Memorandum submitted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
Complaint against Mr Peter Brooke
(now Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville)
- On 15 April 2002, Mr John McDonnell (Member for Hayes and Harlington) raised a number of points of order during proceedings on the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill, including an allegation that he had been offered inducements to drop his opposition to it (Official Report, cols. 420-424). The Deputy Speaker advised Mr McDonnell to raise his complaint with me. Mr McDonnell had had a preliminary discussion with me the same day.
- On 21 April, Mr McDonnell wrote to me asking me to investigate his complaint. A copy of his letter is at Annex A. The essence of Mr McDonnell's complaint is that at a meeting with the then Mr Peter Brooke MP (now Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, and referred to hereafter as Lord Brooke) on 24 October 2000 about the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill, Lord Brooke said that if Mr McDonnell would drop his opposition to the Bill, he (Lord Brooke) would use his influence to obtain a place for Mr McDonnell on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, of which at the time Lord Brooke was the Chairman.
Previous action by Mr McDonnell
- Mr McDonnell's points of order of 15th April were not the first occasion on which he had raised this matter. At our meeting on 15th April he told me that following his meeting with Lord Brooke in October 2000 he had approached the Speaker about what he regarded as a clear breach of privilege. The Speaker had advised Mr McDonnell to see the Clerk of the House, but he had decided not to do so. When it became apparent after the 2001 General Election that the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill would not lapse, Mr McDonnell wrote again to the Speaker, in January 2002, reminding him of the previous conversation and asking permission to make a personal statement. The Speaker replied that the matter was not appropriate for a personal statement, and had also explained that it was now too late for Mr McDonnell to raise it as a question of privilege.
- If the complaint were to be substantiated, the behaviour complained of would certainly seem to have raised questions of a possible breach of the Code of Conduct for Members, not least its provision that:
"Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and never undertake any action which would bring the House of Commons, or its Members generally, into disrepute".
As the Code in addition provides that Members shall not accept any reward in connection with the promotion of, or opposition to, any Bill, it might also be argued that no Member should offer another Member such a consideration.
- In its 19th Report for Session 1997-98 (HC 1147) the Committee on Standards and Privileges made clear that it would expect me to consult it before accepting for investigation a complaint against a former Member. Accordingly I consulted the Committee at its meeting on 14 May, making clear in doing so that if the Committee were to ask me to investigate the complaint I should need to mount a full inquiry and to interview all those at the meeting on 24 October 2000 if I were to have any prospect of establishing what had happened. After discussion, the Committee authorised me to proceed, inviting me in doing so to consider whether the complaint was appropriate for investigation as a matter of standards rather than privilege (for which a different complaints procedure was laid down, but which was no longer open in this case because of the passage of time since the incident complained of). The Committee also took the view that, given the nature of the complaint, a high standard of proof would be required for it to be upheld.
- As the complaint involved a former Member now in the House of Lords, I could only request him to give evidence to my inquiry. When I approached Lord Brooke, he immediately indicated his willingness to do so.
The Meeting on 24 October 2000
- The complaint hinges on what occurred at the meeting on 24 October 2000 between Mr McDonnell and Lord Brooke. This meeting was also attended by Ms Judith Mayhew, Chair of the Corporation of the City of London's Policy and Resources Committee, and Mr Paul Double, Director of the City Remembrancer's Office (not one of the staff of the City's parliamentary agents, as suggested in Mr McDonnell's letter of 21 April). The purpose of the meetingconfirmed by all presentwas to discuss amendments to the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill, of which Lord Brooke, as the then Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, was at that time the principal Parliamentary sponsor.
(a) Mr McDonnell's Account
- Mr McDonnell's account of the meeting is contained in three paragraphs of his letter of 21 April. It is worth repeating them here in full:
"The meeting commenced with Judith Mayhew explaining that the City Corporation was extremely anxious that the Bill secured its passage through the Commons, prior to Mr Brooke retiring at the forthcoming general election. I was then informed that the City Corporation had drafted an amendment to the Bill for me and other Members to consider. However before I was provided with the amendment, Mr Brooke intervened.
He said he wanted to talk to me as a fellow Parliamentarian. He explained that he was aware of my desire to become a Member of the Northern Ireland Select Committee of which he was the Chair. He went on to say that I would know that it was my own side, my own party's whips, who had ensured that I had not secured membership of the committee. He then stated that if I dropped my opposition to the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill it would enable him to obtain for me a place on the Committee.
To say the least, I was extremely surprised at this intervention and halted this conversation. I took the amendment drafted by the City Corporation and left the meeting".
- At the heart of Mr McDonnell's recollection of the meeting are three key assertions:
(i) that the subject of his possible membership of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was introduced by Mr Brooke;
(ii) that Mr Brooke indicated his support for Mr McDonnell's membership of the Committee but made this conditional on Mr McDonnell dropping his opposition to the City of London Bill;
(iii) that he was "extremely surprised" at this intervention by Mr Brooke, halted the conversation, took the amendment drafted by the City Corporation and, after brief further conversation, left the meeting.
