Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 320 - 339)



  320. I think this goes to the heart of all this and everything else really.
  (Dr Reid) I have not denied, nor did I in my opening statement, that I wanted to help the Labour Party. That was communicated to Alex Rowley. If you want to call that an arrangement, call that an arrangement. That is not the crucial thing. The crucial thing is—does Alex Rowley imply that part of those discussions in that arrangement was that they would not have to do anything for me? Up until today he did not, but if you jump back to paragraph 172, and incidentally that was where I stopped, I had not seen any of the paragraphs you mentioned before, if you go to 172 Alex says, and this is the first time he ever says this—

  321. What line is this?
  (Dr Reid) It is Mr Rowley under question 172. He says "I was absolutely clear that neither of the two were working for MPs". He has never said that before. First of all, it is wrong. Ms Filkin has accepted that it is wrong. All of this evidence illustrates that it is wrong, Mr Campbell-Savours, this stuff I sent. It is now obvious, whether he has changed his mind on this or whether he is strengthening his position, he is now saying something which is not true. You are asking me, did he believe it to be the case that this was part of the arrangement? One, if he says he believed that to be the case, I cannot say that he did not believe that. Two, if he believed it, was he right? No. No. There was no implication or communication which said to him that the staff that I employed would not work for me. He obviously thinks it from paragraph 172. All of the evidence, including the Commissioner, says that is not true, they did work for me. Your question was very important. Is it possible he is telling the truth? If he believed what he was saying he may be telling the truth from his point of view, but all of us know that it is not the truth about the reality and I know it is not the truth about the reality. Does that answer your question, Mr Campbell-Savours?

  Mr Campbell-Savours: Yes, it does at this stage.

Mr Foster

  322. On the issue of whether or not these members of staff worked for you, I think the Commissioner's position is that there is no evidence that they did not, which is not quite the same as there is evidence that they did.
  (Dr Reid) Can I just clarify that? This is very important. Is that Ms Filkin's view that there is no evidence that they worked for me?
  (Ms Filkin) There is no evidence that they did not work for you.

  323. It is a negative.
  (Dr Reid) Can I ask through you, Chairman, do you accept that there is evidence that they worked for me?
  (Ms Filkin) You have provided evidence which I have provided to the Committee which demonstrates the work that was done by these researchers.
  (Dr Reid) Is that yes, Ms Filkin?
  (Ms Filkin) That is my telling you precisely what I wish to convey and what I have conveyed in my report. I have never said that these researchers did not do any work for you.
  (Dr Reid) I understand that.
  (Ms Filkin) I have never said that. I have made it clear in my report, as Mr Foster says, that I have never said that they did not do any work for you.
  (Dr Reid) I understand that, Ms Filkin. It is the first time we have had a chance to speak to each other, I think. With respect, Chairman, I did not ask you if you said they never did anything for me, I asked you in view of what I have submitted to you if you accept that they did work for me. This is a very important point.

  Chairman: I think we had better proceed with the question.

Mr Foster

  324. The question I really want to ask you is this: if it is agreed that they did some work, I think the issue is did they do sufficient work to justify their Office Costs Allowance payments?
  (Dr Reid) Yes, I think they did. Like all of my staff, if I did not think they were doing it then I would not be happy about that. Also, I do not want to go falling into this, I thought that it was assumed that all of us were innocent until there was sufficient evidence to show the opposite.

