Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Third Report



1. We have considered a memorandum by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards relating to a complaint against Mr Jonathan Sayeed, Member for Mid Bedfordshire, by Mr Ivan Henderson, Member for Harwich. The Commissioner's memorandum is appended to this Report.[1]

2. In his complaint Mr Henderson sought an investigation into whether Mr Sayeed had "abused Parliamentary privilege" in respect of his association with The English Manner Limited, a company in which Mr Sayeed has a 30% shareholding. He also asked the Commissioner to examine whether it was ethical for Mr Sayeed to employ Mrs Alexandra Messervy as his constituency assistant when she was also the majority shareholder of The English Manner Limited, "a dual role that may have resulted in an unacceptable conflict of interest".

3. In support of his requests, Mr Henderson drew attention to allegations made by The Sunday Times in August 2004.[2] He also submitted to the Commissioner material supplied by that source, some of which the Commissioner has submitted to us with his memorandum.[3]

4. Mr Sayeed has vigorously and consistently denied any impropriety, either in relation to his relationship with The English Manner Limited or in his employment of Mrs Messervy as his constituency assistant.

5. Besides the Commissioner's memorandum, we have received further material from both Mr Sayeed, reproduced at Appendices 3 and 4, and Mrs Messervy, reproduced at Appendix 2. Mr Sayeed also asked to give oral evidence, which we took on 25 January 2005.[4]

The English Manner Limited

6. The English Manner Limited was incorporated in June 2001. Mrs Messervy has a 60% shareholding. Mr Sayeed, who is also a consultant to the company, has a 30% shareholding. The remaining 10% is owned by Mrs Genie Ford. She and Mrs Messervy are the directors of the company, and the operation of The English Manner in the United States is under the day-to-day management of Mrs Ford.[5] In particular, the company's website is maintained there.[6]

7. Amongst other business ventures, the company offers on the American market luxury travel packages to the United Kingdom, which typically include an instructional element. The company markets these and other activities in part on the basis of the exclusivity of the access it is able to arrange.

The key issues

8. It has long been accepted that exploiting membership of the House for personal gain, or the use of its facilities to further a commercial interest, is wrong. The issues at the heart of this case therefore appear to be:

Financial benefit

9. We accept, as did the Commissioner,[7] that there is no evidence that Mr Sayeed received any direct financial benefit from any of the occasions on which he entertained in the House guests who had links with The English Manner Limited.

10. As to the question of potential indirect benefit, Mr Sayeed asserts[8] that, on each occasion, he was entertaining in a personal capacity, because at least one member of each group was a personal friend. Any link to The English Manner Limited was, he maintains, incidental, and those involved should properly have drawn a distinction between what had been provided by the company contractually, and what he provided on a personal basis.[9]

11. We do not consider that this argument is sustainable. We have seen a copy of the programme The English Manner issued for the visit of the Lake Forest Garden group[10] and which was circulated in advance to the group leader.[11] It shows as part of the main programme for Tuesday 25 May "a unique private tour and champagne reception with senior Members of Parliament and the House of Lords … After dinner, if parliamentary business allows it, there may be an opportunity to listen to the business of the day in the debating chamber of the Lords or Commons". Given that, three days earlier, Mr Sayeed was to accompany the group on its visit to Gorhambury in his "English Manner" capacity, we doubt whether they would have drawn the distinction which Mr Sayeed seeks to make, particularly as only one of the group, its leader, was a personal friend.[12].

12. Likewise, in relation to the visit of the Supreme Court judges, we note that Mr Sayeed accompanied the group to view the Trooping of the Colour, and also hosted a buffet lunch at the House for the group.[13] However, the visitors apparently met the cost through an advance payment to The English Manner's American bank account; it would therefore have been entirely understandable if they assumed that The English Manner was responsible for the arrangements.

13. Similar considerations also apply to the 'familiarisation visit' dinner of 27 March 2003. Mr Sayeed describes this as a visit of 'US directors, staff, potential staff and others, only one of whom I knew' and came as part of a tour covering hotels, residences, activities and attractions away from the Palace of Westminster. [14] It would in our view have been a subtle distinction for the guests to have made, that all the visits except the visit to the Palace of Westminster were for the promotion of the commercial interests of The English Manner Limited.

