Jacqui Smith - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents



101.  In its edition of 30 March 2009, the Daily Mail reported[98] that Ms Smith had submitted a bill "for blue movies watched at her family home in Redditch, Worcestershire, as part of a £67 television package claimed under MPs' controversial second home allowance." It reported that Ms Smith had said that "I am sorry that in claiming for my internet connection, I mistakenly claimed for a television package alongside it. As soon as the matter was brought to my attention, I took immediate steps to contact the relevant parliamentary authorities and rectify the situation. All money claimed for the television package will be paid back in full." Her husband was quoted as saying: "I am really sorry for any embarrassment I have caused Jacqui. I can fully understand why people might be angry and offended by this."


102.  On the same day, 30 March 2009, Mr Robert Waterhouse wrote to me. He drew my attention to the Daily Mail article, and asked me both to investigate its allegations and to "consider making a thorough examination of her other claims during her [Ms Smith's] employment in this Parliament, so that the taxpayer can be reassured that this was—as is suggested—an isolated case."[99] I subsequently received a number of other complaints to the same effect.

103.  I responded to Mr Waterhouse on 3 April.[100] I accepted his complaint that Ms Smith had claimed against the ACA for films, the cost of which was not permitted under the rules of the House. I did not, however, accept his suggestion that I undertake examination of all Ms Smith's claims, on the grounds that my role in this respect is confined to consideration of complaints based on evidence of a breach provided by the complainant.


104.  The Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament provides in paragraph 14 as follows:

"Members shall at all times ensure that their use of expenses, allowances, facilities and services provided from the public purse is strictly in accordance with the rules laid down on these matters, and that they observe any limits placed by the House on the use of such expenses, allowances, facilities and services."

105.  The rules in relation to Ms Smith's claims against the Additional Costs Allowance for these films and the related media package are set out in Section 3 of the July 2006 edition of the Green Book on Parliamentary Salaries, Allowances and Pensions. Section 3.1.1 provides:

"The Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) reimburses Members of Parliament for expenses wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred when staying overnight away from their main UK residence (referred to below as their main home) for the purpose of performing Parliamentary duties. THIS EXCLUDES EXPENSES THAT HAVE BEEN INCURRED FOR PURELY PERSONAL OR POLITICAL PURPOSES."

106.  Section 3.2.1 provides:


A You have stayed overnight in the UK away from your only or main home, and

B This was for the purpose of performing your Parliamentary duties, and  

C You have necessarily incurred additional costs in so doing, and

D You represent a constituency in outer London or outside London."

107.  Section 3.3.1 of the Green Book provides:

"You must ensure that arrangements for your ACA claims are above reproach and that there can be no grounds for a suggestion of misuse of public money. Members should bear in mind the need to obtain value for money from accommodation, goods or services funded from the allowances."

108.  The Green Book gives a number of examples of expenditure which can and cannot be claimed under the Additional Costs Allowance. Section 3.13.1 gives examples of expenditure allowed, including:

  • "Telecommunications charges
    • Furnishings
    • electrical equipment
    • Other
    • TV licence…"

Section 3.14.1 sets out expenditure which is not allowable, including: "Living costs for anyone other than yourself".

109.  The July 2006 version of the Green Book was superseded by a new version on 1 April 2009. This complaint, however, relates to claims under the provisions of the July 2006 Green Book.


110.  I wrote to Ms Smith on 3 April 2009.[101] I noted that the essence of the complaint was that she had claimed against the Additional Costs Allowance for films, the cost of which was not permitted under the rules of the House. I also noted that I had declined to accept the complainant's suggestion that I undertake an examination of all her claims. I further noted that I was aware of the comments she had made to the press, and of her husband's statement. I asked Ms Smith specifically to let me know the circumstances in which she came to include the film items in the claim which had been publicised in the media; whether there were similar claims which she had made for paid films against the allowance; and the actions she had taken to rectify the position.

111.  Ms Smith replied on 23 April.[102] She commented:

"As I know you are aware from media reports, I have made clear publicly on several occasions that as soon as I became aware of the inclusion of film items in the expenses claim in question I recognised that this claim should never have been submitted. I apologised immediately and took immediate steps to repay all monies relating to the television package at my Redditch home."

