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Nadine Dorries - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents


14.  Letter to the Commissioner from Ms Nadine Dorries MP, 25 January 2010

Please find enclosed an easier to understand marked print out of my diaries.

It was clear by the points raised in your letter that I had "overcomplicated" the method by which I identified my overnight stays.

I have now made it easier by removing my travel arrangements and simply highlighting the nights I believe I have slept at my main home. The night of April 8th 2008 was marked in green in error. Please ignore that night.

The campaign orchestrated by the Daily Telegraph has been very unpleasant. It did not begin with this enquiry. It began with my defending the role of MPs. As someone who had never claimed a mortgage, flipped, claimed for furniture, cleaners, gardeners, food, petty cash or similar and had operated within the letter of the rules and taken frequent advice, at all times, I felt that I was in a strong position to do so.

...

It has come to my attention that a Daily Telegraph journalist has been telephoning people who live in proximity to my constituency house asking very loaded questions. They have also had someone knocking on doors in [the constituency, in Gloucestershire, and in Stratford-upon-Avon].

I am aware that they may have persuaded a neighbour who lives in France and only stays in [the constituency] for a short period of time, to make a submission to you. This particular neighbour has referred to me as "it, the Tory MP" since I rented the property in [the constituency]. The last time I saw this neighbour was in June last year and the time before that during the snow last February. They have never on any occasion greeted me pleasantly.

I would like to clarify that this neighbour does not have a front door on the same road as my house, even though they are [a near neighbour]. Their property is at the rear, which is where the front door is positioned and is entirely occluded by large plants and conifers. I can provide a photograph of this if that helps.

They have no view of my front door and cannot see me when I enter or leave the property.

They could not honestly say that they have seen me more than a handful of times over the last two years.

I would also like to question whether or not their submission to you, which is also in the hands of the Telegraph, perhaps motivated by the Telegraph, can be considered as evidence to your enquiry when it has been published and is in the public domain before the enquiry has been concluded?

Does the fact that the public are aware of the letter place an additional pressure upon you? Can you help but be prejudiced by the Telegraph reporting? Is it still possible for you to remain objective?

Can you accept a letter of evidence from someone who has apparently spent the last six months living in France and has only seen me on two occasions in twelve months?

I arrived at the constituency house this morning to find a number of letters and notes on the mat. I apologise for opening the buff envelope which contains a letter addressed to you.[223]

It is from [neighbour 3], my next door neighbour. Our front doors are next to each other. He [...] has a full view of everyone who approaches my front door and sees me each and every time I enter and leave the property. My office can obtain his telephone number if you would like to confirm the letter and I can provide a photograph of how close his front door is to mine.

Although I am grateful and touched he has written the letter, I am not totally convinced that his letter should be given any more regard than the one from [neighbour 1]; I would only point out that from the perspective of his letter, he does actually see me and the properties do adjoin each other and he does at least live in this country all of the time.

I have also asked for and given permission to [name of doctor], my GP, who I met on Saturday to write to you in support of my submission. I have not seen his letter which I assume is being sent directly to you.

Even though my diaries quite clearly state that I spend far more time at home than I do in my constituency and given that I do not have a camera above each door to count me in and out and therefore cannot prove how many nights I spend in each location, I would like to make the following points:

You ask me in your letter how I came to establish detailed estimates given that my work diary does not provide the necessary information?

I am now a single parent who works long and complicated hours with personal commitments which are absolutely rigid.

My diary planning on a week by week basis, the organisation of my [family commitments] ... the transporting between three locations, [family requirements], and the needs of my other two, still living at home, elder daughters means that almost every aspect of my life is planned down to the last second.

As a backbench opposition MP, my diaries are not as specific as they would be if I were a Government Minister. I am afraid that I have no option other than to provide you with verifiable evidence which is personal in nature in order to make my case.

...

I am very aware that without the full picture you may not have enough information to make a decision which truthfully reflects my situation, my reputation and integrity are at stake, not to mention the ammunition which could be handed to my political opponents.

...

Having highlighted the diary nights spent at home you will note that when I did not have a rented property in the constituency and used the ACA to pay for hotel accommodation in London, that the number of nights I spent in hotels were also very few with the majority of my nights being spent at home.

When I became an MP in 2005 I had two daughters attending [a school in Gloucestershire].

It was necessary given my domestic situation and [family circumstances] for me to travel home as much as possible to care for my home and daughters. It was not unusual for me to leave Westminster at 10.30 pm and arrive home at 12.15 in order to be at home for the next morning.

My youngest now attends [a school] in the constituency two and a half days a week during term time ...

She has a Saturday/Sunday/school holiday job ... in the Cotswolds. I am at home every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night as I have to drop her off at work on a Saturday and sometimes Sunday morning and during the holiday/recess period as she doesn't drive.

...

Maintaining her life in as normal a routine as possible has been the dominating aspect of my life for the past three years.

...

Due to [family circumstances], I was absent with permission from the Whips from late night voting completely throughout October, November and December as my voting record will confirm. I managed to maintain my normal constituency and non-voting Parliamentary duties from my main home. This is one of the reasons I have not been able to focus on this submission to you. My voting record will also show that for all of the last two years [my family circumstances] [have] had an impact upon my voting record.

