Select Committee on Standards and Privileges First Report

Conduct of Mr Elfyn Llwyd, Mr Adam Price and Mr Hywel Williams


1. We have received a memorandum from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards following his investigation of various complaints against Mr Elfyn Llwyd, Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Mr Adam Price, Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, and Mr Hywel Williams, Member for Caernarfon, by Mr Wayne David, Member for Caerphilly, Mr Ian Lucas, Member for Wrexham and Mrs Betty Williams, Member for Conwy. The Commissioner's memorandum is reproduced at Appendix 1.

2. The complaints related to advertisements placed by the three Members in newspapers circulating in their constituencies in the week preceding the recent Welsh Assembly general election. Those placed by Mr Llwyd and Mr Williams appeared in the Daily Post, a daily paid-for paper circulating in North Wales, on 26 and 25 April respectively. Those placed by Mr Price appeared in the issues of the same week of three weekly paid-for newspapers circulating in various parts of his own constituency but also outside it—the South Wales Guardian, the Llanelli Star and the Carmarthen Journal. In each case, the advertisements consisted of two full-page spreads, with English language and Welsh language versions of the same advertisement on facing pages. They are reproduced at Appendix 2. All the advertisements were paid for out of the House of Commons Communications Allowance.

3. As the Commissioner makes clear in his report,[1] the essence of the complaints was two fold: that some of the content of the advertisements in each case was inappropriate for a Communications Allowance funded publication as it was party political and campaigning in nature, and that the timing and means of distribution of this material reflected its real purpose, which was to influence the outcome of the Welsh Assembly general election held on 3 May 2007 by promoting Plaid Cymru across a wider area than the Members' own constituencies, thus breaching the prohibition on using the Communications Allowance for the purpose of party campaigning.

4. Two of the Members concerned deny having made any improper use of the Allowance in publishing these advertisements. Mr Williams accepts that the inclusion of a questionnaire was wrong.

5. As is our usual practice, we have shown each of the Members concerned a copy of the Commissioner's report. Mr Llwyd has subsequently made a written submission, which is reproduced at Appendix 3.

The key issues

6. The complaints raise four key issues:

7. We deal with each of these points in the following sections.

Did any of the advertisements contain inappropriate editorial material?

8. All three Members sought advice from DFA on the text of their reports prior to publication, Mr Llwyd and Mr Williams by submission of a Word document on the text, and Mr Price by submitting a complete proof copy. Mr Llwyd and Mr Price then submitted a revised text, which DFA approved.[3]

9. Neither the Director of Operations, DFA,[4] nor the Commissioner,[5] considers that the editorial material of Mr Llwyd's and Mr Price's advertisements breaches any of the relevant rules, and we agree with this conclusion.

10. In relation to the survey included in Mr Williams' report, the Commissioner, echoing the views of the Director of Operations,[6] concludes that this was a clear breach of the rules for Communications Allowance funded expenditure.[7] We agree that Mr Williams' report broke the rules in this respect. Mr Williams has accepted that its inclusion was a mistake, has apologised, and has explained the circumstances in which it arose.[8] We accept, as did the Commissioner,[9] his explanation that this was not a deliberate attempt on his part to break the rules, but agree with DFA that it is sufficiently serious a breach of the rules to require him to repay the sum claimed from his Communications Allowance.

Was the use of party logos proportional and discreet?

11. The rules and guidance on producing newsletters and other publications from the Communications Allowance provide, in respect of the use of party emblems and logos:

"The use of party logos, whilst not disallowed entirely, is restricted to proportionate and discreet use, alternatively you may prefer to use the House emblem (the crowned portcullis) as this reflects the Parliamentary nature and purpose of the material being circulated."

12. All three Members included the party logo in their advertisement and in each case the position and size is different. The DFA only saw one of the reports, that of Mr Price, in proof form so only in this case were the relevant officials able to form a view as to whether it met the 'proportionate and discreet' test. The view of the Director of Operations was that Mr Price's use of the logo passed this test and that, "using this yard stick….Mr Llwyd's use of the logo is broadly acceptable".[10] On the other hand, the Commissioner regarded none of them as "discreet", but did not consider that any of them fell outside the range of common practice by Members.[11]

13. The Director of Operations noted that the logo in Mr Williams' advertisement was significantly larger and more prominent than any of the others and "would personally question whether this was indeed discreet and proportionate". He maintained that "any such judgement would be a fine one on which the House rules could fairly be interpreted differently".[12]

14. In Mr Williams' advertisement as published, the Plaid Cymru logo and name appears, in colour, as a centred heading, on facing pages. The symbol is 47mm high and wide and the world 'Plaid' appears in larger and bolder type than the Member's name. While accepting the subjective nature of the "proportionate and discreet" test, we do not consider that this particular case comes remotely near meeting it. We therefore also uphold the complaints against Mr Williams on the grounds that his use of the party logo was not "proportionate and discreet".

