Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Third Report


Memorandum submitted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Complaint against Mr John Maxton


1.    During 2000 I investigated a complaint from Mr Dean Nelson, a journalist, against Mr John Maxton who was at that time Member for Glasgow, Cathcart. The complaint was that Mr Maxton had "misled the Fees Office and abused public money by using Westminster allowances to pay full-time campaigners in Labour's Scottish Parliament election campaign ..." Mr Nelson said that "Chris Winslow was paid by John Maxton MP, who also later paid Suzanne Hilliard."[6]

2.    In my memorandum dated 25 October 2000 which I submitted to the Standards and Privileges Committee I summarised my conclusions in relation to the complaint against Mr Maxton as follows:

"Mr Maxton entered into arrangements to allow House of Commons researchers employed by ..." him, namely Mr Chris Winslow "to be paid for party political work on the Labour Party's Scottish Parliament election campaign out of funds provided through the OCA." (Office Costs Allowance of the House of Commons).

I said that in doing so Mr Maxton:

         "(a)    misled the Fees Office as to the employment arrangements of ... Mr Winslow..."

        (b)    breached the Resolution of the House establishing the OCA which expressly limits its use to "work undertaken in the proper performance of [Parliamentary] duties."

        (c)    breached the guidance set out in the Green Book of the House of Commons prohibiting the use of the OCA for party political purposes;

        (d)    breached the section of the Code of Conduct which states:

      "No improper use shall be made of any payment or allowance made to Members for public purposes and the administrative rules which apply to such payments and allowances must be strictly observed."

3.    I concluded as follows: "Complaint against Mr Maxton upheld.".[7]

The decisions of the Standards and Privileges Committee

4.    The Committee considered my memorandum and supporting evidence and written evidence submitted by Mr Maxton: it also took oral evidence from Mr Maxton, Mr John Rafferty, formerly Campaign Coordinator, and Mr Alex Rowley, formerly General Secretary, of the Scottish Labour Party. They published their report on 21 December 2000.

The Committee concluded that —

    a)  the complaint that Mr Maxton had misled the Fees Office was not upheld.

    b)  "the evidence for an improper arrangement" between Mr Maxton and Mr Rowley concerning the deployment of staff paid through the OCA did "not reach the standard we require to uphold the complaint."[8]

    c)  "there is no conclusive evidence that either researcher failed to fulfil his or her contractual hours for the Member on a variable contract when seen over a longer period of time. Possible supporting evidence was not provided. Without other compelling evidence, we do not regard these admitted shortcomings as sufficient grounds for upholding the complaint."[9]

    "Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint against ... Mr Maxton..." [10]

    The Committee also stated that:

    "No one should be in any doubt that using the OCA to pay people to campaign for a political party is a serious offence against the rules of the House." [11]


5.    On 19 April 2001 I received an email from Mr Nelson with attachments. Mr Nelson enclosed a letter from Mr Maxton to Ms Lesley Quinn, the General Secretary of the Labour Party, dated 10 November 1999. Mr Nelson said that the letter, which had been sent to him anonymously, appeared to show that Mr Maxton had misled the Committee and that the Labour Party had deliberately withheld key documents from my inquiry (Annexes A and B).

6.    On 19 April 2001 I wrote to Mr Maxton to provide him with a copy of the complaint letter and enclosure and ask him for information so that I might decide whether I should make further enquiries. I asked for his response by 27 April at the latest (Annex C). My office left reminder messages for Mr Maxton on 27 April and 4 May and I reminded him of my request in a letter dated 9 May 2001 (Annex D).

7.    I asked Mr Nelson to let me know if he became aware of the identity of the person who sent him the letter in question.

8.    On 24 April 2001 Mr Nelson informed me that the person who had sent him the copy of the letter from Mr Maxton to Ms Quinn had come forward and had agreed to contact me.

9.    On 15 May 2001 I was telephoned by Mr John Rowan who informed me that he had sent Mr Nelson the copy of Mr Maxton's letter of 10 November 1999 to Ms Quinn. He explained that when he had read extracts of the report of the previous inquiry in the newspapers he felt that Mr Alex Rowley had been treated unjustly by the Labour Party. Mr Rowan said that he was employed by the Scottish Labour Party during the period in question. Mr Rowan added that he was aware of the arrangement entered into by Mr Maxton with the Labour Party and that he had sent the copy of the letter to Mr Nelson as he believed it was hard evidence of that arrangement.

10.  Mr Rowan stated that he had been shocked when he saw in the Committee's Report that Mr Maxton had denied the existence of the arrangement in spite of the evidence provided by Mr Rowley who had admitted that it had been entered into. Mr Rowan said that to assist the Parliamentary inquiry he would answer my questions on this matter. I explained to him that Mr Maxton had retired as a Member of Parliament and that I did not know whether the new Committee would wish the complaint to be pursued in these circumstances. I said I would contact him in due course if I needed to obtain information from him.

