Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifteenth Report


ANNEX A

Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards from the Rt Hon Sir Norman Fowler MP

I would like to refer to you a case involving the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and a donation from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. The issue is set out in the enclosed newspaper cuttings.[2] It seems to me that there is an important principle at stake. In this case money was given to Mr Prescott for a specific purpose-namely to help Labour construct a regional policy. I would have thought it would follow from that that such a contribution should be recorded in the Register of Members' Interests. Indeed the Register of Members' Interests for 1996/97 showed that a number of members of the then Shadow Cabinet did declare such contributions. For example:

    -   Jack Straw recorded a "grant towards research on constitutional policy from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd from 1 May 1995 (£10,001-£15,000)"

    -   Mo Mowlam recorded a "grant of £8000 towards research on the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust"

    -   George Robertson recorded "assistance with research staffing from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd, the sum of £12,000 for 12 months extended to May 1997"

    -   Tony Blair recorded that the "office of the Leader of the Opposition receives support, in addition to public funds, from the Labour Party and its affiliates, from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd, and the Labour Leader's Office Fund".

It is accepted by everyone concerned that the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust also made a donation to aid the formulation of Labour Party regional policy. This contribution was sent to Mr Prescott but his Declaration of Interests for 1996/97 makes no reference to the Rowntree Reform Trust. It says:

    "The office of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition receives support, in addition to public funds, from the John Prescott Campaign/Research Trust from which he derives no personal financial gain".

I should make it clear that I entirely accept Mr Prescott's statement that he derived no personal financial gain from this contribution. That is not the issue at stake. The issue is whether money given to aid a specific policy investigation should be declared in the way that, for example, Jack Straw has done.

I would seek your guidance on the following points:

First, I would suggest that it should be a rule that when a contribution is made to a policy investigation the Member concerned should declare that in the Register of Interests. This is not a criticism of the Rowntree Reform Trust but unless such a rule is applied then Parliament is deprived of the knowledge of who is financing a policy investigation carried out by a political party. It would obviously be the case that if a tobacco company was financing an investigation into health policy then that would be a matter of obvious public interest.

Second, it cannot be a sensible alternative to say that the contribution was made public in some other way-for example by a press release. If that was deemed sufficient then a whole range of entries in the Register of Members' Interests could be deleted.

Third, I understand that it is claimed that the contribution went into a "blind trust". However in this case the trust cannot be deemed to be blind. The fact that the Rowntree Reform Trust made the donation was well-known to Mr Prescott for the good reason that he had applied to them for the contribution.

I believe it would be in everyone's interest if this case should be investigated so that an authoritative ruling can be given on this question.

9 March 1998



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