Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 143 - 159)




  143. Thank you, Mr Rowley, for coming along to answer our questions today. Would you introduce, for the purposes of the notetaker, your colleague?

  (Mr Rowley) Yes, my colleague and friend, Yvonne Lord, who attended the first interview with the Commissioner and has come along today as a friend.

  144. It is not our normal practice to take evidence on oath but I must ask you to take note that we may want to recall you and on that occasion it is possible that such evidence on oath may be asked for. My first question then to you, Mr Rowley, is to ask you what your responsibilities as Scottish Labour Party General Secretary were and if you could explain your tasks in that capacity?
  (Mr Rowley) The role as General Secretary at that time certainly was quite wide. There was a management role, ultimately responsible for the management of the staff within the Scottish Labour Party. There was a wider responsibility in terms of the management of the party across Scotland, CLPs, Constituency Labour Parties and local branches, etc.. There was a management party role. There was at that time within the role a political role. The General Secretary, for example, would often be required to carry out interviews with the media on party matters. So there was the management role of directly managing staff and there was the wider management role of managing the party in Scotland. There was then the political role of dealing with the media on party matters.

  145. How did you come to the view that some members of the campaign staff were having their salaries for Labour Party work paid in part through the Office Costs Allowance?
  (Mr Rowley) I did not come to that view when this matter first came up and I was first approached on this matter by a journalist. At that point I decided that it would be difficult for me to lie about it. That was factual, that was what actually had happened. When I was then interviewed by the Commissioner I simply told the truth, so I did not reach the view that had happened. That was pretty factual, that was what did happen.

  146. How did Kevin Reid's services arise? How did you come to make use of him?
  (Mr Rowley) Sorry?

  147. What was the background to you making use of Kevin Reid in your work?
  (Mr Rowley) Firstly, when I was not that long into the post, the first person who we started to make use of—if that is the right word to use—was Chris Winslow. Basically how that arrangement came about was the office manager of the Labour Party in Scotland, Ann-Marie Whyte, approached me to say that Chris Winslow had left university, did not have a post and John Maxton would be willing to take him on and we would be able to use him full-time provided we were able to pay a part-time salary to make it up to a full-time salary. That was how that first came about. Following on from that, a similar arrangement was put into place for Kevin Reid. That was how it came about.

  148. Kevin Reid had a full-time party contract in October 1998?
  (Mr Rowley) Yes.

  149. What was the background to that?
  (Mr Rowley) The background was that not long after I started Chris Winslow came in and then Kevin Reid and we had that arrangement. John Reid became concerned around about a few weeks perhaps before Kevin was taken on full-time. John Reid phoned and was concerned because there was an article which had appeared in a UK national newspaper. I think it was basically an article that was attacking the Conservative Party and Conservative MPs for using researchers to do party work. This had alarmed John and he spoke to me about it on a number of occasions. At that particular time I did not move immediately to put Kevin on to a full-time contract but he spoke to others in Millbank as well as the Scottish Party raising his concerns. It was as a result of those concerns that Kevin was put on to a full-time contract. In other words, John was asking, quite forcefully, that Kevin be put on to a full-time contract because he thought that if not the same allegation that was being made against the Conservatives in England could be made against ourselves in Scotland, particularly the fact that both John and Kevin had the same name, "Reid", and people may well put two and two together and come up with four. So, for that reason, Kevin was given a full-time contract.

  150. You did tell the Commissioner that when you spoke to Dr Reid, this was early this year, he made threats to you about the possibility of prosecution?
  (Mr Rowley) Yes.

  151. You gave the Commissioner a full and accurate account, could you give us details of that conversation or the background to that conversation?
  (Mr Rowley) One of the conversations I had with him was in the lobby of a hotel on, I think it was the Saturday morning of the Scottish Labour Party Conference. It was the main conference hotel in Edinburgh. I had gone into the hotel and John was sitting with a couple of special advisers and his assistant from his constituency. I asked to speak to him and he and I moved across the corridor and sat and had a chat about this whole matter. I had been previously interviewed by a lawyer acting on behalf of Neil Davidson, QC, who was acting on behalf of John Reid, so I had discussions with lawyers representing John about this whole matter. I had been interviewed by them in Glasgow and I had gone through things with them. I was a bit concerned about the way things were going, some rumours. We sat down and started to talk about that. John and I have always been quite friendly with each other. We did have quite a good working relationship together. We sat down and talked through the issues and it was at that point that John said to me that if I was to admit to the Commissioner any wrongdoing and he did not, and therefore was cleared of any wrongdoing, then I could face criminal prosecution.