11.  Mr Maxton retired as Member for Glasgow, Cathcart at the dissolution of Parliament on 14 May 2001.

The new Committee on Standards and Privileges

12.  On 18 July 2001 the new Committee held their first meeting. I reported to them that as Mr Maxton had not responded to my requests for information I had not been able to take any decision as to whether further investigation was required into this complaint. Since Mr Maxton was no longer a sitting Member of Parliament it was necessary for the Committee to decide whether they wished me to pursue my preliminary enquiries in such circumstances. The Committee decided that since I had begun to examine the complaint while Mr Maxton was a Member of Parliament I should continue to make enquiries.

13.  On 18 July 2001 I wrote to Mr Maxton to inform him of the Committee's decision and to ask him for his reply to my letter of 19 April 2001 (Annex E). During the previous inquiry my office had, at Mr Maxton's request, alerted him to letters I was sending to his home address and we did so on this occasion.

14.  Mr Maxton telephoned me on 18 July 2001 and said he would not be replying to my letter. He asked me for the name of the new Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges and said he would speak to him (Annex F). I have received no reply from Mr Maxton but I understand that he has both telephoned and written to the Chairman.

Further inquiries

15.  On 23 July I wrote to Mr Rowan to ask him for information (Annex G).

16.  Mr Rowan telephoned me on 25 July to provide answers to the following questions. I made a record of his answers which he has confirmed as correct (Annex H)