  325. I think that must be right but what I am trying to put to you is, because it is in the Commissioner's report, that she takes the view, as she read, that Members of Parliament must monitor in some way or another the sufficiency of the work that is covered by the Office Costs Allowance. The question I am really putting to you is are you satisfied that you did that and having done so, if you did, that the work was carried out?
  (Dr Reid) Yes, I am satisfied I did that. In the circumstances we all find ourselves, we do not ask people to clock in and out, especially if I am 400 miles away. I can tell you truthfully, I trust the people who work for me. I trust Mary McKenna, she has been with me 20 years. Some nights Mary McKenna may work all night, sometimes she works for weeks on end. I do not know every occasion when she is actually in the office or not. So there is not that sort of monitoring. I do not think any MP realistically could work with their staff like that. My understanding from Ms Filkin's report is that she accepts, in Kevin Reid's case, that is certainly true and in Kevin Reid's case that is true because there is evidence for and no evidence to the contrary, and in Suzanne Hilliard's case she accepts it is true apart from five or six weeks. What I had understood by the argument which is being made in paragraph 259, which is the key as I understand it to her upholding the complaints, is that Ms Filkin thinks there was an arrangement made, even though the arrangement was never put into practice. If I may put it like this to you—if the arrangement made was that I would help the Labour Party, if you can call that an arrangement, yes, but there was nothing improper in that. If the arrangement made was that my employees would not work for me, not only was it not made but the evidence Ms Filkin herself accepts completely undermines that it would have been made, because you would not make an arrangement and then immediately go and break it.

  326. I think if the Committee accepts that then that aspect of the matter is dealt with, namely whether or not the office cost allowances were paid to somebody who did not do the work, but that leaves open one central issue and that is the question of whether the improper arrangement was made using the office cost allowance as an MP with the Labour Party. Can I put it this way, would it be fair to say you facilitated the ability for your son and subsequently Ms Hilliard to work for the Labour Party by, if you like, guaranteeing them a salary in another job; it was conditional that they would be able to work for the Labour Party because they worked for you?
  (Dr Reid) No, of course that is not true. Because, in order to do that I would have had to have started 2½ years earlier. That is when I guaranteed Kevin Reid his salary, in 1996, not May 1998. I took him on in 1996. Incidentally, I took him on years before that, as you know, but the reason his latest contract was 1997 is purely that we had to have a different contract after the 1997 election. So the idea I would guarantee Kevin Reid his salary a 2½ years before the Scottish parliamentary elections in anticipation of those elections and making a resource available to the Labour Party, does not stand up to any scrutiny.

  327. And in the case of Ms Hilliard, what would you say to the same question?
  (Dr Reid) In the case of Ms Hilliard, what I did was to get somebody to do the work I needed to be done. I needed it at short notice, I needed somebody to do it and Kevin had met her as one of the students he had got in to help out with the media monitoring and said she is a young, bright girl, she would be able to do the job. It is as simple as that. The simple answers in these cases are actually the truthful ones. Now, when Mr Rowley says that I promised a resource would be made available to someone to work on the campaign, what I indicated to Mr Rowley when the time came was that when Kevin was going full-time I mentioned to him—I did not arrange with him—I was going to take on somebody who was already working on the campaign. As it happens, Mr Rowley, who is supposed to be at the centre of all this, did not know it was Suzanne Hilliard until the newspaper story came out. So there was no arrangement, "I'll get Suzanne Hilliard" and it was arranged like that. If you check the evidence, Mr Rowley himself says he does not know who it was, and therefore he describes it as an anonymous resource, for all he is supposed to be at the centre of it. All I said to him was, "I am going to take somebody on who is working on the campaign." Ms Hilliard was not the centre of everyone's attention, I can assure you.

