Select Committee on Standards and Privileges First Report


Memorandum submitted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Complaint against Mr Frank Roy MP


1.    Following articles in the press which alleged that Members of Parliament had placed bets on the outcome of the election of the Speaker on 23 October 2000 I received a number of letters from Members of Parliament and the public, raising concerns about possible breaches of the Code of Conduct or Rules for Members (but without naming an individual Member) and asking me to investigate the matter.

2.    The issues raised include the following:

    (i)  Sir Teddy Taylor, Member for Rochford & Southend East[6]—

      "I was genuinely shocked and horrified to read that certain MPs had placed bets at 20 to 1 on Mr Martin to become Speaker and had proceeded to vote for him. Is this not wholly and completely wrong and will it not further cheapen and degrade the standing of MPs?" (Annex A)

    (ii)   Mr Paul Tyler, Member for Cornwall North[7]—

      "If these bets in any way coloured MPs' judgement of the respective qualities of the different candidates for the Chair, that is obviously a very serious matter indeed, and if it affected the eventual outcome, that too must cause real concern.

      Surely, any member who has made a substantial sum betting on the outcome of the election of the new Speaker should declare that in the Register of Member's Interests?" (Annex B)

    (iii)   Mr Tony McWalter, Member for Hemel Hempstead[8]

      "My disquiet arises because my votes for the current Speaker were in some ways marginal decisions. I thought he had been the most effective Deputy Speaker, but I had to think very carefully before making that judgement. I also thought he spoke well in the debate on 23 October, but there were a large number of matters on which I would have liked to know his views but which I was not able to ascertain from what one might call the official record."


      "I do not know whether any Member to whom I spoke had placed a bet, but clearly if it turned out that one of them had done so I would feel that this was a major breach of trust. I suspect very strongly that none of them had placed a bet, but that then raises a different issue. If a Member had placed a bet, then he or she would be effectively excluding himself or herself from communicating to other Members information which perhaps should have been vouchsafed."


      "I think all of this reflects badly on any Member who placed a bet on an event which he or she could not only influence through a vote, but whose outcome he or she was in a position to influence, whether or not that Member chose to exercise such influence. Such actions in my view do bring the House into disrepute, and I say that even if sadly it turns out that it is a colleague (or colleagues) who were involved in such actions."


      "My objection comes, not as an objection to betting as such, but to the action of betting on a process in which it is assumed that one is acting in an honest and disinterested way. The disinterestedness arises because in the election for Speaker, all Members are assumed to be voting entirely on what is for the best for the House, and hence on what is best for the country. Betting compromises that irrevocably, and in future (in my view) it should be subject to the strictest sanctions." (Annex C)

    (iv)   Mr I. M. Davis of Wokingham, Berkshire[9]—

      "Under the rules governing their respective games neither footballers or cricketers are allowed to bet on matches. Presumably this is to avoid match-fixing. An extension of this argument would seem to lead to the conclusion that Members of Parliament who will be involved in voting on a specific issue should not be allowed to bet on the outcome of that vote.

      The very worst case scenario is that a number of them will collude in order to profit from their bets. The very best that can be said is that, because they have risked money on a certain result being produced, they will be totally deaf to any debate or argument that might run counter to this. Either way democracy is certainly not being served.

      If it proved that such betting has taken place then there may be a justification for reviewing the result of the vote. In any case, the acceptability of such betting within the context of Parliamentary standards does seem to require some consideration." (Annex D)

    (v)  Mr D. R. Drew of Carmarthen, Wales[10]

      " I consider it a disgraceful position if, as reported today, any Member has been betting on the outcome of the election of the Speaker. We ordinary folks out here see our Members as having a job to do for us; not in that role to engage in activities for which their positions might provide scope to make money on the side. It's but a small step to their placing wagers on the progress of other Parliamentary business." (Annex E)

    (vi)   Mr M. J. Batchelor of Swansea, Wales[11]—

      "You needn't have much imagination to assess the dynamics of this—you bet on your Party's guy getting the job and then you persuade like-minded friends to vote for him— and then, bet on him. A vicious, sleazy cycle.

      The entire matter has universally important constitutional concerns, which I hope you will also cover in your investigation." (Annex F)

3.    I wrote to those who had made such general observations to explain that my terms of reference permit me only to investigate complaints against an identified Member of Parliament.

The Complaint against Mr Roy

4.    I did, however, also receive four letters making specific complaints against Mr Roy, who had been named in some of the press articles concerning alleged betting on the election of the Speaker.

    (i)  On 26 October 2000 Mrs Margaret McDonald of Wishaw, Scotland wrote to me as follows:

      ".... I was disappointed to discover that the Member of Parliament for my own constituency benefited from this action.

