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
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