Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Mr Jack Straw - Committee on Standards Contents


Appendix: Memoranda from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards—Complaint against Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind QC MP and Rt Hon Jack Straw MP


Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind


Background

1) On 23 February 2015 articles appeared in The Daily Telegraph newspaper alleging that Sir Malcolm had offered to use his position as a politician to lobby on behalf of a fictitious Chinese company (PMR) in return for payment.[7] This allegation was repeated and developed by the newspaper and in the Channel 4 television programme, Dispatches, on the evening of 23 February 2015.[8] In the subsequent media coverage, it was reported that Sir Malcolm had referred himself to the Commissioner.

The referral

2) I would usually expect the complainant or a Member making a self-referral to set out the allegations to be investigated. I would then consider whether there was sufficient evidence to justify the initiation of an inquiry. However, having seen the media coverage, including several references to Sir Malcolm having referred the allegations to me for investigation, I decided to start an inquiry on my own initiative and to determine for myself the issues for investigation.

3) The matters I investigated, set out in my letter to Sir Malcolm on 26 February 2015[9] when I initiated my investigation, were whether, contrary to the rules of the House, he had engaged in lobbying for reward or consideration and whether his conduct was such as to cause serious damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole, or of its Members generally. On 27 February Sir Malcolm wrote to me[10] to acknowledge receipt of my letter and express his regret that he had not written to me sooner.

Relevant Rules of the House

4) The Code of Conduct[11] provides the following rules:

·  "13. Members shall fulfil conscientiously the requirements of the House in respect of the registration of interests in the Register of Members' Financial Interests. They shall always be open and frank in drawing attention to any relevant interest in any proceeding of the House or its Committees, and in any communications with Ministers, Members, public officials or public office holders.

·  "15. Members are personally responsible and accountable for ensuring that their use of any expenses, allowances, facilities and services provided from the public purse is in accordance with the rules laid down on these matters. Members shall ensure that their use of public resources is always in support of their parliamentary duties. It should not confer any undue personal or financial benefit on themselves or anyone else, or confer undue advantage on a political organisation.

·  "16 Members shall never undertake any action which would cause significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole, or of its Members generally."

5) The detailed rules in relation to the registration and declaration of Members' interests are set out in Parts 1 and 2 of the Guide to the Rules. The rules on lobbying for reward or consideration are set out in part 3 of the Guide to the Rules. Paragraph 89 of the rules says:

    "On 6 November 1995[12] the House agreed to the following Resolution relating to lobbying for reward or consideration:

    "it is inconsistent with the dignity of the House, with the duty of a Member to his constituents, and with the maintenance of the privilege of freedom of speech, for any Member of this House to enter into any contractual agreement with an outside body, controlling or limiting the Member's complete independence and freedom of action in Parliament or stipulating that he shall act in any way as the representative of such outside body in regard to any matters to be transacted in Parliament; the duty of the Member being to his constituents and to the country as a whole, rather than to any particular section thereof; and that in particular no Members of the House shall, in consideration of any remuneration, fee, payment, or reward or benefit in kind, direct or indirect, which the Member or any member of his or her family has received, is receiving or expects to receive-

i)  Advocate or initiate any cause or matter on behalf of any outside body or individual, or

ii)  urge any other Member of either House of Parliament, including Ministers, to do so,

    by means of … any approach, whether oral or in writing, to Ministers or servants of the Crown"

6) Paragraph 90 of the Guide to the Rules continues:

    "This Resolution prohibits paid advocacy. It is wholly incompatible with the rule that any Member should take payment for speaking in the House. Nor may a Member, for payment, vote, ask a Parliamentary Question, table a Motion, introduce a Bill or table or move an Amendment to a Motion or Bill or urge colleagues or Ministers to do so."

Summary of Events

7) An independent television company, Vera Productions Ltd, decided to investigate whether the behaviour of Members of Parliament was in keeping with the House of Commons Code of Conduct and in particular, wished to make comparisons with the programme "Politicians for Hire" which had been broadcast in March 2010. Approaches were made to 12 Members to ask whether they would be interested in joining the Advisory Board of a fictitious Chinese company named PMR. Of the 12 Members approached, two responded positively to a request for a meeting. Sir Malcolm was one of these. Two reporters covertly recorded two meetings with him, on 7 and 13 January 2015, which subsequently featured in a Dispatches programme broadcast on 23 February 2015. The programme, and supporting articles in the Daily Telegraph, made allegations that Sir Malcolm had demonstrated his willingness to breach the Rules of the House by using his position and contacts for personal gain, for a fee from a company on which he had not carried out due diligence. He was also alleged to have offered to host a private business meeting in his parliamentary office and to provide a personal tour of Parliament for a business contact. It was alleged that he had also said he could seek information on PMR's behalf without disclosing the organisation's name and that he had said he was self-employed and did not receive a salary.

8) Following the broadcast, on 24 February, the Conservative whip was removed from Sir Malcolm, who announced that, in order not to distract from its work, he was standing down from his position as Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. He also announced that as an inquiry would take several months he would not stand for re-election in May 2015. He asserted throughout that, although he had made mistakes, he had not broken any rules or committed any impropriety.

9) Although Sir Malcolm had said publicly that he had referred himself to me, this was not in fact the case. After telephoning his office on two occasions and being told that he had written to me, I decided to start an investigation on my own initiative and wrote to Sir Malcolm on 26 February.

