53. As the "Guide to the Rules"
makes clear, Members are responsible for making a full disclosure
of their interests.
They are required to notify changes in their registrable interests
within 4 weeks of each change occurring.
There is no doubt that the overall nature of Mr Prescott's visit
to the United States was Ministerial in character and related
not only to his departmental responsibilities, but also to his
wider role as Deputy Prime Minister.
In registering, almost a year after the event, the hospitality
he received from Mr Anschutz under Category 7 (Overseas Benefits
and Gifts), Mr Prescott has implicitly acknowledged both that
this hospitality was on a scale or from a source that might reasonably
be thought likely to influence Ministerial action, and that in
his opinion its value exceeded the registration threshold set
by the House.
54. Mr Prescott was right, I believe, to accept the
advice of the Cabinet Secretary that his visit to Mr Anschutz's
ranch could be regarded as hospitality and thus to register, albeit
belatedly, his stay at the ranch. In believing that he was right
to do this, I have the following considerations in mind.
55. First, in order to decide whether such hospitality
would be recordable in the Register of Members' Interests, an
assessment is necessary as to whether the stay at the ranch was
entirely ministerial in character or whether there were other
elements which would have rendered the stay potentially registrable.
56. The stay at the ranch was certainly part of Mr
Prescott's official tour. He was accompanied by a special adviser
and two officials, and the Department made a payment to a charity
in partial off-set of the costs which would otherwise have fallen
on it for accommodating Mr Prescott and his party in Denver over
the weekend in question.
57. What was the ministerial content of the stay
at the ranch? Mr Prescott says that the visit was consistent with
one of the themes of his overall tourrural sustainability,
farming and international trade. He has shared interests with
Mr Anschutz, not only in relation to regeneration but to William
Wilberforce and the marking of the 200th anniversary
of the abolition of slavery. Officials have confirmed that these
were among the topics discussed at the informal dinner Mr Anschutz
hosted for Mr Prescott and his party on the evening of their arrival
at the ranch.
58. Mr Prescott's officials point out that there
was a departmental purpose in maintaining the relationship with
Mr Anschutz, a key player in the regeneration of the Greenwich
peninsula. The visit also had to be seen in the wider context
of Mr Prescott's role as Deputy Prime Minister. In that it enabled
Mr Prescott to learn more about farming and running a large ranch,
it had a broader, in part educational value. They accept, however,
that there was also an element of finding a suitable way in which
to occupy Mr Prescott and his party over the weekend when they
were in the Denver area, given that they could hardly be flown
home and back out again to complete the final part of Mr Prescott's
programme for his tour in Los Angeles.
59. Weighing the evidence available, my own assessment
is that the ministerial content of the stay at the ranch was limited.
It contained elements - in nurturing the relationship with Mr
Anschutz and in some of the conversation over the dinner tableof
official business. However, it involved the receipt of significant
hospitality by Mr Prescott and his party, the benefit of which
was not greatly offset by the relatively modest payment suggested
by Mr Anschutz and made by the Department to a charity of Mr Anschutz's
choosing. The conversation about William Wilberforce and the 200th
anniversary of the abolition of slavery reflected a constituency
as well as a ministerial interest of Mr Prescott. And the stay
taken as a whole, while no doubt broadly educational, was also
a pleasant and necessary interlude in an otherwise busy and no
doubt tiring ministerial programme. It is therefore to be seen
as involving an offer, and the acceptance, of significant hospitality,
and the Cabinet Secretary was right so to advise Mr Prescott.
60. A question in this case is whether accepting
Mr Anschutz's invitation to stay at his ranch was an appropriate
way in which both to nurture the relationship with Mr Anschutz
and to occupy Mr Prescott and his party over their weekend in
Denver or whether there were other, more appropriate, ways in
which to achieve these ends. Mr Prescott's then Permanent Secretary
satisfied herself that there would be no impropriety or conflict
of departmental interest if the invitation were to be accepted.
As she noted, "It then became a matter of judgement whether
or not to accept the offer." As paragraph 5.25 of the Ministerial
Code makes clear, "this is primarily a matter which must
be left to the good sense of Ministers", taking advice as
necessary and seeking the Prime Minister's guidance if in doubt.
The judgement made in this case is not one on which, given my
terms of reference, it is for me to comment.
61. A judgement was also required as to whether,
the invitation having been accepted, the receipt of Mr Anschutz's
hospitality should be recorded in the Register of Members' Interests.
Central to that judgement, as I have already indicated, was an
assessment of the content of the stay at the ranch. A second key
consideration is an understanding of the purpose of the Register
as set out in paragraph 9 of the Guide and already quoted in paragraph
13 above. This makes clear that registration does not depend on
whether or not a material benefit received by a Member has in
fact influenced them in their actions as a Member, but whether
the benefit "might reasonably be thought by others"
to do so.
62. In other words, the issue of how the receipt
of a benefit might be perceived is crucial. It is this issue of
perception which is also reflected in the terms of paragraph
5.28 of the Ministerial Code:
"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."
