Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report



Written Evidence received by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

1.  Letter to the Commissioner from Mrs Audrey S Brown

I am a member of the Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Party and have been most concerned about the furore surrounding Mr Jonathan Sayeed MP.

Enclosed is a copy of the 'defence' letter sent by Mr Sayeed to local Party members, together with a copy of the envelope containing the letter. The letter is dated during the time of his suspension and yet the distinctive address label has seemingly been produced off his Parliamentary database.

Should he have used the facilities of the House whilst under suspension?

Incidentally, a letter was also received from English Manner at about the same time with an identical half label. Again, should House facilities have been used for the benefit of English Manner?

21 February 2005

2.  Letter to the Commissioner from Mrs Valmai A Green

I enclose the letter and envelope sent to me by Jonathan Sayeed.

Both are dated and franked after 8 February, the date I understood he had been suspended from Parliament.

Please advise if he should have used House of Commons stationery and facilities.

21 February 2005

3.  Letter to the Commissioner from Mr Tom Levitt MP

There have been several aspects of this case, especially since the Standards and Privileges Committee published its third report, which worry me as a former long serving member of that Committee. The first, which I understand you are already looking into, relates to the manner of his apology to the House, which was, I feel, far from adequate.

The second is the period of his suspension, which was supposed to be two weeks but appears to have only been 13 days. I have written to the Speaker about this.

Other matters concern items of correspondence which have come into my possession. I ask you to consider whether these constitute a breach of the rules and I would be grateful for your comments.

One is an unsigned letter from English Manner to members of the Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Association dated 3 February. It is disrespectful of the Committee and claims to rebut its findings. If it was written by Mr Sayeed then I would ask you to consider whether it constitutes a breach of the code of practice. It is written with the same typeface and style as a letter which certainly did come from his office (see later).

If the letter was not distributed by Mr Sayeed then perhaps a data protection matter arises.

Another is a letter to all members of the Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Association from Mr Sayeed dated 9 February, the day following his suspension from the House. It seeks to reassure Conservative Party members about his suitability to continue as their MP when questions were being asked in the local Association. I make the following observations:

—  although I only have a photocopy, the letter was printed on original Commons crested paper and, I am assured, posted in House of Commons pre-paid envelopes

—  the letter is clearly of an internal party political nature and over 600 of these could have been posted

—  it asks people to contact him at his House of Commons fax number or email address during a period of his suspension. Are such facilities available when a Member is suspended?

—  the telephone number at the foot of the letter is both Mr Sayeed's constituency office AND that of Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Association. This may imply that Commons expenses are subsidising the Conservative Association's operations.

Copies of the relevant documents are enclosed.

I look forward to your reply.

23 February 2005

4.  Letter to the members of the Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Association from Mr Jonathan Sayeed

To:  Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Association Membership
From:   Jonathan Sayeed MP

Standards and Privileges Committee Report

There have been a number of devious, dishonest and malicious leaks and rumours about me in the press over the last week, which I imagine will continue over the forthcoming weekend.

As you may be aware, the Standards and Privileges Committee released their report today, following allegations made against me by a Labour Member of Parliament some months ago. I thought you would like to see the statement which I have issued in response.

The Committee for Standards and Privileges has confirmed that "there appears to be no basis for the newspaper assertions that The English Manner Limited charged substantial (or any other—my insertion) sums for arranging access to the House" and that "there is no evidence that Mr Sayeed received any direct benefit from any of the occasions on which he entertained in the House guests who had links with The English Manner". However the decision to impose a penalty of such severity on me is wrong, unjust and contrary to the evidence accepted by the Parliamentary Commissioner and recognised by the Committee.

Please rest assured that I remain the Member of Parliament for Mid-Bedfordshire and will continue to be working hard for you and all my constituents now and in the future.

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

3 February 2005

STATEMENT BY MR JONATHAN SAYEED MP, 3 FEBRUARY 2005

I recognise that a complaint had arisen because of a lack of sufficient internal controls in a company in which I have an interest. I am pleased and relieved that after a 5 month investigation the Committee for Standards & Privileges has confirmed that "there appears to be no basis for the newspaper assertions that The English Manner Limited charged substantial (or any other—my insertion) sums for arranging access to the House" and that "there is no evidence that Mr Sayeed received any direct benefit from any of the occasions on which he entertained in the House guests who had links with The English Manner". However the decision to impose a penalty of such severity on me is wrong, unjust and contrary to the evidence accepted by the Parliamentary Commissioner and recognised by the Committee.

The complaint is one about fact not one about possible perception, particularly the perception of those who are determined to put, by however tortuous a route, the worst possible complexion on events.

The complaint is that:  "It is alleged by the Sunday Times that The English Manner Ltd charges clients up to £500 per day for access to the Palace of Westminster through Jonathan Sayeed".

It goes on to say "… MPs should not use their access to the House or its facilities for commercial gain.  The principle also extends to third parties attempting to gain commercially from use of the facilities of the House of Commons, …".

The facts are:

I have never used my access to the House or its facilities for commercial gain, neither has The English Manner, it has never charged any client any amount at any time for access to the Palace of Westminster. I have never solicited or received any payment for any tour or entertainment within the Palace of Westminster. The evidence, agreed by the Parliamentary Commissioner and accepted by the committee confirms both these points.