(b) Lord Brooke's Account
- Lord Brooke's account of the meeting is contained in his memorandum to me of 25 June (reproduced at Annex B). This confirms the account he gave me at an earlier meeting I had with him following receipt of Mr McDonnell's complaint. The essential points made by him are that:
(i) Mr McDonnell's account of the meeting contains a number of omissions and elisions;
(ii) he did raise, early in the meeting, the question of Mr McDonnell's membership of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee;
(iii) he did so because, as the Chairman of the Committee, he genuinely believed that its balance and authority would have been strengthened if Mr McDonnell had been a member of it, a view which (unbeknown to Mr McDonnell) he had already expressed to the Government Whips Office;
(iv) he did allude to the fact that, if the Bill were not complicating the Parliamentary timetable, the Whips might soften their objections to Mr McDonnell's membership of the Committee;
(v) however, he did not make his support for Mr McDonnell's membership conditional on the latter's withdrawal of his opposition to the City's Bill. Rather he made clear that Mr McDonnell must form his own view on the merits of the draft amendments to the Bill, and that he would continue to support Mr McDonnell's membership whatever attitude he took to the amendments;
(vi) the meeting did not end prematurely. His exchange with Mr McDonnell about the Committee was followed by discussion of the proposed amendments to the Bill.
- To sum up, on the three key points of Mr McDonnell's account listed in paragraph 7 above, Lord Brooke:
(i) confirms that he introduced the subject of Mr McDonnell's membership of the Committee;
(ii) confirms that he indicated his support for Mr McDonnell's membership but denies that he made this conditional on Mr McDonnell dropping his opposition to the Bill;
(iii) disputes that Mr McDonnell left the meeting in any sense prematurely.
(c) Mr Double's Account
- After interviewing Lord Brooke about Mr McDonnell's complaint, I wrote on 5 June to Mr Double and Ms Mayhew (the other two people present at the meeting) to gain their account of what had happened. A copy of my letter (written in similar terms to both) is at Annex C.
- Mr Double came to see me on 26 June. A copy of the record I made of our discussion is at Annex D. Mr Double has confirmed its accuracy.
- Briefly, Mr Double confirms that Lord Brooke raised the question of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. He had not had any forewarning that the matter would be raised. He could not recall the precise terms in which it had been discussed: the conversation about it had been in the nature of an exchange aside between the two MPs and his focus had been on the City's Bill and the amendments to it. Lord Brooke had not made any explicit reference to the Committee in the context of the Bill. Mr Double was aware from Mr McDonnell's body language that he had registered his exchange with Lord Brooke about the Committee but Mr McDonnell had not reacted at any point as if he had taken exception to the exchange. After the exchange was over, discussion had continued about the proposed amendments to the Bill.
- In response to my questions, Mr Double told me that he did recall one particular bit of the exchange between the two Members. In this, Mr McDonnell had said that he was not interested in going on the Select Committee and Lord Brooke had said something on the lines of "I shall nevertheless keep trying for you on the Committee".
(d) Ms Mayhew's Account
- Following my letter of 5 June, I had two telephone conversations with Ms Mayhew, one before and one after my meeting with Mr Double. The file note I made of those conversations is at Annex E. Ms Mayhew has confirmed its accuracy.
- Ms Mayhew told me that her recollection of the meeting was hazy. She did not recall Lord Brooke having raised the question of Mr McDonnell's membership of the Committee. If the matter had come up, she believed it would have done so arising from a remark by Mr McDonnell, which she did recall, that it was not unusual for him to be out of step with other parts of the Labour Party. (The Labour Party in the City of London supported the City's Bill.) He was always being done down by them and an example of this was that he could not get onto Committees. The meeting had gone through the amendments to the Bill: the tone had been civil throughout. She did not recall Mr McDonnell leaving it prematurely. She would certainly have recalled this had he done so, as she would certainly have recalled if an attempt had been made to induce Mr McDonnell to drop his opposition to the Bill.
Analysis of the Differing Accounts
- Of the four people present at the meeting, none made a contemporary note of what happened. Ms Mayhew thought that Mr Double would have taken one: Mr Double says that he did not and explains this by the fact that the focus of the meeting was the City's proposed amendments to the Bill, on which he was subsequently expecting a response from Mr McDonnell. We are therefore forced to rely on the recollections of those present at a meeting which took place now some 21 months ago.
- It is clear from all present that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the City's proposed amendments to the Bill. It was the hope of the Bill's sponsors that these would persuade Mr McDonnell to end his opposition to the Bill. It is also clear that Lord Brooke did raise at the meeting the question of Mr McDonnell's membership of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Lord Brooke agrees with Mr McDonnell that he did so and Mr Double confirms that there was a conversation between the two men about the matter, although Ms Mayhew cannot specifically recall it having been raised. Like Ms Mayhew, Mr Double does not have a clear recollection of the terms in which the matter was discussed, although he does recall one relevant exchange between Lord Brooke and Mr McDonnell in which Mr McDonnell said something to the effect that he was not interested in joining the Committee, to which Lord Brooke responded that he would nevertheless keep trying for Mr McDonnell on it.