  328. Mr Rowley, somewhat surprisingly, when asked about the arrangement he said he made with you, told us he had not addressed his mind to the possible impropriety at the time the alleged agreement was made. But he does go on to say, most importantly, that subsequently when the press reports came out about Conservatives in England misusing the office cost allowance, it was then you came back—he does not use the words "in panic" but the impression is concerned—and at that point insisted Kevin was put on to the Labour Party staff. Can you tell us about that implication?
  (Dr Reid) Three things arise from that. You say he had not addressed the proprieties at the beginning. That comes as no surprise to me. It was not his job to observe the proprieties. It was my job to observe the proprieties. It was my job to say at the beginning, "Look, Kevin works for me, if he is going to work for you, you have to pay him separately", and that is precisely what I did. That is why I insisted Kevin had that separate contract at the beginning because he was a continuing employee of mine—so that no one would be in the position to make the unjust allegations which are now being made. The second thing is that Mr Rowley "came to believe" it was improper. I have only scanned the evidence here but I think, if my understanding is correct, that Mr Rowley thinks any arrangement whereby anybody is working for an MP and helps out a political party is in principle improper. I think that is what he believes. If Mr Rowley does believe that, that in principle if any of your employees work on the general election campaign in any capacity that is improper, which is what he appears to believe, then I am afraid by that standard every MP, perhaps with the odd exception, is guilty of that. Because most of us work with people who support a political party to some extent and go out and do the work to support them. The third thing that arises out of that is the question of the Tory story. I have already explained that. Kevin started on three hours a day covering press in the morning, doing only newspapers. He then advanced to doing three hours a day covering newspapers and broadcasts, still the morning ones. He then extended and went into the new office to cover lunch time broadcasts. All of that time there was a dynamic building up, he was bringing in more volunteers to help work out. They got to the six months' point and started saying, "We want full-time media monitoring". I said then, "There is no way I am going to have somebody on my books who is going to be working full-time to such an extent he cannot work for me." That was not only on the grounds of propriety but on the grounds of needing my work done. In the course of this, there was a story which appeared in the press and I used that to exhibit the dangers of exactly what I was warning about and to bolster my case he should go full-time. It appears from what I have read, and I have not read it all, that the only thing Mr Rowley remembers of all of these conversations, these snatched conversations, is this one fax. I do not deny and never have done that I sent a fax, though when Ms Filkin first approached me I could not remember it, but I think I have to accept I would have done and so would any member of this Committee. If you had been arguing, "You cannot do this, there are dangers in this" and you are insisting he go full-time if you want him to work those hours, and you saw a story like that, you would do exactly the same; you would get a photocopy and say, "There you are, that fax backs up my argument." It is as simple as that.

Mr Williams

  329. Can I clarify something in my mind, I do not want to interrupt Michael's questioning? I took up the point about differentiation with Mr Rowley, and if you look at 238 of his evidence this morning—
  (Dr Reid) I definitely have not read this.

  330. No, you will not have, I was right at the end. Page 49, at the top, paragraph 238.
  (Dr Reid) Yes.

  331. "Can I clarify two things to start with? First, the situation of the dual employment, can you explain to me whether in your mind you see it as improper or unwise, that differentiation, for someone to work part-time, say, for MPs and part-time for the party, even though the jobs are clearly differentiated? Do you still think that is improper?" I was trying to get at the very point that you have been making.
  (Dr Reid) Yes.

  332. Mr Rowley's reply was "If there is a clear distinction between both posts, a clear contrast for both posts, clear job descriptions for both posts, my view would be that it was unwise. However, what we did was clearly not proper. So that is the difference. Any point there is a grey line, then you are better to be on the safe side. I think it would be unwise but what we did was not just unwise, it was improper". Why on earth should he be so adamant to damage himself with a comment like that?
  (Dr Reid) Because he clearly thinks, as 172 illustrates, that my employees did no work for me. He thinks that. He believes that. It is wrong, that is the whole point.

  333. That is not what he is saying there.
  (Dr Reid) At 172, if you check that, for the first time he says they did not do any work. We know that is not true but he obviously believes it. That is why he thinks it would be improper. On the other point about "unwise" I would make two points on that. The first is if that is true then we need a new regulation. That is fine, if there is a new regulation when I phone up the Fees Office, as I did before Kevin started with the Labour Party, then they will tell me "there is a new regulation".

