Mass'ari told this interviewer, and this is on our transcript, not the one that you have questioned, and I quote from page 12, "He", that is you, "was sending out reports with a cover letter from himself in the House of Commons envelopes", which is slightly different from what you just said.

  (Mr Galloway)  No, it was a cover letter with a report.

  207.  I got the impression that you said that the report was in your letter, but in fact -

  (Mr Galloway)  No, no, no. The report was a booklet.

Chairman:  Okay. It may be that I misheard then.

Mr Ross

  208.  It is quite difficult, Chairman, because most of the questions have been asked, but just briefly. George, you and I have worked on the Middle East situation for many, many years and we know ourselves that working with organisations from the Middle East, they in the main have great difficulty in understanding how the political process in this country works.

  (Mr Galloway)  Yes.

  209.  Therefore, when we have had in the past to bring to their attention the way in which, if they wished to make a case, it is liable to be long, laborious and expensive, they have usually baulked at that sort of suggestion.

  (Mr Galloway)  Yes.

  210.  But there is no doubt that they have always expected that they could do things without expending any cash at all and that people should work for nothing basically for them.

  (Mr Galloway)  Yes.

  211.  So when Al Mass'ari got the impression that things were happening, would this be because of the advice you were giving them and the experience you have had in that it should be done in a way which makes certain that the case is understood?

  (Mr Galloway)  Well, Chairman, I tried to professionalise their operation and I hope it is not immodest to say that I had some success in that. They, for example, would have been quite happy to put out material in English which had been written by an Arabic speaker while I insisted that that was foolish, that a native English speaker should re-write the translation into proper terms and this costs money and, as Ernie indicates, it is not temperamentally easy for them to grasp that. They would have been quite content to put out inferior material, indeed did put out much more inferior material than I was able to persuade them to do. They did not believe in this country that their office could be bugged. I was certain that it was and so it turned out to be. So on lots of different areas I was generating suggestions which were costing them money, no doubt, but it was money well spent. If I could address this point because I do think that not enough attention has been given to this particular point. On page 13 Al Mass'ari, at the bottom of that page, says that if I had ever indicated remotely that I wanted, presumably money, for an early day motion, Saad would react immediately. "Saad is very odd in this respect. He thinks others should work for him for free. Any money, even from professionals, he is very tight. So any indication - if Saad ever got the feeling. Or if George ever said I am doing all these services and you should take that into consideration - any circumstances at all - then for Saad this immediately would have been a very [?bad thing]. And Saad kept very close relations with him. Until now. So I think that George was sufficiently sophisticated to avoid anything like this." So Al Mass'ari even states there in that part - I grant you that it is implied elsewhere - with his own signature in the letter to the lawyer that I was receiving no personal benefit from any of this.

Mr Evans

  212.  I think most Members when they receive the documentation, when we produce a report will ponder over the quality of the tape that we have discussed. It is very important. I have never met Al Mass'ari or Al Fagih, never heard of them, never seen them. Obviously their voices were tape-recorded. What command of the English language did either Al Mass'ari or Al Fagih have?

  (Mr Galloway)  Al Fagih is better than Al Mass'ari. Al Mass'ari is a very excitable speaker who speaks extremely fast and is very easily drawn away at tangents, but neither is he a poor English speaker, but, as you said, a tape which is itself a compilation of several tapes, with lots of cuts and joins, with the volume deliberately turned down, with people's questions and answers taken out, has to be a tape treated with some suspicion. That is all I say about it.

  213.  I simply wanted to know what their command of English was.

  (Mr Galloway)   Mass'ari's is not poor but Al Fagih is easier to follow.

  214.  You have said repeatedly in your additional submission and it is also clear in the text that Al Fagih was a very tight man as far as the disposal of the organisation's funds were concerned. You were making claims upon him for legitimate expenditure which in total come to just over £5,000. Did he ever ask you for receipts for those monies that you had expended?

  (Mr Galloway)  Usually I would have given him the invoice.

  215.  For?

  (Mr Galloway)  For things like travel and hotels and newspaper advertisements, the House of Commons' lunch, etcetera I would have given him the invoice.

  216.  But unfortunately you did not keep any receipts yourself, other than your statements from the credit cards?

  (Mr Galloway)  I have obviously got my credit card details for what I actually spent, but when he gave me the cash back I did not write out a receipt for it because I saw no need to.

  217.  The Hawk directors, you refer to five individuals, were they all members of the Labour Party?

  (Mr Galloway)  Yes.

Mr Davies

  218.  George, did you get any receipts from any of the academics or others to whom you passed on cash?

  (Mr Galloway)  No.

Mrs Taylor

  219.  Do you know how much cash there was or was it just in envelopes?

  (Mr Galloway)  No, I know because I negotiated the price.

Mr Davies

  220.  How much was it?

  (Mr Galloway)  One for £1,000 and one for £800. These were the ones paid by me. Others he paid directly himself which were more than that.

  221.  We will obviously take into account the points you have made and the points that are quite clear about this tape, but there is just one question I want to ask you in addition to the ones that I have already asked you about the tape. If you refer to page8 of the clear tape, the tape prepared by this Committee, you will find that Al Mass'ari talks about the fact that he does not think that you received any money personally, but he is not absolutely sure again. He then has a phrase, "the only thing was this repayment - nothing paid except the monthly payment for this half person, this lady." Am I right in drawing the conclusion from your testimony this evening that you are denying that there was any regular monthly payment of this kind that was paid to you?

  (Mr Galloway)  I am absolutely denying that. May I say, I do not regard this as a "clean" tape. It is mainly cleaner as a transcript than the other one.

  222.  But this statement about Al Mass'ari is entirely false as a representation of the facts. There was no monthly payment to you, was there?

  (Mr Galloway)  There was no monthly payment to me, no.

Mr Campbell-Savours

  223.  Can I ask you a question? I cannot ask you it outside of the Committee because it would mean discussing deliberative proceedings. Did you ever meet Mark Watts?

  (Mr Galloway)  He door-stepped me at my flat.

  224.  Did you ever see him?

  (Mr Galloway)  Yes.

  225.  How old was he, roughly?

  (Mr Galloway)  Young.

  226.  Very young?

  (Mr Galloway)  Younger than - no, about 30 perhaps.

Mr Duncan Smith

  227.  I have never heard of this man. Mark Watts, is this some sort of nom de plume or do you have any reason to believe he might write in some other name?

  (Mr Galloway)  I do not know. I made a search for any material that he has ever had published and I have not come up with anything yet. I know that he claimed to both Mass'ari and Al Fagih to be working for The Sunday Times. I phoned The Sunday Times and they had never heard of him and they had never commissioned him to work. When he door-stepped me he did so with a reporter from The Mail on Sunday. When I spoke to the editor of The Mail on Sunday, he told me that he did not know Mark Watts but that it was possible that Watts had hoped to sell the story to them. There does seem to have been a Mail on Sunday involvement in the production of the first transcript, but Members can make their own mind up about who this man is and what he was doing. I have got a very firm view about that, but I cannot prove it and so it is probably best not to state it.

Chairman:  We have kept you quite a considerable time, George, and we are grateful to you for giving us that time to answer a fairly extensive series of questions. Obviously the Committee will now need to deliberate, not this evening but at some stage when it has had a chance to look at the transcript. I clearly cannot rule out the possibility that we would wish to come back to you, but obviously we will be looking to bring our proceedings on this to a conclusion if we can. Thank you very much indeed.


 
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