Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report

Annex 76

File note by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

    Mr John Maxton
    14 June 2000
    Telephone call from Mr Maxton...

... Mr Maxton began by telling me that he had had an "instruction" from the Committee to reply to my questions and so he would do so. I said I was delighted to hear that and I hoped that could bring the matter to a close shortly. He said however, I had misled the Committee, it was clear from their letter to him that I had informed them that he had refused to see me. He says he has never refused to see me, indeed that I had said to him that I might need to see him.

I said I was delighted to hear that he was happy to see me but that certainly I had had the impression that he wished me to put everything in writing and he wished to reply to me in writing. I had also understood his last letter was all he was willing to say in answer to the questions I had put to him. However, I said would be more than pleased to see him because that was the best way of discussing such matters. He said he would only wish to see me "in extremis".

I said I was sorry I had assumed he did not wish to see me from our conversations and his letters but I was delighted that he was happy to see me now. He said this is a matter "for the future anyway".

He went on to tell me that he was considering putting together the letter from Mr Nelson, the summary of my memorandum, the summary of the evidence and the questions and his answers, and he was thinking of circulating it to all Members of the Committee so that they would know what he had replied and the lack of evidence against him. I said I could assure him that I would put all that material to the Committee when I made my report—so he could be confident they would see it in full. He said he was considering whether he would send it to all Members of the Committee now. I stressed there was no need for him to do that.

He said he is increasingly concerned about the length of time this inquiry is taking and with my continuing to try to get evidence. That unless "the case is dismissed next week or at latest the week after", he expects "to go the Speaker to ask her to rule that you should conclude your investigation". I said I could not comment on any actions he might wish to take but I would certainly deal with the matter as quickly as I could but I could not guarantee that I could deal with it in that timescale.

He told me that he would be available on Monday, he would then be away for the rest of the week. The following week he would be in the House but after that he would be away for three weeks. I said that I would hope to be able to deal with the matter using his written information but that if I needed to contact him I could do so by speaking to him on the telephone or inviting him to come and see me to discuss anything that was more complex. He repeated again that he would only wish to see me "in extremis". I said that I was quite clear about that and I would try to deal with the matter in writing.

I stressed to him once again that what I had to do was to get a clear and detailed account. That my aim in this was to ensure that he had had every opportunity to deal with the matter and put any information he wished to me. This would allow me to deal with it accurately and fairly and that as such carry out my responsibilities to the House. Mr Maxton was not convinced by this but told me that he would be letting me have his response to my questions straight away since he had already written the answers. I said I was most grateful to him and I would look at them and see whether I needed to ask him for anything further or not.

Mr Maxton rehearsed his arguments again—that he did not need to prove his innocence. I repeated that this was absolutely true, that the requirement on him was that he should assist me with my inquiries and provide me with a comprehensive and truthful account. I said there was no requirement on him to feel he needed to prove anything. He then said Mr Nelson should have proved his case before I was willing to investigate it. I explained to him that this was not what was required under the Code of Conduct and nor in any self-regulatory process. What was required was that somebody should raise a matter of concern with sufficient evidence to require that the matter to be looked into. There was no assumption and had to be no assumption that the case had been proved one way or the other. I reminded Mr Maxton that I had investigated a number of complaints where my conclusion was that they were not upheld and that was always an option. Mr Maxton repeated that that was a matter for the future and that he would be taking this matter up with the Speaker shortly.

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