Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report

Transcription of interview with Lesley Quinn held on Thursday 30 March 2000

(Mr Murray Elder in attendance as a friend)

  Elizabeth Filkin explains process.

  Murray Elder: Can I just check on a couple of points. (EF—Yes of course). In terms of the subsequent use of the transcript (EF—Yes of course), is it for publication, or what?

  EF: Well, anything that I receive information on or what people provide to me, I might use in my report to the Committee, the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. Therefore, I have to tell people and anything that I provide to them as evidence they may decide to publish along with their report. They may decide to publish their report and my report together and they may publish some of the evidence that I put in my report to ensure that (interruption for coffee). So I have to say to people yes it could be published because what is published is entirely in the hands of the Committee. If there is any material that people give me that they would prefer to remain confidential then I always try to treat it confidential if I can myself if it is not pertinent to the actual enquiry. I try and be sensitive to that and the Committee is very mindful of people's privacy but they have to balance privacy with public inerest and of course fairness. If they are to be fair to (tape too quiet). They try not to break confidences if that is at all possible, but it might be published.

  Murray Elder: The reason I ask in a sense is whether or not to discover if it is published it is privileged (tape too quiet).

  EF: This is a procedural part we are now involved in and yes parliamentary privilege gives protection and also puts responsibilities (interruption with coffee).

  Murray Elder: This is very helpful. So the report is obviously a formal matter for the House. At what stage is a decision able to be reached. I raise this as there seems to be some indication in the papers last week with a quote from a spokesperson for this office, that you had had an initial inquiry and there was prima facie evidence.

  EF: That was a misunderstanding by that newspaper. The precise reply that my staff gave in answer to their question was that I was conducting an investigation since January, nothing has changed. But it is an investigation that has been ongoing since January, (tape too quiet, information missing) for exactly the reasons you have raised to try to ensure that people did not give information to me (tape too quiet, information missing).

  Q.  Could you tell me the date you took over from Alex Rowley as General Secretary for the Scottish Labour Party?

  A.  As General Secretary, the 23 November 1999, but I acted for a few months.

  Q.  When did you act?

  A.  From June to November.

  Q.  What role were you in prior to that?

  A.  Assisstant General Secretary.

  Q.  How long did you carry out that post?

  A.  1998-99.

  Q.  Do you know exactly which month you took over that post?

  A.  May 1998.

  Q.  I take it you worked closely with John Rafferty?

  A.  As part of the team, yes.

  Q.  And with his predecessor, did he have a predecessor?

  A.  No.

  Q.  Can you take me through who and what is your understanding of who were the employers of Mr Kevin Reid, Miss Suzanne Hilliard and Mr Chris Winslow over the period of when you were in post? And were you in post at all with the Labour Party before May 1998?

  A.  Yes, I've been in employment with the party for a number of years as Senior Scottish Officer and that was from 1996 to 1998.

  Q.  Well then, I am interested in the employment after the campaign was announced after you knew there was going to be a campaign. Could you take me through who you believed to be the employers of those three people?

  A.  If I start with Kevin first. Kevin worked part time for the Labour Party from May 1998 until October 1998. Now he also worked for his father but those dates I am not aware of those dates exactly. And then in October 1998 when things kind of hotted up in the campaign, it became the short campaign if you like, between October and May, Kevin was employed full time by the Labour Party and he left just after the campaign. I think it was the end of May/beginning of June 1999.

  Q.  What about the other two?

  A.  The other two? (Suzanne Hilliard and Chris Winslow) Suzanne was not employed by the Labour Party. But she did work for John Reid for a period of time which I think was when John Reid's Parliamentary Assistant was quite ill. I think Suzanne worked for John during that period.

  Q.  Do you know the exact dates?

  A.  When it started, I don't know, but I know it was during, I know she was employed by him during April/May 1999, I think. Yes, that was the run up to the Scottish Parliament Campaign because.

  Q.  April/May 1999?

  A.  1999 because the Scottish Parliament Campaign. . . the election was 1 May 1999.

  Q.  Yes, so she worked April/May 1999?

  A.  No, that's the only two that I know that she definitely worked for John, those two months. There is a very simple reason why I know that, unfortunately I am a smoker and our building is a non-smoking building.

  Q.  So you had to go and stand in these little corners?

  A.  Or when we felt it was not apt for us to be standing in little corners there was a . . .basically a pub across the road from the office called Vroni's where you could get a coffee and a cigarette in comfort and I know on occasions John and Suzanne were there together with papers and things so that's why I'm sure about Suzanne working with John during that time. But any other time I don't know.

