Examination of Witness (Questions 378
TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2000
378. John, I apologise for being so delayed
due to the evidence and divisions, but thank you for coming along.
First of all, we do not normally, as you probably know, take evidence
on oath but it may be if there is a subsequent evidence session
such an oath might be administered. The first question I would
like to put to you is, do you have an introductory statement you
would like to put before the Committee?
(Mr Maxton) In view of the hour, Mr Chairman,
I will be very brief with an opening statement. I would firstly
like to thank you and the Committee for giving me the opportunity
to appear before you to discuss this matter. After nearly ten
months I am delighted it appears there will soon be a resolution
of it, at least I hope that is my hope anyway. It has been a long,
frustrating and at times stressful experience. The stress was
caused by the frustration I often felt at the lack of information
I was getting about the inquiry. There were times when I now appreciate,
having read some of the documentation, that that spilled over
into my relations with the Commissioner. While in no way detracting
from the case I was trying to put to her, I do apologise through
you, Mr Chairman, for any ill-temper I may at times, I think most
of you would agree rather uncharacteristically, displayed to her.
I hope she will accept that in the terms it is meant.
(Ms Filkin) Of course, Chairman.
(Mr Maxton) I do not intend to make a lengthy opening
statement, however I do wish to reiterate that I am innocent of
the charge which has been levelled against me. I have, I think,
spelt out in my own submission to you the reasons why I do not
believe there is any evidence to support the conclusions to which
the Commissioner has come in her report. I was somewhat surprised
by it, partially because I did not think there was any evidence
which could really be shown as evidence, and I have to say I was
also slightly surprised because following my submission to Ms
Filkin for the answers to the questions she asked I heard nothing
further from her. She did not ask to see me as I had expected,
she did not ask for any further evidence either from myself or
Mr Winslow, at a time when I knew she was still seeking evidence
from other witnesses. I therefore, very wrongly as it has proved,
believed she was convinced by the answers I had given and would
find in my favour. I will leave it at that in view of the lateness
of the hour and would be delighted to answer any questions you
379. The most important one for me at this stage
concerns the way in which the work was done by Chris Winslow during
the period when he was also working for the Labour Party, and
I am trying to find out how that might have affected the way in
which he did the work for you. We are all Members of Parliament
with very busy constituencies, what would you say were the details
of the work carried out by Chris Winslow during the time he was
working on the campaign?
(Mr Maxton) He did a variety of different duties.
380. What did he do?
(Mr Maxton) I emphasise, as he says, he did not do
any of the constituency cases for me, his work was in research
and was in newspapers. Down here it is often very difficult, as
members will know, to get hold of the Scottish newspapers at an
hour which is suitable. I had someone at that point, Mr Winslow
working for me, monitoring the press. I appreciate, as Ms Filkin
has suggested, that of course this job could have been done both
for myself and for the Labour Party and it would be very similar
work, but it was still being done for me, and Mr Winslow was reporting
to me accordingly. He also did other work. If I can just give
an example, although to be honest I cannot remember every detail
of every piece of work he did for me, as you may know I am on
the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee, and I was very
interested in particular in the way in which the money, particularly
Millennium money, was being spent in Scotland as part of the inquiry
we were doing into that particular aspect of our work, and therefore
I askedagain because it was easier for him to do it in
Scotland than for me to do it down herefor him to look
into that matter.
Chairman: Thank you.
381. I wonder if I can just press you a little
further on that. How did you decide the contract with him? What
sort of hours did you anticipate he would do or, if not, what
sort of objective did you set him in determining the salary he
would be paid?
(Mr Maxton) The problem, as always, with hours, as
you will know from your own work as a Member of Parliament, is
that it is not always easy to specify exactly what the hours are
going to be in any one week at any one time. I very much work
on the basis, as I am sure we all do, of setting him work to do,
objectives, things he had to get done for me. The on-going one
was the media monitoring to make sure that I was aware of what
was happening in Scotlandpartially resolved, if you like,
from my point of view, by the internet, I hasten to add, because
I can now read the Scottish newspapers and listen to Scottish
radio in a way which I certainly could not have done at that point
in timeand also to do these regular pieces of work for
me. Twenty hours a week. Yes, I think he did 20 hours a week for
me. It would not always be 20 hours in every week, it might be
more than that in some weeks, that would depend on what he was
382. So there came a time when the Labour Party
were looking for additional staffing. Can you recall the conversations
you had about his involvement at that time?
