Conduct of Mr John Prescott|
1. We have considered a memorandum from the Parliamentary
Commissioner for Standards regarding the complaint by Mr Hugo
Swire, Member for East Devon, against the Rt Hon John Prescott,
Member for Hull East. Mr Swire raised the question of whether
a stay from 22-24 July 2005 by Mr Prescott on a ranch owned by
Mr Philip Anschutz, owner of a company which is part of the consortium
responsible for the redevelopment of the North Greenwich Peninsula,
including the Millennium Dome, should have been recorded by him
in the Register of Members' Interests. Mr Swire also wrote in
similar terms direct to Mr Prescott, and also to the Secretary
to the Cabinet. Mr Swire subsequently also raised the question
of whether certain gifts alleged to have been received by Mr Prescott
in the course of the visit should have been registered. The Commissioner's
memorandum is reproduced at Appendix 1.
2. Following receipt of Mr Swire's letter, Mr Prescott
took further advice from the Cabinet Secretary in relation to
the visit. This advice, Mr Prescott maintains,
was different from that given by his then Permanent Secretary
before the visit. The Cabinet Secretary indicated that he would
not have authorised a charitable donation in relation to the visit,
and that it could potentially be deemed 'hospitality'. In the
light of this advice, Mr Prescott had decided "for the absolute
avoidance of any doubt" to record the stay in the Register
of Members' Interests. An appropriate entry was therefore made
by him in the Register of Members' Interests the day after Mr
Swire had written to him.
3. In his correspondence with the Commissioner, Mr
Swire also raised a number of wider issues, including the extent
to which Mr Prescott had complied with the requirements of the
Ministerial Code in relation to the visit. These are matters
for the Prime Minister, under whose authority the Ministerial
Code is issued, rather than for us.
4. The Commissioner has come to three principal conclusions:
- Mr Prescott acted correctly
in registering his visit to Mr Anschutz's ranch, albeit some eleven
months late and after a complaint had been made;
- As the gifts were treated by the Department as
received by Mr Prescott in his Ministerial capacity, and thus
retained by the Department, no question of their inclusion in
the Register of Members' Interests arises; and
- There are shortcomings, which require urgent
attention, in the arrangements within Mr Prescott's office for
recording the receipt of Ministerial gifts.
5. In accordance with our normal practice, we have
made available to Mr Prescott a copy of the Commissioner's memorandum.
His comments are reproduced at Appendix 2. In these, he indicates
that he "fully accepts" the Commissioner's report, and
that he and his department also accept the concern expressed about
the procedures operated in the department for reporting gifts
to the Accounting Officer.
We welcome this.
6. Turning first to the question of the gifts
received by Mr Prescott in the course of the visit, we agree with
the Commissioner that, as these have been treated as Ministerial
gifts, no question arises of their inclusion in the Register of
7. We also share the Commissioner's concern about
the arrangements within Mr Prescott's department for informing
the Permanent Secretary of Ministerial gifts. We are therefore
pleased to note that Mr Prescott has asked his department to undertake
an urgent review of its procedures, and that it has already begun
to implement new procedures.
8. We trust that any new procedures will result
in the timely reporting of all future gifts: given that Members
are required to notify changes in their Register entries within
one month of the relevant event, there is in our view no reason
why a similar time limit should not apply in Government to the
notification to the Permanent Secretary of Ministerial gifts.
9. In our view, there should be transparent, standardised,
and timely procedures across Government for reporting Ministerial
gifts to the Permanent Secretary. We recommend that the newly
appointed independent adviser on Ministers' interests, Sir John
Bourn, should take steps to ensure that such procedures are introduced
as soon as possible.
10. We now turn to the question of the belated registration
of the hospitality. We agree with the Commissioner that Mr
Prescott ultimately made the right decision in deciding to register
his stay at Mr Anschutz's ranch in July 2005. As the Ministerial
"It is a well established and recognised
rule that no Minister
should accept gifts, hospitality
or services from anyone which would, or might appear to, place
him or her under an obligation."
