Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report

Complaints against Mr Clive Betts

1. We have considered a memorandum by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards relating to allegations against Mr Clive Betts, Member for Sheffield Attercliffe. The Commissioner's memorandum is appended to this Report.

2. On 26 February, the Sun newspaper made a series of allegations about the circumstances in which Mr Clive Betts had employed a personal friend, Mr José Gasparo, a Brazilian national, to work for him at the House of Commons. Further allegations were made by the Sun newspaper over the next three days, including a claim that Mr Betts had been party to the altering of a letter for the purpose of facilitating Mr Gasparo's re-entry to the United Kingdom after the two of them had travelled abroad together.

3. On 28 February, Mr Betts wrote to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, seeking an investigation by him, in the context of the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament, of the propriety of his actions in relation to Mr Gasparo. Mr Betts had employed Mr Gasparo on a temporary basis as a Parliamentary researcher. In this letter, Mr Betts said "I am anxious to ensure that I have complied fully with the Code of Conduct". Mr Betts, accompanied by his solicitor, subsequently met the Commissioner on 3 March.

4. The Commissioner's remit in this regard, under the Standing Orders, is to investigate "specific complaints from Members and from members of the public in respect of … the propriety of a Member's conduct". With no complaint having been received, he reported to the Committee on his contacts with Mr Betts, and on Mr Betts' request for an investigation. The Committee authorised an investigation, having regard to Mr Betts' request.

5. A complaint was also received, on the day the Committee authorised the Commissioner to proceed with his investigation, based on related allegations which appeared in the Daily Mail on 5 March.

6. The details of the allegations against Mr Betts are summarised in the Commissioner's report. The issues of concern can broadly be summarised as follows:

  • whether Mr Gasparo had the skills and experience to do the job for which he was recruited, and whether his employment represented a proper use of public funds;

  • whether there were any other factors, besides Mr Gasparo's skills and experience, that Mr Betts should have taken account of before employing him; and

  • the events surrounding Mr Gasparo's re-entry into the United Kingdom following his holiday with Mr Betts (his leave to enter as a student having expired in the course of the holiday).

7. We agree with the Commissioner that, on the evidence available, Mr Betts did not contravene any rules of the House relating to the staffing allowance in employing Mr Gasparo.

8. At the time when Mr Betts offered to employ Mr Gasparo, he was aware that Mr Gasparo had recently worked as a male escort. He was also aware that Mr Gasparo had leave to enter as a student, due to expire on 19 February, some six weeks before it was intended that Mr Gasparo's period of employment should end.

9. As to Mr Gasparo's previous work as a male escort, Mr Betts told the Commissioner that he genuinely believed that Mr Gasparo had given up his escort activities. He said that he did not know anything about the rest of Mr Gasparo's life or about his other friends.

10. The responsibility for the decision to employ Mr Gasparo was Mr Betts' alone. While an application for a House of Commons pass would reveal whether Mr Gasparo had previous criminal convictions or known terrorist involvement, it would not have revealed, and was not designed to reveal, other possible grounds on which he might have been unsuitable for employment in the House. It was Mr Betts' responsibility to satisfy himself on this point. Indeed, whether or not a pass was authorised, we understand that Mr Betts could have continued to employ Mr Gasparo on the Parliamentary Estate, provided he continued to be escorted by a full pass-holder at all times.

11. Past experience indicates how the employment in the Palace of Westminster of a person with a history of work in the sex industry can become a cause of public scandal, and thereby risk damaging public confidence in Parliament as an institution. We consider that Mr Betts might have considered this aspect of Mr Gasparo's employment further. We agree with the Commissioner that Mr Betts had a duty in this respect, to other Members and to the House itself.

12. We agree with Mr Betts that Mr Gasparo's conditions of entry into the United Kingdom posed no barrier to his employment. However, Mr Betts will have been aware that Mr Gasparo's leave to remain expired significantly before his employment by Mr Betts was due to end. Mr Betts does not appear to have grasped the possible significance of this. Although it was Mr Gasparo's responsibility to ensure that he continued to comply with his conditions of entry, Mr Betts might have been expected to take more interest in this matter as, although he would have committed no offence by so doing, he would not have wished knowingly to have employed an over-stayer in view of the potential adverse publicity this might have brought. Had he sought advice, as he was entitled to do, from the Personnel Advice Service operated by the Department of Finance and Administration, it would have suggested a temporary contract of employment pending possible renewal of Mr Gasparo's leave to remain in the United Kingdom.

