Examination of Witness (Questions 400
TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2000
400. What about Rafferty?
(Mr Maxton) John Rafferty I knew from, if you like,
before he was active in the Labour Partywell, not active
in the Labour Partyduring the poll tax campaign when I
was the poll tax spokesman for the Labour Party in Scotland. John
Rafferty, along with Brian Wilson, now the MP, ran not a non-payment
campaign but a payment campaign, arguing against the poll tax,
and obviously I worked closely with John on that occasion. I think
the last time I had met John for any time at all was very briefly
when I was in a hotel with the Select Committee and John happened
to be there with Donald Dewar and I exchanged a few pleasantries,
but certainly during the period when he was working for the Labour
Party it would be a matter of exchanging pleasantries. I certainly
never had discussions with him on the details of Chris Winslow's
employment or anybody else's.
401. You did say, John, that you had no requests
for evidence of work done by Mr Winslow, but in one of the things
we have in front of us the Commissioner does say that she, "...made
a number of requests both written and over the telephone for Mr
Maxton to let me have any material which might support his account".
(Mr Maxton) Yes, I understand that and I take the
point Ms Filkin has made but, to be honest, I do not want to get
at this stage into a discussion about the beginnings of this inquiry
and how it started, although I happen to feel that may be for
a later occasion. From January 27th until the middle of April
this year, the only piece of evidence that I had from the Commissioner
about this inquiry was Mr Dean Nelson's original letter in which
those of you who have read it will see my name is mentioned twice
in three pages. To be quite blunt, Mr Chairman, I did not believe
it was my responsibility to prove my innocence to what essentially
was an unsubstantiated allegation. Even when further evidence
was produced, I certainly did not believeIf, however, there
had been frequent requests that the Commissioner refers to, then,
yes, I may very well have. Can I make a point to you on
this? It is extremely difficult. The fact is all of us now use
computers with word processors and when we cease to employ someone
like that or when we buy new computers, whatever it might be,
a large amount of what we have done is scrubbed off. That is inevitable.
I do not keep large amounts of files for months and months on
my computer and I know Mr Winslow would do the same. We could
have produced something but it was not asked for. After a certain
point, it was not asked for.
Chairman: There seems to be some uncertainty
402. My question follows on from that in fact.
Where was Mr Winslow based when he was working for you?
(Mr Maxton) He was based in his own flat. I provided
him with both a computer and a telephone line, an ISDN line, which
would allow him to access the internet and do other things I required
from him. He worked back home really. If he wanted the Library,
he went to the Library here and that is one of the things I could
have produced as evidence of the contacts he made here at the
Library. But, as he himself has said, and as Mr Rafferty I think
has said, there were occasions where if he had work to do for
me, it was as easy for him to do it in the Labour Party Headquarters
as it was to do it at home. If he was in headquarters and he had
some hours to do for me then rather than traipsing, what, four
or five miles home, it was easier for him just to carry on at
his desk using the computer in the Labour Party and doing the
work that way.
403. What was your impression of Mr Rowley as
a General Secretary of the Labour Party?
(Mr Maxton) That is extremely difficult because, as
I have said to you, I had such little contact with him.
404. But you would have an idea.
(Mr Maxton) It would only be on the basis of conversations
with other people and with the newspaper cover that was being
given at the time. I am not here to knock Mr Rowley. There is
no question that the Labour Party was not satisfied with him after
a year and he left. I must say I do not recognise in the transcript
the description of us being 14 points behind in the opinion polls
at any stage in Scotland, I am afraid that is simply not true,
it simply never happened. The extent to which he pulled the party
around, I do not know, there are differing opinions. Again, I
have to say that would only be secondhand as far as I was concerned
because I was not directly involved.
405. So you had never seen or been involved
in any discussion about drawing up budget papers in which your
name was mentioned?
(Mr Maxton) No. Never once. To be honest, why would
I be involved in drawing up budget papers? As I say, I was not
involved in any of it, it is as simple as that.
406. In the conclusions of the Commissioner's
report, on the balance of probabilities she states that "there
was an arrangement, agreed by Labour Party officials and sufficiently
formal to have been incorporated within the budget assumptions,
whereby the OCA was used to supplement the Party salaries of Mr
Reid (until he went onto a full-time contract) and Mr Winslow,
and, in Ms Hilliard's case, to pay her for at least some of the
Party work she was ostensibly doing as a volunteer. (ii) as the
employers of the three researchers, Dr Reid and Mr Maxton must,
at the very least, have been aware of the arrangement, if not
involved in its instigation." Can I ask you about that arrangement
that the Commissioner is referring to. Do you recognise the arrangement?
(Mr Maxton) I do not recognise it. I stand by what
I have said to the Committee already, that I at no time discussed
this, which I would have had to do if there was an arrangement,
with somebody in the Labour Party for it to have happened.
407. But the Commissioner, after taking voluminous
evidence, is convinced that there was an arrangement.
(Mr Maxton) I have to say she bases it on budget papers
which even Mr Rowley himself, when he sent them to her, said he
would treat with some caution. Three times the Commissioner, or
Mr Doig I think it was, asked the Director of Finance for the
Fees Office for his opinion of those budget papers and three times
the Director of Finance wrote back saying he saw nothing suspicious
in the arrangements that were portrayed in these budget papers.
408. So, Mr Rowley
(Mr Maxton) As far as I know the Director of Finance
is a highly qualified person in his field. Mr Rowley, whatever
his political skills might be, is not an accountant and does not
have the sort of skills As he himself has said, he would
cautionhe did cautionthe Commissioner to be wary
about interpreting these budget papers in any particular way.
