Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report

Transcription of the tape of an interview with Mr John Rafferty held on Friday 24 March 2000

  Ms Filkin: Thank you for coming to see me again. I am extremely sorry that I have had to ask you to come to see me again, because you took the time to come to see me at my request. However, as I said to you in my note, when I thought carefully about what you had said, I was of the view that you had not told me the whole truth. I am sure you told me the truth but you had not told me the whole truth. I have therefore invited you back again because I need to get precise answers. Let me say immediately that I quite understand your loyalties and your wish not to have to say any more. I have sympathy with that but I must ask you to support Parliament by giving me a full answer. Is that all right?

  Mr Rafferty: Is there a particular aspect of our last conversation about which you feel my answers were not complete?

  Ms Filkin: Yes; it was the detail of the period in which it became clear that at least some of the researchers had been paid as researchers during times when it had appeared to everybody that they were working full time for the Party. In particular, I understand there was a conference call in which Chris Winslow gave some information about his own employment situation. Could you tell me about that conference call and the detail of what actually happened? Perhaps you could give me your estimate of when the date of that call was.

  Mr Rafferty: May I just be clear? I did have a conference call with all of the special advisers to the First Minister but we were discussing matters which I suppose were restricted.

  Ms Filkin: Yes; of course.

  Mr Rafferty: I am very reluctant to disclose any confidential information which we held on the special advisers to the First Minister. I am not sure I have to do that.

  Ms Filkin: Parliament has conferred powers on the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges to call for any persons and any records. You do not have to do that at this juncture, although that Committee has undertaken always to back up my inquiries with those powers. If I ask them, they would ask you to give me that account and give me that information. Of course I hope that my telling you that will give you enough support to feel that you can tell me the part of that—of course I do not want any other confidential information which may have been discussed—I only want the information which refers to Mr Winslow's employment and which I believe he put into that conversation.

  Mr Rafferty: In many ways it is a straightforward matter. The Lobbygate story, as it became known, was to be published in the Observer on the Sunday, whatever date that was.

  Ms Filkin: About when was that?

  Mr Rafferty: June, I think. It all happened within a month or six weeks of the election, of the first Cabinet and so forth. I had been given to understand that some of the special advisers were to be mentioned in the article as having been known to be part of Lobbygate. Given the nature of the scandal, the size of the story we thought was about to break, I did not tell anyone about this. The First Minister knew, Mr Connell knew, the press people knew the first piece of news from the press. On the Saturday before the Sunday when the first article was published I spoke to all of the special advisers on a conference call to tell them that this was going to be published and that they might be mentioned in the article. We were shocked, we did not want this, we had already agreed that we would refer the matter to the Standards Committee and Mr Connell himself would refer the matter to the Standards Committee. Here we were, the child had just been born and we had our first Standards Committee. People were very sensitive. During the conference call Chris Winslow mentioned, I think what he said was, "I hope journalists will not start making mischief around the fact that I was engaged/employed by John Maxton for a time as was Kevin by his father from their parliamentary allowances. That is it. No dates were mentioned. I actually have no knowledge of the periods of employment, of when they were engaged and on what terms they were engaged. That is it.

  Ms Filkin: Did you take that to imply from what he had said that he was employed on a Westminster researcher's salary while he was working for the Party?

  Mr Rafferty: No.

  Ms Filkin: Why would it have been a problem, if he had been separating those tasks?

  Mr Rafferty: I see what you mean but I think it was not "I hope that the newspapers don't find out about this" ergo there was something irregular. It was "I hope journalists do not make mischief with this".

  Ms Filkin: How could they have made mischief if there was no overlap?

  Mr Rafferty: I can only speculate. I think maybe he felt that it would look bad.

  Ms Filkin: Why would it have looked bad?

  Mr Rafferty: I suppose because it is quite conceivable that people worked for the party during the election campaign and also quite legitimately did work for Members of Parliament.

  Ms Filkin: Yes; quite legitimate.

  Mr Rafferty: But newspapers may allege that people within the campaign, instead of being paid for, as they should have been, by the party, were paid out of a parliamentary allowance to do party work, which I now understand is irregular.

  Ms Filkin: What did you do with that information which Chris Winslow had given you during that conference call? Whom did you tell?

  Mr Rafferty: My closest working relationship was with the First Minister.

  Ms Filkin: Did you brief him on it?

  Mr Rafferty: I am very reluctant, almost not prepared to talk about any matters which I discussed with the First Minister. I do not think this is fair actually.

  Ms Filkin: Why is it not fair?

  Mr Rafferty: I just do not think that I would ever want to disclose anything which I discuss with the First Minister.

  Ms Filkin: Then the implication of what you have just said to me is that you did tell the First Ministers, otherwise you would tell me you did not.

  Mr Rafferty: No, I think what I am saying is that I am very reluctant, almost saying to you that I am not prepared to discuss anything relating to what I told the First Minister or did not tell the First Minister. It is very privileged and very private.

  Ms Filkin: I obviously cannot force you to tell me the details of that conversation. All I can do is report what you have said to the Standards and Privileges Committee and see whether they wish you to come to speak to them so they can ask that question, if they need to. Of course I would hope and trust that if I put the question to the First Minister he would tell me whether or not you briefed him and that would of course be up to him.

  Mr Rafferty: May I ask a point of information? Can your Committee compel me to talk about my relationship with the First Minister?