Evidence

Evidence from Channel 4 and the Daily Telegraph

10) On 26 February I wrote to the Executive Producer of the production company[13] and to the editor of The Daily Telegraph asking for their assistance with my inquiry and in particular for:

    "the full and unedited footage which formed the basis of the articles in The Daily Telegraph, including any un-broadcast and unpublished footage, together with any transcripts of the conversations. It would also be helpful to have any correspondence you or your reporters have had with Sir Malcolm or his representatives in the course of and after the preparation of the articles."[14]

11) After exchanges by email and telephone, Channel 4, who had commissioned the programme, provided recordings of the two interviews, transcripts and copies of letters and emails to Sir Malcolm on 17 April.[15] Having checked the transcripts for accuracy, I provided copies to Sir Malcolm on 28 April and invited his comments.

12) On 19 November 2014 a reporter from Vera Productions Ltd posing as Lin Zhang, Managing Director of a Chinese firm called PMR Communications, emailed Sir Malcolm saying;

    "I'm writing to ask if you'd be interested in a new position on an advisory board supporting our clients based in the Far East. We are a Hong Kong based consultancy, advising several companies […. and] looking to set up a London office and appoint an advisory board made up of senior figures from the world of politics and business…. We feel your experience in both the political and commercial spheres makes you an ideal candidate for the board...."[16]

13) Sir Malcolm's personal assistant responded to say that he was out of the office.[17] On 24 November Sir Malcolm emailed personally to express an interest in the position.[18] Lin Zhang suggested a telephone conversation to resolve concerns Sir Malcolm had expressed about possible conflicts of interest with his current responsibilities. Sir Malcolm replied on 1 December asking her to contact his personal assistant to arrange either a telephone call or a face to face meeting. A meeting was arranged for 7 January at an office in central London. A subsequent meeting was arranged for 13 January at the same location.

14) Transcripts of both meetings have been provided. I have shortened these by the removal of general conversations at the beginning and end of each interview, but I am satisfied that nothing of any significance to my inquiry has been omitted. The Dispatches Programme broadcast on 23 February used quotations from the interviews to support its allegations that Sir Malcolm;

    1. corresponded with, and met representatives of PMR without first carrying out due diligence on the company.

    2. demonstrated [himself] as willing to act as an MP "for hire", using [his] position and contacts gained in that position for personal gain; in particular

    (a) That [he] offered to host PMR in a private business meeting in [his] parliamentary office and provide a personal tour of Parliament for the representative's "uncle".

    (b) That [he] claimed [he] could facilitate access to any foreign ambassador in the UK "in a way that is useful".

    (c) That [he] said [he] could write to a minister on PMR's behalf, but wouldn't name on whose behalf [he was] asking, and that [he] could take soundings on e.g. future plans regarding HS3.

    (d) That [his] fee, if [he] were to work for PMR, would be similar to fees [he] had earned in the past. [He] defined this as being in the region of £5,000 to £8,000 for part of a day.

    3 [His] comments in the meetings gave the impression that [he was] not applying [himself] fully to [his] duties as an MP; in particular

    (a) [He] claimed [he had] a lot of free time; [he] didn't work for any one person full-time; [he was] self-employed and that nobody [paid him]a salary.

    (b) [He] suggested that the time from Thursday evening to Monday lunchtime was for [him] "qui et time"."[19]

15) Allegations 1, 2(d) and 3 would not, if proven, constitute breaches of specific rules. Allegations 2(a), (b) and (c) might, if proven, amount to breaches of House of Commons rules. I have considered all of the allegations made because, if proven, they might contribute to causing serious damage to the reputation and integrity of the House as whole, or of its Members generally.

    1. that [Sir Malcolm] corresponded with, and met representatives of PMR without first carrying out due diligence on the company.

16) The first of these allegations is of a failure to take action by making enquiries about PMR before agreeing to meet with representatives of the company. It therefore, relies on an absence of evidence.

17) The evidence cited for each of the remaining allegations is as follows:

    2(a) that [Sir Malcolm] offered to host PMR in a private business meeting in [his] parliamentary office and provide a personal tour of Parliament for the representative's "uncle".

In the first meeting the following exchanges took place:

(C and L are the two reporters)

    "L: Because one of the interests on a personal or business level, people, a lot of people in China, including my uncle, are very impressed with the Parliament, the knighthood, the Lordship and you know the, it's the whole history and everything…

    MR: Yes, well if I'd known this we could have had this meeting in my office in Parliament [laughter]—next time you come then.

    L: Well it would be even better if he comes.

    M: Well, if your uncle… Does he come to London?

    L: Not yet but …

    M: No, no, but if he comes, you tell him, that if he comes… you tell him if he comes I will give him   a personal tour of the British Parliament-

    L: Oh fantastic. Thank you. That would be, he will be so happy.

    MR: It's a wonderful building. I enjoy doing it because I do it for other people as well and I enjoy it, because it's such a marv…. Have you been there?

    C: Yes I have.

    MR: It's a lovely building isn't it?

    C: It's stunning

    MR: Stunning building, it really is I mean...

    L: OK, I'll tell him."

And later in the same interview;

    "C: Yes, I imagine there will, might be, a second meeting for us, you'll have more questions, as will we…

    MR: Yes, sure.

    C: And in terms of what we're going to….

    MR: Well let me invite you into the House of Commons.

    C: Ah, thank you.

    MR: If there's a second meeting, please come to me,

    C: That's very kind.

    MR: If that would be of interest…

    C: Yeah.

    MR: I'm happy to come here but if it would be of interest please come and pay me a visit." [20]

18) This exchange is mentioned in a subsequent email from the reporter. The second meeting, in fact, took place in a central London office.

    2(b) [Sir Malcolm] claimed [he] could facilitate access to any foreign ambassador in the UK "in a way that is useful".