15. As to the logos used by the two other Members, they were in each case smaller, and less prominent. The use by Mr Price was specifically approved by DFA. We agree with the DFA that, using Mr Price's case as a yardstick, the complaints about Mr Llwyd's use of the logo should not be upheld.

16. We nonetheless strongly agree with the Commissioner that what constitutes acceptable use by Members of party emblems and logos in parliamentary reports is in need of review.[13] We therefore welcome his intention to return to this issue in a later report. We recommend that any review should include reconsideration of the question as to whether the use of material which clearly identifies a political party should be permitted at all.

Was the extent and method of circulation appropriate?

17. As both the DFA[14] and the Commissioner[15] point out, the principal area of concern regarding these publications centres on the extent and method of distribution. In each case, the advertisements appeared in publications which, besides circulating within the constituency, had very substantial circulations elsewhere. The Members maintain that, in acting as they did, they were following advice from the DFA which they had interpreted as meaning that in all the circumstances it was acceptable for them to advertise in the publications concerned. DFA for its part maintains that it was told neither of the wide distribution that was planned, nor was its attention drawn to the fact that the three reports were being published so close together, in the week before the Welsh Assembly elections.[16]

18. We turn first to the underlying issue of what lay behind the choice of advertising in paid-for media as the means of circulating the reports and the particular choice of papers made. Mr Llwyd and Mr Williams elected to use the Daily Post, a daily paid-for paper circulating throughout North Wales with an audited average weekday total daily net circulation at the time of just over 37,000 copies.[17]

19. Mr Llwyd maintained that the Daily Post was the morning paper serving his constituency and that the alternative, of using the local papers, would have cost more.[18] Miss C, who had conceived the idea of Mr Llwyd and Mr Williams producing the reports, had seen the daily newspaper approach as likely to reach more people. The Daily Post was widely read in both constituencies and had, she claimed, better penetration than the local weekly papers. She conceded, though, that she could no longer recall why she had preferred the idea of publishing in a daily paper.[19] The Commissioner expressed doubts as to the strength of these arguments.[20]

20. We share these doubts. First, by choosing to publish in a paid-for publication, the report, intended for all constituents, would in practice only be seen by a limited number of them, determined by the level of sales in the constituency. Given the extensive geographical circulation of the Daily Post, it seems likely to us that only a minority of its overall readership resides in the constituencies concerned, and also that only a minority of constituents will have seen the advertisement. Given that the alleged purpose of the exercise was to report back to constituents, advertising in the Daily Post seems a singularly inefficient way of going about it, and represents poor use of public funds.

21. The corollary, in our view, represents a further, and in some respects more serious, objection: the majority of copies of the advertisements circulated outside the respective constituencies where, given the proximity of the Welsh Assembly general election and the use of the Plaid logo, they were likely to be seen not as reports to constituents, but as material promoting Plaid Cymru ahead of the election. Any such impression will only have been heightened by the lack of an explicit statement in the advertisements that they were intended to be reports by the Members concerned to their own constituents.

22. Similar considerations on penetration and circulation also apply in Mr Price's case, particularly in relation to the Llanelli Star[21] and the Carmarthen Journal.[22] We have seen detailed circulation data in relation to these publications which suggest their level of overall readership in his constituency is fairly limited, and is of course restricted to those who choose to purchase the relevant publications. Again, there is a very substantial circulation outside the constituency which, in the context of the expectation of closely-fought contests in adjoining constituencies in the Welsh Assembly general election, might have been expected to have raised doubts about the wisdom of the approach adopted. Mr Price attempted to restrict the editions of the Llanelli Star in which his advertisement appeared,[23] and so was alert to the point to some extent, but this did not apparently lead him to reconsider whether a newspaper advertisement was, as a result, an appropriate way to produce a Communications Allowance funded report.