In Para 63 of his report the Commissioner contends: "If a member were to exploit the privileged access he had to the facilities of the House for the financial or commercial benefit of a company in which he had a registerable or financial interest, that would in my view be likely to bring the house into disrepute…". In Para 65 the report goes on to say:  "The key question is whether Mr. Sayeed has used or exploited his privileged access. … for the financial or commercial benefit of The English Manner Limited".

The facts are that I have never done so and the evidence, agreed by the Parliamentary Commissioner and accepted by the committee, shows that to be the case.

The second part of the complaint, in relation to my constituency assistant is that: "A dual role that may have resulted in an unacceptable conflict of interest". The complaint is not whether there is the possibility of a perceived conflict of interest but whether there is an actual conflict of interest and the evidence given to the Commissioner disproves that. I have made clear to the committee that I would be happy to accept advice on how to phrase her job specification so as to make obvious that there is no conflict of interest.

The facts refute the complaint. To impose a penalty it is unjust and wrong.

It is accepted by the Commissioner that I have never solicited nor accepted any fee at any time for conducting people around the House of Commons or for entertaining them there.

It is accepted by the Commissioner that for each of the examples of visits that he has adduced, a tour of the House of Commons and/or entertainment within the Palace:

Firstly did not comprise any part of the programme offered to the guest or form any part of their expectation of their visit to the UK;

Secondly, that it did not constitute any part of a programme for which they paid prior to arrival in the UK and that programme was for visits/accommodation etc., at locations away from the Palace of Westminster;

Thirdly, the reason those guests (apart from a New York Times journalist) were given a tour by me or entertained at the Palace was in all cases because I was personal friends with at least one of them and in certain cases could not get away from the Commons to meet them elsewhere;

Fourthly, on no occasion did The English Manner make any charge for any tour of the Palace of Westminster, and

Fifthly at no time have they made any profit or charged any commission or paid any fee for any component to do with the Palace of Westminster. 

In my initial letter responding to the complaint, I stated: "Being an MP is a privilege and not one I have ever or would ever use for personal financial gain … and would not misuse or abuse my access to Parliament or my position as an MP".

I have never been a director of The English Manner. As a consultant I had clearly defined responsibilities, which were advising on the establishment of the company, for providing strategic advice on markets (but not day to day marketing or PR), and for proposing the most cost efficient marketing strategies.  I have never had any input into the website (the archives of which is where most of the material for the complaint originates) or press releases and had no reason as a consultant to have vetted their contents.  This is confirmed by a number of pieces of evidence and the statement from the director in the US, which states:  "At no stage did Jonathan Sayeed have any input into promotional material.".

Indeed it has been separately confirmed that I gave instructions that my name was not to be used in any promotional material nor was The English Manner permitted to promote tours to or entertainment in the Palace of Westminster.  A statement made to the Commissioner says: "Indeed, as far back as early 2002, he (Jonathan Sayeed MP) specifically cautioned her (a person in the US) and others working on TEM business that he was not permitted to use his position as a Member of the British Parliament for personal gain; that his name must not appear on any promotional material and that as anyone could visit Parliament in the UK, it followed that TEM did not have a USP (unique selling point) in relation to Parliament and should not suggest that it had".

I accept that it would have been preferable, had I regularly checked the company website (separately maintained in the US) and demanded sight of all the press releases or other promotional activity that The English Manner engaged in.  However, I had no reason to believe that my very clear instructions were not being adhered to.  When the person in the US, working on TEM business but not employed by them, was sacked for not complying with these instructions, I was assured that any reference to me or to Parliament would be removed from any TEM material.  This had to be executed via the US office. Clearly, despite the reassurances that I had been given, this was incompletely carried out. I understand that most of the material cited by the Sunday Times had already been duly removed from the website as being contrary to my instructions and was only retrievable from an institutional archive.

The Commissioners report does not make clear that a US self-employed travel operator working on the premises of a US a travel agent and cited by the Sunday Times, was obviously uncomfortable with the approach of the Sunday Times undercover journalist Joe Lauria and asked that he speak to the UK on specifics. 

She told him she was there to provide the administration for travel with The English Manner and she made it clear that the programmes were not her responsibility or area of expertise.  She asked Joe Lauria to wait to speak to the UK. He did not do so. Finally she later confirmed that The English Manner did not offer tours of the Palace of Westminster or entertainment there. Mr Lauria and the Sunday Times ignored any facts that detracted from their preconceived agenda. I did not speak to the Sunday Times before the first article appeared as I was away on holiday. The article was not time sensitive and the Sunday Times could have waited a few days for those who knew the facts if they'd had any interest in the truth.

Although I had briefly met the US operator I have never given her instructions or been in communication with her and certainly, as a consultant to The English Manner had no responsibility for her. 

This is not the first time that the Sunday Times have attempted to 'blacken' my name. During the 'Cash for Questions' affair they implied I was implicated. When an earlier Standards and Privileges committee obtained a transcript of my conversation with the Sunday Times it showed that I rejected the advances of the Sunday Times. I was commended for this.

In Para 71, of the Commissioner's report states: "I have seen no evidence to suggest that either Mr. Sayeed personally or The English Manner benefited directly through the receipt of fees in relation to any of these occasions."  This confirms that the complaint is not true.