14. Mr Sayeed has confirmed[15] that there was no discussion with guests that might help them to appreciate the distinctive status of their visit to the House. In making bookings, Mr Sayeed implicitly conceded the possibility of an interest being involved by ticking the relevant box on the booking form. We also note that, on one occasion, Mr Sayeed invited another Member to join him at one of those events, but did not make clear the relationship between himself and The English Manner Limited.[16]

15. We therefore agree with the Commissioner[17] that, taken as a whole, the effect of the visits to the House was likely to be to give credibility to the company's overall marketing claim that it could gain access for its clients to institutions, people and places which would otherwise be difficult. Such an enhancement of credibility would be likely to have a beneficial effect on the company's business, and hence on the value of Mr Sayeed's investment. He thus stood to benefit indirectly, both as a shareholder and as a consultant to the company, in which capacity he received fees and expenses-paid travel in return for the advice he gave.

The risk of a conflict of interest

16. Mr Sayeed told both the Commissioner[18] and us[19] that he gave oral instructions that neither his name, nor Parliament should be used by The English Manner Limited in its marketing activities. He had seen no need to check on this, and had instead assumed that his instructions would be followed in this matter, given that the company was small.[20] In particular, he had never looked at the company's website, as his duties as a consultant did not require him to do so.

17. Much of the evidence has centred on what appeared on the company's website, and whether its posting was authorised. However, Mr Sayeed has made clear[21] that the website was only ever intended as an auxiliary marketing tool; the principal methods of marketing were the use of agents, the Virtuoso network, private clubs, the Junior League and word of mouth of satisfied customers. There is therefore a broader question as to whether claims of privileged access to the House formed part of the company's overall marketing strategy, one part of which was material appearing on the website.

18. Besides the visit of the Lake Forest Gardening Club, where from the material supplied to us a visit to the House seems to have appeared as part of the core programme in both the draft sent to the principal organiser and the version given to participants on arrival, the article quoted by the Commissioner at paragraph 5(i) of his memorandum strongly suggests that The English Manner Limited could provide special access to the Palace of Westminster. This article was written by Mrs Ford, a director of the company. Mrs Messervy has described it as "not originally intended for the website, it was instead a newsletter which was sent out with a Christmas card to those who had supported The English Manner as an update and was intended as much as anything to indicate the new staff who were coming on board …".[22]

19. It is clear to us from the tone of this article, and the intended readership, that its purpose was to further the commercial interests of The English Manner Limited, whether or not it was intended to appear, as in fact it did, on the company's website. By specifically connecting Mr Sayeed's name and that of Parliament, within three sentences, with the expression "fabulous English Manner adventure", Mrs Ford was explicitly bringing together three elements that Mr Sayeed had insisted should not be linked when promoting the company. We doubt that such a senior figure in the company could have made such a basic mistake through simple oversight.

20. Although it has been maintained[23] that the posting on the website of certain material was unauthorised, the material itself was presumably prepared by the company for some other purpose, such as illustrations for prospective clients in the United States. What appeared on the website is therefore likely to reflect the scope of what the company was, in principle, willing to arrange. The evidence from the website is that this could include access to Parliament beyond that available to the general public.

21. Mr Sayeed, whose role as consultant to the company covered the giving of strategic and marketing advice, clearly recognised the potential scope for conflict of interest in relation to access to Parliament, and maintains that he issued oral instructions designed to avoid this. It is clear that these were not always followed; the article written by Mrs Ford and referred to above is a particular case in point.

22. Mr Sayeed has conceded that users of The English Manner website could have believed that the company was in the business of providing access to the House of Commons.[24] He has also accepted that he should have looked at the website[25] and that he had been "extremely naïve" simply to assume that his instructions would automatically be followed.[26]

23. Primary responsibility for both The English Manner Limited's marketing strategy and the content of its website must rest with the company's management. Nonetheless, we agree with Mr Sayeed that it would have been better if he had looked from time to time at the company's website; it is unfortunate that Mrs Messervy, who told us[27] that she was aware of the difficulties in this respect over inclusion of references to Parliament and to Mr Sayeed, did not alert him to them. He is a long-standing Member of the House and, as such, was clearly aware of the scope for a conflict of interest, and the possible consequences of such a conflict. We therefore agree with the Commissioner that Mr Sayeed should have done more to seek to avoid such conflict, and should have taken a far closer interest in the company's marketing strategy in this respect, including its use of the website as a promotional tool.

Employment of Mrs Alexandra Messervy

24. The second leg of Mr Henderson's complaint was whether it was ethical for Mr Sayeed to employ Mrs Messervy as his constituency assistant when she was also the majority shareholder of The English Manner Limited.

