Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Third Report


Appendix 1: Memorandum from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards


Complaints about alleged misuse of Parliamentary dining facilities

Introduction

1. On 23 November 2006, Mr John Mann (the Member for Bassetlaw) and Mr Kevan Jones (the Member for North Durham) wrote to me alleging that there had been systematic misuse of Parliamentary dining facilities to raise funds for the Conservative Party. Their letter (the text of which is at WE1) was accompanied by a voluminous file of material and a table which named 16 Conservative Members of the House and 2 Members of the House of Lords as allegedly being involved in this misuse.

2. Mr Mann and Mr Jones subsequently complained to me about 7 other Members of the Commons. Two further Members have corresponded with me because of their positions as officers of two national organisations about which Mr Mann and Mr Jones also complained, and one Member because of questions Mr Mann raised about the related subject of fundraising visits to the House. In total, 26 Members of the House have come to be embraced directly by their complaints and other issues they have raised. A list of the names and constituencies of those involved is at Annex 1.

Jurisdiction

3. The complaints made by Mr Mann and Mr Jones relating to two peers involved the use of House of Lords refreshment facilities. The Code of Conduct approved by the House of Commons does not extend to Members of the Upper House, which has its own arrangements for maintaining appropriate standards of conduct amongst its Members. I therefore alerted the two peers concerned at the same time as I alerted the Commons Members to the complaints made against them, and also drew them to the attention of the Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests, the Rt Hon Lord Woolf CB. I made clear in a letter of 9 December to Mr Mann and Mr Jones that I had done this, adding that it would be for the appropriate authorities in the Lords to decide what, if any, further action to take in relation to this aspect of the matters raised with me.

4. Notwithstanding my lack of jurisdiction in this respect, one of the peers named—the Rt Hon the Lord Hunt of Wirral—has corresponded with me about the complaint made in relation to him. In order that his response to the complaint may be more widely available, I refer to it briefly later in this report.

Notification of Members affected by the Complaint

5. Two days after Mr Mann and Mr Jones had signed their original letter of complaint, Mr Mann issued a press release headed "Tory's use of Parliament for fundraising exposed", attaching documents naming a number of Members and Conservative constituency associations. This information was divulged to the press before the Members concerned had been informed by the complainants of their complaint, contrary to paragraph 85 of the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members.[19] This provides:

"It is a basic courtesy that a Member making a complaint to the Commissioner should at the same time send a copy of the letter of complaint to the Member concerned."

6. Mr Mann and Mr Jones wrote on 4 December to the Members they had named in their initial complaints to me, advising them of the submission of the complaints. I understand that since then some but not all of the Members about whom they have subsequently complained have learned of this in advance from the complainant. For a variety of reasons, this seems not to have happened in the cases of Mr Tony Baldry (the Member for Banbury), Mr Charles Hendry (the Member for Wealden) and Dr Bob Spink (the Member for Castle Point).[20] I return to this issue later in my report.

Information gathered by the Press

7. The complaints and the issues associated with them have been the subject of a number of press articles since the end of November 2006. Mr Mann and Mr Jones said in their letter of 23 November that they were aware of at least two investigations by journalists into the matter and they subsequently alerted me in particular to inquiries made by the 'Sunday Times' which included tape-recorded conversations between a reporter and nine Conservative Associations about their Patrons' Clubs. The Editor of the 'Sunday Times' has, at my request, shared that material with me, and I refer to it later in this report. It makes allegations about a number of Clubs and unspecified events in respect of which Mr Mann and Mr Jones have not made complaints to me. I have not reported on these where they were not the subject of a specific complaint, but have included some of the material as indicative of a broader context in which the specific complaints should be seen.

The Complaints

8. In their letter of 23 November, Mr Mann and Mr Jones complained of "actual and possible misuses of Parliamentary facilities for party political fundraising". They continued:

"It is clear that there is a systematic use of 'Patrons' Clubs' to dine in the Commons and Lords explicitly to fundraise for the Conservative Party."

9. With their letter, the two Members enclosed an article from the "Political Quarterly" of April 1991 written by Philip Tether, then Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Social Policy and Professional Studies at the University of Hull. The text of this article is reproduced at WE2. Drawing on a survey he had undertaken of Conservative Associations and others, Mr Tether described the membership of the Patrons' Clubs then to be found in some 100 or so constituencies as constituting a special, elite category of Conservative Party members. Such clubs offered their members "a privileged position within Associations in return for a substantial annual subscription". One of the main purposes of the clubs was:

"to raise large sums of money to fund major initiatives and campaigning at the local level and, most importantly, to channel vital financial support to less fortunate constituencies, especially marginals."

10. Mr Tether noted in his article that social activities were an important feature of the Clubs' programme:

"An annual dinner and reception are two events which figure in all Club programmes and they are a source of additional income. The dinner is usually held in the House of Commons. Clubs which do not have a Conservative Member will usually be hosted by a Peer."

11. Perhaps because of the complexity of the issues involved, Mr Mann and Mr Jones did not themselves offer a succinct statement or rationale for their complaints when submitting them to me, nor did they identify the precise nature of the allegation they wished to make in relation to each of the Members they had named. Nonetheless, assisted by a meeting I subsequently had with them when we were able to go through the material they had provided, I understand the essence of their complaints to be as follows.

12. The heart of their complaints is that certain dining clubs—notably, but not exclusively, the Patrons' Clubs described by Mr Tether—are in effect vehicles to raise money for the Conservative Party. In the case of some Patrons' Clubs, and perhaps some other types of Club, this is achieved, at least in part, by offering members of the club the opportunity to dine in the House in return for a membership subscription, the surplus from which goes to Party funds.

13. Mr Mann and Mr Jones allege that the use of the House's private dining rooms in this way is contrary to two provisions of the Banqueting Regulations. First, paragraph 5.1 of the current regulations provides that, subject to exclusions in respect of All Party Parliamentary Groups and registered charities:

"…the private dining rooms are not to be used for direct financial or material gain by a Sponsor, political party, or any other person or outside organisation."

Secondly, paragraph 5.3 of the current Regulations provides that:

"The private dining rooms may not be used as an inducement to recruit new members of outside organisations or non-parliamentary associations."

14. Mr Mann and Mr Jones contend that the dining or Patrons' Clubs in question breach these provisions, first, because the clubs are engaged in fundraising for the Conservative Party (contrary to paragraph 5.1). They also argue that they breach paragraph 5.3 of the Regulations because prospective club members are explicitly enticed to join the clubs by the promise that membership brings with it the opportunity to dine in the House. In discussion with me on 19 December, Mr Mann and Mr Jones added that they objected to what was going on not only because it breached the House's rules but because it meant that dining clubs were booking the available dining facilities on "an industrial scale", so making it more difficult for other Members to have access to them. They also questioned whether it was appropriate for access to the House to be linked to membership of a club.

15. In their letter of 23 November 2006, Mr Mann and Mr Jones noted that they had had great difficulty in finding evidence to prove their allegations. Nonetheless they believed that they had supplied "categorical proof of misuse". The material they sent me with their letter included:

Details of individual bookings of House of Commons Committee and Dining Rooms.

16. I draw on this material later in this report when describing the allegations made by Messrs Jones and Mann both generally and in relation to individual Members. Before doing so, however, I turn to describe the relevant provisions in the Code of Conduct and Rules of the House, which set the context in which their complaints fall to be assessed.

Relevant Provisions of the Code and Rules of the House

17. Paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct approved by the House on 13 July 2005[21] says that:

"Members shall at all times ensure that their use of expenses, allowances, facilities and services provided from the public purse is strictly in accordance with the rules laid down on these matters, and that they observe any limits placed by the House on the use of such expenses, allowances, facilities and services"[22]

18. As I have already noted, use of the House's private dining rooms is governed by the Banqueting Regulations. The current text of these is at WE3. Section 5 of those Regulations—which specifically refers to the dining rooms—was approved by Mr Speaker in its present form following a meeting of the Catering Committee on 13 December 2000.[23]

19. Prior to that date, section 5.1 of the Regulations had read:

"The private dining rooms may not be used for any purpose involving direct commercial gain, or as an inducement to recruit new members of outside organisations or non-parliamentary associations."

The latter part of this provision now forms paragraph 5.3 of the current Regulations. As regards the former part, it can be seen that the scope of the prohibition on the use of the private dining rooms was, prior to 13 December 2000, much more narrowly drawn than it has been since. It was confined to the use of the rooms for "direct commercial gain". There was no reference at all, prior to that point, to party political fundraising. I have attached the text of the Regulations prior to December 2000 at WE4.

20. Since 13 December 2000, the prohibition on the use of the private dining rooms has been extended to include "direct financial or material gain by a Sponsor, political party, or any other person or outside organisation".[24] This amendment of the Rules appears to have followed the Committee's Eighth Report of Session 1999-2000.[25] According to information I received from the Director:

"These changes were made on the advice of the then Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Mrs Elizabeth Filkin, who suggested that the regulations did not make it clear whether a Member sponsoring a private function in the House of Commons dining rooms might donate profits from that function to his or her constituency party."

21. Whilst there was this very material difference between the Regulations in force before and after 13 December 2000, in other critical respects they were the same. Thus both sets of Regulations included a provision banning the use of the private dining rooms as an inducement to recruit new members of outside organisations or non-parliamentary associations.[26] Both also stated that:

"Subject to the rules on declaration of interest, it is appropriate for the private dining rooms to be used for party political functions …" [27]

22. It is also noteworthy that the word "direct" (as in "direct commercial gain") featured in paragraph 5.1 of the pre 13 December 2000 Regulations, as it also features in paragraph 5.1 of the current Regulations ("direct financial or material gain by a …political party").

23. Responsibility for ensuring that an event at the House conforms with the Regulations rests with the sponsoring Member. As paragraph 2.1 both of the current rules and of those prior to December 2000 says:

"The Sponsor is responsible for the cost and good conduct of the function, and for ensuring that the terms and conditions of booking are complied with."

24. Concluding this review of the relevant provisions of the Code and Banqueting Regulations, it is appropriate to note that when I met them on 19 December, Mr Mann and Mr Jones described their complaint as "generic". They did not primarily regard themselves as having made specific allegations against individual Members but rather as having exposed a widespread practice and questioned its appropriateness in the light of the Banqueting Regulations.

25. Whilst I understand why Mr Mann and Mr Jones see their complaint in this way, the Code of Conduct makes no provision for the consideration of "generic" complaints. I am bound by the terms of the Code, and the associated procedures for considering complaints in relation to it, to regard the complaint not as one complaint against 25 Members but as 25 related complaints involving 25 different Members. Whilst the focus of each of these complaints is similar, the facts relating to each complaint differ, sometimes, as will be seen, with important consequences.

My Inquiries

26. Having reviewed the extensive material Mr Jones and Mr Mann sent me with their initial complaints and identified what I understood to be the precise nature of their complaint against each Member and the evidence offered in support of it, I wrote on 7 December to each of the 16 Members named in the table enclosed with their original letter. Subsequently I have considered the response of each of those Members to the complaints and have followed up outstanding queries with the Member concerned, or in some cases with the relevant organiser of their dining or Patrons' Club, as necessary.

27. Since the submission of their original complaints, Mr Mann and Mr Jones have continued to draw what they consider to be relevant material to my attention. In particular, they wrote:

These additional letters mean that the number of Members about whom Mr Jones and Mr Mann have formally complained has risen to 25 (as listed in Annex 1).

28. Finally Mr Mann wrote to me on 5 February identifying three categories of additional complaint which he said he wished to bring to my notice. These involved:

a)  Alleged fundraising visits to the House of Commons.

b)  Business Club dinners in Parliament allegedly of a fundraising character.

c)  Alleged fundraising events in Parliament for local government.

I met Mr Mann on 7 February to discuss these matters. The second of the categories he had identified had already emerged in the course of my inquiries into his earlier complaints but the first and third were new. In relation to the first, Mr Mann, as evidence of his concern, supplied me with a copy of the report and accounts of the Bromsgrove Conservative Association for the year ending 30 December 2005 and I subsequently corresponded with the Member for Bromsgrove, Ms Julie Kirkbride about the matter (see paragraphs 137-140 below).

29. As regards the third, Mr Mann's concern focussed on reference in the accounts of the Wandsworth Tooting and Battersea Conservative Associations for the year ended 31 December 2005 to an event held at the House of Commons which appeared under the heading 'Details of fundraising costs'. I have made enquiries of the Wandsworth Conservative Group and as a result I am satisfied, on the basis of the available evidence, that no fundraising took place at or in connection with the event mentioned in the accounts, tickets for which, I am told, were sold at cost, plus an element for administration. The inclusion of the cost of the event in the accounts under the heading of 'fundraising' appears to have been an error.

30. At our meeting on 7 February, Mr Mann indicated that while he believed he had evidence of breaches of the House's rules by Members additional to those he had already named, he did not intend to add further examples to the list, as these would be no more than variations on the themes he and Mr Jones had already identified. This confirmation has enabled me to pursue my inquiries to a conclusion.

31. As regards those inquiries, in addition to corresponding with all the Members concerned, I have, as mentioned, corresponded with a number of non-Members. I have also consulted the Serjeant at Arms, the Director of Catering Services and the Clerk of the Administration Committee about the issues raised by the various complaints.

Complaint against the Rt Hon Sir George Young

32. The Members Mr Mann and Mr Jones named in their original complaint included the Member for North West Hampshire, the Rt Hon Sir George Young. The complaint related to a lunch meeting of the Basingstoke Patrons' Club, which Sir George's constituency engagement diary (available on the internet) indicated he had hosted at the House on 29 June 1999. Mr Mann and Mr Jones did not supply any direct evidence that this breached the Rules of the House but, with reference to other material they sent me, their complaint in essence was that the Club was a fundraising device for the Basingstoke Conservative Association; that the lunch in question was part of a more general fundraising effort for the Conservatives in Basingstoke; and that this was contrary to paragraph 5.1 of the Banqueting Regulations.

33. Although this complaint concerned an event which took place more than 7 years ago—and therefore fell outside the types of complaint I would normally investigate as a matter of course—at the request of Sir George and with the concurrence of the Committee, I examined it on its merits. After doing so, I reported to the Committee on 23 January 2007 that I had dismissed it. Sir George having withdrawn from the meeting, the Committee indicated that it was minded to append my memorandum setting out my reasons for reaching this view to any report it published on this matter (see Appendix 2 of the report by the Committee which prefaces this memorandum). I wrote on the same day to inform Mr Mann and Mr Jones of my decision.

