1. The memorandum from the Parliamentary Commissioner
for Standards setting out the conclusion of her inquiry into the
conduct of Mr Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind is appended to this
report. It is extremely unusual for the Commissioner to prepare
a memorandum in a case where, like this, she finds that there
has been no breach of the rules. She has done so because:
I took into account the seriousness of the allegations
and the fact that unless I accepted the matter for investigation,
there would be no detailed, authoritative and independent examination
of all the evidence. There would also have been no finding on
whether the rules of the House had been breached. This would not
have been fair to the Members concerned.
2. Whether MPs should be allowed to have employment
outside Parliament is a matter of legitimate debate. The rules
currently permit it. As long as that is the case it is not improper
to discuss possible roles. This is particularly pertinent if,
as in Mr Straw's case, the discussions relate to what an MP might
do after he or she has left Parliament. MPs invited to such discussions
are unlikely to give authoritative commentary on the detailed
rules of either House of Parliament. What matters is whether there
is evidence they have breached or evaded the rules in the past,
or are prepared to do so in future.
3. We regret that despite his public comments, Sir
Malcolm Rifkind failed to refer himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner
for Standards in a timely way. Otherwise, we note that both Sir
Malcolm and Mr Straw co-operated fully with the Commissioner's
inquiry, and that the Commissioner's findings about their conduct
rest on documentary evidence. As far as actual breaches of the
rules relating to the conduct of Members are concerned, the Commissioner
has established that neither was in breach of the rules relating
to paid advocacy, both had been scrupulous in observing the requirements
relating to registration of interests, that there was no indication
Sir Malcolm would fail in practice to declare interests, and that
Mr Straw had made declarations even when such declarations were
not technically required.
Mr Straw had been particularly at pains to keep his business work
separate from Parliamentary resources.
4. The Commissioner's inquiries have been exhaustive,
and we are grateful to her for her thoroughness. We agree with
her finding that:
As is clear from my inquiries concerning Sir
Malcolm and Mr Straw, although several allegations were made about
each of them, arising from interviews recorded by undercover reporters,
neither was in breach of the Code of Conduct or the Rules of the
House other thanin Mr Straw's caseby a minor misuse
of parliamentary resources. The use of carefully selected excerpts
from the recordings does not necessarily give the viewer a detailed
understanding of the circumstances and the full evidence behind
the interviews. This may result in the viewer being led to conclusions
which do not stand up to detailed scrutiny.
5. While in these circumstances we recommend no further
action, we wish to make some general comments on this case. The
first is that Members of Parliament should be aware that even
if their behaviour is within the rules, they may not escape criticism.
For their own protection, all those in public life should bear
in mind the likelihood that what they say in private may be made
public and should be weighed accordingly. They should always be
aware that their conduct will be measured against the seven principles
of public life. Although no rules were broken, both men acknowledged
to the Commissioner that they had made errors of judgment.
6. Secondly, the press coverage causes us concern.
Some of the adverse comment was related to Mr Straw's intervention
on behalf of Senator International, a major employer in his constituency.
We disagree with the assumption in one of the articles that MPs
will only take up the concerns of local companies for self-interested
reasons. In fact it is normal and proper for MPs to intervene
on behalf of local businesses, as all MPs are aware of the importance
of successful business and industry to their constituency and,
indeed, to the economy as a whole. We would expect serious political
commentators to be aware of this. It is a matter for Governments
to decide whether or not to act on industry's concerns, but it
is in the public interest that such concerns can be raised effectively.
7. This is the third occasion within two years that
the Commissioner has had to deal with a case arising from a "sting"
conducted by journalists. In one case, the allegations were fully
justified, and the Committee on Standards had no hesitation in
recommending a heavy penalty.
In the other two cases, the Commissioner found no rules had been
broken. The Commissioner's
role is to investigate the conduct of members, not that of the
press, and she has not commented on this.
8. In all the cases examined the Commissioner has
obtained the full transcripts of interviews. Comparing the full
transcript with the reporting has allowed her to identify whether
the allegations or insinuations in the stories were supported
by the contemporaneous transcripts of the meetings. In this case,
we note the Commissioner's view that:
If in their coverage of this story, the reporters
for Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph had accurately reported
what was said by the two Members in their interviews, and measured
their words against the rules of the House, it would have been
possible to avoid the damage that has been done to the lives of
two individuals and those around them, and to the reputation of
the House. However, it is not for me to investigate or make any
judgement on the actions of the reporters or programme makers.
This is for others to consider.
9. We are very concerned that the matter should have
been reported in this fashion. By selection and omission the coverage
distorted the truth and misled the public as to what had actually
taken place. The Commissioner rightly draws attention to the continuing
debate around MPs' external interests, and notes some of the complexities
involved. This is a legitimate subject for media scrutiny but
it places a responsibility on the media to ensure fair and accurate
reporting. The debate about what MPs should or should not do is
not assisted by the conduct of the reporters in this case.
10. If the media fail to report fairly and accurately,
the consequences can be profound, as in this case. As the Commissioner
says, both Mr Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind suffered adverse publicity
and were presumed guilty before any authoritative examination
of the facts had taken place. This damage would have been limited
if the Commissioner had had the opportunity to investigate before
people rushed to judgment.
11. We will take up the Commissioner's invitation
to consider how best to increase public understanding of an MP's
role, and of the rules relating to that role. We will also consider
further the role of the press in furthering such understanding
and in detecting wrong doing. We are concerned about the delays
in Channel 4 handing over their evidence to the Commissioner and
this may raise further questions. At this stage however, we confine
ourselves to reporting the Commissioner's memoranda. Sir Malcolm
Rifkind and Mr Straw are cleared of any breach of the Code of
1 Appendix, Conclusion, para 2 Back
See Appendix, Rt Hon Jack Straw, para 70, WE (JS) 18, Back
Appendix, Conclusion, para 6 Back
Committee on Standards, Eleventh Report of Session 2013-14, HC1225 Back
Committee on Standards, Fifth Report of Session 2013-14, HC849 Back
Appendix, Conclusion, para 14 Back