    2(c) [He]said [he]could write to a minister on PMR's behalf, but wouldn't name on whose behalf he was asking, and that [he]could take soundings on e.g. future plans regarding HS3.

19) Sir Malcolm mentioned on several occasions that he has extensive political contacts both in this country and abroad. Specifically, in his first interview he says;

    "M: I have quite a lo…. in most of these countries there are people I, I know, who either I worked with as a, who were Ministers or who I met since then. I'm still part of a number of groups. I am for example you have, know who I mean by Madeleine Albright?

    C&L: Yes.

    M: The American; former American Secretary of State. Well she and I are good friends, she's a very old fr... I worked with her when I was in Government and she chairs a group of 22 former foreign ministers.. …

    C: Ah

    MR: ….of various countries. We've all served as Foreign Minister and we meet several times a year. We're meeting in China in April...

    C: Oh, Fantastic.

    MR: In Beijing, is our next meeting; beginning of April, as it happens, and that means you know I still have the contacts with all these people who have served at a very senior level, some of them still do so. Some of them are still active. ….

    MR: China, as well as every country in the World. They are operating in 180 countries so if necessary I can ring contacts. These are examples.

    C: Yes

    MR: If you've done the kind of work I've done over the years, without realizing it, you find you know an awful lot of people.

    C: Absolutely, very lucky.

    MR: And they know you and one of the advantages I have—is very lucky—is that because of the jobs I've done, if I go to a country and I want to see someone, I can usually get access."

    In the second interview he says;

    "MR: On the political, whether the government would have a problem, I would speak to the Ambassador in London.

    C: Mm

    MR: And, I can, because I have been Foreign Minister, if I wish to speak to an Ambassador they are very happy to speak to me.

    C: Yeah.

    MR: They come to see me quite often.

    C: Oh that's lucky.

    MR: Not on, not on business matters but on political matters, I have an ambassador in my office once every two or three weeks.

    C: What do they want to come and see you about?

    MR: Well it, ambassadors always are trying to, they're, they're, being asked to report to their own governments, what is the political developments in Britain.

    C: I see.

    MR: You know, so for example, let me give you an example. There is a debate in Britain about whether we should continue to stay in the European Union.

    C: Mm

    MR: And there is to be a referendum in two or three years. So I had an ambassador from one European country who came to see me a few weeks ago, he said "can I come and see you?" I said "yes of course." And he wanted to discuss how much of a risk is this? Is this likely?

    C: Mm, yes.

    MR: We read about this in the newspapers, um, you know.

    C: Yes, what does it all mean?

    MR: What does it mean? Should we, you know? Another ambassador wanted to see me because he wanted to discuss what was happening in the Middle East.

    C: Yep

    MR: In Iraq and Syria with the Islamic State, these terrorist people and so forth. So for example, next week I shall be at the Jordanian ambassador; he is giving a dinner for the American Ambassador…

    C: Ah

    MR: …and he said, would you be willing to come and take part in that dinner? I know the American ambassador, I like to do so…. I specialise in foreign policy.

    C: Yes.

    MR: So, that's what ambassadors are there for. They want to make contact so they can understand what is happening in, in Britain and report to their own governments.

    C: Yes, I see.

    L: And they will, for somebody, like if you change, um, or you retire, for example, or if they retire, does that change, have they got out of date...?

    MR: No. If I left Parliament, erm, I'm still a former Foreign Minister, and as long as I'm active they will be, they will wish to.… Not just me, it's not just me personally. Anybody who has done this kind of job.

    C: Yeah.

    MR: The same applies in China. The same applies in other countries. People who have, who have had the job of being a foreign minister or a cabinet minister in their own country, they have experience. And if they are still active in public life people want to use that experience." [21]

    And with regard to contacting a Minister concerning publicly announced policy he said:

    "MR: If it's a matter of government policy then there's two aspects to government policy. That which they have announced and which is public knowledge, you can find it in the various ways of…

    C: Of Google [laughs].

    MR: Or in my own case I could, I can write to a Minister.

    C: Right. Right. Yeah, that would be useful.

    MR: and I would, well I wouldn't name who was asking, I would say I've been asked to, to establish what your thinking is on X, Y, Z, can you tell me what that is? I can get a reply either from the Minister or from one of the senior officials."

    2(d) Sir Malcolm's] fee, if [he] were to work for PMR, would be similar to fees [he] had earned in the past. [He] defined this as being in the region of 5,000 to £8,000 for part of a day.

20) There are discussions in both interviews about the level of payment which might be on offer and Sir Malcolm makes reference to payments which he already received and which are set out in the Register of Members' Financial Interest, as a point of reference.[22] For example during the first interview Sir Malcolm raises the question of remuneration.

    MR:…Um, one sensitive issue, but I have to mention it. You mentioned there would be obviously remuneration.

    L: Of course.

    C: Definitely.

    MR: Can you tell me what you are thinking of in that territory?

    C: In some ways I think we would be guided by you for what you are looking for but roughly for an advisory board I would have thought between £60-£80 thousand, um, and then of course if there was…

    MR: Is that pounds, or….

    C: Pounds, yes.

    MR: Pounds. £60-80,000 roughly, something of, something of that order yeah.

    C: But of course it would be um, guided by you.

    MR: Sure, sure

    C: And what you were looking for and then, of course, if there was any additional work one… that might be um kind of consultancy, we might look at a project and think actually we all need to get stuck into this, I think that would probably be done at a day rate, um, but we're, we're very up for talking about it.

