Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report

Annex 57

Memorandum submitted from Mr John Maxton MP in response to the Ninth Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges

I am grateful to the Committee for publishing its report and the attached memorandum from the Commissioner setting out the procedures she follows when investigating complaints against Members of Parliament. It allows me to give the Committee my views . I am afraid this will inevitably mean that I level some criticism at Miss Filkin for the way she carries out the procedures laid out in her memorandum.

The Committee on Standards and Privileges together with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards were appointed to ensure that the "interests" of Members of Parliament were both transparent and accountable to those who elect us.

If the work of the Commissioner and the Committee are to retain the respect and trust of both Members and the public then it too must be transparent and accountable in all it does. I fear that this is not the case.

Inevitably my observations are linked to my own experience during the inquiry that Miss Filkin is carrying out following a complaint from a Mr Dean Nelson, a journalist now with the Scotsman previously with the Observer.

Miss Filkin wrote to me on January 27th informing me that she had received a letter that day from Mr Nelson and that she had decided that it was a matter she should investigate. In a three-page letter the reference to myself consist of the following:—

    "I`m writing to make a formal complaint against John Reid MP and John Maxton MP.

    The essence of my complaint is that the two men misled the Fees Office and abused public money by using Westminster allowances to pay salaries to full time campaigners in Labour`s Scottish Parliament election campaign. I believe both men falsely passed of these campaigners as Westminster researchers in order to fund Labour`s campaign."


    "Chris Winslow was paid by John Maxton MP, who also paid Suzanne Hilliard despite her full time work for Labour`s campaign."

I do not intend to comment on the facts in this case. That is a matter for the Commissioner. However in her memorandum Miss Filkin states, "My office receives a variety of complaints and concerns every week, many of which are not `on the face of it` supported by sufficient evidence to warrant an inquiry."

She then says that, "When it appears that the allegation has some substance which would merit further inquiry my practice is to ask the Member of Parliament for a response".

In acting in this way Miss Filkin is following Clauses 67 & 69 of the Code of Practice which state:—

Clause 69

"If the Commissioner is satisfied that sufficient evidence has been tendered in support of the complaint to justify his taking the matter further, he will ask the Member to respond to the complaint and will then conduct a preliminary investigation"

Clause 67

`Both the Commissioner and the Committee on Standards and Privileges will be guided by the view of the former Select Committee on Members` Interests that "it is not sufficient to make an unsubstantiated allegation and expect the Committee to assemble supporting evidence", and that it "would not normally regard a complaint founded upon no more than a newspaper story or television report as a substantiated allegation".`

Since the allegations concerning me in the letter were so few, without any supporting evidence and from a person whose information was at the very best second hand, I believed that I was entitled to know what other evidence had been submitted to justify the Commissioner starting an inquiry.

It would appear that I have no such right. I have asked Miss Filkin to provide it again and again and she refuses to do so. Indeed the only "evidence" I have received from Miss Filkin is the letter from Mr Nelson.

I am aware that she has carried out a very exhaustive inquiry including calling several witnesses to London for interview. But my knowledge of this comes entirely from other sources. I was asked to respond and have done so but it was very difficult to do so when I had no idea of what I was accused except the bare unsubstantiated allegations in Dean Nelson`s letter.

As Members of Parliament we are surely due more respect from the Commissioner than this. Certainly we should be told what evidence she had which allowed her to institute an inquiry under Clauses 67 & 69 above. While she may not wish to give us details of the evidence she is receiving and the witnesses she is interviewing we should be entitled to some information on the course of the inquiry.

I also have very grave concerns about the way in which the Commissioner treats those she calls as witnesses. It would appear that she threatens them with using the Committee`s powers to insist they attend however inconvenient this may be. Her interviewing techniques on occasions come close to bullying. They feel like accused persons rather than witnesses. Allow me to give one example. She insisted on calling to London from Glasgow a 22-year-old student four weeks before her final examinations. The girl was asked to pay her own airfare and then re-claim it. She was not allowed to claim subsistence even though she was away from home for more than 14 hours. My information is that she was questioned in a manner which was unacceptable.

However my major complaint against the procedures the Commissioner follows in carrying out an inquiry is that they are extremely secretive and unaccountable. There is growing concern among Members of Parliament about them.

The Committee must look at the way in which the Commissioner carries out her duties with much more rigour and if necessary change the Code of Conduct to ensure that the procedures are much more accountable and transparent than they are at present. If the Committee is not prepared to do this then the House will have to do so.

Lastly it cannot be right that Members are not shown the report prepared by the Commissioner prior to her sending it to the Committee unless they have an absolute right to attend the Committee and put their version of events before the Committee comes to any judgement and before any report is published.

18 April 2000

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