Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Eighth Report


Memorandum submitted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Complaints against Mr Archy Kirkwood

1.  On 20 December 2001 The Independent newspaper published an article claiming that Mr Archy Kirkwood, Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire—a member of the House of Commons Commission—had failed to register payments totalling £14,500 made to him in 1989 and 1992 by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Limited ('JRRT Limited' or 'the Trust') towards the cost of a research assistant who had worked for him in his Scottish constituency. The article is at Annex A.

2.  On 19 January 2002, Mr Adrian Flook, Member for Taunton, wrote to my predecessor asking her to investigate the claims made in The Independent. Mr Flook also alleged that payments made to Mr Kirkwood in 1997 had not been declared, that Mr Kirkwood had not declared his directorships in every Register since he took on the position in 1985 and that entries made by Mr Kirkwood in the Register relating to support he had received from the Trust were ambiguous. A copy of Mr Flook's letter is at Annex B.

3.  On 2 and 21 January, my predecessor received letters from Mr Ian Bruce (a former Member of the House) also complaining about Mr Kirkwood. To the original allegations in The Independent, Mr Bruce added the suggestion (in his letter of 2 January) that the activities of JRRT Limited were a way of masking money paid for party political activities. In his letter of 21 January he listed seven further complaints: —

    (1)  that Mr Kirkwood's omission of 'Limited' from the end of his Register entry relating to the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust might mislead the casual reader into confusing this organisation with the charitable Joseph Rowntree Foundation;

    (2)  that Mr Kirkwood had not registered or declared a position as chairman of the board of JRRT (Properties) Ltd and that of JRRT (Investments) Ltd, nor as chairman of the trustees of Joseph Rowntree Social Service Charitable Trust (the 'JRSS Charitable Trust' or 'the Charitable Trust') which Mr Bruce described as a non-registered charity;

    (3)  that whereas Mr Kirkwood said he was unremunerated, he and his constituency party had received substantial support over the years from JRRT Ltd, and that during his time as Chairman of JRRT Ltd there had been a marked change in the distribution of funds towards campaigns in line with his personal political objectives;

    (4)  that Mr Kirkwood had failed to declare the amount of the support he had received from JRRT Ltd in relation to his 2001 election campaign;

    (5)  that he had similarly failed to register regular donations over £500 made to his constituency party in 1995, 1997 and 1999;

    (6)  that it was improper for Mr Kirkwood to receive help from JRRT Ltd towards expenses incurred by him in connection with his chairmanship of the House's Work and Pensions Committee and that there might be a conflict of interest because some of the organisations appearing before the Committee could have received grants from JRRT Ltd;

    (7)  that there was a real interest to be declared because a number of those associated with JRRT Ltd had gone on to be ennobled or had received substantial grants for their future activities. Mr Bruce suggested that this meant that Mr Kirkwood should either not have intervened or should at least have declared an interest in every debate in which he spoke on matters in relation to which JRRT Ltd had made grants, whether to him personally or to others, and (in his letter of 2 January) that all the grants made by JRRT Ltd should have been listed in the Register of Members' Interests.

4.  Mr Bruce summed up his complaints by saying that there was overwhelming evidence that Mr Kirkwood had not made a proper declaration of interests in the Register or in debates, and that he believed it inappropriate for Mr Kirkwood to be chairman of a body making grants for political purposes and at the same time chairman of a select committee and spokesman for the House of Commons Commission. He called for a special ruling from the House authorities on how outside bodies should publish their donations. A copy of each of Mr Bruce's two letters is at Annexes C and D.


5.  In the light of the complaints against him, Mr Kirkwood stood down as a member of the House of Commons Commission from any involvement in the process leading up to my appointment as Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. As the matter had not by then been resolved, I took over from Ms Filkin on my appointment the investigation of the complaints. At the time of the appearance of the articles in the Independent newspaper, Mr Kirkwood was in touch with the Registrar of Members' Interests about his Register entries and copies of this correspondence are attached as Annex Ei-iii. He subsequently corresponded with and met my predecessor, and has since had contact with me (Annex Fi-xii). At all points Mr Kirkwood has answered fully my requests for information.