    MR: Yes, no, I understand. The normal thing I'm to expect. You know sort of, the normal structure that you would, you would obviously cover all the travelling expenses. Your…. If there was additional work it would be on, on a day, daily rate, something, but in terms of basic remuneration you're talking about something on the £60 to £80,000.

    C: Yes, does that sound reasonable to you?

    MR: It sounds reasonable. Yes, yes, that does sound reasonable um, I'd have to think about it but I don't immediately say no that's not, that's not realistic.

    L: Does that sound like your usual package that you're used to?

    C: Yes, I don't know what your other packages

    MR: um, It depends, it varies because it depends on the commitment. You know, so there's no single figure. I'd need to think about… that's why I'm interested to know what sort of commitment you're expecting and requiring and then against that one works out what is fair.

    C: Yes, precisely

    MR: Because the test is what is fair to me and what is fair to you if we were to, to go ahead. But from what you've said so far I think we, we are in similar territory, if I can put it that way.

    C: Yes

    MR: If I can put it that way. I don't find any immediate…

    C: It doesn't jolt….

    MR: it doesn't jolt…"[23]

Later in the interview, the reporter asks about Sir Malcolm's day rates.

    L: Okay, is there a range? So I can get some reference for my uncle?

    MR: Um, Normally I, well I can … I simply give it as an example, but um, when I did a series of presentations for JP Morgan and for a number of other City of London… on the Middle East, and that was usually something in the order of … I mean it wasn't a whole day, it was usually a whole morning or an afternoon and that was somewhere in the region of £5,000 to £8,000. Something of that kind. Something of that kind. But it, it varies. Don't take that as an absolute given but it was something of that, something of that order. I'm not an American. I, I, I have fewer zeros [laughs]….

21) The question of remuneration was also raised in the second interview,[24] when the discussion covered much the same ground as in the first.

    3(a) [he] claimed [he had] a lot of free time; [he] didn't work for any one person full-time; [he was] self-employed and that nobody pays [him] a salary; and

    3(b) [Sir Malcolm] suggested that the time from Thursday evening to Monday lunchtime was for [him] "qui et time"."

22) During that interview Sir Malcolm said:

    "MR: Well I am very busy. Because I'm used to it. I'll tell you, you're quite right, you're absolutely right. Because erm, for 18 years I was a, a government minister, and I had no free time at all. And I enjoyed that. But when that stopped, right, you can't just spend your time doing nothing.

    C: It's nice to be busy.

    MR: You know, it's part, it becomes part of your DNA. You have to be busy, you know, because I find it stimulating, and it's how you use your time. So you'd be surprised how much free time I have. I spend a lot of time reading, I spend a lot of time walking. Because, because I'm not a Minister or full-time working for one person I can sort out my day. So, that I, I may have three or four things that day, but in between if I want to I go for a walk.

    C: Yes. That's nice. It's a good way to live, isn't it?

    MR: I can go and have a cup of coffee. Now if you're, if you're employed to work nine to five or nine to eight, you know, you have to get someone's permission to do something else, and there's nothing wrong with that- that's how most people live their lives. I'm self-employed. So nobody pays me a salary, I have to earn my income, but when I'm not doing something I can do what I like. And because I'm in my sixties that's how I, how I prefer it.

    C: Yeah, well that sounds like a good situation.

    L: You also don't seem to travel as much as the other...

    MR: That's the other point we discussed last week. Because if as a Member of Parliament I was travelling back and forth to Edinburgh or Birmingham or Glasgow or something that would take up the whole day each time you travel.

    C: Yes, that's true.

    MR: No, I mean, for example, most Members of Parliament leave London on a Thursday evening and don't come back till Monday lunchtime. So they're in another part of the country. For me that is quiet time [laughs]. It's easy."

23) I have set out fairly lengthy quotations on each of these issues to ensure that they reflect the context in which the remarks were made. Overall the two meetings are exploratory discussions of the kind of role Sir Malcolm might play as a member of the Advisory Board, his experience and its relevance and the possible remuneration. Sir Malcolm points to other relevant quotations in his evidence.

Evidence from Sir Malcolm

24) In response to my letter to Sir Malcolm, on 10 March he sent me an initial statement and paperwork relating to his contact with Vera Productions Ltd.[25] His paper set out his background as a Member over two periods (1974-97 and 2005 onwards) and he commented that this was the first time that his conduct had been called into question. He told me that, with the consent of his local Conservative Association, he had continued with some of the business interests he had developed while he was outside Parliament. He estimated that he spent at least 75% of his time on parliamentary and constituency matters. He said his business activities have been advisory or non-executive roles, principally based in London; and overseas travel for business purposes has been limited. For family reasons he sought a London constituency when he was selected for a second time, in order to reduce the amount of travel between his constituency and Westminster, and to enable constituency work to be done during the week. Sir Malcolm said that business interests are accepted by the House as being legitimate and his "present parliamentary and business interests do not begin to compare with the burden I had to shoulder as a senior minister."

25) Sir Malcolm went on to explain the approach made to him by email by PMR concerning a possible position on a new Advisory Board. He had responded to express an interest but had said, "I would need to be satisfied that there would not be any conflict of interest with my current responsibilities and that the time that would be required to meet your needs would not be a problem."[26] He said that he considered his experience as a Minister of State for Europe and as Foreign Secretary was the probable reason why he had been approached. He said that he was familiar with Advisory Boards and did not have any reason to think that lobbying might be involved. He also said that, "normally, due diligence is done when a firm proposal is made. No such proposal was ever made." [27]

26) With regard to the two interviews, Sir Malcolm told me that much of the discussion was relevant to the purpose of the Advisory Board, but he was surprised by the discussion of HS3 since there is no such project at the moment. It was in this context that he told me "I had already made clear to them that on any subject that might come before an advisory board, I would not be able to assist with access to any information that was privileged or secret. That I made this clear is not in dispute. The letter I received from Vera, the production company acting on behalf of Channel 4, says, specifically, that they acknowledge that I made clear that I could not assist them with "access to any privileged or secret information"…..

