Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Seventh Report


Letter to the Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges

from Mr Bernard O'Sullivan, Dechert, Solicitors

I represent Mr Geoffrey Robinson MP and he has asked me to write to you in respect of an enquiry currently being conducted by Mrs Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

On 19 March 2001 David Heathcoat-Amory MP made a complaint to Mrs Filkin about Mr Robinson. Mrs Filkin began to investigate this complaint shortly thereafter. The complaint is similar in substance as that dealt with by the Committee on Standards and Privileges in 1998 and that dealt with during the course of 1999 by Hugh Aldous, an independent inspector appointed by the Department of Trade and Industry under Section 447 of the Companies Act 1985.

The substance of the complaint is whether Mr Robinson has received a £200,000 payment in 1990/1991 for his work as chairman of Hollis Industries plc. If Mr Robinson did receive that payment then it would have been a registrable payment under the Parliamentary Rules in force at that time.

In 1998 the Parliamentary Committee on Standards and Privileges ruled that on the basis of the evidence they have seen that Mr Robinson had not received this payment. The DTI investigation conducted by Mr Hugh Aldous was concluded in December 1999. In that month it was announced that no further action would be taken against Mr Robinson.

The DTI investigation was a prolonged affair. Much work was done by Mr Aldous and also by those advising Mr Robinson to establish what had gone on in 1990. The net result of this work, is that despite the best efforts of Mr Robinson in particular and also Mr Aldous the two documents which would establish the true position were not found, and presumed destroyed or lost because of the passage of time. The prolonged nature of the investigation caused Mr Robinson to carefully consider his position and, at the end of this process, his position remained the same: that he had never received this money.

When Mrs Filkin began her investigation Mr Robinson was hopeful that it would be completed as soon as possible. To this end Mr Robinson has co-operated very fully with Mrs Filkin and she expressly acknowledges this. There is no question here, unlike perhaps some other cases, of a Member being obstructive.

At 5.45pm on Tuesday 24 April 2001 Mrs Filkin's draft memorandum was made available. The draft memorandum runs to 62 pages and 148 paragraphs. It is supported by several hundred pages of annexes. Some of these annexes Mr Robinson has seen before (indeed he voluntarily provided them to Mrs Filkin). However, there are long detailed notes and transcripts of interviews between Mrs Filkin and witnesses and exchanges of correspondence between Mrs Filkin and witnesses which Mr Robinson has never seen before.

Mrs Filkin, in our view, has made a number of factual errors in her draft memorandum and, as a consequence, has reached an erroneous conclusion that Mr Robinson received this money. As a consequence of this Mrs Filkin makes the most serious and grave accusation against Mr Robinson. What Mrs Filkin is saying in effect is that Mr Robinson is a liar, he has evaded tax, he has deliberately misled Parliament and he has deliberately misled his closest and trusted colleagues. Mr Robinson vehemently disputes this. It is based on a number of incorrect factual understandings and inferences drawn from incomplete evidence—incomplete despite the strongest efforts of Mr Robinson to find all of the relevant papers.

Despite the grave nature of these allegations, because of the present timetable of the Committee, Mrs Filkin has felt able to give Mr Robinson only one day in which to respond. It is simply not possible to do so in the time frame. Nor is it fair or proper to leave so little time.

I enclose copies of a letter I have written to Mrs Filkin and of her response to me[114] and Mr Robinson's letter to Mrs Filkin. Mrs Filkin has said that she is required by the Committee of Standards and Privileges to complete her memorandum and send it to them by the end of Thursday 26 April. Mr Robinson was simply not in a position to respond to Mrs Filkin in the one day she has allowed.

Mr Robinson cannot let Mrs Filkin's draft memorandum stay on the record. He must prepare a complete and thorough analysis of it to rebut it and to show Mrs Filkin that she has reached erroneous conclusions. I believe Mr Robinson will be able to do this. He requires time to do so. I have asked for a little over two weeks in which to do it. In my experience in handling regulatory enquiries from a wide number of bodies, such a period of time would be the absolute minimum allowed to a person to deal with something with such grave consequences as are present here.

As Mr Robinson says in his letter to Mrs Filkin of yesterday, she puts Mr Robinson's personal integrity and future at stake in what she writes.

I very much regret having to write this letter to you, but I do believe that the proposed timeframe allowed, bearing in mind the circumstances and the gravity of the allegations, is wholly unrealistic and unfair. Mrs Filkin has herself been working under intense time pressure. It is our belief that this has caused her to make the errors she has made in her draft memorandum. To proceed on the timeframe suggested, even if it were possible, would only compound the damage. Mr Robinson has a right to respond fully and properly to the draft memorandum and to have a fair hearing and a fair opportunity to deal with these grave allegations. In normal circumstances I have no doubt that Mrs Filkin would allow Mr Robinson the minimal time that he has requested. The reason why Mrs Filkin has not done so is because of the anticipated imminent general election. It must be right, I would respectfully suggest, that Mr Robinson's position should not be irreparably damaged by this consideration.

In the circumstances, therefore, I wonder if you would be good enough to consult with your colleagues on the Committee, who by now will have seen the scale and complexity of the draft memorandum and accompanying annexes, and allow Mr Robinson until 11 May to prepare his reply.

27 April 2001

114  See Appendix 1, Annexes 1 and 2. Back

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