Memorandum submitted from Mr John Maxton
MP in response to the Ninth Report
of the Committee on Standards and Privileges
I am grateful to the Committee for publishing its
report and the attached memorandum from the Commissioner setting
out the procedures she follows when investigating complaints against
Members of Parliament. It allows me to give the Committee my views
. I am afraid this will inevitably mean that I level some criticism
at Miss Filkin for the way she carries out the procedures laid
out in her memorandum.
The Committee on Standards and Privileges together
with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards were appointed
to ensure that the "interests" of Members of Parliament
were both transparent and accountable to those who elect us.
If the work of the Commissioner and the Committee
are to retain the respect and trust of both Members and the public
then it too must be transparent and accountable in all it does.
I fear that this is not the case.
Inevitably my observations are linked to my own experience
during the inquiry that Miss Filkin is carrying out following
a complaint from a Mr Dean Nelson, a journalist now with the Scotsman
previously with the Observer.
Miss Filkin wrote to me on January 27th informing
me that she had received a letter that day from Mr Nelson and
that she had decided that it was a matter she should investigate.
In a three-page letter the reference to myself consist of the
"I`m writing to make
a formal complaint against John Reid MP and John Maxton MP.
The essence of my complaint is that the two men misled
the Fees Office and abused public money by using Westminster allowances
to pay salaries to full time campaigners in Labour`s Scottish
Parliament election campaign. I believe both men falsely passed
of these campaigners as Westminster researchers in order to fund
"Chris Winslow was paid
by John Maxton MP, who also paid Suzanne Hilliard despite her
full time work for Labour`s campaign."
I do not intend to comment on the facts in this case.
That is a matter for the Commissioner. However in her memorandum
Miss Filkin states, "My office receives a variety of complaints
and concerns every week, many of which are not `on the face of
it` supported by sufficient evidence to warrant an inquiry."
She then says that, "When it appears that the
allegation has some substance which would merit further inquiry
my practice is to ask the Member of Parliament for a response".
In acting in this way Miss Filkin is following Clauses
67 & 69 of the Code of Practice which state:
"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 investigation"
`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", and that it "would
not normally regard a complaint founded upon no more than a newspaper
story or television report as a substantiated allegation".`
Since the allegations concerning me in the letter
were so few, without any supporting evidence and from a person
whose information was at the very best second hand, I believed
that I was entitled to know what other evidence had been submitted
to justify the Commissioner starting an inquiry.
It would appear that I have no such right. I have
asked Miss Filkin to provide it again and again and she refuses
to do so. Indeed the only "evidence" I have received
from Miss Filkin is the letter from Mr Nelson.
I am aware that she has carried out a very exhaustive
inquiry including calling several witnesses to London for interview.
But my knowledge of this comes entirely from other sources. I
was asked to respond and have done so but it was very difficult
to do so when I had no idea of what I was accused except the bare
unsubstantiated allegations in Dean Nelson`s letter.
As Members of Parliament we are surely due more respect
from the Commissioner than this. Certainly we should be told what
evidence she had which allowed her to institute an inquiry under
Clauses 67 & 69 above. While she may not wish to give us details
of the evidence she is receiving and the witnesses she is interviewing
we should be entitled to some information on the course of the
I also have very grave concerns about the way in
which the Commissioner treats those she calls as witnesses. It
would appear that she threatens them with using the Committee`s
powers to insist they attend however inconvenient this may be.
Her interviewing techniques on occasions come close to bullying.
They feel like accused persons rather than witnesses. Allow me
to give one example. She insisted on calling to London from Glasgow
a 22-year-old student four weeks before her final examinations.
The girl was asked to pay her own airfare and then re-claim it.
She was not allowed to claim subsistence even though she was away
from home for more than 14 hours. My information is that she was
questioned in a manner which was unacceptable.
However my major complaint against the procedures
the Commissioner follows in carrying out an inquiry is that they
are extremely secretive and unaccountable. There is growing concern
among Members of Parliament about them.
The Committee must look at the way in which the Commissioner
carries out her duties with much more rigour and if necessary
change the Code of Conduct to ensure that the procedures are much
more accountable and transparent than they are at present. If
the Committee is not prepared to do this then the House will have
to do so.
Lastly it cannot be right that Members are not shown
the report prepared by the Commissioner prior to her sending it
to the Committee unless they have an absolute right to attend
the Committee and put their version of events before the Committee
comes to any judgement and before any report is published.
18 April 2000