Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Eighteenth Report


Ms Dari Taylor



1. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has submitted a memorandum on the outcome of his investigation of a complaint against Ms Dari Taylor, Member for Stockton South, by Mr James Wharton, of Stockton South Conservatives. Mr Wharton expressed his concern that in letters sent between August and October 2007 Ms Taylor may have misused stationery and postage provided by Parliament.

2. The Commissioner's memorandum is reproduced at Appendix 1. It was sent to Ms Taylor for comment and her response is reproduced at Appendix 2.

3. At the centre of this complaint is the question of whether Ms Taylor's letters represented an allowable use of Incidental Expenses Provision and of House of Commons stationery and postage. However, as is clear from the Commissioner's memorandum, different considerations apply to the six letters that were the subject of the complaint. The Commissioner has therefore reached separate conclusions in respect of each letter. He has also made some general observations on the wider issues which this complaint, and other, similar complaints have illustrated, to which we will return in a later Report.

4. Of the six cases the subject of the complaint, the Commissioner dismisses two and upholds a third only in part.[1] The Commissioner concludes that in three cases, official House of Commons stationery provided by the House and pre-paid envelopes were misused, and that in the fourth case, official House of Commons stationery purchased by Ms Taylor was misused.[2] On the basis of the facts as set out in the memorandum, we agree with the Commissioner's conclusions.

5. The Commissioner comments that "Not all these breaches are of equal seriousness."[3] He states that, in his view, Ms Taylor's use of stationery funded from the Incidental Expenses Provision and of pre-paid envelopes to send identical letters to constituents following two 'street surgeries' conducted by her and her constituency team represented a more significant breach of the rules than did the two other cases.

6. These were not the first occasions on which Ms Taylor had misused pre-paid envelopes and stationery purchased using the Incidental Expenses Provision. In April 2007, in response to a complaint made to the Serjeant at Arms, Ms Taylor repaid the cost of pre-paid envelopes and House stationery relating to 25 letters sent following a constituency surgery.[4] At the time, the House authorities provided advice to Ms Taylor, drawing her attention to the rules concerning the use of House stationery and pre-paid envelopes.[5] Although, as the Commissioner notes, the advice given to Ms Taylor was not accurate in every respect, "it was made clear to her by the House authorities that pre-paid envelopes should not be used for 'common form' letters to residents she had met following her street surgery." Ms Taylor nonetheless continued to use pre-paid envelopes for such communications in at least two further cases in August and September 2007, those being two of the six cases the subject of the present complaint.

7. According to Ms Taylor, during her eleven years in the House there have been four occasions in all when a complaint has been made that she has broken the rules of the House on sending mail to constituents. In Ms Taylor's opinion, these few breaches of the House's complex and—in her view—"ambivalent" rules show that as a hard-working constituency Member she has tried her best to comply with them.[6]

8. Ms Taylor does not suggest that she does not understand the rules. We note that, although the Commissioner asked Ms Taylor to comment on the advice given following the earlier incident, and that, in particular, he invited her to tell him how she understood the rules concerning use of pre-paid envelopes and why she understood the use of such envelopes for her later correspondence to be permissible, Ms Taylor did not comment on these matters.[7]

9. Given the clear advice she received from the House authorities in March 2007 concerning the use of pre-paid envelopes, it is difficult to see why in August and September 2007 Ms Taylor continued to use pre-paid envelopes to send correspondence which was very similar to that in respect of which she had already been found to be at fault. We agree with the Commissioner that "There should have been no confusion … about the use of first-class pre-paid envelopes for such communications."[8]

10. Only approximate numbers of the circular letters sent out in August, September and October 2007 are known. Ms Taylor estimates that between 50 and 100 copies of these letters were sent on each of the three occasions.[9] She also states that she sent about five circular letters following 'street surgeries' in a twelve-month period.[10] It is therefore possible that, in addition to the three circular letters considered by the Commissioner, there have been other examples of misuse of pre-paid envelopes and stationery. Ms Taylor herself states in her letter (f) that "Three Saturday mornings a month I visit different parts of my constituency listening to concerns of people I represent …[and send] a letter to all the people in the streets I visited …" and in her letter (a) that she visits "some 250 houses during an on-street surgery …".[11]

11. In all four cases where the Commissioner has upheld all or part of the complaint against Ms Taylor, he has found that official House stationery bearing the portcullis symbol—in one case purchased by Ms Taylor, in the other cases provided through the Incidental Expenses Provision—has been misused. We strongly deprecate the continued misuse by Ms Taylor of House stationery for political purposes.

12. We are surprised that an experienced Member has repeated previous breaches of the rules and has failed to act in accordance with advice given by the House authorities. We particularly regret the fact that Ms Taylor has continued to dispute parts of the Commissioner's findings and we are very disappointed that she has offered no apology. We conclude that Ms Taylor should pay the House authorities the sum of £500 and submit an unequivocal written apology.




1   Appendix 1, paragraphs 72, 76 and 78. Back

2   Appendix 1, paragraph 80.  Back

3   Appendix 1, paragraph 81. Back

4   Appendix 1, paragraph 31.  Back

5   Appendix 1, paragraph 83. Back

6   Appendix 2; see also Ev pp 44, 55. Back

7   Ev pp 52-54. Back

8   Appendix 1, paragraph 84.  Back

9   Ev p 44. Back

10   Appendix 1, paragraph 82.  Back

11   Ev pp 41, 34.  Back


 
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Prepared 12 November 2008