"In the event of a Minister accepting hospitality
on a scale or from a source which might reasonably be thought
likely to influence Ministerial action, it should be declared
in the Register of Members' or Peers' Interests
11. As the Ministerial Code points out, decisions
on whether to accept gifts or hospitality are primarily a matter
which must be left to the good sense of the Minister concerned.
It is clear from subsequent events that the concerns which led
to the Permanent Secretary being consulted before the invitation
was accepted were real. She told the Commissioner that "her
primary concern had been that there should be no impropriety or
perceived conflict of interest in [Mr Prescott] accepting the
invitation. She had established that there were no outstanding
issues relating to either the Dome or the Greenwich Peninsula
which were awaiting Departmental decision. She had therefore felt
that, from this point of view, the invitation could be accepted
had been satisfied that, in accepting the offer of a visit to
the ranch, there was no conflict of interest in relation to the
deal for the regeneration of the Greenwich Peninsula and the Dome
then became a matter of judgement whether or not to accept the
12. We do not know whether the Permanent Secretary
offered any advice on the appropriateness of the visit in the
light of Mr Prescott's wider role as Deputy Prime Minister, although
the final judgement as to the wisdom of accepting the hospitality
was a matter for Mr Prescott himself. He took the view, in the
light of the advice he received, that accepting Mr Anschutz's
hospitality would not place him under any obligation.
13. However what Mr Prescott failed to do at that
time was also to address, as the Ministerial Code requires, whether
the proposed hospitality was on a scale or from a source which
might reasonably be thought likely to influence Ministerial action.
Therein lay the root cause of his failure to recognise the need
to record this visit in a timely fashion in the Register of Members'
Interests. We share the Commissioner's view, which Mr Prescott
came to accept in the light of further advice following Mr Swire's
approach to him, that the nature of his relationship with Mr Anschutz
meant that he was accepting hospitality from a source that might
reasonably have been thought likely to influence Ministerial
action, the key test for recording hospitality received in a Ministerial
capacity in the Register of Members' Interests.
14. Our predecessors have dealt with a number of
cases where failure to register one or more interests has been
at issue, and some of these have involved acceptance of hospitality.
In this case, as the Commissioner points out, Mr Prescott took
further advice, and immediately acted on it, as soon as the matter
had been raised with him by Mr Swire. On the other hand, he is
a very senior Minister, and also a very senior Member of the House.
He should therefore be fully conversant with the requirements
of both the House and the Ministerial Code.
15. Having regard to the specific circumstances
of this case, including Mr Prescott's eventual initiative in registering
the stay, and his full acceptance of the conclusions reached by
the Commissioner, we are not recommending any further action to
16. This case is nonetheless a cautionary tale to
Ministers, and highlights the need for them to think very carefully
about the implications of accepting hospitality from those with
whom they have an ongoing relationship in their Ministerial capacity.
In this context, we urge upon all Ministers the considerations
which the Commissioner suggests may be relevant to any decision
to record hospitality in the Register of Members' Interests,
and the availability of advice from the Registrar of Members'
Interests. The Prime Minister should consider incorporating an
appropriate reference in future editions of the Ministerial Code.
17. Finally, it is in our view difficult for the
public to understand the distinctions between the Parliamentary
and Ministerial Codes, and who is responsible for the enforcement
of each. Whereas the House has well-established arrangements for
independent investigation of complaints against Members, there
are as yet no corresponding arrangements in relation to complaints
of breaches of the Ministerial Code. This makes for difficulties
in investigating complaints, like this one, which raise issues
under both jurisdictions. We recommend that the Prime Minister
consider introducing an independent element into the investigation
of complaints of breaches of the Ministerial Code.
1 WE15, p.36. Back
Appendix 1, para 25. Back
In most Government Departments, the head of the department, usually
the Permanent Secretary, is the Accounting Officer. Back
Appendix 2, p. 38. Back
Para. 5.24. Back
Para. 5.28. Back
WE 9. p. 31. Back
See Third Report, Session 1997-98 (HC 180); Fourteenth Report,
Session 1997-98 (HC 634); and Fourth Report, Session 1999-2000
(HC 111). Back
Appendix 1, paras. 68-9. Back