He then goes on to say: "I am in little doubt, however, that, taken as a whole, their effect was to give credibility to the company's overall marketing claim that it could gain access for its clients to institutions, people and places which it would otherwise be difficult for these clients to access."  I do not agree that this applied to the House of Commons. 

With the exception of the US journalist who came to the UK to write about class and etiquette, I have made clear and it has been accepted by the Commissioner, that there were exceptional reasons as to why visitors were in the Palace at all, and a visit to the Commons was not part of their programme.  Nor had they come to the UK because of the website, though I am not aware that the Commissioner checked this. As their programme did not include the Palace of Westminster, the privileged access that the Commissioner talks about and for which they had an expectation of, referred not to the Palace of Westminster but to places such as ducal residences, private gardens, collections, facilities and acknowledged experts in specialist fields.

The Commissioner believes that I have "at the least been negligent" or "at the worst have acted carelessly".

Knowing now of the possibility of the deliberate and malicious distortion of my actions and motives, I would do things differently.  However, at the time, having made clear to the company my concern that nothing should be done that could harm the reputation of Parliament, and having been assured, rightly that no guest was visiting the UK in expectation of receiving access to Parliament, I believed that not only was I acting properly, but that I had protected the position of Parliament and of myself from any suggestion of commercial exploitation. 

It would have been negligent or careless not to have done either of those things. 

However, there remains the point about impression or perception.  As I am certain that none of the guests of The English Manner were under the impression or perception that they were paying for and getting privileged access to Parliament, then any impression or perception to the contrary can only flow from the website and press releases. Many of these cited by the Sunday Times had been removed from the website. 

These were written, organised and controlled in the United States, the person who disregarded instructions was sacked, and although I had no contractual responsibility for vetting them, as a MP I would have been better advised had I done so, but had no reason to believe that I needed to. 

I did misclassify my constituency assistant and have apologised for it.  The reason for this lapse is laid out in letters to  the Commissioner.  However there was no effect on the public purse.

As regards the late notification of the Registrar of Members' Interests of two visits to the United States I accept that ultimately I am to blame.  The reason was due to forgetfulness on the part of my office.

The complaint should have been explicitly dismissed in the final paragraph of the committee's conclusions as

i.  I did not "use the Palace of Westminster for commercial purposes,"

ii.  "The English Manner Ltd" has never charged "up to £500 per day," or any other amount "for access to the Palace of Westminster through Jonathan Sayeed" or anyone else, and

iii.  As for the employment of my Constituency Assistant, no "unacceptable conflict of interest" took place.

The committee's conclusions should have made clear that whilst I had not exercised adequate direct control over a company in which I had an interest and should have checked more carefully its activities in the United States, the clear and accepted evidence directly refuted the complaint. They should have explicitly rejected the complaint in their final paragraph rather than only doing so in the body of their conclusions.

I do not accept that the imposition of such a severe penalty is either fair or reasonable.

3 February 2005  Jonathan Sayeed MP

Statement by The English Manner to the members of the Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Association, 3 February 2005

Statement to the members of the Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Association

The Parliamentary Committee on Standards and Privileges

Further to the publication of the Report today, the complaint against Jonathan Sayeed was based on whether 'Mr Sayeed had abused Parliamentary privilege' in respect of The English Manner and whether any fees had been accepted by Mr Sayeed or The English Manner. The basis of the complaint was fact and not supposition. The English Manner has never received payment for tours of Parliament or for entertaining guests there; nor have Mr Sayeed or I received payment for such tours. The complaint has absolutely no foundation and has not been upheld.

However, as the Committee continued their deliberations, the basis of the complaint appears to have shifted from fact, to perception, and this appears to us to be deeply unfair, and wrong.

There can be no perception that The English Manner or Mr Sayeed benefited from paying tours of Parliament, because there were no paying tours of Parliament, and these have never been available for sale.

Furthermore, in the Report published today, the Committee makes several fundamental errors. This is nothing short of sloppy. The evidence given to them over the period of five months has been comprehensive, helpful and detailed.

The Committee has stated that they 'do not consider Mr Sayeed's assertion that anyone entertained by him should have drawn a distinction between what had been provided by the company contractually and what he provided on a personal basis'. No paying client of The English Manner has ever been offered a visit to Parliament or access to Jonathan Sayeed MP on the basis of payment. It is likely that most visitors did not even know that Mr Sayeed was a shareholder or involved in The English Manner because they were entertained as personal friends.

The Committee cites particularly the programme devised for a visit by a Garden Club, but incorrectly, despite evidence to the contrary, state that the programme was "circulated in advance to the group leader which contained details of a tour with Senior MPs …". The programme was not circulated in advance to any member of the group participating.

A second visit cited by the Committee seeks to imply that this was arranged by The English Manner when the evidence shows it was not. The group did not make payment to the company's US bank account, one member of the party, the organiser, made the payment purely to save transfer fees. The group visited Jonathan Sayeed at their request having met him previously and to discuss the possibility of an international celebration between our two countries in 2007.

