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Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Seventh Report


SEVENTH REPORT

COMPLAINTS FROM MR MOHAMED AL FAYED,
THE GUARDIAN AND OTHERS AGAINST 25 MEMBERS
AND FORMER MEMBERS:
FURTHER REPORT

  The Committee on Standards and Privileges has agreed to the following Report:

  1. |On 3 July 1997 the Committee published the report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on allegations made against twenty-five Members and former Members. The report exonerated the majority but a minority of those investigated were criticised, some severely so. In the Committee's report which accompanied the Commissioner's findings we drew attention to the right of those criticised to submit a written statement to the Committee rebutting or challenging any findings of the Commissioner. We also notified the former Members concerned that such representations must be submitted to the Committee within fourteen days.

  2. We accept the Commissioner's findings that the following Members and former Members have no case to answer:

  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, Lady Olga Maitland, Mr Gerald Malone, Mr David Mellor, Mr Michael Portillo, Mr David Shaw, Mr Chris Smith, Sir Malcolm Thornton, Sir Gerard Vaughan and Sir John Wheeler.

  3. The following Members have made written representations to the Committee: Sir Andrew Bowden, Mr Michael Brown, Sir Michael Grylls, Mr Neil Hamilton, and Mr Tim Smith. These have been published as House of Commons Paper No. 30-IV. We also received a letter from Mr Ian Greer. We have taken account of these representations in reaching our conclusions. None of the former Members have asked, either in their submissions or subsequently, to appear before the Committee.

  4. In his submission, Mr Neil Hamilton challenged in some detail the findings of the Commissioner and his methods of inquiry. We have not completed our examination of the points raised by Mr Hamilton, and we will issue a further report at a later stage.

  5. Apart from Mr Hamilton, those former Members who have made representations to us challenging the Commissioner's findings have done so on the basis of his interpretation of the facts, rather than on the facts themselves. None of them has offered any new evidence.

  6. We would wish to emphasise that our function is not that of a Court of law. In examining the Commissioner's report on his investigations our duty is to consider to what extent the rules of the House were infringed, and to determine whether and to what extent the conduct of any of the former Members investigated fell short of the standards which the House and the public are entitled to expect of Members of Parliament.

  7. Our findings are set out below: in each case they are prefaced by those of the Commissioner which are printed in italics.

  8. Mr Michael Brown: The Commissioner's findings were as follows:

    (i)  Mr Brown failed to register an introduction payment from Mr Greer in relation to US Tobacco.

    (ii)  Mr Brown persistently and deliberately failed to declare his interests in dealing with Ministers and officials over the Skoal Bandits issue.

    (iii)  Mr Brown has expressed regret for these omissions.

  9. In October 1996 Mr Brown admitted that he had made an error of judgement in failing to register certain interests and apologised to the former Committee on Standards and Privileges and to the Commissioner. He was right to do so. He has now repeated that apology while maintaining that he did not "deliberately and persistently" fail to declare an interest in United States Tobacco to Ministers. Given the circumstances of the payments, we accept the Commissioner's judgement. Mr Brown's conduct fell below the standards which the House is entitled to expect of its Members. If Mr Brown were still a Member we would recommend a period of suspension from the service of the House.

  10. Sir Peter Hordern: We have not received representations from Sir Peter Hordern. The Commissioner found that:

      (i)  Sir Peter had no obligation to disclose to Ministers the interests of his colleagues; and, although the extent to which he declared his own interests on House of Fraser matters fell well short of the terms of the 1974 Resolution, there is no evidence that Ministers and officials were misled by this.

    (ii)  The spirit of the rules would have been better observed had Sir Peter made a separate Register entry in respect of Mr Al Fayed's hospitality, but this omission was not improper by the standards accepted at the time.

    (iii)  The allegation that Sir Peter tabled questions for cash is without substance and has been withdrawn.

