Shahid Malik - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents


Shahid Malik



Introduction

1. Shahid Malik served as the Member for Dewsbury from the 2005 General Election to the 2010 General Election. In December 2009, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards received a complaint from a resident of Dewsbury that Mr Malik had claimed against his Parliamentary second home allowance (the Additional Costs Allowance (ACA)) for the cost of insuring his wife's engagement ring. The complaint was supported by evidence published in a local newspaper.[1]

2. The Commissioner investigated the complaint, completing his investigation in July 2010, by which time Mr Malik was no longer a Member of Parliament. The Commissioner's report of his investigation was submitted to the Committee in the form of a memorandum, which is published at Appendix 1 to this Report. In accordance with the Committee's usual procedure, we supplied Mr Malik with a copy of the Commissioner's memorandum and invited him to give evidence, in person or in writing. Mr Malik chose to submit written evidence, which is published at Appendix 2.

3. Our predecessor Committees made clear their view that a complaint against a former Member should be accepted for investigation only in exceptional circumstances.[2] At our first meeting, in July 2010, we resolved to continue to apply this policy. In the case which is the subject of this Report, the Commissioner commenced his investigation while the subject, Mr Malik, was still a Member of Parliament. The Commissioner completed his investigation following Mr Malik's defeat at the General Election. Notwithstanding our firm view that the Commissioner's priority must continue to be to deal with complaints against sitting Members, we fully support his decision to complete investigations already under way into complaints against Members who stood down or lost their seats at the General Election.

The Commissioner's findings

4. The Commissioner's memorandum records that in 2008-09 and 2009-10, Mr Malik took out and claimed against his ACA for optional extra insurance cover for a diamond engagement ring with a declared value of £8,000. This extra cover applied to the ring when it was away from Mr Malik's second home and also insured it against accidental loss or damage. The cost of the additional cover was £98 for 2008-09 and £137 for 2009-10. Mr Malik did not consult the Department of Resources before he submitted his claims for the full cost of the insurance and the Department, failing to notice that the sums claimed for included additional cover in respect of the ring, paid the claims in full without raising any query.[3]

5. Having been consulted by the Commissioner, the Department accepted that it should not have met Mr Malik's claims in full, although it pointed out that the additional cover included protection for the ring while it was within the second home, which could have been an allowable cost. In January 2010, Mr Malik voluntarily repaid £235, which was the full cost of the additional premiums in respect of the ring. Mr Malik told the Commissioner that he did this both to show leadership and to avoid any doubt whatsoever. However, Mr Malik also told the Commissioner that the Department had failed in its duty of care to him when processing the two claims. He further noted that the issue had not been raised during Sir Thomas Legg's audit of ACA claims, which Mr Malik concluded must be either because Sir Thomas felt the expenses were eligible, or because Sir Thomas's review had also failed in its duty of care.[4]

6. The Commissioner told Mr Malik that he was minded to conclude that he had been in breach of the rules by claiming the full cost of the extra cover, but that he was minded also to resolve the complaint using the rectification procedure. Repayment alone is not enough to rectify a breach of the rules; in order for a matter to be rectified, the Member concerned also needs to accept that he or she breached the rules and has to apologise for the breach.[5] Under the procedure, the Commissioner would have reported the outcome to this Committee but he would not have submitted a formal memorandum and the Committee in turn would not have made a report to the House. The Commissioner notes that he twice offered Mr Malik an opportunity to complete the rectification process. However, Mr Malik did not in terms reply to the Commissioner's offers of rectification.[6] The Commissioner was thus unable to rectify the matter.

7. The offer of rectification having been left on the table by Mr Malik, the Commissioner has made a formal report to us of his conclusions. The Commissioner considers that Mr Malik's claim from ACA in 2008-09 and 2009-10 for the cost of optional extra insurance cover on his wife's diamond engagement ring was "a clear-cut breach of the rules."[7] He points out that the claim for the cost of this optional extra cover was not necessary in order to meet the costs of Mr Malik's overnight stays away from his main home on Parliamentary duties and that it added some 70% to the cost of the contents cover for both 2008-09 and 2009-10.