  334. No-one here has suggested that it is unwise. It is accepted even by the Commissioner that it is perfectly proper.
  (Dr Reid) I think it is fine as well. The point I am making is if it was unwise and the House decided we need a regulation on this then somebody like me would phone up the Fees Office and Archie Cameron would say "no, you cannot do this, it is unwise". I did phone the Fees Office and the Fees Office told me there is not a problem with this.

Mr Campbell-Savours

  335. When?
  (Dr Reid) I later wrote to them. I phoned them at the time, Dale. I cannot tell you the exact date but I phoned them at the time and they said it was not a problem. That was why I wrote in May again because when Ms Filkin came with enquiries and asked me, I wrote to the Fees Office and they said it again in explicit terms, in the letter you have got. I did not think there was anything unwise or improper about it, but I also took the precaution of phoning them up, as I said before, and they said "no, there is not a problem, provided it is a separate job that is all right". From where I am sitting now I am tempted to say it is very unwise because certainly it is a position where those who, for whatever reason, however sincere they are—and I can understand why Alex is not well disposed towards me I fully understand that, he did not get the backing from me he thought was necessary to be General Secretary of the party—however sincere his beliefs are on this, he is wrong.

  Mr Foster: I have one question on a different issue.

  Chairman: There is going to be a Division before too long.

Mr Lewis

  336. It is convenient to stay on this subject. Looking again at question 238, Mr Rowley talked about at "Any point there is a grey line". What has exercised some Members of the Committee has been this sort of grey area that may exist when all of us employ people in due capacities, that there is a grey line somewhere. Do you recognise that and have you got anything to say about that?
  (Dr Reid) First of all, I think there is a grey line in almost everything MPs do, not just the staff issue. The grey line is this: we are Members of Parliament, we are Labour Members of Parliament, we are Conservative Members of Parliament, we are Liberal Members of Parliament, we are an Independent Member of Parliament and, yes, there is a grey area. When we make a speech, if somebody writes that speech, has it got to be devoid of politics if it is in any way contributed to by anyone in our office? There are these judgments to be made. All I can say is that in making my judgment I took the best advice possible, I phoned the Fees Office. Secondly, when they said "yes, fine, provided this is separate", I insisted that there be a separate contract. I thought, and still do, and I hope you feel as well, I hope you believe me and exonerate me, that in those grey areas I did what was proper and what was right.

  337. You recognise that in employment terms there are areas where things may overlap a little bit that might lead to somebody like Rowley believing that there was something improper going on from Rowley's perspective?
  (Dr Reid) I do not think there was a significant overlap as it happens, certainly not with Suzanne Hilliard and the sorts of things she was doing for me. In almost every research job there is an overlap because you learn lots of information, say as a student studying history and politics, that you could usefully use as a researcher for an MP, but nobody accuses you of abusing the university's monies. No doubt as you are researching and reading papers, newspapers, for an MP you learn things that will help you in your studies. Of course in the real world there is that overlap. I do not actually think, and I have not read Alex's testimony in full so I should not comment, that is what is causing Alex to say what he is saying. I think what he is saying is "Well, we all know people did this in the past. People were always doing this". I think he says that at one stage in here. I do not know how he knows what people were always doing because he only started that May in the Labour Party Headquarters, he never worked there before. Certainly if he brought that perspective to it then that might be the reason he thinks it. There was no arrangement with me with Alex and, to be fair to him, nor does he say there was, that the people who worked for me would not do the work. That, to me, is the crucial thing. Had I done that I would have said to Ms Filkin early on—and we could have all saved ourselves a lot of trouble—"Yes, I did, I was wrong and I was a naughty boy, please smack my hand". I have not fought this long because I did something wrong. I have fought it because I genuinely tried, and I hope you find I genuinely tried, to meet the requirements of the House while at the same time, of course, trying to help my party. That would be the same whether I was in Peter's party or in Martin's party as well. I said right in the first statement to Ms Filkin, I think she will confirm, my very final paragraph, to bring it to your attention, "I do not want to give the impression that I did not want to help the Labour Party", yes, I did, this is what we all do. But I did not do that in such a way that breached the regulations of the House, nor do I cast any aspersion on Alex Rowley's truthfulness.