  Q.  And what about Chris Winslow?

  A.  Chris worked for the Labour Party, the reason I know these exact dates is that I took these out of Chris' personnel file, that I now have access to as General Secretary. He worked 15 hours a week for the Labour Party between June 1998 and June 1999, but his contract was varied in November 1998, again that was the period when things were hotting up, October, November, December.

  Q.  So his contract was varied in 1998 in October?

  A.  Which doubled his hours to 30 hours a week.

  Q.  Was this a paid job?

  A.  Yes.

  Q.  Did his salary change?

  A.  It went up because he was working more hours for the Labour Party.

  Q.  (Unable to hear question).

  A.  No, I think it was just the amount. It would have been a pro-rata basis and if your hours. . . (I see).

  Q.  Did you, were you aware who he worked part time for a Member of Parliament?

  A.  Yes, John Maxton.

  Q.  Do you know when?

  A.  I don't know the exact dates but I know when he was working part-time with the Labour Party he was also working for John Maxton, but whether he worked for John Maxton prior to June 1998 I'm not exactly sure.

  Q.  But you know he was working for John Maxton since June 1998.

  A.  Yes, (until) until we varied his contract which would be in November. And again I'm still not sure, November 1998, if he still worked for John Maxton. I'm guessing that.

  Q.  And what about, we talked about Suzanne.

  A.  Suzanne was never employed by the Labour Party.

  Q.  She worked for the Labour Party as a volunteer?

  A.  Voluntarily, a lot of students did and thank God they do it.

  Q.  Now while they worked for the Labour Party, these three, whatever they were contracted to do or whether they were doing it as a volunteer, in real life what did they do in terms of hours for the Labour Party. How hard did they work for you?

  A.  They all worked hard, but obviously, I worked hard but having a young family there's only a certain amount of hours that (of course) and I do tend to take a lot of my work home. I do a lot of my paperwork at home, it suits me because of my daughter, when she's sleeping at night I can get on and I know Kevin, because again being a smoker and being outside, we used to joke with Kevin about the fact that he would be leaving our office, he would have his lunch say about 10 am and be leaving our office about half eleven/twelve, that was his day's work done for us. We'd be out for a cigarette and he'd be off and we still had a lot of hours to work on.

  Q.  So about how long or on average how many hours did they do?

  A.  It's difficult, some people say to me "is it a full time job that you have" yes it is but it's not a full time job as people know it, it's not a nine to five Monday to Friday job. I work evenings, I work weekends, they are not in place of my nine to five that is over and above. It's difficult to work out hours wise.

  When we were up in another building, because we moved buildings, when we were in Keir Hardie House, he always made a point of saying goodbye to you, he loved rubbing into you the fact that he was going, that we would regard very early in the day the fact that Kevin was in very early in the morning when we were not there, we didn't see that because we weren't there at that time.

  Q.  So, am I right in saying that in your view Kevin Reid worked full time for the Labour Party part of the time but prior to that he had not?

  A.  No, definitely not, I could give you lots of instances when he made a point of saying goodbye.

  Q.  What about Suzanne Hilliard who was working as a volunteer and some of the time at any rate she was working part time for John Reid? What was her part in employment as a volunteer for the Labour Party?

  A.  She wasn't employed, coming in, as a volunteer Suzanne would sometimes be there mostly in the afternoons, as I remember with Suzanne, to sort of early evening. I'm trying to think of instances to clarify, yes, these are petty things but I'm trying to, in my mind, Suzanne always had the frozen meals that you buy out of Sainsbury's and you put in the microwave. Suzanne always made a point at about half five that was the time she had her dinner. So I know she was there until the early evening, from afternoon until early evening.

  Q.  But, from what time?

  A.  I don't know, it could have been one, it could have been half one, it could have been two. I don't know, she was there in the afternoon.

  Q.  And what do you think she did that was so important.

  A.  Well I assume, because sometimes those occasions while I saw Suzanne in Vroni's, that was before she came to do some work for us, so I would assume that would be John Reid that she would be working for in the morning. But I don't know because I wasn't with her every hour of the day every morning.

  Q.  And what about Chris Winslow?

  A.  In terms of?

  Q.  When did he work for the Labour Party?

  A.  Chris worked, as I say, those hours, the 15 hours and then it was varied again because things were hotting up, sort of October/November period of 1998.

  Q.  But in his 15 hours during 1998 to October 1998, did he work more than 15 hours? Or did he only work 15 hours?

  A.  To be honest with you, I don't know because there's nothing in my mind that springs forward like Kevin or Suzanne that can justify in my mind me giving you an answer.