      I am a Member of the Labour Party and voted for Frank Roy and now feel very let down by his action, not least because he seems to fail to see that it is not the amount of money involved but the principle of not making a financial gain from his position and devaluing the whole process of Parliamentary procedure." (Annex G)

    (ii)   On 26 October Mr Robert Henderson of London NW1 wrote to me as follows:

      "Betting on the election of a speaker

      I enclose copies of stories from the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail dated 26 October 2000. These contain details of betting by Labour Members on the outcome of the election of the Speaker. One named member, Frank Roy, has admitted doing so, but there appears to be a much wider involvement by Labour MPs. It is noteworthy that there is no suggestion of MPs from other parties being involved.

      Such behaviour breaches the Code of Conduct comprehensively." (Annex H)

5.    Mr Henderson set out the parts of the Code which he believed had been breached as follows: section II (public duty) and section III (personal conduct), including in particular the principles entitled "objectivity", " openness", "honesty" and "leadership". Mr Henderson continued:

      "I ask you to investigate all Members who placed a winning bet on the outcome of the election for Speaker (1) for these breaches of the Code of Conduct and (2) to ensure that all winnings are recorded in the Member's Register of Interests."

    (iii)   On 1 November 2000 Mrs Jean Bird of Shildon, County Durham wrote to me as follows:

      "It is an absolute outrage that Frank Roy (Labour) and others have made money betting on Michael Martin for the Speaker.

      To think that these men made profits of many thousands of pounds when crucial voting was needed to appoint the best Speaker for our Parliament and country, is beyond comprehension.

      I think by this sort of conduct they (the gamblers) have brought the House of Commons into disrepute and made a laughing stock of the whole procedure." (Annex I)

    (iv)   On 2 November 2000 Mr D R Drew wrote me to me again as follows:

      "As I understood from his Radio 4 contribution,[12] Mr Roy not only admitted having placed a bet, he strongly defended his actions as being of a very ordinary nature. Moreover, he actually endeavoured to claim some astonishment that anyone should think badly of the practice.

      I suggest that such activity is so patently inappropriate, unethical and beneath the perceived dignity of the House that it is impossible to see how any Member can contend otherwise, except by a strained pretence. Such actions unnecessarily reinforce the unfortunate impression which we outside gain of Members' attitudes of self-interest deriving from a favoured position.

      I suggest that the issue is whether Members ought to bet at all in Parliamentary matters; and not just whether any winnings ought to be declared." (Annex J)

Mr Roy's response to the complaint

6.    On 1 November 2000 I wrote to Mr Roy (Annex K) and asked him to respond to Mrs McDonald's allegation that he had placed a bet on the election for the Speaker and that he had thus made a financial gain from his position as a Member of Parliament.

7.    I asked him for an account of the events in question and, in particular, for answers to the following questions:

—  whether he had placed a bet on the outcome for the election of the Speaker, indicating, if so, the date, the stake, the amount of the winnings and whether it was an individual or a syndicated bet

—   what conversations he was involved in, and on what dates, with other Members of Parliament to ascertain the likely level of support for Mr Martin

—   whether he encouraged any other Member of Parliament to vote for Mr Martin or to bet on the outcome of the election for the Speaker

— whether he was aware of any other Member of Parliament who had placed a bet on the election.

8.    In addition, I copied to Mr Roy all the letters I had received on this subject, whether making specific complaints against Mr Roy or expressing general criticism of alleged betting on the election for Speaker.

The Code of Conduct and the Rules

9.    The Code of Conduct[13] is concerned with general principles which Members of Parliament are required to observe. So far as the complaints against Mr Roy are concerned, the relevant requirements of the Code are as follows:

    (a)  "Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends."

    (b)  "Members shall base their conduct on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two, at once, and in favour of the public interest."

    (c)  "Members must bear in mind that information which they receive in confidence in the course of their Parliamentary duties should be used only in connection with those duties, and that such information must never be used for the purpose of financial gain."

    (d)   "Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest."

    (e)  "Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and never undertake any action which would bring the House of Commons, or its Members generally, into disrepute."

10.  Mr Roy came to see me on 8 November 2000 and gave me a full account of the events in question and he wrote to me on 16 November 2000 setting out his response to the complaint in detail. (Annex L)

Sequence of events

11.  From the information provided to me by Mr Roy, the sequence of events relating to the matters raised in the complaints was as follows.

—   The then Speaker announced her resignation on 12 July 2000.