(Mr Maxton) No. I think I ought to make absolutely
clear to the Committee that I had no conversations with anybody
in the Labour Party about the employment of Chris Winslow, no
official in the Labour Party at any time and at any point. I was
not involved in any of the decisions that were being made by the
Labour Party. As far as I was concerned I employed Chris Winslow
for 20 hours a week. If, in fact, the Labour Party took him on
for more than that, as far as I was concerned that was a matter
for him and for them. It was not a matter for me and it was not
discussed with me by anybody in the Labour Party and it was not
even discussed with me by Chris Winslow, except in the most casual
way to say "yes, I am working longer hours".
383. I do not know whether you have had the
opportunity to see the transcript from this morning?
(Mr Maxton) Yes, I have.
384. You will recall that Mr Rowley does not
suggest that you had any direct dealings with him but does refer
to his belief that you had an arrangement with Ann-Marie Whyte.
Is there any justification for that?
(Mr Maxton) No. I really do not understand why Mr
Rowley believes that. He obviously believes it because he has
said it before. I had no conversations with Ann-Marie Whyte about
this at any time, nor, as I say, with any other official within
the Labour Party. I have to say, that is also borne out by the
evidence from Miss Whyte herself. She says that conversation never
took place. I am sorry Mr Rowley believes this but I do not understand
why he believes it. I would think it very strange indeed for a
Member of Parliament, who was going to do into that sort of arrangement,
to do it through not a junior member of staff, because she was
not quite that, she was the office manager but she was not the
manager of the Labour Party in Scotland, which is what Mr Rowley
was. I would assume if somebody was going to do that, they would
go to Mr Rowley and make that offer and do that, rather than to
the office manager. I emphasise again, I had no contact with Miss
Whyte about this, nor did I have any with Mr Rowley, nor, as I
emphasise againthis is one of the problems I have had throughout
thiswas I ever involved. I was involved on the Labour Party
in Scotland up until 1992 when I was Donald Dewar's Deputy on
the Front Bench. As such I served on the Scottish Executive of
the Labour Party. I was a regular visitor to what was then Keir
Hardie House, which was the headquarters before their present
one. Rather, they have now moved again. At that point, yes, I
would have known who all the office staff were and I would have
been talking to him, but after 1992, when I returned to the back
benches, I had no involvement in the management of the Labour
Party in Scotland. I was not on the Executive Committee and I
really did not have anything to do with them. I was not involved
in any of this planning which Mr Rowley, for some reason, claims
to have taken place.
385. Did you know that your employee was working
for the Labour Party? Did that become known to you? When did that
become known to you?
(Mr Maxton) Of course I knew he was. At the same time
basically. I took him on, he was an undergraduate, he had just
left university, I was looking for somebody and so was the Labour
Party and the Labour Party took him on. As far as I am aware there
is no problem with that. I employed him part-time but equally
he could have been working in a bar at night part-time. The two
employments were separate. That was a matter for the Labour Party
employing him and a matter for me. Of course, Mr Winslow was an
active member of the Labour Party, I accept that.
386. Did you discuss with him or anyone else
whether he could perform his obligations to you as a Member of
Parliament whilst working for the Labour Party or did you make
an assumption that that would be okay?
(Mr Maxton) I made the assumption that as long as
he did the work, and having read the transcript I know that Mr
Rafferty supports me in this, as far as I was concerned he was
doing the 20 hours I was seeking from him and if he then worked
longer hours than necessary for the Labour Party, again that was
a matter for him.
387. Did you ever have any reason to believe
that he was not completing his contract with you satisfactorily?
(Mr Maxton) No. There was, of course, the actual period
of the election itself and here there is, if you like, some dispute.
I knew Chris Winslow would leave my employment because that was
what I had agreed, that it would be for a 12 month period in the
initial period. He would be leaving my employment because he told
me that he was likely to get a job with the Scottish Executive
and, therefore, he had a holiday entitlement to come, there was
an election, and I gave him the 18 days to which he was entitled
in holiday. I do not know how other Members here deal with their
staff when it comes to holidays but I certainly do not write to
them and say "I want a letter back in response to this to
tell you how many hours you have got". I hope Ms Filkin will
not mind me saying this, but the fact is that she does make a
comment that no documentary evidence was provided of this. I have
been right through all the evidence that I received from Ms Filkin
and I was never asked for it, nor was Mr Winslow ever asked for
any evidence in support of our case that there was 18 days' holiday
to come. Again, I am not quite sure, because again it is not clear
from the report, exactly how long this election period was meant
to be. Sometimes it is four weeks and on other occasions it is
five weeks. If we take the four weeks then the 18 days takes up
all but two days of it. If we take the five weeks, I would accept
there is a week and, to be honest, I would accept that there may
well have been one week during which my supervision of Mr Winslow
was perhaps not as tight as it ought to have been and maybe he
worked for longer hours than otherwise was the case. I do not
know how other Members feel about that but I do not think it is
something which most of us would get too excited about during
the period of a very important election.