34. There is no need for me to repeat here my reasons for reaching this decision, as they are set out in full in my memorandum to the Committee. It is, however, relevant to what follows to point out that the complaint about Sir George was the only one presented to me which fell to be considered against the background of the Banqueting Regulations in force prior to 13 December 2000. As I have already said,[28] these differed in a material respect from those in force after that date, which provide the regulatory background to all the other complaints I have received. My decision in relation to Sir George carries no implication, one way or the other, for those other complaints, and it is to them I now turn.

General Evidence about Patrons' Clubs submitted by the Complainants

35. The folder of evidence submitted by Mr Mann and Mr Jones contained material from a number of Conservative Association websites about the role, and terms and benefits of membership of their Patrons' Club. Whilst there appears to be no precise standard formula, the examples below drawn from the material provide a clear indication that many Patrons' Clubs continue to operate broadly on the lines described by Mr Tether in his 1991 article:[29]

  • They may be particularly intended for "those who wish to support the [Conservative] Party but do not have the time to be fully involved in all its activities"[30]
  • They may offer an enhanced level of membership of the Association in return for an enhanced subscription—

"As well as providing valuable financial support, Patrons attend a special annual dinner and enjoy regular contact at all levels of the Conservative Party"[31]

"Patrons are members who pay a higher level of subscription but who enjoy an increased level of involvement in activities run by the Association …[32]

  • The benefits offered in return for the enhanced subscription (which currently may range from £150 to £500 a couple per year) are usually one or two social events a year, one or more of which will be addressed by a 'big name' speaker -

"Patrons' subscriptions entitle them to two free evening receptions per year with a notable speaker."[33]

36. Fundraising for the Conservative Party is clearly a major aim of these Clubs:

"The Patrons' Club provide a significant part of the income needed to finance our organisation …"[34]

"The Club has two equal objectives. First, we seek to raise vitally needed funds for the Association. Secondly, we aim to create an enjoyable and stimulating political forum for friends and supporters in and around the constituency."[35]

Some of the funds generated by Patrons' Clubs appear to derive from the difference between the annual membership subscription and the cost of staging the events put on by the Club. Other funds may be generated by separate fundraising events mounted (often in the constituency) by the Club.

37. Some of the material supplied by the complainants indicates that certain Patrons' Clubs include reference to functions held in the Houses of Parliament when advertising their activities to members and prospective members. Examples include:

"Members meet three times a year: once in the Houses of Parliament for dinner with a distinguished speaker; a summer reception; and political discussion in the autumn."[36]

"Your annual payment includes your annual association membership plus two or three invitations a year. One is a dinner at the House of Commons or the Carlton Club hosted by the Hon Michael Howards QC, MP and a guest speaker."[37]

Platinum membership entitles you to "all of the Gold Member benefits, plus dinner at the House of Commons with a senior Conservative MP, once we have a Conservative MP in Chester."[38]

"Membership of the Patrons Club entitles you to all the benefits of Executive Gold together with a dinner at the Houses of Parliament or the Carlton Club."[39]

"The Sherwood Patrons Club offers a select group of people the opportunity to enjoy annual events at interesting and pleasing venues. Events include a Private Annual Outing. An example of such is an escorted visit to the House of Lords with a Champagne Luncheon on the Terrace—meeting MPs and VIPs."[40]

"The 1867 Patrons Club: an exclusive members club. For an annual subscription, members enjoy two top-class events during the course of the year. Usually there is a champagne reception or dinner in the constituency, plus a dinner or champagne reception in the Houses of Parliament."[41]

Evidence about Patrons' Clubs supplied by the 'Sunday Times'

38. As earlier indicated,[42] Mr Mann and Mr Jones informed me of inquiries conducted by reporters from the 'Sunday Times' into several Patrons' Clubs, the results of which were reflected in articles published in that paper on 3 December and 31 December 2006. I wrote to the Editor of the 'Sunday Times' seeking access to that material and the Editor subsequently made available to me transcripts of conversations between one of the paper's reporters and officials of nine local Conservative Associations between 28 November and 1 December 2006.

39. The reporter in question posed as the secretary to a businessman who had asked her to enquire about membership of each Association's Patrons' Club. The material provided by the paper is too extensive to append in full to this report but, as the following brief extracts show, it confirms the broad picture of the Clubs given in the preceding section:

a)  Guildford Conservatives—membership fee of £275 (single), £475 (couple)

"What we do, we have two events a year, one in the House of Commons and one in the House of Lords, both with very high profile speakers."

b)  Tunbridge Wells Conservative Association—annual membership fee of £200 (single), £300 (couple)

"It gives you full membership, which includes either a champagne reception or strawberry tea in the House plus a dinner in the House or in the Carlton Club."

"… If you try and book dinner in the House through any other method, it usually costs you up to £40 or £50. It's actually quite expensive because—to be honest—you pay a lot of money to dine in the House and sit in those horribly uncomfortable green leather chairs, and they are horribly uncomfortable, I can assure you."

c)  North Cornwall Conservatives—membership fee of £275 (single), £300 (couple)

"… you can get first call for any VIPs coming down here"

"… There's a Patrons function specifically paid for by the Patrons account once a year and you also get privilege at the annual dinner. Otherwise, you support the Conservative Party in a big way."

"[Events are held] … just in Cornwall."

d)  Buckingham Conservative Association—membership fee of £250

"We have a reception with a speaker in the summer, usually in the constituency, and then there's a dinner down either in one of the private members' clubs in London or at the House of Lords or at the House of Commons …"

e)  West Lancashire Conservative Association—membership fee of

"… £100 which includes membership [of the Association] but two functions as well. … We're too far away to go to London for trips."

f)  Wycombe Conservative Association—membership fee of £210 (single), £360 (joint)

"The Patrons Club is … our slightly more wealthy donors, who meet two or three times a year, there's usually a dinner or lunch in the Commons with a speaker …"

g)  North West Hampshire Conservative Association—£200 (single), £350 (joint).

"… for that we have two functions a year—one in London at either the House of Commons, the House of Lords or the Carlton Club and one in the summer … with a prominent speaker in one of the Patrons' members' house."

h)  West Oxfordshire Conservative Association—membership fee of £480 a year (couple)

"They [the Principal Patrons Club] have two dinners … in the constituency and two lunches in London. … The Principal Patrons have lunches in London and they are at the House of Commons."

i)  Bognor Regis and Littlehampton Conservatives—membership fee undisclosed.

"… we only actually started [the Club] in June … Anyway, there will be one lunch and maybe two, and there will be one or two receptions within the constituency …"

"It actually doesn't make a huge amount of money to be quite honest. Because these events are quite costly to put on … It's just a way for busy people to have an odd opportunity to get together really."

Specific Complaints against Named Members

40. With the exception of the West Oxfordshire Conservative Association, none of the material supplied by the 'Sunday Times' is the subject of a specific complaint by Mr Mann and Mr Jones against a named Member. Nor, indeed, does it necessarily indicate that Members, and the Associations and Clubs listed have fallen foul of the Rules of the House. I have included it, and the general evidence in paragraphs 35-37, solely because it illustrates and supports the concerns Mr Jones and Mr Mann have expressed and forms the context for the specific complaints they have made in relation to certain named Members of the House. In the following sections of this report I summarise:

For convenience I list the Members in the order in the list in Annex 1 (i.e. broadly in alphabetical order). As will be seen, in paragraphs 155-158 of this report I dismiss the complaints against thirteen of the Members listed, on the basis of the evidence before me. Nonetheless I set out below the evidence against all the Members about whom Mr Mann and Mr Jones have complained in order that the Committee (and the House) may have a comprehensive account of the circumstances and be able fully to understand the basis of the decisions reached.

1.  Rt Hon Michael Ancram (Member for Devizes)

41. The file of material Mr Mann and Mr Jones sent me on 23 November included a copy of the Devizes Constituency Conservative Association's diary of forthcoming events for the autumn of 2006. This included reference to a Patrons' Club luncheon at the House of Commons to be hosted by Mr Michael Ancram, with a special guest speaker.

42. I wrote to Mr Ancram on 7 December summarising the position as follows:

"Based on this material, the essence of the complaint which Mr Mann and Mr Jones appear to be making against you is that your Patrons' Club is a fund-raising device for your constituency association; that the luncheon on 29 November was not charged at cost; and that therefore in hosting it you breached paragraph 5.1 of the Banqueting Regulations which provides that the House's private dining rooms (and by implication, its other catering facilities) are not to be used for' direct financial or material gain by a ….political party'."

A copy of my letter is at WE5.

43. Mr Ancram replied on 19 December, expressing surprise at the complaint (WE6). His constituency Patrons' Club, for which members paid an enhanced subscription, met once a year in London, sometimes in the House. He had never considered that these occasional events in the House offended against paragraph 5.1 of the Banqueting Regulations:

"I had always taken the view that this prohibition [on direct fundraising in paragraph 5.1] referred to a Member making available the use of a private dining room in direct exchange for money or some other material gain rather than what I had always assumed in the case of my Patrons' Club was a social/political event."

44. Mr Ancram said that there was no question of tickets being sold or any other form of direct financial or material gain as set out in paragraph 5.1. According to him:

"The attraction of such events for the members of the Patrons' Club is to hear a prominent speaker whether that event takes place in the House of Commons or elsewhere."

2.  Mr Richard Bacon (Member for South Norfolk)

45. The evidence submitted by Mr Mann and Mr Jones included a copy of two pages from the website of the South Norfolk Conservative Association, which referred to a "Westminster Group" dinner at the House of Commons on 27 November 2006 at which the Rt Hon David Cameron was expected to be present. The complainants asserted that there was a fee (which they believed to be £15) to join the Group. My letter to Mr Bacon of 7 December (WE7) continued:

"….the essence of the complaint which Mr Mann and Mr Jones appear to be making against you is that the Westminster Group is a fund-raising device for your constituency association; that there is a membership fee to join it; and that your sponsorship of the dinner at the House of Commons is a breach of paragraph 5.1 of the Banqueting Regulations, which says that the House's private dining rooms (and, by implication, its other dining facilities) are not to be used for 'direct financial or material gain by a . . .political party'."

I added that, as Mr Cameron had also been named in the complaint, I was writing separately to him on the matter.[43]

46. Mr Bacon replied on 18 December. A copy of his reply is at WE8. He did not accept that the claims made by Mr Mann and Mr Jones were justified. Membership of his constituency association's Westminster Group cost £150. This was designed to cover the cost without further charge of participation at three separate 3 or 4 course dinners, including the cost of all food and wine. The Group was not a fundraising device for his association but was "designed to cover its costs while enabling those who wish to join to hear interesting speakers". Membership of the Group did not confer membership of the association, nor were members required to join the Conservative Party, nationally or locally.

3.  Mr Tony Baldry (Member for Banbury)

47. Mr Mann and Mr Jones wrote to me on 1 February 2007 enclosing a copy of the report and accounts of the North Oxfordshire Conservative Association for the year ended 31 December 2005. These included a number of references to the Patrons' Club run by the Association, which also appeared to be known as the Quorum Club. Page 8 of the report indicated that the Club, with 71 members, had "held an excellent dinner at the House of Commons in November 2005…". Pages 3 and 4 of the accounts reported income from the Club in 2005 of £17,462, as against expenditure of £1,712. The budget for 2006 on the final page of the accounts showed anticipated income of £16,000 from the Club.

48. I wrote putting the complaint by Mr Mann and Mr Jones to Mr Baldry on 6 February.[44] (Mr Baldry told me subsequently that this was the first he knew of the complaint: he had not been informed of it directly by Mr Mann or Mr Jones. When I put this to the complainants, they said that, when they had submitted the complaint, they had sent Mr Baldry a copy as a courtesy on the same day.) Mr Baldry replied initially on 7 February pointing out that the Club was that of his Association, not his own but saying that he was confident the House's rules had not been broken:

"The membership fees of the Patrons' Club include the cost of one free dinner per year in London, and that is held either in the House of Commons or the House or Lords, or in the Carlton Club.

No fundraising takes place at these dinners. They are simply an opportunity for members of the Club to hear a political speaker and ask questions."

The text of this letter is at WE10.

49. I wrote further to Mr Baldry on 12 February,[45] re-posing a number of detailed questions about the North Oxfordshire Association's Club. Mr Baldry replied that almost all the information I had requested was not within his knowledge and saying that he would forward my letter to the Constituency Secretary and Agent for North Oxfordshire and ask him to respond. The Agent did so on 6 March (WE12). The North Oxfordshire Patrons' Club had, he said, 66 members in 2006, paying a membership subscription of £350 or more per annum. The Club had held 24 events since 1 January 2001, of which two had been held at the House of Commons and one at the House of Lords. Members were circulated with details of events and were free to choose which they would like to attend. The cost of events was either met from the Club's subscription income or (Mr Baldry told me subsequently) from sponsorship. The Club had raised £50,430 after expenses for Association funds in the five years between January 2001 and December 2006.

50. In later correspondence with me about the draft of the factual sections of this report, Mr Baldry asked what steps had been taken to inform Members of the change in the Banqueting Regulations in December 2000 (to which I have referred in paragraphs 18-20 above). This is an important point, to which I return later (paragraphs 190-192).

4.  Rt Hon David Cameron (the Member for Witney)

51. I wrote to Mr Cameron on 7 December (WE12) drawing to his attention the complaint made by Mr Mann and Mr Jones about his alleged involvement in the November meeting of Mr Bacon's Westminster Group. In doing so, I made clear that responsibility for ensuring that the Banqueting Regulations were observed rested with the sponsor of, not the speaker at, an event. It did not seem to me therefore that the complaint against him in respect of the event on 27 November could stand. Mr Bacon subsequently told me that Mr Cameron had not in fact been able to attend the Group's lunch on 27 November 2006, and his place had therefore been taken by another speaker. I therefore dismissed this aspect of the complaint against Mr Cameron.

52. I took the opportunity of my letter to Mr Cameron also to invite his comments on allegations about his own constituency Patrons' Club in Witney which had been made in an article published in the Sunday Times on 3 December. A copy of that article is at WE14, and one of a later article published on 31 December at WE15. Mr Mann and Mr Jones wrote to me on 31 January saying specifically that they wished to complain about Mr Cameron in relation to the latter article. The articles drew on the investigation by the paper's reporters to which I have earlier referred.[46]

53. Mr Cameron replied on 9 January (WE16), commenting in doing so that the current rules governing the use of dining facilities at the House "seem to contain considerable ambiguity". He did not think he had broken any of the House's rules, but would be guided by the outcome of my inquiry.

