Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report


Memorandum submitted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
Complaint against Dr John Reid and Mr John Maxton



1.    On 26 January 2000 I received complaints from Mr Dean Nelson, a journalist, against Dr John Reid, Member for Hamilton North and Bellshill and Mr John Maxton, Member for Glasgow Cathcart.

The complaints

2.    In his letter of 26 January (Annex 1), Mr Nelson alleged that Dr Reid and Mr Maxton had "misled the Fees Office and abused public money by using Westminster allowances to pay full-time campaigners in Labour`s Scottish Parliament election campaign". Mr Nelson said:

    "I`m reliably informed that Reid then offered to transfer his son Kevin to the campaign to help out. Kevin was not doing much, he said. He could help the campaign and Reid `would find a way of paying him`. Although the offer was made to McKinney, the details of the arrangement were worked out between Alex Rowley and John Reid."[53]

Mr Nelson also said:

    "Chris Winslow was paid by John Maxton MP, who also later paid Suzanne Hilliard".

And he added:

    "I have spoken to many senior Labour officials and politicians to confirm the truth of the arrangements described above. I`ve agreed to protect their identities, but they will give evidence in court if Reid or Maxton or if called by you [sic]. All the interviews were recorded on tape.

    It is clear that the party officials named above and Donald Dewar were all aware of these arrangements at various times. It is important to establish when Donald Dewar, now First Minister of Scotland but still a Westminster MP, knew about the arrangement. It was he who signed the statutory order requiring parties to submit all election expenditure, and secured funding for the Scottish Election Commission which monitored election funding. These arrangements were not declared to the SEC or to the Secretary of State for Scotland who was responsible for monitoring election spending. The Secretary of State at the time was John Reid, clearly with a conflict of interest."

3.    The campaigners referred to by Mr Nelson are Dr Reid`s son, Mr Kevin Reid, Ms Suzanne Hilliard, and Mr Chris Winslow. During the period covered by the complaint (which corresponds roughly to the year preceding the elections to the Scottish Parliament in May 1999), Mr Reid and Ms Hilliard worked successively as Parliamentary researchers for Dr Reid, while Mr Winslow fulfilled the same function for Mr Maxton. From June 1999 he was followed in that post by Ms Hilliard.

4.    Specifically, Mr Nelson`s complaint was that Dr Reid and Mr Maxton made an arrangement to draw upon their House of Commons Office Costs Allowance to pay salaries to the three researchers, knowing that they, in effect, would be paying for at least some of the paid hours the researchers were working for the Labour Party. Moreover, particularly during the formal election campaign itself, the researchers` efforts on behalf of the Party involved so many additional hours of work that they could not (and in fact did not) fulfil the responsibilities to the House of Commons for which they were paid. According to Mr Nelson, therefore, Dr Reid and Mr Maxton were parties to an arrangement to divert public money to party political purposes in breach of the rules governing the use to which the Office Costs Allowance may be put.[54]

5.    Mr Nelson provided me with notes of his own conversations with officials of the Labour Party in Scotland without revealing their identifies. He also provided notes of his conversation with Ms Hilliard and I listened to tapes of his interviews.

6.    I was satisfied, having studied Mr Nelson`s letter and the information included with it[55], that, in accordance with paragraph 69 of the Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members, "sufficient evidence" had been "tendered in support of the complaint to justify [my] taking the matter further." I asked Mr Nelson to identify those who had answered his questions but, as a journalist, he said he must protect their identities. In his initial letter he said he was confident that, if I called for information from those who had knowledge of the alleged arrangement, some of them at least would tell me the truth. At my request he agreed that he would provide me with the tapes of his interviews if I identified any individuals who gave me what appeared to be information at variance with the account they had given to him.

7.    I have not thought it appropriate to take up two aspects of Mr Nelson`s letter of 26 January, relating respectively to the role of Mr Dewar in establishing the arrangements for regulating the conduct of the Scottish Parliamentary elections and to an alleged conflict of interest on the part of Dr Reid in his function of "monitoring election spending". These are not matters for me as Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, but fall within the responsibilities of others, including the Scottish Election Commission.

The initial responses of Dr Reid and Mr Maxton

8.    In letters dated 14 February 2000 (Annex 8) and 2 March 2000 (Annex 40) respectively, Dr Reid and Mr Maxton categorically rejected the complaint, claiming that it was groundless and motivated by malice. In particular they maintained that the three researchers had fully met their Parliamentary obligations, whatever additional work they might have done for the Labour Party. Dr Reid added that the complaint was "an assertion by a person without direct knowledge and without access to the means for direct knowledge". He added "[Mr Reid and Ms Hilliard] were paid for work for me which they did to my satisfaction. Indeed, at a time of some considerable personal difficulties, I went out of my way to try to ensure that not only were the proprieties observed, but were seen to be observed".

