Jacqui Smith - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents


Thank you for your letter of 17 February 2009 in which you ask for my response to a complaint received from Mrs Jessica Taplin dated 16 February and to respond to a series of questions.

Thank you for enclosing a copy of Mrs Taplin's two letters. I hope it will be helpful for you if I address the elements of Mrs Taplin's letter—and her interview reported in the Mail on Sunday which predated her complaint—which are clearly incorrect.

Mrs Taplin states that "During the summer and at Christmas, and other times Parliament are in recess the policemen disappear altogether for months and weeks respectively at a time, again a very simple indication of her not residing at the property."

I can state that over the 2008 summer recess and the 2008 Christmas holiday period I spent a significant proportion of my time at my London home.

Mrs Taplin places great store by the visibility of the police presence outside my home to support her assertions. Whilst it is clearly inappropriate to give detail about the nature of my protection, I am happy to discuss these arrangements with you in greater depth if you require. It may be helpful if I make clear that

  • I have specifically asked the Metropolitan Police to be as unobtrusive as possible to minimise disruption to my neighbours. [ … ]
  • [ … ]
  • [ … ]

Mrs Taplin states that "Since Ms Smith moved into the street last April it has been very clear to all living on the road that she resides there for less than half the week, like clockwork she stays on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights whilst Parliament is in session."

  • As I point out above, it would not be clear on the basis of a visible police presence alone whether I was resident at my London home. Furthermore, given the unpredictable nature of events that I deal with as Home Secretary, there is no set pattern to my arrangements.

However, I am confident that I have abided by both the letter and the spirit of the guidance laid down by Parliament for the claiming of ACA. To respond specifically to the points that you have asked me to cover:

  1. set out the arrangements you have made for your accommodation in London, and in your constituency, including any changes to those arrangements in the last seven years;
  2. explain the nature of this accommodation in London; why you consider it to be one of your homes; and also why you consider it to be your main home;
  3. explain the nature of your accommodation in your constituency and why you consider it not to be your main home.

In 1997 after my election to Parliament, I rented a house in London with my sister Sara. I already owned a home in my constituency with my husband. I made this decision as I realised that being an MP would involve me having two homes—one in London and one in Redditch, and being away from my young family. I, therefore, wanted my London home to be more than simply a bolt hole, I wanted it to be a real family home and I have a close relationship with my sister.

In May 1998, I moved into [… Road]... This was just before the birth of my second son and we moved in order to provide more space.

Later in 1998, when I returned to Parliament from effective maternity leave, I moved in London to a flat on my own. During this period, my sister moved to another job that meant that she lived outside London so we could not share.

In October 2001, I moved in London to […Road] to once again share with my sister.

In May 2004, I moved in [the constituency] to [… Road]. This is my current constituency home. It is a four bedroom detached house which we bought in 2004 for £295,000. I have a joint mortgage on this property with my husband. I have not had any reason to have it valued recently. We have not carried out any major improvements or renovations since we bought the house.

In April 2008, I moved in London to […Road] where I currently live with my sister and her partner. This is a three bedroom house which was bought for £450,000. My sister has a mortgage on the house. I am a guarantor of the mortgage. There have been various newspaper descriptions of my living arrangements in this house—most of which are wholly inaccurate. I do not "rent a room", I share the house. I pay rent of £700 a month on which my sister pays tax. In addition, I contribute to other bills such as utilities and cleaning. I buy the TV licence. We eat together and I contribute about £150 a month towards food. I have bought fixtures, fittings and furniture throughout the house. I recently paid £1000 as a share of having a new boiler. I have entertained friends and other family members there. In particular, we chose to have a third bedroom partly so that my children can have a room to sleep in when they come up in school holidays and for weekends. We provide emotional support to each other when photographers are camped outside!

For all these reasons and most importantly because it is my base for most of the week, I consider this to be my main home in the terms set out in ACA guidance.

It may be helpful if I clarify my interpretation of the ACA guidance and how I sought advice on this interpretation.