Mr Foster

  338. It really is a separate issue on just one final point and that is about the allegations of Mr Rowley that you put undue pressure on him. Would it be fair to say that you recognised your seniority in dealing with him because that in itself might be seen as being pressure? Would you accept that, the fact that you were a very senior politician in Scotland?
  (Dr Reid) No, I do not accept that for a number of reasons. First of all, it was Mr Rowley who came to me. He admits that himself in the second conversation where he came to me at the Labour Party Conference Centre. It is clear, both from the pager message, that I did not initiate it, and from his conversation with Lesley Quinn that he wanted to speak to me on the second occasion as well. It is clear from the transcript, if you read it, the opening words of which are "Hello, John, this is Alex", that he actually phoned me. I do not accept that he should have felt under any threat whatsoever. Indeed, he told Lesley Quinn that he had a good conversation in it. The second and important thing is this: Mr Rowley also makes allegations that other members of the Labour Party felt under pressure as well. I find this the most difficult section of Ms Filkin's report, if she does not mind me saying so, this one on the conduct of Members of Parliament. There is paragraph after paragraph of unsubstantiated allegations by Alex Rowley, which are denied by me but which are also unsubstantiated allegations about Lesley Quinn and about Ann-Marie Whyte where not only are they denied by them but in a slip Ms Filkin did not even go and ask them about them which, quite frankly, do very great damage to my reputation. I have never brought pressure on Ann-Marie Whyte or Lesley Quinn, either of them. Anybody who knew Lesley Quinn, incidentally, would think it rather odd that anybody could suggest Lesley could be put under pressure. I did not speak to, communicate with or in any other way signal to Ann-Marie Whyte, I did not see her from when this investigation began to the last week or so. So those allegations of pressures and threats are actually the section of this report that I find even more offensive than the up-holding of the complaints.

  Chairman: We will need to come back after the division so we will adjourn for ten minutes.

  The Committee suspended from 6.01 pm to 6.24 pm for a division§ in the House

  Chairman: Thank you for coming back again.

Mr Levitt

  339. What was Alex Rowley like as the Labour Party General Secretary? What traits did he exhibit?
  (Dr Reid) You are going into a very difficult area. John Rafferty was brought in to run the campaign. I think that says something. Within a few days of my becoming Scottish Secretary, Alex approached me and we went and had a chat in the Pugin Room in front of another MP and I will tell you what I said to Alex there and then perhaps I do not want to go any deeper. I said to him, as nicely as I could, that he did not have the qualities it took to be General Secretary of the Party, that he did not have the ability to manage staff, that he was not very good at hiring and firing people, that it had been necessary to bring someone else in to run the show, and comments of that nature. I told him truthfully because I regarded him as someone who was not only a friend but someone who I had given considerable support to, because when he was appointed there was a great deal of opposition to his appointment in Scotland. Alex went and resigned that night; he went and met Jonathan Upton and Margaret McDonagh and resigned. I have never said, and I will stand corrected if Ms Filkin can show me—and I know Ms Filkin felt my defence against Alex was one of malice—I have never said that. I said in my submission to Ms Filkin that I had considered the possibility that he was motivated by malice but had rejected that, and I thought he was merely misinformed. I said that in my response of 19th May. When I found out he had found a pretext of taping my telephone conversations I said merely that I might have to reflect on my view of him. But I think that it would have been helpful if, when I was questioning not his honesty but his reliability on certain matters, when I had asked the question whether Ms Filkin was aware why he had left the Labour Party, if instead of going to Alex she had actually asked the employers. When you look for a reference for somebody, you do not go to them, you ask others, and there were grounds for believing that it would be better for all concerned that Alex should leave the General Secretary's job. I do not want to go into the details of that, whether it would help my case or not.

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