  Q.  Did you notice that he was working a lot more hours after October?

  A.  Oh definitely, definitely. There was a lot of us and if you are working in an intense campaign like that, then you do notice. It becomes your second family.

  Q.  And what I have to put to you, is that all three of these people worked more than full time for the Labour Party, certainly in the last weeks before the election.

  A.  Well, Kevin worked full time from October 1998 to May 1999 so Yes. Suzanne, No. She was, it was always afternoon and early evening. Chris, when his hours were varied, Yes, he was there longer, between November 1998 until when he left.

  Q.  So did he work full time?

  A.  He worked his extra hours, the 30 hours that he was, that he had to do.

  Q.  So, other than Kevin Reid, did the other two, was there any period of time when you would have assumed that they were working full time for the Labour Party?

  A.  Chris was working the extra hours, I'm not sure if we are. I'm not sure how many hours I'm contracted because I work a lot of hours and I don't know what's in my contract but I know Chris was definitely working longer hours with the Party like the rest of us in the November/December 1998-1999 period. Whether that would be classified as full time, I don't know because I don't know what our contracted hours were, I know from Chris' personnel file that it's 30 hours but I don't know if that's classified as full time. I doubt it because I'm assuming that we'd probably be contracted to at least 35 hours a week.

  Q.  I suppose really what I am trying to find out was what actually happened, a number of individuals have said to me that they worked full time during the campaign and you seem to be saying something different, so what I want to know really is your account of that period.

  A.  We all, like myself, we all, all members of staff and Party Members have come through a long, long slog to get a Scottish Parliament, the referendum. It was important and when you are working in a campaign like that and because the intensity of it and the fact that you are looking to win, we were looking to make Donald Dewar as First Minister, when you see that in your sights you get extra adrenaline, you work long hours, everybody worked long hours. Now Suzanne I know for a fact, nobody could say that she was there full time as much as Chris, Kevin and even I because she was a volunteer, we had a lot of volunteers, they did rotas, they done them to make sure things were covered, we all worked very hard up until the last short period of the campaign, the last six months of the campaign.

  Now, if somebody's saying that we worked longer, then yes, I probably worked longer, we all do. I'm not trying to say that they are telling you lies. I've worked through many election campaigns, that's my first referendum, my first Scottish Parliament Campaign I've worked in Scotland and everybody works long hours.

  Q.  Yes, so going back to Suzanne Hilliard and Chris Winslow, what do you mean by long hours in terms of the last period, give me the sort of hours long hours would mean?

  A.  Long hours to me is I'm in the office at half past eight in the morning and I maybe didn't leave until 9 or half past nine at night. I worked weekends as well.

  Q.  Would the others have done the same?

  A.  No, because I was part of a strategy group for the Scottish Parliament Elections and a lot of our strategic meetings took place when everyone else had gone.

  Q.  Well then, talk to me about those two people.

  A.  I don't know, maybe 6 or 7 o'clock at night?

  Q.  For how many weeks would they have been working those long hours like that?

  A.  To be honest with you I'm not sure because the intensity that was there, I'm not sure when it started, it just seemed to evolve.

  Q.  Six months?

  A.  I don't know. I know the October/November period of 1998, we were looking to get more resources for the office and obviously there was specific jobs that we needed done, we needed covered. I had colleagues from other offices in the UK who are Labour Party colleagues who came and worked with us, who were seconded to us so, whether you take .  .  , the long hours that I did I would say were then, but I worked even longer during April and May.

  Q.  How long did you work then?

  A.  Before April and May on a Saturday I could normally finish about half past two, from about nine until about half past two on a Saturday, then it was getting nearer to five, half past five, six o'clock on a Saturday and every Sunday.

  Q.  Would you say the same was true for those two individuals and that was what most people in the office did?

  A.  Not really because again part of my role was part of that strategic team. Yes they worked, that last six weeks period like everybody but to be exact with hours and things, I would really be telling you a lie if I told you.

  Q.  I'm not really asking you to be specific. I know you can't. but I'm just trying to get a picture, that's all I'm trying to do and so we're talking are we about the last six weeks working long hours until seven or eight at night?

  A.  Yes.

  Q.  And that was Kevin.

  A.  Kevin I know definitely yes.

  Q.  The other two, all of them.

  A.  Well Suzanne it was early evening, even although it was. . . I'm saying extra hours, Suzanne was a volunteer, it was afternoon/evenings, she didn't work anywhere near the hours that the rest of us worked.

  Q.  What sort of hours did Suzanne work?

  A.  Early, coming in in the afternoon and leaving maybe half six.

  Q.  I know that there were discussions in the summer about those peoples' contracts particularly about Kevin Reid's contract. Now you have told me yes that his contract was changed, but can you give me an account of those discussions?

