1. This case arises from a media investigation
firstpublished through articles in the Daily Telegraph and onthe
BBC News website. Patrick
Mercer, the MP for Newark, was approached by a journalist purporting
to be a public affairs consultant representing a group called
"Friends of Fiji", who wished to campaign for the readmission
of Fiji into the Commonwealth, and sought to do so by hiring people
to use influence on its behalf. The journalist, whose real name
was Daniel Foggo, used the alias Daniel Mann in his dealing with
Mr Mercer, and we use this name in our report.
2. Between the initial approach from
the "consultant" on 6 March and the last meeting between
them on 25 April, Mr Mercer tabled five Parliamentary questions
and an Early Day Motion (EDM),
and actively sought to set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group
(APPG) on Fiji. On 31
May 2013 articles appeared in the Daily Telegraph about the case,
and a Panorama programme was broadcast on 6 June 2013. As a result,
Mr Mercer referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for
Standards. He did not identify the potential breaches of the Code
involved, so in her memorandum the Commissioner determined that
the issues she should investigate were that contrary to the rules
of the House, Mr Mercer had:
to register monies received for the provision of consultancy services;
to deposit an agreement for the provision of services;
to declare a relevant interest when tabling five parliamentary
questions, when tabling an early-day motion, when making approaches
to other Members, and at a meeting of a prospective All-Party
parliamentary questions and an early-day motion, and taken steps
to establish an All-Party Parliamentary Group, at the request
of paying clients.
The Commissioner also considered whether
Mr Mercer's conduct was such as to cause significant damage to
the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole,
or of its Members generally.
3. To ensure absolute accuracy, the
Commissioner has based her findings on the transcripts of the
interviews which took place, not on the programmes and articles
derived from them. We agree that this is the appropriate way to
4. The television company which conducted
the sting raised questions about the probity of Mr Mercer's involvement
with the APPG for Specialist Security. We understand that a complaint
to the Commissioner's predecessor was not accepted for investigation.
The current Commissioner did not reopen this matter, which was
not raised in the documentary.
5. We first considered the Commissioner's
memorandum on this case at our meeting on Tuesday 8 April 2014.
After that meeting, but before a report had been made to the House,
we became aware that Mr Mercer's submission to the Parliamentary
Commissioner for Standards had not been circulated. As it would
have been improper to take a final decision without considering
this evidence we held our decision over until 29 April.
6. The Commissioner's memorandum summarises
Mr Mercer's evidence, and comes to clear conclusions. Mr Mercer
readily signed an agreement for consultancy services with the
"consultant". He failed to register this agreement.
Mr Mercer also failed to declare his interest when tabling parliamentary
questions and an EDM about Fiji. We also agree with the Commissioner
that it is more likely than not that he failed to declare his
interest at the inaugural meeting of the APPG.
7. These failures to register and declare
are in themselves serious matters. The rules about declaration
are stringent, and should be properly observed. The Committee
on Standards and Privilegesmade it clear that it would regard
it as a very serious breach of the rules if a Member failed to
register or to declare an interest which was relevant to proceeding
which he orshe had initiated, and that similar considerations
would apply in the case of approaches to Ministers and others.Mr
Mercer deliberately evaded the rules about registration and declaration,
which are intended to provide transparency and accountability.
8. The most serious matter considered
by the Commissioner was whether Mr Mercer was willing to use his
position as an MP to further the interests of paying clients,
through taking part in parliamentary proceedings or setting up
an APPG. Mr Mercer's actions, and on many occasions, his words,
showed that he was indeed willing to use his parliamentary position
for his own gain.
9. Mr Mercer struck out references to
Fiji in the contract he signed, and occasionally claimed that
he was not being paid for work to do with his parliamentary duties.
Similarly, the documents prepared relating to the APPG mentioned
the need to comply with the rules. A briefing noted:
UK All Party Parliamentary Group
(APPG) must conform to the 26 page rule book and ensure that it
registers financial and benefits in kind. Given the media interest,
an APPG must tread very carefully to not only conform to the letter
and spirit of the rules but be seen to be above reproach.
Mr Mercer prepared a note for "Mr
Mann" which stated "It is absolutely vital to have a
political operator who organises a determined, ethical but
effective campaign [emphasis added]".