—   On 13 July The Mirror published the odds on the possible candidates for the Speaker (Annex M)

—   On 18 July (Mr Roy believes) he attended an informal meeting in the House of Commons with other potential supporters of Mr Martin, led by Mrs Ann Keen, Member for Brentford and Isleworth. but he took no further part in the work of the campaign team. When approached on this issue, he put a BBC television producer in touch with Mrs Irene Adams, Member, for Paisley North, who was involved in the campaign group supporting Mr Martin.

—   On 20 July a bet of £200 on Mr Martin to win the election for Speaker was placed on Mr Roy's behalf, and with his agreement, at odds of 20 to1.

—   Mr Roy was aware that the friend who placed the bet for him also placed a syndicated bet on Mr Martin immediately afterwards on behalf of a group of Mr Roy's constituents. In that instance, however, the odds offered were only 14 to1.

—  During the week beginning 24 July it was reported on television that Members of Parliament were betting on the election of the Speaker.

—   During the weeks up to the Summer recess, which commenced on 28 July, there was in Mr Roy's words

    "a great deal of informal chat amongst MPs about who was, or who wasn't, standing as a candidate for Speaker. Like most other Members I made my intentions known as to whom I would cast my vote for, and in my particular case it was Mr Martin."

12.  At no time did Mr Roy encourage any other Member to vote for Mr Martin but, as he put it, "when asked who I intended voting for by colleagues, I made it plain that I would be voting for Mr Martin."

13.  Mr Roy added that he "drew many people's attention to the fact that William Hill had published betting odds on candidates in various newspapers since a story appeared in The Mirror on Thursday 13 July."

14.  But Mr Roy stated that he "never at any time encouraged either MPs or members of the public to bet on the election."

15.  Mr Martin was elected as Speaker on 23 October 2000. Based on the odds he had obtained (20 to 1) on his original stake of £200, Mr Roy was entitled to receive winnings of £4,000. However, on hearing that the syndicated bet placed at the same time as his own had attracted odds of only 14 to 1, Mr Roy decided to "split the difference" with his constituents by taking winnings based on odds of 17 to 1—that is to say £3,400.

16.  Asked directly whether he knew of any other Member who had acted in the same way as him Mr Roy replied: "I am not aware of any Member who placed a bet on the election [for Speaker] other than myself".

17.  For my part, I have received no complaint other than that against Mr Roy, involving allegations of betting on the election for Speaker (or any other Parliamentary proceeding). Nor have I been provided with any relevant evidence relating to this issue which could have enabled me to determine whether any further investigation was justified in respect of any other Member.


18.  I have considered these complaints in the light of the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament, the purpose of which is "to assist Members in the discharge of their obligations to the House, their constituents and the public at large."

19.  With reference to personal conduct the Code requires Members to observe the general principles which were set out by the Committee on Standards in Public Life and adopted by the House of Commons on 19 July 1995.

20.  Having considered these requirements I have asked the following questions:

    (a)  Did Mr Roy take decisions in his capacity as a Member "solely in terms of the public interest"—not in order to gain financial benefit for himself or his friends?

21.  I have received no evidence that Mr Roy's decision to vote for Mr Martin was determined by the prospect of deriving financial benefit either for himself or his friends as a result of the bets which had been placed on Mr Martin. Mr Roy says he supported Mr Martin because he was the best candidate and I have no reason to doubt this. On the other hand, as a Member of Parliament, Mr Roy should have had regard to the likely public perception of his motives in betting on the election for Speaker.

    (b)  Did Mr Roy base his conduct in this instance "on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two, at once, and in favour of the public interest?"

22.  The public interest in the election of the Speaker is best served by Members of Parliament voting solely on the basis of the merits of the candidates for the post. As I have indicated, I accept Mr Roy's statement that this was his sole motivation in voting for Mr Martin. Nor have I received any evidence that Mr Roy actively tried to persuade other Members to support Mr Martin. For his part, Mr Roy has strongly denied doing so. Nevertheless, Mr Roy says he informed colleagues of his voting intentions and of the odds on the election then being offered by the book-makers. While I do not believe these two factors—that is to say his discussions with other Members about the election and his own financial interest in the outcome—were connected in his mind, Mr Roy did not, in my view, properly consider the public interest in this matter and resolve the likely perception of a conflict of interest on his part in favour of the public interest.

    (c)  Did Mr Roy use information he received in confidence as a Member of Parliament to achieve financial gain?

23.  The information about Mr Martin's suitability as a candidate for Speaker was not confidential as such. However, as a Member of Parliament, Mr Roy had first-hand knowledge of Mr Martin's qualities for the post (and thus his chances of winning) which would not have been available to members of the public. More importantly, Mr Roy had access to information on the voting intentions of other Members of Parliament which derived directly from his own position as a Member. Again, this knowledge was not generally accessible and therefore placed Mr Roy, theoretically at least, in a more advantageous position than a member of the public who had placed a bet on the election for Speaker. In particular, Mr Roy attended a private meeting of Mr Martin's supporters in the House of Commons on 18 July and would therefore have been aware, in some measure, of the likely level of support for Mr Martin prior to the placing of his bet on 20 July.