63. Might Mr Prescott's acceptance of Mr Anschutz's
invitation reasonably be thought likely to influence his actions
in the capacity of both a Member and a Minister? In my submission,
yes. Mr Anschutz is a private citizen with substantial business
interests, someone with whom Mr Prescott has had official dealings
reflecting both his responsibilities and interests as a Minister
and as a Member of Parliament for Hull. Given that Mr Prescott
had both departmental Ministerial responsibilities relating directly
to the interests of Mr Anschutz and a wider role as Deputy Prime
Minister going beyond matters specifically relating to those of
his own department, there was in my view a real risk that his
acceptance of Mr Anschutz's hospitality could create a perception
that Ministerial action could be influenced, not only departmentally
but more widely, as a result. The payment made to a charity by
Mr Prescott's department, whilst it established an element of
reciprocity in the arrangement, in no way offset this risk.
64. To sum up on this point, in his letter of
3 July Mr Swire asked me to consider whether Mr Prescott's visit
to Mr Anschutz's ranch should have been registered in the Register
of Members' Interests. For the reasons I have given, my answer
to this question is 'yes'. Mr Prescott was some 11 months late
in registering Mr Anschutz's hospitality. The Committee will wish
to take into account when considering this matter both that fact
and the fact that once the matter had been raised with him by
Mr Swire, Mr Prescott took advice from the Cabinet Secretary,
accepted that advice and registered the stay on his own initiative.
He was, in my view, right to do so.
65. In his letter of 10 July, Mr Swire raised with
me the question of any gifts received by Mr Prescott during or
in connection with his visit. I have described the factual position,
as explained to me by Mr Prescott, at paragraphs 39-40 above.
It appears that the value of the gifts was significantly less
than the press has suggested, although large enough in aggregate
to bring them above the threshold for registration under Category
66. As I explained in paragraph 36, the gifts Mr
Prescott confirms he received from Mr Anschutz, though of registrable
value, would only require to be registered in the Register of
Members' Interests if they were not immediately handled in accordance
with paragraph 5.25 of the Ministerial Code. Mr Prescott has stated
that, on his return to the UK, the gifts were duly recorded in
the official file kept by his Private Office. The gifts have been
retained by his Department and their receipt will be recorded
in the annual list of gifts received by Ministers which is shortly
to be published by the Cabinet Office. On the basis of this
evidence, no issue as to the inclusion of these gifts in the Register
of Members' Interests arises.
67. That said, paragraph 5.25 (a) of the Ministerial
Code provides that:
"Receipt of gifts should be reported to the
I do not find Mr Prescott's account of the procedures
in his Department reassuring on this point, in that they seem
to have relied on the fact that the Permanent Secretary had access
to a file in the Private Office in which gifts received by Ministers
were recorded. I
believe that the public interest requires a system to be in place
which would actively alert the Permanent Secretary to such matters,
not require him or her to remember to consult the file. Moreover,
the Permanent Secretary must be alerted to such matters within
a reasonable time frame. This is essential if he or she is to
be able to advise a Minister on any possible conflict of interest
issues which may arise from the receipt of such gifts. This
is a matter to which, I suggest, Mr Prescott and his department
should pay urgent attention.
68. In the light of this case, it may assist Ministers
and those advising them if I set out the questions additional
to the considerations set out in the Guide to the Rules
which I suggest should be addressed in deciding whether or not
to record in the Register of Members' Interests hospitality or
other material benefits received in the course of their Ministerial
a) Did the value of the benefit, alone or aggregated
with other benefits from the same source in the current calendar
year, exceed the registration threshold?
b) Was the occasion on which the hospitality
was received purely Ministerial or Governmental in character,
or did it include, for example, a significant constituency, party
or personal element?
c) Was the hospitality received from official
(eg overseas government) or from private sources?
d) Could the receipt of the hospitality reasonably
be thought, by the Minister, or by others, to have the potential
to influence his or her actions, either in a Ministerial capacity,
or as a Member?
69. The Registrar of Members' Interests is always
available to advise Members, including Ministers, on meeting their
obligations under the Parliamentary Code and Guide to the Rules,
just as the Cabinet Office is available to advise Ministers and
their Departments in relation to the requirements of the Ministerial
18 July 2006 Sir
10 HC 351, Session 2005-06 Back
Although this, the current version of the Code was approved only
a few days before Mr Prescott began his visit to the United States,
a similar provision had been included in the version previously
in force and the relevant Rules on registration had been in force
since 14 May 2002. Back
See also paragraph 45 below for an account of Mr Prescott's reasoning
on this matter. Back
Gifts below £140 may be retained by the recipient. Back
Ministerial Code, paragraphs 5.24 to 5.28 and 10.19 Back
See paragraph 5.27 of the Ministerial Code Back
For the purposes of registration in Category 7, the threshold
value in July 2005 was £590 per gift (or in aggregate in
the case of gifts received from the same source.) Back
Los Angeles Times, 13 July 2006. See also WE 13. Back
The current Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, was appointed
with effect from 1 August 2005. Back
See The Code of Conduct together with the Guide to the Rules
relating to the Conduct of Members, HC 351 (2005-06) Back
Paragraph 13 Back
Guide, paragraph 11 Back
See the evidence from officials in WE9-11 Back
Ministerial Code, para 5.28. From inquiries I have made about
the cost of commercially-available acoommodation and horse-riding
facilities in Colorado, I am satisfied that Mr Prescott was correct
in his assessment of the potential value of the hospitality he
See WE10 & WE11 Back
£590 in July 2005 Back