Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 378 - 399)

TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2000

MR JOHN MAXTON, MP

Chairman

  378. John, I apologise for being so delayed due to the evidence and divisions, but thank you for coming along. First of all, we do not normally, as you probably know, take evidence on oath but it may be if there is a subsequent evidence session such an oath might be administered. The first question I would like to put to you is, do you have an introductory statement you would like to put before the Committee?

  (Mr Maxton) In view of the hour, Mr Chairman, I will be very brief with an opening statement. I would firstly like to thank you and the Committee for giving me the opportunity to appear before you to discuss this matter. After nearly ten months I am delighted it appears there will soon be a resolution of it, at least I hope that is my hope anyway. It has been a long, frustrating and at times stressful experience. The stress was caused by the frustration I often felt at the lack of information I was getting about the inquiry. There were times when I now appreciate, having read some of the documentation, that that spilled over into my relations with the Commissioner. While in no way detracting from the case I was trying to put to her, I do apologise through you, Mr Chairman, for any ill-temper I may at times, I think most of you would agree rather uncharacteristically, displayed to her. I hope she will accept that in the terms it is meant.
  (Ms Filkin) Of course, Chairman.
  (Mr Maxton) I do not intend to make a lengthy opening statement, however I do wish to reiterate that I am innocent of the charge which has been levelled against me. I have, I think, spelt out in my own submission to you the reasons why I do not believe there is any evidence to support the conclusions to which the Commissioner has come in her report. I was somewhat surprised by it, partially because I did not think there was any evidence which could really be shown as evidence, and I have to say I was also slightly surprised because following my submission to Ms Filkin for the answers to the questions she asked I heard nothing further from her. She did not ask to see me as I had expected, she did not ask for any further evidence either from myself or Mr Winslow, at a time when I knew she was still seeking evidence from other witnesses. I therefore, very wrongly as it has proved, believed she was convinced by the answers I had given and would find in my favour. I will leave it at that in view of the lateness of the hour and would be delighted to answer any questions you may have.

  379. The most important one for me at this stage concerns the way in which the work was done by Chris Winslow during the period when he was also working for the Labour Party, and I am trying to find out how that might have affected the way in which he did the work for you. We are all Members of Parliament with very busy constituencies, what would you say were the details of the work carried out by Chris Winslow during the time he was working on the campaign?
  (Mr Maxton) He did a variety of different duties.

  380. What did he do?
  (Mr Maxton) I emphasise, as he says, he did not do any of the constituency cases for me, his work was in research and was in newspapers. Down here it is often very difficult, as members will know, to get hold of the Scottish newspapers at an hour which is suitable. I had someone at that point, Mr Winslow working for me, monitoring the press. I appreciate, as Ms Filkin has suggested, that of course this job could have been done both for myself and for the Labour Party and it would be very similar work, but it was still being done for me, and Mr Winslow was reporting to me accordingly. He also did other work. If I can just give an example, although to be honest I cannot remember every detail of every piece of work he did for me, as you may know I am on the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee, and I was very interested in particular in the way in which the money, particularly Millennium money, was being spent in Scotland as part of the inquiry we were doing into that particular aspect of our work, and therefore I asked—again because it was easier for him to do it in Scotland than for me to do it down here—for him to look into that matter.

  Chairman: Thank you.

Mr Foster

  381. I wonder if I can just press you a little further on that. How did you decide the contract with him? What sort of hours did you anticipate he would do or, if not, what sort of objective did you set him in determining the salary he would be paid?
  (Mr Maxton) The problem, as always, with hours, as you will know from your own work as a Member of Parliament, is that it is not always easy to specify exactly what the hours are going to be in any one week at any one time. I very much work on the basis, as I am sure we all do, of setting him work to do, objectives, things he had to get done for me. The on-going one was the media monitoring to make sure that I was aware of what was happening in Scotland—partially resolved, if you like, from my point of view, by the internet, I hasten to add, because I can now read the Scottish newspapers and listen to Scottish radio in a way which I certainly could not have done at that point in time—and also to do these regular pieces of work for me. Twenty hours a week. Yes, I think he did 20 hours a week for me. It would not always be 20 hours in every week, it might be more than that in some weeks, that would depend on what he was doing.

