Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Third Report


THIRD REPORT


The Committee on Standards and Privileges has agreed to the following Report:

COMPLAINTS AGAINST MR MICHAEL TREND

1. We have considered a memorandum by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards relating to the complaints by Mr Kevin Cochrane and others against Mr Michael Trend, Member for Windsor. The Commissioner's memorandum is appended to this Report. We have also taken evidence from Mr Trend and this evidence is published with the report.

2. When we took evidence from Mr Trend, two of our members, Mr Russell Brown and Mr David Heath, were attending other Committees to which they had been nominated by the Committee of Selection. They have accordingly decided to play no part in our formal proceedings on this report.

3. Mr Cochrane's complaint repeated allegations which had appeared in The Mail on Sunday on 15 December 2002, that Mr Trend has returned home to his house in Windsor whilst claiming for the cost of an overnight stay in London. The Commissioner found no evidence that Mr Trend had ever made such a claim. Mr Cochrane's complaint is therefore incorrectly based and cannot be upheld.

4. However, following discussions between Mr Trend and the Department of Finance and Administration arising from the Mail on Sunday article, it became clear that, for a substantial period, Mr Trend had been claiming Additional Costs Allowance in respect of expenditure incurred in relation to his main home in Windsor. The Commissioner has therefore considered whether the circumstances in which Mr Trend's original claims were made constituted an improper use of the Additional Costs Allowance, and whether this breached the Code of Conduct.

5. The Code of Conduct states that:

"No improper use shall be made of any payment or allowance made to Members for public purposes and the administrative rules which apply to such payments and allowances must be strictly observed.".

6. The Additional Costs Allowance was introduced following a Resolution of the House of 20 December 1971, which provides for Members to receive "an allowance in respect of additional expenses necessarily incurred ... in staying overnight away from his only or main residence for the purpose of performing his parliamentary duties". As it applies to Mr Trend, the Resolution provides that "where his only or main residence is in his constituency" the allowance is designed to cover parliamentary duties performed in the London area; or "where his only or main residence is in the London area ... parliamentary duties performed in his constituency".

7. The expression "main residence" was not defined in the 1971 Resolution, nor has any explanation of its intended meaning ever been included in any of the guidance on the scope of the allowance issued to Members by the Department of Finance and Administration and its predecessors. However, in Mr Trend's case it is obvious that his main residence is in Windsor, and has been since 1993.

8. As the Commissioner's report makes clear,[1] what lies at the heart of this case is Mr Trend's belief that he was free to make an election as to which of his homes should be regarded as his main residence for the purpose of the Additional Costs Allowance. All his subsequent actions stem from this.

9. As the Commissioner points out, neither Mr Trend nor the Department of Finance and Administration has any records which might shed light on the circumstances in which Mr Trend continued to nominate a London address as his main residence after he and his family moved to Windsor. Although the material issued to Members at that time regarding the Additional Costs Allowance is not without ambiguity, we do not believe that, when read with the Resolution itself, as Members were expected to do, there is any real scope for doubt that the words "main residence" were intended to have other than their natural meaning.

10. The Commissioner comments that he finds it "difficult to understand" how Mr Trend felt able to sign a certificate in November 2000 giving the home of his friend in London as his main residence when, on his own admission, he was then staying there infrequently. We agree. It was wrong of him to sign the document when, as he told us, he had the London accommodation rent-free, and at that time made little use of it when the House was not sitting.[2]

11. The Commissioner is satisfied that Mr Trend would not have been required to register the benefit of accommodation which he received from his friend because the circumstances fall outside the scope of the registration requirements.

12. Members must take full responsibility for their claims; indeed the current Green Book says, in respect of claims for the Additional Costs Allowance, that "your signature effectively certifies that the amount claimed has been spent on the additional costs necessarily incurred in staying overnight away from the main home".

13. Members therefore have an obligation to keep under review whether their arrangements continue to fall within the scope of the Allowance. Mr Trend could, and should, have done more in this respect.

14. We agree with the Commissioner that Mr Trend was not dishonest in his belief that he had the option to choose which of his places of residence to register as his 'main residence' for the purpose of the Additional Costs Allowance. We recognise, as did the Commissioner, that since the matter came to light, Mr Trend has co-operated fully with the Department of Finance and Administration and the Commissioner in their respective inquiries, and promptly repaid the sum he was told he owed the Department. However, it is clear to us that his approach to claiming the Additional Costs Allowance was muddled and naive.

15. 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.

16. We have given very careful consideration to what would be an appropriate penalty to recommend to the House. We have taken into account the fact that, in the past, we have recommended substantial periods of suspension, up to one month, in cases of deliberate acts, including failure to cooperate with either the Commissioner or the Committee. As we said earlier, we find that Mr Trend has acted negligently rather than with dishonest intent. We also acknowledge that he has cooperated fully, and immediately repaid the sum requested. The consequences for him of what he concedes was "a mistake, a serious mistake"[3] have already been severe, not least that he has announced that he will not seek re-election. Nonetheless, we must also take into account the impact on public confidence in Members of Parliament, and in Parliament as an institution, of cases of improper use of allowances. It is for this reason that the Code of Conduct requires Members to observe the highest standards in relation to payments or allowances made to them for public purposes. We cannot ignore the fact that the sum involved in this case is very substantial.

17. Having weighed all these considerations, we recommend that Mr Trend is suspended from the service of the House for two weeks.

18. As guardians of the public purse, as well as of parliamentary standards, we are concerned that the system allowed a substantial sum of public money to be incorrectly claimed and that this matter only came to light outside the normal system of scrutiny. We therefore welcome the steps, referred to by the Commissioner, which are being taken to strengthen confidence in the system for claiming Additional Costs Allowance. We recommend that these are completed as quickly as possible and that, when this has been done, the Department of Finance and Administration writes to all Members inviting them to check as soon as possible that their arrangements for claiming Additional Costs Allowance are consistent with the rules. This would usefully complement the increased emphasis which we wish to place on education and prevention.

  1. We endorse the proposals put forward by the Commissioner for strengthening the system for ensuring the accuracy of allowance claims by Members. We agree that, whatever the precise solutions adopted, at the end of the day, the House must be able to show that the requirements for auditing which it imposes on itself are no less effective than those it would expect of others responsible for the expenditure of public money.



1   Appendix, Para 34. Back

2   Minutes of Evidence, Q 29. Back

3   Minutes of Evidence, Q 43. 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 2003
Prepared 13 February 2003