Response submitted by Mr John Maxton MP
Should the Commissioner have started the inquiry
on the evidence she had and does it matter?
On January 27th Miss Filkin received a letter from
Dean Nelson, then a journalist at the Observer, but about to join
the Scotsman. In that letter which is Annex 1 to the Commissioner`s
Memorandum, Mr Nelson makes two references to myself. Firstly
he says, "I`m writing to make formal complaint against John
Reid MP and John Maxton MP". Secondly he says much later
in the letter, "Chris Winslow was paid by John Maxton MP,
who also later paid Suzanne Hilliard".
On the basis of this that same day Miss Filkin informed
me that she was beginning an inquiry into the allegations and
also told BBC Scotland in an interview that she was doing so.
(I have copies of this interview if the Committee wish to read
and hear it.)
It appears to me that Clause 67 of the Code of Conduct
is quite specific. It states:
"If the Commissioner is satisfied that sufficient
evidence has been tendered in support of the complaint
to justify his taking the matter further, he will ask the member
to respond to the complaint and will then conduct a preliminary
It does not say that the Commissioner may decide
whatever the complaint that she will start an investigation nor
does it say as Miss Filkin has suggested that other information
received was sufficient. For month after month I asked Miss Filkin
to tell me what evidence Mr Nelson had tendered to justify her
announcing on the same day that she received the letter that she
was beginning an enquiry. She refused to tell me.
Mr Nelson is a journalist. He was not a party to
any of the events of which he was complaining. If, as I have come
to assume, that Miss Filkin had nothing other than the letter
from Mr Nelson then she was in breach of Clause 69. Mr Nelson
had tendered no evidence. Miss Filkin had not heard the tapes
to which Mr Nelson referred and even if she had done so it would
hardly be evidence. She had not seen the notes, which are included
in the evidence from Mr Nelson, and again even if she had they
could not be evidence.
She had spoken to him on the phone but the Committee
will note that she does not include any note of these telephone
conversations as she has others.
During the lengthy correspondence I had with Miss
Filkin on this matter she never told me what evidence she had
received from Mr Nelson. It appears to be her view that she is
the sole arbiter on whether she may start an inquiry with no regard
to Clause 69.
On only one occasion did she suggest that she had
heard the tapes on that day in a letter to me of 11th April. However
as I pointed out to her she had written to me on 4th February
saying, "Mr Nelson had provided the information in this letter
and has informed me that he has taped interviews which corroborate
his allegations. I have asked him for that evidence." From
that I inferred justifiably that she had not heard the tapes before
I have asked her again and again for an explanation
of this discrepancy and she has refused to give me one. I will
leave the committee to draw its own conclusions.
I would also argue that Miss Filkin breached the
terms of Clause 67 in the way in which she approached this inquiry.
Clause 67 states: "Both the Commissioner and the
Committee on Standards and Privileges will be guided by the view
of the former Select Committee on Members Interests that `it is
not sufficient to make an unsubstantiated allegation and expect
the Committee to assemble supporting evidence." (Mr Goudie
deals with this from a more legalistic perspective)
It is my view that the allegation made by Mr Nelson
was unsubstantiated when Miss Filkin began the inquiry. Yet she
went out on the basis of Mr Nelson`s letter and sought the evidence
rather than waiting for him to give her "evidence".
I am not clear that while every other witness in this enquiry
has been expected to give information fully and truthfully, Mr
Nelson on the grounds of a journalists right to protect his sources
has not. If a journalist makes a formal complaint about Members
of Parliament to the Commissioner then he has no more rights than
any other member of the public. Does this matter? The Commissioner
rightly or wrongly has carried out her inquiry and therefore should
the Committee ignore her breaches of the Code of Conduct and only
consider the evidence she has compiled?
Although I will show that the evidence she has gathered
does not prove me guilty of the allegation that was made by Mr
Nelson, I contend that the Committee cannot ignore this matter.
There were times during the long months when I considered making
a formal complaint to the Committee on these breaches but decided
not to in case it appeared I was trying to thwart Miss Filkin`s
However if the Commissioner refuses to abide by the
Code of Conduct then the Committee cannot expect Members of Parliament
to either respect the Commissioner, or the work she does. Indeed
if she ignores the Code of Conduct why should they not?