Mrs Caroline Spelman - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents

Mrs Caroline Spelman


1. On 9 June 2008, Mrs Caroline Spelman, the Member for Meriden, asked the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to investigate the circumstances of the employment of a member of her staff from 1997 to 1999, following press reports that parliamentary allowances may have been misused. Normally, the Commissioner does not consider cases that go back more than seven years. Neither may the Commissioner launch an investigation in the absence of a complaint, without the express authority of the Committee on Standards and Privileges. Having considered Mrs Spelman's request, the Commissioner sought the Committee's agreement for him to accept the referral and to waive the seven-year rule.[1]

2. On 17 June, the Committee authorised the Commissioner to investigate allegations of misuse by Mrs Spelman of Parliamentary allowances in relation to employment of staff.[2] The Commissioner has since carried out his investigation and has reported his findings. These are published as Appendix 1 to this Report. In accordance with our normal practice, we invited Mrs Spelman to send us her observations on the Commissioner's memorandum. Mrs Spelman's evidence is published as Appendix 2.

The allegation

3. The allegation against Mrs Spelman was first raised in a BBC television report. As the Commissioner notes:

The Rules of the House require—as they required throughout the period covered by the allegation—that all expenditure from parliamentary allowances should be incurred "wholly, exclusively and necessarily" in connection with a Member's parliamentary duties.[4]

The Commissioner's investigation

4. Over a period of eight months, the Commissioner conducted a most thorough investigation of the allegation referred to him by Mrs Spelman. In the course of this investigation, the Commissioner gathered relevant records and documents (to the extent these were still available), obtained statements from a range of witnesses and interviewed several of those most closely concerned. Mrs Spelman has thanked the Commissioner and his staff for their approach to the investigation.[5] We wish to add our thanks. There are very good reasons why cases that go back more than seven years are not normally investigated: records are less likely to be retrievable or even to exist at all; and memories fade or become unreliable. In the circumstances, the Commissioner has done a remarkable job in coming to clear conclusions, founded on firm evidence.

5. The Commissioner elected to adopt a high standard of proof in this inquiry. He did so because of the seriousness of the allegations, which called into question Mrs Spelman's personal integrity, and because of the "very long passage of time" since the events took place.[6] The standard of proof adopted was that the allegation should be shown to be significantly more likely to be true than not to be true. We agree with the Commissioner's decision to adopt this high standard of proof. We have applied the same standard of proof when reaching our own conclusions, as set out later in this Report.

The Commissioner's memorandum

6. The Commissioner has set out his findings of fact at paragraphs 168 to 192 of his memorandum and his conclusions at paragraphs 195 to 217. We summarise them below, but we strongly recommend that all those who read our Report should also read the Commissioner's memorandum in full.

7. Mrs Spelman was elected to the House in May 1997. She had three young children. She had been assisted in looking after those children by a live-in au pair. Following her election, Mrs Spelman engaged an experienced nanny, Mrs Tina Haynes, to look after her children. Mrs Haynes agreed to Mrs Spelman's suggestion that she should also act as her part-time constituency administration assistant. Initially, Mrs Haynes moved into the Spelman family home in Kent and, according to the evidence of both Mrs Haynes and Mrs Spelman, she focused on dealing with the backlog of work that had accumulated since the sudden death in February 1997 of the previous Member, Mr Iain Mills, while an au pair continued to provide child care.[7]

8. The Commissioner notes that:

    Mrs Haynes moved with the family from Kent to their rented house in Knowle [in the Meriden constituency] in July 1997. The family subsequently moved in October 1997 to a house which they bought nearby, and to a larger house in October 1998. Mrs Haynes took up responsibility as the children's nanny when the au pair left the family in August 1997. Mrs Haynes had sole care of the children during the working week from that time until 2002, whenever Mrs Spelman was absent in London on parliamentary business.[8]

9. In her capacity as nanny, Mrs Haynes received free board and lodging, expenses and the use of a car, but no financial remuneration.[9] In her capacity as Mrs Spelman's administration assistant, Mrs Haynes was paid £13,000 a year for an 18-hour week, from Mrs Spelman's parliamentary office costs allowance.[10] The full-time equivalent salary would be about £27,100.

