Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 340 - 359)



  340. I do not want to press you on those sort of details but I would like to come back to the question of hiring and firing which you mentioned as one of his responsibilities. Where does Ann-Marie Whyte fit into that? Would she be the one who made the decisions about hiring and firing people at the level of Suzanne and Kevin, or would that be Alex?
  (Dr Reid) I have not a clue. I have never discussed this matter with Ann-Marie Whyte at the time or afterwards. I have not spoken to Ann-Marie Whyte from the day the investigation began until a week last Friday when I was in the Labour Party offices. She was off on pregnancy leave for a lot of that time, I have never communicated with her, I have never caused anyone else to communicate with her. I have never spoken to John Rafferty—I tell a lie, I think I said, "Hello, how are you?" at a Labour Party Gala Dinner—in the course of the investigation. So I just cannot tell you. I genuinely had nothing to do at the time, and have not since, with Ann-Marie Whyte, and Ann-Marie I think has made that plain in the statement. It was my lawyer who spoke to her to take the statement, not me.

  341. Would she have been in a position to know about employment contracts and the nature of them?
  (Dr Reid) Let me put it this way, I do not believe Alex would be the first to say he was on top of everything, including the management of staff and budgets and things like that. Indeed I think he may have indicated that in his evidence. To put it another way, Ann-Marie Whyte is a very valued member of staff and is still there running the staff, and I have never, ever, discussed the employment of staff, either Suzanne Hilliard or Kevin, with Ann-Marie Whyte.

  342. Would the management of volunteers have gone through Ann-Marie Whyte or directly to the General Secretary or somebody else?
  (Dr Reid) No. The idea that the General Secretary of the Party in Scotland would be managing student volunteers, for instance—no. Kevin was establishing the media monitoring and all of these things are done on an ad hoc basis. I sometimes think, and I can understand why, that Ms Filkin thinks political parties run like corporate organisations. Well, they do not, especially building up to a general election campaign. Anyone knows from their party headquarters that if someone comes in and says, "I can do a couple of hours", you say, "Right, go there", and it does not go up to the General Secretary of the Party to do that. It is obvious that in the case of Suzanne Hilliard, for instance, Alex did not know anything about contracts or when she was working for me or anyone else. That is the reality, I cannot put it any more clearly than that. The idea that volunteers come in and have an interview and sit down—no, word of mouth goes round, people come in. There was one chap who I know was in there in the afternoons as a volunteer who worked in a butcher's shop in the morning. It would be extraordinary if on that basis it was claimed that the Labour Party was stealing the butcher's money, but that is the sort of thing which I think is behind the thought-process of the complaint. I think in terms of volunteers coming in to help the Labour Party, I cannot imagine that the General Secretary would be in the midst of a campaign deciding who would come in to help out the media monitoring on a four hour shift and marking the work-time they did. There are no clocks in there. All of us here know the reality of a general election campaign; people come in—retired people, students, people on an afternoon off, some of them come in regularly, some of them do not—and if you are there and you have a job to do, you basically try and get people to help you.

  343. So as far as Suzanne Hilliard was concerned, she could quite possibly have sat down at a desk within the Labour Party office and actually have done work for you at that desk? Or did you have an expectation she would be in your constituency office?
  (Dr Reid) No, I did not have any expectation she would be in my constituency office because I was not going to ask someone who was not physically typing the things to go across Glasgow and sit in Hamilton every day. I was asking her to do the best she could as a bright young girl under the circumstances with things she had never done before, and I was very happy because she was ready, she was available, she was bright, she was obviously prepared to work hard and Kevin knew her. I was in those circumstances where you were looking for someone very quickly. It is as simple as that. I know this is anecdotal but it might explain it. During the period when I hired Suzanne Hilliard, I also hired a civil servant—an assistant private secretary. His name is Stephen. You can check with the Ministry of Transport who will no doubt be able to give you a statement confirming this.

  344. This is you as Minister, is it?
  (Dr Reid) This is me as Minister. I hired Stephen. Do you know where I interviewed Stephen, such were the pressures on my time? I interviewed Stephen in the back of my car as we travelled from the DETR building to the Ministry of Transport in Marsham Street. I could not fit in the time to sit down with him. This is the pace at which events move. There is an air of unreality about some of the comments I have read in the report, that as soon as people are working five or six hours this is a full-time job. I was working 17 hours a day, seven days a week as a Minister for Her Majesty's Armed Forces and I was doing it as a Minister of Transport as well. The people who work for me, including my constituency secretary work hours that people outside of this building in which we all work would not believe. I have the great fortune, and have had from when I came into this job—maybe I have just been lucky, some Members might not be—of having members of staff who are equally committed and dedicated, who are prepared to do that work. I phoned some people who work for me at two in the morning and asked them to go out and get me the first edition of the Daily Record before the Internet came in. People do that sort of thing, Ms Filkin. The type of people who do that do not have set hours. While I can understand why you are concentrating on 20 hours, actually that is not the way most of us look on it. We want dedicated people in what is public service. There were a couple of public servants here who worked very, very hard and of course they did it because they were committed. I like to think they were committed to some extent to me but, of course, they were also committed to the Labour Party. Those two things are not incompatible.