  11. The principle of frankness of disclosure of financial interests in relevant dealings with Ministers and other Members is of long standing in the procedures of the House and in 1974 the House formally agreed the following Resolution:

  "That, in any debate or proceeding of the House or its Committees or transactions or communications which a Member may have with other Members or with Ministers or servants of the Crown, he shall disclose any relevant pecuniary interest or benefit of whatever nature, whether direct or indirect, that he may have had, may have, or may be expecting to have."[1]

  12. We have examined the evidence Sir Peter Hordern gave to the Commissioner's inquiry. We note that, throughout the period when he was employed as a consultant to the House of Fraser between 1982 and 1991 he registered his interest under the "Employment or Office" category as "Consultant to House of Fraser plc". His recollection was that he had declared an interest on most occasions when dealing with officials and always in meetings with Ministers. The Commissioner found some evidence that Sir Peter had declared his House of Fraser consultancy at least once in communicating with Ministers and that it was probably true to say that they were aware of this association.[2]

  13. The Commissioner's criticism of Sir Peter Hordern's entries in the register are set out more fully in paragraph 821 of his memorandum to the Committee-

  "Sir Peter Hordern properly registered his consultancy with the House of Fraser under the category "Employment or Office". Having done so, he saw no necessity to register the hospitality he had received from Mr Al Fayed at the Ritz and Balnagown Castle. In my view the spirit of the Register requirements would have been better observed by separate registration, particularly as the hospitality was personal to Mr Al Fayed, whereas the consultancy was with the House of Fraser. On the other hand, the rules were not as clear cut in the 1980s as they are now and I would not see this as grounds for censure."

  14. We accept the observations of the Commissioner. Our conclusion is that, while in some respects Sir Peter Hordern's entries in the Register should have been more informative, there was no attempt on his part to conceal his interests.

  15. Sir Andrew Bowden: The Commissioner's findings were:

    (i)  There is insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegation that Sir Andrew received, or demanded, cash payments from Mr Al Fayed in return for lobbying services.

    (ii)  The election donation of £5,319 from Mr Greer was intended as a reward for lobbying and Sir Andrew probably knew it came originally from Mr Al Fayed.

    (iii)  Sir Andrew failed to register, as he should have done, this election campaign donation.

    (iv)  Sir Andrew failed to declare his interests in dealings with Ministers and officials over House of Fraser, and, in one case, gave a positively misleading explanation for his representations.

  16. Our conclusions are as follows:

    (i)  The Committee accepts the Commissioner's finding in paragraph (i) above.

    (ii)  We consider it to be unlikely that Sir Andrew Bowden did not at least guess that the source of the £5,319 he received was Mr Al Fayed.

    (iii)  We note that Sir Andrew has apologised for the failure to register the campaign donation.

    (iv)  We accept the findings of the Commissioner in paragraph (iv) above and reject Sir Andrew Bowden's representations. Irrespective of the source of the payment, and whether that source was known to Sir Andrew or not, the cheque he received placed him under an obligation to Mr Greer, whose business was that of a parliamentary lobbyist. He was therefore under a clear duty to declare that interest in any representations he made on behalf of any of Mr Greer's clients. We also note with concern the evidence of a deliberate attempt to conceal his motives in a letter to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in March 1987.[3]

  17. We conclude that the conduct of Sir Andrew Bowden fell below the standards which the House is entitled to expect of its Members. If Sir Andrew Bowden were still a Member we would have considered recommending a period of suspension from the service of the House.

  18. Sir Michael Grylls: The Commissioner's findings were as follows:

    (i)  Sir Michael received payments from Mr Greer (though not in cash) which were neither introduction commissions nor fees associated with the Unitary Tax Campaign.

    (ii)  It is not possible to conclude that these payments originated from Mr Al Fayed, although Sir Michael actively participated in the Greer lobbying operation.

    (iii)  Sir Michael deliberately misled the Select Committee on Members' Interests in 1990 by seriously understating the number of commission payments he had received; and by omitting to inform them of other fees received from Mr Greer.

    (iv)  Sir Michael persistently failed to declare his interests in dealings with Ministers and officials over the House of Fraser.

    (v)  Sir Michael's action in taking a commission payment for introducing a constituent to Mr Greer was unacceptable.

    (vi)  There is insufficient evidence to show that Sir Michael solicited business for Mr Greer in expectation of commission payments.

