Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report

Annex 20

Letter to the Rt Hon Dr John Reid MP from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Thank you for your two letters of 6 and 7 June. As you say in your second letter, some of the points raised in your letter of 6 June were dealt with in my letter of 5 June. I will attempt to address the outstanding matters.

Letter of 6 June

You ask whether I have assessed the evidential basis for Mr Nelson`s complaint. Under paragraph 69 of the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members, I am required to form a judgment as to whether the information supplied by a complainant in support of a complaint is sufficient to warrant my "taking the matter further". That was all I needed to decide when examining the information provided by Mr Nelson.

My conclusion was that the accounts, which Mr Nelson gave me, of interviews he had conducted with Labour Party officials and the formal letter of complaint submitted by Mr Nelson required me to conduct "a preliminary investigation". It is the results of that investigation which I have now put to you in the form of my letter of 19 May, together with the evidence which I have collected which might be at variance with your initial response, and the accompanying written questions. I say again that because I am conducting an investigation in no way implies any wrong doing; it is the method by which a complaint is looked at in order to decide whether it has any substance. It is all the material assembled as a result of this process—including your own detailed responses to my written questions—whose evidential value I will need to weigh up before reaching my conclusions.

As you are aware, it is open to me at any point to conclude that there is no case to answer and dismiss the complaint, but to date I have not revised my initial view which is that it is in the interests of all parties that these allegations are properly investigated. I shall give my view on whether I regard the complaint has having any validity when I make my report. At this point I continue to keep an open mind, believing this to be the fair way to proceed.

I turn to your questions using the numbering first in your letter of 6 June.

  • I was prepared to respect Mr Nelson`s responsibilities as a journalist towards his sources and, having satisfied myself from his account, hearing extracts of the tapes and the letter he wrote to me (which you have seen) decided that they ought to be followed up through further inquiries by me. (I have listened to all the tapes mentioned in the letter.) What you now have is the evidence of witnesses whom I have interviewed myself and the transcript of Mr Nelson`s taped conversation with Mr McKinney.

  • I have not checked the shorthand note in detail but confirm that it supports the transcript of the tape. I am content that the transcript is an accurate record of the tape.

  • I can confirm that you have seen all the material in my possession which may conflict with your initial account or which otherwise tends to support the complaint. As I said in my letter of 19 May, I will let you have any further such evidence as it comes to hand. I am pressing for urgent replies from one or two witnesses from whom factual information is still outstanding. All that I require from you is any information you have which answers, explains or throws other light on these matters and those which I raise in my questions.

  • See paragraph 3 above. I will of course make sure that you see any material on these documents when it is provided to me.

  • The references you seek are as follows (using your numbering):—

    (i)    Telephone conversation with Mr Rafferty on 6 April, Q4; Q5; Q8 to Q 10;

    telephone conversation with Mr Rafferty of 18 April, Q10 to Q12; and Q 15 and Q 16.

    (ii)  Telephone conversation of 6 April with Mr Rafferty, Q1 to Q3.

    (iii)  Conversation with Mr Rowley of 21 March, Q 3.

    (iv)  Conversation with Mr Rowley of 21 March, Q 13.

    (v)  Conversation with Mr Rowley of 21 March, Q 3 to Q6, Q10. To be fair to you I wish to receive your own explanation for the figures contained in the budget projections in the context of the quotes from Mr Rowley for which I have given the references.

    (vi)  Conversation with Mr Rowley of 21 March, Q 13. (I accept that, since your son no longer had any Parliamentary commitments by the time of the election campaign proper, Question 24, in so far as it draws upon the evidence quoted from Mr Rowley, Mr Rafferty and Mr Sullivan, relates only to Ms Hilliard. But I still wish to check with you that, despite the various references to your son working full-time for the Party whilst still employed by you, you maintain that he nevertheless managed to carry out his Parliamentary duties fully in whatever time remained.

    Of course, if you dispute the authenticity of any of these references, or wish to challenge the interpretations being placed upon them, that is a matter to be addressed in your response to the questions.

  • I would not expect you to provide answers in relation to Mr Winslow unless you have any information which would assist my enquiries into the complaint against either yourself or Mr Maxton (for example any information you might have about the circumstances surrounding the conference call involving Mr Rafferty, Mr Winslow and the other special advisers shortly after the elections to the Scottish Parliament or any other discussion you have had with other Members of Parliament, Labour Party officials or others which included reference to Mr Winslow`s employment).

Your letter of 7 June

I understand your concern about the references to you by Mr Nelson and Mr McKinney in their taped conversation. I can only repeat that, for the reasons given in my letter of 5 June, I thought it necessary to include this material in the papers sent to Mr Maxton, but that it has not been seen by any other witness. I am sure that we can both rely on Mr Maxton to treat this document with the confidentiality it deserves.

Of course I accept that as the subject of the complaint you are in a different position from the other people whom I have approached for evidence. But you are under the same obligation to Parliament to provide me with a full and truthful account of the events in question and, to that extent, I regard you as a witness for the purposes of my investigation. Whatever conversations may have taken place in the past, if any future approach is made by one witness to another (other than for the purposes referred to in the fourth paragraph of my letter of 5 June) I would deprecate it and I would expect to be informed of it. However, if you have any point which you would wish me to put to any other witness to ensure that a full and accurate picture is available, please let me know and I will pursue it.

I hope you will now feel able to let me have your full response as soon as possible. Like you, I too wish to bring my investigation to a speedy conclusion.

13 June 2000

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