Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report


Complaint against the Rt Hon David Cameron

Appendix 1: Memorandum from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Background

1. On 10 December 2006 the 'Mail on Sunday' carried on its inside front page an article headed "Anger over Cameron's pledge to bosses who pay £50,000 to meet him". The article claimed that a leaflet distributed to Conservative Party supporters included details of a "Leader's Group". In return for an annual membership subscription of £50,000, members of the Group were said to be promised "the chance to chat with [the Party Leader,] Mr [David] Cameron in the Commons after Prime Minister's Questions".

2. The article went on to quote Mr Norman Baker, the Member for Lewes, as questioning Mr Cameron's use of his Parliamentary offices for this purpose. Mr Baker was quoted as saying that he would be asking the Serjeant at Arms to investigate, on the grounds that:

3. A spokesman for Mr Cameron was said to have insisted that no rules of the House of Commons were being broken:

    "David [Cameron] is not about to be influenced by someone coming into his office after Prime Minister's Question Time."

    "Seeing and meeting the leader is simply one of the benefits of being a member of the Leader's Group. We are being perfectly open about this."

The full text of the 'Mail on Sunday' article is at WE1.

The Complaint

4. The day following publication of the article, Mr Baker wrote to the Serjeant at Arms referring to its contents and suggesting that Mr Cameron might have breached paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct for Members, to which I refer in detail below.[6] Mr Baker copied this letter to Mr Cameron and to me, and the full text of his letter is at WE2. In it, Mr Baker said that he had been unable to locate rules specifically relating to the use of Members' offices but presumed that, like the House's private dining rooms, they could not be used for party political fundraising. He also questioned whether Mr Cameron's activities in this respect should be governed by the provisions in the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members which require Members providing services in their capacity as a Member to deposit an agreement with my office, conforming with the House's requirements, as to the terms on which those services will be provided.[7]

5. Mr Baker summarised his complaint against Mr Cameron as follows:

    "In essence, it appears to me that Mr Cameron is charging for access for himself in order to boost Conservative Party funds, and using a House of Commons facility, provided to him at public expense to facilitate parliamentary duties, to do so. I would therefore be grateful if you would look into this matter."

6. In discussion, the Serjeant and I agreed that, since Mr Baker had focused his concerns on the Code of Conduct and the Guide to the Rules, it would be more appropriate to regard his letter as a complaint under the Code and for me therefore to take the lead in conducting the investigation he had requested, consulting the Serjeant as necessary. The Serjeant wrote to Mr Baker and Mr Cameron on 18 December informing them of this decision.

Relevant Provisions of the House's Code of Conduct and Rules

7. In his letter of 11 December, Mr Baker quoted paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct. This reads:

8. It is clear that an office or offices provided to a Member on the Parliamentary Estate constitutes a facility provided from the public purse. Paragraph 14 of the Code is therefore the most appropriate provision in relation to which to consider the issues raised by Mr Baker's complaint.

9. I am advised by the Serjeant at Arms that no rules relating to permitted uses of Members' offices have been promulgated. It is, however, a fundamental principle underpinning the provision of Parliamentary facilities, services, expenses and allowances to Members that they are provided to enable Members to carry out their responsibilities as Members of the House, that is they are provided for Parliamentary rather than for party purposes. The expressions 'Parliamentary duties' and 'Parliamentary purposes' are commonly used to cover Members' responsibilities as Members, although there is no comprehensive definition of what these terms encompass in all circumstances. Nonetheless there is general agreement that there is a proper distinction to be drawn between Members' activities in these respects, on the one hand, and activities in other capacities, including activities in a purely party capacity, on the other.

