Wednesday 3 February 2010

The original Hands letter on Brown's "undeclared" £50,000 fund

...and the one from Greg Hands MP to the Commissioner for Standards, sent on January 28.

Dear Mr Lyon,

I am writing to you regarding the allegations made by Peter Watt, the Labour Party’s former General Secretary, that the Prime Minister was the beneficiary of a secret fund held by the Labour Party to enable him to conduct private polling.

His central allegation is that ‘Before becoming Prime Minister, Gordon [Brown] went to some lengths to insulate himself and the Treasury from our financial troubles, setting up his own personal pot of cash at party HQ.’ (Inside Out, Peter Watt, 2010, page 105). Mr Watt provides further details:

• He alleges that this was for Mr Brown’s ‘own projects’ and may have been used to finance ‘his long-term campaign to become party leader.’ (Inside Out, Peter Watt, 2010, page 105)
• Separately, he has claimed that Gordon Brown used ‘up to £50,000-a-year of Labour money to pay for private polling’ (Mail on Sunday, 17 January 2010).
• In the same newspaper report, it was also reported that a Labour official confirmed the fund existed.

A number of newspaper reports support these assertions. For example, The Sunday Times reported in 2006 that ‘private polling and focus groups show Brown is much more trusted than Blair, especially since the Iraq war.’ (12 February 2006)

To date, Mr Brown has not declared any of these material benefits on his Register of Interests. Therefore, I believe there are three grounds upon which an investigation is required:

1: Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament

I note that The Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of Members (House of Commons, 22 June 2009) states:

‘Members are responsible for making a full disclosure of their interests, and if they have relevant interest which do not fall clearly into one or other of the specified categories, they are nonetheless expected to register them...’ (Page 12)

2: Registrable Interests

Under the Categories of Registrable Interests (Category 4b), Members are told:

‘any other form of financial or material support as a Member of Parliament, amounting to more than £1,000 from a single source, whether as a single donation or as multiple donations of more than £200 during the course of a calendar year.’

Under the clarifying note (Section 33), the rules also state:

‘Category 4(b) covers any other financial or material benefit in support of a Member’s role as a Member of Parliament (Any contribution for the personal benefit of a Member should be entered under Category 5 (Gifts, benefits and hospitality (UK)).’
3: Precedent set by the Committee on Standards and Privileges

In 2008, you investigated Mr George Osborne for failing ‘to include in his personal entry in the Register details of donations made to the Conservative Party and used by the Party to support the cost of running his office as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.’ (Conduct of Mr George Osborne, House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges, 10th Report of Session 2007-08, 14 May 2008)

In that investigation, you upheld the complaint and set out a series of recommendations, including:

‘...in the case of identifiable donations received through a party’s central office, it would aid clarification if the fact that the donation was received through that office were recorded in the Register entry’ (Page 5)

Given that this fund, worth thousands of pounds, was set aside exclusively for Mr Brown’s personal use and secured ‘from the Chancellor’s supporters’, it should have been registered with the Parliamentary authorities.

As a matter of courtesy, I wrote to the Prime Minister on this issue two weeks ago and requested a response. I have not received one to date.

Therefore, as a matter of public interest, I believe it is important that you investigate the Prime Minister’s failure to declare the material benefit he received from the arrangement noted by Mr Watt.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require any further information.

Yours sincerely,

Greg Hands
Member of Parliament for Hammersmith and Fulham

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