JRRT Limited

6.  In order to assess the complaints it is necessary first to have an understanding of the nature of JRRT Limited.

7.  The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (originally the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust) was one of three trusts established by the Quaker chocolate maker and philanthropist, Joseph Rowntree, the other two being the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Unlike the others, JRRT Limited is not a charity but a limited company. It pays tax on its income and therefore, unlike a charity, is free to give grants for political purposes. The Trust describes its principal concern as "the continuity of reform within the democratic system".

8.  Grants allocated by the Trust total around £750,000 a year. According to the Trust, it directs most of its resources towards campaigning and pressure group activity in the United Kingdom. The Trust is not committed to the policies of any one political party and has given grants to individual politicians and groups supporting new policies from all the major parties in the UK. The Directors Reports and Financial Statements for the years 1995 to 2000 support the assertion that grants have been made across all the parties, although with a bias—understandable in the light of the inclinations of the Founder—towards those which might be popularly seen as taking a more radical stance on social issues. Since 1998, in the interests of openness, JRRT Ltd has annually lodged a list of recipients of its political grants with my office and the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

9.  Mr Kirkwood was appointed a trustee of JRRT Ltd in 1984. He registered his interest in 1995 (before 1994 there was no Register category for unremunerated interests). On 24 September 1999 he became the chairman of the Trust.

Analysis of the complaints

(i)  Alleged failure to register payments made by JRRT Limited in 1989 and 1992

10.  Mr Kirkwood has confirmed that during the period December 1989 to April 1992 he was provided with the services of a research assistant, who worked for him in his constituency. The assistant was engaged and paid by JRRT Ltd from their office in York, although Mr Kirkwood was his employer. The total cost of the research assistant was some £53,000; the chartered accountants Garbutt Elliott certified an extract from the accounts of the Trust showing payments to Mr Kirkwood of £1,849 in 1989, £20,121 in 1990, £20,359 in 1991 and £10,716 in 1992 (a further £2,000 being paid in that year to Mr Kirkwood's constituency party). Mr Kirkwood first registered this assistance in November 1990. In fact, under the Rules then in operation, Mr Kirkwood should have notified the Registrar of this arrangement within four weeks of its coming into operation. However he remedied this omission by his own hand in November 1990.

11.  No entry regarding research assistance appears in the first Register of the 1992 Parliament, which is dated December 1992. JRRT Ltd made a severance payment to the assistant in 1992 while he looked for other work. However, Mr Kirkwood told me that the assistant's service with him had ended in April 1992 and there was therefore no registrable interest in the new Parliament.

(ii)  Payments made in 1997

12.  Between 1995 and 1997 Mr Kirkwood received financial support from JRRT Ltd towards the cost of a researcher undertaking a study, overseen by Mr Kirkwood, on alternative financial systems for paying for long-term care of the elderly. The researcher was engaged by the Trust and paid by them, although Mr Kirkwood was his employer. He began work in October 1995 and Mr Kirkwood registered this at the time. The entry read:

    "From October 1995 I receive research assistance on community care from an assistant whose salary is paid by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust."

The matter continued to be recorded thereafter in the Register until a new Register was published in November 1997, following the General Election of that year. No entry appeared in that Register because the project had been completed in the spring of 1997.

13.  To complete the picture of financial support from JRRT Ltd to Mr Kirkwood, £8,268 was paid in 1998-99 to fund an assistant to research and write up a pamphlet on proposals for the regulation of remuneration packages for top executives in publicly quoted UK companies. The project was jointly overseen by Mr Kirkwood and his fellow Trust director, Professor Trevor Smith. An entry in relation to this matter appeared in the January 1999 Register in the following terms:

    "From November 1998 I receive research assistance on company directors' pay from an assistant whose salary is paid until April 1999 by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust."

