Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report


Annex 26

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

On 14 February I sent you a statement setting out the facts of the matter in response to the complaint from Mr Nelson which you had forwarded to me.

I should make it clear that I have seen no evidence nor any facts which materially question the statement which I gave to you back in February. I have now annotated that statement—exactly as it was presented to you some five months ago—with footnotes providing evidence, references and substantiation to every significant assertion contained within it. I invite you to compare and contrast this with the unsubstantiated accounts which you have received from some others.

I also invite you to consider some material background information which might clear up some misconceptions. This is done in order to ensure that you have, as you say you wish to have the "fullest possible" picture.

Working Methods of Scottish Members of Parliament

It is important to recognise that MPs from constituencies far removed from Westminster cannot operate in the same fashion as those from constituencies near the capital. Scotland has its own politics, national priorities, press, media and culture. Most of us believe in having an office in our constituency, among our electorate, not in London. By definition, we operate hundreds of miles from home and constituency offices and staff. We are removed from these for days at a time. When we have the good fortune to become a Minister, we are sometimes away from them for weeks on end. We have to innovate and fashion convenient, if sometimes unorthodox methods of conducting our business. (On constituency business, for instance, over the past twelve years I have had to increasingly rely on the use of dictaphone and the posting of tapes and related papers for typing to and from my Scottish Staff.) The pressure of work on becoming a Minister means that this reliance upon our staff becomes so much greater.

Full-time and Part-time

It is in this context that the undefined us of the term "full-time" obfuscates rather than clarifies this complaint especially where, as in the transcripts you have sent me it is variously used on different occasions to denote a working day ranging from 4 hours to 14 or 16 hours. In fact, during an election campaign a "full-time" Labour Party official is expected to work the sort of hours which Mr Rowley and Sullivan claims they themselves were indeed working—i.e. 14-16 hours per day, six/seven days a week. It is absolutely clear, that neither of my employees were working anything like this.

However, there is a sense in which how one describes the job (whether full-time or part-time) actually obfuscates rather than clarifies the issue, particularly since it is used throughout the statements (and in Mr Nelson`s complaint, in a vague and completely undefined manner embracing varying hours per day. What actually matters is the actual number of hours worked. I have dealt with that matter in some detail in my response.

The Primary points

I have directed my attention towards the matters of primary concern which I take to be:

    (i)  Is there any evidence that Kevin Reid and/or Suzanne Hilliard were prohibited by House rules or regulations from undertaking other activity, voluntary or professionally, paid or unpaid, full-time or part-time while concurrently working part-time (20 hrs a week on average) for me? The answer to this is clearly "no", as is made clear by the advice received then from, and confirmed in writing since by, the Fees Office.

    (ii)  Is there any evidence that Kevin Reid and Suzanne Hilliard were physically precluded from carrying out the specified average hours of work for me, while paid by the Fees Office, by their other activities? The answer, not only from myself, Kevin Reid, Suzanne Hilliard but also from an examination of the statements of Mssrs Rafferty, Rowley and Sullivan is clearly "no". The latter three were hardly in a position to know the facts, in any case. But it may be that this fact is also confirmed by other statements of which I have had no sight.

    (iii)  Is their any evidence that, even though time was available to carry out work for me as specified in the Fees Office contract, that they did not in fact carry out such work? No such evidence is evinced from any of the statements of Mr Rowley, Sullivan, or Rafferty. Not one of them even attempts to assert this. Of course they were in no position to know. Conversely, the statements of myself, Kevin Reid, Suzanne Hilliard testify to the fact that this work was done. This is backed by documentary material. It is also supported by the simple fact that the contrary view has to based on the frankly incredible proposition that throughout most of the relevant period I would have to be assumed to have discharged my duties as a Minister and Member of Parliament in London while also personally undertaking all my constituency work and correspondence single handedly. No Member of Parliament, or anyone with any experience of the work of a Member of Parliament could believe this.

Thus the answer to all three of these supports what I have been saying all along.

