Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
from Mr John McDonnell MP
Further to our recent conversations I am writing to submit to you a formal complaint for investigation.
I wish to refer to you an attempt to offer to me an inducement to influence my conduct in the performance of my duties as a Member of Parliament.
I do not take this action lightly. This matter involves a former Member whom Members of the Commons and I have held in high regard and affection over the years. I do not wish to cause harm to him or others. However, all Members of Parliament have a higher duty to maintain the standards of integrity demanded of public servants and I judge that greater harm will be caused to the standing and reputation of Parliament and all Parliamentarians if this type of behaviour goes unchecked. In addition, I have sought to resolve this matter through every other route available to me with no success.
At present the level of esteem in which the electorate holds Members of Parliament is reported to be at an all time low. If we are to restore the confidence of the electorate in Parliament, I believe that it is critical we demonstrate that the behaviour of Members is above reproach and at all times motivated by a concept of service to our constituents and our community. This includes demonstrating the unacceptability of any attempt to encourage a Member to put his own personal interest above the public interest.
Above all else therefore, my motive in referring this matter to you is to demonstrate very clearly that a Member of Parliament is not "for sale".
The basis upon which I am submitting a complaint to you is that I was offered an inducement by another Member to withdraw my opposition to a Private Bill under consideration by the House of Commons.
The background and basis of my complaint is as follows:
Since 1999 I have opposed on the floor of the Commons the passage, unamended, of the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill, promoted by the City of London Corporation. Throughout 1999 and 2000 I sought to amend the Bill and expressed the view that, without significant amendment, the Bill should be rejected by my colleagues in the Commons.
At times in the debate on the Bill I expressed my willingness to meet with the promoters of the Bill to listen to any proposals they may have to amend the Bill.
On 6 June 2000 Peter Brooke, then the Member of Parliament for the Cities of London and Westminster and the Member identified as the promoter of the Bill in the Commons, now Lord Brooke, invited me to meet him and representatives from the City Corporation to discuss amendments to the Bill.
This meeting took place at 3pm on 24 October 2000 at Portcullis House. I met Mr Brooke on the groundfloor and he led me to a meeting room in which we joined Ms Judith Mayhew, the Chair of the City Corporation's Policy and Resources Committee. The City of London Corporation's adviser on the Bill, drawn I believe from the Parliamentary agents Winckworth Sherwood, was also in attendance.
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 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 his conversation. I took the amendment drafted by the City Corporation and left the meeting.
Following the meeting I consulted colleagues who advised that I seek a meeting with the Speaker. My office contacted the Speaker's office by telephone to seek a meeting but was advised to put this request in writing explaining why I was seeking a meeting.
I put my request in writing without naming any Member and the Speaker's office eventually confirmed the arrangements for a meeting with the Speaker.
I subsequently met with the Speaker, accompanied by my colleague, Alan Simpson MP. At that meeting I described what had occurred and my strong concern that an attempt had been made by a Member in a meeting with a representative of the City of London Corporation to offer me an inducement to withdraw my opposition to this Bill.
At the conclusion of our meeting the Speaker suggested that I take this matter to the Clerk of the House for advice.
I considered the Speaker's advice but came to the view that this matter was for the Speaker or Members of the House to deal with and not for an unelected officer of the House. In particular I was concerned about the extent of the coverage of privilege protection in relation to discussions with the Clerk of the House.
In addition, I wished to do nothing which would damage the prospects of Mr Brooke entering the Lords. I also hoped that the Bill would wither on the vine at the general election, with the message going back to the promoters that their behaviour was inappropriate to say the least.
However, the Bill was revived following the general election and I wrote to the Speaker in January 2002 seeking the opportunity to make a personal statement to the House of Commons on this matter. The Speaker replied to me on 24 January 2002 refusing a personal statement on the basis that it was too late to raise this as a matter of privilege and that my request fell outside the area of a personal statement.
I replied to him on 28 January 2002 explaining that I had indeed raised this matter with him at the earliest possible opportunity in 2000 and that I could not accept that such a matter could be regarded as "out of time" in this way.
The Speaker replied the same day on 28 January 2002 in a letter delivered to me by hand confirming that I could not make a personal statement and also that I would not be able to raise this matter under a point of order on this issue. (Copies of this correspondence have been provided to you.)
In considering what action I should now follow I sought the advice of colleagues and in due course came to the view that I should consult you on the options open to me.
Having now considered these options, I have decided to refer this matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
I hope that this has set out sufficient information for you to consider this complaint. Please do not hesitate to contact me if there is any further information you require.
21 April 2002