112.  Ms Smith attached a letter of 8 April from the Director of Operations, Department of Resources, acknowledging the repayment.[103] The letter confirmed receipt of a cheque for £400 and noted: "this reimburses the House for amounts paid towards a Virgin Media package for your constituency home, less the cost of the basic broadband package available from Virgin."

113.  In response to my request for details of the circumstances in which she came to claim the film items, Ms Smith said that, as part of a claim in respect of 1 April-1 May 2008, she had submitted a claim for a Virgin Media package which comprised telephone line rental, broadband connection and television services. The bill she submitted in support of that claim set out advance charges for the period 20 May-19 June (relating to the provision of the basic services) and event charges for films watched on demand. Ms Smith added that: "these event charges should never have been claimed for and were inadvertently and mistakenly included in the claim submitted for 1 May-1 June 2008, dated 4 June 2008."

114.  As to similar claims made for paid-for films against the allowance, Ms Smith stated that she had submitted claims for the Virgin Media package in March, April, June, July, September, October, November and December 2008. As to the action she had taken to rectify the situation, Ms Smith commented that she deeply regretted the mistake and took full responsibility for it. She apologised as soon as she became aware of the mistake and took immediate steps to pay back "all monies relating to all television services provided by Virgin Media at my Redditch home." Ms Smith sought and received confirmation from the Department of Resources that the total amount claimed for this media package including television and broadband was £553.20. Excluding broadband services, the total was, she said, £393.20. On 28 March 2009, she had written a cheque for £400 for the Department of Resources to cover the cost of the television element of the package in its entirety, thus reimbursing the House for amounts paid towards a Virgin Media package, less the cost of "the basic broadband package available from Virgin", provided to her Redditch home.

115.  I responded to Ms Smith on 28 April,[104] thanking her for her explanation and putting two further questions to her. The first was whether, when paying back the cost of all her Virgin Media television services for the financial year 2008-09, she did so because she considered the claims for these services were in breach of the rules; if not, which of the services, including the film items, she considered were claimed for in breach of the rules. The second was what claims, if any, she had made for films and television services in each financial year from 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2008, and which of these, if any, she considered were claimed for in breach of the rules.

116.  I explained that the reason I needed this information was that I would need to come to a view on the extent of the breach of the rules in respect of these claims before I decided how best to resolve the complaint. I also informed Ms Smith that, once I had received her response, I was likely to consult the Department of Resources for their advice on the interpretation of the rules and on the actions she had taken to resolve the position.

117.  Ms Smith replied to me on 30 April.[105] In respect to my first question, she commented:

"The Green Book explicitly examples electrical goods, TV licences and telecommunication services as allowable claimable costs. I don't believe that basic cable or satellite television packages are unreasonable related costs in that context. The Fees Office didn't question the nature or extent of the Virgin Media package that was claimed for at any time over several months."

118.  She continued: "However, in considering the scale of my repayment of claims I was guided by advice within the Green Book that:

'You must ensure that arrangements for your ACA claims are above reproach and that there can be no grounds for a suggestion of misuse of public money.''[106]

"I wanted to be perfectly clear about the settlement I was making— in conjunction with my immediate apology for my mistake. I decided to pay back all that I had claimed for in relation to Virgin Media's package except for the most basic broadband and telephone package available."

119.  In response to my second question, about claims made for film and television services in each financial year from 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2008, Ms Smith stated that, apart from annual claims for a television licence, she had made no claim for any such items beyond those identified in her letter of 23 April.[107]

120.  I wrote to the Director of Operations in the Department of Resources on 7 May, seeking advice on the complaint.[108] In particular, I asked if the Department considered Ms Smith to be in breach of the rules in respect of any of the claims she made for her Virgin Media package from March to December 2008 inclusive; to confirm both that she made no claims for any television packages or films before March 2008, and that the only claim made for paid-for films was that submitted in June 2008. I also said it would be helpful if the Department could include copies of the relevant claim forms and supporting documentation.