Paying lip service to the rules is not sufficient; as the Committee
would expect, the Commissioner has examined Mr Mercer's actions,
and we too will do so.
10. Mr Mercer's claim that he had a
genuine interest in Fiji because of his army experience working
with Fijian soldiers and because the country's sugar industry
was a potential competitor to business in his constituency is
thin. As the Commissioner sets out:
Mr Mercer tabled a single question
in 2002, and gave two press statements, five years apart, in 2004
and 2009, all of which related to the position of Fijian soldiers
in the British Army. In April/May 2013 he tabled five (or six,
given that one was 'carded') questions plus an early-day motion
all related to the position of Fiji itself and its membership
of the Commonwealth. This was very different and happened very
shortly after Mr Mercer had established a commercial relationship
with Mr Mann and signed a contract with Alistair Andrews Communications.It
was also done in response to prompting from Mr Mann.
On 8 May Mr Mercer was emailed 20 Parliamentary
Questions on Fiji and Australasia by an associate, which were
submitted to the Table Officer but were "carded", ie
Mr Mercer was invited to discuss their drafting.
11. When Mr Mercer was pressed about
questions he had been asked to table by "Alistair Andrews
Communications" he was happy to respond. He regularly reported
back on progress in setting up an APPG. He offered to procure
a pass for a member of staff of that APPG. While he warned that
he could not guarantee a "satisfactory" report from
the APPG, he was quick to reassure his client that it was likely
that such a report would achieve their aims.In
addition to his actions in tabling questions and in setting up
an APPG, identified by the Commissioner, the transcripts make
clear Mr Mercer also volunteered to make approaches to a Minister
and host the "Friends of Fiji" in the House of
12. While the Commissioner's report
is comprehensive, it is Mr Mercer's own evidence, taken together
with the transcripts, which has troubled us most. His initial
response to the Commissioner contains assertions which are at
odds with the transcripts of his dealings with the undercover
journalist. Mr Mercer claims to have repeatedly pressed for details
of his clients: the transcript reveals him speaking about their
interests without trying to establish who they are, and only raising
the matter when a colleague raised concerns about the identity
of "Alistair Andrews Communications." As the Commissioner
Mr Mercer had a responsibility to
know who was employing him and to declare that information to
the Registrar and to the House on appropriate occasions.
Mr Mercer broke the
rule against paid advocacy. We agree with the Commissioner that
"It cannot be any defence to an allegation of paid advocacy
that Mr Mercer did not know who was paying him". Despite
his assertions, we see no evidence that Mr Mercer made any serious
attempt to identify his ultimate clients.
Providing employment for an associate
13. We are particularly concerned that
Mr Mercer appears to have been motivated at least in part by the
prospect of being able to provide employment for Mr Paul Marsden,
a business associate.
14. Mr Mercer's evidence indicates that
he and Mr Marsden had spoken on the telephone in December 2012
and February 2013, before the undercover reporter contacted him,
about an all-party group on Fiji. Mr Marsden told the Commissioner
that part of the motivation was financial:
KHIt looks to me like you
spent a tremendous amount of time doing work on some of this.
Was that in the hope that some consultancy would develop out of
15. Mr Mercer pressed the idea of a
"foundation" to support the APPG, which would be funded
by the "Friends of Fiji". Mr Mercer's evidence to the
Commissioner makes it clear that part of his motivation was to
find employment for his Mr Marsden:
]. So look, we got
to a pointcertainly this is the way it comes from Mr Marsdenwhere
there was a possibility that you could use the work that Daniel
Mann wanted done to forward the work that you also wanted done
on Fiji, and, not to put too fine a point on it, to find some
work for Paul Marsden to do.
PMYes, I don't think there'swell,
I would certainly
KHThat is certainly the way
that Paul Marsden tells the story.
PMYeah, yeah, I wouldn't
disagree with the latter half of that..
16. Mr Mercer claimed that the motivation
for a foundation to support the APPG was that it would protect
the APPG from direct influence. We consider that the real motivation
in fact is given inMr Marsden's evidence, namely that a foundation
"had more freedom to operate".