It has been noted by the Committee that some material which was on the company website, designed and maintained in the USA by voluntary staff, which had been archived some time before the articles and complaint were issued, could have misleadingly given potential clients the perceived impression that tours of Parliament could be possible. This is acknowledged by us and in hindsight, we realise that this impression could have arisen but it was completely unintentional and contrary to specific instructions given as the evidence shows.

It is clear to us that the archived material was 'dug up' for malicious purposes and an undercover journalist attempted to acquire information from an external part time consultant in the USA who is not an employee of The English Manner. Opportunities were given for him to speak to the Chairman, who would have disabused him of the impression he was seeking to create, but he declined and an article was subsequently published which led to the official complaint against Mr Sayeed by a Labour MP.

The Committee Report has incorrectly stated that the 'familiarisation visit' dinner would draw a very subtle distinction between promoting the commercial interests of The English Manner and a purely interesting visit to Parliament. The evidence given on several occasions has clearly stated that guests on this visit were mainly directors and potential staff members. No distinction would need to be drawn. They were in England to visit the stately homes and partners of The English Manner with whom they would be working. The purpose was not promotion of any kind.

The Committee states that Mr Sayeed has confirmed 'that there was no distinction with guests that might help them to appreciate the distinctive status of their visit to the House'. The English Manner refutes this. All guests have been invited to visit either Mr Sayeed himself or by the Chairman. Every guest will have had personal contact with Mrs Messervy prior to their visit and it was made very clear to them on every occasion that invitations to dine or visit Parliament were on a purely personal basis and formed no part of any programme which they might pursue during their stay.

The Committee states that the website gave the impression that access to Parliament was offered beyond that available to the general public. Any member of the public can tour Parliament. The company would not bother to offer access to something which everyone could enjoy.

There is no doubt that there has been a campaign of leaks, allegations and innuendos designed to damage Mr Sayeed and his reputation. Mr Sayeed remains a shareholder of the company, and has acted with propriety, honesty and integrity throughout.

We utterly refute the conclusion that the effect of visits to the House were likely to give credibility to the company's overall marketing claim, as the evidence shows above. There has been no beneficial effect on the company's business, which offers learning experiences in social fields, either in perception or in monetary value.

The Chairman of The English Manner, Alexandra Messervy, has also been subject of part of the complaint in terms of a possible conflict of interest in her role as majority shareholder and Mr Sayeed's part time Constituency Assistant. The Commissioner has confirmed that he has found no evidence to suggest this which clearly shows this is not the case. Furthermore, the Report incorrectly states that Mrs Messervy is part of Mr Sayeed's parliamentary staff, she is not. She is employed on a part time basis to assist in constituency liaison and rarely visits Parliament.

The English Manner has co-operated fully with the enquiries of the Commissioner in the course of his investigations and has offered oral and written evidence. We firmly believe that the conclusions of the Report do not properly relate to the evidence which has been so freely given, the facts printed for publication are wrong, the therefore damaging to the company and the individuals concerned, and that any court of law charged with making an objective finding of fact could never have reached the same conclusion as the Committee. The recommendation to suspend Mr Sayeed from the Commons for two weeks is totally inconsistent with the evidence and the factual findings of the Report.

Finally, we would draw your attention to the television interview given by Mr Simon Thomas MP, a member of the Committee, immediately after Report publication, when he stated that the Committee had clearly agreed no fees had been taken or paid, but that the members other than he had wished to make a point to other MPs and therefore make Jonathan Sayeed a scapegoat. This is a Committee of Parliament, not a Court of Law.

3 February 2005  The English Manner

5.  Letter to members of the Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Association from Mr Jonathan Sayeed

Dear Member

You will be now have received a statement I sent out last Thursday 3rd and read the negative press which followed, particularly in Labour-dominated papers. I am enclosing a copy of a speech I gave on Tuesday 8th in the Commons in which I formally responded to the Committee on Standards and Privileges' Report.[26]

There has been considerable speculation in both the press and constituency about my status as the Member of Parliament for Mid Bedfordshire and you have been invited to attend an Association meeting on 17 February, at which I intend to address everyone and answer questions. I also wanted to write to you to confirm my intention to remain as your Member of Parliament and to continue to work for you and for the people of Mid-Bedfordshire.

Firstly, I would like to assure you that I remain committed to working hard on your behalf, as I have done for the past 8 years. I continually liaise with businesses, charities, schools, healthcare teams, local councillors and constituents. I hold regular advice centres and update meetings to ensure that we can all work together effectively to get the right things done.

I have canvassed regularly since my selection as your candidate in 1995 and continue to lead teams around constituency to seek views and support. I have one of the best records in Parliament for assisting constituents and responding to their letters. I became an MP to help people and I enjoy my role immensely. I have never done anything consciously to diminish the Monarchy, Parliament or democracy.

I was elected in the General Elections of 1997 and 2001 to support and represent you and I intend to stand again at the forthcoming General Election. I recognise that there are issues to which you deserve an explanation, and I am ready to give this at the meeting.

I have been accused of risking the reputation of Parliament as a result of my involvement with the English Manner. I have divested myself of any interest in the company in order to show that I recognise that I have been criticised and to leave me clear to devote myself to the constituency and to winning the next election. Over the coming months I will be operating on a near full time basis from my home in *** to enable me to achieve this.