  A.  I am not aware of any discussions.

  Q.  So why did you say Kevin's contract had changed?

  A.  Because in October 1998, Kevin started working full time for the Party it was kind of "oh, Kevin's with us full time".

  Q.  And did you know why?

  A.  No.

  Q.  Were you party to any discussions about his contract?

  A.  No.

  Q.  Discussions with people where they discussed Kevin's contract with you?

  A.  No, not that I can think.

  Q.  Do you think you know why Kevin became full time?

  A.  Well, yes, the logic is the reason why Kevin became full time to work for the Labour Party is like the same as my colleagues being seconded. He had a job to do to try and elect Donald Dewar as First Minister and resources were targeted towards getting the staff with the specific skills that we needed to win the Scottish Parliament elections.

  Q.  So. I'm right in saying you know of no concern about the previous employment arrangements that applied to Kevin Reid?

  A.  I didn't know of any concerns.

  Q.  So, nobody discussed with you about changing Kevin Reid on to a full-time party contract.

  A.  Not that I remember. You've got me thinking now, but not that I remember.

  Q.  Did anybody discuss exactly with you that change subsequent to my enquiry?

  A.  The only information that I know about your enquiry, as I said in my note, is what I read in the Observer and that is why I was concerned, was I part of this complaint or something?

  Q.  So nobody in the party discussed this with you, nobody who used to work in the party?

  A.  I'm slightly concerned that if someone's had a discussion with me about Kevin's contract, but sorry, I don't recall it.

  Q.  Am I right in thinking you were responsible for organising statutory election expenses?

  A.  Yes.

  Q.  And were you satisfied that some of these expenses particularly for staff and volunteers were completed properly?

  A.  Yes, to the best of my knowledge, absolutely and I wouldn't have put those returns in.

  Q.  And you have no doubt about that?

  A.  Well, any time you have to complete an official document I always have wonders about it but it is one thing that I am quite meticulous in making sure that I have the information. Now if it was to appear that there was information that I couldn't get access to, to the best of my knowledge they are absolutely accurate election returns and I took quite a bit of time in pulling them together because it actually was quite a job to do because with Alex leaving and the returns then needing to be in the responsibility shifted to me as acting General Secretary and obviously a lot of things had happened in terms of expenditure that I then had to try and find invoices to make sure that everything was being accounted for to the best of my knowledge.

  Q.  Can I ask you whether you were involved in any discussions with other members of staff about the preparation of any statement for this inquiry?

  A.  I got from Chris a letter from, information from his personnel file to confirm his dates, that's how I'm able to give them to you and I also got information from personnel for Kevin as to exact dates.

  Q.  So, I am right that you discussed the dates with them?

  A.  They asked me for confirmation of their dates and I checked with the personnel files, because previous to that I would not have had an idea.

  Q.  Perhaps I could ask you this question. Did you discuss the contracts of any of these staff with either Alex Rowley or John Rafferty?

  A.  John Rafferty, No. Alex Rowley and I, yes we would have discussed staffing, what people were doing, where it was they were going, because I also was responsible for about eight organisers that was solely my responsibility and sometimes there were requests, if I can put it that way, that came from other areas of the office.

  Q.  So you discussed deployment of staff?

  A.  Deployment, yes.

  Q.  Did you discuss employment, things like the contracts, who was on what contract, how you could use people and so forth.

  A.  The organisers that we employed for a period of time there, I was informed in terms of the budget, we would have them until the European Election in June, so strategically I then knew where.

  Q.  And you knew how many hours work you got from each of those people.

  A.  No, because the job is not a job where you clock in and clock out, its. . . my organisers who were working with me were full time organisers and I. . . they were not employed directly in the office, they were working in various places throughout Scotland so it's kind of. . . management by . . .at length. They could have told me they worked 10 hours that day and what proof did I have whether they did or they didn't but at the end of the day, I suppose the proof is in the pudding in that have they been effective in delivering strategic targets that I gave them to try and deliver over a weekly period.

  Q.  And at any time did you ask these three people to do more hours than they were contracted for?

  A.  Kevin, Suzanne or Chris? No.

  Q.  The allegation which has been supported by some other evidence is that some of the time, these people, while they were employed as researchers used some of that time to do campaign work. Have you got any comment to make on that?