10. Following a discussion between Mrs Spelman and the Conservative Chief Whip, Mrs Haynes ceased to be paid from parliamentary allowances after about June 1999. She then became Mrs Spelman's full-time nanny, with some additional domestic responsibilities to those she had already been carrying out and spending more time with Mrs Spelman's children. From this point on, Mrs Haynes received from Mrs Spelman a salary of £13,000 per annum, in addition to the board, lodging and use of a car that were already provided. Mrs Haynes continued to undertake some administrative duties related to Mrs Spelman's parliamentary responsibilities.[11] Mrs Haynes left Mrs Spelman's employment in September 2002.[12]

11. From June 1999, the administrative and secretarial support to Mrs Spelman previously provided in part by Mrs Haynes was provided by a constituency secretary employed by the Meriden Conservative Association, who worked for Mrs Spelman for 14 hours a week. The Association fixed the secretary's pay at a rate which would have been equivalent to about £8,200 per annum for an 18-hour week and Mrs Spelman repaid the Association from her parliamentary allowances.[13] The Commissioner points out that, on the basis of an 18-hour week, Mrs Haynes was paid £4,800 per annum more than her successor.[14] He also notes that in 1999, Mrs Spelman paid her Westminster-based secretary £15,000 per annum for a three-day week. This was equivalent to a full-time salary of £25,000.[15]

12. The Commissioner concludes that the increase in financial remuneration paid by Mrs Spelman herself to Mrs Haynes from nothing to £13,000 per annum in about April 1999 cannot be explained by the increase in Mrs Haynes' domestic and child care duties.[16] He is also "driven to the conclusion" that the salary paid to Mrs Haynes from parliamentary allowances in the period 1997 to 1999 allowed her to undertake her nannying duties "without additional or separate financial reward" and thus subsidised her work as a nanny.[17] The Commissioner points out that Mrs Haynes was not an au pair; she was in fact "an experienced and well qualified professional nanny" receiving no financial reward. He concludes that "it is difficult to see how anyone in Mrs Haynes' position could have sustained a career on that basis."[18]

13. As for the administrative duties for which Mrs Haynes was paid from parliamentary allowances, the Commissioner has concluded that during the period she worked as Mrs Spelman's constituency administration assistant, Mrs Haynes was capable of performing her administrative duties and that the evidence does not support an allegation that she did not perform those duties for the 18 hours a week for which she was paid.[19] However, the Commissioner also concludes that Mrs Spelman was in breach of the Rules of the House, because the expenditure on Mrs Haynes' employment as an administration assistant was not incurred wholly or exclusively in support of Mrs Spelman's parliamentary duties, but was also used to support Mrs Haynes' separate work as her live-in nanny.[20]

14. Finally, the Commissioner concludes that there is:

    … no evidence that it was a calculated breach on Mrs Spelman's part. I have received striking evidence of Mrs Spelman's personal integrity, probity and standing in the community and among her colleagues. She must have been under intense personal and professional pressure when she was first elected in 1997. She had very little time to prepare. She had to move home and her family in the space of a few short, and what I am sure were frenzied, months. She had to manage the pressures of a new constituency, a backlog of casework and her family responsibilities, and to adjust to the distinctive environment of the House of Commons which puts pressure on any new Member.[21]

    Mrs Spelman found an arrangement that worked for her as a new Member of Parliament and for her family. Were it not for the way she apportioned the remuneration between the dual roles, it was, in my judgement, a perfectly reasonable arrangement to have made at the time and in all the circumstances. I do not believe that at the time, or perhaps since, Mrs Spelman considered whether the terms on which she employed Mrs Haynes as her nanny benefited from her employment as her administration assistant. My belief is that, in the rush of business, Mrs Spelman did not consider separately what would be a reasonable remuneration including pay for nannying duties and what pay was necessary solely to support her in her parliamentary duties. As a result, the arrangements had the unintended, but in my view undoubted, effect of misapplying some of Mrs Spelman's parliamentary allowances for non parliamentary purposes.[22]


15. Before reaching our overall conclusion, we discuss below several aspects of this case that need to be taken into account. We then consider a number of points made to us by Mrs Spelman in her evidence.