10. This distinction, which lies at the heart of Mr Baker's complaint, is reflected in a number of ways in, for example, the "Green Book"[8] which governs the uses to which Members may devote their Parliamentary allowances. Thus any expenditure claimed from these allowances must have been "wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred [by a Member] for the purpose of performing [their] Parliamentary duties".[9] Similarly the guidance on the use of Committee Rooms, Conference, Meeting and Interview Rooms issued by the Serjeant at Arms says that while such rooms are available for Members to book for private meetings or functions, they must be used for "purposes connected to the Parliamentary duties of the Member booking the room, or relevant to the work of Parliament". This, the guide goes on, "includes launching pamphlets or reports of a political or party political nature, but excludes events of a commercial nature or any other non-Parliamentary purpose".

11. Two other sets of regulations cast indirect light on the matter. First, paragraphs 5.5 and 5.1 of the Banqueting Regulations, when read together, make clear that the House's private dining rooms may be used for "political functions" but not for "direct financial or material gain by a … political party".

12. Secondly, the financial assistance paid to Opposition parties (or Short Money as it is colloquially known)—which includes the assistance made available for costs necessarily incurred in running the office of the Leader of the Opposition—is made available specifically to assist such parties to carry out their Parliamentary business. Although no formal Resolution of the House defines what constitutes Parliamentary business for this purpose, informally the following definition has been observed for some time, following agreement between the Official Opposition, the House's Accounting Officer and the National Audit Office:

    "Parliamentary business for the purpose of providing financial assistance to opposition parties may be defined as research associated with front bench duties, developing and communicating alternative policies to those of the Government of the day, and shadowing the Government's front bench. It does not include political campaigning and similar partisan activities, political fundraising, membership campaigns or personal or private business of any kind."[10]

My Inquiries

1. Conservative Party Leaflet

13. I have seen a copy of a leaflet circulated at the meeting of the Conservative City Circle mentioned in the 'Mail on Sunday' article. Headed "Play a key role in the future of our Party", the leaflet listed a number of different clubs with varying levels of membership subscription aimed at different types of supporter of the Conservative Party. All of the clubs were based on the concept of special access to senior figures in the Party, often involving participation in social events, in return for a certain level of membership subscription. The fundraising nature of all of the clubs was clear.

14. The most senior club (with an annual membership fee of £50,000) was called the Leader's Group. The leaflet described the Group in the following terms:

Mr Cameron was named as the President of the Group.

2. Mr Cameron's Evidence

15. Following the Serjeant's letter of 18 December to Mr Baker (see paragraph 6 above), I wrote immediately to Mr Cameron inviting him to respond to Mr Baker's complaint. The text of my letter is at WE3. In the letter I made clear my view that the relevant provision of the Code, referred to by Mr Baker, was paragraph 14 (quoted in paragraph 7 above). Mr Baker had also mentioned the provisions in the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members concerning agreements for the provision of services in the capacity of a Member.[11] I told Mr Cameron, however, that in my view those provisions were clearly intended to apply to remunerated employment by a Member, not to activities of the sort alleged in Mr Baker's complaint.

16. My letter of 19 December[12] focussed on Mr Cameron's alleged use of his office in the House in connection with party fundraising. On 9 January, I wrote further to say that it would be helpful if, in his reply, Mr Cameron could cover the related question whether members of the Leader's Group, meeting in his office after Prime Minister's Question Time, were given tickets to observe that Question Time from the Gallery of the Chamber beforehand or whether the practice was for them to watch it on the television monitor in his office before meeting him. A copy of that letter is at WE4.

17. Mr Cameron replied on 10 January. The text of his reply is at WE5. He confirmed that members of the Leader's Group watched Prime Minister's Question Time on the television in his office before meeting him, and were not given tickets to the Gallery. As to the use of his Parliamentary office in this way, Mr Cameron wrote:

    "As you note, there are no specific rules relating to the use of Members' offices at the House, although they are provided primarily for use in connection with Parliamentary purposes. As a Leader of a political party, my office, while used primarily for Parliamentary purposes, is also used for a wide variety of other meetings. I, like my predecessors, have always thought it reasonable for me to use my office to meet all those it is necessary for me to meet in my role as a Party Leader, including those who give money to the Conservative Party."

He commented further on this point in his letter of 9 March (see paragraphs 21-23 below).