There is certainly nothing in the transcripts of conversations
with "Mr Mann" to suggest that the foundation would
act as a buffer between the APPG and the "clients".
Instead it is suggested that as APPGs have to abide by rules,
a foundation might be a more effective way to press their interests
rather than an APPG alone:
PM: Unless you have an engine
behind the APPG... the APPG will flounder. There's different ways
of putting an engine behind the APPG... if you separate the AP...
the engine of the APPG from the APPG... then the APPG... sorry...
then the Foundation has more freedom.
17. The transcript of the meeting between
Mr Mercer and "Mr Mann" on 15 March shows Mr Mercer
pressing to have a foundation to support the APPG; in the meeting
on 18 April he presses for Mr Marsden to be in charge of the Foundation,
and in a telephone call on 16 April he makes clear that he will
be working on the report, and that work on a report can begin
even before the APPG is set up. It is clear from the transcript
of 25 April that Mr Marsden had sent "Mr Mann" an estimate
of the costs of any report.
18. While Mr Marsden's evidence shows
that there was some interest in an APPG on Fiji before the approach,
we note the following from his evidence:
we agreed that if a) AAC were not
going to end this dithering and unethical behaviour or b) there
was an alternative project we could engage with then Patrick would
cease any involvement with AAC. I agreed to start to look again
at other options in Australasia. To that end I did used my old
research on other countries. I identified possibly interesting
lines of enquiry in The Solomon Islands, Indonesia, Australia
and New Zealand as well as Fiji.
If Mr Mercer had had a sustained interest
in Fiji, there would be no need to look at other Australasian
options. The claim that Fiji would be included in a wider Australasian
project does not tally with this account.
19. While the rules permit MPs to have
external interests, and to use the expertise they gain from them
in the service of the House, paid lobbying is prohibited. The
rule that no Member "shall act as a paid advocate in any
proceeding of the House" is very long-standing, and has been
extended to prohibit lobbying approaches to colleagues, Ministers
or servants of the Crown. Mr Mercer's willingness to establish
an APPG to further the interests of the "Friends of Fiji"
flouted that rule. The
Commissioner concludes that Mr Mercer's particular choice of Fiji
for an APPG and the attempts to influence positively UK government's
attitude towards his readmissions, "is closely linked to
the financial reward that was being offered to himself and that
which he was seeking on behalf of" his associate. We agree.
20. In November 2013, this Committee
issued a report on APPGs and made a number of recommendations
to increase transparency about their funding and support, and
to make it clearer which Members were directly involved with their
work. We expect that our recommendations will be debated in the
very near future. In that report we said:
] the Committee recognises,
as Ann Coffey MP stated in her evidence to the Committee, that:
Lobbying is part of the parliamentary
process, and it is right that people from outside feel that they
can contribute to the democratic decisions that are made. It is
the strength of democracy
Parliament should not exist in a
bubble. Indeed, the House of Commons Outreach service identifies
APPGs as one way in which members of the public and campaigning
groups can find Members likely to support them. The challenge
is to make sure that such lobbying as is permitted is appropriate.
Whatever the rules, it is always possible for there to be improper
21. It is clear from the papers submitted
by Mr Mercer that he had been casting around for some form of
APPGwhich would provide employment for Mr Marsden. He was willing
to seek sponsorship for the APPG. The suggested sponsorship levelswere
||£10,000 Gold benefits + invitation to special events
|Gold||£5000 Silver benefits + logo on front cover of inquiry report, from that front-page recognition on website and recognition in mailshot to selected key decision-makersinc. Ministers
||£2500 Bronze benefits + logo on inside cover of report and front-page website and in final press release
||£1000 recognition on inside cover of report and webpages APPG website
Our report on APPGs recognised that:
The fact that APPGs can draw on
a variety of funding, including external support, brings significant
benefits as well as risks. It enables them to carry out proper
research, to network and to conduct public information events.
The arrangements proposed went far beyond
that. They were designed to ensure that any APPG had the funds
necessary to run a Secretariat, regardless of the level of parliamentary
interest. The proposal was that the APPG would be supported by
a foundation. By Mr Mercer's own account he wanted Mr Marsden
to run the foundation. Mr Mercer's submission to "Alistair
Andrews Communications" stressed the importance of having
"a political operator with many years' experience of both
Westminster and Whitehall from a campaigning perspective"
to run the group.
