Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report

Annex 205

Letter to the Registrar of Members` Interests from Mr Andrew Walker, Director of Finance and Administration, House of Commons

Thank you for your letter of 4 May concerning the factual information the Commissioner requires to enable her to carry out her investigation into the allegations against Dr John Reid MP and John Maxton MP. For ease of reference I am responding in the same order as your questions in the second page of your letter.

(i) The salary payments made by the Fees Office, in accordance with the written authorities from the Members concerned, between the months of April 1998 and June 1999 were as follows:

    Chris Winslow

        £550 per month in respect of John Maxton MP for the period 1 June 1998 to 31 May 1999.

    Kevin Reid

        £850 per month from 1 April 1998 to 31 October 1998 working for Dr John Reid. (Reid was also employed by Dr John Reid on several occasions prior to this period. Please let me know if you require information about these.)

The amounts paid to Winslow and Reid coincide with the tabular information supplied with your letter. Both of the employments were supported by standard contracts of employment indicating that they were part-time researchers working 20 hours per week.

    (i) and (ii) The extant Resolution of the House on the OCA—21 July 1987—states that:

      "the allowance payable to a Member of this House in respect of the aggregate expenses incurred by him for his parliamentary duties—

      (i)  as general office expenses (including expenses incurred in the purchase of office equipment),

      (ii)  on secretarial assistance, and

      (iii)  on research assistance for work undertaken in the proper performance of such duties,

      should be known as the office costs allowance;"

    The Green Book (Parliamentary Salaries, Allowances and Pensions) states, at page 15, that:

      "To qualify for OCA, any expenditure must be incurred wholly, exclusively and necessarily in the performance of parliamentary duties. This is a strict and long-established rule approved by successive Speakers. You cannot therefore claim for expenditure that is personal or party-political."

    (iv) It is not unusual to include a payment in lieu of notice provision in a contract of employment used by Members e.g. the standard form of employment contract provided by the Fees Office contains such provision, and this is the contract under which both Reid and Winslow were employed. Even where there is no such specific provision in the employment contract (eg as in the case of the contract recommended by the T and G union) that does not necessarily prevent such a payment being made. Where the provision does apply it could result, for a short period, in a researcher drawing salaries in respect of more than one Member at the same time. This would not be unusual in that it is perfectly acceptable for an individual employee to work for more than one Member at one time. Each is viewed as a separate employment.

    (v) As we have not seen any of the documentation from the SLP, it is difficult to hazard a guess as to the reason for the differences. It is possible, for example, that one set of figures includes employers` NICs and/or pension contributions, and the other does not.

    (vi) Other than the fact that the details of the salaries which Reid and Winslow received from their part-time employment with John Reid MP and John Maxton MP appear in SLP documents, we have seen no evidence about any assumptions that the SLP might have made about taking advantage of their OCA salaries to "top up" their Labour Party salaries.

    Kevin Reid`s Labour Party salary in October 1998 appears to have been calculated as follows: half a month at the lower rate and half at the higher (ie {£333/2} + {£1510/2} = £921.50). If the "top up" principle existed then the SLP would surely have used this to reduce their salary payment to Kevin Reid in October to £660, rather than pay £922.

    Winslow`s Labour Party salary doubled in November 1998, suggesting that whatever hours he was contracted to provide for the Party prior to this time had been doubled. Our records show that he continued to work a 20-hour week for John Maxton until the end of May 1999. These were two separate employments and although it might be that he was working long hours, this does not in itself lead to the conclusion that his salary from the Member was a "top up".

As you may be aware, Archie Cameron has spoken to Dr Reid and Mr Maxton about these employments in the last two or three months. In early January he was telephoned by a journalist seeking specific information about Kevin Reid, Chris Winslow and Suzanne Hilliard, and their employment by Dr Reid and Mr Maxton. As is normal practice with such enquiries from the media, the information was refused and it was suggested to the enquirer that he contact the Members directly. Archie Cameron contacted both Members and made them aware of the journalist`s interest in their employment of Reid, Winslow and Hilliard and to expect him to make contact with them in due course about he information he was seeking. In late January Dr Reid contacted the Fees Office to request copies of the contracts of Reid and Winslow, which were supplied. He subsequently requested a copy of the Office Costs Allowance rules. Archie Cameron recalls that he gave Roger Willoughby a brief outline of these events and that it was possible that they might result in a formal complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in due course.

In summary, the evidence we have seen from our own records and our dealings with Dr Reid and Mr Maxton is consistent with the proper and acceptable use of the Office Costs Allowance.

8 May 2000

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