54. Mr Cameron said that the Principal Patrons' Club in his constituency had been established when he was the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Witney in 2000. The Club typically met 4 times a year, twice in London and twice in the constituency. It had held two lunches at the House of Commons since its foundation (three events had been held at the House of Lords, five at other central London locations and thirteen at locations outside London). "No activity designed to generate "direct financial or material gain" (paragraph 5.1 of the Banqueting Regulations) [had taken] place at them."

55. Mr Cameron continued:

"Paragraph 5.5 of the Banqueting Regulations states that 'Subject to the rules on the declaration of interest and 5.1 above, it is appropriate for the private dining rooms to be used for political functions'. My Patrons Club is a 'political function' and is therefore clearly covered by paragraph 5.5. Paragraph 5.1, to which paragraph 5.5 refers, prevents use of private dining rooms by Patrons clubs for 'direct financial or material gain'. Since funds were not raised at, or in direct connection with, the meals held by the Patrons Club in the House of Commons, I do not believe that my Patrons Club contravenes paragraph 5.1.

Some have argued that the fact there are meals held in the House of Commons as part of the normal round of Patrons Club events could be 'an inducement to recruit new members' as outlined in paragraph 5.3, and could therefore contravene this regulation. However, as you can see from the original letter sent out to potential members, my Patrons Club did not recruit members with the inducement of dinner in the House of Commons. As you can see from the enclosed material,[47]a wide range of functions have been offered to members of the Patrons Club. I attach a list of the breakfasts, lunches and dinners which have been held by my Patrons Club since its inception: only two of the twenty-three events have taken place at the House of Commons.

These clubs have been custom and practice for many years and, as the complaint against me states, have even been the subject of academic research. In interpreting what are—as you have noted—somewhat ambiguous Banqueting Rules, I would hope that you will be ready to take this into account."

5.  Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Member for Huntingdon)

56. The file forwarded by Mr Mann and Mr Jones included a list of events held recently in the House, among which was one hosted for Huntingdon Conservative Association by Mr Djanogly on 18 October 2006. The complainants alleged that this was a meal and asked why the event had not been posted on Huntingdon Conservatives web-site and whether the failure to list it indicated that Mr Djanogly or his Association had charged for the event at more than cost and had been aware that this should not have occurred.[48]

57. Mr Djanogly replied on 11 December (WE18) saying that the list of events held at the House supplied by the complainants was incorrect in that it should have referred to the Huntingdon Industrial Advisory Council (HIAC), not to Huntingdon Conservative Association. HIAC had been founded over 25 years ago for business people living in or connected with Huntingdonshire. Members of HIAC did not need to be members of the Conservative Party and HIAC itself was not part of the Party.

58. Members of HIAC paid an annual subscription which entitled them to attend a number of events each year, including dinners at the Commons or Lords. The main purpose of the functions was as a local social networking group, with speeches given by notable people, including Members. He did not therefore believe that this activity breached Regulation 5.1 of the Banqueting Regulations.

59. In later letters dated 21 December 2006 (WE19) and 11 January 2007 (WE20), Mr Djanogly conceded that HIAC contributed funds to his constituency association. These contributions were made at HIAC's discretion out of any surplus remaining once the cost of the Council's events had been met. However, he said, such donations to his association were ancillary to HIAC's primary purpose and, to a significant extent, were used by the association to cover the cost of the administrative services it provided to the Council.

60. The annual fee for membership of HIAC was £300 (to be increased to £400 in 2007). It normally held two dinners a year, the majority in the House of Commons. Each member was entitled to two tickets at each of these events.

61. Mr Djanogly said that contributions from HIAC to Huntingdon Constituency Conservative Association (HCCA) since 2003 had been:

£3,470

£5,810

£4,000

£3,900

However, out of this must be taken the cost of the administrative assistance provided by the association to HIAC. Mr Djanogly concluded:

"Accordingly I am informed that the net profit element going to HCCA is minimal in all years and sometimes loss making."

62. A copy of the Statement of Accounts of the Huntingdon Constituency Conservative Association for the year ended 31 December 2005, subsequently handed to me by Mr Mann, included under the heading "fundraising" an item referring to HIAC, which confirmed the donations made by the Council in that year and in 2004 as detailed by Mr Djanogly.

6.  Mr James Duddridge (Member for Rochford and Southend East)

63. A number of Members named by Mr Mann and Mr Jones had, according to their entries in the Register of Members' Interests, received either directly or through their constituency associations donations from the United and Cecil Club, a long-established Conservative Dining Club. I summarise later in this report my correspondence with the Chairman of this Club, the Hon Bernard Jenkin (Member for North Essex) about the Club's purpose and method of operation. Mr Duddridge was named by the complainants on the basis that he had registered in 2005 receipt by his constituency association of a donation from the Club, a Club which Mr Mann and Mr Jones believed to be making improper use of the House's dining facilities to raise money for the Conservative Party. The text of my letter of 7 December setting out the nature of the allegation about Mr Duddridge is at WE21.

64. Mr Duddridge did not reply formally to that letter but in a telephone call to my office on 17 January said that he had, in effect, nothing to add to Mr Jenkins's account of the activities of the United and Cecil Club. He believed that the complaint about him was simply "a fishing expedition".

7.  Mr Alan Duncan (Member for Rutland and Melton)

65. In a letter dated 31 January 2007, Mr Jones and Mr Mann said that they wished to complain about Mr Duncan's Patrons' Club and enclosed a copy of the Annual Report and Accounts of the Rutland and Melton Conservative Association for the year ended 31 December 2005. Page 6 of the Report indicated that the Association's Patrons' Club had held its 2005 Christmas lunch at the House of Commons. The report continued:

The Patrons' Club provide a significant part of the income needed to finance our organisation…"

Page 10 of the Accounts showed overall income to the Association from fundraising from all sources in 2005 of £48,628. Other material sent me by the complainants indicated that the Association's Patrons' Club had held another event at the House on 15 November 2006.

66. I wrote to Mr Duncan setting out this evidence on 6 February 2007.[49] Mr Duncan replied on 19 February, enclosing a report from the Constituency Agent. The text of Mr Duncan's letter and his Agent's report (minus its attachments) is at WE23 and WE24 respectively. Summarising the report, it revealed that:

  • at 31 December 2006, the Club had 69 members paying an average annual subscription of £155.14. The annual subscription currently (2007) was £250 per person, £300 per couple.
  • the aim of the Club was "to enable members to engage in political discussion at social occasions".
  • membership included invitations to two social events a year, a summer event in the constituency and an autumn lunch in London.
  • tickets for any guests brought to events were charged at cost, plus an element for administration.
  • between December 1999 and November 2006, 4 autumn events had been held at the House of Commons. As many had been held at other central London locations.
  • in 2006 the Club had generated a total subscription income of £10,704.96, out of which Party membership and the costs of the two events held that year had been deducted. The total annual balance left after costs had been deducted was about £7,000.
  • the Club's "real benefit to the Association [was] by way of raffles, Fighting Funds and specific appeals".

67. Both the report and Mr Duncan's covering letter made clear that no promotional literature was issued in connection with the Club and no promises were made of "a meal in, or visit to, the House of Commons".[50] Mr Duncan continued:

"…in no respect whatsoever is it true to assert that we have offered anything to do with the House in return either for membership or for profit. At the last review of the Club's finances it was, if anything, marginally more expensive to dine in the Commons, and so it was more of a cost than a benefit for us.

…I feel very strongly that the conduct of my Patrons' Club both adheres to the rules of the House, and also appears to do so in all respects."

8.  Mr Michael Gove (Member for Surrey Heath)

68. The dossier presented to me by the complainants included:

a)  A copy of some pages from the Surrey Heath Conservatives website, which included a reference to 'Strangers Gallery', a Parliamentary Luncheon Club which holds "luncheon meetings four times a year at the House of Commons and an annual dinner."

b)  Mr Gove's entry in the Register of Members' Interests showing that "Contributions to Surrey Heath Conservative Association are received from: Strangers Gallery Lunch Club."

69. I therefore wrote to Mr Gove on 7 December (WE25) saying:

"Based on this material, the essence of the complaint which Mr Mann and Mr Jones appear to be making against you is that Strangers Gallery Lunch Club is a means of raising funds for your constituency association and that it is improperly using Parliamentary dining facilities for this purpose, in so far as paragraph 5.1 of the Banqueting Regulations provides that the House's private dining rooms (and, by implication, its other dining facilities) should not be used for "direct financial or material gain by a. . .political party."

70. Mr Gove replied on 4 January (WE26). Strangers Gallery had been in existence as "an executive lunch club for business and professional men and women who work or reside in the Surrey Heath area since 1974 ….". No complaint had ever been made about its operation. The Club met 4 times a year in Westminster for lunch. Westminster was chosen primarily for its convenience. The main factors encouraging people to join were the networking and social opportunities provided by the Club, and the chance to meet their MP and hear interesting speakers.

71. Monies raised at events in the constituency organised by Strangers Gallery members did contribute to party funds. But, Mr Gove said, the Club "is not run in such a way as to maximise the amount of money which could be raised for the party". Specifically, the lunches held by the club at the House of Commons were priced at £55, sufficient to cover the costs of food and wine and to contribute to the club's administrative costs. On this basis the lunches did not breach the Banqueting Regulations. Mr Gove concluded:

"No fund raising activity takes place during lunches. And given the net worth of many of many of the individuals present, the decision to charge only slightly above costs reflects a commitment to respect the rules of the House."

9.  Rt Hon John Gummer (Member for Suffolk Coastal)

72. In their letter to me of 31 January, Mr Jones and Mr Mann said that they wished to complain about Mr Gummer's Westminster Club, which it appeared had been engaged in fundraising using House of Commons facilities. Their evidence for this lay in the Annual Report and Accounts of the Suffolk Coastal Conservative Association for the year ended 31 December 2005. Page 3 of the Report referred to the Westminster Club as one of the money-raising activities of the Association. Page 5 reported total fundraising income of the Association from all sources in 2005 of £19,486. Other information supplied by the complainants indicated that the Club had held an event at the House on 6 November 2006.

73. I wrote seeking Mr Gummer's response to the complaint on 6 February.[51] Mr Gummer replied on 19 February enclosing a note from the Chairman of his Association,[52] because, Mr Gummer said, he himself had "nothing to do with the financial arrangements of the Association and, indeed, it would be severely frowned on were I to attempt any such thing". The key points made by the Association's Chairman were:

  • the aim of the Club was "to connect with Suffolk's business and professional communities".
  • it had a diverse membership of some 29 people in 2005, generating total annual membership income that year of £10,110.00.
  • once the cost of social events and administration had been deducted, a modest donation of £502.50 had been made that year by the Club to the Association, plus some £405 in Party membership subscriptions.
  • of the three events a year held by the Club, two had in recent years been held at the House of Commons. The Palace was used because it provided "ready access to the top speakers".
  • no money raising activity took place at these events.

74. Mr Gummer added:

"I have to say that it had never occurred to me that anyone might believe that there might be something improper at a political club holding a lunch in the House of Commons. Even now one would have to say that it would be odd if such a lunch were available for members of organisations in my constituency, for whom I am always happy to sponsor such an occasion, but not specifically to those who have an interest in politics. There has therefore never been an intention either by me or by my Association, to do other than obey the rules of the House.

There is a difficulty that arises from budgeting to ensure that a loss is not made at such lunches and if your view is that it would be better were we to offer to return any money over and above the sums required for the lunches at the end of the year, I am sure that offer could certainly be made. I am anxious that we should offend neither the spirit not the letter of the law, but at the same time clearly I would not like to lose the real advantage of enabling people to meet senior politicians and to exchange views with them.

I ought also to say that, to my knowledge, I have never refused to sponsor a function in the House of Commons for any of my constituents, irrespective of their party political allegiance or interests and that continues to be true.".

10.  Mr Charles Hendry (Member for Wealden)

75. On 29 January 2007 Mr Hendry sent me an e-mail saying that a newspaper in his constituency had reported that he was under investigation by me for alleged use of "Westminster dining rooms to raise party funds". The report had been prompted by a press release issued by Mr Mann. I replied that I had not at that point received a complaint against Mr Hendry, but would make inquiries of Mr Mann's office.

76. After some initial confusion, I received in my office on 31 January a letter signed by Mr Jones and by a member of staff on behalf of Mr Mann referring to a dinner of the Sir Winston Churchill 50 Dining Club, hosted by Mr Hendry in the House on 29 November 2006. Accordingly I wrote to Mr Hendry on 31 January enclosing the material Mr Jones and Mr Mann had sent me. The text of my letter is at WE30.

77. Mr Hendry replied on 9 March (WE31). He explained that the Sir Winston 50 Dining Club had been founded in the 1960s for people living or working in, or having an interest in the Parliamentary constituencies in Brighton and Hove. The Club had no links to his own constituency but was administered by Hove Conservative Association. Its 50 members, who were not necessarily members of a political party, paid a joining fee of £100 and an annual subscription of £200. This entitled them to three dinners a year, which were usually held in the House of Commons, and addressed by a Conservative spokesman. The list of benefits of membership of the Club did refer to dinners being held in Westminster but this was intended to be purely factual and, given the purpose of the Club, "not to mention the dinner at Westminster would seem perverse". No fundraising by the Club took place at the dinners, nor more generally, but the Club had made occasional donations to the Conservative Party from its surplus funds. Mr Hendry (whose own constituency Patrons' Club did not use House facilities) had simply been asked as a neighbouring Member to host the event on 29 November and neither he nor his own association had derived any financial benefit from it.

78. In a further letter (WE32) which accompanied his formal response to the complaint, Mr Hendry expressed concern that local press in the area of his constituency had been informed that a complaint had been made against him before either he or I knew of this. Mr Hendry suggested that this was unacceptable and that it might be wise to remind all Members of the courtesies which should be observed. I replied on 12 March (WE33), saying that I would draw his concern to the Committee's attention. I copied my reply to Mr Jones and Mr Mann, giving them the opportunity to comment on the point raised by Mr Hendry if they so wished.

