Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report


General observations on the use of the OCA

44. No one should be in any doubt that using the OCA to pay people to campaign for a political party is a serious offence against the rules of the House.

45. The distinction between what is "parliamentary" and what is "personal or party-political" is not always self-evident, and it may be that there is no more than a "grey line" (as it was described in the course of our evidence sessions[35]) separating these categories. Particularly where Members` constituency activities and responsibilities are concerned, we accept that it is extremely difficult to make a distinction. We have to apply the rules as they stand. If Members are in doubt about the application of the rules to particular circumstances they should seek advice from the Fees Office. We invite the House and the Fees Office to consider whether clearer guidance could be issued as to the kinds of activities which would be regarded as acceptable or unacceptable for the purposes of the OCA.

The conditions of employment of Members` staff

46. The Commissioner took the view that a variable contract for a given number of hours each week meant that "a shortfall in one week should be made good over a reasonably short and defined period".[36] We think the ebb and flow of parliamentary and constituency business require a flexible interpretation of the rule.

47. Members have a duty to account to the Fees Office and to the Inland Revenue for their stewardship of public money. Many Members` staff work in the constituency and may have only occasional contact with their employer. It is not unreasonable for such a relationship to be based largely on trust.

The truthfulness of a witness

48. The Commissioner did not believe what Ms Hilliard had said to her about not receiving a bonus from the Labour Party. Ms Hilliard did not correct her answer when reviewing the transcript.[37] Evidence from Mr Jonathan Upton confirmed that a bonus was paid. Ms Hilliard has now stated to us that

    I do recall receiving a payment for around this amount [£406.78] following the election campaign. My recollection is that this was a payment for expenses incurred by me relating to my work as a volunteer.[38]

Accordingly we do not endorse the Commissioner`s finding. Throughout, Ms Hilliard has insisted that she was a volunteer. She should have recollected the nature of the payment when she answered the Commissioner`s questions.

The conduct of Dr Reid during the inquiry

49. The Commissioner noted that she "was left with the impression that many witnesses felt under considerable pressure as to what they should, or should not, say to [her] and how far, if at all, they should co-operate with [her] inquiry",[39] and she raised the possibility that that pressure might have come from one or both of the Members . We would not be surprised if witnesses were to display some nervousness at the prospect of giving evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry, and Mr Rowley`s and Mr Sullivan`s[40] anxiety in this case might also be attributed to possible fears for their future careers within the Labour Party (whether or not such fears were justified) or fears of being personally implicated if wrongdoing was found.

50. Mr Rowley claimed to have been put under pressure by Dr Reid. While he suggested that other witnesses "certainly felt under massive pressure", he has acknowledged that "none of them have actually said that they were threatened as such" (Q196). Mr Rafferty told us that he had not come under any external pressure (Q142). Dr Reid has denied putting pressure on any of the witnesses (Q338).

51. Mr Rowley has described a conversation that he had with Dr Reid in a hotel in Edinburgh. He said that during the course of that conversation he was warned by Dr Reid that he could face criminal prosecution if he gave evidence to the Commissioner that implicated him in any misconduct:

    John said to me that if I was to admit to the Commissioner any wrongdoing and he did not, and therefore was cleared of any wrongdoing, then I could face criminal prosecution (Q151).

Mr Rowley interpreted this as a threat. Dr Reid, in his evidence to us, recalled the conversation and agreed that he did mention the possible consequences of any speculation by Mr Rowley implicating either of them. He denied that his comments were intended to be threatening and characterised the conversation as having been friendly:

    That was the second conversation. It was very friendly. He left. You have a statement from Lesley Quinn. I understand Mr Rowley said today I threatened him. Immediately after our meeting he met Lesley Quinn and said he had a good and friendly meeting with me, no question of a threat. (Q292)

52. Mr Rowley has described a further conversation with Dr Reid, this time on the telephone. At the time Mr Rowley was hoping to be selected as the Labour Party`s parliamentary candidate for Central Fife; had he been selected he would then have had to receive endorsement from Labour`s National Executive Committee.