  Shona McIsaac: I want to go back to the whole issue of contracts and the hours the staff put in. If we go to the Commissioner's report, John, it is stated— I am trying to find the relevant paragraph. You probably remember the paragraph number better than I do. It is stated there that it is—

  Chairman: Which paragraph?

Shona McIsaac

  345. I had it all ready and marked before the Division but I have lost my place now.
  (Dr Reid) You will not believe this, no disrespect, but the one thing I do not appear to have brought is the Commissioner's report. No, I have it, along with my marking. Paragraph?

  346. That is right, 259. The Commissioner asserts that it is irrelevant whether the evidence gathered during the course of the inquiry shows the three researchers did not work the required numbers of hours for Dr Read and Mr Maxton when they were under contract to the two Members. You have spent a lot of time explaining the working practices and the hours and so on, how do you feel about that comment?
  (Dr Reid) I have to say, I find this the most perplexing and disturbing section of this. I genuinely struggled to discover how Ms Filkin could have upheld this complaint because after ten months' inquiry she has conceded that Kevin Reid did indeed carry out his work for me and the Fees Office in paragraph 267 of the report. With the exception of the last few weeks, where I think she gets the number of weeks wrong, five or six rather than two or three, she also concedes that Suzanne Hilliard carried out her work for me in paragraphs 268 to 271 of the report. So it is conceded that my staff carried out their duties to me and the Fees Office but Ms Filkin still upholds the complaint. I have asked myself why. This comes back to paragraph 259, which you mentioned.

  347. That is the one I am concerned about.
  (Dr Reid) If I can just turn to it. In that Ms Filkin appears to say, to me extraordinarily, that the fact that my staff discharged their duties to me and the Fees Office is irrelevant. She also says that the evidence that they did this work is now irrelevant. What matters—I am trying to put this in plain language—she says, is there was a conspiratorial arrangement that my staff would work for the Labour Party. Forgive me, and I hope the Committee will work through this with me, but we know, and the Fees Office have confirmed, that there was nothing improper in my staff working for the Labour Party in addition to the work for me. That could not have been the improper arrangement conspired at because there was nothing improper in it, otherwise the complaint could not be upheld. So it must have been an arrangement that they would not do the work for me. That can be the only improper arrangement, as I understand it. But there was no such arrangement. There is not a shred of evidence, even having looked at what Mr Rowley says, that any such arrangement was made. In addition to that, my staff did carry out the duties required to me and the Fees Office because Ms Filkin has just conceded that in her own report. What it comes down to, as far as I understand it, is that Ms Filkin would have us believe that there was a vast conspiracy involving all of the people that I mentioned earlier on—Kevin Reid, John Maxton, the late Donald Dewar who is in the complaint at the beginning, Ann-Marie Whyte, Jonathan Upton, various unnamed officials and so on—a conspiracy to do something that either was not improper in the first place or, if it was improper, was never put into effect. That was the ground on which, as far as I can see, she seeks to uphold the whole complaint. It has to me, and I can only speak personally, all the signs of someone who has done ten months' work at countless expense to the taxpayer and has not produced any evidence to uphold the complaint and has, therefore, produced a paragraph based on conspiracy—and conspiracy, as you know, can be defined as breathing together. I just do not see how this complaint can be upheld on that basis, that there was an arrangement that was either proper, that they worked for the Labour Party and worked for me, or that it was improper, but was then never put into effect. And that somehow this vast conspiracy is still covering up an arrangement that was never actually used.

  348. Moving on from that, John. In the previous paragraph, 258, the hours are talked about. Although I acknowledge the Commissioner's report says that is irrelevant I want to get some things about this clear in my mind. Suzanne Hilliard and Kevin Reid worked for you. If they did less hours for you one week, what arrangements did you have for them to make up that time in subsequent weeks? We can see at the end of that paragraph the Commissioner has put down what her view is of what the working practices of Members of Parliament should be.
  (Dr Reid) Can I say, first of all, that the first line of that paragraph, "There is an implication in the responses of Dr Reid and Mr Maxton that the complaints can be substantiated only if it can be proved that, whilst under contract to the two Members, the three researchers carried out none of their parliamentary duties", is completely misleading. There is no such implication of that at all. If it were not for the fact that we all are very busy people, I would love to go through the report paragraph by paragraph on the speculations and so on that are in it. Having said that, I have never implied that at all, any more than I implied that Alex Rowley was motivated only by malice. The fact of the matter is that all of us make judgments on all of our staff and, generally speaking, we trust our staff. A variable contract is by definition a variable contract. When in 1997 I asked the Fees Office what I should put in this model contract, because it was the Fees Office that advised me about it, I said "it is a researcher", they said "how many hours do they work?", "well, I estimate 20 but it could be less some weeks, it could be more other weeks, it could shift over a period, there could be a very bad month, then a very short month, a very long month" and they said "what you put down is 20 hours variable and if you feel that in the round over a period of time that is a reasonable level then that is fine". And I did that. If the Fees Office were happy with that, and I cleared these sorts of things with the Fees Office, how can the Fees Office have been misled? Again, that is upheld.

