Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Whitewash, Whitewash, Whitewash

A ruling by Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Mr John Lyon last year said: 'If a Member has his or her family living permanently in their constituency home and has modest accommodation in London big enough only for themselves, and which they use only when Parliament is in session, then it would clearly seem to be a matter of fact that Member's main home is in the constituency.'

In 2003 Michael Trend MP was found guilty of abusing the allowances system and ordered to repay £90,277. He was also suspended from parliament and stood down in disgrace at the following election.Trend claimed he "believed that I could properly continue to designate London as 'home' for the purposes of ACA, even though, in domestic terms, Windsor had become my "main residence"." It was not accepted. There was no doubt in the Standard's Committee's minds that there was no "real scope for doubt that the words "main residence" were intended to have other than their natural meaning."

The Parliamentary Standards Committee ruled that "Mr Trend should have recognised that, by claiming Additional Costs Allowance in relation to his Windsor home, the taxpayer was meeting some of the core running costs of what was in reality his main residence. He should have realised that this was wrong. Accordingly, we agree with the Commissioner that Mr Trend was negligent and has breached the Code of Conduct by making improper use of the Additional Costs Allowance and by failing strictly to observe the administrative rules relating to the Allowance."

So, John Lyon, grow a backbone and get on with your duty.

The Penguin

Dear Mr X

Thank you for your email of 10 February to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who has asked me to reply.

The role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is to consider complaints where the complainant has provided sufficient evidence to merit at least a preliminary inquiry into whether a particular Member of Parliament may have breached the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament and the associated rules of the House. These rules under which the Commissioner operates include the Green Book on Parliamentary Salaries, Allowances and Pensions, the current edition of which was published in July 2006. It can be found at The Guide to the Rules under which he operates makes clear that he would not normally regard a complaint founded on no more than a newspaper story as a substantiated allegation. I attach a leaflet which explains his procedures in a little more detail.

The Commissioner has carefully considered the complaints he has received about Ms Jacqui Smith. He has concluded that they have not been supported by sufficient evidence that she may have broken the rules of the House in her claims for her living allowances. The Additional Costs Allowance reimburses Members for expenses incurred when staying away from their main residence. Where Members have more than one home, the rules provide that their main home will normally be the one where they spend more nights than any other. If there is any doubt, Members are asked to consult the House authorities. The Commissioner does not believe that he has been provided with sufficient evidence that Ms Smith may be in breach of these rules and he does not, therefore, propose to institute an inquiry.

Yours sincerely

Alda Barry

Registrar of Members' Interests

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