Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 400 - 418)

TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2000

MR JOHN MAXTON, MP

  400. What about Rafferty?
  (Mr Maxton) John Rafferty I knew from, if you like, before he was active in the Labour Party—well, not active in the Labour Party—during the poll tax campaign when I was the poll tax spokesman for the Labour Party in Scotland. John Rafferty, along with Brian Wilson, now the MP, ran not a non-payment campaign but a payment campaign, arguing against the poll tax, and obviously I worked closely with John on that occasion. I think the last time I had met John for any time at all was very briefly when I was in a hotel with the Select Committee and John happened to be there with Donald Dewar and I exchanged a few pleasantries, but certainly during the period when he was working for the Labour Party it would be a matter of exchanging pleasantries. I certainly never had discussions with him on the details of Chris Winslow's employment or anybody else's.

Chairman

  401. You did say, John, that you had no requests for evidence of work done by Mr Winslow, but in one of the things we have in front of us the Commissioner does say that she, "...made a number of requests both written and over the telephone for Mr Maxton to let me have any material which might support his account".
  (Mr Maxton) Yes, I understand that and I take the point Ms Filkin has made but, to be honest, I do not want to get at this stage into a discussion about the beginnings of this inquiry and how it started, although I happen to feel that may be for a later occasion. From January 27th until the middle of April this year, the only piece of evidence that I had from the Commissioner about this inquiry was Mr Dean Nelson's original letter in which those of you who have read it will see my name is mentioned twice in three pages. To be quite blunt, Mr Chairman, I did not believe it was my responsibility to prove my innocence to what essentially was an unsubstantiated allegation. Even when further evidence was produced, I certainly did not believe—If, however, there had been frequent requests that the Commissioner refers to, then, yes, I may very well have—. Can I make a point to you on this? It is extremely difficult. The fact is all of us now use computers with word processors and when we cease to employ someone like that or when we buy new computers, whatever it might be, a large amount of what we have done is scrubbed off. That is inevitable. I do not keep large amounts of files for months and months on my computer and I know Mr Winslow would do the same. We could have produced something but it was not asked for. After a certain point, it was not asked for.

  Chairman: There seems to be some uncertainty about this.

Mr Levitt

  402. My question follows on from that in fact. Where was Mr Winslow based when he was working for you?
  (Mr Maxton) He was based in his own flat. I provided him with both a computer and a telephone line, an ISDN line, which would allow him to access the internet and do other things I required from him. He worked back home really. If he wanted the Library, he went to the Library here and that is one of the things I could have produced as evidence of the contacts he made here at the Library. But, as he himself has said, and as Mr Rafferty I think has said, there were occasions where if he had work to do for me, it was as easy for him to do it in the Labour Party Headquarters as it was to do it at home. If he was in headquarters and he had some hours to do for me then rather than traipsing, what, four or five miles home, it was easier for him just to carry on at his desk using the computer in the Labour Party and doing the work that way.

  403. What was your impression of Mr Rowley as a General Secretary of the Labour Party?
  (Mr Maxton) That is extremely difficult because, as I have said to you, I had such little contact with him.

  404. But you would have an idea.
  (Mr Maxton) It would only be on the basis of conversations with other people and with the newspaper cover that was being given at the time. I am not here to knock Mr Rowley. There is no question that the Labour Party was not satisfied with him after a year and he left. I must say I do not recognise in the transcript the description of us being 14 points behind in the opinion polls at any stage in Scotland, I am afraid that is simply not true, it simply never happened. The extent to which he pulled the party around, I do not know, there are differing opinions. Again, I have to say that would only be secondhand as far as I was concerned because I was not directly involved.

  405. So you had never seen or been involved in any discussion about drawing up budget papers in which your name was mentioned?
  (Mr Maxton) No. Never once. To be honest, why would I be involved in drawing up budget papers? As I say, I was not involved in any of it, it is as simple as that.

Mr Campbell-Savours

  406. In the conclusions of the Commissioner's report, on the balance of probabilities she states that "there was an arrangement, agreed by Labour Party officials and sufficiently formal to have been incorporated within the budget assumptions, whereby the OCA was used to supplement the Party salaries of Mr Reid (until he went onto a full-time contract) and Mr Winslow, and, in Ms Hilliard's case, to pay her for at least some of the Party work she was ostensibly doing as a volunteer. (ii) as the employers of the three researchers, Dr Reid and Mr Maxton must, at the very least, have been aware of the arrangement, if not involved in its instigation." Can I ask you about that arrangement that the Commissioner is referring to. Do you recognise the arrangement?
  (Mr Maxton) I do not recognise it. I stand by what I have said to the Committee already, that I at no time discussed this, which I would have had to do if there was an arrangement, with somebody in the Labour Party for it to have happened.

  407. But the Commissioner, after taking voluminous evidence, is convinced that there was an arrangement.
  (Mr Maxton) I have to say she bases it on budget papers which even Mr Rowley himself, when he sent them to her, said he would treat with some caution. Three times the Commissioner, or Mr Doig I think it was, asked the Director of Finance for the Fees Office for his opinion of those budget papers and three times the Director of Finance wrote back saying he saw nothing suspicious in the arrangements that were portrayed in these budget papers.