27) Sir Malcolm had told the reporters explicitly that "You cannot give privileged information to one private citizen or a company that is not available to others". This was acknowledged during the Dispatches programme, which included a voiceover which says "Sir Malcolm does make clear the limitations of what can be achieved" before using the words quoted at the start of this paragraph. [28]

28) At the time Sir Malcolm gave me his initial statement he had not seen any of the transcripts. He later commented in more detail, and I deal with those comments below.

29) Sir Malcolm did accept that he may have said something like; "I wouldn't name who was asking but I would say I've been asked to establish what your thinking is on XYX". He said;

    "I do recall saying something of this kind, though not the precise words. I have tried to remember why I may have used those words and what I had in mind.

    I would make the following points.

    1. At the time there was no Advisory Board nor any decision by me as to whether I would wish to serve on one.

    2. Accordingly, at no time did I say, or could I have said, that I was intending to write to a Minister on their behalf….

    3. The discussion was restricted to how, theoretically, one could ascertain what information was in the public domain. I was suggesting to them various ways that this could be done.

    4. I believe that I did suggest that, in my opinion, writing to a Minister was one option that it would be proper for me to do if I was a member of an advisory board.

    5. I was aware that if, as an MP, I wrote to a Minister on behalf of someone else I should say so. It is acknowledged that I said that if I, hypothetically, were to write such a letter I would need to say "I've been asked to establish ...."

    6. I am not clear in my own mind why I obviously thought at the time that it would not be necessary to mention the name of the people on whose behalf I might be writing. I think it must have been because I assumed that as it was only information already in the public domain about which one was enquiring, it wouldn't be necessary.

    You will come to a view as to whether I was wrong in that assumption. I recognize that I may have been but, if so, it was an honest mistake [….]

    Most important of all, I was doing no more than expressing an off the cuff opinion of what might be permissible. Opinions expressed may, sometimes, turn out to have been mistaken. Off the cuff opinions are even more likely to be! Expressing a mistaken opinion is not, in itself, improper, I would suggest, if the mistake has been made in good faith."[29]

30) In his statement, Sir Malcolm went on to give an initial response to allegations that he was offering access to ambassadors for cash, that he said he did not receive a salary and the suggestion that he would expect £5,000 per day. As I have noted above, at this time he had not had access to the recording and understandably could not recall his exact remarks. He commented overall that the media presented information "in a distorted manner" and with regard to his comment that he did not receive a salary he said, "Again, by quoting this out of context it appeared a ridiculous statement. I was, obviously, aware that I receive a salary. […] but I am certain this was said when I was referring to my business interests. As regards these I am either a non-executive director or a consultant. In neither case am I employed nor do I receive a salary. This is another example of how remarks made in an informal conversation can be distorted by amoral journalists." He concluded this statement by saying that; "I have never engaged in lobbying nor have ever offered to. During my years as an MP I have never undertaken, nor would undertake, any lobbying as an MP on behalf of any private organisation from which I was receiving remuneration, […] I consider it improper for an MP to undertake such work. [….] There is nothing that I said, did, or contemplated in these discussions that constituted lobbying. Indeed, to be fair nor was there any request or suggestions from those I was meeting that I should act in such a fashion." Sir Malcolm enclosed with his statement copies of the emails and letters exchanged with Channel 4 before the programme was shown.

31) On 28 April[30] I shared with Sir Malcolm the transcripts of the two meetings which he held with the reporters and his response, received on 4 May is included in the evidence.[31] He acknowledged that "All the relevant information is, therefore, now available and not in dispute" and said he did not wish to amend his original statement. Sir Malcolm used the evidence of the transcripts to strengthen points he had made in his first submission. Additionally he said:

    "As the transcripts make clear, at no time, did I suggest that my status as an MP could be used to their advantage. Indeed when asked, on more than one occasion, what added value I could provide to an Advisory Board I not only made no mention of my being an MP but, repeatedly, stressed my business experience in the private sector as the most important consideration."

He commented that:

    "It was agreed by me and those I was speaking to that the purpose of meeting with an ambassador would be limited to ascertaining whether their government would have any problem with a proposal for investment in their country by a foreign company".

32) Although I have not relied on the Dispatches programme itself as a source of evidence, I did request a transcript of the programme. On 4 June Sir Malcolm sent me his comments on the transcript provided.[32] He said:

    "It is a disturbing example of how "cut and paste" journalism can not only sensationalise but also be used, deliberately or through incompetence, to mislead the viewer.

    Throughout the transcript there are questions posed which are combined with quotations from me presented to the viewer as if my remarks were, during the actual meeting, given in response to the same questions. As can be seen by comparing these extracts with the full transcript it is clear that my remarks were either to different questions or in a quite different context".

33) Sir Malcolm sets out five examples of this, one of which I quote here. The whole of Sir Malcolm's comments and the other examples, are included in the evidence.

    "3. No.42.page 5.

    The narrator says "We discussed with Sir Malcolm what he thought he could bring to a role on the board".

    They then use again my remark on knowing foreign Ambassadors in London with the clear inference that this was what I thought I could bring to a role on their board. The transcript makes clear that that is a dishonest distortion of what was, actually, said.

