Response from Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville to questions put by
the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
arising from a complaint made by Mr John McDonnell MP
Q1. Do you accept Mr McDonnell's account of your meeting with him on 24th October 2000?
A. It is a partial account, in the sense of omissions or elisions. To correct one misapprehension on his part, in the third paragraph on the second page of his letter to the Commissioner of 21 April 2002, the final person in attendance at the meeting, which was held on the first day Mr McDonnell could manage, was Mr Paul Double, the deputy to the Remembrancer of the City of London and thus on the staff of the Corporation.
The key paragraphs of his account are the next three, describing what transpired at the meeting. The first paragraph is accurate, and it is true that I intervened at that stage. The first sentence in the second paragraph is also accurate. I wanted to amplify Judith Mayhew's comment about myself in the first paragraph, and to indicate it would be a matter of satisfaction to me to have concluded a constituency duty before leaving the House, but I intervened at that juncture, before we looked at the amendments, to indicate that my satisfaction was contingent of course on his being satisfied with the amendments themselves, and that was a matter for him.
I did go on to refer to the Northern Ireland Select Committee. I did not refer to the full narrative that had occurred after Ken Livingstone had left the Committee, but I indicate its relevance below. I did allude to the Government Whips and elliptically to their attitude towards his candidature for the Committee, to which I also return below. I have never doubted Mr McDonnell's own integrity, and my own unshaken view was that there was no prospect of the Bill making rapid progress unless he regarded the amendments as a satisfactory compromise between the City's Bill and his view of it, but I was of the view that my chances of securing my objective of having him on the Committeeagain, see belowwould be better if the Bill were out of the way.
I did say I wanted him on the Committee. The latter was patently not in my gift, but it seemed to me a truism that the Whips' objection would be diminished if the Bill were not complicating the timetable of Parliamentary business. I acknowledge the ellipses consequential on my not feeling I had the freedom to describe my prior approaches to his Whips' Office complicated my expression of the case, and that I may have been therefore responsible for some elision myself.
The omissions and elisions in his account are most pronounced in his third key paragraph. He may have been surprised by my intervention and clearly we stopped talking about this (he says he halted the conversation but I had in any case said everything I could say); it was not however the case that he simply took the amendment(s) and left. There was a specific conversation about the amendments between Judith Mayhew and himself, which sought to ensure he grasped what the Corporation were offering.
After this exchange, which involved question and answer, Mr McDonnell did leave but only after saying he would get back in touch with his response within 48 hours and only after my saying that, whatever his response on the amendments might be, I would continue to support his candidature to join the Select Committee. In the event, he did not come back to us at all.
Q2. In particular do you accept that, in the course of that meeting, you offered him an inducement to drop his opposition to the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill, offering to use your position as Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to secure him a place on that Committee?
A. It depends on the definition of inducement. I made clear my personal interest in achieving the Bill while the Commons (I was the third longest serving MP for the City since 1283, and it would therefore have been a pleasant conclusion) and I was seeking to make clear my personal desire to have him on the Committee, including incidentally to indicate I bore no grudge about the Bill.
I mention in answer to the first question the full narrative that had occurred after Ken Livingstone had left the Committee and that I would indicate its relevance thereafter. Ken left us to seek the nomination to fight the Mayoral election in London, but it was the case that he had been a particularly valuable member of the Committee in affording credibility to its work, because it was well known he was closer to Sinn Fein than the rest of us and thus served to balance the strong representation at the other end of the Northern Ireland spectrum on the Committee.
In the event the Committee published fifteen or sixteen reports during the Parliament and only divided on two or three amendments during that span, of which the first two were while Mr Livingstone was still on the Committee. The residual unanimity of the Committee was a considerable strength, but lost some of its persuasiveness in Mr Livingstone's absence.
I therefore approached the Government Whips' office long before June 2000 (when Mr McDonnell agreed to see us and when incidentally Mr Livingstone had already been elected Mayor of London) to see if there were any possibility of their nominating Mr McDonnell or someone else similarly close to Sinn Fein to serve on the Committee: in the whole Parliament there were seven Labour Members at the outset, and six replacements were appointed at various stages. I was told, in a reasonable manner, that the Whips must retain their right to make the selection.
I had made a general point about the balance on a Select Committee as seen from the Chairman's perspective when the Liaison Committee, of which I was a member, was discussing its own recommendation that the power of appointment should be taken away from the Whips: the irony in this instance was that the price of greater credibility for the Committee might well have been a more awkward Committee to chair, but in my eyes the credibility was more important than the cost.
To revert to the meeting in October 2000, I said initially, as I said in answer to Q1, that he must make up his own mind about the amendments and I said at the end of the meeting that I would continue to argue for him being on the Committee, whatever he decided. I have indicated what I said in between in my response to Q1.
Q3. If you did make such an offer, did you consider it, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been a breach of the Code of Conduct for Members?
A. It was not an offer. I had no authority to make an offer. In the light of my discussion with the Government Whips' Office I could not have predicted the outcome if he had accepted the City's amendments, but it did sem to me his chances must be better if he had no longer been causing difficulties to the Government by prolonged opposition to the Bill, an I was myself in favour, for the reasons given in answer to Q2, of his coming on the Committee.
Q4. If you did not make such an offer, can you suggest any explanation for the impression with which Mr McDonnell says he was left of the meeting?
A. I recognise there might have been less danger of misunderstanding if I could have been more explicit about my talking to the Government Whips' office earlier, but I reckoned I could not do that. Since there are always two parties to any misunderstanding, I obviously regret my part in this one; and I recognise that it was in the circumstances a mistake on my part to deal with both subjects in a single conversation, though conversations between us were, as can be seen from the chronology, infrequent. I equally obviously regret the consequences.
25 June 2002 Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville