Jacqui Smith - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents


Appendix 2: Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from Jacqui Smith, 18 September 2009


Thank you for your letter of 15 September 2009 enclosing the report from the Parliamentary Commissioner on complaints made against me with respect to my claims for my second home and for a media package.

SECOND HOME

I would like to raise several issues with respect to the Commissioner's conclusions contained in paras 159-178.

I recognise that this investigation has been conducted at a time of great scrutiny of parliamentarians, in terms of both the general principles and operation of Parliamentary Allowances and the specifics of my case.

I also understand - all too well - how difficult it can be to withstand the intense public and media interest that has been generated, but my hope and expectation has been that the Commissioner would arrive at conclusions which are based on the objective application of the principles set out in the Green Book, and which are consistent with his recommendations in previous investigations of Members of Parliament. I would ask the Committee to bear this context in mind as they consider my case, in order to avoid a situation where an individual Member of Parliament is singled out in a disproportionate and unfair manner.

For the most part, I believe that the Commissioner's report reflects my position accurately.

However, the Commissioner has concluded that I should have made myself an exception to the objective elements of the rules and to the 'custom and practice' for Ministers.

This is a judgement arrived at after a seven month consideration and appears to be heavily influenced by subjective judgements about my personal circumstances.

I hope that the Committee will recognise that the decisions I took at the time of designating my main and second home could only have been taken on the basis of the rules as they were then and advice that I received about those rules, on objective measures of my circumstances and the best estimate of what future circumstances were likely to be.

On this basis I believe that I made a reasonable and defensible decision.

MY LONDON HOME

The Commissioner recognises that my London home is indeed a home. He dismisses the most usually repeated newspaper descriptions of my living arrangements. I welcome this judgement.

OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE

The Commissioner and I spent a considerable part of the investigation on the issue of where I spent my nights. I note your 14th Report of Session 2007-8, para 4:

'….., the Commissioner has endorsed the principle set out in the Green Book as the PRIMARY test for determining a Member's main residence for ACA purposes, namely that 'if you have more than one home, your main home will normally be the one where you spend more nights than any other'.

As the Commissioner makes clear, I provided - and went over personally with him - my personal and Ministerial diaries night by night for the last four years. I agreed to the provision of personal information from my Police protection teams as Home Secretary. As the Commissioner requested, I provided photographic evidence of where I had spent Christmas and New Year 2008 to rebut the complainant's contention that I hadn't been at my London home over that period. The agreed conclusions from this are reported in para 72. THEY SHOW THAT FOR FINANCIAL YEARS 2005/6, 2006/7 AND 2007/8 I SPENT MORE NIGHTS IN MY LONDON HOME THAN IN MY REDDITCH HOME.

I am, therefore, unclear on what basis the Commissioner says in para 167 that my decision 'gave insufficient weight to ……… the balance of nights she was to spend in London and in Redditch' or says in para 168 'Ms Smith did not give sufficient weight … to the objective overnights test…..'

Retrospectively this is a fair criticism of what actually occurred in financial year 2008/9. However, prospectively I believe that it was a reasonable judgement based on previous years and on the fact that I was Home Secretary at the time that I was likely to continue spending more nights in London than in Redditch.

SUBJECTIVE CONSIDERATIONS

In concluding that I should have exercised discretion against the objective measure of where I spent my nights, the Commissioner emphasises two factors—my family life and the tenure of my two homes.

The Commissioner claims that I have a 'close knit nuclear family'. I'm not sure on what evidence he bases this. The public statement that he referred to in our interview was about my relationship with my sister. I was making the point at the time that one of the reasons I shared a home with my sister was because we were close!

The Commissioner argues that in coming to my decision, I overemphasised my working life and under emphasised my family life.

As the need for allowance arises directly from the fact of my job as an MP and a Minister, I think it is appropriate to give this element weight. Furthermore, as anyone who has held Ministerial office will know, the distinction between working life and 'other life' is pretty slim given the time and responsibilities involved!

This was, of course, recognised in the pre 2004 rules about the designation of main homes for Ministers. It was assumed that Ministers would spend the majority of their time in London. I considered this to be a wholly rational assumption for the majority of Ministers. This precedent was an important factor in my decision not to change the designation of my main home after 2004.

I didn't 'flip' because I didn't think it was justified by my personal circumstances.

I have never hidden the fact that my family live in my Redditch home. I made my thinking on this clear in my first written evidence to the Commissioner:

'When I became a Minister, my husband and I did consider whether to move our children to London. However, they were born in Redditch, go to school there and have established friends and activities there. ….. We took a conscious decision to split the main family home from my main home. I noted that in your report on Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper it was the location of the individual Member that was decisive in determining where time was spent - not where the family were based'. WRITTEN EVIDENCE NO 5, P60.

I made this clear to the Department of Resources when I asked for and received advice that supported my decision in 2007. WRITTEN EVIDENCE NO 7 AND 8, P64.

I am sure the Committee will want to give careful consideration to the implications of this judgement for other members. It would seem to imply that there can never be a distinction between 'family home' and 'main home'. I suspect many other members would fall foul of this interpretation in retrospect - not least as it runs contrary to the advice of the Department of Resources.

In para 174, the Commissioner emphasises that I don't own my London Home. It is true that I have a mortgage on my Redditch home and am only a guarantor of the mortgage on my London home paying rent to my sister. Many of my constituents count as home, somewhere that they only rent. Furthermore, I note the considerable controversy surrounding parliamentary colleagues who own two homes. I have always only owned one home.

USE OF DISCRETION

In his final paragraph, the Commissioner concludes that I should have 'exercised my discretion' to make a different decision.

If I had done this, it would have been:

  • A shift away from the previous practice for Ministers at a time when I was spending more, not less time in London
  • Against the 'primary' and objective test in the rules for 3 of the 4 years in question
  • Not supported by advice I sought and received from the then Fees Office.

On this basis, I believe that the decision that I took was a reasonable one in the circumstances.

As the Commissioner reports in Para 100, my argument is that I stuck by the spirit of the pre 2004 rules; tested them by checking with the Department; fulfilled their objective requirements and made a reasonable judgement that prospectively I was likely to spend more nights in London than in Redditch.

I have never 'flipped', I have only ever owned one home and I don't believe that making a different decision would have resulted in better value for money.

I have sought throughout to co-operate fully and openly with the Commissioner's inquiry. I have provided unprecedented access to Ministerial and personal diaries, my case has been supported by my nearest neighbour and my decision was upheld by advice I received from the Parliamentary authorities.

I am disappointed that this process has not led to a fairer set of conclusions, based on objective and consistent application of the rules as they were at the time.

I hope that the Committee will bear this in mind in their consideration of the Commissioners report.

MEDIA PACKAGE

I accept the Commissioners conclusions on this and repeat my wholehearted apology that this mistake happened


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 12 October 2009