79. Mr Jones and Mr Mann replied on 14 March, confirming the explanation of what had happened which I had relayed to Mr Hendry in my letter of 31 January (WE30). They believed that Mr Hendry's name had been included in the dossier of evidence they had submitted to me earlier (in fact, it had not). When approached by a local journalist in January 2007, they had therefore confirmed that Mr Hendry's name was amongst those submitted to me. Once they had learned that the name had not been included, they had written separately to me on the matter. The text of their letter of 14 March (without its enclosures) and of my reply is at WE34 and WE35 respectively.

11.  Mr Mark Hoban (Member for Fareham)

80. The folder Mr Mann and Mr Jones sent me included a photocopy of what appeared to be an e-mail from Mr Hoban's former assistant to Mr Stewart Jackson (the Member for Peterborough), forwarding a sample letter of invitation to join the Fareham Patrons' Club. The text of this e-mail is at WE36. The letter indicated that the fee for joining the Club was £225, and that the Club held two dinners a year in the House of Commons, the cost of one of which (for 2 people) was included in or met from the membership fee.

81. I wrote to Mr Hoban on 7 December (WE37) and summarised the complaint against him as follows:

"…the essence of the complaint which Mr Mann and Mr Jones appear to be making against you is that you have breached the Banqueting Regulations in that:

82. Mr Hoban replied on 19 December. The text of his reply is at WE38. In brief, Mr Hoban said that:

  • The Fareham Patrons' Club had been established by his predecessor. He had inherited it and its organisation.
  • He was the Club's President but its day-to-day running was in the hands of its chairman and treasurer, with administrative assistance from the constituency association office.
  • The club had its own bank account. The chairman and treasurer of the Club decided whether to make any donations from Club funds.
  • The Club's dinners were held at the House of Commons primarily for Mr Hoban's convenience and that of the speaker, not least in enabling them to vote if there were divisions in the House.
  • Neither he nor the Conservative Party received a direct financial or material gain from the Club as it maintained its own bank account and made its own decisions about donations.
  • The club's costs included the actual cost of the meals, associated expenses and administration. "The extent to which the Club's income exceeds its costs is likely to be modest and variable".
  • He did not believe that the House's private dining rooms were being used as an inducement to recruit new members.
  • The events held at the House were predominantly political functions and "political events are not prohibited by the rules".

83. Mr Hoban made two more general points:

  • It was clear from the complaint and his response that Members had differing interpretations of the Banqueting Regulations (especially of paragraph 5.1). Greater clarity would be helpful.
  • The Regulations should not lightly be redrawn in a way which reduced usage of the private dining rooms and therefore their financial viability.

Mr Hoban concluded that, for the reasons he had given, he did not believe that he had contravened the Banqueting Regulations.

84. Following receipt of this letter, I wrote to Mr Hoban on 21 December querying his statement that "The extent to which the Club's income exceeds its costs is likely to be modest and variable", and asking what donations the Club had made to his association or other party funds in the last 5 years (WE39). Mr Hoban replied on 24 January (WE40), setting out a calculation of the cost of the Club in 2002, indicating a surplus of some £83 per member. In that year, the Club (with a membership of 10) had contributed £700 to the Fareham Conservative Association and £700 to the Winchester Conservative Association. The more recent donations made by the Club are set out in WE39.

12.  Mr John Horam (Member for Orpington)

85. The list of events held recently in the House presented by Mr Mann and Mr Jones as part of their evidence included one on 1 November identified as a Terrace Club luncheon, which Mr Horam was said to have hosted. I therefore wrote to Mr Horam on 7 December saying:

"…the essence of the complaint which Mr Mann and Mr Jones appear to be making against you is that the Terrace Club is a fund-raising device for the Conservative Party; and that in hosting its lunch on 1 November you breached paragraph 5.1 of the Banqueting Regulations, which says that the House's private dining rooms (and, by implication, its other catering facilities) may not be used for 'direct financial or material gain by a . . political party'."

86. Mr Horam replied on 21 December (WE42). He explained that the Terrace Club had been founded as a social and political club for women in the Bromley area, with the assistance of one of his predecessors. His role was to book a room and invite a speaker when the Club met in the House of Commons. He continued:

"I have no involvement in, or knowledge of, the club's finances and I make no direct financial and material gain from my role."

87. In further correspondence with Mr Horam[53] and the Chairman of the club[54], I established that the Terrace Club had been founded in October 1967, initially as a 'ginger group' to enable women to make their views known to politicians in the Conservative Party. The Club was not affiliated to a particular Conservative Association and its affairs were directed by its own committee. Over the years it had come to make donations from its surplus funds to associations in marginal constituencies in the South East (including, in 2005, that of Mr Horam). Mr Horam, had no input, however, to its decisions about donations. According to the chairman of the Club, it did not make any profit from the annual luncheon it held at the House but did raise money from other functions it held. New members of the Club were not promised luncheons at the House, although as the Club had been in existence for 40 years it was well known that it tried to include a visit to the House in its programme.

13.  Rt Hon Michael Howard QC (Member for Folkestone)

88. The complainants' evidence included a copy of a page from the Conservative Party website indicating that Mr Howard had addressed a luncheon held at the House of Commons on 2 November 2006 by Nottingham City Conservative Business Club, for which tickets had been priced at £62. It was not clear, however, whether Mr Howard had hosted the event or simply addressed it.

89. I wrote to Mr Howard on 7 December drawing his attention to this material and asking him to clarify his role in relation to the lunch (WE45). Mr Howard replied on 14 December (WE46), saying that he considered the complaint by Messrs Mann and Jones to be "thoroughly misconceived". His sole involvement with the lunch had been as speaker. The complaint was, in his view, based on a misunderstanding of the relevant paragraphs of the Banqueting Regulations. Paragraph 5.1 prohibited the use of the private dining rooms for direct financial or material gain by a political party. Mr Howard continued:

"In my view this prohibits the making available of such a room by a Member in direct exchange for money or some other material gain. It does not prohibit political events in the dining room. Similar considerations apply to the interpretation of paragraph 5.3.

In my experience, the attraction, if any, of events such as the lunch to which reference is made in your letter lies in the opportunity to listen to a prominent speaker on events of the day. If that speaker is a Member of Parliament it will frequently be more convenient for him or her to attend if the event is held in the House of Commons. In my view the venue is not normally a material consideration in attracting people to the event."

90. Since Mr Howard had not sponsored the lunch but had only spoken at it, I dismissed the complaint against him. Mr Howard informed me that the lunch had been sponsored by Mr Richard Ottaway (the Member for Croydon South). I therefore wrote to Mr Ottaway on 9 January, informing him of the complaint that had been made. Mr Ottaway replied on 16 January (WE47). Given the nature of Parliament, he argued, the private dining rooms must be provided for, among other things, political debate. While the Banqueting Regulations were "far from clear" on whether the rooms could be used for fundraising, he shared Mr Howard's view that the only prohibition was on direct financial gain by the Sponsor of an event or a party. On the assumption that political functions in the dining rooms were acceptable, indirect fundraising was, he argued, inevitable:

"Numerous functions held by all parties in the House's facilities are attended by those who make financial contributions either as members of political parties, sponsors or trade unionists. If we ban those people from attending functions in the House of Commons banqueting facilities because funds are raised indirectly, the use of those facilities will significantly fall. I sincerely hope it doesn't come to this. Whether someone is a member of a Trade Union which supports the Labour Party or a member of a Patrons club which supports the Tory party, Members of Parliament should be able to entertain them in the House."

91. With respect to the particular lunch on 2 November, Mr Ottaway enclosed a note from the City of Nottingham Conservatives which indicated that the aim of the Business Club was:

"to provide a House of Commons opportunity for business men and key personnel in Nottingham to meet and liaise with Members of the Shadow Cabinet, other business leaders and ambassadors."

The club did not charge a membership fee and sought to break even on its lunches, sometimes making a small excess, sometimes a small loss. The lunch on 2 November had resulted in a loss of just over £28.

14.  Mr Stewart Jackson (Member for Peterborough)

92. I have already mentioned that in their dossier of evidence in support of their complaint, Mr Mann and Mr Jones named a number of Members as beneficiaries of the activities of the United and Cecil Club, a dining club meeting regularly at the House of Commons one of whose objectives was to raise money for the Conservative Party.[55] Mr Jackson was named in this connection and I accordingly wrote to him on 7 December alerting him to the complaint (WE48).

93. Mr Jackson replied on 11 December (WE49), saying that the donation his local constituency party had received from the United and Cecil Club had been received prior to his election to the House. On entering the House, he had registered it as required by the Rules of the House. Since his election he had not attended, sponsored or organised any United and Cecil Club events in the House. He knew nothing of the circumstances which had led to the donation made to his General Election Fighting Fund and was confident that his conduct had been proper in the matter and in no way in breach of the Code.

15.  Mr Robert Key (Member for Salisbury)

94. In their letter of 31 January 2007, Mr Mann and Mr Jones complained about a dinner held by Mr Key's Constituency Conservative Association at the House on 9 February 2004. Evidence of this was contained in the Annual Report and Accounts for 2004 of the Salisbury Association which included mention of the dinner in a section headed "Review of fundraising activities". The 2004 accounts of the association showed total fundraising income from all sources of £29,492.

95. I invited Mr Key to respond to this complaint in a letter dated 6 February.[56] Mr Key replied on 15 February, enclosing a letter from his Constituency Agent.[57] The main points to emerge from his reply were:

  • The Patrons' Club run by his Association was a political dining club, which also raised funds for the Association.
  • These funds did not, however, come from dinners held at the House of Commons (which incurred a small loss) but from the Club's subscriptions and other activities.
  • The Club had held a dinner at the House in 2004 and again in 2006. No mention was made of the use of the House's facilities as a venue when people were invited to join the Club.
  • The Club was funded by annual subscriptions, with each dinner planned to be paid for individually and at cost.
  • The description in the Association's accounts, of the 2004 dinner as 'fundraising' had been a mistake. In fact it had made a loss.

96. Mr Key concluded:

"My motive in hosting two dinners for the Patrons Club in the House has always been to pursue the objective of any political dining club—to enjoy good food and company and to listen to political speakers. It is very difficult to persuade senior Party figures to visit rural seats like mine. Instead, I brought constituents to Westminster to hear them..

It has always been my intention to abide by all the rules of the House—and I believe I have always done so. However, in view of the national media attention already given to this issue, and in the light of the 'class action' pursued by Mr Mann and Mr Jones, I understand why this is perceived to be a grey area. If you believe that I have erred, I would wish to apologise unreservedly. In those circumstances I would also be grateful if you and the Committee on Standards and Privileges would consider clarifying the rules."

16.  Mr George Osborne (Member for Tatton)

97. Mr Mann and Mr Jones wrote on 3 January 2007 enclosing a copy of an article from the "Sunday Times" of 31 December 2006 and saying that in the light of it they wished to add a complaint about Mr George Osborne.

98. The article, the text of which is at WE15, said in relation to Mr Osborne:

"Other shadow cabinet members are also reliant on the thousands of pounds raised from their patrons' clubs. Tatton, the Cheshire constituency of George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, has made more than £40,000 from his patrons' club since he was elected in 2001."

However, neither the article nor the other material sent me by the complainants contained evidence as to how this money had been raised or that Mr Osborne might have broken the House's rules in raising it. Accordingly I wrote to Mr Mann and Mr Jones on 16 January inviting them to submit any direct evidence they had on these points, and adding that, without it, there was no basis on which I could accept a complaint against Mr Osborne.[58] No such evidence has been forthcoming from the complainants and I therefore dismissed the complaint against Mr Osborne.

17.  Mr Mike Penning (Member for Hemel Hempstead)

99. The list of events held recently in the House contained in the file of evidence submitted by Mr Mann and Mr Jones included reference to one hosted by Mr Penning on behalf of the Hemel Hempstead Conservative Association on 25 October 2006. As in the case of Mr Djanogly, the complainants noted that notice of the event had not been posted on the association's web-site. I therefore wrote to Mr Penning, drawing his attention to the material sent me by the complainants and saying:

"Based on this material, the essence of the complaint which Mr Mann and Mr Jones appear to be making against you is that the event you hosted on 25 October was a fund-raising one (if only in the sense that tickets for it were not charged at cost); and that you have breached paragraph 5.1 of the Banqueting Regulations, which says that the House's private dining rooms (and by implication, its other catering facilities) are not to be used for 'direct financial or material gain by a . . .political party'." [59]

    100. Mr Penning replied on 3 January (WE55). The event he had hosted on 25 October had, he said, been a dinner for his Association's Patrons' club. The Club had been running for at least 20 years on a subscription-only basis. The annual subscription entitled members to a lunch hosted in the constituency and an annual dinner held at the Carlton Club, St Stephen's Club or, occasionally, at the House of Commons. The event had not been advertised on the Association's web page as only club members were invited.

    101. In response to some questions I put to him about the nature of his Patrons' Club (WE56), Mr Penning wrote further (WE57), explaining that:

    • The Club's annual subscription was £225 single and £375 joint.
    • All subscriptions were paid into his association's bank account, and out of that account were paid all charges for the events it held, including the cost of transport to and from the venues.
    • The annual dinner was not automatically held at the House but at other venues, of which the Carlton Club was the most popular.
    • The club did not hold specific fundraising events.

    102. Mr Penning made clear that he did not think the complaint justified. He was confident the event fell well within the rules. He was deeply disturbed that the complaint was a "fishing exercise" designed to smear his and his Party's good name, and a waste of taxpayers' time and money. I undertook to bring his concerns on this score to the attention of the Committee.

    Mr Mark Prisk (Member for Hertford and Stortford)

    103. Mr Mann and Mr Jones's dossier included:

    a)  A copy of the Westminster Club newsletter for Autumn 2006 issued by the Hertford and Stortford Conservative Association. This indicated that one of the benefits of joining the Club was "one special event at the Palace of Westminster". Page 4 of the newsletter referred to the annual dinner of the Club, to be held "in the Churchill Room of the House of Commons on Thursday, 7 December."

    b)  A copy of related pages from Mr Prisk's website.

    I wrote to Mr Prisk on 7 December saying:

    "Based on this material, the essence of the complaint which Mr Mann and Mr Jones appear to be making against you is that the Westminster Club is a fund-raising device for your constituency association; that the promise of a special event at the Palace of Westminster is offered as an inducement to join the Club (contrary to paragraph 5.3 of the Banqueting Regulations); and that the use of the House's dining facilities by the Club breaches paragraph 5.1 of the Regulations."[60]

    104. On 14 December, Mr Mann and Mr Jones sent me a further letter, following the annual dinner of the Westminster Club held in the House a week earlier (WE59). The letter confirmed the information already available to me, but did not add any new point of substance to their complaint. I nonetheless shared it with Mr Prisk.

