Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Eighth Report

Annex Fv

File note by the former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

29 JANUARY 2002

Mr Kirkwood came to see me at 3pm. We had received by post the colour coded copy of his draft response letter that day.

Mr Kirkwood said that he had been dealing with this concerning matter for several weeks and he hoped he had provided a comprehensive reply. I said to him that sometimes Members treat their first letter to me as a draft and ask for my suggestions as to additions, if any, before finalising their response. However, I said some Members prefer to write two separate letters and he should choose whether he wished the one that I had already received to be his first response, in which case I would write to him again with the questions that it raised to make sure that I had a complete picture.

I also explained to Mr Kirkwood the process of handling complaints. I said that, as he knew, I was able to dismiss a large number of the complaints that came to me after making a preliminary enquiry. However, I said that if I had to undertake further investigation or if some matters were not clear, I would have to draw up a report for the Standards and Privileges Committee. I said that in no way implied that I only drew up reports where complaints were upheld. In some instances I drew up reports where complaints were not upheld where I felt the matter needed to be one of public record or where issues had been raised where investigation was necessary to settle them. Mr Kirkwood said he was aware of this. I said I would be able to tell him whether I was going to make a report on the matter as soon as I had received his response in full.

Mr Kirkwood asked me to go through the questions that had arisen when I had read his letter. I took him through the questions and he immediately answered several of them. I said I would need to ask him to provide the answers in writing and he took a note of the questions as we proceeded. At the end of the meeting I said that if he would find it helpful, I would send him my list of questions as an aide memoir. Mr Kirkwood asked me to do so.

I advised him to take each letter of complaint and go through it carefully and answer, as best he could, all the points made in the letters. I said even if he thought there was nothing in a question being raised, he should set out his reasons for thinking this. I explained that it was helpful to me and, when I made a report to the Committee, to have the Member's own responses in writing so that there was no possibility of his views being misrepresented.

Mr Kirkwood said he would have to go to York to get some of the information which I had asked for and to be able to answer some of the questions. He would do so. He asked me to treat the letter that I had already received as a draft and he would consider the points I had raised before writing a fuller response.

I said that I would deal with the matter as soon as I was able to once he had sent me his response. I said I always hope that I would be able to dismiss complaints and this was so in this case, but I could not make a decision as to whether that was possible until I had a response in detail.

Mr Kirkwood asked me whether the correspondence was confidential. I assured him that the correspondence was confidential, that nothing was disclosed from this office until any report was published by the Standards and Privileges Committee. I said if the matter did not proceed to an investigation, none of it would be published, but that he should write all his letters knowing that they might need to be published if I needed to make a report.

29 January 2002


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