I would be very grateful if you would let me have your comments before 17th so that I can be sure to address whatever questions you may have. If you have reservations or concerns, please tell me; if you are kind enough to support me, then please let me know. Comments can be faxed to ***: emailed to me at ***, or sent by post to ***.

I look forward to being permitted to continue to serve you and Mid Bedfordshire.

9 February 2005

MR JONATHAN SAYEED'S SPEECH IN THE DEBATE ON THE COMMITTEE'S THIRD REPORT OF SESSION 2004-05 IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ON 8 FEBRUARY 2005

Mr Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): I accept that a complaint was brought because of ineffective internal controls in a company in which I had an interest and that as a Member of Parliament I was negligent in not checking the actions of that company. For that I apologise unreservedly to the House.

To ensure that no such thing should happen again, I have relinquished my shares in the company and resigned as a consultant to it. As the Commissioner's report suggests, I never became involved in the company to make money; rather I agreed to help a friend with a small business start-up.

It is a fact that I gave specific instructions to that company stating that nothing should be said or done by it that affected Parliament and furthermore that I was not permitted to use my membership of this House for personal gain. It is also a fact that my consultancy with the company was strictly limited in scope and did not include any element of company management or the vetting of promotional or other material including that on a company website in the United States.

However, while I had no contractual responsibility in those areas, and was assured that my instructions were being followed, I should have recognised that as a Member of this House I needed to do more. I should have checked what was being done by the company in the United States. I did not do that, and that is why this complaint has occurred.

In addition, I misclassified my constituency assistant. The misclassification did not attract additional allowances and had no effect on the public purse. There were late registrations in the Register of Members' Interests, and I accept that it is my responsibility to ensure that the register is accurate and kept up to date. However, I never sought to hide my involvement in the company. For both these errors, however, I apologise to the House

I am pleased and relieved that after a five-month investigation the Standards and Privileges Committee has confirmed that

"there appears to be no basis for the newspaper assertions that The English Manner Ltd. charged substantial"—

and, may I add, nor any other—

"sums for arranging access to the House"

and that

"there is no evidence that Mr Sayeed received any direct benefit from any of the occasions on which he entertained in the House guests who had links with The English Manner".

That refutes the main part of the complaint that has been made against me.

I can assure the House that I have never used my access to the House or its facilities for direct or indirect commercial benefit and I have never solicited or received any payment for any tour or entertainment within the Palace of Westminster. I can also assure the House that the Palace of Westminster did not comprise any part of a programme offered to a guest or form any part of their expectation of their visit to the United Kingdom, nor did it constitute any part of a programme for which they paid.

Some colleagues may not be aware that the findings of the Standards and Privileges Committee are not seen by the subject of the complaint until one hour before their publication. Consequently, there is no opportunity to correct errors of fact. The report contains a few errors of fact. Paragraph 12 is materially inaccurate, the concluding line of paragraph 13 is wrong, and in paragraph 14 it is clear that there has been a misunderstanding between the Committee and myself.

Specifically, paragraph 11 states that the programme was circulated in advance to the group leader. That is wrong. The programme was not circulated in advance to anyone. As judgments appear to have been made as to whether I was an indirect beneficiary appear based upon these paragraphs, it is possible that the conclusions the Committee reached would have been different had I been able to correct those mistakes. The inability to correct errors of fact is a matter that the House might care to consider in the future. Whether or not that happens, I acknowledge that though I have acted in good faith throughout, a Committee of the House has found that I should have acted with greater care and that I may have risked damaging the reputation of the House. For that I apologise.

Had The Sunday Times, which ran the story nearly six months ago, been interested in the truth rather than its preconceived agenda it would have reflected accurately what it was told and would have disclosed that material it said was on the company website had been removed because it was contrary to my instructions. If it had acted responsibly, it would have found that no one who visited the Commons ever came because of the website, it would have recognised that none of the guests of The English Manner were under the impression or perception that they were paying for, and receiving, privileged access to Parliament, and it would have ensured that it contacted those who knew the facts before publishing a tissue of lies.

Whatever the deficiencies of The Sunday Times, I recognise that as a Member of Parliament I should have thought to do more to check what was happening in the United States than my contractual duties demanded. Although the specifics of the complaint have been shown to be false, had I been more vigilant the complaint may never have occurred.

I was first elected to this place in 1983. I have never even contemplated the possibility that anything that I did or did not do would call into question either my loyalty to the House or my use of it. That my lack of care has caused questions to be asked and judgments to be made about my conduct I find deeply humiliating, and for which I tender my profound and unreserved apology to the House.

Official Report, 8 February 2005, cols 1463-4

6.  Letter to Mr Jonathan Sayeed from the Commissioner

Complaints from Mrs A S Brown, Mrs V Green and others

I have received complaints from a number of your constituents, including Mrs Brown and Mrs Green, about letters circulated by you and The English Manner Limited (TEML) to members of your constituency Conservative Association in advance of the Special General Meeting of the Association held on 17 February. I enclose a copy of the letters of complaint I have received from Mrs Brown and Mrs Green, the enclosures to those letters and the initial response I sent each complainant.