25. Mrs Messervy was employed by Mr Sayeed on a part-time basis. As the Commissioner notes, Members' staff are not prohibited from undertaking any other paid work when they are not working for the Member.[28] Mrs Messervy registered her role in relation to The English Manner Limited, recognising that in this capacity she might benefit from possession of a parliamentary pass. The Commissioner found no evidence that Mrs Messervy had failed to complete her contracted hours, had carried out other than parliamentary work during those hours, or that she had misused office or other facilities to help her conduct The English Manner Limited's business. We accept this.

26. Mr Sayeed maintains that an adequate 'separation of powers' was in place between Mrs Messervy's various roles.[29] These also included functions as an officer of Mr Sayeed's constituency association.

27. While Mr Sayeed and Mrs Messervy may themselves have a clear understanding of their various working relationships, and have acted properly to separate them, we agree with the Commissioner that, on the evidence we have seen, this separation would not have been apparent to an outside observer. In our opinion, for Mr Sayeed to have been employing, as a member of his parliamentary staff, someone who was actively involved in a company in which he had a financial interest and which, at the least, was giving an impression of being able to offer privileged access to Parliament, was unwise.

28. Mr Sayeed maintained in his evidence that he was unaware that The English Manner Limited appeared to be promoting itself in a manner that might be perceived as exploiting privileged access to Parliament, though in his oral evidence[30] he acknowledged that others might see it differently. We consider that employing Mrs Messervy, who played a leading role in the company's management, as a member of his parliamentary staff meant that he should have taken positive steps to satisfy himself that her activities in this respect were not incompatible with such employment. His failure to do so demonstrates an inability to recognise the potential reputational risks—both to himself and to the House—of his involvement with The English Manner Limited. These risks were undoubtedly enhanced by also employing one of the principals of The English Manner Limited at public expense.

29. Mr Sayeed's failure to ensure that Mrs Messervy was given a job description for her work as his constituency assistant when the House's rules changed in July 2001 was also unfortunate in this respect. While provision of such a job description would have represented in Mrs Messervy's case best practice rather than a requirement of the rules of the House, devising one might have led Mr Sayeed to focus more clearly on the risks inherent in their collective involvement in The English Manner Limited.

30. As the Commissioner states, Mr Sayeed should have acted with greater care in this respect. More generally, we advise all Members to take care when employing staff to check their outside interests and to ensure that staff divest themselves of any that might be incompatible with their employment, or have the potential to damage the reputation of the House. This is particularly important if Members are employing friends, relations, and business or political associates.

31. In a previous case,[31] the Commissioner suggested some more general guidelines for use of the staffing allowance. We have subsequently drawn attention to these guidelines,[32] which have been carried forward into the current (July 2004) electronic version of the Green Book.[33] We also refer Members to them.

Other matters

32. Two other matters emerged in the course of the Commissioner's investigation. The first was that Mr Sayeed had made six registrable visits in all to the United States at the expense of The English Manner Limited, rather than the four that had been registered and confirmed to the Commissioner in the course of the investigation.[34] The second was that he had on four occasions given incorrect information to the Department of Finance and Administration concerning the employment status of Mrs Messervy.

33. On 5 January 2005, Mr Sayeed registered two further overseas visits on behalf of The English Manner Limited, which took place on 21-29 February 2004 and 24-30 April 2004 respectively. In evidence to us, he apologised for his oversight in not registering them before, for which he accepted responsibility, and explained that it had arisen as a result of an oversight by a staff member.[35]

34. Changes to register entries are required to be notified to the Registrar of Members' Interests within four weeks of the change occurring. Registration of these visits was therefore significantly overdue. We note from the current Register that the two previous visits were also not registered within the prescribed time period, again by quite significant margins.[36]

35. It is the personal responsibility of Members, not their staff, to ensure that their Register entries are updated as necessary. Mr Sayeed has failed to do so in a timely manner in respect of the last four of his six overseas visits made at the expense of The English Manner Limited.

36. In line with our previously announced policy,[37] we have asked the Commissioner to ensure that the two new entries appear in the next published issue of the Register in a distinctive form, and with an appropriate reference to this report.

37. On Mrs Messervy's employment status, Mr Sayeed has accepted that, on four occasions, he gave incorrect information to the Department of Finance and Administration. He told us that he gave the information in good faith, and he has apologised for his failure not to correct it when anticipated developments did not, in the end, materialise.[38]

38. The incorrect information given by Mr Sayeed could have resulted in an overpayment of the staffing allowance but, in the event, does not appear to have done so.[39] It is important that Members provide accurate information on their staffing to the Department of Finance and Administration and ensure that when necessary it is promptly updated. Mr Sayeed could, and should, have done more in this respect, as he acknowledges.