14.  A further matter needs mention here. In response to a question from my predecessor as to whether he took part in the deliberations of the directors of JRRT Ltd when the question of support for himself or his constituency was raised, Mr Kirkwood replied that it had never been the practice of directors to exclude colleagues from meetings and that he had always contributed to discussions about all grants made, including those projects in which he had an active personal interest. He added 'Following the Quaker principle of 'strengthening the hand' it has always been an important part of the culture of the Trust that individual Trustees should be personally involved in the work of the Trust and should themselves direct and guide the appropriation of the funds'. This is a matter which relates to the practices of the Trust in general, not solely to Mr Kirkwood, nor does it relate to his role as a Member. It is therefore a matter for the directors to consider, and not one on which I comment.

(iii) The omission of "Limited" after JRRT in Mr Kirkwood's Register entry

15.  Mr Kirkwood's current Register entry does not give the full title of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Limited in that it omits the word "Limited". In this respect, it is incomplete. Mr Kirkwood has apologised for this omission.

(iv)   Alleged failure to declare chairmanship of the Boards of JRRT (Properties) Limited and JRRT (Investments) Limited

16.  Mr Kirkwood explained that he is chairman of neither of these companies, as their published reports and financial statements confirm. He is chairman of the trustees of the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Charitable Trust. This position is not a directorship and is not remunerated. The Charitable Trust works alongside JRRT Limited (both spring from the original Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust Limited) and makes grants for similar purposes where use of charitable funds is appropriate. Although one of the complainants described it as a non-registered charity it is, in fact, registered with the Charity Commission as Registered Charity No. 247498. Mr Kirkwood does not list this position separately from JRRT Ltd in his current Register entry.

(v)  Alleged misrepresentation of the extent of Mr Kirkwood's financial interest

17.  This allegation relates to Mr Bruce's complaint that whereas Mr Kirkwood's Register entry says that he is unremunerated as a director of JRRT Ltd, both he and his constituency party have received significant financial help from the company. Mr Kirkwood's interest in JRRT Ltd is not such as to require him to register it as a remunerated directorship under Category 1 of the categories of Registrable Interest. He has appropriately registered the directorship under Category 10 (the Miscellaneous category), as well as registering separately as required any grants or other benefits received.

18.  Mr Bruce also claims that there has been a marked change in the distribution of grants made by JRRT Ltd since Mr Kirkwood became its chairman. The grant-making policies of the company (and the associated charitable trust) are a matter for its directors (or, in the case of the charitable trust, its trustees) and not for me. I note, however, that Mr Kirkwood denies any such change and points out that between the General Elections of 1997 and 2001 JRRT Ltd made awards totalling £285,000 to Conservative Party related bodies.

(vi)  Alleged failure to register the amounts of support received in relation to the 2001 election campaign

19.  Mr Kirkwood's entry in the Register published in November 2001 included:

    "Contributions of more than 25% of my election expenses at the 2001 General Election were made by the Former Jedforest Liberal Club per Andrew Haddon & Crowe Solicitors, and by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust."

Mr Bruce suggests that Mr Kirkwood should have registered the precise sum he received from JRRT Ltd, but he was not obliged by the Rules to do so.

(vii) Alleged failure to register regular donations made to constituency party in 1995, 1997 and


20.  Members are required to register any donation of £500 or more per annum made by an organisation or company on a regular basis to their constituency party when such donations are linked directly to their candidacy or membership of the House. Mr Kirkwood's constituency association received grants from JRRT Ltd of £400 in 1995, £2,000 in 1997 and £850 in 1999. The first did not require to be registered because it was under the threshold: the second did and was registered as a contribution of more than 25 per cent of Mr Kirkwood's election expenses that year. As regards the third, Mr Kirkwood wrote to the then Registrar of Members' Interests in January 2000 (the payment had been made in December) enquiring if it should be registered. He was advised that it should not. With the benefit of hindsight it might have been better if Mr Kirkwood had been advised that he should register the payment, given the amount, the previous pattern of payments, and Mr Kirkwood's relationship with JRRT Ltd. However, Mr Kirkwood acted on advice and is therefore not culpable.

