Jacqui Smith - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents



MS SMITH'S CLAIM FOR MEDIA SERVICES

38.  Under the rules in force at the time of the behaviour which has been the subject of Mr Waterhouse's complaint, Members of Parliament were permitted to claim under their Additional Costs Allowance for expenditure on goods and services incurred wholly, exclusively and necessarily for the purpose of performing Parliamentary duties. Guidance provided to Members in the 2006 edition of the Green Book informed them that such goods and services could include telecommunications charges, electrical equipment and a television licence for their second home.[38]

39.  In recent years, telephone, television and internet services and hardware have increasingly been 'bundled' and sold as a package. Given that claims for goods and services must relate to expenditure wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the purpose of performing Parliamentary duties, Members have to be careful that the package they purchase for use in their second home does not cost more than the minimum package they require for Parliamentary purposes, or that they adjust their claim accordingly. Frequently, sports and entertainment channels will be bundled with the news channels which Members are entitled to claim for at no extra cost. However, Members have been advised that claiming for the separately identifiable cost of watching sports or entertainment channels "would not be appropriate."[39]

THE COMMISSIONER'S FINDINGS

40.  The Commissioner has found that Ms Smith made five claims for reimbursement of her cable television, telephone and broadband package between April 2008 and March 2009.[40] One of the claims was in respect of four separate months; the others each related to a single month. The claims thus related to eight months in all. In respect of each of these months, additional sums over the basic subscription were claimed for watching films or sporting events.[41] In only one month, however, was a fully itemised bill which included the charges for watching films submitted with the claim. On three occasions in 2008, a copy of the same, unitemised summary page of a bill was submitted in support of separate claims for differing amounts.[42]

41.  Ms Smith admitted that she did not see the documentation submitted in support of her claims, which were handled by her office.[43] She suggested that, if she had seen the bills at the time, she would have "picked up on their unsuitability." She regretted that the House authorities had not picked up on the one fully itemised claim which clearly contained unallowable expenditure, but she accepted full responsibility and she apologised. Ms Smith accepted that she had breached the rules.[44] As soon as she became aware of her mistake—which was immediately before the story broke in the press and also before the Commissioner received a complaint—she repaid £400 of the £553.20 she had claimed for her cable media package. The Commissioner calculates that the sum wrongly claimed by Ms Smith was in fact £185.20.[45]

42.  The Commissioner concludes:

Ms Smith has readily accepted that she should not have included claims for entertainment items, including paid-for films, in the claims she made for her media package against her Additional Costs Allowance. This was because such items were clearly not provided or necessary for the performance of her parliamentary duties. It was unfortunate that this mistake was not picked up by the Department of Resources on the one occasion when Ms Smith submitted a detailed bill showing these items with the claim.

But this claim for additional items was not a one-off occurrence. Ms Smith made claims above the basic package costs in each of the eight claims she made since signing up to this media package. She failed to notice that additional entertainment items were being claimed for. She did not see the itemised bill when it was included with her claims, and by her own admission, did not check that claim carefully enough. I recognise that she had many heavy responsibilities at the time, but nevertheless she clearly did not treat her claims with the care expected of all those who look for reimbursement from the public purse. She told me that she was now checking her claims more carefully.

Ms Smith has already paid a heavy price for these lapses, in terms of her public standing and the intrusion into her family life. She has also already paid back £400 of the £550 claimed over the period of the contract, which is considerably in excess of the sums represented by the additional entertainment items, which I assess to be about £185. She has apologised.

I conclude that Ms Smith was clearly in breach of the rules of the House in claiming for additional entertainment items on her media package in eight separate months in 2008-09 since these items were not necessary in the performance of her parliamentary duties. I therefore uphold the complaint.[46]

MS SMITH'S EVIDENCE

43.  Ms Smith has confirmed in writing to us that "I accept the Commissioner's conclusions on this and repeat my wholehearted apology that this mistake happened."[47]

CONCLUSION

44.  That Ms Smith wrongly claimed for unallowable expenditure is not in dispute. We welcome Ms Smith's admission of her error and her acceptance of responsibility. These, together with Ms Smith's early action to repay a sum in excess of that which she wrongly claimed and her apology to this committee are, in our view, sufficient for us to regard the matter as closed and we make no recommendation for further action.

45.  Once again, however, a case has come before us which illustrates both the need for Members to pay closer attention to ensuring that their claims relate only to expenditure incurred wholly, exclusively and necessarily for the purpose of performing their Parliamentary duties and the need for the relevant authorities (who from April 2010 will be independent of the House) to give clear advice and to be rigorous in checking claims.


38   Appendix 1, para 108 Back

39   Appendix 1, para 121 Back

40   Appendix 1, paras 126 to 128 Back

41   Appendix 1, WE53 Back

42   Appendix 1, paras 127 and 129 Back

43   Appendix 1, para 134 Back

44   Appendix 1, WE55 Back

45   Appendix 1, para 149 Back

46   Appendix 1, paras 155 to 158 Back

47   Appendix 2 Back


 
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Prepared 12 October 2009