That was what Mr Rowley's view was.
409. Can I ask you to reflect on something.
You have had a difficult ten months, as we know, as you have made
very obvious, and it has been very difficult for the Committee
as well on this difficult issue. You were asked about grey areas.
Have you no view that maybe there is some confusion on boundaries,
that maybe there is a possibility that there could be misunderstandings?
(Mr Maxton) I accept maybe that for some reason Mr
Rowley has misunderstood this arrangement. As I say, I am not
here to denigrate Mr Rowley.
410. You think the rules are quite clear as
far as interaction of use of parliamentary funds for political
(Mr Maxton) With all due respect, that is a different
411. What do you think of that?
(Mr Maxton) There was no arrangement made by me in
terms of my employment of Mr Winslow and his employment with the
Labour Party. I would state that categorically. However, there
are lines in cases where the difference between politics and Parliament
is blurred. I have to say that is a matter for either this Committee
to make a recommendation on or for Parliament itself to draw up
different rules. I think it would be extremely difficult to do
so and I am not even sure that it would be particularly welcome
for any politician working in Parliament if there was an absolute
line drawn between what is a political job and what is a parliamentary
job. That involves us too, can I say. We are employed as Members
of Parliament, we are elected as Members of Parliament. Does that
mean if there is a by-election going on and we go and work in
that by-election that we are in breach of our contracts as Members
of Parliament? Where do you draw the lines? I do not think you
can draw absolute lines. Maybe the rules should be clearer and
maybe Parliament needs to look at it, but that is for Parliament
and it is not a matter for this particular inquiry, that is for
a later point.
Chairman: Any further questions?
412. Forgive me, Chairman, and John Maxton,
for not being here at the beginning of this session, I apologise
for that. If what I ask has been covered already I again apologise.
Is John Maxton clear there are two elements to what we have to
concern ourselves with? First of all, whether there was an understanding
in the Scottish Labour Party of which John Maxton was aware that
people would be provided in effect to the Scottish Labour Party
funded in part by the office cost allowance? Secondly, there is
this suggestion that the people who were involved were not doing
sufficient work to justify the office cost allowance. Those are
the two elements. Is that understood?
(Mr Maxton) Yes. I accept they are two totally different
things, mark you.
413. Dealing with the first one, in effect you
are saying you were not party to any such arrangement and even
if people in the Scottish Labour Party thought this arrangement
was there, you certainly did not?
(Mr Maxton) I can only keep saying, I was not involved.
I was not involved in any of the planning of the Labour Party,
I did not discuss it with anybody in the Labour Party, I certainly
did not discuss it with Ann-Marie Whyte, who is the person who
is supposedly the link between myself and Mr Rowley. That simply
did not happen. I emphasise again Ann-Marie Whyte says the same
thing, so I do not know where Mr Rowley gets this view.
414. On the second issue of whether the people
who were paid to work for you were working for the Scottish Labour
Party, you are saying very clearly they were doing sufficient
work for you to justify the office cost allowance, give or take,
over the period of the arrangements?
(Mr Maxton) Yes. It is give or take over the period
of the arrangement. It cannot ever be absolute. Some weeks in
the early stages Chris was working more hours for me because,
if I asked him to do something, I would have expected him to do
it in the timescale I expected him to do it. At other times not.
It balanced out.
415. Can I follow up one isolated point? You
have told the Committee that you provided an ISDN line for Chris
Winslow's home for computer operations. Was that basically so
he could make contact with you or the House of Commons or just
(Mr Maxton) It was not with me, no, it was much more
a link into the increasing information available on the internet,
including of course the internet services here.
416. The PDVN?
(Mr Maxton) The PDVN.
417. If I can ask one question which follows
from the contents of the Commissioner's Report, I am not arguing
this is the most important issue but I think it is worth giving
John Maxton an opportunity to comment on it. If an outsider were
to look at the exchanges between you and the Commissioner, would
you be able to say you thought you had been as co-operative as
you wished to have been, or do you think your actions over the
months had both a logic and justification, or anything else you
would like to say about it?
(Mr Maxton) It is difficult because, as I say, I think
that may be a matter for some later investigation or whatever.
But the fact is, as I say, all I had for three months was this
letter from Dean Nelson in which my name was mentioned twice.
I consistently in letter after letter and phone call after phone
call asked the Commissioner to provide me with the evidence that
Mr Dean Nelson had provided to her under Clause 69 of the rules
of the Code of Conduct in support of the evidence which allowed
her to announce publicly on television in Scotland and on radio
in Scotland that she was going to undertake this inquiry. Now
I do not actually think that was an unreasonable request because
certainly in terms of myself it was a totally unsubstantiated
allegation. There was nothing in that letter that proved, or even
was evidence in any way, which anybody could describe as evidence,
in support of the allegation. I have at the beginning of the meeting,
before you came in, Mr Bottomley, apologised if at times my language
became slightly more intemperate than maybe it would have been
otherwise. I have apologised for that but it does not take away
from the basic case I am making.
Mr Bottomley: Thank you.
418. Thank you very much for coming along at
a very late hour to answer our questions today.
(Mr Maxton) Thank you very much. Can I just ask, Chairman,
are you about to reach a conclusion on this because it has gone
on for a long time?
Chairman: I am hoping to, yes, but it
may be a little while yet.