  349. So you would trust your members of staff to—
  (Dr Reid) This is a matter of balance, is it not? You trust your members of staff to get on with the work, to do the work you have asked them to do, until you have concrete evidence that they are not doing that. I have been in the fortunate position I have never had in 13 years a member of staff who has failed in that sense—other members may have had. So of course there is a degree of trust and that degree of trust is even greater the further away you go from your constituency office. It is even greater if you are under enormous pressure to make ad hoc arrangements because your full-time constituency secretary, on whom I had depended for something like 13 years, was tragically taken ill in the circumstances which I have given you elsewhere.

  350. So you would not say to a member of staff, "You only did 10 hours last week, you have to make it up to 30 next week"?
  (Dr Reid) I would not do it on a week to week basis but if I thought a member of staff was swinging the lead—put it that way—then, like anybody else, I would tell that member of staff. Or, if I thought, "I am paying more for this and allocating money to this resource which I would be better putting somewhere else"—we are all short of resources to run our constituency offices and to carry out the work we do, so we would reallocate that resource—of course you would do that.

  351. In paragraph 263 of the Commissioner's Report—and this links in with what you have been saying about the hours and you trusting your staff to do the work you have asked them to do—it says that you would have broken the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament in relation to their stewardship of public money if you did not keep close and continuous supervision of both the quality and quantity of work produced by employees. Do you think it is practical to do that as a Member of Parliament who does not have, say, a London or South East-based constituency?
  (Dr Reid) It is one of these paragraphs which is loaded with innuendo, is it not? I do not know whether you could ask any busy MP or minister or secretary of state to have the degree of "close and continuous supervision over the quantity and quality of work produced" in the way that is implied here. You can set the calibre or the quality because you see that. The quantity—I doubt whether any of us, until we are faced with the position I am in today, actually count the number of letters which go through. I did that because the Susan Hamilton Agency was able to provide me with materials and because I got my secretary who is now back at work, to run a survey of six weeks' work which showed that for every letter answered we actually received about four. Which meant that if there were 444 letters dealt with and typed in that period, we probably had 1,600 constituency letters to handle before the other mail and so on. I have become very aware of the quantity and quality but I have to say that I doubt if any member of this Committee actually would have an idea how many letters are going through their office week on week. It is even harder, of course, with research, because a researcher is not a copy typist. In terms of quantity, you cannot count up the number of words someone has read, the number of papers they have gone through and so on. But you do, like any employer, know whether the demands of the job have been satisfied and whether the people who are paid to do the work for you are doing that work. If I may finally comment on the first paragraph, I did not "leave all the responsibility on the three researchers", or the two researchers in my case, to vouch for the number of hours they worked. The first sentence talks about the number of hours—I said I was perfectly satisfied with the number of hours and the work they did. The last bit of the paragraph, you will notice, changes from the number of hours they worked to the quantity and quality of work. That is a different thing. That is easier to do. What I can say to you is that in my experience of people who have worked for me, they have worked the quantity of hours far in excess of anything they have been paid by me to do, and I think that is generally the case with most Members of Parliament, and they do it because these people are committed politically, they are committed to public service, which is precisely why they also want to help out their own political parties.

  352. Finally on paragraph 265, and, Mr Chairman it may be that the QC who is present may be able to answer my concern here. Paragraph 265 states, "... it is for each Member to ensure that any additional outside commitment taken on by a research paid through the OCA is not so onerous as to call into question his ability to meet his or her parliamentary obligations." If somebody had a member of staff who also had other paid commitments—you mentioned somebody working in a butcher's shop—
  (Dr Reid) I do not want it to be found that is untrue. It was either a butcher's or a fishmonger's. I can never remember whether it was a butcher's or fishmonger's. I will check and send you a note on it, Mr Chairman.