    In the first transcript at page 16 I am asked "what you think you'd bring to the board? In my answer I make no reference to ambassadors at all. I reply that my experience of the European Union and how it works would be of value. A second example I give is in the assessment of political risk in various Eastern European countries, including Russia.

    I am asked again (transcript 2, page 20) "What would you say, if we have you on the board would be the most value added sector"

    Again, I make no reference to access to ambassadors. Instead I say that it is the combination of my political experience with 20 years of commercial experience in the private sector that would be the added value."

34) A further note from Sir Malcolm on 11 June is also attached in evidence.[33]

35) Sir Malcolm came to my office for an interview on 15 June. The interview was recorded and the transcript has been agreed with some redactions.[34] Sir Malcom was very open with me in interview and I have redacted personal information and confidential information about companies with which he has had contact. I asked Sir Malcolm some specific questions to clarify the evidence he had already given and about the impact of these events upon him. In particular, it was as a direct result of the allegations made against him that Sir Malcolm did not stand as a candidate in the May election. He had not been intending to stand down at this stage. (In commenting on the factual accuracy of a draft of this report, Sir Malcolm told me that he had decided that it would be unfair to his constituents to be a candidate at the election while there was a Parliamentary Inquiry taking place with regard to these allegations.) Sir Malcolm acknowledged that he did, of course, receive a salary as an MP. He did not receive an additional payment for his chairing of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

36) Sir Malcolm explained statements he had made about how busy he was, the arrangement of his constituency work and the closeness of his home and his constituency to the House, which removed the need for any significant amounts of travelling time. He also clarified the statement he had made that he was "self-employed" and acknowledged that it was a "stupid remark" He went on to say; "You will have seen the context. It was a silly remark, because it's obviously nonsense and such obvious nonsense I wasn't deceiving anyone, or trying to deceive anyone. It was just a silly way of putting it. […] Talking about life, I said, either as a consultant or as a non-executive director, I get remuneration, but I don't receive a salary. That's my version, but it was a silly way of putting it. I am not even going to try to defend it at all". Sir Malcolm has also said "I think I said I made some errors of judgment…."

37) We discussed the nature of the meetings which had taken place with PMR and I asked Sir Malcolm whether had seen them as the beginning of a job recruitment process. He said; "Not—well, it may be from their perspective. No. Somebody asked me-suggested that I got involved in the negotiation. I didn't get involved in negotiation. We never reached that stage."

38) I also asked Sir Malcolm whether he considered he was holding business meetings and after some discussion he concluded, "From my perspective, at that stage, I do not even know whether I want to have a relationship with them at all at that stage, so I do not see it as a business meeting, but it obviously is a meeting which, if it leads to other things, will end up as a business relationship…". I reminded him about an email he had sent to Vera Productions Ltd on 11 February 2015. In that email he says, "You suggest that I offered "to host PMR in a private business meeting in my parliamentary office and provide a personal tour of Parliament". This is a travesty of the actual conversation. Ms Zheng indicated that she had never visited Parliament and I invited her, if she wish to visit me in my office. I did, indeed, say that I would be happy to show her uncle around, as well. No business meeting in my office was asked for nor proposed." [35] The transcript shows that email to be incorrect.

39) Sir Malcolm agreed. He said "it would be incorrect to imply this did not happen. Of course I said it, but that was-she had said her- I was doing what I would do with anyone. If people tell me that they have never been to Parliament and they would love to see round it, that is what one does. I think every MP does that."[36]

Evidence from the Registrar

40) I wrote to the Registrar on 12 June seeking information about Sir Malcolm's registered entries and any correspondence that she might have had with him. [37] The Registrar responded on 15 June indicating that the majority of positions mentioned by Sir Malcolm were recorded in the Register and that three others might well have dated from a time when he was not a Member of the House. (Sir Malcolm has since confirmed that this is correct.) She added that:

    "Our correspondence with Sir Malcolm's office during the last Parliament was limited to routine exchanges about Register entries and reminders about registering individual payments. We do not hold any contractual information relating to any of Sir Malcolm's outside work. We would expect to hold this only if a Member is providing services in their capacity as an MP. Sir Malcolm told us in February 2012 that he did not provide such services.[38]

Statement of facts

41) I consider the following to be established facts. It is on these that I base my conclusions.

·  On 19 November 2014 a reporter using the name of Lin Zhang emailed Sir Malcolm to ask if he would be interested in a position on the Advisory Board of a fictitious company named PMR.

·  Following email exchanges with Sir Malcolm and his PA, the two reporters arranged two meetings with Sir Malcolm. On each occasion they made a video recording of the interview without his knowledge.

·  On 10 February 2015, Vera Productions Ltd wrote to Sir Malcolm making a number of allegations which they said were evidenced by the recordings and which they proposed to use in a Dispatches Programme on Channel 4 and in associated articles in the Daily Telegraph.

·  The first article appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 23 February 2015 and the Dispatches Programme was also broadcast on 23 February.

·  On 24 February Sir Malcolm was interviewed on the Today programme. He denied any wrong doing and said that he had referred himself to the Commissioner for Standards.

·  Later that morning Sir Malcolm resigned from his position as Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Conservative whip was withdrawn and he announced that he would retire from the House of Commons. (He had previously intended to stand for re-election.)

·  On 26 February following two attempts to contact Sir Malcolm through his office, I wrote to him to say that I would begin an inquiry on my own initiative.

·  Sir Malcolm told the reporters that he was self-employed.

·  Sir Malcolm offered a future meeting with PMR at the House of Commons and offered to give them a tour of Parliament. Neither the meeting nor the tour took place.