23. There remains the question of the conflict of evidence between the Members concerned and the DFA as to the advice they received about the significance of the scale of extra-constituency circulation of their reports. The Director of Operations accepts that "it is possible that misunderstandings arose between his staff and those of the Members about what was to be inferred or implied from a number of conversations", but insists that at no point was advice given in terms that distribution on the scale of that which took place was "not an issue" for DFA.[24] Mr Llwyd is adamant that such an exchange did take place,[25] and Miss C recalls being told by DFA that "that's not really a matter for us".[26]

24. We do not need to resolve this point, though, in order to come to a conclusion on whether the extent and method of circulation was appropriate. The Commissioner concludes it clearly was not, and we agree.

Was the timing of the publication of the advertisements appropriate?

25. The Commissioner concludes[27] that the three Members broke no clear rule of the House in issuing their reports when they did. We reluctantly agree with that conclusion. We believe, however, that the timing was clearly related to the Assembly elections, and any attempt to pretend otherwise is disingenuous. Remarkably, as the Commissioner points out, there is no prohibition on circulating publications funded from Parliamentary allowances within the period of campaigning for elections. In our view, there should be and we welcome the fact that the Commissioner proposes to consider this matter in a later report.


26. Taken overall, the fact that the advertisements appeared virtually simultaneously; the proximity of publication to the Welsh Assembly elections; the prominent use of party logos; and the extensive nature of the reports' distribution beyond the Members' own constituencies, in our view constitutes campaigning, and therefore breaches paragraph 6.1.1. of the Green Book.

27. We recognise that all three Members took steps to seek to ensure compliance with the rules, but the advice given to them, in good faith, was based on incomplete information, as the investigation demonstrated.[28] The Members concerned must bear responsibility for the outcome.

28. We have already said that Mr Williams should repay the sum claimed from his Communications Allowance in respect of his advertisement. Mr Llwyd and Mr Price should do likewise.

29. This case has also raised the possible application in some circumstances of the provisions of section 72 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) to Communications Allowance funded expenditure. In essence, the issue is the circumstances in which such expenditure may be classified as 'campaign expenditure' for the purposes of that section. The Commissioner has helpfully attached to his report an extract of the relevant statutory provisions.[29]

30. This is the first occasion on which this point has been raised in the context of the publication of a parliamentary newsletter. As the Commissioner points out,[30] this question, which is a matter for the Electoral Commission, is separate and distinct from that of whether such a publication complies with the requirements of the Communications Allowance, not least because of differences in the scope of what constitutes 'campaigning' between the rules for the Allowance and for the purposes of section 72 (which is much broader). There is nevertheless clearly an interaction between the two.

31. We consider that it would be helpful to Members if, in his forthcoming report on general Communications Allowance related matters, the Commissioner considered the possible implications for Members of the interaction between the Communications Allowance rules and the requirements of section 72, PPERA.

1   Appendix 1, paras 5 to 7. Back

2   See "The Communications Allowance and the use of House stationery", Appendix 2, para. 16. Back

3   Appendix 1, para. 26. Back

4   Appendix 1, para. 27. Back

5   Appendix 1, para. 56. Back

6   Appendix 1, para. 27. Back

7   Appendix 1, para. 55. Back

8   WE 16, p.47. See also WE 22, para. 20, p. 52. Back

9   Appendix 1. para. 55. Back

10   Appendix 1, para. 28. DFA has subsequently confirmed that it approved both versions of Mr Price's advertisement. Back

11   Appendix 1, para. 58. Back

12   Appendix 1, para. 29. Back

13   Appendix 1, para. 59. Back

14   Appendix 1, para. 30. Back

15   Appendix 1, para. 73. Back

16   Appendix 1, para. 40. Back

17   Source: ABC Standard Certificate of Circulation. Back

18   WE 7, p. 40. Back

19   WE 22, p. 50-52. Back

20   Appendix 1, para. 69. Back

21   Certified average weekly circulation 16,217 covering Llanelli, Burry Port, Kidwelly, Loughor, Gorseinon and the Gwendreath Valley (Source: ABC). Back

22   Certified average weekly circulation 21,577, covering Carmarthen, Whitland, St Clears, Llandeilo, Llandovery, Gwendreath Valley, Lampeter, Llandysul, Cardigan and Newcastle Emlyn (Source: ABC). Back

23   WE 11, p. 42-43 Back

24   Appendix 1, para. 40. Back

25   WE 24, p. 53-54. Back

26   WE 22, p. 50-52. Back

27   Appendix 1, para. 62. Back

28   See Appendix 1, para. 40. Back

29   WE 5, p. 37. Back

30   Appendix 1, paras 14 and 75. Back

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Prepared 19 November 2007