  353. I am just concerned under employment law and so on whether it would be in order for a Member of Parliament to start questioning someone's commitments elsewhere anyway if people are doing other paid work. I do not know if the QC has any particular view on this.
  (Dr Reid) I will give my view and then, if the Chairman wants it, you can ask Mr Goudie. My view is this, your primary concern is to make sure that the people who are paid by you actually produce the work for which they are being paid. If they are working and are also committed as volunteers to the Territorial Army or the scouts or any charity or any paid capacity outside, it is quite clear from the Fees Office there is nothing whatsoever improper about that, whether it is in politics or not in politics. So provided that you are content that they are doing the job for which they are paid, there would be no practical reasons, there would be no—as the Fees Office made clear—regulatory reasons for saying to people, "You can only work for me provided you do not go and support this party or this charity." I have no idea but I suspect that would be a breach of people's rights but I do not know.

  Chairman: Do you want to pursue this?

  Shona McIsaac: I wanted a quick legal view as well. I have reasons for this, Mr Chairman.

  Chairman: Unless you feel really strongly, I would prefer you not to.

Shona McIsaac

  354. I do feel particularly strongly about this point.
  (Mr Goudie) Chairman, if you are content for me to answer the point, I can answer it very shortly. The Committee will no doubt appreciate that there are cases where the contracts of employment may, rather exceptionally, make clear that the employee owes an exclusive duty to the employer, and any element of what is sometimes termed "moonlighting" is therefore out of order. One would certainly not expect to see that in a contract which provided for only 20 hours' work a week and in circumstances where it is quite clear that it is compatible with one contract of employment that the employee may have another contract of employment, or other contracts of employment, or other outside commitments, whether of an employment nature or not, although of course the employer would be concerned to see that the employee was delivering the goods to them in terms of the contractual obligations owed to that employer. It would certainly not be part of the employer's province to intrude into the question of what the employee was doing in their other time.

  355. That was my understanding.
  (Mr Goudie) I hope that answers the question.

  356. Thank you. Two more very brief questions. The taped conversation between you and Alex Rowley, you did not know that was being taped, did you? He did not tell you?
  (Dr Reid) No.

  357. How did you feel when you first saw that transcript?
  (Dr Reid) Somewhat surprised since it became obvious to me that Ms Filkin had known from 21st March that I had a conversation with Alex Rowley and secondly that it had been taped. Given that three months later she actually asked me the straight question, "Have you had any conversations with Mr Alex Rowley", I did feel that, to be truthful, it was a bit like entrapment, but I had answered the question truthfully. How did I feel about Alex doing it? I could not understand the reasons why he might do such a thing. I know that it is the practice of Mr Nelson to do it but basically I felt that Alex had in a sense tried to set me up. The only final comment I will make is that I might have tried to be more articulate during it. Alex and I both, when we speak at home, tend to have accents which are a wee bit different from the one I am using for the Committee at the moment, do you know what I mean? We use expressions like, "D'ya know what I mean?" I actually thought the only thing which was embarrassing about it was this continual use of, "D'ya know what I mean, Alex?" which does not have the Monty Python, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, implication when used in the Scottish vernacular that it appears to some people to indicate.

  358. It would appear from the transcript that you tried to dissuade Alex Rowley from taking evidence on oath.
  (Dr Reid) Alex Rowley had mentioned this oath question. Alex was very concerned. The very first conversation he had with me was when Dean Nelson had apparently said something to him about he may be forced to give this on oath. Throughout this conversation with me Alex continually said two things to me which perplexed me slightly. One was, "I must tell the truth. I must tell the truth" and I told him he had to tell the truth but it must be nothing other than the truth and that speculation was not telling the truth, it was telling a lie. That is the first thing that I would make plain. I never on any occasion, despite what is said in certain sections of this report, put pressure on Alex Rowley other than to tell the truth. I said "tell the truth". I mentioned it about six times during our conversation. The second thing is Alex had continually raised this question that we might be in court and have to answer questions under oath and so on. I had assured him that it was fine, that he did not know a whole lot of things, like I had checked with the Fees Office, that the work was being done for me, that I had evidence the work was being done, that my secretary was off, but he raised it in every conversation. When he raised it in this conversation I said to him, "Alex, you do not need to take the oath" because I was aware of the fact that he did not need to take an oath. I told him what subsequently Ms Filkin has published as part of her own procedures. I am not sure where the reference is that I can give you. Ms Filkin makes, quite correctly, a gesture in saying that people are not required to take the oath and I told him. If my advice to Alex Rowley that he has the option of not taking an oath was somehow wrong but Ms Filkin's public advice that people do not need to take an oath is somehow right, I do not know where the double standards are coming in.

  Chairman: One last brief question.

Mr Campbell-Savours

  359. Can I just say that the transcript which you have seen is incomplete and there are large parts in my view of that tape that are not included in the transcript.
  (Dr Reid) They are not what, sorry?

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