Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report


Annex 27

Response of the Rt Hon Dr John Reid MP to Complaint received from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards dated 27 January 2000 and Questions put to Dr Reid by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards dated 19 May 2000

THE COMPLAINT INVOLVING SUZANNE HILLIARD

1.    The complaint in connection with Suzanne Hilliard (SH) is that when Kevin Reid left Dr Reid`s employment in October 1998 "The part time salary which had been paid to Kevin was then switched to a Labour Campaign volunteer, Suzanne Hilliard".

It is alleged SH was "falsely passed off ... as [a] Westminster [Researcher] in order to help fund Labour`s campaign."

2.    Thus the relevant period in respect of SH is November 1998 to her leaving Dr Reid`s employment in June 1999. The complaint must show evidence of SH`s not working for Dr Reid despite being presented as so doing to the Fees Office. It is implied that SH was not in a position to carry out work for Dr Reid as a result of her Labour Party duties it is necessary to examine what is revealed about her work and working hours generally.

3.    To find the complaint established in the case of SH it is necessary to disbelieve what SH had said in her statement and in her interview with the PCS. There is no basis for any judgement other than that SH is telling the truth. Dr Reid confirms SH`s statements.

4.    SH`S HOURS - OCT 1998 - JUNE 1999

(References are to SH`s interview transcript unless otherwise indicated)

SH states her hours of voluntary work for the Labour Party as 3-4 hours per day during the week. This represented a continuation of voluntary work throughout her time at University (p.4). She identifies the hours as 3.30/4.00 pm - 6.30/7.00 pm (at p.7). Towards the election (May 1999) time spent by SH was increased to 6-7 hours per day on a voluntary basis and was at this pitch for 2-3 weeks before the election (p.5). She had taken time off university studies by this stage. She did not work 6-7 hours every day and not at all on weekends (p.5) except for a few hours during the last 3 weeks of the campaign (note 1, p.5). Again at page 12 SH confirms being at Delta House (Labour Party) "in the afternoon and early evening" and "quite late at night" in the period near the election (at p.13). She gives her hours in the 2-3 weeks before the election (at p.13) as starting at 2 pm and "sometimes doing about eight". It is not clear whether she means 2- 8 pm (6 hours) or 8 hours from 2 pm. She also says that sometimes she went in about 4 pm, leaving about 10 pm (6 hours). Thus the accusations (i) from several (unidentified) witnesses (p.12) saying SH was "full time available for Labour Party work" is rejected by SH; (ii) from "somebody" (unidentified) that she worked " very very long hours" (p.13) in the few weeks prior to the election is rejected by SH; (iii) from one witness (unidentified) that SH was "taken on by the Party with Maxton`s money" is rejected firstly since she took a summer job with Mr Maxton after the election in June-September 1999 and secondly since it is in any event irrelevant to any complaint against Dr Reid. The fact that witnesses were not identified to SH means that she was not able to comment whether these people were in any position to form clear views about her hours spent working for the Labour Party. The unreliability of the witnesses against SH is perhaps shown by the observation about "Maxton`s money", her employment by Mr Maxton not taking place until after Labour`s campaign.

5.    Thus the position regarding SH is that she was a student who was in the habit of volunteering 3-4 hours per day work for the Labour Party. There was not any change to this on her taking time out from university and accepting a job with Dr Reid save in the 2-3 weeks before the election when she increased her voluntary work to 6-7 hours per day excluding weekends.

6.    The accusation seems to have been pursued on the basis that SH was working so hard for the Labour Party that she could not have worked for Dr Reid for the contracted period of "20 hours variable" (See SH`s contract).

