Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Second Report

Annex O

Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards from Mr A J Walker, Director of Finance and Administration, House of Commons


Thank you for your letter of 23 July asking for my comments on the rent claimed by Mr Beggs in each year from 1988, in the light of the rental valuations provided to you by the District Valuer (DV) from the Northern Ireland Valuation and Lands Agency. I have considered the question whether Mr Beggs' claims for reimbursement of office rental costs have been properly made within the OCA rules.

As you know, there have been a number of developments since you wrote Mr Beggs dropped in on Archie Cameron on 22 August and presented him with a letter (copy enclosed) setting out details of rental which he feels he underclaimed from the OCA between 1988 and 1993, and overclaimed in the period from 1 April 1993 to 31 March 1998, on the basis of the valuation of a professional valuer, DTZ McCombe Pierce. He also left a copy of a letter addressed to you, dated 22 August, and a copy of DTZ McCombe Pierce's assessment of an appropriate rental value for 41 Station Road, produced on the instructions of Mrs * * * and Mrs * * * (who I assume are Mr Beggs' daughters). He gave us a cheque for £586.05, representing his calculation of the rent overclaimed on the basis of the DTZ calculation, adding that he did not propose to make a further claim to cover the amounts underclaimed.

This was helpful, but I was not entirely satisfied that the matter could be concluded on that basis. The main considerations were:

—    On the amounts said to be underclaimed between 1988 and 1993, Mr Beggs had used the DV's rental value figures, and the amount for the underclaim seemed reasonable. Of course, he was well out of time for making a claim, even if he had wanted to.

—   As for the market rental value from April 1993 to 1998, Mr Beggs appeared to accept the DV's figure of £2,600 a year, and had already refunded £58.05 (ie 3 years at an average overclaim of £19.35). This was one element in the cheque for £586.05. Our own figures for those years are very slightly different; but the amounts at issue are tiny, and we regard those years as closed.

—   Turning to the period from April 1998, Mr Beggs claimed that the DV's figure was too low, and that the DTZ figure was a better representation of the commercial rental market. Normally we would accept a professional valuation such as DTZ's, but in this case it was a valuation based on a 5-year rental period from April 2000, whereas the DV's figure was for a 5-year period from April 1998. That might well account for the significant variation in the figures. The key question was, therefore, what the actual terms of the rental were. If there was a 5-year agreement from April 1998, the DV's figure should be used for the whole period since then. If, however, the most recent rental agreement ran from April 2000, the DTZ figure could in my view be accepted, at least from that date.

You confirmed over the phone that Mr Beggs had told you that the latest rental period did indeed run from April 2000. On that basis, therefore, Archie Cameron wrote to him suggestinng that the DV's figure should be used for the period until March 2000, and that the DTZ figure should be used from April 2000. If he accepted this, he would need to repay a further £1,868. He responded last week, enclosing a cheque for the full amount.

Mr Beggs has shown good faith in seeking to set things right and in repaying us the amounts he has overclaimed, totalling £2,454.05 (ie the £586.05 he paid in August, plus the £1,868 he has now paid). In the light of this, and on the basis of information that has currently been provided, I can tell you that the matter has now been resolved to my satisfaction, and I do not propose to take further action.

25 September 2001  

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