In July 1999, I was appointed as a Minister. Up to February 2004, when the Fees Office circulated a letter,[1] I understood that Ministers had no choice over which of their homes to nominate as their main home. It had to be their London home as it was assumed that Ministers would spend the majority of their time in London. I consider this to be a wholly rational assumption for the majority of Ministers. In judgements that I have made about the nomination of my main home, this precedent seems to me to be an important factor. It weighed strongly with me in the decision not to change the designation of my main home after 2004 when the rules changed to allow Ministers to nominate either their constituency or their London home. Furthermore, by 2005 I was a senior Minister and entered the Cabinet in May 2006. I believed that I would be spending more time in London as a Cabinet Minister, as has in fact been the case.

However, I am also aware that some people have argued that as my children live in Redditch, this must be my main home.

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, therefore, took the decision that I would travel backwards and forwards and the children would be settled in Redditch with their father to look after them in the week. 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.

I also understand the need to "seek advice in cases of doubt" as spelt out in Mr Speaker's introduction to the Green Book. That is why my husband, Richard Timney, on my behalf, made contact with the DFA in June 2007 to seek further advice. I enclose a copy of the letter that I then sent to follow up the phone call and a copy of the response.

  1. set out separately for each of the last three years, and to the best of your recollection, the number of nights you have spent in your London residence, in your constituency residence, and elsewhere.

In order to provide you with details for each of the last three calendar years, I have requested copies of my Ministerial diaries from Jan 2006. I have compared these with my constituency and personal diary and with my recollection where the diaries are not clear or are incomplete. My best estimates are that:

In 2006, I spent 159 nights in London, 135 nights in Redditch and 71 nights away on Ministerial business or holiday.

I spent 183 days in London, 107 days in Redditch and 75 days away.

In 2007, I spent 153 nights in London, 146 nights in Redditch and 66 nights away on Ministerial business or holiday.

In 2007, I spent 177 days in London, 122 days in Redditch and 66 days away on Ministerial business or holiday.

In 2008, I spent 150 nights in London, 154 nights in Redditch and 62 nights away on Ministerial business or holiday.

In 2008, I spent 166 days in London and 131 days in Redditch and 69 days away on Ministerial business or holiday.

From consulting my diary there are two factors that may be helpful in explaining these figures.

Firstly, I have undertaken more overnight and overseas ministerial trips during 2008. It turns out that they have taken place on nights that I would usually have been in London.

Secondly, some of the discrepancy between the number of days and nights spent in each location is due to my being able and prepared to travel to Redditch very late at night and to set out from [the constituency] very early in the morning in order to conduct Ministerial business.

If you require further clarification on any of these details, I am happy to provide it. I am also happy to provide you with details for each of the last three financial years if you prefer. Similarly I can provide you with information about the number of nights I have spent in each location so far in 2009.

As Home Secretary, I need to be prepared to respond quickly to events and to spend extended periods of time in London—as was the case immediately after I took up the job in 2007. At that point, I could not predict how many nights I would need to spend in London, but it was a reasonable assumption for me to have made that I would spend more nights in London.

In total in this period, I have spent 462 nights in London and 435 nights in Redditch.

  1. explain what costs arising from your constituency residence you claim from Parliamentary Allowances.

In the last three years I have claimed £22,110 in 2006/7; £22,948 in 2007/8 and my claims so far this financial year are at a slightly lower level.

I have claimed in the categories of mortgage interest, utility bills, council tax, telephone, servicing and maintenance, repairs and cleaning. I would be happy to provide claim forms and receipts for each of these years.

  1. set out the nature of the discussions you have had with the House authorities about your arrangements.

I hope that I've covered this above and in enclosing the letters that I sent and received from the DFA.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to Mrs Taplin's complaint. I have attempted to be as frank as possible about my circumstances. However, I would want you to know that we have been subject to incidents at both my addresses in recent days and that it is very important that disclosures about my movements and security arrangements do not facilitate further difficulties or concerns.

I would be happy to provide any further information that you need and to come to talk to you in more detail about the background.

24 February 2009

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