Jacqui Smith - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents


Thank your for your letter of 22 April 2009 in which you ask for my advice on a number of issues relating to the complaint against the Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP.

First, you asked for my help in interpreting paragraph 3.1.1. of the 2006 Green Book in particular, how the Department interpreted the first frequently asked question, "what can I claim?," and whether it extends to costs attributable to family members and if so why?

Whilst the Green Book says in paragraph 3.14.1 that living costs for anyone other than the Member are not allowable, this needs to be construed against a general premise elsewhere in the Green Book that support is available to Members, in part, to facilitate family life in both London and in Members' constituencies. For example, the travel allowance provides for journeys for spouses and children between London and the constituency or main home. Similarly, one can infer from paragraph 3.7.2 ('if you take out a joint mortgage with someone who is not your spouse..) that the ACA home (i.e. the additional home) is one in which a spouse could have an interest.

In the day-to-day administration of the ACA the Department has adopted a pragmatic approach such that, for example, utility bills are generally paid in full and not apportioned in respect of a spouse/partner in residence. White goods can be purchased in full from the allowance without a contribution even though other family members may use them; but we draw a line such that furniture for, say, children is not an eligible expense. Thus our general approach is that costs exclusively or disproportionately for family members are not allowable. So, I am satisfied that the cost of Ms Smith accommodating her family in her second home was acceptable under the rules.

Secondly, you ask whether, given the nature of the accommodation for Ms Smith in London and in her constituency, the Department considers that Ms Smith has more than one home within the terms set out in the Green Book. As you might expect, different Members have different overnight arrangements. I have no reason to doubt that [… Road] is Ms Smith's residence whilst in London. According to her letter of 24 February she pays rent, contributes to running costs and buys fixtures, fittings and furniture. Bearing in mind the demands of being a Member of Parliament, I can only conclude that [… Road] is indeed a home in the terms set out in the Green Book. The Department is of course not privy to this information and cannot verify any financial transactions because they are not in themselves a subject of a claim against Parliamentary allowances.

Thirdly, you asked me to consider whether I believe it was open to Ms Smith to identify her constituency home as her main home even though she spent more nights than any other in London given that this part of the rules appears to provide for exceptions. The simple answer to this is that it was indeed open to Ms Smith to nominate her constituency home as her main home if the overall facts justified it. Paragraph 3.11.1 of the Green Book is clear that the presumption is that a main home is where a Member spends more nights than any other. However, it is qualified by the addition of the word 'normally' and Members are invited to consult the Department if in doubt.

At the time of the complaint our records showed Ms Smith's main home as [another address in] London. We received a backdated nomination form for [… Road] in March 2009.

Advice on the main home nomination was offered by the Department on at least two relatively recent occasions when sought by Ms Smith. You already have [the Head of Validations, Enquiry and Advice Team's] letter of 11 July 2007 in reply to Ms Smith's of 19 June. This does, I consider, set out the position fairly. The main home is not always where a Member's family resides because this can be 'trumped' by the prime condition in the Green Book, which is where one spends most nights. However, my office would always advise that where a Member's family lives is a relevant consideration. Such a fact is not of no consequence.

[This official's] letter followed telephone advice that Ms Smith's husband received from [another official] a member of [the first official's] staff, on 18 June 2007. I attach our electronic record of this.

15 May 2009

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