(vii) Contribution to Mr Kirkwood's expenses as a Select Committee Chairman

21.  In 1998 Mr Kirkwood received £251, in 1999 £1,290 and in 2000 £459 towards expenses incurred by him as Chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee (formerly the Social Security select committee) not otherwise eligible for reimbursement. The trustees of JRRT Ltd agreed that Mr Kirkwood could claim up to £2,000 per Parliament in this capacity.

22.  The money was used to cover the costs of committee entertainment for which Mr Kirkwood was not eligible to be reimbursed under the existing rules. Examples of this included a working lunch to enable Mr Kirkwood and the Committee's specialist adviser to meet the Chairman of the Social Security Advisory Committee and his assistant, and a similar lunch for Mr Kirkwood, the Committee Clerk and specialist assistant to meet the newly appointed Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus. Mr Kirkwood has stated that he discussed the matter with the then Clerk to the Select Committee before this arrangement with JRRT Ltd was instituted and that members and the present Committee Clerk were always told of the events held and the source of the funding. The current Clerk, who became Clerk of the Committee in November 1999, has confirmed that he is informed of proposals to use the fund and is frequently asked to make the necessary arrangements.

(ix)  The alleged conflict of interest between Mr Kirkwood's role in relation to JRRT Ltd and his position as a Select Committee chairman

23.  Mr Bruce suggests that Mr Kirkwood ought not to function as a Select Committee chairman because of a potential conflict of interest between this role and his role as Chairman of a body (JRRT Ltd) donating grants for political purposes. He goes on to suggest either that Mr Kirkwood should not intervene in Parliament in relation to matters on which JRRT Ltd has given grants or that he should declare his interest in relation to JRRT Ltd on each occasion that he does so (and that all grants made by JRRT Ltd should be listed in the Register.)

24.  Dealing first with this last point, there is no requirement on Mr Kirkwood to make such an entry in the Register now, nor do I believe that there should be. JRRT Ltd is entitled under the law to make the grants it does. Many Members sit on charitable or other grant-making bodies, the activities of which may be relevant to matters under discussion in Parliament. If they had to register all the grants made by those bodies the list would be a long one. Provided that Members signal through an appropriate Register entry their membership of a grant-making body (as Mr Kirkwood has done), it is open to a Member or a member of the public who wishes to obtain this information to do so direct from the body concerned or through Companies House or the Charity Commission as appropriate.

25.  Similarly a requirement that Members either remain silent or declare an interest in relation to debates on matters where bodies of which they are members have given grants does not feature in the present Rules and in my submission the introduction of such a requirement would prove unnecessarily onerous and restrictive. The key consideration— reflected in the existing Rules—is that Members should declare (or register) an interest where they have a relationship with a body which is beneficial to them (the Member), not one where their relationship may be beneficial to a third party (in this case, other recipients of JRRT Ltd's grant.).

26.  In suggesting that Mr Kirkwood cannot act as a select committee chairman because he chairs a body (JRRT Ltd) which makes grants for campaigning and political purposes, Mr Bruce appears to be inviting the introduction of new rules restricting Members who act as Committee chairmen. This would be a matter for the House, but there is no evidence that such a rule would be of benefit to it.

27.  If Mr Kirkwood were ever to find himself in a situation in which the Select Committee he chairs was taking evidence from a body which JRRT Ltd or the JRSS Charitable Trust was at the same time funding, I think it would be wise for him to make this known to the Committee. I note that Mr Kirkwood cannot recall his committee ever taking evidence from bodies supported by the trust and that he has never felt any conflict of interest in his role as a trust director and as a select committee chairman or a member of the House of Commons Commission.

Conclusion and recommendations

28.  I consider first those of the complaints relating to alleged failure by Mr Kirkwood to register matters accurately in the Register of Members' Interests.