7.    THE NATURE OF SH`S WORK FOR DR REID

SH`s evidence is a complete rebuttal of the accusation. She states (p.5) that she "was working for Dr Reid in the morning". She was introduced to Dr Reid by Kevin Reid. She says she was "quite excited because it was a really good opportunity." This would hardly square with the notion that she was in reality merely continuing to do work for the Labour Party. She took over Kevin`s duties in respect of the press work. SH states that work for Dr Reid was mainly carried out "in Glasgow in the mornings"(p.9). "I would work for John (Dr Reid) in the morning" (p.11), "I always had my mornings free to do my work for Dr Reid which I took very seriously" (p.13 ); Note 3 (p.9) "I did my press work for Dr Reid in the morning". It may be observed that had SH not been available to Dr Reid it would have been impossible for him to deal with his constituency work while carrying out his duties as a minister.

8.    As to hours, given the nature of the work and her contract these were not fixed for each day. SH identifies the work as "keeping an eye on the local papers" (p.7). "Keeping him updated on what was happening, keeping an eye on anything to do with transport" (p.7) "dealing with his mail" and covering for Dr Reid`s hospitalised constituency assistant (p.9), "press cuttings" (p.9) mail (p.10), "dealing with mail, a lot of it, reading all the circulars" (p.11). The hours worked per day for Dr Reid were not fixed. SH states that these varied from 6 hours one day, another day three hours, `an hour at the weekend or whatever". (p.11) With an obligation of "20 hours variable" it can be seen that this was easily capable of being accomplished each week, even during the 2-3 weeks before the election. Pre-campaign, time very easily allowed Dr Reid`s work to be done. During the campaign there were still weekday mornings and most of the weekend to carry out Dr Reid`s work. In any event "20 hours variable" meant precisely that ie the period of 20 hours was not fixed per week but variable, not requiring exact fulfilment each week.

9.    SH`s interview with Ms Filkin in April 2000 accords substantially with the statement provided with Dr Reid`s initial response. The only reference that suggests that in the 2-3 weeks before the election SH`s time was pressured is that she notes that she did "about 12-15 hours of constituency work per week" at that time. (Statement, p.4) Given that the contract was "20 hours variable" she did not require contractually to spend precisely 20 hours each week on Dr Reid`s work. (See above)

10.  THE CASE INVOLVING SH IS NOT MADE OUT

The accusation involving Ms Hilliard is illustrative of the quality of the complaint against Dr Reid. It may be noted that she received an upsetting phone call from a journalist making accusations towards her (p.16) in January. It is not clear if Mr Nelson was the journalist or whether he has played a tape recording of this call to the PCS. When one looks for support for the complaint from the statements provided with the PCS`s letter of 19 May 2000 there are only impressions of the vaguest nature.

11.  Mr Rowley seems to think, wrongly, SH was paid by the Labour Party (AR p.2) and states "SH complained that she was under extreme pressure" (AR p.3). He does not say he saw her at Delta House morning and afternoon. He does not say if he was in a position to be aware of her movements during the day nor the extent of the work she was doing. Mr Rowley`s statements betray a high degree of unreliability. At AR, page 4 (Q14) he is recorded as saying:

"I do not however recall any arrangement with Suzanne but accept I would have agreed how she was being paid, I simply do not remember what the arrangement was."

SH was incontrovertibly a volunteer. Mr Rowley`s recollection is not impressive. Again at AR page 5, Q 14:

"I suspect that I told SH but I can`t remember that but I would have certainly had a discussion with her because we were changing contracts."

Mr Rowley reveals himself to be confused. As a volunteer SH had no contract with the Labour Party. Mr Rowley`s statements regarding SH are no foundation for any complaint against Dr Reid. They do cast considerable doubt over his reliability as a witness. As presumably a source for Mr Nelson (although this is not stated) doubt is also cast on Mr Nelson`s reliance on Mr Rowley to found his complaint, (see complaint):

"Although Rowley and his colleagues knew the arrangements to be against Westminster rules they were not concerned about Hilliard receiving Reid`s money"

and his suggestion

"... John Maxton MP who also later paid Suzanne Hilliard despite her full time work for Labour`s campaign."