121.  The Director of Operations responded on 27 May.[109] He noted that the July 2006 Green Book stated that "telecommunication services" were an eligible expense against the ACA, and added "beyond this it is silent". He went on to say that the telecommunications product market was relatively complex with a variety of products and packages available to the consumer. The advice the Department gave to Members when guidance was requested was that they might claim only for a basic subscription to digital suppliers, which might include, for example, BBC News 24, Sky News, Bloomberg, etc. The Department would further advise that any additional services, such as access to Sky Movies or Sky Sports "would not be appropriate". However, the Director noted that additional services such as these could sometimes be rolled into a single low value package, with the marginal cost of the additional subscription becoming relatively inexpensive, if not zero.

122.  The Director also commented that, "In administrative terms, it has not seemed a good use of staff time to investigate in detail the digital package in use by an individual Member unless we had cause for concern." He noted that it was often unclear from Members' claims whether additional subscription charges were included, and it could also be difficult to distinguish between telephone, mobile, broadband and digital packages.

123.  In relation to Ms Smith's letter to me of 23 April,[110] the Director noted that she had had a Virgin Media package which comprised telephone, line rental, broadband connection and television services. He commented, "As a basic package this would be an acceptable claim against her ACA." He went on to say: "However, in common with many Members, we received from Ms Smith only the monthly summary bill for payment, apart from one month which included an extra page in respect of 'on demand' items."

124.  In response to my request for details of Ms Smith's claims for telecommunications services, the Director reported that she had claimed for her Virgin Media package during 2008 only. The claims had covered eight months and she sought reimbursement for a total of £553.20. They were all paid in full.

125.  The Director reported that the Department held only summary invoices for all months apart from the claim for May 2008. This claim had with it supporting documentation that identified the cost of 'on demand' films. He commented, "In my view, this is not eligible expenditure against ACA, a point Ms Smith has accepted in her letter to you of 23 April 2009."

126.  The Director included with his response a list of the five ACA claims which had included claims for the Virgin Media package and copies of those claims. The first, dated 4 May 2008, covered the period 1 April to 1 May 2008. The front page of a Virgin Media bill dated 28 March, which gave the total amount due and was to be paid by direct debit around 21 April 2008, was submitted in support of the claim for £68. The second claim, received on 6 June 2008, covered the period 1 May to 1 June 2008. A complete bill dated 25 April 2008, due for payment around 20 May and which included a detailed breakdown of advance charges (for telephone line rental, broadband, and television services) and event charges in arrears (for on-demand and other events) was submitted in support of a claim for £67.

127.  The third claim, submitted on 6 October 2008, covered the period 1 September to 1 October 2008. A copy of the front page only of the 25 April bill was submitted in support of a claim for £67. The fourth claim, submitted on 4 November 2008 and covering the period 1 October to 1 November 2008, was also for £67 and was also supported by a copy of the front page of the 25 April bill.

128.  The fifth and final claim, submitted on 5 March 2009, covered the period 1 April 2008 to 1 March 2009. It included a claim for telephone and telecommunications, which included £284.20 in respect of the Virgin Media package. The claim was supported by copies of the front pages of bills dated 25 June 2008 (£77.45), 25 July 2008 (£73.50), 26 November 2008 (£76.00) and 30 December 2008 (£57.25).

129.   The Director commented that a member of staff had written to Ms Smith in November 2008 pointing out that her claims for September and October had been made with the same supporting invoice received with her May claim.[111] The letter asked Ms Smith to submit "updated documents, i.e. a direct debit schedule or a bank statement showing monthly payments." It went on to say that on this occasion the claim had been paid in full and added, "we look forward to receiving the relevant documents in the near future."

130.  Finally, the Director noted that he had written to Ms Smith on 8 April 2009 confirming repayment by her of the full cost of television services previously reimbursed.

