Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 80 - 99)

TUESDAY 18 MAY 1999

MR PETER MANDELSON

  80.  So if we take the purchase price of about £465,000 and add on spending about £60,000 to do it up, that comes to above the 500——
  (Mr Mandelson)  I am not quite sure it was as much as 60. I think it was more like 40 or 50. I cannot remember precisely.

  81.  That would then be covered by the £150,000 mortgage from the building society and the £373,000 from Geoffrey Robinson?
  (Mr Mandelson)  Yes.

  82.  So by selling Wilmington Square you would have had roughly an extra £80,000, having paid back the mortgage on Hutton?
  (Mr Mandelson)  When you say "an extra £80,000"——

  83.  If you sold Wilmington Square for 170, say, and you have a £40,000 mortgage, that leaves about 130, say agent's costs and others, 120——
  (Mr Mandelson)  Hutton, did you say?

  84.  Selling Wilmington Square; you have still got Hutton.
  (Mr Mandelson)  No, I am paying back the Hutton mortgage at the same time as I sold Wilmington Square.

  85.  It would seem to those of us on this Committee that you would have about £80,000 surplus once you get to the stage where you have no mortgage on Hutton and you have sold Wilmington Square and paid back that mortgage as well?
  (Mr Mandelson)  I accept what you say because presumably from that I paid the £40,000 to Geoffrey and then spent £40-50,000 on Northumberland, so that would square. I accept what you say because it seems logical and it seems to fit with my recollection. I do not have a precise recollection. I do not have this in front of me and I am not the most numerate person in the world.

  86.  May I then switch thoughts and return with some reluctance to your mother. Was it likely that your mother could have produced over £300,000 in cash without selling her home?
  (Mr Mandelson)  Certainly, yes.

  87.  The answer is yes?
  (Mr Mandelson)  Yes. She could have done. Whether she would have done is a matter ——

  88.  That is not my question.
  (Mr Mandelson)  Did she have the financial means to do so? Yes.

  89.  Without touching property?
  (Mr Mandelson)  She would not have had to sell her property, no. Do not forget also, when all this blew up her first reaction to me and my brother was, when I first learnt that all this was going to be disclosed, although I had never anticipated the hoo-ha and the hysteria of the press and the incineration of me by the press, but she was prepared then, and offered, to replace Geoffrey's loan then and, quite honestly, if we had had more warning that all this was going to happen and I had thought about it in time and certainly had thought about it in advance of the sensational disclosure of all the headlines about secrecy and all the other stuff that went into it, she would have replaced the loan, or she said that she was willing to replace the loan.

  90.  May I turn to Herbert Smith. I do not want to go into too much detail but there is in one part, which is actually in the section about "Payment of Deposit", where I think I can use a direct quotation, which is this: "Had he"—that is you, Peter Mandelson—"not reached this conclusion, we are instructed that he would not have exchanged contracts." They use the expression "we are instructed". Is that likely to have come directly from you or is it likely to have come from your lawyers, because Herbert Smith, of course, spoke with you and with your lawyers?
  (Mr Mandelson)  I do not see why they should take that from my solicitor, no. I do not see how my solicitor can say that. I do not think so but I do not know. I am afraid I have not read in full the report, I have only had it since lunch time and it was not my priority to read it, I was reading the Commissioner's report and preparing my observations about that. "Instructed" seems as if they were taking instructions from me; they were not taking instructions from me.

  91.  How I interpret that expression "...he would not have exchanged contracts" is that it does not come from you. In other parts of their note to the building society they say "Mr Mandelson said..." I think that is possibly the distinction and it may be a distinction of significance, "we are instructed". Could we start from a different direction. If Herbert Smith said to you "would you have exchanged contracts if you had known that your family were not going to produce the cash?" do you think you would have said "I would not have exchanged contracts", or do you think we have to go back to the more obvious interpretation of these words that you were not asked that question but somebody else answered it saying "we are instructed to say that he would not have exchanged contracts"?
  (Mr Mandelson)  I do not remember being asked that specific question although I was interviewed by Herbert Smith over a period of three hours in a most aggressive way. I cannot remember precisely every question that was put to me. I do not remember that specific question being put to me. Nor can I imagine anyone else that I would have authorised to say it on my behalf because I would have remembered being asked that.