The financial documents presumably produced to the PCS by Mr Rowley contain no reference whatsoever to SH. This is not explained by Mr Rowley. It is of course consonant with the true position of SH`s volunteer status.

12.  Mr Sullivan is an unimpressive witness in respect of SH. He was not SH`s line manager and was therefore not in a position to monitor her hours of work. He did not work with SH. He does not say he was in any position to be aware of her actual hours. He does identify SH as a volunteer (WS p.3) for the Labour Party but then says (WS p.3) contradictorily:

"... I sort of understood that she had become full time working for the Labour Party"

He agrees he understood SH had a paid post. This appears to mean a paid post with the Labour Party. He is plainly in error and was not in any event in a position to know the facts concerning SH. As to SH`s hours, Mr Sullivan`s answers is at best vague (WS p.4) "I had probably seen her there at different times during the day".

This is a weak point as he says at WS p.5:

"That is the assumption I made about what everybody else was doing but I could not say."

And at WS p.6

"I did not really work that closely with any of them because what I was doing was party organisation"

Mr Sullivan is hardly a reliable witness although perhaps interestingly he supports partially SO`s statement of her working period at WS p.9:

"My recollection of Suzanne was that she did the later shift most often. It might not always have been."

And

"I thought that was starting early in the afternoon but I did not know. It was just an assumption I made ..."

Mr Sullivan appears to have been one of Mr Nelson`s sources (p.11). It is not clear when he spoke to Mr Nelson. It is also not clear how he came to be a witness as Mr Nelson made not mention of him. In any event like Mr Rowley his statement is neither reliable nor impressive but rather vague and revealing that he is uninformed about SH.

13.  Mr Rafferty is not a sound witness in respect of SH. In his statement of 18 April at Q.5 he says nothing about SH` hours. At Q.6 he says "everyone worked all the hours there were". This is not specific to SH. He does not say she was there in the mornings. He does not say whether he was monitoring her attendance (which of course he would not have been given his position). Rather Mr Rafferty makes a number of assumptions to derive what he calls "the only logical conclusion" (Q.9) but these assumptions are untested and of course unsound. In his statement of 1 March at p.7 it is put to Mr Rafferty that SH "worked full time on the campaign". He did not confirm this. He did point out that he thought (correctly) that SH was a volunteer. (p.8) It was repeatedly put to Mr Rafferty that SH work "full time". Finally, at p.9 a double question is put to him:

"Q. So would your impression be that was a full time member of staff, somebody about most of the time?

A. Yes. She worked very hard indeed."

The passage does not establish when this was or what times SH was present.

Again at p.10 it is put in a long paragraph inter alia:

"You have said that there was a period of time in which SH was working full-time on the campaign, as far as you were concerned, you did not know about the hours but you assumed that."

This is however not put as a question and elicits the response:

"Well, to be clear ..."

Mr Rafferty`s statement of 24 March is silent about SH. There is nothing to show Mr Rafferty is qualified by recollection or knowledge to speak to SH`s hours worked. Without knowledge of SH`s hours, Mr Rafferty is not in a position to give evidence against Dr Reid in respect of SH.

14.  It can undoubtedly be checked with the Scottish Labour Party that SH was a volunteer. People who worked closely with SH will be able to vouch for her working afternoons/early evenings, primarily during the week. Lesley Quinn would have a better idea of SH`s Labour Party hours than Messrs Rafferty, Rowley or Sullivan, none of whom worked in proximity to SH. Messrs Rafferty and Rowley in fact worked from a separate room the blinds of which were frequently drawn, during the latter`s occupancy.

15.  CONCLUSION

Mr Nelson`s complaint in respect of SH and Dr Reid is not couched in tentative terms but is direct. The foregoing reveals the accusation as clearly baseless. It is expressed with the same apparent certainty by Mr Nelson as his other accusations. It is instructive therefore that the accusation is baseless. It must reflect adversely on the rest of his complaint and the persons on whom he relies to advance his accusations.


 
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