·  Sir Malcolm told reporters that, when writing to seek information already in the public domain, he could say that he had been asked to make enquiries but need not say on whose behalf.

Analysis

42) The first matter raised by Vera Productions in their letter to Sir Malcolm was that he had; "corresponded with, and met representatives of PMR without first carrying out due diligence on the company." As I said earlier, the allegation relies on an absence of evidence and Sir Malcolm does not deny that he had made no enquiries. He has stated his view that it is usual to undertake 'due diligence' at the time when an offer of appointment is made. The allegation has no bearing on the rules of the House nor on whether Sir Malcolm was prepared to engage in lobbying. I therefore do not propose to consider it further.

43) When I wrote to Sir Malcolm to initiate this inquiry I said that I would investigate whether he had, contrary to the rules of the House, engaged in lobbying for reward or consideration and whether his conduct was such as to cause serious damage to the reputation and integrity of the House. The basis for the inquiry was media coverage of two interviews with Sir Malcolm undertaken by undercover reporters. Following those interviews the production company had written to Sir Malcolm alleging specifically that Sir Malcolm had demonstrated his willingness to engage in lobbying by;

·  Saying that he could seek information on behalf of a company without disclosing the organisation's name; and [39]

·  Offering to hold a private business meeting in his office and to provide a personal tour of Parliament for a business contact.

44) Sir Malcolm has accepted from the outset that in the course of the two interviews he had said a couple of "silly" or "stupid" things, in particular in relation to whether or not he received a salary.[40] As Sir Malcolm has since acknowledged to me, he was not self-employed and he did receive a salary (as a public office holder) in his capacity as a Member of Parliament.

45) The context in which these unwise comments were made became much clearer during my investigation, when I had the benefit of the transcripts of the unedited interviews. These comments and the way they were reported coloured much of the publicity surrounding the television programme. In interview I asked Sir Malcolm to explain his position with regard to these comments. He then acknowledged that he had made "errors of judgement" and "off the cuff" remarks, about which he might have been "mistaken".[41] While those errors allowed others to draw unflattering inferences, they do not provide evidence that Sir Malcolm had done anything which could be considered a breach of the rules on lobbying. Nor do those comments in themselves amount to a breach of any other of the rules of conduct.

46) Sir Malcolm could find himself in breach of the rules if he wrote to a Minister without disclosing any relevant financial interest which he had in a matter, but he made no offer to do so for PMR. The discussion was a hypothetical one. Having considered carefully the transcripts of the unedited interviews, I am satisfied that this was in the context of seeking information already in the public domain and Sir Malcolm had made it clear that he could not obtain information on behalf of a company if that information was not public.

47) For example, in the second interview the following exchange takes place;

    MR: People say, "We want [inaudible] a big campaign to ease the traffic by building some new road. In such a situation they will be only too happy to say yes, we're thinking about it. That's when they'll be wanting to say it. But sometimes it will be for other reasons. So there's no simple...

    C: No, of course.

    L: So they won't tell us, of course, but will they tell you?

    MR: They won't tell me either. Certainly not. Certainly not.

    L: Over a drink?

    MR: I hope not, because as a citizen I'd be very worried about that. No, no, no we have quite… they have to be very careful. You cannot give privileged information to one private citizen or a company that is not available to others. Because that, why should they? There is no benefit from their point of view, and they will simply be severely criticised. But there is an awful lot of information which is not secret which if you ask the right questions you'll get the answer."[42]

48) Sir Malcolm has since acknowledged that he may have been wrong to suggest that when seeking publicly available information he would need only to say that he had been "asked to establish what the thinking is on X, Y, Z" and would not need to say on whose behalf of the enquiry was made.[43] If a Member corresponds with someone about a matter in which they have a relevant financial interest, they must obey the rules on declaration and observe the prohibition on lobbying for reward or consideration. Those specific rules should, of course, be read in the context of the general principles of conduct, particularly that of openness.

49) However, I do not consider Sir Malcolm's words to amount to evidence of a willingness to breach those rules; I accept his explanation that this was an 'off the cuff' remark. While he was wrong to suggest that he need not say on whose behalf he was enquiring if he were to make an enquiry, I have found no evidence to support the principal allegation that Sir Malcolm engaged in lobbying or was prepared to do so.

50) In interview I asked Sir Malcolm if he had seen the two meetings with the reporters as the beginning of a recruitment process. He accepted that they might have viewed them in that light but said that "I didn't get involved in negotiation. We never reached that stage." While I am satisfied that the meetings between Sir Malcolm and PMR did not reach the stage of formal negotiations, I do think they were conducted on the basis of at least the preliminary stages of a recruitment process. Sir Malcolm's comments on possible payment, on the extent of his contacts (which he agrees might have been slightly exaggerated), and a joke about not suggesting anyone else who could possibly be suitable can all be seen within that context.

    "Sir Malcolm Rifkind: But when one thinks about it, that is basically the thrust of the Channel 4 programme…. That's basically what they were really objecting to. It was not because I was an MP—not the experience I got as an MP. It was the fact that, as a former Minister—although in my case 18 years before—I had an experience and I knew people and had various contacts that might be relevant.

    Kathryn Hudson: And the suggestion that you knew all the ambassadors there were in London?

    Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Well, not them all.

    Kathryn Hudson: It comes across that way. So there might be a slight exaggeration there, perhaps.