388. Thank you very much.
(Mr Maxton) In fact, I spent as a Member of Parliament
many hours working in those elections too.
389. You are aware of the concept of task and
finish? Do the job and then go?
(Mr Maxton) Yes.
390. It is something I practise, I have to admit.
Would you say that played a fairly significant part in the way
you employed Winslow?
(Mr Maxton) Almost inevitably, when you are a Member
of Parliament employing staff in your constituency, or in the
country in my case where you come from, and you are down here,
you cannot operate a clocking-in, clocking-off process. It has
to be done on the basis of work provided and making sure that
when you set a task, it is in fact done.
391. Have you any idea why the hours doubled?
I think he did 15 hours, was it?
(Mr Maxton) That is right, and then went up.
392. And that went up to 30 hours.
(Mr Maxton) No, I have no idea why it was doubled.
I assume the Labour Party wanted more work. They had found money
to pay for that extra work. All right, it meant that in theory
he was working 50 hours a week, but as you know, Shona, 50 hours
in politics particularly for people who are very keen and very
active is not a lot of time.
393. So you would not say that his hours going
up to 30 a week with the Labour Party had any effect on the hours
he was doing for you?
(Mr Maxton) No.
394. You did not see any reduction in the quality
or quantity of the work?
(Mr Maxton) No. No, I did not.
395. Could I draw your attention to a paragraph
in the Commissioner's report, where the Commissioner assertsyou
will probably remember reading itthat a Member of Parliament
may be breaking the Code of Conduct if they do not keep close
and continuous scrutiny of their staff. Do you think that is impractical
for any Member of Parliament who does not have a constituency,
say, in London or the South East or has their staff based at Westminster?
(Mr Maxton) I think it is. It is very difficult for
a Member of Parliament to ensure staff are fully supervised when
you are down here and they are in the constituency, although Chris
Winslow worked just outside the constituency.
396. It is paragraph 263, "... sufficiently
close and continuous supervision over both the quality and quantity
of work ...".
(Mr Maxton) Obviously we have a responsibility to
ensure that the work that we are seeking from our staff is done
and is done to the quality we are seeking. In terms of strict
supervision of hours, I just do not believe that is possible.
I do not actually think that many Members of Parliament would
even consider it essential or necessary to do.
397. Going to paragraph 259 of the Commissioner's
Report, at the beginning of that paragraph it is stated by the
Commissioner, "... it is irrelevant whether the evidence
gathered during the course of the inquiry shows that the three
researchers did not work the required number of hours for Dr Reid
and Mr Maxton ...". What is your opinion of that particular
paragraph, because you are basing a lot of your defence on the
fact they did the work for you, they did the number of hours,
and she states that is not relevant?
(Mr Maxton) I have to say I find that paragraph confusing
because it seems to me to be saying that if I employ someone as
a researcher, they cannot be employed by the Party at the same
time. That, of course, is not, as far as I understand it, and
I believe this has been supported by the Fees Office and the Finance
Office of the House of Commons, the case. I do not think there
is anything which says I cannot employ someone part-time who will
also work part-time for the Labour Party. If you employ somebody
part-time you really cannot have any right to say to them under
any sort of legislation that they cannot work for somebody else
in the hours you are not employing them, whether it be the Labour
Party or anybody else. Of course, this line between politics and
parliament is difficult always to define
398. A grey area?
(Mr Maxton) No, not a grey area, but it is difficult
to define. If you ask your secretary to type a letter to the Chairman
of your Party about something, is that politics or parliament?
I do not know.
399. In the year when Alex Rowley was General
Secretary of the Party in Scotland, did you have much of a working
relationship with him?
(Mr Maxton) I was actually saying to someone just
out there before I came in that, to be honest, if Mr Alex Rowley
walked down the corridor, accepting getting to my age my eyesight
is beginning to deteriorate somewhat, I am not at all sure I would
recognise him unless somebody said, "By the way, that is
Mr Alex Rowley." Then I would recognise him. I actually had
just done it with someone previously whom I had seen this morning.
I really had very, very little contact with Alex Rowley. I almost
certainly would meet him and shake his hand at a Party conference
or something like that, but in terms of working with him and talking
to him, no.