  Ms Filkin: My Committee can ask anybody to appear before it and it is entrusted with that role of asking any people to provide information. People always do; Ministers do, Permanent Secretaries do. They are speaking to Parliament and the assumption is that everybody tells the truth and the whole truth to Parliament. Where an individual decides to lie, of course they cannot stop an individual lying but that is not the assumption on which the whole of the parliamentary system is based.

  Mr Rafferty: I am not prepared to tell lies.

  Ms Filkin: No, of course not.

  Mr Rafferty: I am simply asking whether there is any respect or recognition.

  Ms Filkin: No; everybody has to. All their inquiries which involved, for example, leaks etcetera all involved Ministers and their advisers and everybody, and everybody is expected to tell the truth and the whole truth.

  Mr Rafferty: The fact of the matter is that whatever I knew, the First Minister knew.

  Ms Filkin: Of course and that is what one would assume.

  Mr Rafferty: I reported to him that during this conference call Chris Winslow had mentioned this matter in the terms which I have described to you.

  Ms Filkin: Thank you for telling me that. I realise your proper sensitivity and thank you. That is most helpful and that will be helpful to the Committee. Can you tell me what the First Minister advised you to do with that information?

  Mr Rafferty: He was not in a position to ... We had a discussion about this. He said to me that he had never employed anyone on his parliamentary allowance who had in any way carried out work or business which was inappropriate. We did not know the facts, we did not know when people were employed or what they did and where they were doing it, so he did not know whether anything irregular had gone on. However, in the circumstances in which we found ourselves, in particular the difficult position the Secretary of State was in as observer, the First Minister felt that great mischief could be made of this issue. Given all the publicity which was going on it would not have been helpful if special advisers speculated and gossiped about this. So with his agreement I went back to everyone who had been on the conference call and said just that, that we were not in a position to know the details of this and it would be unhelpful if there were any speculation or gossip.

  Ms Filkin: Thank you. I need to put to you that I have had evidence from other people who tell me that those conversations did in fact apply, that Chris Winslow had not only been paid as a researcher during that period of time but during the time that he was paid he had used that time for which he was paid to work on the campaign and that that was what they understood from the conversations you had with him. May I put that to you? Could anybody have got that impression?

  Mr Rafferty: Yes. I know exactly what you mean but we did not have the facts.

  Ms Filkin: No; of course not, no.

  Mr Rafferty: In the worst scenario, if somebody had been employed by a Member of Parliament and worked full time and exclusively for the Labour Party then of course that would be a very serious matter. However, I did not know and the First Minister did not know.

  Ms Filkin: You did not convey the information to people assuming that what Chris Winslow had told you was indeed that? Or that it might have been what he had told you. Since you did not know the facts, were you concerned that indeed he may have been conveying that he had used time which was paid for by Westminster to work on the campaign?

  Mr Rafferty: I would just be speculating.

  Ms Filkin: Of course.

  Mr Rafferty: I would just be speculating and I do not know that that is helpful. It is as I have told it to you. He said on the conference call, "I hope there is no mischief-making by journalists around this". I reported to you the last time we met that several times during the campaign Chris Winslow said to me "I cannot do that today because I have to do work for John Maxton". I did not know the contractual basis; I did not inquire.

  Ms Filkin: Thank you very much indeed. Is there anything else before we go, because I do not want to waste your time again, which you feel, however difficult, I ought to know so that I can give a full report to the Standards and Privileges Committee?

  Mr Rafferty: No, there is nothing more. Nothing.

  Ms Filkin: May I thank you very much. May I say that I am sensitive to the matters you have raised and I shall obviously try to deal with them in as circumspect manner as I can. Obviously my first duty is to try to get at the truth. Thank you very much indeed.

  Mr Rafferty: Thank you.

  Ms Filkin: Perhaps I could return to the question which I asked you because I really do want a very clear answer about what happened on the conference call and what set the alarm bells ringing in your head. They obviously did ring and that is a proper function for you in the role you were in. The way in which Chris Winslow spoke maybe, as well as the words he actually used, obviously worried you. Can you tell me whether you were concerned from how he conveyed things to you that indeed he may have been working for the Party during hours he was paid by Mr Maxton?

  Mr Rafferty: It was clear that he was anxious. He was sufficiently worried to raise this. I immediately realised that we could have another exposure. I could not determine whether something irregular was likely to have gone on or not, but he was concerned enough to mention it and I was very concerned. So I spoke to the First Minister in the way in which I have described it to you. May I say to you that at no time did we ever determine that anything wrong had occurred? It was kind of "Let's not go there".

  Ms Filkin: Yes, I understand that. Was anybody within the Party given the job of determining whether or not something had gone wrong in case those questions were asked?

  Mr Rafferty: No, not to my knowledge. I reported the matter to the First Minister. As I said to you earlier, he felt it would not be helpful, in fact it would be extremely unhelpful, if there were further speculation. I spoke to everyone who was on the conference call. I think I said to them that I had reported this to the First Minster, blah, blah, blah, it would not be helpful.

  Ms Filkin: I have also had it reported to me by other people that, certainly at certain points, I do not know whether at that time or whether only subsequent to the inquiry I am carrying out, suggestions have been made to those researchers that whatever the facts were they should say they had never fudged those two employments. In other words, that they had been informed as to how they should answer those questions. Do you know anything about that?

  Mr Rafferty: No, I do not; I do not know anything about that. As a matter of courtesy, when I got your first letter, I copied my reply to you to the General Secretary. I am as clear now as I was last time, no-one has rehearsed any of this with me.

  Ms Filkin: Okay; thank you.

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