Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Seventh Report


151.  In accordance with the procedure agreed by the Committee, I provided Mr Robinson and his solicitor, Mr Bernard O'Sullivan, with a copy of my memorandum in draft, other than these conclusions.

152.  Mr Robinson's solicitor wrote to me on 25 April 2001 (Annex 1) raising a point of substance which I deal with later[106], and requesting more time to consider the draft memorandum. I replied on that day (Annex 2).

153.  On the 26 April 2001 Mr Robinson provided me with a corrected transcript of his second interview with me and informed me that he would be submitting a further response to my draft memorandum on that day.

154.  I have made corrections suggested by Mr Robinson and have taken his solicitor's observations into account before correcting and completing my memorandum and drafting these conclusions.

155.  Mr Robinson has maintained throughout that he has not received remuneration for services provided to Hollis and that he did not mislead either the Committee or the then Commissioner in 1998.

156.  I fully acknowledge the cooperation and help provided to me throughout this inquiry by Mr Robinson and, on his instructions, by his solicitor Mr Bernard O'Sullivan. Mr Robinson has made it clear to me that he is keen to unearth all the relevant documentary evidence, as he wishes to settle the matter of where the Pergamon cheque was routed and I accept the sincerity of his wish. I am also grateful for the frank and helpful accounts which I have received from the witnesses to my inquiry.

157.  During my inquiry I have been mindful of the fact that the events in question took place ten years ago and it would therefore be understandable if some detailed matters were not precisely recollected especially by those who, at the time, would not have been aware of their particular significance.

158.  When the Committee and the then Commissioner considered this matter in 1998 some records were unavailable to them or to Mr Robinson. The endeavours of Mr Robinson's solicitor; Arthur Andersens, the receivers of TransTec Ltd plc; The National Westminster Bank; PricewaterhouseCoopers, the auditors of Transfer Technology; and the DTI inspectors have unearthed much more documentation, although it is still not comprehensive. This means that there remains an element of doubt which I have borne in mind throughout my consideration of the information which I have assembled from the documentation and from my interviews with witnesses.

(i)   Registration of remuneration from Hollis Industries plc

159.  In the light of the information which I have described above, I have concluded that Mr Robinson or his beneficial interests received the payment of £200,000 in 1990 in respect of management services provided to Hollis/Lock. A cheque for £200,000 was paid by Pergamon AGB against Mr Robinson's invoice in respect of management services provided by Mr Robinson and his company, Transfer Technology Ltd. Mrs Caddock received Mr Robinson's instructions that the cheque should be paid to him personally and she recorded that he was not registered for VAT. Mr Stoney, the Pergamon Finance Director, wrote "paid" on the invoice and on his later instructions the fee was charged to Hollis Industries plc and accrued as a debt in their accounts. The cheque itself may have been made payable to Transfer Technology Ltd. or to Mr Robinson, or to some other person. As I have previously explained, the precise identity of the original payee is not of overriding significance.[107]

160.  Members are required to register any employment "which is remunerated or in which the Member has any pecuniary interest[108]". This would equally apply whether a payment for a Member's services was used to pay off a debt from one of a Member's own companies to another or was paid directly into a personal account or one which he or she controlled.

161.  This remuneration was certainly registrable. Mr Robinson did not register it.

Complaint upheld

(ii)   Information provided by Mr Robinson to the Committee in 1998

162.  During its 1998 inquiry, the Committee received "the clearest assurances from Mr Robinson that he did not receive the payment shown in the published accounts of Hollis".

The then Commissioner said —

    "Although there can be no certainty on this matter, on the evidence I have seen I think the likelihood is that Mr Robinson did not receive payment of £200,000 and that the published accounts are in error. Certainly there is insufficient evidence on which to reach a contrary decision."[109]

163.  It may have been accurate in a literal sense for Mr Robinson to have said in1998 that he did not receive this payment, in that it was not paid into any of his personal bank accounts. The cheque could have been made payable to Transfer Technology Ltd., to some other recipient or endorsed over to someone else.[110] However, in my opinion there is little room for doubt that the £200,000, which reduced the Roll Centre debt to Transfer Technology, was facilitated by the £200,000 paid by Pergamon AGB against Mr Robinson's invoice for £200,000 for management services to Hollis/Lock. These services, according to the exchange of letters negotiating the terms of the fee included Mr Robinson's own performance in the roles of Chairman and Chief Executive.

