Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Tenth Report

Appendix 2: Memorandum from Mr Michael Foster (Worcester)

I would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to submit a Memorandum for consideration along with Sir Philip's report.

As you will see from the conclusions drawn by Sir Philip in his report—his Para. 38—the rules on Stationery and Postage use are very difficult to interpret and can lead to mistakes. Sir Philip welcomes the current review of Stationery and Postage Rules which he hopes will offer clearer guidelines and less ambiguity than at present. This is reinforced in the final line of Para. 39 where Sir Philip suggests "there is real doubt that the existing rules fully meet these tests."

With this in mind I would like to address the issues raised under Complaint No. 1—the use of pre-paid postage. I would suggest that there is a very fine line between unsolicited and solicited communications and I stand by my original comment that a very important function of an MP, especially in today's climate of political disinterest, is to communicate and keep his constituents fully informed. Information on a change of address, for constituents who have requested to be kept informed of my parliamentary work, is part of the vital link between MP and constituent and I feel a genuine communication, not a circular.

I would also add that for the interest of the Committee, my Incidental Expense Provision for 2005/6 has not reached its limit by some considerable amount and any suggestion that my use of stationery was to avoid use of my IEP is unfounded.

Secondly, Complaint No. 2—the issue of the Annual Report, Sir Philip has recommended that a complaint be upheld against what I consider a factual description in a caption. In making his judgement, Sir Philip states that he cannot see the part played by me in the activities being described. I am very disappointed that at no point have I been asked what role I played in the three stories. Had I thought it relevant or had I been asked I would have written an essay on my involvement in each of the three cases. But Members would appreciate that the process side of their work does not make for exciting reading, let alone lend itself for a caption for a photograph. That is why I had been asked to officially open the nursery, not just be "in attendance" as Sir Philip puts it. The fact that I was at the time a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department of Education having served under the Children's Minister was also relevant to me being asked to perform the official opening ceremony. Exactly the same principles apply to the other two examples.

As I have said in the evidence submitted, I do not consider the captions to be "party political" and I have suggested an objective test that could be applied to such assessments in the future. By comparison with Annual Reports and other IEP funded material I have sent to Sir Philip in the course of this complaint, I feel the recommendation made to the Committee will lead to an avalanche of future objections that will have to be considered by the Committee. Sir Philip has assured me that the Committee will see the examples I have submitted of other IEP funded material that will fall foul of this recommendation if accepted. I do believe a line can be drawn between a description of fact and making a party political point. I trust the Committee will look at some of the material and accept that many more Members will soon have complaints made against them if Mr Luff's complaint is upheld. Sir Philip in Para 48 in rejecting one of Mr Luff's complaints, makes the point that my political allegiance is well known to my constituents. I agree, but I would add that the political control of the Government is doubly well known, and as such it is hardly a campaigning or party political comment, but a statement of fact. There would be far more uncertainty over the political control of say a local council. So describing the political control of a local council could be construed as a campaigning or partisan point compared to the description of the Government that is merely factual not an opinion.

I am also disappointed, although I can partly understand why, that in reaching his conclusions Sir Philip did not think it appropriate to consider that Mr Luff's complaint was politically motivated, particularly given that Mr Luff's initial letter of complaint makes reference to incumbency of office and its effect upon challengers. I would also submit the history of our relationship, including previous complaints using fabricated names and address of alleged constituents of mine, and the fact that at least one local journalist was briefed by Mr Luff about his complaint (a point I did raise with Sir Philip in conversation) all suggest a political motivation for the complaint.

Throughout the investigation, I have co-operated fully and openly with Sir Philip in the knowledge that I have acted in a manner expected of a Member of Parliament, in corresponding with constituents in a genuine and open manner and in trying to effectively engage with my constituents.

In conclusion I would like to endorse the comment in Sir Philip's report—Para. 56 that the answer to problems which have been highlighted in this case, will be resolved by amending the present rules to provide clarity and remove ambiguity that will enable MPs to properly discharge their Parliamentary functions—which is what I have been trying to do.

8 May 2006  Michael Foster MP

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