Sir Malcolm was part of a five-person panel which recommended the appointment of Kathryn Hudson to her £108,000 a-year position as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
By Peter Dominiczak, Claire Newell, Edward Malnick and John Bingham
Sir Malcolm Rifkind interviewed and helped to appoint the woman who wrote the official report which “cleared” him over a “cash-for-access” scandal, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.
He was part of a five-person panel which recommended appointing Kathryn Hudson to the £108,000-a-year position of Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
MPs expressed surprise at what they described as a potential “conflict of interest” and said that Miss Hudson should have stood aside from the investigation into Sir Malcolm. One anti-sleaze campaigner said it illustrated how “Parliament regulating itself has run its course”.
Miss Hudson’s report this week cleared Sir Malcolm and Jack Straw of misconduct despite MPs on the Commons Committee on Standards expressing misgivings about the system which led to their exoneration.
Earlier this year, The Daily Telegraph and Channel Four’s Dispatches programme revealed that the two MPs offered to use their positions on behalf of a fictitious Chinese company in return for payments of at least £5,000 per day.
Miss Hudson found “there was no breach of the rules on paid lobbying” after being assured by Sir Malcolm and Mr Straw that they were speaking “off the cuff” and did not intend to back up their words with action.
Now it has emerged that in 2012 Sir Malcolm and his colleagues “recommended” Miss Hudson to the House of Commons Commission, which went on to appoint her. Two members of the Committee on Standards, which accepted Miss Hudson’s ruling, told the Telegraph that they were not made aware of her link to the former Conservative MP. There is no mention of it in her report.
Miss Hudson refused to comment on her links to Sir Malcolm, saying she “could not discuss individual cases”.
Sir Malcolm said he had not been “conscious” of interviewing her until reminded by the Telegraph. Asked whether he and she had discussed his involvement in the appointment process at the beginning of her inquiry, he said: “No. Neither of us mentioned it. In fact I wasn’t even aware of it because I wasn’t sure how long … I had forgotten the name of the person … that had been recommended at that time.”
He added: “I didn’t even know if it was the same person. It wasn’t relevant to the very professional meeting that we had. She didn’t mention it. And until you rang me, I hadn’t even been conscious of the fact … simply because it wasn’t relevant.” It can also be disclosed that Miss Hudson’s report contains a series of omissions and disclosures which raise further questions about the investigation.
It has emerged that she was urged to speed up the investigation by Sir Malcolm and Mr Straw, telling colleagues they were “understandably anxious that I should complete my inquiry at the earliest opportunity”.
The disclosures raise further questions about a system that allows MPs to sit as judge and jury on each other’s conduct and will intensify calls for an independent body to rule on all standards issues. Professional regulators warned that Parliament’s standards committee risked being seen as “a club of MPs with vested interests” because its lay members have no power. New rules will mean that lay members make up half of the panel, but these will not take effect until next year.
According to a Commons report on Miss Hudson’s appointment, Sir Malcolm conducted her interview as part of a “selection board” including Sir Kevin Barron, the Labour MP who now chairs the standards committee. They are understood to have interviewed five candidates before putting two names forward.
The commission that finalised her appointment was made up of John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, Sir George Young, a former Tory Cabinet minister, Angela Eagle, a Labour shadow minister, Sir Paul Beresford, a Tory MP who now sits on the standards committee, and two former MPs.
Martin Bell, a former independent MP and anti-sleaze campaigner, said: “Parliament regulating itself has run its course. On the face of it there appears to have been a conflict of interest.”
John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, said: “She [Miss Hudson] needs to give an explanation as to why she did not [stand aside from the investigation] because it doesn’t look good to the public.”
Past inquiries by the Commons standards committee