Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Third Report


Memorandum submitted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Complaint against Mr Kenneth Clarke

  1. Mrs Lynn Riley, of Chepstow, Monmouthshire, wrote on 28 February 1997 to a Member of the House, alleging that Mr Kenneth Clarke MP had failed to register `the free trip and accommodation he received from the Bilderberg Group ... unlike Tony Blair who attended the same meeting'. She enclosed a letter from Mr Clarke dated 6 September 1995 in which he states that `my recollection is that I paid for my flight but that I was accommodated while I was there'. The Member passed the correspondence on to me.

  2. The Bilderberg Conference is an annual conference which was established in 1954 at the invitation of Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands at the Hotel de Bilderberg in Oosterbeck, the Netherlands. Its main founder was the Polish political philanthropist Joseph Retinger and its members include political leaders, statesmen, academics, businessmen, bankers, and union leaders from Western Europe and the NATO countries. They discuss the political, economic and military problems of Europe and the world. The conference in question was held in Greece in April 1993, at a time when Mr Clarke was Home Secretary.

  3. Had Mr Clarke not responded to Mrs Riley as he did, I would have held that there was no prima facie evidence to support the complaint.

  4. Mr Clarke repeated to me his recollection that he paid his own air fare but that his accommodation costs were met. He had since checked with the conference organisers who confirmed that it was in accordance with their policy at the time for participants to meet their own travel costs; and that although they no longer kept complete records, they thought that the accommodation had been paid for by sponsors unknown, organised by their Greek members.

  5. Mr Clarke subsequently explained that he and Mr Blair considered that they were attending the conference as representatives of the Government and the Opposition respectively, and stated that `I was quite confident that I was at the time meeting the rules applying to Ministers, and it did not occur to me that the new rules concerning registration could apply to this visit'.

  6. The conference took place shortly before the House approved, in June 1993, a number of detailed changes to the rules on registration and guidance which had been recommended by the former Select Committee on Members' Interests towards the end of the previous Parliament. Before that date, Members were required to give details on their registration forms of `overseas visits relating to or arising out of membership of the House where the cost of any such visit has not been wholly borne by the Member or by public funds'. A guide to the new rules, published in September 1993, provided the following amplification: `Where only part of the costs was borne by an outside source (for example the accommodation but not the cost of travel) those details should be stated briefly'. The new rules, which applied for the first time to the Register of Members' Interests published in January 1994, also contained a list of specific exemptions from the requirement to register overseas visits.

  7. As Mr Clarke correctly pointed out, neither he nor Mr Blair registered their attendance at the conference on their return. Mr Blair did so two years later in 1995, following a complaint to the former Select Committee that he had failed to register that visit, together with an earlier visit to Washington as a member of an All-Party Group. The Committee in their Report[1] acknowledged that certain aspects of the Rules had been the subject of widespread misapprehension and recommended that no further action should be taken in respect of the complaints made against Mr Blair.

  8. Mr Clarke's recollection that he paid his own travel expenses is borne out by the conference organisers, and there is no reason to suppose that this was not the case. His accommodation expenses, on the other hand, do appear to have been met by his hosts. The Bilderberg Conference does not fall within a category which is exempt from registration and it follows that, in accordance with the rules both before and after June 1993, the partial benefit that he received ought to have been registered.

  9. I do however consider that any breach of the rules was of a relatively minor nature, and note that the former Select Committee concluded that no further action was needed in respect of Mr Blair's delay in registering the same visit. I also accept that:

  (i)  Mr Clarke saw himself as attending the conference as a representative of the Government, and had been careful to observe the requirement under Questions of Procedure for Ministers `to ensure that no undue influence was involved';

  (ii)  as, to the best of Mr Clarke's knowledge, it was the conference organisers who had paid for his accommodation, the receipt of such a benefit could not realistically have been thought likely to influence his actions as a Member of Parliament.

11 July 1997

1  Second Report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, Session 1994-95, HC 706. Back

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