Mr Campbell-Savours

  152. Could you repeat those words again?
  (Mr Rowley) John explained at that time to me that if I acknowledged to the Commissioner any wrongdoing and he was cleared, because he did not admit to any wrong doing, then I could face criminal prosecution. That was basically what I perceived to be a threat. Obviously that gave me great concern and basically, as far as I saw it, my options were either to lie or to tell the truth and face possible criminal proceedings against me. That was how that came about. It was in a hotel in Edinburgh.


  153. Any other threats?
  (Mr Rowley) After that, there was a phone conversation between myself and John. I was at that time going for the Central Fife constituency seat, the Central Fife constituency Labour Party seat. As it turned out I did not get the selection but I was in the process of going for that. John in a phone conversation said to me that I would have to be endorsed by the Labour Party, even though I was selected. I think I was seen perhaps as the front runner in that particular seat so many people thought that I would be selected. I perceived that to be a threat because the conversation was about this particular situation that we are discussing today. John, from that, went on to talk about the Central Fife seat and the possibility of me not being endorsed by the Labour Party. He reminded me that I had to be endorsed even though I was selected, so I perceived that to be a threat again.

  154. I can understand that but what I am not clear about is your fear of the possibility of prosecution.
  (Mr Rowley) Yes.

  155. On what basis would that be made in your view?
  (Mr Rowley) My evidence that I have given to the Commissioner obviously acknowledges wrongdoing on my part. I think in the interview with the Commissioner she asked was I aware that the actions we were taking were in breach of the rules of Parliament, and my answer to that was obviously I was certainly aware of that after John Reid raised the issues around his son Kevin, and Kevin being put on to the Labour Party books full-time. It was clear, certainly from that point on, if the party was acting improperly then I was in charge and I would have been acting improperly and knowing I was doing so. So for me to admit any wrongdoing would be admitting, obviously, that I was guilty of a breach of what the rules were in terms of this particular House. That was my perception of that in terms of facing criminal prosecution. John did not go into it in that length of detail but that would certainly have been my interpretation of why I might have risked facing criminal prosecution. He simply told me that would be the case.

  156. Looking back now, do you think your fears were overstated?
  (Mr Rowley) In terms of?

  157. Fear of prosecution?
  (Mr Rowley) No. I think, looking back, when this thing first came up, I had a long conversation, it must have been at least an hour, I was up in Shetland, in Lerwick, and John Reid phoned me and we had a long, long conversation. I was unhappy about the way he had responded to the article etc.. At that point my view was very clear that we should acknowledge that certainly there is a grey area where a political party is employing people who are already employed by the Government or by Westminster. The lesson for us should have been to say never again will we as a party, or for that matter hopefully any political party, use these procedures. I think that would have been perfectly acceptable to do so. My view is that the reason that the Neill Committee was set up to look into political parties, to look into funding etc, was because no party was perfectly above board when it came to a lot of issues. Indeed, the Labour Party itself had acknowledged, for example, in terms of the Blind Trust for the Leader's Office, for other senior Members' offices, that was something we would not do again. Likewise, I think if the Neill Committee was looking at all these different practices then they do exist and have existed in many parties and this was not the first time such a practice had been carried out. Certainly I was led to believe when I took up the post in Scotland that it was custom and practice, and these practices had been used before in Scotland. When this whole thing came out, that was certainly the discussion I was having with John Reid at that time, that we should accept that and acknowledge that, yes, there was definitely a grey area there. The lesson for us was that never again would we use such practices. I think that would have been the correct thing to have done. In terms of how serious the matter was at that particular time, I recognised it was serious, to answer your question, but I think we should have simply been honest and said we were putting our house in order because as a party we have said that with other things.

Mr Campbell-Savours

  158. I will come in later, Chairman, but I just want a couple of early questions. When did you first have contact with Mr Nelson, do you remember?
  (Mr Rowley) I think about a week and a half before the story broke in the newspaper he contacted me on a number of occasions. As he got more and more information from different people he was contacting me quite a bit by phone.

  159. You were not the origin of the story at all?
  (Mr Rowley) No.

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