Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Third Report


Annex A Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

from Mr Kevin Cochrane

MICHAEL TREND MP/MAIL ON SUNDAY ALLEGATIONS

Following the allegations made against Michael Trend, MP, as contained in the 'Mail on Sunday' in yesterday's edition (15/12/02) I would ask that you investigate these allegations as a matter of urgency.

The allegations concern an apparent practice by Mr Trend of claiming for overnight accommodation when voting in the Commons. Over a number of nights the MOS allege that he actually returned home to his house in Windsor whilst claiming for the cost of an overnight stay in London. This practice is alleged by the MOS to continued for a number of years and the amount of expenses alleged to have been claimed is approximately £100,000.

As I do not have access to Mr Trend's Expense claims or his records at the Fees Office I cannot provide any documentary evidence that would add support to the MOS's allegations. Given the seriousness of these allegations and the lengthy time period they cover I would ask that you request any such evidence from the MOS and that you ask Mr Trend provide you with a detailed response to these allegations.

Given these matters, I would ask that you also ask Mr Trend if he has made a full disclosure of all paid activities in the Register of Interests for MP's.

To declare my interest in the matter, I am a member of the Ascot Labour Party and also a resident/voter in Mr Trend's Windsor constituency.

16 December 2002




Attachment

Articles from The Mail on Sunday on 15 December 2002

MP TOOK £100,000 IN BOGUS HOME CLAIMS

A Row over MPs' expenses erupted last night after claims that a Tory MP has falsely claimed up to £100,000 of taxpayers' money.

The Mail on Sunday today reveals that Conservative MP Michael Trend receives nearly £20,000 a year in a tax­free allowance intended to pay for London accommodation for MPs from far­flung constituencies.

Mr Trend, who has claimed the steadily rising allowance for ten years, regularly commutes the 25 miles between London and his home in his constituency of Windsor.

Leading political figures last night called for an investigation into claims of fiddled expenses by MPs such as:

  • Bogus mileage claims charged at 53p a mile worth thousands of pounds a year; and
  • Boasts by MPs who have used expenses to cash in on the London property boom.

Anti­sleaze former MP Martin Bell said last night: 'As an MP you are almost invited to sign a cheque to yourself each month. Thousands of pounds are paid out to MPs and no one ever asks for a receipt.' And Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said: 'We need a new system whereby MPs' expenses are properly audited.'

Mr Trend, 50, who put in a claim for the full £1,643 'additional costs allowance' in November, admitted he spent 'most evenings' at Windsor, but insisted he had done nothing wrong.

He said he also had a London address but refused to reveal details. A source in the Commons Fees Office, which pays MPs' expenses, said: 'No one is policing these claims and large sums are wasted.' Former Parliamentary Commissioner for Public Standards Elizabeth Filkin told friends she tried to investigate MPs' expenses but was told to 'keep her nose out'. Mr Trend could face an inquiry by her successor, Philip Mawer.

The total paid in MPs' expenses and allowances is expected to rise from £57 million last year to a record £94 million this year. The salary bill has gone up from £31 million to £36 million.

  *

HOW MP POCKETED £100,000

Senior political figures called for an investigation into MPs' expenses last night following allegations that a senior Conservative has falsely claimed up to £100,000 in Parliamentary allowances.

A Mail on Sunday investigation into claims that MPs are fiddling hundreds of thousands of pounds of expenses has established that a top Tory MP who mainly commutes to the Commons each day claims a £20,000 a­year tax­free allowance meant for overnight stays in London.

Windsor Conservative MP Michael Trend regularly drives the 25 miles to the Commons from his £700,000 house in Berkshire, where he lives with his wife Jill and their three children.

But The Mail on Sunday has learned that Trend, 50, claims the full £1,643 a­month 'additional costs allowance' meant for MPs who need accommodation—usually near the House of Commons—to carry out their Parliamentary duties.

He is understood to have claimed the full allowance ever since becoming an MP in 1992—a sum totalling more than £100,000 over the years.

Mr Trend admitted to The Mail on Sunday that he spent 'most evenings' at Windsor, but insisted he had done nothing wrong. He said he also had an address in London but refused to reveal details, claiming it was 'confidential' and adding: 'I don't stay there very often because of the hours we now work in Parliament.'

Fears that the system is being abused are shared by some officials in the Fees Office who have expressed their worries about MPs' claims.

One politician said he believed that more than one MP living in the Home Counties is taking advantage of the ending of late­night Commons sittings to commute home each night while falsely claiming money for staying overnight in London.

Anti­sleaze former MP Martin Bell said: 'We need proper checks to ensure taxpayers are not being cheated.'

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said last night: 'Unless MPs' claims are properly monitored they are open to the accusation that they are exploiting the system when in reality it is a small number who are giving the rest a bad name. Receipts should be provided so that expenditure is demonstrably matched by expenditure incurred.'

Most MPs freely admit that the biggest area of potential abuse is with the 'additional costs allowance', which is to cover MPs' 'expenses incurred when staying overnight away from their main home whilst performing Parliamentary duties'.

Its main purpose is to pay for MPs with seats outside the capital to stay in London during the week so they can be near the Commons.