  A.  Is that then . . . are we then saying, say for instance Chris' 30 hours that he was employed by the Labour Party to do, there was a sort of clock in and clock out that he did these 30 hours, that the period I'm assuming we're talking about when Kevin worked part-time, I know Kevin left early, going back through what I said, he did make a point of letting me know he was going. I've had conversations with Kevin about maybe mumps and groans that we would have about something or somebody or whatever and I remember a remark from Kevin "well you should see the casework that my Dad gets" in the context of "what you are moaning about Lesley is really nonsense compared to the casework that, whatever problems his dad would get as an MP, so in that role I would assume then that Kevin was doing that work and that was how he was aware of what some of that casework was. With Chris, I didn't have these kind of conversations really with him. Chris is a very deep, deep young man.

  Q.  Did you know that he was employed part-time by an MP?

  A.  By John Maxton, Yes.

  Q.  Were you ever concerned that you might be using Westminster time in the campaign?

  A.  You make assumptions like, if Chris read a newspaper and got knowledge from that newspaper, that knowledge is then, maybe he's giving it to John Maxton for something but then he's also used it in the office, it's (no, of course I understand) who pays for that, it's difficult to. . .

  Q.  Did you, were you at all aware during that period of time that there was a proper issue in there where Managers would have to make sure that Westminster Parliamentary time was not used on the campaign?

  A.  No, I wasn't part of any discussions in relation to that.

  Q.  Would you have known that it wasn't appropriate to use Westminster time on the campaign (absolutely) you would have known (absolutely, yes).

  Q.  I understand that people were paid bonuses when they were employed on the campaign. Were these people paid bonuses?

  A.  I don't know.

  Q.  (unable to determine question)

  A.  No, there's nothing in my ..., I know I got £200 (was that the bonus, what was that for) that was for extra hours that I worked.

  Q.  and did you have to account for the hours to get that?

  A.  No.

  Q.  So how did you get it?

  A.  It came in my salary. I am assuming it would have been authorised by my line manager who was Alex Rowley. And I know exactly how much I got because I bought a Wendy house for my daughter with it.

  Q.  But, did anybody put a piece of paper round the office which said "people who worked this number of hours get £100 and people who worked this get £200. Did everybody get £200?

  A.  I don't know. Salaries and things (you don't know) I don't really, I feel its private to people, I wouldn't know.

  Q.  Who would know?

  A.  I would assume Alex.

  Q.  Yes, who else?

  A.  Whoever does the salaries and they are in London.

  Q.  Jonathan Upton?

  A.  No. Jonathan Upton doesn't do salaries.

  Q.  But somebody has to authorise the salaries, I'm trying to think who.

  A.  I don't know how that works, I don't know who authorises my monthly salary or travel claims or anything but I send (would you not know that now?) Unfortunately, no because there's a female that... they are put in an envelope to our Head Office here and then they come... I would assume there is a system built in that deals with that.

  Q.  What's the name of the person at the Scottish office that processes those type of things?

  A.  We do it individually, we copy. . ., I would sign. . ., people that I'm line manager for, I sign their forms on a monthly basis and then I send those forms down to Neil Bendle at our Head Office. My Form goes unsigned because obviously I wouldn't sign for my own and honestly I'm ashamed to say (they all go to Neil Bendle?) they go to Neil Bendle who's head of Finance.

  Q.  So they are sent to London?

  A.  Yes, now whether Neil is the person that deals with it or distributes it I really don't know, I just know at the end of the day I get it back in my bank account.

  Q.  OK. I found that really helpful. I'm very grateful to you. I now need to ask you a general question? (ok) because obviously what I have to find out is you told me the truth and the whole truth, so has that alerted. . . , that conversation we've just had, alerted you to other things that you feel that I should be told to give me a proper and whole picture, so that there's no chance of you going out of here and thinking "there is a hole in what I was asked, so I didn't answer it because there was a hole in it".

  A.  Your questions are obviously specifically aimed towards something which making the assumption that's why you are. . . , no, I think you are being very thorough, no. You've made me think.

  Q.  Thank you. Could I ask you that if when you go away anything strikes you, one way or the other, I have no. . . I'm totally open minded on what the answers are. Either if you have any evidence that supports the things that you say or anybody else that you think I should speak to or anybody else who might be able to give me better information, other information that relates to what was happening on the employment side. Perhaps you could let me know?

  A.  OK.

  Q.  Because all I'm trying to get is a total picture and anybody who can help with that one way or the other is what I'm after.

  A.  What about the information about the hours for Kevin and Chris?

  Q.  What about it?

  A.  Like, I could give you a copy of what was in. (well that would be very helpful, thank you). I could send down. . . I could do that (thank you, that would be most helpful).

  Q.  Obviously, that's help in itself but I assume it's what they've given me because I assume they asked you for that information and they've just passed it onto me. (well, I don't really know). But it would be helpful to have the backup, just in case. But obviously any other information. Thank you very much indeed.

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