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



145.  In any case in which there is a conflict of evidence much inevitably turns on the respective credibility of the main witnesses, including those against whom the complaint has been made.

146.  It is not for Dr Reid and Mr Maxton to disprove the allegations. They are entitled to a presumption that, as Members of Parliament, they would be truthful in answering questions put to them during an inquiry which is a Parliamentary proceeding.

147.  Equally, they have, in the words of the Committee in its Fifth Report of this Session, "a duty of accountability under the Code of Conduct and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office." The Committee added that, as Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, I could only perform my duty to investigate complaints thoroughly and impartially if I was "in possession of a full and frank explanation of the relevant circumstances." This means, for example, providing information promptly to allow verification by my office as necessary.

148.  In assessing the credibility of all the witnesses, I must also take into account the context within which they have provided me with information, including their personal circumstances and the manner in which they have given their evidence. I have in mind in particular Mr Rowley, Mr Rafferty and, to a lesser extent, Mr McKinney and Mr Sullivan. All four were entrusted with positions of responsibility within the Labour Party, the first three at very senior levels. No evidence of any kind has been adduced which suggests that they performed their duties other than effectively and reliably. (Although Mr McKinney`s spell as Director of Communications was cut short by him after only a brief period, this was not, as far as I can tell, the result of alleged deficiencies in his performance, but was due rather to differences of opinion over the adequacy of resources available to fight the campaign).

149.  In his response to my written questions, Mr Maxton claims that, of the four main witnesses (Mr McKinney, Mr Rowley, Mr Sullivan and Mr Rafferty), the first three were dismissed by the Labour Party. He further alleges that "they apparently bear a grudge against Dr Reid as a result" and that he (Mr Maxton) appears to be "the unlucky and unwilling victim of that grudge". He also points to the fact that Mr Rafferty left his post early as Special Adviser to the First Minister. Dr Reid has also questioned the reliability of these witnesses on similar grounds. And, asked why Mr Rowley should make untruthful allegations against him, Dr Reid supposes that Mr Rowley had made similar accusations on tape to Mr Nelson and that "he may feel he cannot back out from this serious attack on [my] probity."

150.  I have no reason to believe Dr Reid`s explanation of Mr Rowley`s possible motives in giving evidence in support of the complaint. In any case, Dr Reid`s theory begs the question as to why, if they are not true, Mr Rowley should have made the allegations to Mr Nelson in the first place.

151.  So far as suggestions of a grudge against Dr Reid and Mr Maxton are concerned, there are, as I have indicated, no grounds for concluding that the circumstances in which Mr McKinney left his post as Director of Communications were such as to colour his evidence to me. Mr Rowley has explained in detail the reasons for his departure, chief amongst which was the fact that he felt he no longer enjoyed the confidence of the Party`s United Kingdom General Secretary. There appears to be no reason why Mr Rowley should have harboured a grievance against Dr Reid because of this and Mr Rowley has given no sign of doing so in any of his dealings with me during this investigation. Indeed, he has claimed that Dr Reid was one of those who supported his continued employment "in charge of local government and trade union relations" in the Labour Party in Scotland after it became clear that, as Scottish General Secretary, he no longer enjoyed the confidence of his counterpart in London. Mr Rafferty was not dismissed by the Party, but—some months later, having left his Party post—by the First Minister in the Scottish Executive. I have received no credible information which would lead me to the view that Mr Rafferty bears a grudge against either Dr Reid or Mr Maxton. Nor is it clear to me why, given the facts as I have described them, this should be the case.

152.  I am satisfied, therefore, that the allegations by Mr Maxton and Dr Reid against these witnesses have not been substantiated and that the evidence I have received from Mr McKinney, Mr Rowley and Mr Rafferty (as well as Mr Sullivan) was not tainted by personal animosity on their part towards either Dr Reid or Mr Maxton. As regards Mr Rafferty`s honesty, which was questioned by Dr Reid in the context of his dismissal as Chief of Staff to the First Minister, I have no reason to believe that Mr Rafferty`s evidence to me is not reliable, especially as it is corroborated in its main essentials by other witnesses with first hand knowledge of the events in question.

153.  I would also observe, in this context, that these allegations were introduced by Dr Reid and Mr Maxton only in their main responses to the complaint—in other words after they had been informed by me of the evidence in conflict with their accounts given by the witnesses concerned.