Question 1:The dates when you were employed by the Scottish Labour Party
  "I was employed by the Scottish Labour Party from 1996 until after the General Election in 1997. My contract was then terminated. I was then re-employed by the Scottish Labour Party from September 1998 until March 2001. I was employed as the Scottish Telephone Bank Organiser."
Question 2:The information of which you were aware at any time, about the employment arrangements relating to Ms S Hilliard, Mr C Winslow, Mr Jamie Maxton and Mr Kevin Reid
  "I dealt with Susan Hilliard and Kevin Reid very frequently. They were employed by the Labour Party on media monitoring. I spoke to them every other day in the period running up to the campaign from January 1999 to March 1999 and when the campaign proper started in March 1999 I spoke to them every day. I provided them information from the media by fax. I also dealt with Chris Winslow frequently. He worked in the research team. My understanding was that they were all employed full time by the Labour Party throughout that period. At the commencement of my appointment in September 1998, I was based in Delta House where I observed all of the above working on Labour Party duties for long hours.
  I also attended the Scottish Labour Party special conference on Saturday, 19 September 1998 as a member of staff. I observed Kevin Reid working on Labour Party duties dealing with the press. Dr Reid introduced Kevin Reid to journalists saying "This is my boy." Chris Winslow attended the conference and acted as a facilitator for a workshop.
  Another of my tasks was to get Party members to TV studios. On one occasion Susan Hilliard came along to one of these events with Alex Rowley and as far as I was aware, she was working for the Scottish Labour Party.
  After the Scottish Election in 1999 I had a conversation with Susan Hilliard and she told me that she was employed by John Maxton."
Question 3:Whether you knew of any arrangement between Mr John Maxton and the Labour Party to use, for Party work, staff employed on House of Commons salaries during time paid for by the House of Commons. If so, please give the details of which you were aware and by whom you were informed of these details.
  "I knew nothing formally of any such arrangement until I saw a copy of the letter from Mr Maxton to Lesley Quinn (dated 10 November 1999). The letter was circulated to all Labour Party staff working in the Edinburgh and Glasgow offices. I recognised the handwriting on the top right hand corner. This is the handwriting of Constance Mezynski who was the PA to the General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, both when this post was held by Alex Rowley and by Lesley Quinn. There was no covering letter with it and I understood it clearly as meaning that the staff were those provided by Mr Maxton whose salaries were paid by the House of Commons. I understood that the colleagues referred to in the letter were the other Scottish MP's because I knew that many Scottish MP's were wary of using their staff resources in this manner. I did not know at the time why they were wary. That has only become clear to me as I saw the newspaper reports about the Report of the inquiry concerning Dr Reid and Mr Maxton. But I knew, for example, that an MP for whom I did some constituency work prior to my appointment by the Labour Party was very aware of this and made it clear to staff employed on House of Commons salaries that they were not to do Party work during the time they were paid by the House of Commons. I believe that the staff in question referred to in the letter were Chris Winslow during the Scottish Election Campaign when he was working full time for the Labour Party and Jamie Maxton, Mr Maxton's son, who was paid through monies provided through MP's allowances for his work for the Scottish Labour Party. I formed the latter view because after the General Election in 1997 my contract was terminated with the Labour Party because there was no Labour Party money to continue it. I made enquiries as to why Jamie Maxton's contract continued and was told that he was paid by John Maxton from his MP's allowance. I believe I was told this by Lesley Quinn but my recollection of this is slightly unclear."
  On 4 September 2001 Mr Rowan stated that "After checking my records I can confirm that it was Lesley Quinn who informed me that Jamie Maxton's salary was paid out of Mr Maxton's parliamentary allowance." (Annex I)
Question 4:What you know of the letter sent by Mr Maxton to Ms Quinn dated 10 November 1999, including to whom was it circulated, whether there was any covering letter, and what staffing resources, as referred to in this letter, Mr Maxton had provided over the past years to the Party and on what basis (copy attached).
  "I think I have answered this question in my reply on question 3."
Question 5:You told me that, having read newspaper articles following the publication of the Committee's report on the complaints against Mr Maxton, you felt Mr Alex Rowley had been unfairly treated. Please would you set out these concerns as they relate to the complaints against Mr John Maxton?
  "I got the impression from what was said in the office after your Report was published at the beginning of 2001 that Alex Rowley had been treated unfairly. I heard Lesley Quinn remark that the report had "destroyed" Alex Rowley. However, the way that Lesley Quinn spoke on that occasion made me feel that she felt very guilty. I felt that she had been party to some of the underhand moves against Alex Rowley. I was concerned that there were a number of people in the Scottish Labour Party who did not appear to be loyal to the Labour Party but who were loyal to particular individuals. I always felt that Alex Rowley was absolutely loyal to the Labour Party and a very truthful person. As he had been brought into the Labour Party with a distinguished record as the former leader of Fife Council, rather from within the Party itself I felt he had no axe to grind and that he would tell the truth and not cover up on behalf of particular individuals if they, or he, had acted incorrectly. However, I did not feel the same about Lesley Quinn. There have been a number of instances in which, in my view, she tends to "cover up" for people. Having read reports of the inquiry in the newspapers, I came to the conclusion that Lesley Quinn and Annmarie Whyte had probably said what they were "told to say". My suspicion is that Lesley Quinn, Annmarie Whyte, Chris Winslow and Kevin Reid and Susan Hilliard would be likely to say what they had been "told to say" to protect individuals rather than to tell the truth and to ensure that the Labour Party acted properly.
  At one time Lesley Quinn threatened me that if I talked to anyone about anything to do with the Labour Party, I would be out. Lesley Quinn has since denied this conversation.
  I also gained the impression from work in the Scottish Labour Party that there were a group of people which included Chris Winslow, Kevin Reid, Annemarie Whyte and Lesley Quinn who were out to undermine Alex Rowley from the time of his appointment.
  I also formed the view that John Maxton was someone who always did what he was told and if Lesley Quinn had told him what he should say in an inquiry, he would have done what she said.
  KPMG were called in to carry out a piece of consultancy work in relation to the Scottish Labour Party at the end of July 1999. I noticed that Susan Hilliard was on the list of Labour Party staff required to give information to KPMG. She was also included as a member of Labour Party staff on a trip to Downing Street and on a boat trip outing after the Scottish Election."

17.  I also wrote to Ms Lesley Quinn, the General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, on 23 July 2001 to ask her for information about the letter of 10 November 1999 which Mr Maxton had written to her (Annex J).