- Mr McDonnell's account of the meetingconsistently advanced since he first raised the matterI have quoted earlier (see paragraph 8 above). He was invited to the meeting to consider amendments to the Bill. Before the amendments were shared with him, Lord Brooke intervened saying that he was aware of Mr McDonnell's wish to become a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. This had not happened so far because Mr McDonnell's own party Whips were opposed to it. If Mr McDonnell dropped his opposition to the Bill, this would enable Lord Brooke to obtain a place for him on the Committee.
- Lord Brooke responds that Mr McDonnell's account of the meeting is partial, in the sense that it omits some relevant aspects and elides others. Lord Brooke acknowledges that he raised the question of Mr McDonnell's membership of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. He had previously made known to the Government Whips his view that Mr McDonnell's presence would help strengthen the breadth and balance of the Committee. He also acknowledges referring to Mr McDonnell's negative attitude to the Bill as a factor complicating his (Lord Brooke's) chances of persuading the Whips to favour Mr McDonnell's membership of the Committee.
- However, Lord Brooke denies offering a place on the Committee to Mr McDonnell as an inducement to him to modify his opposition to the Bill. He had no authority to make such an offer and says that he made clear to Mr McDonnell that Mr McDonnell must make up his own mind about the amendments to the Bill which the City were proposing. The remark recalled by Mr Double seems to support the assertion by Lord Brooke that he did not seek to make a link between Mr McDonnell's attitude to the Bill and Lord Brooke's support for Mr McDonnell's membership of the Committee.
- Apart from the comment noted by Mr Double, the evidence of Ms Mayhew and Mr Double does not directly shed light on the conflicting accounts given by the two Members of their exchange about the Committee. But on one relevant point, both Ms Mayhew and Mr Double agree with Lord Brooke. In his account of the meeting, Mr McDonnell says "to say the least, I was extremely surprised at this intervention [by Lord Brooke] and halted this conversation. I took the amendment drafted by the City Corporation and left the meeting".
- Lord Brooke, Ms Mayhew and Mr Double are all agreed that Mr McDonnell did not leave the meeting prematurely. Discussion continued about the draft amendments to the Bill being proposed by the City. Mr Double recalls noticing from Mr McDonnell's body language that Mr McDonnell had registered the points made by Lord Brooke about the Committee, but neither he nor Ms Mayhew recall Mr McDonnell indicating that he had taken exception to them. They are clear that, had he done so, they would have remembered it, as they would have remembered any attempt to offer Mr McDonnell an inducement to drop his opposition to the Bill.
- In the absence of clear and compelling evidence from Mr Double or Ms Mayhew about the precise nature of the exchange between Lord Brooke and Mr McDonnell, we are left with conflicting understandings of a conversation which, as I have noted, took place now some 21 months ago. It appears that there may have been a mis-understanding about what Lord Brooke intended in referring to the matter of Mr McDonnell's membership of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Lord Brooke comments:
"Since there are always two parties to any misunderstanding, I obviously regret my part in this one; and I recognise that it was in the circumstances a mistake on my part to deal with both subjects in a single conversation, though conversations between us were, as can be seen from the chronology, infrequent. I equally obviously regret the consequences".
Conclusion and Recommendations
- I conclude that there is insufficient evidence to corroborate Mr McDonnell's complaint, which cannot therefore be upheld.
- As noted earlier, I was asked by the Committee to consider whether the complaint was appropriate for investigation as a matter of standards rather than privilege (for which a different complaints procedure is laid down, but which was no longer open to Mr McDonnell because of the passage of time since the incident complained of). It will be apparent from the fact that I proceeded with an inquiry that my answer to this, in all the circumstances of this case, was yes. Mr McDonnell had been advised by the Deputy Speaker to raise his complaint with me and, the complaint having been referred to on the floor of the House, it was in the public interest that an inquiry be made there being prima facie matters appropriate for me to investigate.
- The case illustrates the way in which issues of privilege may also raise standards questions. It also raises the question whether it is sensible that a Member shouldas in this instancebe able to raise a matter as one of privilege and then, having declined to take the advice of Mr Speaker about how to pursue it, be able sometime later to raise precisely the same complaint as an issue of standards. The Committee may wish to consider whether it would be sensible to establish a normal expectation that, where a Member has raised an issue as one of privilege, and been advised how to pursue it as such, he or she cannot subsequently raise precisely the same issue as one of standards. In my submission, it will generally be sensible in handling complaints to give priority to their privilege aspects. Not only will this fit in with the more restricted timetable for considering privilege issues, but it will ensure that the complaint is looked at soon after the events to which it relates and avoid precisely the same issue needing to be addressed some time later by a subsequent standards enquiry.
22 July 2002 Sir Philip Mawer
1 Now Dame Judith Back
2 The then Chief Whip recalls Lord Brooke saying that it would be helpful to have the full spectrum of views represented on the Committee. She cannot recall Mr McDonnell's name specifically being mentioned in that connection although, given his views, he would have been the obvious candidate to join the Committee. Back