    John in a phone conversation said to me that I would have to be endorsed by the Labour Party ... I perceived that to be a threat because the conversation was about this particular situation [the Commissioner`s inquiry] (Q153).

Dr Reid could not recall having such a conversation:

    What Mr Rowley said to you today about some other conversation, which I certainly cannot recall taking place, where the candidate endorsement was raised as a threat, is entirely different from what he said to Ms Filkin, where he claimed it was during the telephone conversation. I do not for a minute cast aspersions on Mr Rowley's truthfulness, but I do indicate to you that he is not always a reliable communicator of what took place and when it took place. (Q294)

53. The Commissioner concluded her record of her conversation with Mr Rowley on 21 March 2000 with the following note:

    During the course of the interview Alex Rowley made it clear to me that he was most uncomfortable about giving me this information. He felt his loyalties were being stretched in that he was loyal to the Party and the people he knew in it but he felt he had to be truthful to me since I was acting on behalf of Parliament. However, he was most anxious that having provided me with an account that it might jeopardise his future in the Party. He said that John Reid had told him if he "gave evidence which admitted doing wrong I [he] could face criminal prosecution and risked not being adopted by the Party as a Parliamentary Candidate."[41]

54. Mr Rowley told us that as a result of his perception of having been put under pressure in his previous conversations with Dr Reid, he made a tape of a further telephone conversation. Mr Rowley was at first reluctant to give the tape to the Commissioner, but did so when he perceived that Dr Reid was implying that he was not telling the truth.[42] Mr Rowley was wrong to record the conversation without Dr Reid`s knowledge. He accepts that "it was a very extreme course of action" (Q166). The tape remains as evidence for the investigation.[43] Mr Rowley does not claim that the taped conversation contains any threats on the part of Dr Reid (Q164). Dr Reid said that in this and other conversations he told Mr Rowley to tell the truth but advised him that he should not speculate on matters which he did not know about.[44]

55. The Commissioner also suggested in her report that in the taped conversation Dr Reid advised Mr Rowley not to give evidence to her under oath. Dr Reid told us that this was "advice"[45]—on a matter of fact—because he perceived Mr Rowley to be in need of reassurance about the prospect:

    Alex Rowley had mentioned this oath question. Alex was very concerned. The very first conversation he had with me was when Dean Nelson had apparently said something to him about he may be forced to give this on oath... Alex had continually raised this question that we might be in court and have to answer questions under oath and so on. I had assured him that it was fine, that he did not know a whole lot of things, like I had checked with the Fees Office, that the work was being done for me, that I had evidence the work was being done, that my secretary was off, but he raised it in every conversation. When he raised it in this conversation I said to him, "Alex, you do not need to take the oath" because I was aware of the fact that he did not need to take an oath. I told him what subsequently Ms Filkin has published as part of her own procedures. (Q358)

    I did not bring up the question of the oath, I did not say to him — Let me put it this way, it is not as if there was something in this where I said to Alex, "Look, Alex, we all know the reality but for the sake of the Party we must tell a lie", if you look through the rest of that you will find that on every occasion I say what I said to Alex Rowley on the first occasion, "Alex, you must tell the truth, it must be the whole truth but it must be nothing but the truth", you must not go into speculation because if you go into speculation, that is a lie. (Q376)

Dr Reid also told us that at the time of the first telephone conversation Mr Rowley

    was in a panic because the journalist, as you see from the transcripts, had said to him, "You may be put in court and put on oath. You can`t lie", and so on. (Q292)

The Commissioner has told us that Mr Rowley made it clear to her that he would be willing to give evidence on oath if asked to do so.