29.  It will be clear from the preceding analysis that Mr Kirkwood did commit an error in failing to register before November 1990 the support he received from JRRT Ltd in respect of the employment from December 1989 of an assistant in his constituency. However, he himself rectified this omission in November 1990. I have seen no evidence that Mr Kirkwood failed to register support received in 1992.

30.  In weighing these complaints, it is relevant that the Standards and Privileges Committee has decided that it would not normally expect the Commissioner to investigate a complaint about a matter more than seven years old, unless the allegations were of a serious nature or the complaint was linked to a more recent one.

31.  As regards the complaint that Mr Kirkwood failed to register support received by him in 1997 and 2001, and by his constituency party in 1995, 1997 and 1999, there is no evidence that Mr Kirkwood failed to comply with the requirements on Members. I think in retrospect that the payment made to his constituency in 1999 would have been better registered but (for the reason given in paragraph 20) no blame attaches to Mr Kirkwood.

32.  Mr Kirkwood's Register entries in respect of JRRT Ltd are not as full as they might be in that they do not give the full title of the body (the omission of the word "Limited") and they describe him as a director and do not indicate that he is also chairman. Whether these omissions are material is a matter of judgement. I do not myself believe them to be significant in the way Mr Bruce suggests but they are easily remedied. Mr Kirkwood has amended his Register entry accordingly.

33.  Mr Kirkwood has also amended his Register entry to list separately his chairmanship of the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Charitable Trust. Mr Kirkwood was not obliged by the rules to register this—and regarded it as being in effect covered by his entry in relation to JRRT Ltd. The inclusion of a separate entry in the Register puts the matter beyond doubt.

34.  Turning to the alleged conflict of interest between Mr Kirkwood's position as Chairman of JRRT Ltd and his chairmanship of the Work and Pensions Committee, the fact that Mr Kirkwood has received assistance from JRRT Ltd towards certain costs incurred in the latter role has been made known by him to Committee members and the Committee clerk. Transparency has been preserved and nothing done by Mr Kirkwood in this context has been improper. There may be a question about whether the rules on reimbursement of expenses incurred by Members in relation to committee work can in some instances operate too restrictively and whether it would not be better for such expenses to be met from public rather than private funds. That is not a matter for me.

35.  I have examined, in paragraphs 24-27 above, the suggestion that Mr Kirkwood should have included in his Register entry all grants made by JRRT Ltd and that he should either have refrained from intervening on, or when speaking should have declared an interest in relation to, any matter in respect of which JRRT Ltd had made a grant. Such action is not required by the Rules and for the reasons given earlier I believe that it would be unnecessarily onerous and restrictive to introduce such a requirement.

36.  Finally there is the suggestion that it is in some way incompatible for Mr Kirkwood to be chairman of a body making grants for broadly political purposes and chairman of a select committee or a member of the House of Commons Commission. I do not endorse this view. Politics inescapably involves the exercise of influence. What is critical, from the point of view of the public interest, is that the existence of opportunities for Members to exert influence is publicly known. In the present case, this means that the fact that Mr Kirkwood occupies the role of Chairman of JRRT Ltd and of JRSS Charitable Trust should be registered and that through this and the fact that the grants made by the bodies are made public, there should be a proper trail of information which an interested Member or member of the public can follow. In other words, the exercise of influence should not be covert. There is no evidence that, for practical purposes, it has been in this case. I do, however, consider that if the Select Committee of which Mr Kirkwood is chairman takes evidence in future from a body currently receiving a grant from JRRT Ltd or JRSS Charitable Trust, Mr Kirkwood should make this known to the Committee (see paragraph 27 above).

37.  I conclude that on the evidence available the complaints made against Mr Kirkwood have no substance, with the minor exceptions referred to in paragraphs 29 and 32. The temporary omission of an appropriate Register entry in 1990, while an error, is long past and was remedied by Mr Kirkwood himself. Mr Kirkwood's current Register entry could helpfully be amplified in some respects, as I have indicated, and Mr Kirkwood has agreed to do this. I suggest that no further action is needed.

17 April 2002


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