154.  Whilst they appear to have nothing to gain from giving false or misleading evidence, Mr Rowley and Mr Rafferty both potentially have much to lose by providing me with information which tends to support the complaints. Mr Rowley hopes to pursue a political career by being adopted as a prospective Labour Party Parliamentary candidate. He has no doubt considered the implications for his future within the Party of responding openly and honestly to my questions—even though, of course, any threat that this political ambition might be jeopardised by his co-operation with my inquiry would be highly improper. Mr Rafferty, for his part, now occupies a high-profile public service role, with a reputation which he naturally wishes to protect. If their evidence is accepted, they were, on their own admission, party in some degree—if only by omission—to the alleged irregularities which form the basis of the complaint. To that extent they might both have taken the view, when approached by me, that the safer course would have been to keep quiet about matters which, if exposed, might reflect badly on them. In addition, both men have expressed throughout my inquiry considerable loyalty to their Party and to political colleagues and former colleagues, including Dr Reid. But both, equally obviously, have appreciated and accepted their duty to co-operate fully with a Parliamentary inquiry, however problematic it may be for them.

155.  These conflicting loyalties were reflected in the way in which both Mr Rowley and Mr Rafferty gave their evidence to me and in the anxiety my enquiries caused them. At each successive interview or telephone conversation both men agonised over what they knew to be their duty, namely to be absolutely truthful with me. Whilst never telling a lie, neither Mr Rowley nor Mr Rafferty gave me their full account initially. This emerged gradually, piece by piece, when I asked for further information or clarification.

156.  Thus, Mr Rowley only provided me with the SLP budget documentation after several requests, having reluctantly confirmed in answer to my question during our first interview that he did have some relevant papers in his possession.

157.  Similarly, Mr Rafferty described the full significance of the conference call involving Mr Winslow only on the fourth occasion on which I questioned him in more detail. I do not agree that Mr Rafferty "changed his story" in the disreputable sense implied by both Dr Reid and Mr Maxton. From my observation I believe that, although he was careful not to lie, he was initially seeking to protect former colleagues and that only later— when it became clear to him that those directly responsible for these matters were not being open with my inquiries, and when I asked him further precise questions—did he feel he had no alternative but to give me more detailed replies.

158.  Even if the budget documents are put to one side, I am reluctant to discount the evidence of Mr Rowley and Mr Rafferty, the two witnesses in senior posts closest to the events in dispute. This is all the more so in the light of the manner in which Mr Rowley and Mr Rafferty gave their evidence, which, in my view, enhances rather than detracts from its credibility.

159.  Dr Reid and Mr Maxton have both claimed that, since neither Mr Rowley nor Mr Rafferty were the direct line managers of Mr Reid, Ms Hilliard or Mr Winslow, and they did not occupy the same office, they were not in a position to know about the hours the researchers worked for the Party. I am reluctant to accept this argument as valid. As Scottish General Secretary, Mr Rowley was the official with personal responsibility for staffing levels during the campaign and for the budget arrangements which financed them. Mr Rafferty was the person in day to day charge of the campaign who was sufficiently troubled by Mr Winslow`s remarks about possible press "mischief-making" that he raised the matter with the First Minister (although the latter does not recollect this conversation). Both Mr Rowley and Mr Rafferty had a duty to ensure the effective deployment of resources on the campaign, a task which would have required some supervision of staff efficiency and output. As part of these overall responsibilities both men would have needed to keep track in general terms of the sort of hours put in by members of the campaign team and their availability for work. Mr Rowley also had overall responsibility for ensuring that bonuses were properly claimed. In order to do so, it was not necessary, in my view, for them to be in the position of first line manager nor to share the same room, as implied by Dr Reid and Mr Maxton.

160.  Both Dr Reid and Mr Maxton have sought to challenge Mr Nelson`s reliability as the complainant by claiming, amongst other things, that he had been criticised in the past for making unsubstantiated allegations against individuals. Mr Nelson has given me his response to the observations about him by Dr Reid and Mr Maxton.[76] It is not for me to adjudicate between these conflicting versions of events. In any case, the issue is irrelevant for the purposes of my investigation. Once I was satisfied (for the reasons I have given)[77] that Mr Nelson had supplied me with information, subsequently verified by others, to justify further inquiries, his credibility was irrelevant. It is the evidence of witnesses directly to me, giving their account of events of which they have personal knowledge, whose reliability and veracity I have had to judge.