131.  Following receipt of the Director's letter, I wrote again to Ms Smith on 2 June.[112] I noted from the itemised bill dated 25 April that the total service charge of £67 was made up of £46 advance charges and £21 event charges, and that the claims for other months varied between £57.25 and £77.45. I asked her to clarify why there was this difference between the advance charges and total service charges, if possible by submitting copies of the itemised bills for the other months. I also asked, since it appeared that the summary page of the April invoice from Virgin Media was re-presented with the two subsequent claims, if these claims were revised following the Department of Resources' letter of 11 November 2008.[113]

132.  Ms Smith replied on 22 June.[114] She explained that the charges varied because the Virgin Media package comprised a basic package and then additional charges for events such as films. She did not have copies of the itemised bills. As to the submission of a duplicate of the 25 April 2008 bill in the two subsequent months, she commented:

"I had thought that providing a recurring copy of an invoice for a typical month would be acceptable. However, the Fees Office contacted me by letter on 11 November to say that they needed month by month invoices so any further claims were made against individual invoices. No adjustment was asked for and I am afraid I took the request for 'receiving the relevant documents in the near future' to refer to subsequent claims not those covering duplicated months. In hindsight, this led to claims in these two months that may not have exactly matched the actual expenditure. It is, of course, not clear as to whether it resulted in a lower or higher claim than would otherwise have been submitted."

133.  I wrote again to Ms Smith on 25 June.[115] I told her that I was considering whether I should submit the matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges, and I set out my understanding of the facts of this case and invited her to agree with my summary. I also asked how the mistaken inclusion of the event items in the eight months claims occurred, including whether she checked each month's claim before signing it and how far she checked the supporting documents; whether she accepted that, had she claimed only for the package of advance charges, there would have been no variation in her claims and thus no uncertainty about whether she had under-claimed or over-claimed; and whether she accepted that her claims for event charges which totalled £185.20 were in breach of the rules of the House.

134.  Ms Smith replied on 5 July 2009.[116] As to my summary of the facts, Ms Smith commented:

"In the main your understanding is correct. The one point of clarification would be that, as I understand it, not all of the 'event' charges made in the eight months were 'namely films'. There were occasions when pay-per-view sport was purchased. I think a description of "charges for additional entertainment elements including films and sport" would be more accurate. Such a description would also echo wording in the Green Book where it prohibits ACA claims for entertainment."

As to how event charges came to be included in the claims, she commented:

"I am afraid I did not see the supporting documents setting out the make up of the charges. If I had I hope that I would have picked up on their unsuitability.

"I accept that there should have been no variation in the amounts claimed had I simply claimed for the basic broadband Virgin services. Variations month by month were reasonably small, typically by less than £11. However that there were any differences should have set alarm bells ringing. I am afraid it did not."

As to whether Ms Smith accepted that the events were claimed in breach of the rules of the House, she commented:

"I have accepted that claims for entertainment are not allowed against the ACA. I am, of course, sorry that such claims were made and sorry that they were not picked up by the Fees Office when they first occurred. It is a matter of great regret and embarrassment to me that I did not check this element of my claims in more detail."

135.  I replied to Ms Smith on 9 July, accepting her clarification of the description of the event charges.[117]

136.  When I met Ms Smith for our interview on 1 September,[118] she repeated her acceptance that she had breached the rules; she had made a mistake which she had rectified as soon as she became aware of it. The entertainment items, which had not been used by her, should not have been claimed in any event. The mistake had occurred on a number of occasions as a result of her not looking at the breakdown of the bills when submitting the summaries in support of her claims; she commented "I didn't look at the claim carefully enough". She had not noticed that the claims varied monthly, and had thus not thought about the potential significance of this. She said that, as a result of her experience, she was ensuring that she was more careful with future claims, for example with office costs from the Incidental Expenses Provision. As to the repayment she had made, this deliberately went beyond the entertainment items as she wanted to avoid arguments about other parts of the package that were used by her family.

98   WE 39 Back

99   WE 38 Back

100   WE40 Back

101   WE 41 Back

102   WE 42 Back

103   WE 43 Back

104   WE 44 Back

105   WE 45 Back

106   Green Book, Section 3.3.1 Back

107   WE 42 Back

108   WE 46 Back

109   WE 47 Back

110   WE 42 Back

111   WE 49 Back

112   WE 50 Back

113   WE 49 Back

114   WE 51 Back

115   WE 52 Back

116   WE 53 Back

117   WE 54 Back

118   WE 55 Back

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