8. As to Mr Malik's evidence that he did not remember any discussion with the insurers about the extra cover but that he simply received the insurance bill, paid it, and sent it to the Department of Resources for reimbursement, the Commissioner concludes that Mr Malik had a particular responsibility to check carefully the cover he was offered before seeking to have it funded from Parliamentary allowances. Although the Department has accepted that it too should have checked the claims more closely, the Commissioner does not believe that that absolves Mr Malik from the primary responsibility.[8]

9. Finally, the Commissioner notes that "This complaint has taken far too long to resolve."[9] He identifies Mr Malik's failure to respond in a timely manner to the questions in his letter of 22 January 2010 as the primary reason for this. He points out that this delay occurred despite regular reminders from him and a series of undertakings from Mr Malik. The reply was eventually made just days before the Dissolution of Parliament on 12 April. The Commissioner concludes that:

… it is to Mr Malik's credit that he decided quickly to repay the cost of the premiums for both years, a total cost of £235. I think that he was also right to have felt uncomfortable about these costs once they were drawn to his attention. But he was mistaken in thinking that, following my receipt of a substantiated complaint, the matter could have rested there. It is my responsibility in accepting a complaint to form a judgement about whether on the basis of the evidence, the Member was in breach of the rules of the House. It is, in my view, therefore, unfortunate that Mr Malik did not recognise this and demonstrate the same dispatch in responding to the complaint as he did in making the repayment. I think it is also unfortunate that Mr Malik has declined to recognise his personal responsibility, even for that part of the error which he appears to have accepted. As a result of both his lack of timeliness and his avoidance of responsibility, in my judgement he made more serious what would otherwise have been an unfortunate but not serious error.[10]

Mr Malik's evidence

10. Mr Malik's written evidence is reproduced in full at Appendix 2. His comments are presented under five headings.

SUBSTANCE OF THE COMPLAINT

11. Mr Malik welcomes the Commissioner's support for his decision to repay the cost of the extra insurance premiums. He points out that the House authorities were and remain content that a Member should claim for the cost of providing insurance cover for an item of jewellery while it is in the Member's second home and that neither the Department of Resources nor Sir Thomas Legg's inquiry raised any concerns with him. Mr Malik states that "My actions had so far as I was concerned duly remedied the matter ... logic would dictate that at worst this is a partial breach but one where I have happily paid back the full amount and content at having done so."

'TIMELINESS' CRITICISM

12. Mr Malik is disappointed by "the weight and emphasis on timeliness given by the Commissioner in his memorandum." He informs us that during the same period that this inquiry was under way (from January 2010) he was also in contact with the Commissioner about an inquiry into another, substantive complaint against him. He was also a busy MP and government Minister. Mr Malik suggests that the inquiry into his insurance cover was "relatively trivial" and the matter had to all intents and purposes been remedied when he repaid the additional premiums in full. Mr Malik prioritised the substantive inquiry, which was finally resolved with the complaint being dismissed on 6 April. He replied to the Commissioner's letter of 22 January on 7 April. Mr Malik has told us:

During this 'timeliness' period I sent at least 12 emails to the Commissioner, wrote at least three substantive responses totalling 21 pages and 9,000 words, and received 18 documents/files of crucial evidence, which I had to go through myself with a fine toothcomb and pull out key elements to formulate responses.

Hence, if I am touchy and sensitive about the issue of ignoring the Commissioner, not responding to the Commissioner or not respecting the Commissioner - I think it is too often forgotten that MPs are at the end of the day just human beings with limitations.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

13. Mr Malik suggests that his decision to repay the cost of the additional premiums before the Commissioner's inquiry was fully under way shows that he took responsibility. He also accepts the Commissioner's point that Members must take primary responsibility for their claims. However, he also suggests that the Department of Resources was primarily responsible for scrutinising and processing claims and that Sir Thomas Legg's inquiry was responsible for auditing them and he reminds us that neither the Department nor Sir Thomas raised concern over the additional premiums.

14. Under this heading, Mr Malik also suggests that "in the whole report ... there is no criticism of my actions in relation to the insurance premium". He feels that his decision to repay the premiums cost him a "heavy political price" and that that should have been the end of the matter. Finally in this section, Mr Malik proposes that the complaints system should be modernised so that the Commissioner does not have to devote resources to resolving minor breaches of the rules.

CONFUSION ABOUT THE INSURANCE POLICY

15. Mr Malik has supplied an extract from the relevant insurance policy which makes it clear that the additional cover for the ring included accidental loss or damage and also extended to anywhere in the world. From this, he concludes that the 'away from home' element of the cover was not "the major element" in the additional cover. His contention is that the 'away from home' cover was included as part of the package of additional cover for the ring and that it could not be disaggregated. He was not aware of it at the time he took out the cover.

16. Mr Malik criticises the Commissioner for, as he puts it, failing to spot an obvious issue—the fact that he also took out additional cover to protect household goods from accidental loss or damage while they were at and away from the second home. The Commissioner has not commented on this additional cover in his memorandum. Mr Malik suggests that this demonstrates that standard insurance cover is inadequate and that most people will require additional cover.

SPECIFIC ACCUSATION AND DEFAMATORY COMPLAINT

17. Finally, Mr Malik tells us that the complaint against him, which was made by a political opponent, amounts to "a very serious defamatory accusation". He suggests that if the complaint were upheld it would set an unhelpful precedent "and every MP that may have insured in this way will be accused of making bogus claims".