The conduct of the Members concerned and of certain witnesses during the investigation

161.  I must make reference to one aspect of my investigation which I would not normally include in my report to the Committee but which has caused me serious, and increasing, concern as my inquiries have proceeded. This relates to the conduct of certain witnesses and of Dr Reid and Mr Maxton.

162.  I was struck by the demeanour of many of those whom I have interviewed in the course of my investigation. I have already referred to the strain under which Mr Rowley and Mr Rafferty, in particular, plainly gave their evidence. But Mr Reid, Ms Hilliard and Mr Winslow, too, displayed an apprehensiveness and some reluctance to be open and frank which was unusual. Their attitudes went well beyond the nervousness one might expect of witnesses in a Parliamentary inquiry into serious allegations. Lengthy delays in providing me with basic and readily accessible information, such as Ms Hilliard`s mobile and landline telephone accounts or subscriber numbers, are further examples of the difficulties I have encountered in pursuing my investigations. A more worrying example of Ms Hilliard`s attitude towards the inquiry was her denial of the receipt of a bonus for her work for the Labour Party on the campaign, and her failure to rectify this omission during her subsequent checking of the transcript of our interview.

163.  Both Mr Rowley and Mr Sullivan told me of their fears for their future ambitions within the Labour Party if they were in any way seen as providing me with information tending to support the complaint.

164.  I was left with the impression that many witnesses felt under considerable pressure as to what they should, or should not, say to me and how far, if at all, they should co-operate with my inquiry. This reaction could have reflected anxiety if these witnesses felt in any way personally implicated in any misuse of public funds, a factor which could have applied to Mr Rowley, Mr Rafferty or the three researchers. Equally, however, the pressure might have come from Dr Reid or from Mr Maxton, or both.

165.  I have, for example, received evidence (Annex 129) from Mr Rowley that, during two conversations shortly after my investigation began, Dr Reid made threats of a particularly disturbing kind to Mr Rowley, the thrust of which was that if he "gave evidence which admitted doing wrong" he "could face criminal prosecution and risked not being adopted by the Party as a Parliamentary candidate". In his main response (Annexes 26 and 27), Dr Reid denied making threats and claimed that it was Mr Rowley who brought up these issues in the context of what other people saw as the possible consequences of Mr Rowley`s co-operation with my investigation. According to Dr Reid, he had merely pointed out to Mr Rowley that if he gave evidence to the effect that Dr Reid had improperly diverted money from the OCA to the Labour Party they would both be equally implicated and would therefore both suffer any consequences. Mr Rowley continues to insist (Annex 148) that it was Dr Reid who initiated the subjects of prosecution or de-selection and that the threats were unambiguous.

166.  Even accepting Dr Reid`s account of these conversations at face value, I find what he said disturbing. Pointing out to a witness the risk of self-incrimination is not likely to be interpreted by him as an encouragement to be open and truthful.

167.  Mr Rowley was so concerned by Dr Reid`s attitude that he decided, albeit reluctantly, to record their next conversation on tape (Annex 148). During these exchanges, which took place during a telephone call on 20 March 2000, Dr Reid maintains that both his son and Ms Hilliard did whatever work for him was required by their contracts as Parliamentary researchers. But at the same time, 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 of the events of which they both have knowledge. Thus, at one point Dr Reid says to Mr Rowley "You don`t have to tell any lies. Do you know what I mean?" And later he adds: "They cannot prove anything, Alex" and "No-one can have any proof that Suzanne did not work for me in the morning, Friday night, Saturday and Sunday". Towards the end of the conversation Dr Reid strongly discourages Mr Rowley from giving evidence to my enquiry on oath.