56. The Commissioner`s conclusion was that, while no threats were made during the conversation, "it is clear, both from his choice of words and the tone he adopts, that Dr Reid is seeking to agree a line with Mr Rowley which falls short of a full and comprehensive account"[46], and that Dr Reid`s remarks "imply an intention, in responding to [her] inquiries, to give [her] the bare minimum of information whilst avoiding outright untruthfulness, in the hope that other witnesses will not substantiate the allegations".[47] The Commissioner regarded Dr Reid`s conduct as an attempt to frustrate her investigation.[48]

57. The evidence for Dr Reid having put pressure on Mr Rowley is disputed by the two men. Mr Rowley`s evidence was that he felt that he had been threatened, and that this frightened him.

    It was not threats by somebody in the community, this was someone who was the Secretary of State for Scotland, a member of the British Cabinet, basically telling me that if I told the truth then certain things may or may not happen. I took that very seriously as a threat. (Q163)

Dr Reid, in a letter to the Commissioner, suggested that:

    Finally, there is the matter of the alleged "threats" to Mr Rowley. As you will see, to the best of my recollection I have discussed this matter with Mr Rowley—in very general terms—on only two occasions. On both occasions these conversations were undertaken at the behest and on the initiative of Mr Rowley not me, as can be testified to by both witnesses and the pager message which I have sent to you. The content of the conversations is outlined in these documents and cannot, other than on the most malevolent interpretation, be considered as anything remotely like a "threat".[49]

58. The independent evidence of Dr Reid`s dealings with Mr Rowley is the tape of the telephone conversation. This contains no threats. Dr Reid may have been incautious in giving Mr Rowley such definite advice as to how he should respond to requests for information by the Commissioner. What he said could have had an innocent explanation. On the evidence we can conclude that there was a serious misunderstanding between Dr Reid and Mr Rowley. It was at best unwise for Dr Reid to have discussed the investigation with any of the parties to it.

The conduct of Mr Maxton during the inquiry

59. The Commissioner reported to us that "Mr Maxton`s behaviour towards the inquiry process was hostile and unco-operative throughout. He initially refused to provide detailed answers to any written questions ..."[50] "Mr Maxton`s attitude towards my investigation has been characterised by numerous letters and telephone calls to me and my office, many hostile in tone, some intemperate ... I believe that Mr Maxton`s approaches have far exceeded, both in their frequency and tone, what I would have expected of a senior Member of Parliament".[51]

60. When Mr Maxton appeared before us he explained that the inquiry had 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. (Q378)

61. The correspondence between Mr Maxton and the Commissioner is annexed to the Commissioner`s report.[52] We believe Mr Maxton, under the Code of Conduct, should willingly have submitted himself to the scrutiny appropriate to his office. Personal criticism of people involved in any capacity in the investigation of a complaint should be avoided. In view of Mr Maxton`s apology, which the Commissioner has accepted, we consider the matter closed.

35  E.g. Qs 169 and 238. Back

36  Appendix 1, para. 258. Back

37  Appendix 1, para. 269. Back

38  Appendix 3 to the Minutes of Evidence. Back

39  Appendix 1, para. 164. Back

40  Appendix 1, Annex 171. Back

41  Appendix 1, Annex 129. Back

42  Appendix 1, Annexes 132 and 136. Back

43  The transcript which was provided to the Commissioner is printed in Appendix 1, Annex 145. Having heard part of the tape we were not satisfied that that transcript was either accurate or complete. Accordingly we arranged for a further transcript to be prepared, which is printed as Appendix 2 to the Minutes of Evidence. Back

44  Appendix 1, Annex 27; Q292 Back

45  Appendix 1, para. 167. Back

46  Appendix 1, para. 167. Back

47  Appendix 1, para. 170. Back

48  Appendix 1, para. 174. Back

49  Appendix 1, Annex 26. Back

50  Appendix 1, para. 282. Back

51  Appendix 1, paras. 175 and 176. Back

52  Appendix 1, Annexes 30-84B. Back

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