Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report

Annex 47A

File note by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Mr John Maxton
23 March 2000
Meeting with Mr John Maxton—present John Maxton and Elizabeth Filkin

I had had several inconclusive telephone calls with Mr Maxton in which he had challenged the process of my investigation. He said that I should close the investigation down as Mr Nelson had not provided any evidence. Challenged me to produce evidence. Said that he must hear any tapes which Mr Nelson had. Said he would be reporting me to the Chairman of the Committee and to the Speaker. During the last telephone call of this nature I had said to him that I didn`t feel that we were making any head way with me giving him my answers on the telephone and wondered if he would like to come and see me and I would try to explain the process that I was using. I stressed that I understood that being subject to an investigation was worrying and concerning. Mr Maxton arrived and repeated the same messages that he had set out in our various telephone conversations.

Mr Maxton is of the view that I have insufficient evidence to begin any sort of inquiry. And that I had therefore contravened the Rules in the Code of Conduct about how I should proceed. I explained to him several times what my procedure was. I said that when I got a complaint what I had to decide was—is there sufficient evidence to support/in support of the complaint to justify my taking the matter further. If so I asked the Member to respond to the complaint and then conduct a preliminary investigation. That is what I had done in this case. As soon as I had received the e-mail from Mr Nelson I had forwarded it to Mr Maxton for his comment and I had begun preliminary inquiries to discover whether I should proceed. I explained again that if at any time I decide there is no matter to concern me I can close an investigation down and I would report that briefly to the Committee. I said the process this time was lengthy because there were a lot of people that I had to see and that I had to write to. I assured him that when I had completed those inquiries—if there were any matters that were at variance with what he had told me I would put them to him so that he could comment on them of challenge them. I stressed that I had not made up my mind as to whether there was anything or something in these complaints. I stressed that I had responsibilities to both complainant and Member of Parliament and they were that I must treat each equally fairly and I must look rigorously at what each side had said.

Mr Maxton was very agitated and cross about this description. He felt it was most unfair, he felt he had been damaged by the allegations and that my saying I was conducting an investigation had added to this.

I said that I knew that this was an issue but in this case as in many others the matter was in the public domain and the newspapers were inquiring about it prior to any complaint reaching me.

I explained I never volunteer information to the press about complaints that I am undertaking. However, if the press are informed about complaints either from complainants, or others, or indeed from a Member of Parliament complained about, and then they approach the office and ask if an investigation is underway, I always answer that question honestly. I also inform people who ask if I have completed an investigation and reported it to the Committee. I always explain that I can give no further information until the Committee publishes its report and mine and then I will be glad to answer questions to clarify the report. Mr Maxton went to great lengths to tell me that he had contacted nobody since my inquiries began and had no conversations with others about it. However, when I mentioned to him that I had understood that he contacted Mr Nelson, he said "oh he reported that to you did he" he said "I told him how disgusted I was with what he had done". He then did say to me that he had had a conversation about these matters with John Reid. He also said that he had consulted lawyers and that everybody was agreed that it was quite improper what was happening that I had broken the procedure for complaints.

I said that I was sorry we had to disagree but I was afraid all we could do was to disagree and that it would be entirely up to the Committee to decide when I reported to them whether they felt that I had followed the procedures properly. He said it was not entirely up to the Committee, I was an employee of the House and he was going to take this further and he would be thinking about what he should do. He said if I decided that if there was nothing further to investigate at any point he would expect a letter of apology from me and he would then decide whether he should take legal action. I thanked him for coming to see me and said we should agree to disagree for the time being and that I sincerely hoped my inquiry would not take much longer because I realised how concerning it was for people who were subject to them.

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