3. Evidence of the Serjeant at Arms

18. I have discussed the position with the Serjeant at Arms, who administers the provision of offices to Members. I understand from him that the Leader of the Opposition and those supporting him in his Parliamentary duties currently have the use of a suite of six rooms in the Norman Shaw South building with a total floor area of 266.1 square metres. Mr Cameron has indicated that his office, which is in the suite, is where the Leader's Group briefings, including the use of the television facilities, took place.

19. The Serjeant confirmed that all accommodation made available to Members on the Parliamentary estate is provided for Parliamentary purposes. However, there are no specific rules referring to the use of these rooms, or to the use by Members of their offices in general.

4. Further Observations by Mr Cameron

20. In accordance with the procedures approved by the House, I sent Mr Cameron on 5 March a draft of the factual sections of this report. I invited him to let me have any comments and in particular to let me know on how many occasions the Leader's Group had met in his Parliamentary office after Prime Minister's Questions.

21. Mr Cameron replied on 9 March.[13] He told me that since becoming Leader of the Opposition in December 2005, he had held 7 lunches in his Parliamentary office for the Group, at all of which other Members had also been present. Mr Cameron described the difficulty of distinguishing between the different types of meeting held in his office:

    "I believe that, as Leader of the Opposition, it would be almost impossible for me to carry out my duties properly if I had to distinguish in the use of my office between Parliamentary business, matters to do with the wider functioning of the Opposition, and matters relating to the Conservative Party. The three activities are, in the case of the Leader of the Opposition, and on a lesser scale with all Members of Parliament, intertwined. It would be very difficult to operate any such distinction."

22. Mr Cameron accepted that in relation to the use of Short Money in support of his office (see paragraph 12 above) it was possible to distinguish between Parliamentary and Party business, and to apportion costs accordingly. However the business conducted in his office and at any particular meeting oscillated between Parliamentary, policy and political matters. From a practical point of view, he could not move back and forth between his Parliamentary office and offices outside Parliament as the business constantly shifted in this way. Nor would it be possible easily to distinguish between the different roles of donors to the Party, many of whom were also Party officers or held advisory positions.

23. Finally, Mr Cameron reiterated that, in the absence of any specific rule relating to the use of Members' Parliamentary offices, he had always assumed it was allowable for him to use his office to meet all those he had to meet as Leader of the Opposition. He continued:

    "The Leader of the Opposition has a constitutional responsibility to organise the Opposition in all its forms. This includes meeting those who have made donations to the Conservative Party and to the functioning of the Opposition.

    …I very much hope that in reaching your conclusions you will be ready to take account of the practical implications both for me, as Leader of the Opposition, and for other Members of Parliament, in carrying out our day-to-day work."

Findings of Fact

24. A leaflet circulated towards the end of 2006 by the Conservative Party about various groups with a political and a fundraising purpose included reference to a Leader's Group. Prospective members of the Group were told that in return for a membership fee of £50,000 they would be kept close to policy developments and have the opportunity to meet Mr Cameron several times a year, including "in his office after Prime Minister's Question Time".

25. Mr Cameron has confirmed that 7 meetings of the Group have taken place after Prime Minister's Questions using rooms in the suite provided to him as Leader of the Opposition in Norman Shaw South. However, members of the Group have never been given tickets to observe Prime Minister's Question Time from the Gallery of the Chamber.

26. Mr Cameron argues that, as a party leader, his office, while used primarily for Parliamentary purposes, is also necessarily used for a wide variety of other meetings. It is reasonable for him to meet there all whom it is necessary for him to meet in his role as Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition, including those who give money to the Conservative Party. He asserts that it would be "almost impossible" for him to carry out his duties as Leader of the Opposition if he had to distinguish, in the use he made of his office between Parliamentary Business, matters to do with the wider functioning of the Opposition, and matters relating to the Conservative Party, and was required to transact all non-Parliamentary business elsewhere.