168.  The second of the three statements quoted above is significant since it immediately follows confirmation by Mr Rowley of the arrangement he claims was entered into to equalise the pay of Mr Reid and Mr Winslow in recognition of their similar full-time commitment to the Party. The full passage reads:

    Mr Rowley:
      ".... The way it worked was that Chris Winslow was getting more from the Party and less off John Maxton and when Kevin went onto the higher wage we shifted the whole thing about, the budget papers show that, we adjusted the budget so both were getting the same amount of money [ie taking account of the Parliamentary salary]. What I`m saying to you is I don`t want to end up in a situation where I`m getting put up on something where someone else is going to walk in the next day and say `No. I can show this and I can prove that.`"

    Dr Reid:
      "They cannot prove anything, Alex. Because what you`ve said they can prove is a lie. Kevin Reid worked for me. He worked for me."

169.  At another point in the conversation Dr Reid tells Mr Rowley "You don`t have to mention the Tory thing" (a reference to the criticism in the media of alleged misuse of public funds by Conservative Members of Parliament which appeared shortly before Mr Kevin Reid was switched to a full-time contract with the Party).

170.  These various remarks are concerning since they imply an intention, in responding to my inquiries, to give me the bare minimum of information whilst avoiding outright untruthfulness, in the hope that other witnesses will not substantiate the allegations.

171.  Dr Reid, having examined the transcript of this conversation, has pointed (Annex 29A) to what he sees as the consistency between the tenor of his remarks to Mr Rowley and the terms of his answer to written question 29 in my letter to him of 19 May (see Annexes 22 and 27).

172.  I would add that Mr Rowley`s protectiveness towards former colleagues and his continuing loyalty to the Party made him initially unwilling to allow me to treat either his statement alleging threats to him by Dr Reid or the transcript of his telephone conversation with Dr Reid as evidence which I could quote in my report. But after it became clear to him that pressure was being applied both to him and other witnesses and that Dr Reid had impugned his integrity as a witness,[78] he decided reluctantly to change his mind.

173.  It is clear that Mr Rowley felt, and continues to feel, under pressure from Dr Reid to say things to me which he does not wish to say and which he regards as not wholly accurate or even misleading. And so far as other witnesses are concerned he has told me: "I have to say to you that I find it quite astonishing that many young people such as Annmarie Whyte are being put in the position by one of the most senior politicians in Scotland that they are having to give dishonest information to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I have been told that others whom you have contacted have felt under immense pressure" (Annex 148).

174.  I view this conduct by Dr Reid as an attempt to frustrate my investigation.

175.  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. In these communications Mr Maxton has variously: criticised the procedures I have adopted for the investigation; accused me of having given information to the press about the background to the complaint; challenged my right to conduct an investigation into a complaint by a journalist; claimed that I had deliberately misled him about the nature of the process I was engaged in in examining the complaint; accused me of trying to construct a case against him and of insulting him by asking certain questions; accused me of bullying Ms Hilliard during my interview with her;[79] informed me that he would approach Madam Speaker with a view to her instructing me to conclude my inquiry; and said that he intended to sue me if that was at all possible. The relevant correspondence and notes of telephone calls are annexed to this memorandum to allow the Committee to form its own view of the basis, or otherwise, for Mr Maxton`s assertions (Annexes 30 to 84B). The Committee is aware that Mr Maxton has also made similar allegations about me to a number of Members of Parliament.

176.  Of course, any Member is entitled to make enquiries of me seeking information or clarification about a particular aspect of an investigation involving him or her. I would regard it as my duty to respond as fully and helpfully as possible to any such request. It is undoubtedly an uncomfortable experience for a Member who is the subject of an investigation to have to wait while my inquiries are carried out, particularly when witnesses delay their replies to me. This can of course lead to considerable anxiety on the Member`s part and to the occasional, and wholly understandable, expression of anger or frustration. But I believe that Mr Maxton`s repeated approaches have far exceeded, both in their frequency and tone, what I would have expected of a senior Member of Parliament. Indeed, I have not encountered such behaviour on this scale by a Member of Parliament in any other investigation I have carried out.

76  See paragraph 142. Back

77  See paragraphs 2 to 6. Back

78  Dr Reid, in his response to the complaint against him, claimed that Mr Rowley had been dismissed by the Labour Party. I put this allegation to Mr Rowley for his comments (see paragraph 139). Back

79  Ms Hilliard was accompanied at the interview by a friend. Mr Maxton was not present. I have received no indication of concern about the manner in which the interview was conducted from either Ms Hilliard or her supporter-either during or after the interview.  Back

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