The complaints I have received raise a number of separate though related issues:

1. Given that you were suspended from the House on 8 February for a period of 2 weeks, whether it was open to you to write the following day to constituency association members on House of Commons notepaper;

2. Whether, regardless of your suspension, it was in any event proper for you to write on 3 February and again on 9 February using House of Commons stationery and post-paid envelopes on what was an internal party matter;

3. Whether the time of any of your staff paid out of your parliamentary staffing allowance was used in the preparation or distribution of either document;

4. Whether other parliamentary facilities, including any database maintained by you as a Member, were used in connection with the preparation or addressing of either letter sent by you;

5. In her letter of 21 February, Mrs Brown raises the question whether (as the half label on the envelope she received containing the TEML letter appears to be the same as that on the 2 envelopes containing the letters from you) parliamentary facilities were used in any way in connection with the preparation or distribution of the TEML letter.

The House's rules on the use of its stationery and post-paid envelopes are approved by Mr Speaker and administered on his behalf by the Serjeant at Arms. The Department of Finance and Administration and I have an interest in any misuse of a Member's Incidental Expenses Provision (IEP) or staffing allowance in connection with the preparation or distribution of circular letters by Members. I have alerted both the Deputy Serjeant at Arms and the Department of Finance and Administration to the complaints I have received and am writing with their knowledge and copying this letter to them.

As regards point (1) above, my understanding is that a Member who is suspended from the House can continue to use House stationery in connection with discharging his parliamentary duties. However, the rules on the use of original House stationery and post-paid envelopes (a copy of which I enclose) provide that, whether a Member is suspended or not, they may not be used for purposes which are not properly a charge on public funds, including supporting the return of any person to public office. They may not be used for circulars or unsolicited letters. A Member cannot use post-paid envelopes in connection with supporting the return of any person to public office. A Member cannot use House stationery, even if he has purchased it himself, which amounts to a circular used for advocating the membership of a political party or supporting the return of any person to public office.

As regards the use of the time of your staff I note that the envelopes used to despatch the 3 February and 9 February letters to Mrs Brown both carried a London SW8 frank, indicating that they were posted from the House.

I should be grateful for your response to the complaints I have received. It would be helpful if you will cover in this points 2-5 listed above, and if you will let me know how many of each of the letters dated 3 and 9 February respectively you sent out. The Committee on Standards and Privileges next meets on 8 March and it would therefore be helpful to have had your response by the end of this week if at all possible. As you are already familiar with the procedure for handling a complaint, I am not sending you another set of the guidance notes about this but if you want advice on any point or a word, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

1 March 2005

7.  Further letter to Mr Jonathan Sayeed from the Commissioner

Complaint by Tom Levitt MP

I wrote to you earlier today about the complaints I have received from constituents concerning letters sent by you and The English Manner Limited (TEML) to members of the Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Association. After composing my letter to you, I saw a letter from Mr Tom Levitt MP in which, as well as raising matters similar to those raised by your constituents, Mr Levitt raises a number of other related points. A copy of Mr Levitt's letter is enclosed.

The distinct issues raised by Mr Levitt are these. I number them consecutively to the points listed in my earlier letter in case you find it easier to send me a single composite reply.

6. Mr Levitt raises the question whether the TEML letter dated 3 February was written by you (or, as I had assumed, Mrs Messervy).

7. He points out that the typeface and style of the TEML letter and yours of 9 February are similar. This not only raises the question of the authorship of the two letters but of whether they were produced and printed using the same, parliamentary facilities and/or the time of your parliamentary staff.

8. He notes that your letter of 9 February invited people to contact you at your House of Commons fax number and e-mail address, and asks whether these facilities are available when a Member is suspended. My understanding is that these facilities remain available to a Member during suspension but, of course, as he is barred from the Parliamentary estate he cannot access them directly from his office but only indirectly or remotely. Moreover the facilities are not to be used at any time for non-parliamentary purposes.

Can you please say:

a)  Whether any use was made of these means of contact by recipients of your letter;

b)  How you were made aware of any responses to your letter received through these means.

9. Mr Levitt says that the telephone number at the foot of your letter is both that of your constituency office and that of Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Association. He suggests that this may imply that Commons expenses are subsidising your Association's operations.

My recollection from my earlier inquiry is that you have signed an agreement with your Association relating to the provision of office and other facilities details of which are known to the Department of Finance and Administration. I should be grateful if you would confirm this and for your comment on this as on the other points Mr Levitt raises.

I am copying this letter to the Department of Finance and Administration, with an invitation to them to comment on their own understanding of the position in relation in particular to this final point.

1 March 2005

8.  Letter to the Commissioner from Mr Jonathan Sayeed

Complaint from Mrs A S Brown, Mrs V Green and others and complaint by Tom Levitt MP—your letters dated 1 March 2005

I am in my constituency and will not be in the House of Commons until Tuesday 8 March. I am therefore sending across by hand a hard copy of my response to your letters of 1 March 2005, though it will have my electronic signature as I will not [be] there in person to sign it. I hope this is acceptable.

Preamble

Before dealing with the specific issues listed in your letters on 1 March, it may be helpful if I set out the background to the two mailings: the first was a copy of my statement on 3 February, and the second was my letter of 9 February and included my speech of 8 February.