    105. Mr Prisk replied on 18 December (WE60). The Westminster Club, he explained, had been started by his predecessor. It was administered by his Association's secretary but had its own bank account, separate from that of the Conservative Association. It charged members a fee to join. Membership mainly consisted of businesses drawn from across East Hertfordshire.[61]

    106. Mr Prisk said that the cost of events run by the Club was not included in the membership fee but priced separately. The price of tickets for these events was set by the Club's Chairman to cover costs. The Club aimed to be self-financing. In recent years, its accounts had shown a surplus. However, the cost of administering the Club had been borne by the Conservative Association. In recognition of this, the Club's Chairman had agreed to transfer some of the surplus to the Association, as and when he was satisfied that the Club had the funds it needed to operate for the coming year. Mr Prisk, however, had no say in the finances of the Club. In response to a further inquiry I made on this point, Mr Prisk informed me on 8 February 2007 that whilst the Club chairman had agreed in principle to recompense the Association for secretarial and mailing services, no such donations had in fact been made since 2001.

    107. Mr Prisk said that he did not believe that this ad hoc arrangement for the Club to transfer part of any surplus to offset the Association's costs in administering the Club was in any way contrary to paragraph 5.1 of the Banqueting Regulations. Nor had any direct gain been made by the Conservative Party from the event held in the Churchill Room, which had not constituted fundraising for the Party. As to paragraph 5.3 of the Regulations, the list of benefits of Club membership did indeed refer to "one special event at the Palace of Westminster". However, he did not believe that this reference induced people to join the Club, beyond any other item in the Club's programme, the opportunity to network and meet the local MP, or the attraction of a particular speaker.

    108. Mr Prisk concluded:

    "Lastly, I would like to say that I am concerned at the effect these allegations may have on the excellent Refreshment Department at the House. If legitimate events are transferred away from Westminster, it will further undermine the viability of the department. It would also mean that the 100 people who come each year—many for the first time—would no longer visit Westminster, and I believe that that would be a retrograde step."

    18.  Mr Grant Shapps (Member for Welwyn Hatfield)

    109. Mr Mann and Mr Jones named Mr Shapps in their dossier in two connections:

    a)  as someone whose constituency party had been a recipient of a donation from the United and Cecil Club;

    b)  as having a Parliamentary Club which, according to information on his constituency association website, was to hold a dinner at the House of Commons on 18 December 2006, to be addressed by a prominent novelist.

    I wrote to Mr Shapps on 7 December drawing to his attention the material Mr Mann and Mr Jones had sent me and saying that the implication of their complaint was either that his Parliamentary Club was a fund-raising device or that the United and Cecil Club was improperly using House facilities to raise money for the Conservative Party, or both (WE61).

    110. In a letter of 12 December (WE62), Mr Shapps said that the Welwyn Hatfield Parliamentary Club did not nor ever had fundraised for the United and Cecil Club, nor did it fundraise through dinners at the House of Commons for itself or for the Conservative Party. It did not charge a joining fee of any kind. The club was intended as an outlet for constituents who were interested in discussing politics and hearing from politicians and political commentators. Dinners held by the Club at the House were typically charged at £65 and thus intended simply to cover their costs, including administration. In reality the Association "probably [ended] up marginally subsidising such dinners". The Club did try to hold one large fundraising dinner a year but this was held at the Carlton Club, not in the House.

    111. As to the United and Cecil Club, Mr Shapps believed that they operated in a similar manner. On the one occasion since becoming a Member he had been involved in such a dinner, he had received no benefit or donation in return. He understood that the fundraising activities of the United and Cecil Club took place at other Central London venues outside the House.

    19.  Dr Bob Spink (Member for Castle Point)

    112. Dr Spink was not among the Members named by Mr Mann and Mr Jones in their original complaint but the subject of a separate letter they sent me on 12 December 2006 (WE63). This drew attention to the Christmas dinner of the "Basildon House of Commons Dining Club", which Dr Spink had hosted in the House the previous evening. Mr Mann and Mr Jones said that this Club had registered with the Electoral Commission that it had donated £5000 to Basildon Conservative Association in June 2001. They concluded:

    "It would appear that the 'Basildon House of Commons Dining Club' and Dr Spink are using the House's facilities to raise money to unseat a Labour MP, in clear contravention of the rules."

    113. I wrote to Dr Spink on 18 December seeking his response to this complaint (WE64). Dr Spink replied on 21 December (WE65), saying that he had not learned of the complaint until a week after Mr Mann and Mr Jones had submitted it to me. He explained that his only involvement with the Club was through a long-term acquaintance, Councillor Mike Revell, who had asked him to sponsor events held from time to time by the Club at the House of Commons. He had contacted Mr Revell, who had told him that tickets for the event had cost £65; this was intended to cover costs; and should there be any surplus, the money would be used for charitable purposes. In the light of the explanation he had given Mr Mann, Mr Mann had told him, he said, that he was now withdrawing his complaint against Dr Spink.

    114. In a letter of 5 January 2007 (WE66) I informed Dr Spink that, a complaint having been lodged with me (which Mr Mann had not told me he wished to withdraw), it was now for me or the Committee on Standards and Privileges, as appropriate, to determine its outcome. I was writing to Mr Revell to put some supplementary questions to him about the nature of the Basildon Dining Club and its relationship to the Conservative Party. This I did on the same day (WE67).

    115. Mr Revell replied on 12 January (WE68), confirming what Dr Spink had told me in relation to the Club's Christmas dinner at the House on 11 December. He had not been the Club's organiser in 2001 and so did not know how its donation to the Conservative Party in that year had been funded. The Club as currently run did not charge a membership fee, nor was any restriction made as to party affiliation in terms of its guests. The dinner had been held as an opportunity for local business people to meet Dr Spink in a social gathering. No fundraising for the Conservative Party had been conducted.

    20.  Mr Richard Spring (Member for West Suffolk)

    116. The list of events held recently at the House in the file of material sent me by Mr Mann and Mr Jones included reference to a social event which Mr Spring had hosted for the Conservative City Circle on 23 October 2006. The complainants noted that no reference had been made to this event on Mr Spring's constituency association website. The implication they drew was that the Conservative City Circle was a fundraising device for the Conservative party and the event had breached paragraph 5.1 of the Banqueting Regulations. I therefore wrote to Mr Spring inviting his response to the complaint.[62]

    117. Mr Spring replied on 11 December[63]. The event, he said, had been booked in the name of the Conservative City Circle, but was not an attempt to raise funds for the group, nor did it have anything to do with his constituency. In fact it had been a social event, for young lawyers in the City. It had been paid for by the Society of Conservative Lawyers. At the end of the reception, those present had been invited to consider becoming members of the Society, but neither he nor his constituency, nor the Conservative City Circle, had been beneficiaries[64].

    118. Mr Spring said that, in his view, all that had happened fell fully within the House's rules. He wished to protest about the discourtesy, as he saw it, of Mr Mann and Mr Jones in not first putting their allegations to him before lodging a complaint.

    21.  Mr Graham Stuart (Member for Beverley and Holderness)

    119. Like Mr Duddridge, Mr Jackson and Mr Shapps, Mr Stuart was named by Mr Mann and Mr Jones in the material which accompanied their letter of 23 November as a Member whose constituency party had received a donation from the United and Cecil Club, a club which they believed to be making improper use of the House's dining facilities for fundraising purposes. I therefore wrote to Mr Stuart on 7 December putting their complaint to him and inviting his response.[65]

    120. Mr Stuart replied on 30 January[66]. He had received a contribution to his election campaign from the United and Cecil Club but did not see how this formed the ground for a complaint. He continued:

    "It would be a pity if dinners held by such groups (or indeed patrons' clubs) were driven out of the Palace to other venues. Those individuals who help fund local politics in this country are playing an important role in maintaining our democracy and it would be perverse if they were uniquely barred from dining (at commercial rates) in Parliament."

    Mr Stuart suggested that financial supporters of parties were entertained in Parliament by politicians on all sides of the House. He believed that the complaint was without merit, and that:

    "… if clarification is needed on the use of dining facilities, then it should be quickly provided but avoid perverse results."

    22.  The United and Cecil Club

    121. As mentioned earlier, the United and Cecil Club was named by Mr Mann and Mr Jones in connection with 4 Members in the material they sent me on 23 November 2006. Subsequently Mr Mann and Mr Jones wrote to me on 18 January 2007 enclosing documents relating to a dinner held by the Club in the House on 16 January 2007 which, they said, confirmed that the Club existed to raise funds for the Conservative Party and made systematic use of the House's dining facilities to assist it in that task, in blatant breach, as they saw it, of the House's rules.[67]

    122. After their initial complaint, I contacted the Chairman of the United and Cecil Club, the Hon Bernard Jenkin (the Member for North Essex) to seek further information about the Club.[68] Mr Jenkin replied on 8 January.[69]

    123. Mr Jenkin said that the club and its forerunners had been in existence since 1881. Its purpose, summarised in the menu for its dinner on 16 January, was to provide:

    "…contact with the Party leadership and [to raise] funds for target seats and those of its members who stand at the General Election".

    The Club dined monthly when Parliament was sitting, usually at the House of Commons but sometimes elsewhere, when it would be addressed by a prominent speaker. On average at least half of its meetings would be held at the House. It had a total membership of around 400.

    124. According to Mr Jenkin, the Club had an annual membership fee of £100. Tickets for each event were priced separately at around £79 per head for a dinner at the House. This was calculated to cover the cost of each event and to make a small surplus, which, he said, could fairly be regarded as a contribution towards the administrative costs of the Club.

    125. The Club did raise funds for the Conservative Party, but these derived from its members' subscriptions and from fundraising events which were not held in the House. It was for this reason that the Club was a "membership organisation" under the terms of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

    126. Mr Jenkin included in his letter a plea for realism in relation to fundraising and the House:

    "I have always taken the spirit of the Regulations to mean that rooms should not be booked on behalf of political parties themselves for overt fundraising, but only for a purpose connected with your constituency or a legitimate political purpose, such as debate and discussion of issues of the day. However, the use of the word "direct" in the Regulations is clearly intended to provide some latitude in interpretation.

    I would add that fundraising for political parties is a perfectly respectable activity, now recognised and regulated by law. All politicians are involved with it, one way or another (and will remain so, unless the law changes and we move to exclusively state-funded political parties). In that case, it would seem unrealistic and indeed unhealthy for activities in the Palace of Westminster to be unreasonably divorced from the reality of politics. If activities of "patrons" clubs and of organisations like the U&C were effectively to be banned from the Palace of Westminster, what public interest would be served?

    However, if there are to be changes, it would not be unreasonable to expect that such changes avoid favouring one political party over another. For example, would trade unions be treated in the same way as "patrons" clubs? Can we take it that Labour MPs who book rooms for trade unions are completely disinterested in the role that they play in funding the Labour Party?"

    127. In his letter of 8 January, Mr Jenkin had told me of the Club's dinner on 16 January, saying that until advised otherwise, he intended to proceed as normal with the Club's programme. He also intended to do the same with the Colchester Area Business Advisory Committee, a club which dined twice a year in the House which he had inherited from his predecessor as Member for North Essex. I advised that this was the correct course, both the outcome of the complaint and whether any change in the Banqueting Regulations would result from its consideration being, as yet, unclear.

    "Conservative Mainstream"

    128. The file of material submitted to me by Mr Mann and Mr Jones included a number of pages from the website of "Conservative Mainstream", a grouping within the Conservative Party, referring to the activities of the organisation and its Patrons Club. Mr Mann and Mr Jones did not, however, complain about a particular Member in connection with the activities of the Club, nor did the material sent to me indicate that the Club had held events in the private dining rooms of the House (although they did indicate that a dinner had been held in the House of Lords).

    129. On 11 January 2007, however, Mr Mann wrote enclosing some further material about "Conservative Mainstream", together with some of the material he had submitted before, saying:

    "I am writing to draw your attention to the enclosed letters and the supporting documentation regarding the activities of a group called "Conservative Mainstream" which I think will be of interest to you in your investigation of my original complaint."

    130. I learnt subsequently from Mr Damian Green (the Member for Ashford and the Chairman of the Board of "Parliamentary Mainstream", a sub-grouping of "Conservative Mainstream") that Mr Mann and Mr Jones had written on 11 January to all the Members on the "Parliamentary Mainstream" Board saying:

    "It has come to our attention that your organisation has misused dining facilities [at the House] …, with booking requiring an MP's signature and presence.

    This is obviously a matter for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to whom we have today complained."

    131. In a telephone conversation with me on 24 January, Mr Green said that the "Conservative Mainstream" Patrons Club was separate from, and not controlled by "Parliamentary Mainstream". Patrons were drawn from outside the House. He himself had never attended any dinner of the Club held at the House. Nonetheless it would be appropriate for me to contact the Club's organiser if I wished to know more.

    132. Accordingly after further contact with Mr Mann, I wrote on 2 February to Mr Richard Pullen, the Chairman of the Club.[70] I drew Mr Pullen's attention to the material relating to the Club forwarded to me by Mr Mann and Mr Jones, which included material from Conservative Mainstream's website and from the "Reformer" magazine for Autumn 2002 and Spring 2003. This indicated that the Club had, in 2002, an annual membership subscription of £300, in return for which members (and a guest) were invited to a Patrons' dinner in the late autumn and a summer reception. One such event had been held in the House of Lords and Mr Mann also believed that another event of a fundraising character had been held in No.1 Parliament Street (part of the Commons holding on the Parliamentary estate) on 31 October 2006.

    133. Mr Pullen replied in a letter signed jointly with Mr Green on 6 February.[71] The Club's subscription was still £300 and there were some 40 members. It offered each member, with a guest, two functions a year, the profit on which was shared between 3 particular groups within the Conservative Party. In 2006, each group had received £4,100 from the Club.

    134. The Club never used the prospect of social events in the Commons to attract new members. The Club had held one event in the Lords in 2002 but none in the Commons. The dinner on 31 October 2006—which had in fact been held in Dining Room B—had been a dinner of the Parliamentary members of 'Parliamentary Mainstream'. It had not been a fundraising event and the price charged had merely been intended to cover the cost. Mr Pullen and Mr Green added that "Parliamentary Mainstream" regularly held sandwich lunches in the House but these too were not fundraising events (the lunches were not charged for) and were simply intended to "offer an opportunity for political discussion on a topic of current interest".

