Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report

Annex 17

Letter to the Rt Hon Dr John Reid MP from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Thank you for your letters of 30 May and 2 June 2000 and for agreeing to try to meet my deadline when you have heavy duties elsewhere.

Perhaps I could deal in turn with each of the queries you raise in the two letters.

You asked about the opening sentence of my letter of 19 May in which I pointed out to you the requirement that you should not discuss your evidence with other witnesses. This is a standard clause which I include in letters to witnesses when I ask them to provide evidence. It seemed, therefore, that my request to you for your detailed response to the complaint was the appropriate point at which to draw this requirement to your attention. There was no other significance of the sort you imply in my use of the word "remind".

The purpose of the requirement is twofold. First, it underlines the point that each witness should give his or her own account of the facts rather than seek to co-ordinate or concert his response with others. Of course, there is no objection to your checking matters of fact with Mr Reid, Ms Hilliard or Mr Winslow. But there can be no justification for approaching other witnesses who may have given evidence about you with a view, for example, to questioning them about the basis for that evidence. You can of course raise any such queries with me and I will consider whether I should put any further questions to others or make further enquiries such as those you mention.

This brings me to the second reason for the requirement, namely to avoid any suggestion, however unjustified, that pressure has been brought to bear on any person in relation to their evidence to me. In that sense it is for the protection of the Member, the individual witnesses and the integrity of my investigation.

May I repeat, as I have done on numerous other occasions when this misconception has arisen, that I have not discussed the details of the complaint, nor the evidence provided to me, with the media. As you know, the background to the complaint had been widely reported before it was submitted to me. My only contact with the media has been to confirm, on a purely factual basis, that I was looking into a complaint, that I was expecting detailed responses from the two Members concerned, and that if no evidence was produced to support the complaint I would conclude at any point during my enquiries that no further action was necessary. I have always stressed in response to any media enquiry that the fact that I am investigating a complaint should not be taken to imply any breach of the Code of Conduct or Rules.

I now turn to your concern about the remarks about you in the transcript of the conversation between Mr Nelson and Mr McKinney and, in particular, how widely this document has been circulated. I should explain, by way of background, that although Mr Nelson`s complaint relates to two individual Members of Parliament, I have so far thought it right, in order to avoid unnecessary duplication and to assess the facts, to handle the enquiries together. This is not just a matter of convenience: there are also, as you will appreciate, many common features to the complaints against yourself and Mr Maxton; they cover similar issues, they are set against the same background of the Scottish Parliament election campaign and some of the same personnel are involved. Until I receive the separate accounts from you and Mr Maxton, for example about the detail of the various employment arrangements or the meeting which Mr McKinney describes, I cannot be clear whether I should regard the complaints as separate or intertwined. It is for that reason that I have sent to both you and Mr Maxton the same documentation for your comments even though some of the material may refer to one of you only. You are responsible only for providing me with an account of matters in which you were involved. I have also reminded Mr Maxton of the necessity of keeping these matters confidential. I can, however, reassure you that the transcript in question has not been sent to any other witnesses.

The fact that I have proceeded in this way so far does not mean that I am committed to making a single, joint report to the Standards and Privileges Committee. To be fair to both you and Mr Maxton I have always kept open the possibility of making two quite separate reports. When I have received both responses I shall decide whether I should make separate reports or a joint report. If you have views on whether these matters were totally separate I should be glad to consider them. What is not in doubt is that each Member is responsible as an individual for upholding the Code of Conduct and Rules and only if the facts are demonstrated to be linked will I provide a joint report to the Committee.

I hope that this deals with all your queries.

5 June 2000

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