Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Thirteenth and Fourteenth Report


Memorandum submitted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Complaints against Marjorie Mowlam and Dr Jack Cunningham

1.  Mr Peter Ainsworth, Member for East Surrey, wrote to me on 24 June 1999 (Annex A) enclosing a press cutting referring to donations allegedly made by Mr Greg Dyke to the offices of Dr Marjorie Mowlam, Member for Redcar, and Dr Jack Cunningham, Member for Copeland, during their respective periods as Shadow Heritage Spokesmen in the last Parliament. Dr Mowlam held this position from 1993 to 1994, and Dr Cunningham from 1995 to 1997. Mr Ainsworth asked me to investigate the apparent omission of these payments from the Register of Members' Interests at the relevant dates.

2.  The Rules on the Registration and Declaration of Financial Interests have always required the registration of support towards the cost of research assistance. Depending on the circumstances, this has normally been included either in Category 4 of the Register (Sponsorship) or Category 5 (Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality from UK sources).

3.  The relevant extracts from the Rules are as follows:

"Sponsorship (Category 4)

... Subsection (b) relates to other forms of sponsorship, which is interpreted to cover any regular or continuing support from companies or organisations from which the Member receives any financial or material benefit in support of his or her role as a Member of Parliament. For example, it is necessary to register the provision of free or subsidised accommodation and the provision of the services of a research assistant free or at a subsidised rate ..."

"Gifts, benefits and hospitality from UK sources (Category 5)

This section is for the registration of any gift or material advantage above a specified value, received by the Member of Parliament or the Member's spouse from any company, organisation or person within the United Kingdom, which in any way relates to membership of the House ...."

4.  To ensure full disclosure of their interests, Members are also required to keep the overall definition of the Register's purpose in mind which is "to provide information of any pecuniary interest or other material benefit which a Member receives which might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions, speeches or votes in Parliament, or actions taken in his or her capacity as a Member of Parliament."

The complaint against Dr Mowlam

5.  Dr Mowlam explained to me in her letters of 20 July and 2 November 1999 (Annexes B and F) that in 1994 she had received a one-off donation from Mr Dyke in his individual capacity which was not intended to benefit her personally, but to help towards the costs of her political responsibilities. She had then made the following entry in the Register published as at 31 January 1995, which she intended to cover Mr Dyke's contribution:

"Researcher paid for partly out of office expenses and partly out of donations to the Marjorie Mowlam Research Fund." (Annex C)

She said she had consulted the Registrar "on the precise form of words I should use to describe any individual donations I received towards the Marjorie Mowlam Research Fund".

6.  The Registrar has no recollection of discussing the amount of individual donations to the Fund or the identity of particular donors (Annex D). He wrote to her on 12 January 1995 to say he had made a Register entry in line with her previous entry concerning the Fund in 1992 (Annex B).

7.  Dr Mowlam first set up the Marjorie Mowlam Research Fund in 1992, a year in which she had received a number of donations to fund staff and research projects, and registered the Fund at the time (Annex G). No further contributions were made to the Fund until Mr Dyke's donation in 1994, as a consequence of which she reinstated her Register entry with the general description as previously.

8.  The Marjorie Mowlam Research Fund was the subject of an earlier complaint in 1996 to my predecessor, Sir Gordon Downey, that a contribution of £21,000 to the Fund by the Mirror Group throughout 1995 had not been specifically registered. Dr Mowlam said in her reply of 30 April 1996 to Sir Gordon's inquiries:

"For the years 1992/93, 1993/94 and 1994/95 I received money from Unison, BIFU and Short Money which covered the cost of my research projects and staff.

In 1995/96 I increased my staff slightly in my Redcar office and in London to be prepared in policy terms for government. I wrote to a number of people and corporations asking for donations for research as I had done four years previously. I had a holding message from Tony O'Reilly, from Heinz Corporation, who has not been well but is still considering the matter and I am hoping to receive a contribution from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd. I am waiting for this to be finalised and will register it if and when it is confirmed.

As I was hoping for a number of one off donations from a variety of sources, all of which would declare the donations in their own annual reports, I recreated the Marjorie Mowlam Research Fund as I had done previously.

The first time I set up the fund I discussed the matter with the Registrar. The second time, I repeated the entry on the assumption that it was on the same basis as before.

There has been some suggestion that by the way I entered the MGN contribution was to hide its origin. Nothing was further from my mind. I was repeating past practice. I knew the contribution had been passed and minuted by the Mirror Board and would appear in their annual report.

I have always done my utmost to follow the rules of the House. The part of the Rules on the Registration and Declaration of Financial Interests (October 1993) relating to sponsorship (Page 5) reads:

'25. Subsection (b) relates to other forms of sponsorship, which is interpreted to cover any regular or continuing support from companies or organisations from which the Member receives any financial or material benefit in support of his or her role as a Member of Parliament.'

As the Marjorie Mowlam Research Fund was set up because I was hoping to receive a number of one-off payments from different sources, at different times and for different periods, I therefore believe it conforms with the rules.

In retrospect it might have been better, with just one donation in the Fund, to declare its source but I was continually hopeful of receiving additional donations. I do not think I have broken the rules of Members' Interests, but if you or the Committee take the view that I have, I apologise."