    Alleged Fundraising Visits to the House

    135. When I met Mr Mann on 7 February (see paragraph 28 above), he expressed concern that some Members might be using visits to the House as a means of fundraising for party purposes. He did not object to fundraising which was incidental to a visit (such as the holding of a raffle on a coach bringing party members or other constituents to Westminster). However, in his view, it would be objectionable if Members were charging for such visits to the House in order not only to cover costs but to make a profit for party funds.

    136. Mr Mann said that his concern had been stimulated by an entry in the unaudited financial statements of the Bromsgrove Conservative Association for 2005. Under the heading of Fundraising these included the following statement:

    "The Association runs a number of fundraising activities directly as well as through the Branches and the Member of Parliament. These activities include:

    …. Visits to the Houses of Parliament."

    Mr Mann said that he did not wish to make a formal complaint about the Member for Bromsgrove (Ms Julie Kirkbride) because he was not clear from this brief entry in the Association's accounts precisely how the visits had contributed to party funds. Nonetheless he was concerned that the facts be established and that the limits of what is or is not permissible in relation to visits should be made clear, for the benefit of all Members.

    137. Following my meeting with Mr Mann, I wrote to Ms Kirkbride putting his concerns to her.[72] Ms Kirkbride replied on 19 February.[73] Two or three trips, she said, had taken place in the last five years. She saw them as an important means of engaging constituents (including party donors) in the Parliamentary process. Her Association charged a set fee, designed to cover all associated costs of the trip including her office manager's time and "a perfectly reasonable expectation among my Association members that the trip would raise a little cash".

    138. Ms Kirkbride added that the amount of profit made at these events would amount to a few hundred pounds. Given the contrast between this and the amount of effort involved in organizing such a trip, her staff were not "champing at the bit to set a date for the next!". She believed that what had been done did not infringe any rules of the House.

    139. I have shared my exchange of correspondence with Ms Kirkbride with the Serjeant at Arms who is responsible to Mr Speaker for administering arrangements for visitors to the House. The Serjeant commented:

    "I think it is very difficult to draw a line as to what is an appropriate amount of fundraising that Members can undertake when hosting events anywhere in the Palace of Westminster. I suggest that the moment you allow any form of fundraising to take place it becomes virtually impossible to police and calls into question the appropriateness of that particular function."

    140. I informed Ms Kirkbride of the Serjeant's view when sending her for comment the draft of the factual sections of this report. Ms Kirkbride replied strongly contesting the Serjeant's approach.[74] In assessing whether what her Association had done breached the rules of the House, tests of proportion and of intention to break the spirit of the rules should be applied. Members and supporters of her Association would be aggrieved if in organising a trip such as one to the House, the Association didn't use the occasion to raise a modest sum. It should be for the Member to judge where the line should be drawn on these matters. Ms Kirkbride concluded:

    "Surely we have to use a test of common sense and reasonableness in assessing rules for the use of Parliament as in no way do I accept that I was breaking the rules or the spirit of the rules. Quite the contrary, I believe I was acting honourably in seeking to help share the experience of the Houses of Parliament with my constituents in Bromsgrove.

    It goes without saying that I offer hospitality and organise trips for a great many of my constituents who make their own way to Westminster and I welcome their visit. It would, however, be a great shame if an innocent and perfectly reasonable way of encouraging more people to share in the experience of the House were banned due to a determination to apply pettifogging rules in a disproportionate fashion."

    Rt Hon the Lord Hunt of Wirral

    141. I mentioned earlier that Mr Mann and Mr Jones had named two Members of the House of Lords in their complaint. The complaint related in this respect to the use of the refreshment facilities in the Upper House. As I have made clear (paragraph 2), I do not have jurisdiction in this matter. I simply make two points, one general, one specific.

    142. The general one is that the House of Lords Regulations on Parties in the House prohibit the holding of functions for public relations, advertising or commercial purposes. Unlike the equivalent regulations in the House of Commons, they do not prohibit direct financial or material gain by a political party. Whether or not there is any reason to review the Lords Regulations is something the appropriate authorities in the Upper House may wish to consider in the light of this report and of the outcome of its consideration by the Committee on Standards and Privileges.

    143. The specific point concerns Lord Hunt of Wirral. In the material they sent with their complaint, Mr Mann and Mr Jones included pages from the website of West Wirral Conservative Association saying that Lord Hunt had entertained members of the Association's Patrons' Club (which charged a £250 annual membership fee for a couple) to lunch at the House of Lords in the summer of 2006. After I drew this material to the attention of Lord Hunt, and of the appropriate authorities in the Lords, Lord Hunt wrote[75] saying that the reference to him on the website was incorrect. He had not entertained the Club to lunch in the Lords in the summer of 2006. The Chairman of the West Wirral Patrons' Club wrote subsequently[76] confirming Lord Hunt's statement and saying that no facilities in either House had ever been used by the Club for 'direct financial or material gain' by the Conservative Party. I have copied the relevant correspondence to the Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests.

    Evidence of the Director of Catering Services

    144. I complete the survey of the evidence uncovered by my inquiries with a brief summary of some helpful information supplied by the House's Director of Catering Services, Mrs Sue Harrison.[77] I invited Mrs Harrison to offer me her comments on the complaints and in particular her views on:

    a)  the concerns expressed by Mr Mann and Mr Jones about equality of opportunity for Members to book the House's dining rooms and the relative use made by Members of different parties of these facilities; and

    b)  any implications that a change in the present Banqueting Regulations or in their interpretation might have for the economic viability of the House's catering operation.

    145. As regards booking practices and procedures for the dining rooms, the Director said that the current booking regulations are designed to ensure equality of opportunity for all Members wishing to sponsor private events in the House's banqueting rooms. Rooms can be booked on a 'first come, first served' basis up to 18 months in advance of the function date.[78] An analysis of forward bookings indicated that Conservative Members tended to book their events earlier, thus securing those rooms most in demand.[79] However there was no evidence of Members manipulating the booking system in such a way as to restrict availability to others.

    146. Despite the disparity between the parties in terms of advance bookings, actual usage of the dining rooms was much more evenly split between Members of the two main parties. In 2006, Conservative Members had sponsored almost 42% of events, with Labour Members sponsoring over 40%. The Director commented:

    "This does not, of course, reflect the balance of seats between the parties, and this evidence backs up my own observation over many years that Conservative Members tend to make proportionally more use of the banqueting facilities than Labour Members do."

    147. The Director pointed out that the further in advance a booking enquiry is made, the greater the likelihood that it can be accommodated. Demand for certain facilities fluctuates, and regular users of the catering services tend to be aware of the peak demand patterns and so tend to book early for prime-time events.

    148. More generally, Mrs Harrison commented that:

    a)  In 1994, the then Catering Committee had agreed that events held by "constituency associations and other constituency-related clubs and bodies" should receive a 10% discount off the standard, fully commercial tariff for use of the private dining facilities.

    The inclusion of the phrase "constituency-related club" indicated that it was already an established practice in 1994 for events to be held for party-affiliated clubs. Of the 46 events which in 2006 had qualified for this discount, a number had been held by clubs of the sort covered by my inquiry. The Director continued:

    "Part of the difficulty for my staff in applying this discount lies in attempting to determine what constitutes a "constituency-related club or body", and we would welcome further guidance on this point."

    This may be a matter to which the Administration Committee wishes to give thought in the light of the outcome of consideration of this report.

    b)  She had noted that a number of Members responding to the complaints had made the point that careful consideration must be given to the economic impact of any changes to the Banqueting Regulations. Banqueting income was an important contributor to reducing the overall public funding requirement of her Department. However, constituency-related events formed only a relatively small proportion of the Banqueting income.

    c)  The primary motivation behind the provision of the private dining room service was convenience to Members in helping them to make best use of their time. This must be borne in mind if the Regulations were to be changed.

    149. The Director concluded:

    "In summary, I would like to add that having seen the complaints lodged by Mr Mann and Mr Jones and the responses from Members, it is clear that greater clarity is needed by Members when booking banqueting events. Although the regulations are re-circulated with each new booking, it is understandable that regular users of the banqueting service do not read this document, believing themselves secure in their knowledge from past experience. Also, as more business is transacted by e-mail, there is an increasing chance that accompanying documents, such as the banqueting regulations, will not be opened. This points to the need in future to actively signpost any revised clauses in the banqueting regulations, emphasising the need for sponsoring Members to acquaint themselves with the changes."

    Findings of Fact

    150. The Banqueting Regulations—which govern the use of the private dining facilities in the House—permit the use of the rooms for party political functions. However, this permission is subject to the rules on declaration of interest, and since December 2000 has been subject to the proviso that the rooms "are not to be used for direct financial or material gain by a sponsor, political party, or any other person or outside organisation." The Regulations also provide that the rooms may not be used "as an inducement to recruit new members of outside organisations or non-parliamentary associations."

    151. Prior to December 2000 the Regulations did not prohibit the use of the rooms for fundraising by a political party. The prohibition prior to that point was limited to "any purpose involving direct commercial gain".[80]

    152. There are a variety of dining clubs associated with the Conservative Party, some of which meet regularly in the House. Many of these clubs have been established for a considerable number of years, often preceding the change in the Banqueting Regulations to which I have referred.

    153. The precise pattern of operation of each club varies and each case has to be examined on its merits. However, among these clubs, it is possible to distinguish a number of different types:

    a)  Patrons' Clubs—linked with, although sometimes organisationally distinct from, the Conservative Association in a particular constituency.[81] The clubs typically provide their members with two or three social events a year, the cost of which (although sometimes charged separately) is often met from an annual membership subscription which also covers the cost of administering the Club.

    Clubs of this nature are to be found both in constituencies with a sitting Conservative Member and in those without. In the latter case, they may approach other Conservative Members or Conservative peers to sponsor any event they may hold in the Palace of Westminster.

    Patrons Clubs within reasonable travelling distance of London frequently hold at least one of these social events in the capital, usually at either the Carlton or St Stephen's Clubs or at the Houses of Parliament.

    The Clubs are frequently a source of financial support for the local Conservative Party. They may arrange fundraising events outside their normal social programme and/or make contributions to the Party deriving from any surplus on their membership subscriptions.

    Some Patrons Clubs advertise their programme of events as including functions to be held in the House.

    b)  Constituency-based dining or luncheon clubs—these meet from time to time primarily for political debate, or for example, to enable networking among local business people. Such clubs may or may not charge an annual membership fee but this is generally intended to cover the cost of their administration. In some cases administrative services are provided to the club by the local Conservative Association. The cost of individual meetings of the Club is generally charged for separately. Such clubs may or may not make occasional donations to the Conservative Party (for example, out of any surplus derived from their membership fee), and individual donors may be among their membership.[82]

    c)  Dining Clubs not linked to a particular constituency association—such as the United and Cecil Club or the Patrons' Club of "Conservative Mainstream". These clubs have the objective both of encouraging political debate and of raising funds for the Conservative Party or for particular groupings within it at national level. The Clubs raise funds from annual membership subscriptions and from fundraising events. They argue, however, that the dinners they hold at the House do not constitute direct fundraising opportunities.

    154. Having offered this brief schematic summary, I emphasise that it is a summary, and therefore a simplification. As the evidence I have set out in relation to each Member named by the complaints illustrates, each group or club operates in its own particular way, and how it does so needs to be examined on its merits in relation to the provisions of the Banqueting Regulations. There is no dispute about the evidence I have set out earlier concerning each case, and so I see no need to summarise or repeat it here. I turn now therefore to consider, against the background of the summary of the facts in relation to each case set out in paragraphs 41-134 above, the application of the Banqueting Regulations to the complaint made by Mr Mann and Mr Jones as it relates to each individual Member named by them, before concluding with some general observations and recommendations which the Committee may wish to consider.

    Conclusions in respect of the Complaints

    155. One of the key issues in relation to the complaints made by Mr Mann and Mr Jones concerns the interpretation of paragraphs 5.1 and 5.3 of the Banqueting Regulations, and what constitutes direct financial or material gain by a political party in this context. I come to this matter shortly. However, the evidence available suggests that some of the complaints made by Mr Mann and Mr Jones are not justified on their merits, for reasons quite apart from the interpretation of these two paragraphs, and I therefore dismiss them on these grounds.

    156. The following complaints appear to me to fall into this category, for the reasons identified in each case:

    a)  Mr Richard Bacon—Mr Bacon says that his constituency association's Westminster Group is not a fundraising device and that its membership fee is designed purely to cover costs. No evidence has been presented to me that the Group is in fact a fundraising device or that it has used its occasional meetings at the House to raise money for the Conservative Party. Nor has evidence been presented that it seeks to recruit new members by advertising the fact that it holds occasional meetings at the House.

    b)  Mr James Duddridge—the fact that Mr Duddridge's constituency association has received a donation from the United and Cecil Club does not make him complicit in any breach of the House's rules. Responsibility for ensuring that that Club's activities comply with the House's rules rests with the Club's officers and any Members who sponsor individual events held by the Club at the House. By registering the donation to his association, Mr Duddridge has complied with his obligations to the House.

    c)  Mr Michael Gove—according to Mr Gove, lunches held by the Parliamentary luncheon club, "Strangers Gallery", at the House are charged to club members at cost. Although the club does raise money for the Conservative Party at events in Mr Gove's Surrey Heath constituency, the evidence available does not indicate that the club is using its meetings in the Palace of Westminster for fundraising purposes.

    The material relating to the club which Mr Mann and Mr Jones supplied from the Surrey Heath Conservative website says that the club meets four times a year at the House of Commons.[83] However, the reference appears, when read in context, to be, on balance, a factual one rather than one which is clearly seeking to recruit new members by reference to the attraction of the House.

    d)  Mr John Horam—according to the information supplied by Mr Horam and the chairman of the Terrace Club, whilst the Club does make donations to the Conservative Party in the South East, it makes no profit on the annual luncheon it holds at the House. New members of the Club are not promised luncheons at the House as a benefit of membership.

    e)  Rt Hon Michael Howard QC—the complaint by Mr Mann and Mr Jones in relation to Mr Howard focused on a lunch held at the House on 2 November 2006 at which he had been the principal speaker. Mr Howard carried no responsibility as speaker for ensuring that the lunch in question complied with the Banqueting Regulations. Whatever the facts in relation to that lunch, he cannot be held liable for any breach of the Regulations in relation to it.

