Select Committee on Standards and Privileges First Report


Letter to the Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges from Mr Geoffrey Robinson MP

Thank you for your letter dated 19 July 2001, to which I am now in a position to reply. I am pleased to note that the Committee in the new Parliament will wish to deal with the unfinished business at the first opportunity, on or shortly after, Tuesday 23 October.

As the Committee in the old Parliament stated in its Report, I adamantly deny that I (or TransTec or any beneficial interest of mine) received the alleged payment of £200,000.

I duly sought, and obtained, the agreement of the administrators of Pergamon AGB plc to a thorough search being carried out of that company's records, in the hope of finding the cheque which is at the centre of the allegations against me, and thereby conclusively establishing to whom it was made payable and who received it.

The three months period allowed by the Committee did indeed prove sufficient to enable an independent search to be carried out of Pergamon's records for the cheque and the cheque stub. I enclose the Report by Parnell Kerr Forster in relation to the search (Annex 1).

It has, unfortunately, not resolved the position. You will appreciate what an acute disappointment this is to me. I did not receive the cheque. The search has not revealed who did.

I recognise that the Committee has described this is a "subsequent and subsidiary point". I understand why the Committee from its perspective so regards it. From my point of view it is, however, obviously of great importance. I must therefore dwell on it a little, before turning to the Committee's unfinished business.

Plainly the Committee, in adjourning the matter to see whether further evidence could be obtained, recognised that the evidence then before them was insufficient to enable a conclusion to be reached. That remains the position. The question of the payment is therefore left in doubt, unsatisfactory as that is.

In such circumstances, when neither guilt nor innocence can be proved, I am advised that the burden and standard of proof become crucial. There is of course no burden of proof upon me to prove my innocence. As to the standard of proof, I attach for convenience (Annex 2) the relevant extract from the statement from my solicitors on the position previously submitted.

That statement, which at paragraph 11 in Appendix 3 to the Committee's Seventh Report in the last Session, also sets out in detail the reasons why, applying the appropriate standard of proof, the Committee's conclusion must be, as it was, that it is not established that the cheque was paid into any account of mine.

I am not, however, for my part, content to leave the matter there.

The Committee will be aware that it was practice in the Maxwell organisation to return and keep cheques. The Parnell Kerr Forster search covered 406 boxes marked as being related to Pergamon, the company issuing the cheque and to which it should have been returned. However the cheque in question was from a special series which could have been returned to the private files of Mr Maxwell himself or one of his private companies. Indeed given the state of the files in storage it could just have been misfiled. As the report above referred to from Parnell Kerr Forster, the next course of action would be to search the documents retained which are personal to Mr Maxwell and also those documents retained from the Maxwell's private companies.

In the circumstances, where an element of doubt is bound to persist until the cheque is found, I have approached Arthur Andersen to seek permission to continue the search through the other boxes. I have discussed the continuation of the search with Parnell Kerr Forster who believe they can do it in a systematic way based on priority boxes. I shall not be content in my mind unless every stone is turned to put my innocence beyond any doubt.

Meanwhile, I wish to make clear that I am not seeking any postponement of the Committee's decision. This is on the basis that the Committee has indicated that it regards the question of whether or not the payment was received as both subsidiary and unproven.

I turn to the Committee's unfinished business, namely the recommendation as to penalty which the Committee should make to the House, given its findings that I had a registrable interest which I failed to register and that I failed to provide the Committee with full and accurate responses to their questions in 1998.

What is regarded as having been registrable, in 1990, is an anticipated and conditional receipt, by a company which I owned from another company where I was a director. As I told the Committee, I did not for my part appreciate at the time that this was registrable. I enclose (Annex 3) a copy of the Introduction to the 1991 edition of the Register of Members' Interests. It makes no mention of registration of contracts entered into by companies for which directorships or shareholdings are declared. There is no declaration by any other MP in 1990/91 that lists any contract where payment was expected or received.

As the Introduction of the Register makes clear, the purpose of the declaration was to make it clear that when a member spoke in a debate, or wrote on behalf of his constituents, he was not lobbying for a commercial interest that was undeclared. I must emphasize that at no point did I represent, lobby for or speak in debates associated with the company involved. This I have never done and would never do. Indeed no one has accused me of this. I believe that when members have in the past been censured severely on matters of declaration it is when they have failed to register an interest on which they were lobbying or debating.

With regard to the other offence, I must stress that I did not deliberately mislead the Committee. Importantly, I observe that the Committee's findings do not suggest that I did mislead deliberately. Moreover, I have cooperated fully with the DTI Inspector, successive Commissioners and the Committee.

It was only when later I went back to review my notebooks that I found entries relating to the negotiation I then made these available to all. Had I looked at the notebooks in 1998, I would have volunteered the information and avoided giving inadvertently incomplete answers at that time.

It will, however, be appreciated that the questions that were put to me in 1998 were whether I received, or expected to receive, any benefit in respect of my chairmanship of Hollis Industries plc. That was the focus of the complaint in 1998 and the issue at hand. I accurately answered those questions (see Annex 4).

Given that there has been no deliberate wrongdoing on my part, I have every confidence that the Committee will deal with the matter fairly. There has been no attempt to deceive, no issue of advocacy in the House, nor any payment (actual or solicited) in relation to my duties as a member. I have fully cooperated throughout. I am sincerely sorry for my failings and apologise to the Committee and to the House.

19 October 2001

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