Approach and methodology of the investigation

9.    Although Mr Nelson`s complaint was supported by notes and tape recordings of his own conversations with a number of people involved in the Labour Party`s campaign for the Scottish Parliament elections, I have relied (except where otherwise indicated) only on the first-hand evidence of witnesses whom I myself interviewed or who supplied me with information in writing.

10.  In the course of investigating the complaints I wrote to: Dr Reid and Mr Maxton; Mr Kevin Reid, Ms Hilliard and Mr Winslow; Mr Alex Rowley (General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party between May 1998 and May 1999); Mr John Rafferty (Labour Party Campaign Co-ordinator between January 1999 and May 1999); Mr Paul McKinney (Labour Party Director of Communications in Scotland in April and May 1998); Mr Willie Sullivan (Scottish Development Officer for the Labour Party between August 1998 and December 1999); Ms Lesley Quinn (General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party since June 1999); Ms Annmarie Whyte (Office Manager, Scottish Labour Party headquarters); Mr Jonathan Upton (Director of Personnel for the Labour Party); Mr Donald Dewar (First Minister in the Scottish Executive); Mr John McLaren (a senior member of staff at Scottish Labour Party headquarters until May 1999); and Northern Rock plc. I also obtained information from the House of Commons Director of Finance and Administration and from the Accountant.[56]

11.  The procedure laid down by the House of Commons for the investigation of complaints requires me to establish the facts on the basis of the evidence submitted to me and to report those facts, together with my conclusions on them, to the Standards and Privileges Committee. The procedure is not an adversarial one: there is no prosecution and no defence. By the same token, the standard of proof I have adopted is the balance of probability which the Committee in the past has considered appropriate for a Parliamentary, as opposed to a judicial, inquiry.

12.  Formally, Mr Nelson`s allegations constitute separate complaints against two individual Members. Each of the two Members has expressed concern that during the course of my enquiries some personal information about him has been disclosed to the other and Mr Maxton has requested that two separate reports should be compiled on the complaints relating to Dr Reid and himself. I have concluded, however, in view of the common background and the intertwined nature of much of the evidence—involving essentially the same set of witnesses—that I should make a single, combined report to the Committee. However, to avoid any perception of injustice to either Dr Reid or Mr Maxton I have provided separate conclusions in summary form in relation to each Member.[57]

The relevant rules and guidance

13.  The Resolution of the House of Commons relating to the Office Costs Allowance (OCA), passed on 21 July 1987, states that:

    "the allowance payable to a Member of this House in respect of the aggregate expenses incurred by him for his parliamentary duties—

    (i)  as general office expenses (including expenses incurred in the purchase of office equipment),
    (ii)  on secretarial assistance, and
    (iii)on research assistance for work undertaken in the proper performance of such duties,

    shall be known as the Office Costs Allowance."

14.  The Green Book (Parliamentary Salaries, Allowances and Pensions), which is issued to all Members, states at page 15:

    "To qualify for OCA, any expenditure must be incurred wholly, exclusively and necessarily in the performance of parliamentary duties.[58] This is a strict and long-established rule approved by successive Speakers. You cannot therefore claim for expenditure which is personal or party-political".

15.  The Code of Conduct for Members contains the following provision:

    "No improper use shall be made of any payment or allowance made to Members for public purposes and the administrative rules which apply to such payments and allowances must be strictly observed."

16.  According to the House of Commons Fees Office, all Members` staff paid through the Office Costs Allowance are required to have a contract of employment and a job description, both of which are available in a standard form (Annex 203), though Members are not obliged to use these forms.

17.  In its Fifth Report of Session 1999-2000,[59] the Committee stated:

    "Members have a duty of accountability under the Code of Conduct and `must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office`. The Commissioner can only perform her duty, which is to investigate complaints against Members thoroughly and impartially, if she is in possession of a full and frank explanation of the relevant circumstances. This may involve the disclosure in confidence to the Commissioner of relevant details of a Member`s personal and financial arrangements which the Member in question would prefer to remain private."

53  For a list of all the persons mentioned in this memorandum, see Attachment 1. For a chronology of events, see Attachment 2. Back

54  See paragraphs 13 and 15. Back

55  See paragraph 2. Back

56  See Attachment 1. Back

57  See paragraphs 287 and 288. Back

58  Emphasis added. Back

59  HC 260 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 22 December 2000