    According to Mr Richard Ottaway, the sponsor of the lunch (against whom no complaint was made), and to its organisers (Nottingham Conservative Business Club), the event was charged at cost and in fact resulted in a small loss to the Club.

    f)  Mr Stewart Jackson—was named along with Mr Duddridge, Mr Shapps and Mr Stuart as the recipient through his Fighting Fund of a donation from the United and Cecil Club. For similar reasons to those I have advanced in relation to Mr Duddridge, no evidence has been presented to me that Mr Jackson has breached the rules of the House.

    g)  Mr Robert Key—according to the evidence submitted by Mr Key, both of the two Patrons' Club dinners he has held at the House in the last five years have been separately charged for and at cost. Both made a loss. The prospect of dinners at the House does not appear to have been held out to prospective members as a way of enticing them into the Club.

    h)  Mr George Osborne—as explained in paragraph 98, no evidence has been submitted to me that Mr Osborne's constituency Patrons' Club has used the facilities of the House to raise funds for the Conservative Party.

    i)  Mr Grant Shapps—Mr Mann and Mr Jones made two complaints relating to Mr Shapps:

    i)  relating to the receipt by his constituency party of a donation from the United and Cecil Club. For reasons similar to those I have given in relation to Mr Duddridge and Mr Jackson, this complaint is not substantiated by the evidence.

    ii)  relating to the 'Welwyn Hatfield Parliamentary Club'. According to Mr Shapps' evidence, this is a political dining club. Events at the House of Commons are charged at cost and no fundraising is conducted by the Club in relation to events held at the House. Since no contrary evidence has been presented, this complaint too is unsubstantiated.

    j)  Dr Robert Spink—the evidence supplied by Dr Spink and Mr Revell indicates that the Basildon House of Commons Dining Club charges for events held at the House at cost; no membership fee is levied and should there be any surplus on such events, the money will be used for charitable purposes. No evidence has been presented to me that the Christmas dinner held by the Basildon Club at the House on 11 December 2006, which Dr Spink sponsored and about which Mr Mann and Mr Jones have complained, was in breach of the rules of the House and the complaint against Dr Spink must, therefore, fall.

    k)  Mr Richard Spring—Mr Mann and Mr Jones complained about a social event hosted by Mr Spring at the House on 23 October 2006 for the Conservative City Circle. According to Mr Spring the event in question was in fact a reception for young lawyers in the City paid for by the Society of Conservative Lawyers. There was therefore no question of it being a fundraising event for any particular organisation.

    Although, according to Mr Spring, those present were invited at the end of the reception to consider joining the Society, I do not think this would constitute the use of the facility concerned for direct financial or material gain by the Society. Nor is it use of the rooms as an inducement to recruit new members of the Society, as while the fact that the reception was held in the House may well have impressed prospective members, no promise of future access to the rooms was, on the evidence available, held out to induce them to join.

    l)  Mr Graham Stuart—for similar reasons to those I have given in relation to Mr Duddridge, Mr Jackson and Mr Shapps, I do not think the complaint against Mr Stuart, which centred on the receipt by his constituency association of a donation from the United and Cecil Club, can be upheld.

    157. For the reasons I have set out, I concluded that, on the evidence available, the complaint by Mr Mann and Mr Jones in respect of each of these twelve Members should be dismissed.

    158. I have also concluded that the complaint made by Mr Mann and Mr Jones against Mr Damian Green and the Conservative Mainstream Patrons' Club should be dismissed on the facts. Although the Club has held one social event in the House of Lords, there is no evidence that it has held fundraising events in the House of Commons. According to Mr Green the only dinner held in the Commons was one of Parliamentary members of Conservative Mainstream and the price charged was merely intended to cover the cost. There is no evidence that the prospect of social events in the Commons has been used to attract new members of the Club.

    159. In the case of the remaining ten Members and the United and Cecil Club (the Hon Bernard Jenkin), it does not seem to me that the evidence is so clear cut as to enable me to conclude that the complaint can be dismissed purely on the basis of an examination of the evidence, and without also considering wider issues, including the interpretation of the relevant paragraphs of the Banqueting Regulations. In each of the cases below, events at the House are part of a package offered to members of a club which donates money to the Conservative Party (except in the case of Mr Prisk, where the club involved nonetheless includes "one special event at Westminster" in the advertised benefits of membership). I have reached this view for the following particular reasons in relation to each complaint:

    a)  Rt Hon Michael Ancram—in his letter of 19 December 2006, Mr Ancram says that there is no question of his constituency Patrons' Club making direct financial or material gain from events held at the House. However he concedes that members of the Club pay an enhanced subscription in return for a number of social functions, some of which have taken place at the House. It could therefore be argued that any contribution made by the Club to party funds comes in part from the sale of meals at the House at more than cost.

    b)  Mr Tony Baldry—Mr Baldry also denies that the activities of the North Oxfordshire Constituency Association's Patrons' Club in any way breach the rules of the House. However, the membership fees of the Club cover the cost of one free dinner a year in London and this dinner has occasionally been held in the House. The Club contributes significantly from its subscription income to Association funds. To the extent that meals have been held in the House, it could be argued that a surplus deriving from them has gone to party funds.

    c)  Rt Hon David Cameron—Mr Cameron likewise denies that his constituency Principal Patrons' Club has contravened paragraph 5.1 or paragraph 5.3 of the Regulations. Only 2 of 23 functions held by the Club since its inception have taken place at the House of Commons. However, it is clear from the evidence that members of the Club pay an enhanced subscription in return for those events and that the Club is a substantial contributor to the funds of his Conservative Association. To the limited extent that events have been held at the House, it could be argued that part of the Club's contribution has derived from the use of the facilities of the House.

    d)  Mr Jonathan Djanogly—Mr Djanogly denies that the Huntingdon Industrial Advisory Council is in breach of the Regulations. However, its members pay a substantial fee in return for which they have access to two dinners a year, the majority of which have been held at the House. Although not a formal party organisation, the Council has been a significant contributor to the Huntingdon Constituency Conservative Association in recent years. Mr Djanogly argues that this contribution has represented a reasonable level of recompense for the Association's administrative assistance to the Council but whether or not this is so is unclear (see paragraphs 59-62 above).

    e)  Mr Alan Duncan—Mr Duncan says that at no stage has any promise been made of a meal in, or visit to the House of Commons and that dining at the House has been a more expensive proposition than other venues for his constituency Patrons' Club. However, meals held at the House have not been charged for separately but the cost to members has been met out of the Club's subscriptions. According to Mr Duncan[84], the surplus on subscriptions (credited to the Funds of his Association) in 2006 was about £7,000 on a total subscription income that year to the Club of £10,704.96.

    f)  Rt Hon John Gummer—Mr Gummer's Association's Westminster Club makes a more modest but nevertheless tangible contribution to his Constituency Association, once the costs of the events it organises and of the Club's administration have been deducted from the Club's subscription income. Two of its events a year are held at the House of Commons.

    g)  Mr Charles Hendry—The Sir Winston Churchill 50 Dining Club provides no benefit to Mr Hendry or his Constituency Association. However the Club, which usually meets in the House of Commons, has made occasional donations to the Conservative Party from its surplus funds. As Sponsor of its dinner on 29 November 2006, Mr Hendry assumed responsibility for ensuring that the Club complied with the House's rules.

    h)  Mr Mark Hoban—Mr Hoban believes that his constituency's Patrons' Club has observed the House's rules. However its members pay a substantial annual fee in return for which they can attend 2 dinners a year held at the House. The Club has contributed regularly both to Mr Hoban's constituency association and to a neighbouring association.

    i)  Mr Mike Penning—Mr Penning says that his Association's Patrons' Club has observed the rules. It is clear from the evidence, however, that club members pay a substantial annual subscription which entitles them to attend two events a year, one being a dinner held in London. The dinner is occasionally held at the House of Commons and to that extent any surplus accruing to the Club may be said to derive from the use of the facilities of the House. Any surplus on the Club's income is credited to the Association.

    j)  Mr Mark Prisk—Mr Prisk too is confident that the Hertford and Stortford Westminster Club does not breach the Banqueting Regulations. The Club charges for events held at the House broadly at cost (including an element for administration), but it also charges a membership fee.[85] Although the Club's Chairman has agreed in principle to recompense Mr Prisk's Association for administrative support given by the Association to the Club, no such donations have in fact been made since 2001. However, the advertised benefits of Club membership include:

    "Quarterly meetings, plus one special event at the Palace of Westminster."

    160. To this list of cases involving in 7 instances Patrons' Clubs associated with particular constituencies and in 3 cases businessmen's clubs, must be added the complaint by Mr Mann and Mr Jones against the United and Cecil Club. This Club is unashamedly a fundraising organisation, of long-standing, for the Conservative Party at national level. Its Chairman, Mr Jenkin, says that it prices its events held regularly at the House broadly at cost (including an element for administration). Fundraising takes place outside the House. However the Club also levies an annual membership fee and some part of its donations to the Conservative Party come from that fee.

    161. There is no question that political events are permitted in the House's private dining rooms. The judgement as to whether the rules of the House have been breached in these eleven cases must turn in part on the interpretation of paragraphs 5.1 and 5.3 of the Banqueting Regulations. I now examine each of these provisions in turn.

    162. Regulation 5.1 prohibits the use of the House's dining facilities for "direct financial and material gain by a … political party". It seems likely that the intention of this provision was primarily to prevent the sale at a premium of tickets for events held at the House. I have not encountered any evidence that the price of tickets for the events about which Mr Mann and Mr Jones have complained have been deliberately increased in order to produce a contribution to go towards party funds.

    163. There is, however, plenty of evidence that there have been circumstances in which a social event held at the House has formed part of a package offered to members of Patrons' and other dining Clubs, in return for the payment of a sizeable subscription, the surplus of which (after costs have been met) has been donated to Conservative Party funds. On balance, I believe the evidence available in relation to Mr Ancram, Mr Baldry, Mr Cameron, Mr Djanogly, Mr Duncan, Mr Gummer, Mr Hendry, Mr Hoban, Mr Jenkin and Mr Penning shows this. So too does a good deal of the material set out in paragraphs 35-39 of this report (which does not, however, generally form the basis of any specific complaint by Mr Mann or Mr Jones).

    164. The key question is whether this type of arrangement constitutes direct financial gain by a political party. Mr Mann and Mr Jones, adopting a broader interpretation of paragraph 5.1, assert that it does. On this view, there is no effective difference between charging an inflated price for one event and buying an inflated membership subscription covering several. Both involve the use of the House's facilities to generate a financial surplus for Party funds.

    165. Members who are the subject of these complaints take a different view. They adopt a narrower interpretation of the provision, emphasising the word 'direct'. Mr David Cameron perhaps best expresses this view when he says:

    "Paragraph 5.1 … prevents use of private dining rooms by Patrons' Clubs for 'direct financial or material gain'. Since funds were not raised at, or in direct connection with, the meals held by the Patrons' Club in the House of Commons, I do not believe that my Patrons' Club contravenes paragraph 5.1"[86]

    Mr Michael Howard similarly comments:

    "In my view [paragraph 5.1] prohibits the making available of such a room by a Member in direct exchange for money or some other material gain. It does not prohibit political events in the dining rooms."[87]

    166. Those who interpret paragraph 5.1 in this way might also ask why the word 'direct' was included in the paragraph if it was not intended to signify that there was a distinction to be made between the direct derivation of profit or gain from a particular event held at the House and any broader advantage which might accrue indirectly to a party through the opportunity to entertain at the House those who are donors to that Party.

    167. If it is apparent from the evidence that Members differ in their interpretation of paragraph 5.1, this is also true in relation to the 'inducement provision' in paragraph 5.3 of the Banqueting Regulations (a provision which is of particular relevance in the case of Mr Prisk). The provision, it will be recalled, says that:

    "The private dining rooms may not be used as an inducement to recruit new members of outside organisations or non-parliamentary associations."

    Mr Mann and Mr Jones contend that references to functions held in the House like those I have set out in paragraph 37 of this report, or of that mentioned at paragraph 107, do constitute an attempt to offer such an inducement. Those who are the subject of their complaints argue that where references are made to events held at the Palace of Westminster or the House, these are largely descriptive or factual; that the primary reason why the House is used by such Clubs is its convenience as a venue, particularly in relation to attracting Members as speakers; and that the chief attraction to Club members is not the opportunity to dine in the House per se but the chance to hear significant speakers in a convivial setting.

    168. Two things are, I suggest, apparent. The first is the diversity of understanding of the current Rules among Members. The second is the need for a clear and definitive interpretation of those Rules for the better guidance of Members, a need identified by a number of the Members who are the subject of this report and by the Director of Catering Services. I attempt to offer such guidance, for consideration by the Committee, in the next but one section of this report.

    169. My conclusion in relation to the complaints against those Members listed in paragraph 159 above is that it would be unwise and unjust to find them in breach of the Code, for the following reasons:

    a)  The differing interpretations adopted by Members of paragraphs 5.1 and 5.3 of the Banqueting Regulations, to which I have referred;

    b)  The fact that the practices revealed by the complaints by Mr Mann and Mr Jones are of very long-standing and appear to have gone unchallenged for many years (the United and Cecil Club, for example, has been in existence since 1881), and in particular do not appear to have been challenged either following publication of Mr Tether's article in 1991, or during the review of the Banqueting Regulations in 2000;

    c)  As the 'Sunday Times' material and that set out in paragraphs 35-37 corroborates, the fact that the practices on which I am reporting appear to be representative of what many other Members have been doing, in some cases also for many years; and doing in good faith because they had been given no cause to suspect that they might be in breach of the rules of the House.

    170. In reaching this view, I have had in mind the conclusions expressed by the Committee in its Tenth Report of Session 2005-06.[88] In that report, the Committee declined to uphold a complaint in view of the significant differences of interpretation amongst Members of the rules of the House which were at issue in the case in question, and given that the practice reported in that case did "not appear to be outside the range of Members' current practice".[89] Equity would suggest the wisdom of adopting a similar approach in this case.

    Notifying Members when a Complaint is Made

    171. Before turning to the wider issues raised by their complaints, I should say a word about the extent to which Mr Mann and Mr Jones informed the Members about whom they were complaining before releasing details of their complaints to the press. As is evident from the reactions of individual Members which I have set out, this has evoked some strong criticism.