22. This committee has recommended,
and continues to recommend, transparency about APPG funding. Such
transparency should not be confused with encouraging outside interests
to "buy the logo of Parliament" and to use their connection
with the APPG in mailshots to "selected key decision makers".
We are surprised that Mr Mercer apparently saw nothing wrong with
23. Mr Mercer's evidence to the Commissioner
that when he said that "we will get the conclusion that we
want to get" he meant that the APPG would get the conclusion
it desired is directly at odds with the transcript of the meeting:
DF:[...]Can I take it as read that
this report will be able to conclude something favourable to the
client though in terms of the fact that there should be re-entry
into the Commonwealth?
PM:I think we could probably get
to that one.
Similarly, at the meeting on 25 April
2013, he reassured "Mr Mann" that work could begin even
before the APPG had the full complement of names and that "the
work starts as and when you give us directions, or you're I beg
your pardon, when I give directions to, to the APPG according
to my, my conversationswith you, I mean, I, frankly, whatever
you say, we're going to do that inquiry". While it is true
that Mr Mercer does emphasise the independence of the APPG later
in that interview he concludes each of his warnings reassuringly:
honestly Daniel I cannot say to
you, look, leave it with me and I will fix this, because clearly
that's wrong, you know that's nonsense, I can't do that. What
I can say to you is having spoken to Fabian Hamilton in some depth
and having spoken to one or two of the other officers about this,
er, I am convinced that the, from everything I have heard so far
A: [...] wouldbebetteroffinsidethe
Commonwealth and Commonwealth would be better off having Fiji.
A: I cannot deliver you, er,
a report that, that is canted, otherwise it's valueless.
A: If you ask me, and and you've
said to me am I a betting man,I would be very surprised if we
don't find a,a pretty benign picture of what's going on.
Mr Mercer may have paid lip service
to propriety, but it is clear he expected to be able to give his
clients the report they wanted.
agree with the Commissioner's conclusion that:
in allowing payment
to influence his actions in parliamentary proceedings, in failing
to declare his interests on appropriate occasions, in failing
to recognise that his actions were not in accordance with his
expressed views on acceptable behaviour, in repeatedly denigrating
fellow Members both individually and collectively, and in using
racially offensive language, Mr Mercer inflicted significant reputational
damage on the House and its Members.
25. This is a very different case from
that of Mr Yeo, in which Member accepted a single lunch and the
very next day said that he considered the "company"
concerned was seeking someone to advance its interests by lobbying
which was not compatible with his position as an MP.
After careful consideration of all the evidence, we have come
to the conclusion that the Mr Mercer's actions in pursuing an
interest in Fiji through his actions as an MP were motivated by
the desire for commercial gain.Mr Mercer may have said that he
could not be paid for lobbying, but in fact his actions over five
meetings over more than four weeks showed that he was not only
willing to act in return for payment himself, and the prospect
of a job for Mr Marsden, but would use his colleagues to further
his clients' interests.
26. Mr Mercer has apologised both to
the Commissioner and to ourselves. He has said that he will stand
down at the next general election.
We have no powers in this matter, but we consider in the light
of this he should repay the "consultancy fees" or give
them to a good cause, if he has not already done so. We recognise
Mr Mercer's contrition. Nonetheless, we consider that this breach
of the rules is so serious that this apology and undertaking to
stand down is inadequate.
27. There have been cases before our
predecessor Committee, the Committee on Standards and Privileges,
and its predecessor, the Committee on Members' Interests, which
have had some resemblance to this, but in several such cases,
those concerned were no longer members by the time the Committee
reported. We are not aware of a case relating to a sitting MP
which has involved such a sustained and pervasive breach of the
House's rules on registration, declaration and paid advocacy.