There are three subsidiary but important points:

First, what was the nature of my remarks at the meeting of the 26th April? As you will see I have provided evidence from the actual minutes of the meeting that the matter was discussed openly rather than surreptitiously, in the meeting rather than afterwards, and in the context of drawing up of a campaign staff budget from Labour Party HQ. All of this, in addition to the actual statement to you of Mr McKinney himself (as opposed to Mr Nelsons` words) supports the position outlined to you in my statement of the 14th February 2000, given to you freely before I had seen any of the material which you sent me.

Secondly, why did I insist that Kevin Reid be employed solely and exclusively by the Labour Party from October onwards? Again, both the evidence and common sense supports the explanation which I have already given to you—namely, that I was not prepared to have Kevin paid through the fees office if he was unable to do the work for which he was paid.

Finally, there is the matter of the alleged "threats" to Mr Rowley. As you will see, to the best of my recollection I have discussed this matter with Mr Rowley—in very general terms—on only two occasions. On both occasions these conversations were undertaken at the behest and on the initiative of Mr Rowley not me, as can be testified to by both witnesses and the pager message which I have sent to you. The content of the conversations is outlined in these documents and cannot, other than on the most malevolent interpretation, be considered as anything remotely like a "threat".

Witnesses

The choice of "witnesses", perhaps suggested mainly by Mr Nelson is, to say the least, peculiar. Some 70 people operated in or out of the Labour Party HQ in the course of the campaign. Of these, perhaps 25 of these were associated with press or press strategy in some way. Among these, around 8 were involved directly in media monitoring. Not one of these was interviewed or written to so far as I am aware. Not one who actually worked with, or close to Kevin Reid or Suzanne Hilliard, and who presumably would have been in a position to actually directly testify as to their hours was, to my knowledge asked their view. None of the witnesses of whom I am aware were there (a) throughout the relevant period and (b) involved in press strategy and (c) in a position to reasonably know their hours of work. Some comments and questions on Mr Rowley`s reliability as a witness and on Mr Nelson are incorporated within my submission, but you might also like to take into consideration that:

Mr McKinney left his employment with the Labour Party abruptly after only six weeks under circumstances involving personal difficulties on the 21st May 1998, four days before Kevin Reid started work with the Labour Party. Thereafter, he did not set foot in the Labour Party HQ in the course of the campaign. He was, therefore, in no position to know anything whatsoever about the work done by either Kevin Reid or Suzanne Hilliard either for the Labour Party or for Dr Reid.

Mr Sullivan in particular is a peculiar choice as a witness. He had nothing to do with press. He did not join until August 1998. He sat at the opposite end of the room. Indeed at one stage during the relevant period, on a different floor altogether. Among those employed by the Party in the course of the campaign he was just about the least qualified to provide accurate information as to hours of work in media monitoring. In December 1999 his contract with the Labour Party was not renewed and his work for the Labour Party terminated. (Shortly afterwards, Mr Nelson` article appeared.) Mr Sullivan was not even mentioned in any of the witness statements or in the original complaint. It is, therefore, interesting to speculate as to how and why Mr Sullivan came to emerge as a "relevant" witness. He was, of course, a colleague of Mr Rowley at Fife Council, was then hired by the Labour Party at Mr Rowley`s insistence against considerable opposition, was and remains one of Mr Rowley`s closest confidants. He does have one thing in common with the other witnesses—his employment with the Labour Party terminated under difficult circumstances.

Mr Rafferty worked for the Labour Party from January 1999. He therefore started some three months after Kevin Reid had started working exclusively for the Labour Party and is not in a position to give direct or reliable testimony as to Kevin Reid`s hours or work during the period for which he worked for Dr Reid. While working in the Labour Party, he was not working with or line manager for Suzanne Hilliard. His office was not part of the open plan office. He was not therefore physically in a position to observe relevant matters with any degree of accuracy. He left employment with the First Minister in circumstances which are well known in Scotland. His complete volte-face on at least one section of his testimony raises interesting questions.

I trust that the enclosed materials illustrate that I have done my level best to respond to your letter of 19th May and enclosures with the fullest possible response, and that even at this late stage you might now conclude that the complaint is groundless.

5 July 2000


 
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