  382. So there came a time when the Labour Party were looking for additional staffing. Can you recall the conversations you had about his involvement at that time?
  (Mr Maxton) No. I think I ought to make absolutely clear to the Committee that I had no conversations with anybody in the Labour Party about the employment of Chris Winslow, no official in the Labour Party at any time and at any point. I was not involved in any of the decisions that were being made by the Labour Party. As far as I was concerned I employed Chris Winslow for 20 hours a week. If, in fact, the Labour Party took him on for more than that, as far as I was concerned that was a matter for him and for them. It was not a matter for me and it was not discussed with me by anybody in the Labour Party and it was not even discussed with me by Chris Winslow, except in the most casual way to say "yes, I am working longer hours".

  383. I do not know whether you have had the opportunity to see the transcript from this morning?
  (Mr Maxton) Yes, I have.

  384. You will recall that Mr Rowley does not suggest that you had any direct dealings with him but does refer to his belief that you had an arrangement with Ann-Marie Whyte. Is there any justification for that?
  (Mr Maxton) No. I really do not understand why Mr Rowley believes that. He obviously believes it because he has said it before. I had no conversations with Ann-Marie Whyte about this at any time, nor, as I say, with any other official within the Labour Party. I have to say, that is also borne out by the evidence from Miss Whyte herself. She says that conversation never took place. I am sorry Mr Rowley believes this but I do not understand why he believes it. I would think it very strange indeed for a Member of Parliament, who was going to do into that sort of arrangement, to do it through not a junior member of staff, because she was not quite that, she was the office manager but she was not the manager of the Labour Party in Scotland, which is what Mr Rowley was. I would assume if somebody was going to do that, they would go to Mr Rowley and make that offer and do that, rather than to the office manager. I emphasise again, I had no contact with Miss Whyte about this, nor did I have any with Mr Rowley, nor, as I emphasise again—this is one of the problems I have had throughout this—was I ever involved. I was involved on the Labour Party in Scotland up until 1992 when I was Donald Dewar's Deputy on the Front Bench. As such I served on the Scottish Executive of the Labour Party. I was a regular visitor to what was then Keir Hardie House, which was the headquarters before their present one. Rather, they have now moved again. At that point, yes, I would have known who all the office staff were and I would have been talking to him, but after 1992, when I returned to the back benches, I had no involvement in the management of the Labour Party in Scotland. I was not on the Executive Committee and I really did not have anything to do with them. I was not involved in any of this planning which Mr Rowley, for some reason, claims to have taken place.

  385. Did you know that your employee was working for the Labour Party? Did that become known to you? When did that become known to you?
  (Mr Maxton) Of course I knew he was. At the same time basically. I took him on, he was an undergraduate, he had just left university, I was looking for somebody and so was the Labour Party and the Labour Party took him on. As far as I am aware there is no problem with that. I employed him part-time but equally he could have been working in a bar at night part-time. The two employments were separate. That was a matter for the Labour Party employing him and a matter for me. Of course, Mr Winslow was an active member of the Labour Party, I accept that.

  386. Did you discuss with him or anyone else whether he could perform his obligations to you as a Member of Parliament whilst working for the Labour Party or did you make an assumption that that would be okay?
  (Mr Maxton) I made the assumption that as long as he did the work, and having read the transcript I know that Mr Rafferty supports me in this, as far as I was concerned he was doing the 20 hours I was seeking from him and if he then worked longer hours than necessary for the Labour Party, again that was a matter for him.

  387. Did you ever have any reason to believe that he was not completing his contract with you satisfactorily?
  (Mr Maxton) No. There was, of course, the actual period of the election itself and here there is, if you like, some dispute. I knew Chris Winslow would leave my employment because that was what I had agreed, that it would be for a 12 month period in the initial period. He would be leaving my employment because he told me that he was likely to get a job with the Scottish Executive and, therefore, he had a holiday entitlement to come, there was an election, and I gave him the 18 days to which he was entitled in holiday. I do not know how other Members here deal with their staff when it comes to holidays but I certainly do not write to them and say "I want a letter back in response to this to tell you how many hours you have got". I hope Ms Filkin will not mind me saying this, but the fact is that she does make a comment that no documentary evidence was provided of this. I have been right through all the evidence that I received from Ms Filkin and I was never asked for it, nor was Mr Winslow ever asked for any evidence in support of our case that there was 18 days' holiday to come. Again, I am not quite sure, because again it is not clear from the report, exactly how long this election period was meant to be. Sometimes it is four weeks and on other occasions it is five weeks. If we take the four weeks then the 18 days takes up all but two days of it. If we take the five weeks, I would accept there is a week and, to be honest, I would accept that there may well have been one week during which my supervision of Mr Winslow was perhaps not as tight as it ought to have been and maybe he worked for longer hours than otherwise was the case. I do not know how other Members feel about that but I do not think it is something which most of us would get too excited about during the period of a very important election.