In the case of John Browne, before the current system was introduced,
the Member failed to declare interests in proceedings and in approaches
to Ministers.In the cases of Mr Riddick and Mr Treddinick both
Members agreed to accept payment to table a Parliamentary Question,
but Mr Riddick returned the payment at the earliest opportunity
and Mr Tredinnick attempted to register a one-off consultancy
fee. More recently,
the House of Lords' Committee for Privileges and Conduct investigated
the conduct of two Peers in relation to this journalistic "sting",
and another very like it, and recommended suspensions of four
and six months. Four months is insufficient in this case. Mr Mercer,
unlike Lord MacKenzie and Lord Laird, undertook parliamentary
proceedings for a fee (neither Lord carried through such actions
nor did they receive the agreed fee), and took active steps to
set up an APPG.Mr
Mercer not only engaged in paid advocacy himself, but he also
brought the House into disrepute. As the Commissioner said, he
involved his colleagues in setting up an APPG to further his commercial
28. Committees have long been reluctant
to recommend expulsion as a penalty. There is a danger that the
power of expulsion could be used to remove people because their
opinions were unpopular, rather than because of misconduct. Members
are elected, and the decision of the electorate should be respected.
On 8 April 2014 the Chair of the Committee announced in the House
that the Committee had already decided to examine the current
system for consideration of complaints about Members of Parliament
and to consider improvements as required. That inquiry will be
launched shortly. As part of it, we will be consulting on what
penalties would be appropriate in future, including the weight
which should be given to the fact that Members are elected. At
present, although each case is judged on its own merits, as an
adjudicatory body we also need to consider any precedents. It
would be wrong for us to set those precedents aside without warning.
29. In similar cases, the Lords Committee
on Privileges and Conduct recommended suspensions of four and
six months. While we recognise that suspension will have an effect
on Mr Mercer's constituents, we are mindful of the precedent in
the Lords. We
recommend that Mr Mercer be suspended from the House (which, unlike
the penalty for Members of the House of Lords, includes loss of
salary and pension contributions for the entire period of suspension)
for a period of six calendar months.The suspension we propose
is the longest put forward since 1947, with the exception of that
proposed for Mr Denis MacShane, who was subsequently convicted
of criminal offences.
1 WE 1 and WE 2 Back
About 45,000 parliamentary question for written answer are tabled
each year. Back
Well over 1,000 EDMs are tabled each year. It is extremely rare
for any of these Motions to be actually debated: they serve rather
as expressions of opinion (in up to 250 words) which may attract
the names of other backbench MPs in support. Back
A list of the 599 currently registered All Party Groups (of which
133 are "country" Groups) may be seen on the Parliamentary
webpages at House of Commons - Register of All-Party Groups Back
WE 7 Back
The Committee's report of 8 April was rescinded at a meeting on
9 April. The text is in the formal minutes relating to this report,
which are included at the back of this Report. Back
House of Commons, The Code of Conduct together with The Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of Members: 2012,
Session 2010-12, HC 1885, para 97 Back
WES, p 10 Back
WES, Appendix 9, p 72 Back
Appendix 1, para 115 Back
WES, Appendix 3, pp 54-56 Back
WET 9, 10 and 11, pp 73, 89 and 121-126 Back
WET 3, 8 and 9, pp 16, 56-57 and 74-75 Back
Appendix 1, para 130 Back
WE 33 Back
WE 39 Back
WES, Appendix 3, p 40 Back
WET 6, p 30 Back
WES, Appendix 3, p 53 Back
Committee on Standards, Sixth Report of Session 2013-14, All-Party Parliamentary Groups,
HC 357, para 19 Back
WES, Appendix 3, p 58 Back
Committee on Standards, Sixth Report of Session 2013-14, All-Party Parliamentary Groups,
HC 357, para 31 Back
WE 5, p 72 Back
WET 10, p 89 Back
WET 11, pp 123, 125-126 Back
Appendix 1, para 146 Back
Committee on Standards, Fifth Report of Session 2013-14, Mr Tim Yeo,
HC 849 Back
"Patrick Mercer 'taking legal advice over allegations'",
ITV News, 9 June 2013, www.itv.com/news Back
Committee of Privileges, First Report of Session 1994-1995, Complaint
concerning an article in the 'Sunday Times' of 10 July 1994 relating
to the Conduct of Members, HC 351 Back
House of Lords, The conduct of Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate,
Ninth Report of the Committee on Privileges and Conduct, HL Paper
95; House of Lords, The Conduct of Lord Laird, Tenth Report of
the Committee on Privileges and Conduct, Session 2013-14, HL Paper