18.  Ms Quinn replied on 13 August 2001 (Annex K) giving the following answers to my questions —

Question 1:Who wrote "Copy: All Staff" in handwriting on this letter?
  "The Senior Administrator in our office wrote "Copy all staff" on my instructions. This is normal practice for thank you letters and they are then placed in the mail trays of all concerned."
Question 2:Please list names of people to whom it was copied? Who copied it? Was it sent with a covering letter? If so, please provide me with a copy of the covering letter.
  "It would have been copied to all staff currently in employment with the Scottish Labour Party at that time.
  There would have been no covering letter, as indicated the normal practice above."
Question 3:What help did Mr Maxton's staff provide to you, during which time periods and for what purpose?
  "Mr Maxton is a very experienced parliamentarian and in particular I have great respect for his thoughts on elections, whether they be general or by-elections. As a Labour Member of Parliament, I have called on Mr Maxton's experience over the years. In contacting Mr Maxton's office over the years, his staff were always very helpful and very courteous towards me and other Scottish Labour Party staff. Examples of this would have been trying to get some time in his diary to advise at elections, to attend new members events and speak at Party development meetings.
  This letter is a result of Mr Maxton announcing his resignation as a Member of Parliament, which obviously means I took the opportunity to thank him."
Question 4:Mr Maxton says he has "always thought that MP's should look at their resources and find ways to help the Scottish Party". To what resources does he refer? What sort of help did Mr Maxton believe MP's should provide?
  "Could I refer you to Mr Maxton as I believe this is a question that should be directed at him. I am unable to answer this question."
Question 5:Which colleagues do you understand did not agree with him and why? Please give names.
  "Again could I refer you to Mr. Maxton as I believe this is a question that should be directed at him. I am unable to answer this question."
Question 6:This letter appears to relate to the period of my previous inquiry. If this is so, why did you not draw it to my attention at that time?
  (You will recall that during our discussion on 30 March 2000 I asked you whether I "had alerted you to other things you feel that I should be told to give me a proper and whole picture.")
  "I did not draw this to your attention during your enquiries as I believe it does not relate to them. It is simply a thank you letter which I circulated to all staff for motivational purposes. I think the fact that it was so widely circulated indicates my willingness to be open. Indeed, Mr. Dean Nelson from the Sunday Times contacted our Press Office when he wrote his story relating to this letter and it was fully explained to him at that time the correct circumstances."
Question 7:Mr Maxton thanks you for a letter which you sent him thanking him for his "help with staff over the past years." Please provide me with a copy of the letter to which he refers.
  "The letter is attached for your information."

19.  The letter reads (Annex K)

    "I write to thank you for your generous help over the past few years. This has been a great opportunity for party staff to gain confidence and experience. I am sure that the experience gained by the individuals will be of great use to them during their future careers.

    Thank you again."

20.  On 8 October I wrote to Ms Quinn to obtain the names of those to whom the letter of 10 November 1999 had been copied as she had not responded to my request for them in her letter of 13 August 2001 (Annex L).

Correspondence from Mr Maxton to the Chairman

21.  On 25 July 2001 Mr Maxton wrote to the Chairman enclosing an article from the BBC Scotland's Website which he believed indicated an "anomaly" between statements said to have been made by me concerning Mr Henry McLeish and the Committee's decision that I should pursue my enquiries into the complaint against him (Annex M).

22.  The Chairman replied in August correcting assertions in the article and providing Mr Maxton with information about the matters he had raised (Annex N).

Preparation of this Memorandum

23.  On 26 September 2001 I wrote to Mr Maxton to inform him that I was preparing this memorandum for the Committee and to ask him to let me know by 10 October if he wished me to attach any letter from him on the matter (Annex O).

24.  I have received no response from Mr Maxton, however he has written a letter dated 8 October to the Chairman to explain why he has not replied to my letters which I have attached (Annex P).


25.  Since I have been unable to obtain adequate information from Mr Maxton and Ms Quinn to settle this matter and to ensure the Committee has all the necessary information to reach a judgement on the complaint I recommend that the Committee take oral evidence on oath from Mr John Maxton and Ms Lesley Quinn, General Secretary, Scottish Labour Party.

26.  To ensure fairness in these particular circumstances the Committee may also wish to take oral evidence on oath from Mr John Rowan, Scottish Telephone Bank Organiser, Scottish Labour Party, 1996-May 1997 and September 1998-March 2001.

27.  Although the Committee took oral evidence during the previous inquiry from four people, they did not take evidence from Mr Chris Winslow, Researcher to Mr John Maxton MP, 1 June 1998-31 May 1999 or Mr Jonathan Upton, Director of Personnel, Labour Party Headquarters, London.

28.  Mr Winslow[12] was the person who allegedly worked on the Scottish Labour Party's campaign during hours paid for by the House of Commons through the OCA claimed by Mr Maxton.[13] During the period in question Mr Jonathan Upton[14] had overall responsibility for the employment of Labour Party Staff, the budget documents[15] which were provided to the inquiry, the payment of bonuses to those Labour Party staff—including Mr Winslow—who worked excess hours during the Scottish Parliamentary Election in 1999 and for the employers' records of Mr Winslow's employment and salary.

29.  I recommend that the Committee consider taking oral evidence on oath from Mr Winslow and Mr Upton.

12 October 2001

Elizabeth Filkin

6  Para. 2; Appendix 1; Second Report; Committee on Standards and Privileges; Session 2000-01 (HC 89); 21 December 2000. Complaint against Mr John Maxton and Dr John Reid. Back

7  Ibid, para. 288. Back

8  Report, para. 34. Back

9  Ibid, para. 42. Back

10  Ibid, para. 43. Back

11  Ibid, para. 44. Back

12  Appendix to Second Report, para. 28-34. Back

13  Ibid, para. 53. Back

14  Ibid, Annexes 187-200. Back

15  Ibid, Annexes 200, tables 5 & 6, pp ccxxiv-ccxxv. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 31 October 2001