    (d)  Did Mr Roy "declare any private interest relating to his public duties"?

24.  Mr Roy says he did not encourage other Members of Parliament to vote for Mr Martin but made his own voting intentions known to colleagues, when asked. Mr Roy says he was open throughout with other Members that he had placed a bet on Mr Martin. Since he had a potential financial interest in the outcome, he should, in my view, have taken the initiative and mentioned his bet when discussing the election with fellow Members.

    (e)  Did Mr Roy conduct himself "in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and never undertake any action which would bring the House of Commons, or its Members generally into disrepute?"

25.  Even if, as I accept, Mr Roy did not seek to influence other Members in order to produce an outcome financially favourable to himself, his conduct did, in my view, breach the requirements of the Code of Conduct, as set out above. Mr Roy's fellow Members, as well as his constituents and the public more widely, were entitled to assume that in deciding whom to support for the post of Speaker Mr Roy's judgment was not coloured in any way by the prospect of financial gain. By his action in betting on one candidate Mr Roy created doubt as to his true motives. However unfair that may be to Mr Roy in this case, given that he did not actively canvass support for Mr Martin, there existed the potential for him to use his position as a Member to increase the likelihood of a result from which he stood to derive a pecuniary advantage. In that sense, it is the perception of impropriety on Mr Roy's part which is important.

26.  For this reason, gambling—since this is what placing a bet amounts to—on a Parliamentary proceeding, particularly one of such importance and high public profile as the election of the Speaker, can hardly fail to undermine "the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament" and certainly risks "bringing Members of Parliament and the House of Commons into disrepute."

27.  Mr Roy, in his letter of 16 November (Annex L), says "I would like to put on record the sincere regret that I wasn't able to foresee the huge disappointment felt by some people and outrage felt by some others. Hindsight is never available when it's really needed, and although I genuinely felt that I had done nothing wrong, nor had anything to hide, I do regret the whole episode."

The issue of registration in relation to Mr Roy's winnings

28.  There has been speculation in the press about whether Members of Parliament are required to register winnings from betting and, indeed, Mr Paul Tyler expressly stated that any such sums should be entered in the Register of Members' Interests.

29.  In my view, this is misconceived and based on a misunderstanding of the purpose of the Register. Winnings from gambling are not a benefit in the sense implied in the rules relating to registration and declaration of interests. A bet is a form of agreement between two parties, albeit not a legally enforceable one. Whether the better receives a payment (or forfeits his stake) is dependent either on chance or on his own ability correctly to predict the outcome of a specific event—not on the discretion or generosity of the person with whom the bet is struck. No question of influence on the part of the book-maker (or his equivalent) therefore arises. The real concern lies, as I have already described, in the conflict which betting on the outcome of a Parliamentary proceeding creates between the private interest of a Member and the public interest.


30.  The public interest in an election for Speaker is served by ensuring that all votes are cast solely on the merits of the candidates, with no other possible or perceived motive. By placing a bet on the election for Speaker Mr Roy acquired a private financial interest in its outcome. In these circumstances Mr Roy should have been alert to the possibility of a conflict of interest and, in observance of the Code of Conduct, should have resolved that conflict in favour of the public interest.

31.  There is no evidence that Mr Roy personally canvassed support for Mr Martin, or encouraged other Members to do so. Nevertheless, because Mr Roy had given himself a financial interest in securing Mr Martin's election, there was the potential for him to take advantage of his position as a Member of Parliament by attempting to promote the outcome on which he had bet.

32.  The public perception of Members of Parliament betting on the election of the Speaker (or any other Parliamentary proceeding) would not, in my view, "tend to maintain and strengthen the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament". Such action risked bringing the House of Commons "into disrepute".

Complaint upheld

33.  Mr Roy has said he regrets the whole episode.

34.  For the reasons given earlier in this memorandum,[14] no issue of registration arises in relation to Mr Roy's winnings from the bet he placed on Mr Martin as a candidate for Speaker.

Elizabeth Filkin

30 November 2000

6  Letter dated 25 October 2000. Back

7  Letter dated 25 October 2000. Back

8  Letter dated 4 November 2000. Back

9  Letter dated 27 October 2000 Back

10  Letter dated 26 October 2000. Back

11  Letter dated 5 November 2000. Back

12  Mr Roy has not spoken on this matter himself on Radio 4. Back

13  HC 688 Back

14  See paragraphs 25 and 26. Back

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