The allowance has risen over the years since Mr Trend became an MP. Last year, after a revolt led by Labour MPs, it soared from £13,300 a year to £19,722. MPs can use the £1,643 monthly allowance to pay rent or obtain a mortgage, or to stay in hotels.

Many, like Mr Trend, claim every penny of the allowance without providing receipts—in clear breach of the Commons rules.

Confidential advice issued to all MPs by the Commons Fees Office, which pays expenses and allowances, states: 'You must provide supporting evidence for major items of anticipated or actual expenditure such as mortgage interest/rent.'

It also states: 'You should break down the expenses into the categories shown on the form.'

And it warns MPs not to cheat, saying: '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.'

The MPs' Code of Conduct states: 'No improper use shall be made of any payment or allowance made to MPs for public purposes and the administrative rules which apply to such payments and allowances must be strictly observed.'

An insider with experience of the Fees Office said: 'An MP who wants to make a false claim can do so quite easily. Some of the forms that come in contain little more than a name and an amount of money. There are no details, no proof, no nothing.

'Many of us are worried about the way it is administered, but when we raise queries we are told it's all above-board.

'There are rumours that some MPs treat the London living allowance as a means of topping up their income.'

Within ten days of making claims, the £1,643 cheque arrives, made out to the MP. And no tax is paid. As the 40 per cent tax rate kicks in at earnings over the £29,900 mark, any MP pocketing the full allowance would be gaining the equivalent of an extra £33,000 on the basic £55,000 salary, taking him or her to £88,000.

Mr Trend is believed to have submitted a full £1,643 claim for November—worth £411 a week.

A Mail on Sunday investigation conducted in the last week of November showed that he spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night at his home in Claremont Road, Windsor, emerging from the house each following morning to go to the Commons and returning home each night.

The Commons did not sit on Friday which Mr Trend spent in his Windsor constituency.

The pattern remained broadly the same for the next two weeks, apart from Parliamentary trips to Lithuania and Bristol. He was observed commuting to the Commons two or three times each week, by car or train, returning in the evening.

The mystery over his London address is compounded by the BBC's guide to MPs' phone numbers which gives the number at the home in Islington, sold by Mr Trend ten years ago when he entered the Commons.

Tom Carter, who, with wife Deirdre, bought the house from Mr Trend, told The Mail on Sunday: 'We still get the occasional call for Mr Trend, usually from the BBC.'

A BBC source said: 'We update the guides every two years or so. It would be most odd if an MP's number has been printed inaccurately for ten years. We go to great lengths to check them.'

The number for Mr Trend's constituency office was correctly amended by the BBC when it changed. Mr Trend said: 'I have asked the BBC a number of times to take the number out of the book, but I have not put down another number.' His elderly mother Patricia, who lives in Rochester Row only a mile from the Commons, said: 'He never stays here.'

While refusing to reveal his London address, Mr Trend insisted: 'I do have a home in London. It is somewhere I stay in London late at night. The Whips know where it is. I have Hansard delivered there.'

He refused to say where the house was or who owned it but added: 'During my first parliament I stayed there almost every night.'

But he seemed uncertain. At first he said he was sure his arrangements were within Parliamentary rules. 'I've checked with the Fees Office— it is absolutely straight.' Later he said he could not comment until he had 'double­checked with the Fees Office'.

Mr Trend said the address did not belong to him. Asked if he paid rent for staying there, he said: 'What I do with my allowances is a private matter. I claim the allowances on this place [the Windsor house], don't I?'

When told the allowance was usually for a London base, he appeared to change his mind. 'Then I claim in London.'

Asked if he stayed in Windsor every night, he said: 'No. I spend some time in London. I have not looked at the rules for a long time but I am pretty sure that I am absolutely OK.

'I do have an address in London. I know you will not take my word for it—but I do.'

Mr Trend was educated at Westminster School and Oriel College, Oxford. He has been MP for Windsor since 1992 and his four­storey house is within walking distance of Windsor Castle.

He and wife Jill have two daughters and a son, all of whom attend private schools.

A former aide to ex­Environment Minister Tim Yeo, Mr Trend was deputy Tory chairman and is a member of the Commons Public Administration Committee, which monitors standards in the public services.

His father was Lord Burke Trend, one of the most famous Cabinet Secretaries.

Martin Bell believes that new checks on MPs' expenses are vital. He says: 'The system is far too lax and belongs to the days when the Commons was a club and everyone's word could be trusted. Many claim the maximum they are allowed and no one ever asks for a receipt.

'No commercial organisation would operate like that.

'Mileage claims are wide open to abuse. If you tell them you have driven to your constituency every day, no one ever comes back to check. There is a general tendency to inflate mileage travelled in constituencies.'

And Lib Dem MP Mr Baker said: 'The systems for auditing the additional costs allowance are inadequate and open to abuse by MPs.

'In the past, I have tried to find out how much MPs claim in various types of expenses but the Fees Office said they couldn't do it. It is clearly in the interests of MPs and taxpayers to have a properly audited system'

He added: 'I am not suggesting any MP has acted illegally. But I have serious doubts about the ethics of this allowance which is meant to enable MPs to stay in London to perform their Parliamentary duties, but which allows them to make a profit on a second property when they cease to be an MP.

'Or even worse, simply to pocket the allowance without even having a second property.'





 
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Prepared 13 February 2003