13. We consider that Mr Betts might have thought rather more carefully before employing Mr Gasparo. While we acknowledge the steps that Mr Betts did take to seek to satisfy himself as to Mr Gasparo's suitability for the post in the broadest sense, we believe his decision to employ him was unwise.

14. On the question of the circumstances of Mr Gasparo's re-entry into the United Kingdom, there is no dispute that a copy was made of the altered fax of the letter of enrolment for Mr Gasparo's proposed further course of study. There is a difference of view over the part, if any, which it might have played in securing Mr Gasparo's re-entry to the United Kingdom.

15. The key issue is that Mr Betts succumbed to pressure and made such a copy, for which there was no legitimate need. Mr Betts told the Commissioner that Mr Gasparo already had with him a letter confirming that his current course of study did not finish until 7 March and Mr Betts had urged him to rely on that. He also told the Commissioner that Mr Gasparo did not have with him the original documents necessary to have obtained, on his re-entry to the United Kingdom, leave to enter as a student for the duration of his proposed new course. The terms of the limited entry given by the immigration officer are consistent with this.

16. There can be little doubt that Mr Gasparo hoped that the altered version of the letter of acceptance would have been looked upon more favourably than the original. The upshot of Mr Betts' action in agreeing to make a copy of the altered letter was that he connived in a course of action which might have led to the immigration officer being deceived as to facts on which to decide on Mr Gasparo's re-entry to the United Kingdom.

17. It is clear from the immigration officer's report that neither the original fax (had it not been altered), nor the copy of the altered version, were going to be relevant to her decision, as they were not the required original documents. Mr Betts should have trusted his earlier judgement, that Mr Gasparo should rely instead on the fact that his current course did not finish until 7 March (and according to Mr Betts he had a letter with him to that effect) to regain entry into the United Kingdom.

18. The Commissioner concluded that by applying for a Parliamentary pass for Mr Gasparo, which he described as "a natural consequence of the decision to employ him", Mr Betts was in breach of the provision of the Code of Conduct requiring Members to conduct themselves at all times in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament. We have concluded that Mr Betts was unwise to employ Mr Gasparo, and therefore agree with the Commissioner's conclusion that there was a breach of the Code.

19. We also agree with the Commissioner that, in making a photocopy of the altered fax of the college letter, when Mr Gasparo's improper intentions in relation to the copy should have been clear to him, Mr Betts conduct fell well below the standard expected of a Member, in terms of maintaining and strengthening the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and never undertaking any action which would bring the House of Commons, or its Members generally, into disrepute.

20. Having been shown a full copy of the Commissioner's report, Mr Betts made a written submission to us. This is reproduced at Appendix B.

21. We have given very careful consideration to Mr Betts' submission; his welcome recognition of the fairness of the Commissioner's report; and the further points he has made about the circumstances in which he agreed to copy the altered letter. We also acknowledge that Mr Betts voluntarily sought an investigation of his conduct, and his co-operation with the Commissioner. We recognise, too, that there are related aspects of these events, with which we are not concerned, that have caused him considerable personal distress.

22. Mr Betts stated in his submission that, if the Committee agreed that he had made the errors of judgement contained in the Commissioner's report, he would wish to apologise unreservedly for his actions, for the inconvenience caused and for any embarrassment that may have been caused to the House. As we agree with the Commissioner's conclusions, we look to Mr Betts to make an early apology to the House.

23. We have also considered whether we should recommend further action to the House. Of the two errors of judgement identified in the Commissioner's report, that relating to the copying of the altered document is undoubtedly the more serious. As we have said earlier, Mr Gasparo's intentions were clear, and Mr Betts should not have been party to them. Mr Betts undoubtedly acted extremely foolishly, given the risk of immigration offences being committed. We recommend that he should be suspended from the service of the House for seven days.

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Prepared 17 July 2003