Some relevant considerations

16. First, we note that in May 1997 Mrs Spelman was a newly elected, first-term Member, who had been selected to fight her seat only three months earlier, following the sudden death of the sitting Member, Iain Mills. She had little time in which to prepare for membership of the House. While Mrs Spelman was not alone in this—especially in 1997—her limited familiarity with the Rules of the House at the time is understandable. Mrs Spelman also faced a backlog of constituency casework which had accumulated following the death of her predecessor and, as the Commissioner notes, this must have placed her under additional pressure at what was a frenzied time.[23]

17. Second, The Rules were less stringent and less detailed in 1997 than they later became, and expectations were lower. It is important to judge Mrs Spelman's conduct against the standards that existed at the time.

18. Third, at the time of her election Mr and Mrs Spelman had three young children, for whom she was the main carer, although she was assisted in this by an au pair. We recognise that the duties of a child-carer are time-consuming and that the burden of providing that care can be onerous. We accept that there was a clear need for Mrs Spelman to obtain assistance with looking after her children once she had been elected to Parliament, a point to which we return at the end of this Report. Like the Commissioner, we do not believe that it was in any way wrong for Mrs Spelman to combine in one person the dual roles of nanny and administration assistant. This case is solely about how those dual roles were remunerated.

19. Fourth, the Commissioner has found evidence that Mrs Spelman was entirely open with the House authorities about the dual role nature of her employment of Mrs Haynes, and that she sought advice at the time.[24] As well as initiating the Commissioner's investigation, Mrs Spelman has cooperated fully with it and has accepted the Commissioner's findings. She has also told us that she "take[s] any misapplication of public funds extremely seriously."[25] We welcome this statement.

Points made by Mrs Spelman

20. Mrs Spelman has made a number of points in support of her actions. We were struck by her statement, both to the Commissioner in the course of his inquiry and in her letter to the Committee, that Mrs Haynes would have seen her free board and lodging as nanny and her remuneration as Mrs Spelman's administration assistant as "a total package." Mrs Spelman told us that Mrs Haynes "would have been most interested in the take-home pay received for her employment as a whole."[26] In our view, this does not help Mrs Spelman's case. Rather, it tends to support the Commissioner's view that Mrs Haynes would have been unlikely to have worked as Mrs Spelman's nanny without some separate financial remuneration. The fact that Mrs Haynes was paid nothing as Mrs Spelman's nanny while she was also working and being paid as Mrs Spelman's administration assistant, but after giving up the latter role was paid a salary as nanny of £13,000, is in our view telling.

21. Mrs Spelman told the Commissioner that, prior to Mrs Haynes taking on her full responsibilities as a nanny, she had employed an au pair to provide assistance with child care.[27] Like Mrs Haynes, the au pair was given free board and lodging and her expenses were paid. Unlike Mrs Haynes—who needed to be able to drive both in order to take Mrs Spelman's children to school and to travel around the constituency as part of her administrative duties—the au pair did not have use of a car.[28] Mrs Spelman told the Commissioner that Mrs Haynes had sole care of her children "in the same way as an au pair or mother's help."[29] She told us that "the remuneration arrangement I had with Ms Haynes was entirely consistent with the one I had in place previously [when] I had employed the use of an au pair or mother's help (as opposed to a nanny)."[30] However, Mrs Haynes' duties as nanny, which involved taking sole care of the children, including overnight, for most of the working week, exceeded those of an au pair. The suggestion that the employment of an experienced, professional nanny—in the form of Mrs Haynes—represented a continuity of a previous arrangement such as typically applies to unqualified, inexperienced au pairs is in our view not sustainable.

22. Mrs Spelman has also argued that, if it is the case that the cost to her of employing Mrs Haynes as a nanny was subsidised from parliamentary allowances, then the reverse can also be said to be true, in that from April 1999 to August 2002, when Mrs Haynes continued to perform some residual administrative functions, she was paid solely from Mrs Spelman's own resources. Mrs Spelman suggests that it could be said that she subsidised work which she could have claimed against her parliamentary allowances.[31] We have considered this argument, but we feel unable to take it into consideration. Members cannot offset allowances that they have failed to claim (setting aside for the moment the question of whether a claim would have been within the Rules) against those that they have wrongly claimed.