9.  In his report on the 1996 complaint, Sir Gordon reached the following conclusions:

"The rules relating to research support are not specific in requiring identification of the source. This contrasts with other categories of more personal benefit (directorships, remunerated employment etc.) where the details required for registration are spelt out more fully. Thus, for remunerated employment, Members are asked to provide not only the name of the employer company and the nature of its business but also to indicate the nature of the post which they hold in the company or the services for which the company remunerates them. In the case of regular sponsorship and gifts there is no such guidance.

Given that Ms Mowlam has registered an interest, it can therefore be argued that she is not formally in breach of the rules. However, a number of other considerations need to be taken into account.

(i)    the purpose of the Register is to provide information about any benefit which might reasonably be thought by others to influence a Member's actions. Although Ms Mowlam received no personal payment, the help provided in her work must be regarded as an indirect benefit.

(ii)    that being so, it is desirable that other people should know the source of the benefit so that they can satisfy themselves that improper influence is not being sought.

(iii)  if a number of modest contributions were being made to a research fund, it may well be reasonable that these should not be listed in full. But a single, substantial, contribution from the Mirror is, I think, a matter of public interest.

My conclusion, therefore, is that although Ms Mowlam has not breached the letter of the Rules, the spirit of those Rules would have been better served by disclosure of the source."

Sir Gordon said he had "discussed this conclusion with Ms Mowlam. She accepts it and offers her apologies to the House."[1]

10.  Dr Mowlam now acknowledges, in response to Mr Ainsworth's complaint, that Mr Dyke's contribution of £5000 constituted another donation to the Fund which was received before the earlier complaint. She recognises "that it would have been better in retrospect to have acknowledged Greg Dyke's donation to the Marjorie Mowlam Research Fund in the submission" to Sir Gordon. She said that this was an oversight on her part, and apologised for any confusion this may have caused. She has confirmed to me that no further substantial contributions were made to the Fund between 1994 and 1996 (Annex E).


11.  The then Commissioner concluded in 1996 that even if Dr Mowlam did not breach the letter of the Rules in 1995 because she had registered the Research Fund, their spirit would have been better served by specific disclosure of the Mirror payment. The Committee accepted the Commissioner's report.

12.  I share the Committee's and the then Commissioner's view that a single substantial contribution is a matter of public interest and that the Rules are best upheld by disclosure in such circumstances. I regard a payment of £5000 from a single source as substantial and therefore requiring a specific entry in the Register, and I conclude that the payment from Mr Dyke should also have been registered.

13.  I agree with Dr Mowlam that she ought to have told the Commissioner of Mr Dyke's donation during the 1996 investigation. Dr Mowlam inaccurately informed the Commissioner that there had been just the one donation to the Research Fund whereas Mr Dyke's contribution preceded the Mirror's.

14.  I uphold the complaint that the donation from Mr Dyke of £5000 to the Marjorie Mowlam Research Fund should have been disclosed in the Register of Members' Interests not later than January 1995. In addition Dr Mowlam should have provided accurate information to the Commissioner in 1996 and acknowledged the omission at that point.

The complaint against Dr Cunningham

15.  Dr Cunningham made the following entry in the Registers dated 31 March 1996 and 31 January 1997:

"President of the Industry Forum (unremunerated). The Forum exists to promote a dialogue between Labour and the private sector. The Forum finances research on policy issues for me and my Front Bench Team."

16.  In letters to me on 20 July (not printed) and 11 October 1999 (Annex H) Dr Cunningham explained that, when he was Shadow Heritage Secretary, financial support for his office was provided by the Industry Forum; the arrangement ceased as at 1 May 1997. He added:

"I had no access to the bank accounts or details of individual contributions to the Industry Forum. The list of members is not published. All financial transactions were handled by the Forum Trustees. Research funding to my Office from the Forum was decided by them. It was paid and administered independently of me."

17.  In response to my enquiry, he acknowledged that Mr Dyke had made a single contribution to research funding for his office, but that he was not aware of the contribution "until some considerable time afterwards". He had now confirmed with the administrators of his office fund that the payment had been made on 3 May 1996.

18.  Members will be aware that such funding arrangements (Blind Trusts) were common during the last Parliament. We have no information which indicates that any such arrangements have been set up since the election. Indeed the Fifth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended:

"Blind trusts should be prohibited as a mechanism for funding political parties, party leaders or their offices, Members of Parliament or parliamentary candidates."


19.  Under the arrangements made by Dr Cunningham for the funding of his office when he held the Shadow Heritage portfolio, all financial transactions were handled by the Trustees of the Industrial Forum. He tells me that he had no personal knowledge at the time of the identity of individual contributors. In such circumstances, he could only have registered the support his office received from the Industry Forum in general terms and he could not have been influenced by the particular donation.

20.  I am satisfied that Dr Cunningham's entries in the 1996 and 1997 Registers complied with the Rules of Registration on those dates, and I do not uphold the complaint against him.

Elizabeth Filkin

2 November 1999

1  Fifth Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, Session 1995-96 (HC 636). Back

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