    172. It appears from the evidence available to me, which I have set out earlier in this report, that neither Mr Jones nor Mr Mann informed in advance any of the 16 Members named in their original folder of evidence, although they wrote to them subsequently.[90] They did inform Members about whom they complained subsequently, with the apparent exception of Dr Spink.[91] There was some confusion on their part as to the position in respect of Mr Hendry, but the outcome was that he did not receive advance notice of their complaint either.[92]

    173. I set out the House's expectation in this matter in paragraph 5 above. It is important that it is adhered to, not only as a matter of courtesy between Members but if the complaints system is not to become enmeshed in party political dispute and thus risk losing credibility in the eyes of Members. In the respects I have identified, the two complainants in my view fell short of the expectations of the House.

    Suggested Guidance to Members on the Use of Dining Facilities

    174. Mr Jones and Mr Mann have consistently made clear that their primary motivation in this affair was not to make complaints against individual Members but to question a practice which they perceived to be widespread and to encourage the preparation of clear guidance for Members as to what is or is not permissible. As will be clear from my conclusions on the specific incidents, I share the view that some aspects of current practice as revealed by the evidence in this report are undesirable and that clearer guidance is needed by Members as to what they can or cannot do. This guidance needs to be credible in the eyes of both the public and Members. I offer the following as a basis for consideration by the Committee.

    175. It is a fundamental principle that Parliamentary facilities are provided out of the public purse for Parliamentary purposes. This principle is embodied in various rules of the House relating to the provision of allowances and other services to members, as I have noted elsewhere.[93] These rules also reflect the corollary of this principle, viz. that the allowances and facilities are not to be used for party political campaigning or party fundraising purposes. I do not think that the fact that private dining facilities are provided on a basis that does not involve direct public subsidy can negate this argument.

    176. At the same time political parties are an integral feature of our system of representative democracy. Their adequate and accountable resourcing is a proper concern of all interested in a healthy Parliamentary democracy.

    177. The challenge is how to delineate the boundary between Parliamentary and party political in this context in a way which on the one hand preserves that boundary and makes it easier to police effectively, and on the other sits comfortably with the realities of Parliamentary life, in which Members' party allegiances inevitably play a large part.

    178. Some may argue that no dining club should be allowed to meet in the House if the club itself or those among its members contribute in any way to party funds. However this would be to exclude anyone who is a donor to a party from this part of the House. I fail to see why those who donate to a party should be so excluded while other constituents are admitted. To erect a rule of this sort would mean that those among the most active and interested in supporting political life (whether business people, trade unionists or private donors) would be excluded. This would not only be inequitable, it would also be wholly at odds with the House's emphasis on engaging all sections of the public in its work. Moreover, as paragraph 5.5 of the current Banqueting Regulations shows, the House has hitherto accepted the principle that the private dining rooms may be used for political functions.

    179. Mr Mann and Mr Jones suggested in conversation that the practice of allowing dining clubs to meet at the House was objectionable because it made entry to the House conditional on the payment of a fee. However there are many other means of gaining access to the House, and the payment of a fee to a club is not a condition of access to the House but of access to the club. So I do not see this as a persuasive argument against allowing clubs to dine at the House.

    180. I presume that the reason why the Banqueting Regulations refer to 'direct fundraising' is precisely because an attempt was being made to recognise the realities of political life to which I have referred, whilst protecting the principle that Parliamentary facilities should not be used for party fundraising. The aim was to make a distinction between the use of those facilities as such for fundraising—e.g. through a ticketed dinner held at the House the profit on which went to party funds—and their use to entertain groups of people some of whom might be, or might later become, donors to a political party.

    181. If I am right in this assumption, I suggest that what is now needed is not a revision of paragraphs 5.1 and 5.3 of the Banqueting Regulations themselves but an agreed interpretation of what they mean in practice. I do not myself think paragraph 5.1 means, or is intended to mean, that no club which is engaged in fundraising can ever meet at the House. It does mean that the House's facilities themselves must not be used to raise funds for a political party. Paragraph 5.3 means in this context that those facilities must not be used to entice people to become donors to a party.

    182. I suggest therefore that clubs or individuals who are donors to a political party should be able to use the House's dining facilities provided that:

    a)  Any events held at the House are charged for separately and not funded out of the subscription income of a club.

    b)  The events (dinners, receptions, etc.) held in the House are charged or accounted for at cost, plus a reasonable element for administration. Any surplus made on an event should be used to reduce the charge for the next one, not become a donation to party funds.

    c)  No fundraising should be conducted at such events. (Clubs and individuals are, of course, free, within the law, to conduct whatever fundraising they wish outside the House.)

    d)  No specific reference should be made to the fact that dinners or similar events are held at the House in any material which has the objective of promoting a Club to potential new members.

    183. I believe that if these simple rules are followed, the principle that Parliamentary facilities are not used for the purposes of party fundraising could be preserved whilst avoiding an unrealistic and inequitable—and in all probability unenforceable - attempt to ban those who donate to or engage in fundraising for a political party from using the House's dining facilities.

    Visits to the House

    184. I noted in paragraphs 135-140 above that Mr Mann raised with me at a meeting on 7 February his concern that some Members might be using visits to the House as a means of fundraising for party purposes, and set out my subsequent exchanges with the Member for Bromsgrove and the Serjeant at Arms about this. I take this opportunity to set out my understanding of what is and is not permissible in this regard, which I also invite the Committee to consider and, if it thinks fit, endorse so that Members have clear guidance on the issue.

    185. Before doing so, I observe that this is a complex matter. As regards the particular cases drawn to my attention by Mr Mann, I do not believe Ms Kirkbride deliberately set out to break any of the rules of the House, or believed that what she did broke any such rules, and I stress that no complaint has been made about her conduct in this respect. Although no precise breakdown is available, it appears that any proceeds going towards party funds raised by visits her Association organised to the House were derived mainly from the raffle held on the coach which brought party supporters to Westminster.

    186. Turning to the issue in general, the basic principle is that Parliamentary facilities are provided from public funds for Parliamentary purposes. Visits to the House by the public are to be encouraged. However, if tours of the House are not to be used by Members for commercial purposes,[94] I think it difficult to sustain an argument that they can be exploited by Members for the purposes of fundraising for a political party. I am sure therefore that the Serjeant at Arms is correct in urging adherence to the principle that visits to or tours of the House should not be used for the purposes of fundraising for a political party.

    187. I suggest that there is a distinction to be drawn between the actual tour of the House and what goes on during it, and what happens around the tour outside the House. The Houses of Parliament are a publicly funded facility. No one outside the Parliamentary authorities should be charging for access to them. Nor should any fundraising activity for a political party take place in the House itself.

    188. What happens outside the precincts of the House is subject only to the law and the good sense of those involved. I cannot see any objection therefore to a raffle being held on a coach bringing party supporters (or anyone else) on a visit to Westminster, the proceeds of which go to party funds. Nor do I see objection to a margin being added to the real cost of the coach, lunch etc. to cover the cost of 'running' the trip, provided that the margin is reasonable and those being charged know for what they are paying.

    189. In short I suggest that the approach to be observed by Members and visit organisers in this area should be:

    a)  No charge (beyond anything levied by the House authorities themselves) should be passed on to those undertaking a visit to or tour of the House in respect of that visit or tour per se.

    b)  No fundraising for party political purposes should be conducted within the precincts of the House.

    c)  There is no objection to Members or organisers adding to the actual cost of arranging a visit to the House a margin to cover the administration of the trip, provided this is reasonable and transparent.

    d)  What happens outside the precincts of the House in the way of fundraising associated with a trip (such as the holding of a raffle on the coach bringing people to Westminster) is, within the law, down to the good sense of the Member or organiser concerned.

    Notifying Members of any Revised Guidance

    190. I mentioned earlier (paragraph 50) that Mr Tony Baldry had raised with me the question of what steps had been taken to inform Members of the changes made in the Banqueting Regulations in December 2000. I understand from the Director of Catering Services that no general notification was issued to all Members at that time, although copies of the amended Regulations were sent to those Members who subsequently booked a dining room. Members who book a room sign a form to say that they have read and understood the Terms and Conditions on which the room is being provided. Those Terms and Conditions are also available to all Members (and their staff) through the Parliamentary intranet.

    191. The Director has indicated that, as a consequence of the current inquiry, she has issued an instruction that a notification of change (drawing attention to the revised paragraphs) must be attached to the front of all copies of the Regulations issued for a year after any change is implemented. A similar arrangement will apply to the version published on the Parliamentary intranet. I am sure this is a welcome development.

    192. I suggest that, in addition, it will also assist Members if they are all issued by the Administration Committee with a set of any revised guidance or rules that the Committee may prepare following the conclusion of this case. If this is done in addition to the other measures the Director has in hand, no Member will be left in ignorance of what they can and cannot do.

    Concluding Remarks

    193. I hope that the observations I have made will assist the House to reach a clear understanding of what should be and what should not be permissible in terms of the use of its dining facilities and visits to the House in relation to fundraising for political parties. The primary responsibility for providing advice on the terms and conditions of use of the private dining rooms rests with the Administration Committee and I assume that, when the Committee on Standards and Privileges has deliberated on my report, it will wish to draw its report to the attention of the Administration Committee so that a firm understanding can be reached, agreed on all sides.[95]

    194. Mr Jones and Mr Mann will, I hope, feel, when the process is complete, that they have achieved their stated objective of clarifying what is permissible, for the benefit of all Members.

    195. My experience of handling the complex and unfolding series of complaints they made leads me to wonder whether there may not be a better way in which Members could bring such a matter to attention rather than through the complaints mechanism. The use made by Mr Mann and Mr Jones of that mechanism has resulted in an elaborate, time and resource-consuming process (for Members as well as my small office) when something lighter and swifter might have equally well achieved their stated objective. I register this point now as one which I will welcome the opportunity to consider with the Committee once the other issues addressed in this report have been resolved.

    20 March 2007  Sir Philip Mawer


    19   HC 351, Session 2005-06 Back

    20   See paragraphs 48, 75-79 and 113 below. Back

    21   Ibid Back

    22   The reference to the use of facilities and services in this provision did not feature in the Code prior to July 2005. However, misuse of facilities was still within the scope of the Code prior to that point: see the Committee's Third Report of Session 2004-05 (HC 233 ) Back

    23   The role of the Catering Committee has subsequently been subsumed within the remit of the Administration Committee.  Back

    24   Other than All Party Parliamentary Groups or registered charities-see Regulation 5.2. Back

    25   "Complaint against Mr Tony Baldry" (HC 369) Back

    26   Paragraphs 5.1 and 5.3 respectively. Back

    27   Paragraphs 5.3 and 5.5 respectively Back

    28   See paragraphs 19-20 above Back

    29   WE2 Back

    30   Wycombe Conservatives Back

    31   Conservatives Corby and East Northants Back

    32   Wirral West Conservatives Back

    33   Mid Dorset and North Poole Conservatives Back

    34   Rutland and Melton Conservative Association: Report on the Activities for the year 2005 Back

    35   Letter to the founder members of the West Oxfordshire Conservative Association's Principal Patrons Club Back

    36   Wycombe Conservatives Back

    37   Folkestone Conservatives Back

    38   Chester Conservatives Back

    39   Tunbridge Wells Conservatives Back

    40   Sherwood Conservative Association Back

    41   Guildford Conservatives Back

    42   Paragraph 7 above Back

    43   See paragraph 51 below Back

    44   WE9 Back

    45   WE11 Back

    46   See paragraph 39 above. Back

    47   Not included in written evidence Back

    48   See my letter of 7 December 2006 at WE17. Back

    49   WE22 Back

    50   WE23 Back

    51   WE27 Back

    52   See WE28 and WE29 respectively. Back

    53   Letter of 11 January 2007 at WE43. Back

    54   Letter of 24 January 2007 at WE44. Back

    55   See paragraph 63 above Back

    56   WE50. Back

    57   WE51 and WE52 respectively. Back

    58   WE53 Back

    59   WE54. Back

    60   WE58 Back

    61   Mr Prisk subsequently informed me that, at the beginning of February 2007, the Club consisted of 55 members representing 45 companies or other organisations. Back

    62   WE69. Back

    63   WE70.  Back

    64   See Mr Spring's letter of 18 December 2006 at WE71. Back

    65   WE72. Back

    66   WE73. Back

    67   WE74. In their letter Mr Mann and Mr Jones noted that Mr Greg Hands, (the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham) who had originally sponsored the dinner on 16 January, did not appear to have been present (in apparent breach of paragraph 5.2 of the Banqueting Regulations). In subsequent correspondence, Mr Jenkin told me that he had presided at the dinner and taken over responsibility for it from Mr Hands. Back

    68   WE75.  Back

    69   WE76.  Back

    70   WE77. Back

    71   WE78. Back

    72   WE79. Back

    73   WE80. Back

    74   WE81. Back

    75   WE82.  Back

    76   WE83.  Back

    77   Mrs Harrison has been Director of Catering Services and Head of the House of Commons Refreshment Department since 1992. Back

    78   There is an exception for bookings of the Terrace Pavilion in June and July where, because of demand, names are entered in a ballot. Back

    79   As at 5 January 2007, almost 55% of bookings on file were held by Conservative Members, 24% by Labour Members. Back

    80   The equivalent regulations in the House of Lords still do not prohibit the use of that House's refreshment facilities for party political gain. Back

    81   For examples of this type of club, see paragraphs 35-37, 39, 41-44, 53-55, 65-67, 99-102. Back

    82   For examples of this type of club, see paragraphs 46, 68-69, 88, 105-107, 110, 113. Back

    83   The material no longer appears to be on the website. Back

    84   WE23. Back

    85   The fee ranges from £25 for a retired business professional to £150 for a local company with more than 100 staff. Back

    86   WE16. Back

    87   WE46. Back

    88   HC 1223 Back

    89   Ibid, Paragraph 24. Back

    90   See paragraphs 5-6 of this report. Back

    91   WE65. Mr Baldry also did not know in advance of the complaint but the complainants say that they notified him; their letter must be presumed to have gone astray in the post (paragraph 48 above). Back

    92   See paragraphs 78-79 above. Back

    93   Second Report from the Committee on Standards and Privileges, Session 2006-07 (HC 429). Back

    94   See the Committee's Third Report of Session 2004-05 (HC 233) Back

    95   Any new guidance issued at the end of this process would, I assume, apply to all bookings made after the date on which it was promulgated to Members. Back


     
    previous page contents next page

    House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

    © Parliamentary copyright 2007
    Prepared 29 March 2007