23. Mrs Spelman has pointed out that she paid Mrs Haynes' successor in the part-time administrative role, Mrs Paula Yates, at a rate set by Mrs Yates' main employer, the Meriden Conservative Association.[32] Mrs Yates' rate of pay was equivalent pro rata to a salary of £4,800 per annum below that which Mrs Haynes had been receiving. Mrs Spelman does not accept that this indicates that Mrs Haynes' salary might have been excessive.

Overall conclusion

24. The Commissioner has concluded that the arrangements entered into by Mrs Spelman with Mrs Haynes had the unintended, but in his view undoubted, effect of misapplying some of Mrs Spelman's parliamentary allowances for non-parliamentary purposes.[33] In effect, as the Commissioner has found, there was an element of cross-subsidy.[34] The Commissioner has reached this conclusion on the basis of the high standard of proof adopted by him for this inquiry, i.e. that it is significantly more likely to be true than not to be true.

25. We have adopted the same high standard of proof. On that basis, we agree with the Commissioner's conclusion that for two years from June 1997 Mrs Spelman paid Mrs Haynes from her parliamentary allowances a salary as her part-time administration assistant that enabled Mrs Haynes to work also as her nanny without additional or separate financial reward. This had the effect of misapplying part of Mrs Spelman's parliamentary allowances. We accept that this breach, which occurred at a time when both the Rules and expectations were less stringent than they are now, was unintentional. Mrs Spelman has accepted the Commissioner's findings and has told us that she will pay back the misapplied sums.

26. It is difficult to calculate with precision the sum that may have been misapplied, given the absence of pay records for most of the period of Mrs Haynes' employment as Mrs Spelman's administration assistant from 1997 to 1999, and bearing in mind the lack of official guidance on rates of pay for Members' staff at the time. Using the figure of £4,800 in the Commissioner's memorandum, which has been accepted by Mrs Spelman, we recommend that Mrs Spelman repay the House the sum of £9,600.

Child care for Members of Parliament

27. In accordance with good employment practice, parliamentary staff—both those employed by the House and those employed by Members—have access to a child care voucher scheme and to advice on where they may obtain child care, whether in Westminster or elsewhere. Members of Parliament have no such access and must make their own arrangements. We consider this to be inequitable, and disproportionately so for women Members, who are more likely to have primary responsibility for child care. We understand that the House of Commons Administration Committee is presently considering the question of Members' child care requirements. We look forward to that Committee's conclusions.

1   Appendix 1, paragraph 6 Back

2   Appendix 1, paragraph 6; see also Minutes of Proceedings, Session 2007-08, 17 June 2008, available at Back

3   Appendix 1, paragraph 7 Back

4   Appendix 1, paragraph 10 Back

5   Appendix 2 Back

6   Appendix 1, paragraph 193 Back

7   Appendix 1, paragraphs 168 to 172 Back

8   Appendix 1, paragraph 173 Back

9   Appendix 1, paragraph 180 Back

10   Appendix 1, paragraphs 178 and 180 Back

11   Appendix 1, paragraphs 100 and 211, and Appendix 2 Back

12   Appendix 1, paragraph 171 Back

13   Appendix 1, paragraph 181 Back

14   Appendix 1, paragraph 215 Back

15   Appendix 1, paragraph 185 Back

16   Appendix 1, paragraph 211 Back

17   Appendix 1, paragraphs 212 and 213 Back

18   Appendix 1, paragraph 209 Back

19   Appendix 1, paragraphs 204 to 207 Back

20   Appendix 1, paragraph 214 Back

21   Appendix 1, paragraph 216 Back

22   Appendix 1, paragraph 217 Back

23   Appendix 1, paragraph 216 Back

24   Appendix 1, paragraphs 43 and 44 Back

25   Appendix 2 Back

26   Appendix 1, paragraph 210, and Appendix 2 Back

27   Appendix 1, paragraph 169 Back

28   Appendix 1, paragraphs 141 and 145 Back

29   Appendix 1, paragraph 133 Back

30   Appendix 2 Back

31   Appendix 2 Back

32   Appendix 2 Back

33   Appendix 1, paragraph 217 Back

34   Appendix 1, paragraph 213 Back

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