  408. So, Mr Rowley—
  (Mr Maxton) As far as I know the Director of Finance is a highly qualified person in his field. Mr Rowley, whatever his political skills might be, is not an accountant and does not have the sort of skills— As he himself has said, he would caution—he did caution—the Commissioner to be wary about interpreting these budget papers in any particular way. That was what Mr Rowley's view was.

  409. Can I ask you to reflect on something. You have had a difficult ten months, as we know, as you have made very obvious, and it has been very difficult for the Committee as well on this difficult issue. You were asked about grey areas. Have you no view that maybe there is some confusion on boundaries, that maybe there is a possibility that there could be misunderstandings?
  (Mr Maxton) I accept maybe that for some reason Mr Rowley has misunderstood this arrangement. As I say, I am not here to denigrate Mr Rowley.

  410. You think the rules are quite clear as far as interaction of use of parliamentary funds for political purposes?
  (Mr Maxton) With all due respect, that is a different matter.

  411. What do you think of that?
  (Mr Maxton) There was no arrangement made by me in terms of my employment of Mr Winslow and his employment with the Labour Party. I would state that categorically. However, there are lines in cases where the difference between politics and Parliament is blurred. I have to say that is a matter for either this Committee to make a recommendation on or for Parliament itself to draw up different rules. I think it would be extremely difficult to do so and I am not even sure that it would be particularly welcome for any politician working in Parliament if there was an absolute line drawn between what is a political job and what is a parliamentary job. That involves us too, can I say. We are employed as Members of Parliament, we are elected as Members of Parliament. Does that mean if there is a by-election going on and we go and work in that by-election that we are in breach of our contracts as Members of Parliament? Where do you draw the lines? I do not think you can draw absolute lines. Maybe the rules should be clearer and maybe Parliament needs to look at it, but that is for Parliament and it is not a matter for this particular inquiry, that is for a later point.

  Chairman: Any further questions?

Mr Bottomley

  412. Forgive me, Chairman, and John Maxton, for not being here at the beginning of this session, I apologise for that. If what I ask has been covered already I again apologise. Is John Maxton clear there are two elements to what we have to concern ourselves with? First of all, whether there was an understanding in the Scottish Labour Party of which John Maxton was aware that people would be provided in effect to the Scottish Labour Party funded in part by the office cost allowance? Secondly, there is this suggestion that the people who were involved were not doing sufficient work to justify the office cost allowance. Those are the two elements. Is that understood?
  (Mr Maxton) Yes. I accept they are two totally different things, mark you.

  413. Dealing with the first one, in effect you are saying you were not party to any such arrangement and even if people in the Scottish Labour Party thought this arrangement was there, you certainly did not?
  (Mr Maxton) I can only keep saying, I was not involved. I was not involved in any of the planning of the Labour Party, I did not discuss it with anybody in the Labour Party, I certainly did not discuss it with Ann-Marie Whyte, who is the person who is supposedly the link between myself and Mr Rowley. That simply did not happen. I emphasise again Ann-Marie Whyte says the same thing, so I do not know where Mr Rowley gets this view.

  414. On the second issue of whether the people who were paid to work for you were working for the Scottish Labour Party, you are saying very clearly they were doing sufficient work for you to justify the office cost allowance, give or take, over the period of the arrangements?
  (Mr Maxton) Yes. It is give or take over the period of the arrangement. It cannot ever be absolute. Some weeks in the early stages Chris was working more hours for me because, if I asked him to do something, I would have expected him to do it in the timescale I expected him to do it. At other times not. It balanced out.

  415. Can I follow up one isolated point? You have told the Committee that you provided an ISDN line for Chris Winslow's home for computer operations. Was that basically so he could make contact with you or the House of Commons or just generally?
  (Mr Maxton) It was not with me, no, it was much more a link into the increasing information available on the internet, including of course the internet services here.

Mr Levitt

  416. The PDVN?
  (Mr Maxton) The PDVN.

Mr Bottomley

  417. If I can ask one question which follows from the contents of the Commissioner's Report, I am not arguing this is the most important issue but I think it is worth giving John Maxton an opportunity to comment on it. If an outsider were to look at the exchanges between you and the Commissioner, would you be able to say you thought you had been as co-operative as you wished to have been, or do you think your actions over the months had both a logic and justification, or anything else you would like to say about it?
  (Mr Maxton) It is difficult because, as I say, I think that may be a matter for some later investigation or whatever. But the fact is, as I say, all I had for three months was this letter from Dean Nelson in which my name was mentioned twice. I consistently in letter after letter and phone call after phone call asked the Commissioner to provide me with the evidence that Mr Dean Nelson had provided to her under Clause 69 of the rules of the Code of Conduct in support of the evidence which allowed her to announce publicly on television in Scotland and on radio in Scotland that she was going to undertake this inquiry. Now I do not actually think that was an unreasonable request because certainly in terms of myself it was a totally unsubstantiated allegation. There was nothing in that letter that proved, or even was evidence in any way, which anybody could describe as evidence, in support of the allegation. I have at the beginning of the meeting, before you came in, Mr Bottomley, apologised if at times my language became slightly more intemperate than maybe it would have been otherwise. I have apologised for that but it does not take away from the basic case I am making.

  Mr Bottomley: Thank you.

Chairman

  418. Thank you very much for coming along at a very late hour to answer our questions today.
  (Mr Maxton) Thank you very much. Can I just ask, Chairman, are you about to reach a conclusion on this because it has gone on for a long time?

  Chairman: I am hoping to, yes, but it may be a little while yet.





 
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