27. There are no specific rules which govern either the use by the Leader of the Opposition of the suite of rooms available to him or the use by Members in general of their Parliamentary offices. However, all accommodation on the Parliamentary estate provided to Members is provided from public funds for use for Parliamentary purposes. There is general agreement that there is a proper distinction to be drawn between Members' activities in pursuit of these purposes, and other activities, including those in a purely party capacity.

Conclusion

28. Despite their declining attraction as membership organizations, political parties perform a vital function in our representative democracy. It is through them that many political aspirations are channelled and different streams of opinion are articulated and refined into a manageable set of propositions to be put before the electorate. They also play a central role in the arrangements for conducting business within Parliament.

29. To undertake these functions, parties require resources, resources which—to the extent that they are not provided from the public purse—have to be raised privately. The resources of all political parties in the United Kingdom are under pressure. The review of the funding of political parties conducted by Sir Hayden Philips[14] provides an opportunity to address afresh the question how parties can best be funded.

30. So long as parties continue to be funded privately to any significant extent, there will be a need to view their fundraising activities with realism. Some may find objectionable the very notion of offering privileged or special access to a Party's Leader to those who donate generously to that party. However, access to senior figures and the potential opportunity it presents to influence party policy is one of the few incentives parties can offer to encourage sympathisers to turn into financially active supporters. From the public interest point of view, what is important is that the sources from which donations come are properly regulated and made transparent. It is that which the statutory system of regulation administered by the Electoral Commission (and supplemented by the House's own rules on the registration of donations to and sponsorship of Members) is intended to achieve.

31. I mention these points because it is, I think, important to see Mr Baker's complaint about Mr Cameron in its wider context. It is also important to understand that the issue raised by the complaint is not the fundraising methods employed by the Conservative Party (and matched one way or another by every other political party) but the narrower issue of Mr Cameron's use of the offices made available to him from public resources on the Parliamentary estate in connection with his fundraising activity on behalf of the party he leads.

32. Political parties are, as I have noted, a vital ingredient in the life of Parliament. The boundary between what is Parliamentary and what is party activity is not always a clear one. It is, however, a boundary which it is important to try to 'delineate' and preserve if public confidence in the way Parliament functions as guardian of the national, rather than a narrow party interest, is to be maintained. It is my contention that the use of parliamentary facilities for or in connection with party fundraising falls conclusively on the side of party activity.

33. The lack of a specific rule saying that Members' offices, provided at public expense for Parliamentary purposes, cannot be used for party political fundraising needs to be seen in the context of the overarching principle that offices and facilities on the Parliamentary estate are provided to enable Members to carry out their Parliamentary duties, that is, to facilitate the discharge by them of the duties and functions of the office of Member of Parliament. This principle is, I submit, clear, and is reflected in the various rules relating to the provision of allowances and facilities other than offices to Members which I have set out in paragraphs 10 to 12 above. These rules also reflect the corollary of that principle, viz. that the allowances and facilities provided to Members are not to be used for party political campaigning or party fundraising purposes. Indeed this is made explicit in the definition of Parliamentary business, agreed with the Official Opposition, which underpins the expenditure of Short Money, out of which public resources necessary to run the Office of the Leader of the Opposition are provided.[15]

34. In his letters of 10 January and 9 March, Mr Cameron says that, as a leader of a political party, his office, while primarily used for Parliamentary purposes, is also used for a wide variety of other meetings. Like his predecessors, he has always thought it reasonable to use his office to meet all those it is necessary for him to meet in his role as a party leader and as Leader of the Opposition, including those who give money to the Conservative Party, many of whom are also party officers or advisers. It would be almost impossible for him to carry out his duties in practice if he had to distinguish in the use of his office between Parliamentary business, matters to do with the wider functioning of the Opposition and matters relating to his party.

35. I accept the argument that, all other things being equal, there is no problem in principle with Members meeting donors to their parties in their offices in the House. This is as true for Mr Cameron as it is for any other Member. To argue to the contrary would have the perverse consequence that Members would be severely restricted in where they could meet at Westminster those likely to be most active in their constituency associations or parties, or their supporters in the trade unions and industry, etc.