  92.  Can I turn to one last area, at least for the time being, which is the question of openness with the media. Each of us have had experience of dealing with the media and being pursued on things which we do not think are right to discuss. The Evening Standard had two articles, one in the middle of what looks like an interview with you saying that you can get a reaction out of Peter Mandelson by asking about the new house in Northumberland Place and they say "Eventually Mr Mandelson produced a perfectly reasonable explanation..." as to how he had paid for it. Can you help us by saying——
  (Mr Mandelson)  Sorry, who was the interview with?

  93.  The article is by Alex Renton. It is a profile headed "You're in power, Peter, you can calm down".
  (Mr Mandelson)  I do not recall ever giving an interview to Alex Renton, nor do I think it is likely. He is a person who, I believe, is personally and politically unsympathetic to me. The possibility of my agreeing to give him an interview is very remote.

  94.  I did not say that you had given an interview to him, I said the article appears to have his name at the top of it. The interview may have been with somebody else. Do you have the article, it is the one that is headed "30 June 1997 Profile".
  (Mr Mandelson)  Yes.

  95.  I draw your attention to the last paragraph, the one that starts, "The latest surefire way..." In the fifth line, the sentence that starts "Eventually Mr Mandelson produced a perfectly reasonable explanation...."
  (Mr Mandelson)  You have to understand the circumstances in which this took place. I was being pursued not simply by the Evening Standard. I cannot remember the precise time of this. I was being pursued throughout by Punch magazine, I believe at the specific request of Mohammed Al Fayed. They were going knocking on the doors of my neighbours asking them questions about me, about my private life, who came to stay at my house, how often was I there, what happened, did they see anything suspicious. Each one of my neighbours was asked by Mr Al Fayed's reporter, and I say Mr Al Fayed's reporter because I believe he controls directly what Punch magazine does. I can hardly be blamed for being evasive and sensitive and touchy. It says "The latest surefire way of arousing Mr Mandelson...", dead right it was because I was fed up to the back teeth with what those people were doing. When the Punch magazine people had finished incidentally, if I can just complete this, the Independent on Sunday newspaper editor, Rosie Boycott, sent her own reporters round to knock on my neighbours' doors to find out how they liked receiving visits from Punch magazine journalists, so it happened all over again. This went on and it is still happening today. Even today when I got up this morning at 11.30, having stayed up all night, there was a note. No, sorry. When I got back this morning at 5.30 there was a note from my neighbour saying "More pest control. Yesterday a Daily Mail journalist rang at my door to ask me questions about what you were doing with your house and asked me to give any details of your cleaner so that they could find out from her what you are doing". Yes, I am sensitive.

  96.  The question I was going to ask you about was about those words, "a perfectly reasonable explanation", not about sensitivity.
  (Mr Mandelson)  Where is that?

  97.  The fifth line: "Mr Mandelson produced a perfectly reasonable explanation".
  (Mr Mandelson)  Yes.

  98.  What do you think a "a perfectly reasonable explanation" might have been? Do you think it is true?
  (Mr Mandelson)  I have no idea what I said. I cannot remember what I said to him, if I did say anything at all to him actually. He does not say that I said this to him. There was a journalist working for the Evening Standard at the time—Mark Honigsbaum. Indeed, I think he started this, not Alex Renton. These stories and enquiries by the Evening Standard did not start with Alex Renton, they started with Mark Honigsbaum and then he—Renton— pursued them. I do not know what I said to him. I have no recollection at all of speaking to him.

  99.  Mark is the journalist who wrote the book "MPs for Hire"?
  (Mr Mandelson)  No, I think that was someone else. I have never met Mr Honigsbaum.


 
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