  388. Thank you very much.
  (Mr Maxton) In fact, I spent as a Member of Parliament many hours working in those elections too.

Mr Lewis

  389. You are aware of the concept of task and finish? Do the job and then go?
  (Mr Maxton) Yes.

  390. It is something I practise, I have to admit. Would you say that played a fairly significant part in the way you employed Winslow?
  (Mr Maxton) Almost inevitably, when you are a Member of Parliament employing staff in your constituency, or in the country in my case where you come from, and you are down here, you cannot operate a clocking-in, clocking-off process. It has to be done on the basis of work provided and making sure that when you set a task, it is in fact done.

Shona McIsaac

  391. Have you any idea why the hours doubled? I think he did 15 hours, was it?
  (Mr Maxton) That is right, and then went up.

  392. And that went up to 30 hours.
  (Mr Maxton) No, I have no idea why it was doubled. I assume the Labour Party wanted more work. They had found money to pay for that extra work. All right, it meant that in theory he was working 50 hours a week, but as you know, Shona, 50 hours in politics particularly for people who are very keen and very active is not a lot of time.

  393. So you would not say that his hours going up to 30 a week with the Labour Party had any effect on the hours he was doing for you?
  (Mr Maxton) No.

  394. You did not see any reduction in the quality or quantity of the work?
  (Mr Maxton) No. No, I did not.

  395. Could I draw your attention to a paragraph in the Commissioner's report, where the Commissioner asserts—you will probably remember reading it—that a Member of Parliament may be breaking the Code of Conduct if they do not keep close and continuous scrutiny of their staff. Do you think that is impractical for any Member of Parliament who does not have a constituency, say, in London or the South East or has their staff based at Westminster?
  (Mr Maxton) I think it is. It is very difficult for a Member of Parliament to ensure staff are fully supervised when you are down here and they are in the constituency, although Chris Winslow worked just outside the constituency.

  396. It is paragraph 263, "... sufficiently close and continuous supervision over both the quality and quantity of work ...".
  (Mr Maxton) Obviously we have a responsibility to ensure that the work that we are seeking from our staff is done and is done to the quality we are seeking. In terms of strict supervision of hours, I just do not believe that is possible. I do not actually think that many Members of Parliament would even consider it essential or necessary to do.

  397. Going to paragraph 259 of the Commissioner's Report, at the beginning of that paragraph it is stated by the Commissioner, "... it is irrelevant whether the evidence gathered during the course of the inquiry shows that the three researchers did not work the required number of hours for Dr Reid and Mr Maxton ...". What is your opinion of that particular paragraph, because you are basing a lot of your defence on the fact they did the work for you, they did the number of hours, and she states that is not relevant?
  (Mr Maxton) I have to say I find that paragraph confusing because it seems to me to be saying that if I employ someone as a researcher, they cannot be employed by the Party at the same time. That, of course, is not, as far as I understand it, and I believe this has been supported by the Fees Office and the Finance Office of the House of Commons, the case. I do not think there is anything which says I cannot employ someone part-time who will also work part-time for the Labour Party. If you employ somebody part-time you really cannot have any right to say to them under any sort of legislation that they cannot work for somebody else in the hours you are not employing them, whether it be the Labour Party or anybody else. Of course, this line between politics and parliament is difficult always to define—

Mr Lewis

  398. A grey area?
  (Mr Maxton) No, not a grey area, but it is difficult to define. If you ask your secretary to type a letter to the Chairman of your Party about something, is that politics or parliament? I do not know.

Shona McIsaac

  399. In the year when Alex Rowley was General Secretary of the Party in Scotland, did you have much of a working relationship with him?
  (Mr Maxton) I was actually saying to someone just out there before I came in that, to be honest, if Mr Alex Rowley walked down the corridor, accepting getting to my age my eyesight is beginning to deteriorate somewhat, I am not at all sure I would recognise him unless somebody said, "By the way, that is Mr Alex Rowley." Then I would recognise him. I actually had just done it with someone previously whom I had seen this morning. I really had very, very little contact with Alex Rowley. I almost certainly would meet him and shake his hand at a Party conference or something like that, but in terms of working with him and talking to him, no.


 
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