You will be aware that I complained to Sir George Young Bt on 30 January 2005 that very specific leaks of the Parliamentary Commissioner's report had occurred prior to its publication and appeared in a variety of Sunday national newspapers including The Sunday Times, The Mail on Sunday and The People, and similar information appeared in the local Bedfordshire media. The comment was highly selective and only included those of the Commissioner's conclusions which were damaging to me but did not report any of the conclusions that confirmed that on no occasion was there any evidence that I or The English Manner has directly benefited in any way from anything to do with Parliament. Under the rules of the House, if I had immediately responded to those articles, I would have been in contempt of the House.

However, the media interest sparked very considerable concerns within my constituency and between 30 January and 17 February my office received directly or indirectly almost 2,000 messages from people who wanted to know what was going on, what truth there was in the accusations that appeared in the media and who were generally confused as to what was happening. The first occasion I was permitted to respond was at 11 am on Thursday 3 February when the Committee's report was published.

I understand that the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee was concerned that I issued such a statement but I would suggest that not only was it proper for me to do so, but also it was necessary in order to redress the balance of the highly selective and profoundly one-sided media comment.

I immediately sent out a copy of my statement to those constituents who had requested it and to some members of my Association who are also constituents. In all, about 220 copies of the statement were sent out. As I was not permitted to use my local Association database, called 'Bluechip', I used a photocopy of my 'Christmas card' labels list for this and a subsequent mailing when writing to constituents who are also members of my Association. This Christmas card list is maintained in a hard copy format with a copy in my office, one in my home in Bedfordshire and one held by Mrs Messervy. There are some 650 members of the Conservative Association in Mid-Bedfordshire but I was only able to send out between 170 and 190 letters to them as I was precluded from using the 'Bluechip' database and was forced to reply on my Christmas card list and other addresses I have personally collected over the 10 years since I was selected.

On 3 February, the Association Chairman, Mr Ashley Green unilaterally and without consulting the officers of the Association or the governing body, the Executive Council, sent out a notice of an emergency Special General Meeting to consider the following proposition:

"That the members of this Association have no confidence in the current Member of Parliament for Mid-Bedfordshire and wish to withdraw Mr Sayeed's adoption and to seek another candidate to represent the Conservative Party in this constituency at the next General Election."

The first I knew of this meeting was when someone who heard it on the local news on 3 February immediately rang my office and it was after this that copies of my statement were sent out. I was not personally informed by the Association office or the Chairman of the Association of the meeting on 17 February until I received a fax that I had requested on 8 February, even though members had been informed on 3 / 4 February.

Another letter and enclosures from the Chairman followed the notice of the meeting, again using the Bluechip database and Association funds. This was partisan, one-sided and clearly prejudicial to me. Each of these caused a furore within the membership, and considerable local speculation from constituents who are not members of my party, as well as those who are. Many rang to ask if I had resigned, was I resigning, what was happening and would I clear up the considerable disquiet and confusion. It was in response to that confusion that my letter of 9 February together with a copy of my speech of 8 February was sent.

The responses I sent out were not unsolicited, in that they were a response to the very large number of inquiries my office had received. Though not all the Association members who received my letter of 9 February had requested it there was such disquiet and confusion in the constituency that it was very clear that every constituent who had received the Chairman's letters needed to know my position. Although many of the letters were the same, that was occasioned by the need for a swift response so that at least some people were aware of my position. In addition, the inquiries my office had been receiving were all of a similar nature and posed largely the same questions, thus prompting identical responses.

I do not believe that my letter of 9 February can be construed as "advocating the membership of a political party of supporting the return of any person to public office".

I am informed that a similar letter to that of 9 February was sent to constituents who are not Association members who but who had made inquiries and requested a response. However, given that previous private meetings of the Association Executive had been consistently 'leaked' to the press, I was confident that the speech I was to give on 17 February and the questions that I would be required to answer would similarly appear in the press, even though the meeting was meant to be private and eligibility of those attending checked. I was therefore sure that any answers to questions that constituents, who were not Association members, had would appear in the press and therefore they would be aware of my answers. That is what transpired and three days afterwards in a constituency-wide newspaper called 'Beds on Sunday' a verbatim but partial report of this private meting was published.

That letter of 9 February set out to do the following things:

a)  To give the recipient a copy of my speech so that they were aware that I recognised I had made mistakes and had apologised for them

b)  To re-assure them that I was not resigning despite the media and other speculation, particularly prompted by the motion instituted by the Chairman of the Association

c)  To state that I recognised that I had to answer for what I had done or not done

d)  To seek their comments whether they were for or against me so that I could address their concerns or views during my speech on 17 February. I was not requesting that they support me.

Turning now to the complaints of Mrs A S Brown, Mrs V Green and Tom Levitt MP.

Mrs V Green is the wife of the Chairman of the Association, Mr Ashley Green and as the photocopy of the envelope shows, my letter was sent to both of them. My office did query whether, in view of the Chairman's consistent and actively negative stance, I should send him a copy of my letter. My response was that as the Chairman of the Association, he had a right to know what I was saying. Mr Green, the Chairman of my Association had wrote the letter, which purports to be from Mrs Green. A Mrs Brown was none of those who contacted my office requesting a reply from me but whether it was the Mrs Brown who has made a complaint I cannot say.

You have asked me to respond to questions 2-8 and my answers are below:

2.  "Whether, regardless of your suspension, it was in any event proper for you to write on 3 February and again on 9 February using House of Commons stationery and post-paid envelopes on what was an internal party matter".