  19. We accept the conclusions of the Commissioner for Standards contained in paragraphs (i), (ii) and (iii) above. It is quite clear from the evidence assembled by the Commissioner that Sir Michael Grylls' business relationship with Mr Greer was a close one which lasted over several years.[4] The extent of his relationship is scarcely apparent from his entries over that period in the Register of Members' Interests. In his letter to the Committee of 17 July Sir Michael Grylls said that "it is not a requirement of the rules on Members' Interests for Members to declare the reasons for payments". He added "my overall interest was declared in the Register". This is not true, since payments were received from Ian Greer when no adequate indication appears in the Register. Sir Michael would appear to have forgotten that the fundamental purpose of the Register, on which its specific rules are based, is "to provide information of any pecuniary interest or other material benefit which might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions, speeches or votes in Parliament" and that there is a general duty on Members to keep the overall definition of the Register's purpose in mind when registering their interests; and to make a full disclosure of those interests. Sir Michael Grylls claims that he did not inform the Select Committee on Members' Interests in 1990 of his other payments from Mr Greer since "the central issue behind the 1990 inquiry was the question of the commission payments". We consider this reply to be disingenuous. Moreover, like the Commissioner, we find it very difficult to believe that when he submitted that evidence he had forgotten half, or more than half, of the commission payments he had received from Mr Greer. We conclude that Sir Michael Grylls deliberately misled the Select Committee on Members' Interests in 1990.

  20. We also accept the Commissioner's finding in (iv). Despite the Commissioner's findings in (ii) above, Sir Michael Grylls, given his remuneration from Ian Greer Associates and his close association with the lobbying group orchestrated by Mr Greer, should have declared an interest in dealing with Ministers and officials on matters concerning the House of Fraser.

  21. We do not accept the Commissioner's finding in paragraph (v) in respect of the receipt of a payment from Mr Greer for introducing a constituency company. This was not against the rules. However, we believe such a payment to be wholly inappropriate.

  22. Deliberately misleading a Select Committee is certainly a contempt of the House: taken together with our other findings, we conclude that the conduct of Sir Michael Grylls fell seriously below the standards the House is entitled to expect of its Members. Were Sir Michael Grylls still a Member we would recommend a substantial period of suspension from the service of the House, augmented to take account of his deceit.

  23. Mr Tim Smith: The Commissioner's findings were as follows:

    (i)  Mr Smith accepted cash payments directly from Mr Al Fayed of between £18,000 and £25,000 in return for lobbying services. There is no evidence to indicate that he received cash from Mr Al Fayed indirectly through Mr Greer.

    (ii)  The way in which these payments were received and concealed fell well below the standards expected of Members of Parliament.

    (iii)  The allegation that Mr Smith was paid to initiate an Adjournment debate in 1986 is not substantiated.

    (iv)  Mr Smith's financial interest in relation to House of Fraser was only registered in January 1989 when it had been publicly exposed by Mr Rowland; and then only hesitantly for a period of two and a half weeks. This has to be seen as a disingenuous attempt at concealment. On any view, this was a totally unacceptable form of registration by Mr Smith.

    (v)  Mr Smith persistently and deliberately failed to declare his interests in dealings with Ministers and officials over House of Fraser issues.

    (vi)  To his credit, Mr Smith eventually admitted receiving payments, although not until he was asked in 1994; and he expressed his regrets for the non-registration and non-declaration of interests.

  24. Mr Smith has admitted a substantial part of the allegations against him and has made a full public apology. In his letter to the Committee he accepts that the way in which he received payments from Mr Al Fayed fell "well below the present standards expected of Members of Parliament". However, he questions whether he is being judged against standards prevailing in the mid-1980s. We do not accept Mr Smith's comments which ignore the background to the establishment of the Register of Members' Interests in 1975 and the long standing rules of the House. Mr Smith's concealment of payments he received from Mr Al Fayed in return for using his position as a Member to press for action by Ministers would have been a clear contempt of the House at any time since the decision by the House in the Boothby case in 1941.[5] We would also remind Mr Smith of the rule of the House on declaration of interest agreed in 1974 and quoted above (paragraph 19).

  25. Mr Smith's conduct fell seriously below the standards which the House is entitled to expect of its Members. We acknowledge his later candour. However, had he still been a Member we would recommend a substantial period of suspension from the service of the House.

  26. We recognise that, in practice, the powers of the House to punish non-Members are limited. In a future report we shall offer advice to the House on appropriate penalties and sanctions for Members, former Members and other persons involved in unacceptable behaviour.


1  CJ (1974) 143-144 and see HC 688 (1995-96), Appendix. Back

2  Commissioner's report, paragraph 831. Back

3  HC 30-I, page 103, paragraphs 677-679. Back

4  Summarised in paragraphs 769-770 of the Commissioner's Report HC (1997-98) 30-I. Back

5  Select Committee on the Conduct of a Member, HC (1940-41) 5. Back


 
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Prepared 1 August 1997