Conclusion and recommendation

18. We are surprised by the view taken by the Department of Resources that it is acceptable for a Member to claim for the cost of insuring an item of jewellery belonging to a partner under a policy relating to a second home. In our view, it might be expected that such an item of jewellery would be covered by the policy in respect of the Member's main home.

19. Mr Malik's view is that by repaying in full the additional insurance premiums which were the subject of this complaint, he effectively "remedied" the matter. The Commissioner holds that repayment alone is not enough. We agree with the Commissioner. The established procedure for rectifying a minor and unintended breach of the rules requires three actions by the Member concerned: repayment; acceptance that the breach occurred; and an apology. In this case, the second criterion has not, in our view, been fully satisfied and the last has not been met at all.

20. Mr Malik's disappointment at the emphasis given by the Commissioner in his memorandum to his failure to reply promptly to the letter of 22 January is understandable. As he points out, he was at the same time responding to the Commissioner's letters concerning another, more serious complaint against him, which was eventually dismissed. He was a busy Minister and MP. Notwithstanding this, we do not understand why it took Mr Malik so long to deal with a quite straightforward question about the additional insurance premium in respect of cover for his wife's ring. Once Mr Malik did turn his attention to this, he appears to have dealt with it in a day. He could surely have done this much earlier. Mr Malik's references in his evidence to the "heavy political price" he has paid may be a pointer to the consideration that was uppermost in his mind at the time.

21. The fact that neither the Department of Resources nor Sir Thomas Legg's inquiry found fault with Mr Malik's claims for the additional premiums does not, in our view, absolve Mr Malik from the primary responsibility that he bears for deciding to put in the claim in the first place. We do not accept Mr Malik's view that there is no criticism in the Commissioner's memorandum of his actions in relation to the insurance premiums—the Commissioner has made it clear that it was Mr Malik's failure to check with sufficient care the cover he was taking out that led to a breach of the rules.

22. The Commissioner has concluded that the 'away from home' part of Mr Malik's additional cover insurance package was "a" (not "the") major element. He has not suggested that there was a particular alternative package available, offering cover at home, but not away from home, and he has pointed out that Mr Malik did not seek different cover. We agree with the Commissioner that the 'away from home' element was a major element of the additional cover, sufficient to render Mr Malik's claim for the entire cost of the additional premiums invalid and, therefore, a breach of the rules.

23. We note Mr Malik's strongly expressed view that the Commissioner was "less diligent and attentive than might have been expected" when reviewing the evidence about Mr Malik's additional cover. We reject this view. The Commissioner was inquiring into a complaint about the additional premium claimed by Mr Malik in respect of his wife's engagement ring. Additional cover for accidental damage to household goods in the second home was not part of the complaint.

24. We have also noted Mr Malik's comments about an undesirable precedent being set. We would not wish the Commissioner to be deterred from reaching a finding on the basis of the evidence available to him, simply because it might set a precedent. Each complaint that meets the criteria for investigation should be fully investigated. This also answers Mr Malik's point about proportionate use of resources. The seriousness of a breach of the rules may not become apparent until the end of an investigation. We would not wish the Commissioner to prioritise some inquiries over others on the basis of his judgment as to the seriousness of the complaint.

25. We conclude that Shahid Malik breached the rules of the House when he claimed for the cost of additional insurance premiums in respect of his wife's engagement ring for accidental loss or damage or when it was away from his second home. We agree with the Commissioner that this was not a serious breach. We welcome Mr Malik's decision to repay the additional premiums in full. However, we share the Commissioner's disappointment that Mr Malik did not rectify this matter when he had an opportunity to do so and that he caused the resolution of this complaint to be postponed until after the general election.

26. Mr Malik is no longer a Member of the House. If he had been a Member, we would have invited him to apologise in writing, both for the breach of the rules and for his failure to respond sufficiently promptly to the Commissioner's investigation. In our view, this is still the appropriate step for Mr Malik to take. We recommend that within ten days of publication of this Report Shahid Malik apologise to the House through this Committee in writing, both for breaching the rules of the House when he was a Member of Parliament and for his failure while still a Member to respond sufficiently promptly to the Commissioner's investigation.



1   Appendix 1, paragraphs 2 to 5 Back

2   Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of Members, paragraph 104 source ref? Back

3   Appendix 1, paragraphs 39 and 40 Back

4   Appendix 1, paragraph 41 Back

5   Appendix 1, paragraphs 28 and 34 Back

6   Appendix 1, paragraph 35 Back

7   Appendix 1, paragraph 43 Back

8   Appendix 1, paragraph 44 Back

9   Appendix 1, paragraph 48 Back

10   Appendix 1, paragraph 49 Back


 
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