This was not just an internal party matter. It was a concern expressed by my constituents at large though the decision as to whether I would be permitted to continue as the Conservative candidate at the next election and hence, hopefully as the MP was a decision that only party members could make. The concerns of party members reflected the concerns of the constituency at large. I therefore believe that it was proper for me to use House of Commons stationery and post paid envelopes, bearing in mind the solicited nature of my response as referred to in my preamble. I was responding to the concerns of constituents regardless f their party affiliation. I was not urging support for any party political measure, nor canvassing support for me, rather I was requesting that people told me what questions they would wish me to answer.

Whilst Mrs Brown's letter and Mr and Mrs Green's letter were labelled, not all letters sent out with my statement were addressed in this manner—some were handwritten.

3.  "whether the time of any of your staff paid out of your parliamentary staffing allowance was used in the preparation or distribution of either document".

I prepared the documents though my staff, paid out of the parliamentary staffing allowance distributed them. This was largely done out of hours and in their own time, late into the night.

4.  "whether other parliamentary facilities, including any database maintained by you as a Member, were used in connection with the preparation or addressing of either letter sent by you".

Except where mentioned, no parliamentary facilities or parliamentary database were used with the preparation or addressing of my letter of 9 February or for external distribution of my statement on 3 February. The only exception is that photocopying of both these items was done using parliamentary facilities. In addition, PDVN was used to e-mail my statement of 3 February to a number of people.

5.  "in her letter of 21 February, Mrs Brown raises the question whether (as the half label on the envelope she received containing the TEML letter appears to be the same as that on the 2 envelopes containing the letter from you) parliamentary facilities were used in any way in connection with the preparation or distribution of the TEML letter."

No parliamentary facilities whatsoever were used in connection with the preparation or distribution of the TEML letter. Mrs Messervy has a copy of my 'Christmas card list' so as to be able to add to it as necessary.

You have also asked me "how many of each of the letters dated 3 and 9 February respectively you sent out." Unlike the 1300-odd letters sent by the Chairman, I only had access to a limited number of names. In total, for the letter dated 9 February, between 170 and 190 letters were sent out.

6.  "Mr Levitt raises the questions whether the TEML letter dated 3 February was written by you (or, as I had assumed, Mrs Messervy)".

Mrs Messervy and her solicitor wrote the TEML letter dated 3 February.

7.  "He points out that the typeface and style of the TEML letter and yours of 9 February are similar. This not only raises questions of the authorship of the two letters but of whether they were produced and printed using the same, parliamentary facilities and/or the time of your parliamentary staff.".

The typeface and style of the TEML letter are a typeface and style available to anyone who uses Microsoft products. You will be able to see from earlier letters separately sent by Mrs Messervy and myself that both of us use Times New Roman as a typeface. No parliamentary facilities or the time of my parliamentary staff were used in the preparation or distribution of the TEML letter.

8.  "He notes that your letter of 9 February invited people to contact you at your House of Commons fax number and e-mail address, and asks whether these facilities are available when a Member is suspended. My understanding is that these facilities remain available to a Member during suspension but, of course, as he is barred from the Parliamentary estate he cannot access them directly from his office but only indirectly or remotely. Moreover the facilities are not to be used at any time for non-parliamentary purposes."

The reason my House of Commons office fax number was used was because

My PDVN e-mail address again is the one people are used to using but I had requested PDVN to set up a 'rule' that forwarded all my e-mails from that PDVN address to a private e-mail address, even though that was not necessary.

I did not attend the House of Commons at any time during the period I was disbarred and left immediately after I gave my speech on 8 February. I attach a copy of a letter from [The Clerk Assistant],[27] which sets out what I was permitted/not permitted to do, the terms of which I strictly adhered to.

a)  "Whether any use was made of these means of contact by recipients of your letter"

b)  "How you were made aware of any responses to your letter received through these means."

My office informed me of messages they had received either by way of a telephone call that either they or I initiated or by fax to my home or by e-mail to my private e-mail address. In addition, my PA met me at the weekend in her own time and was then able to pass on letters, faxes and e-mails to me.

9.  "Mr Levitt says that the telephone number at the foot of your letter is both that of your constituency office and that of Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Association. He suggests that this may imply that Commons expenses are subsidising your Association's operations".

The footnote on my letters is a standard footnote which appears on all my letters and as you say I "have signed an agreement with your Association relating to the provision of office and other facilities details of which are known to the Department of Finance and Administration".

In his letter of 23 February, Mr Levitt queries the period of my suspension. This is just one of the points of order he raised with the Deputy Speaker, though without informing me that he would raise it, as is customary. This point is dealt with in my answer to 8. and the letter from Douglas Millar.

In his fourth paragraph, he asks if wrote a statement from The English Manner. I have answered this in points 6 and 7 above. I understand from Mrs Messervy that she and her family undertook the whole exercise in Bedfordshire during a weekend; she paid for the postage and for the purchase of the envelopes and the paper.

I hope this covers all the questions raised. If there are points on which you want further information, please do let me know.

2 March 2005



26   Official Report, 8 February 2005; cols 1463-1464. Back

27   Not appended by the Commissioner. Back


 
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