Mr Gordon Brown - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents

Mr Gordon Brown


1. We have received a memorandum from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, reporting on his investigation of a complaint against the Rt hon Gordon Brown, the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, made by Mr Greg Hands, the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham. The Commissioner's memorandum is printed with this Report as Appendix 1.

2. The complaint against Mr Brown investigated by the Commissioner was that he had sub-let part of a constituency office, contrary to a rule of the House, and that he had failed to record the rental income from this sub-letting in the Register of Members' Interests.

The Commissioner's memorandum

3. The Commissioner has set out in his memorandum the facts as they have been established. From July 2005 to March 2008, Mr Brown and Ms Marilyn Livingstone MSP jointly rented a property in Kirkcaldy as a constituency office. Mr Brown and Ms Livingstone jointly sub-let part of the property to the local Labour Party. Mr Brown and Ms Livingstone each paid half of the rent for the office and each received half of the income from the sub-tenant. Mr Brown claimed under his Parliamentary allowances for his share of the rental cost of the office, and reduced the sum claimed by the same amount as he received as rent from the sub-tenant. There was thus no financial gain to Mr Brown, and there was no subsidy of the local Labour Party from Parliamentary funds.

4. Because no rental income accrued to Mr Brown, the Commissioner dismissed that part of the complaint which related to Mr Brown's failure to register rental income in the Register of Members' Interests. He confirmed that no registrable interest was involved.[1]

5. The Commissioner has, however, upheld that part of the complaint that relates to a breach of the rules of the House.[2] As the Commissioner's memorandum makes clear, since 2004 it has been specifically stated in guidance approved by the House and issued to all Members of Parliament that they may not sub-let accommodation paid for out of Parliamentary allowances. Mr Brown has said—and the Commissioner has accepted—that he broke this rule inadvertently, because his MSP colleague handled the arrangements for the lease and consulted Scottish Parliament officials, who told her, correctly, that nothing in the rules of the Scottish Parliament prevented her from sub-letting part of the office accommodation. Nonetheless, the rules of the House of Commons were broken.

6. The Commissioner has also found that the House of Commons authorities missed several opportunities to advise Mr Brown that he was wrong to sub-let part of the office accommodation. Mr Brown sent copies of the lease to the House authorities in 2006 and in 2007. He also declared and identified the rental income from the sub-tenant in his claims for his share of the rent for the accommodation to be paid from House of Commons allowances.

7. As soon as Mr Brown learnt that the sub-letting arrangement on his office in Kirkcaldy was not permitted under the rules, he terminated the arrangement. The Commissioner notes that the leasing arrangements for the property are now entirely consistent with the rules.

The length of the inquiry

8. The complaint made by Greg Hands MP was dated 1 February 2008 and the Commissioner sent us the report of his investigation on 13 February 2009. We note from the appendices to the Commissioner's memorandum that Mr Brown took six weeks to reply to the Commissioner's first letter and that a period of two and a half months elapsed between the Commissioner writing again to Mr Brown and a meeting between them taking place. It was almost a month before a reply was made to a further letter to Mr Brown, in which the Commissioner requested a response within two weeks. While we recognise the extraordinary pressures on the Prime Minister, we believe this should have been handled more promptly.

9. In the early stages of the investigation, the Department of Resources also took a month or longer to reply to the Commissioner's written enquiries, although their later responses were made much more promptly. In all these cases, swifter responses would have better served the public interest, as well as the interests of the House, of the complainant and of Mr Brown.


10. We regard this as an inadvertent breach of the rules, which could very easily have been avoided. When entering into the arrangement to share a constituency office with a Member of the Scottish Parliament and to sub-let part of it to his local party, Mr Brown should have ensured that the House of Commons authorities were consulted on the rules relating to Members' allowances.

11. The breach could, however, have been rectified earlier if the House authorities had been more vigilant and had picked up from the papers available to them that an impermissible sub-letting arrangement had been entered into. It is disappointing that this did not happen.

12. In a recent Report, we commented on a case where a busy Cabinet Minister had overlooked the need to register a donation, and we suggested that it should serve as a reminder "particularly to Ministers and to front-benchers" of the need to ensure they have complied with the rules of the House.[3] This case leads us to restate that advice.

13. We conclude that Mr Brown should not have sub-let part of his accommodation paid for from Parliamentary allowances. However, neither Mr Brown nor the Labour Party derived any financial benefit from this arrangement and there was no intention to deceive. We accept that Mr Brown's breach of the rules of the House was inadvertent and that he took steps to rectify it as soon as it was drawn to his attention. Mr Brown has apologised and in our view no further action is necessary.

14. We endorse the two observations made by the Commissioner in the final paragraph of his memorandum. It is clearly dangerous for Members of Parliament to assume that the rules of other parliamentary assemblies in the United Kingdom are the same as those of the House of Commons, or vice versa. We also call on the House authorities to exercise greater care in checking the information they receive from Members.

1   Appendix 1, paragraphs 66 and 74 Back

2   Appendix 1, paragraph 69 Back

3   First Report of Session 2008-09, Mr Jack Straw, HC 182 Back

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Prepared 26 February 2009