36. Mr Cameron also argues that, given the intertwining of the various capacities in which he acts, it would be very difficult, from a practical point of view, if he, or indeed Members generally, had to move back and forth between a Parliamentary office and an office outside Parliament as the business they were conducting oscillated between Parliamentary, policy or political matters. I accept this; such an artificial arrangement would in practice be unworkable and detrimental to the efficiency with which Members discharged their Parliamentary functions, thus negating the very purpose for which their offices on the Parliamentary Estate were provided in the first place.

37. In my view, the House is therefore sensible not to seek to spell out detailed rules relating to the use made by Members of accommodation made available to them on the Parliamentary Estate. Within the overarching understanding that this is provided for Parliamentary purposes, this must be left to the good sense and judgement of individual Members in the light of their personal circumstances.

38. However, as I have implied, the fact that there is no specific rule in relation to the use of Members' offices does not mean that any use is permissible. The principle that accommodation is provided for Parliamentary purposes sets the context in which Members' specific use of the accommodation is to be judged.

39. The key issue in the present case is not the fact that Mr Cameron met donors to his party in his office in the House, but whether this office was used as part of a fundraising arrangement or activity on behalf of his party. The fundraising purpose of the Leader's Group is clear from the promotional literature circulated at the Conservative City Circle, and the incentives offered to prospective members specifically include the opportunity to meet the Leader "in his office after Prime Minister's Questions". Furthermore, it is clear that this benefit has been taken up by Group members on a number of occasions. In my submission the Parliamentary estate is not provided out of the public purse to be used as part of a device to attract party fundraising and the suggestion that it is so being used is not one likely to enhance the public reputation of the House.

40. It could be argued that Mr Cameron's Parliamentary office is not being used for fundraising because this element is simply one part of an overall package of benefits from membership of the Leader's Group, and prospective members will form their judgment on the basis of the Group's overall aims and objectives, and not on the basis of individual privileges it confers. I do not accept this argument. The terms of the invitation issued to prospective members of the Group make clear that regular access to Mr Cameron is a core benefit; meetings in his office after Prime Minister's Questions constitute a central element in this access; and the primary aim of the Group is to raise "sustainable and renewable income for the Party".

41. It could also be argued that the literature did not refer in terms to the meetings after Prime Minister's Questions taking place in Mr Cameron's office in the House; they could in theory have taken place elsewhere. However, my view is that, on a plain reading of the words, this is nonetheless implied, and seven such meetings have to date taken place in his Parliamentary office.

42. While there is no reason in principle, I submit, why Mr Cameron cannot meet, in his office or elsewhere in the Parliamentary estate, those who donate to his party, what neither he nor his Party (nor indeed any other Member or party) can properly do is employ their Parliamentary office as part of a party fundraising stratagem. In my view, that is, on the facts, precisely what happened in this case. I therefore recommend that Mr Baker's complaint be upheld.

19 March 2007  Sir Philip Mawer




6   "The Code of Conduct, together with the Guide to the Rules, relating to the Conduct of Members", HC 351, Session 2005-06. Back

7   Ibid, paragraphs 49-54. Back

8   The Green Book on Parliamentary Salaries, Allowances and Pensions, published annually by the House's Department of Finance and Administration. Back

9   Ibid, Introduction by the Director of Finance. Back

10   I had cause to quote this definition before in Annex 1 to my memorandum appended to the Committee's Fourth Report of Session 2003-04 (HC46). The Committee's subsequent call for greater clarity in this area (ibid, paragraphs 24-25) has not, so far as I am aware, yet been acted upon. Back

11   The reference in Mr Baker's letter of 11 December to Section 14 of the Guide should in fact be to paragraph 49 et seq of the Guide. Back

12   WE3 Back

13   WE6 Back

14   On 20 March 2006, the Prime Minister announced that he had asked Sir Hayden Phillips to review the funding of political parties. Sir Hayden's report was published on 15 March 2007. Back

15   See paragraph 12 above. Back


 
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