Overall conclusions

39. Mr Sayeed has stressed throughout the inquiry that neither he, nor Mrs Messervy, directly received any fees in return for hosting clients of The English Manner Limited in the House. He insists that he met them as friends, and that the fact that they were in the United Kingdom through The English Manner Limited was incidental. On this ground, he asserts that there is no case against him, as there is no basis for the newspaper allegations which in his view underpin Mr Henderson's complaint.[40]

40. We make clear once again that neither we, nor the Commissioner, has received any evidence that either Mr Sayeed or Mr Messervy directly received any consideration in return for hosting in the House persons who were clients of The English Manner Limited. Neither is there any evidence that The English Manner Limited ever sought from the visitors concerned anything other than reimbursement of the cost of the meal. So there appears to be no basis for the newspaper assertions that The English Manner Limited charged substantial sums for arranging access to the House.

41. Mr Henderson's complaint, however, goes beyond the newspaper allegations, as the Commissioner's report makes clear. It also raises broader issues, which we summarised at paragraph 8. We are clear that, in principle, Mr Sayeed stands to gain financially from the benefits that accrued to The English Manner Limited from clients, and others connected with it, visiting the House. This is particularly clear in the case of the 'familiarisation' visit, the primary purpose of which was to further the commercial interests of the company and at which Mr Sayeed personally knew only one of the visitors.[41] He could, and should, have done more to minimize the risk of a conflict of interest between his responsibilities as a Member and his involvement in The English Manner Limited.

42. Mr Sayeed should have made clear to the colleague he asked to join him at the function mentioned in paragraph 14 his involvement with The English Manner Limited. This would have avoided any potential risk of damage to the reputation of that colleague.

43. The Commissioner's inquiry also revealed that Mr Sayeed had failed to register certain overseas visits made on behalf of The English Manner Limited within the prescribed time limit, repeating a breach of the Code made in respect of two previous visits, and had failed to keep up to date information supplied to the Department of Finance and Administration on Mrs Messervy's employment status.

44. Taken together, Mr Sayeed's conduct has fallen well below the standards the House expects, and risked damaging its reputation. He has himself acknowledged that "I did not exercise sufficient personal control over a company in which I have an interest".[42] We consider that he should apologise to the House and we recommend that he be suspended from its service for a period of two weeks.

1   Appendix 1, p 11. Back

2   Articles reproduced at Appendix 1, WE 1-2, pp 37-40. Back

3   Appendix 1, WE 4-5, pp 41-6. Back

4   Most of the evidence has been reported to the House and is published with this report. A small amount of evidence has not been reported, in all cases to protect the privacy of third parties. Back

5   Appendix 1, WE 13, p 75. Back

6 Back

7   Appendix 1, para 71. Back

8   Ev Q 15. Back

9   Ev Q 31. Back

10   Not reported. Back

11   Appendix 4, p 95; Appendix 1, WE 12, p 73; see also Ev Q 4. Back

12   Ev Q 75. Back

13   Appendix 4, pp 98, 100. Back

14   Appendix 4, p 99. Back

15   Ev Q 30. Back

16   Ev QQ 49-50. Back

17   Appendix 1, para 71. Back

18   Appendix 1, WE 11, p 65. Back

19   Ev Q 11. Back

20   Appendix 1, WE 11, p 65; Ev Q 63. Back

21   Ev Q 63. Back

22   Appendix 4, p 99. Back

23   Appendix 1, WE 13, p 65; Appendix 2, pp 86-7. See also Ev Q 68.. Back

24   Ev Q 102. Back

25   Ev Q 53. Back

26   Ev QQ 64, 68. Back

27   Appendix 2, p 86. See also Appendix 4, p 96. Back

28   Appendix 1, para 75. Back

29   Ev QQ 96-7. Back

30   Ev Q 11. Back

31   Fifth Report, Session 2002-03 (HC 947), Appendix A, para 61. Back

32   Fourth Report, Session 2003-04 (HC 476-I), para 23. Back

33   Para 6.2.1. Back

34   Appendix 1, WE 7, p 48; WE 9, p 58; WE 11, p 67. Back

35   Ev QQ 91_-2. Back

36   A visit at the end of April 2003 was registered on 2 January 2004 and one at the end of September 2003 on 23 January 2004. Back

37   Second Report, Session 2003-04 (HC 285), para 6. Back

38   Ev Q 98. See also Appendix 3, p 93. Back

39   Appendix 1, para 85. Back

40   Appendix 3, pp 90-94. Back

41   Appendix 4, p 99. Back

42   Appendix 3, p 90. Back

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