164.  It is my view that in December 1990 this payment constituted a benefit to Transfer Technology, in which Mr Robinson had a personal pecuniary interest. And the way in which the relevant funds were used to reduce Roll Centre's debt in turn smoothed the way for the sale of Transfer Technology to Central & Sheerwood, from which Mr Robinson derived a considerable personal financial benefit in May 1991.

165.  Mr Robinson failed, in 1998, to provide the Committee or the then Commissioner with a full and accurate account, either in terms of documentation or in his replies. At the very least, Mr Robinson should have informed them of the invoice which his office had generated and the correspondence in which he negotiated and agreed the fee for the services which were provided to Lock, the Hollis subsidiary.

166.  The facts that:

    (i)   the payment covered services which were more extensive than just those of chairman;

    (ii)   it was made through a Pergamon cheque rather than a Hollis Industries cheque; and

    (iii)   the cheque may have been paid into a Transfer Technology Ltd. account or some other account controlled by Mr Robinson, rather than one of his personal accounts

    do not, in my opinion, affect the position.

167.  It may be that Mr Robinson was unwitting in this and that he had genuinely forgotten the details of these negotiations, that an invoice had been raised and that he had requested that the cheque be paid to him personally. Mr Robinson has not said this, despite being advised by Mr Jeremy Roberts QC "to consider whether on reflection the explanation might be that the money had indeed gone to Transfer Technology Ltd. but that he had genuinely forgotten it when asked about it some years later."

168.  However, Members have a duty of accountability under the Code of Conduct which requires them to provide all relevant information which might assist the Committee in considering a complaint. A Member does not fulfil this duty if he gives answers which, whilst literally correct, omit information which would enable the Committee and the Commissioner to obtain a complete picture of the events in question. In my opinion, in failing to provide full answers to the Committee's questions in 1998, Mr Robinson misled the Committee about this payment by withholding information which might have led them to reach a different conclusion. Since I was not in post in 1998, it must be for the Committee to decide whether Mr Robinson's omissions were inadvertent or not.

Complaint upheld

(iii)   Request for remuneration

169.  Both Mr Heathcoat-Amory and Mr Bower say that Mr Robinson denied that he had agreed or solicited the £200,000 fee and imply that, in doing so, Mr Robinson additionally misled the Committee.

170.  The Chairman wrote to Mr Robinson on 23 June 1998[111] and asked him —

"(ii)   Did you expect to receive any benefit of any kind in respect of your chairmanship of the company?"

to which Mr Robinson replied on 30 June 1998 "No".

171.  Dr Ahmed confirmed during his oral evidence that this fee was anticipated by Transfer Technology. Both the correspondence negotiating and agreeing the fee, in which Mr Robinson participated, and the invoice which Mr Robinson raised from his home address demonstrate that Mr Robinson's reply to the Chairman's question was incorrect and therefore misleading.

Complaint upheld

(iv)   Tax liability

172.  Mr Heathcoat-Amory raised in his letter of complaint the question of whether Mr Robinson had correctly accounted for any tax due in respect of this payment.

173.  In my consideration of Mr Robinson's motives for these arrangements I have mentioned some of the possible effects of particular courses of action on tax liability but I have made no finding. It is not for me to consider whether any tax is outstanding on the Pergamon payment or, if so, whether Mr Robinson would be liable for it. That is a matter entirely for Mr Robinson, the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise.

106  See paragraphs 174 and 175. Back

107  See paragraph 138. Back

108  Refer to Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members, 24 July 1996, p. 9. Back

109  See 18th Report of Session 1997-98, HC 975 p. x paragraph 28 (iii). Back

110  See paragraph 138. Back

111  See 18th Report of Session 1997-98, HC 975 Annex 5 p. xxv. Back

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