    Sir Malcolm Rifkind: It was a private conversation, which, you know, wasn't formal evidence."[44]

51) The first meeting ends with an exchange about a second meeting in which both sides would have further questions and a more senior person might be involved. While I accept that Sir Malcolm did not regard his discussions with PMR as part of a negotiation process, I do think this is evidence of the preliminary stages of a recruitment process. Viewed in this light, Sir Malcolm's offer to hold a meeting in his office in the House and to provide a tour of Parliament could potentially put him in breach of the rules. At interview he says,

    Sir Malcolm Rifkind: It is where she says, "Because one of the interests on a personal business level, a lot of people in China, including my uncle, are very impressed with the Parliament, the knighthood, the lordship, and, you know, it is the whole history and everything." Yes, well, if I had known this, we could have had this meeting in my office in Parliament, laughter. That happens to me all the time, and it happens to every MP all the time. We are all very proud of the building. We love showing people round, and whenever anybody over the last 33 years has said to me, "I have never been to Parliament," or "I'd love to see Parliament," I say, "Look, come. We can meet in my office and I will show you round.

    Kathryn Hudson: Without wanting to make too much of an issue of this, there is a point I think early on when you say no, you did not offer to hold a meeting in your office, and I wondered whether, in the light of having read this, you accept that you did at least offer….

    Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Well, I agreed to meet them in my office. [….] I certainly—I do not for a moment deny—it would be incorrect to imply that this did not happen. Of course I said it, but that was—she had said her—I was doing what I would do with anyone. If people tell me that they have never been to Parliament and they would love to see around it, that is what one does. I think every MP does that.

52) A previous Commissioner accepted that the rules about the use of Members' offices need to be "operated with a sense of proportion". I agree. In 2010 the Commissioner said "It may also be most convenient for a Member to make use of parliamentary facilities in meeting others not strictly for the purpose of parliamentary business. This is because it keeps the Member near at hand so that they can continue to conduct parliamentary business if necessary. But the use of House facilities simply as a way of boosting a Member's employment prospects would, in my judgement, be a misuse of those facilities. I think it is clear that [the Member]'s suggestion was indeed intended to boost his employment prospects (he said "the Americans love it by the way"). Had [the Member] used House facilities for this purpose, I consider that would have been a breach of the rules of the House…."[45]

53) Had Sir Malcolm's offer been taken up, particularly after the second meeting when it was clear that PMR were likely to have further questions relating to the possibility of employing him, Sir Malcolm might then have been in breach of the rules by using parliamentary resources for the purpose of boosting his employment prospects.

54) For completeness, I turn now to the involvement of Sir Malcolm's personal assistant in making appointments for him with PMR. [46] (It would be for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA)—which administers the system for parliamentary expenses—to make a formal determination on a specific allegation of a misuse of her time. I have, therefore, considered only whether I should refer the matter to them.) In the course of my interview with Sir Malcolm I asked about how he managed administration relating to his external interests and in particular about the use of his personal assistant. Sir Malcolm said that her job was to ensure that "anything I did would not interfere with a parliamentary commitment. […] you can only have that kind of situation working if one person is responsible for the diary. If that doesn't work-it was actually very infrequent but nevertheless it made sense to do that." Sir Malcolm told me that he managed other business related to his external commitments himself. [47]

55) In 2006-07 the Standards and Privileges Committee said "[The Member] fairly makes the point and the Commissioner accepts, that the intertwining of Members' various capacities-as parliamentarians, party members, and private individuals-means that it would be impracticable to require that only business which is exclusively parliamentary in nature can ever be conducted by Members from their offices on the parliamentary estate."[48] While that comment was made in a different context, I think it is relevant to this case and, in light of that, I find no evidence which would justify a referral of this matter to IPSA for formal determination.

56) In summary, while Sir Malcolm did indeed make some errors of judgement, which he has since acknowledged, I find no evidence that he was in breach of the rules of the House by engaging in lobbying. Other allegations made concerning him did not constitute breaches of the rules of the House. Sir Malcolm has suffered as a result of the allegations and inferences made, which were covered widely in the media; he gave up the chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee and he decided to retire from the House of Commons sooner than he had planned.

57) While I do think it is possible to cause significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House as a whole, or of its Members generally without being in breach of any of the other rules, I do not think Sir Malcolm has done so. Sir Malcolm's errors of judgement may reflect upon him but not upon other Members or the House itself. I therefore do not find him in breach of paragraph 16 of the Code of Conduct.


7   One example can be seen at WE2 Back

8   WE3 Back

9   WE5 Back

10   WE8 Back

11   HC1885: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmcode/1885/188501.htm Back

12   The Resolution was subsequently amended on 14 May 2002 Back

13   WE6 Back

14   WE7 Back

15   WE12, 13, 14 Back

16   WE10, email 1 Back

17   WE10, email 2 Back

18   WE10, email 3 Back

19   WE7 Back

20   WE13 Back

21   WE14 Back

22   WE28 Back

23   WE13 Back

24   WE14 Back

25   WE9 Back

26   WE 10, email 3 Back

27   WE9 Back

28   WE3 Back

29   WE11 Back

30   WE15 Back

31   WE16 & 17 Back

32   WE19 & 20 Back

33   WE22 & 23 Back

34   WE25 Back

35   WE12 Back

36   WE25 Back

37   WE21 Back

38   WE 24 Back

39   WE1 Back

40   WE4 Back

41   WE25 Back

42   WE14 Back

43   WE25 Back

44   WE25 Back

45   HC 654-11, Committee on Standards and Privileges, Ninth Report of Session 2010-11 Volume II Back

46   WE10 Back

47   WE25 Back

48   HC 429, Committee on Standards and Privileges, Second Report of Session 2006-07 Back


 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 17 September 2015