Historically, following the ... separation from my husband, the family home, [the first Gloucestershire address], was placed on the market. However, things did not happen as quickly as I had thought they may ... our settlement was delayed.

Whilst this process took place, with the initial thought in mind that it would only take a matter of months, my husband rented a house for the girls and I as we had left the family home where he remained until the sale completed.

Due to the process taking much longer than expected, we had to rent for longer than we initially thought. This was necessary as my daughter attended the local school and both of my other daughters who still live with me had commitments in the area—we maintained our normal day to day lives and routine in exactly the same way we had been doing so in the marital home. Our local commitments remained the same and we continued with our usual family routine.

The rented homes were substantial houses. Other family members have relocated their lives in order to live near to us, hence my inability to move everyone and relocate to Bedfordshire. Recently, my personal caring commitments and responsibilities have extended beyond my children.

We rented within a 12 minute drive from my daughter's school.

Throughout this process the Fees Office were fully aware of the situation and I explained what was happening every single step of the way.

It was upon advice from the Fees Office that [the first Gloucestershire address] remained listed as my main home until the legal situation had sorted itself out. Indeed, I informed them of the change of my main home address in 2007 and 2008. The main home address has now been changed from [the first Gloucestershire address] to [the second Gloucestershire address]. It was upon their advice that I left the situation as it was until I knew where our new permanent main home address was going to be.

I have checked with the Fees Office and asked how many of our conversations were recorded—it appears hardly any and that the only recorded conversations were those relating to mislaid invoices etc.

If all conversations had been recorded I would be able to provide the records as supplementary evidence to this letter. I am also acutely aware that details regarding my personal situation would also now have been in the hands of the Daily Telegraph and maybe even in the public domain.

Our rental properties in Stratford-upon-Avon were substantial, expensive properties with a garden.

A Daily Telegraph journalist informed me that the fact the main house was temporarily rented and not bought deemed it as modest. Who says that houses have to be bought and not rented? Half of the population live in rented accommodation. To tell someone that because their home is rented and not bought makes it "modest" and not a home is an elitist and offensive assumption. My situation was quite clear. My constituency house was an extremely modest, rented, mostly un-furnished or carpeted mid terraced property as photographed in last Saturday's paper and on a main high street with no garden. Only one room contained any furniture and a requested interview with the Sunday Telegraph meant transporting in boxes of books and ornaments and a couple of pictures to make the place look lived in. The Sunday Telegraph journalist saw through this and commented on the sparsity and dustiness of the house and the fact that the post hadn't been picked up from the mat for two weeks. I then described it as my "post divorce bolt hole" even though I wasn't yet divorced in order to give the impression to my constituents that I did in fact live there and to convince the journalist that I did. I would describe that house as modest. It didn't have any curtains downstairs and I did not claim any expenses to provide any or any furniture as I used the house only as an office and to sleep in.

I often posted comments on my blog relating to [name of town] in my constituency. Since I first rented in the constituency, I made a song and dance about being at the property. I have mentioned it on my blog a number of times. This was done to comfort my Association. The previous MP only visited the constituency occasionally—sometimes only as often as once every six weeks—and they were keen that I reversed that impression. His lack of time in the constituency contributed to his de-selection. The fact that it took me two years to move was becoming an issue which I had to address. I did consider buying using the allowance, but took the decision that it just didn't "feel" right—as the Estate has properties available for long term rent this appeared to be an ideal solution and one which was hassle free for me.

I was selected for my constituency the weekend the election was called in 2005 and my opponents make much of the fact that I was "parachuted in". There are websites set up to this effect. Communicating the fact that I was around [town in constituency] and had made the effort to move my second home from London to the patch and to take the commute in with my constituents was an important process in letting my constituents know I am totally committed to Mid Bedfordshire.

Whenever I have been at church, the local pub, or interviewed in the patch I have mentioned it on my blog.

In conclusion, the fact remains that I have never at any time assumed my situation of renting whilst in between selling and buying main homes was acceptable until I had checked it with the Fees Office and received assurance that the situation was perfectly acceptable and within the rules. As a new MP who had worked as a main board director of BUPA, as well as having run a successful business for ten years—I found the whole expenses system ambiguous and it smelt from day one like a man trap. I had absolutely no idea how to navigate around such an expense/allowances process and sought advice every step of the way. I remember having a conversation on the phone with a member of the Fees Office who was renting having sold whilst trying to find another property and who was very sympathetic as we discussed the horror of not remembering where everything is. I have never acted upon my own instinct but on the basis of very clear instructions provided to me by the Fees Office on a very regular basis.

To answer your questions, I did not spend any nights in my constituency in 2005-2006.

I did not spend any nights in my constituency in 2006-2007. My PA completed the box and I think she may have misunderstood what I said.

If I have attended a dinner and have had an alcoholic drink and someone is with my youngest daughter at home, I very occasionally stay in London. This never happens on more than 6-8 nights in a whole year and is very ad hoc. I will adjust all years to reflect.

I have provided a diary print out for 2008-2009.[224] I have clearly marked in pink the nights I know I definitely slept at my main home.

For 2005-2006 I entered Parliament for my first day on May 10 2005. According to my expenses, that year I spent 31 nights in London. The remainder of the time I slept at my main home apart from 16 days elsewhere. I spent 0 nights in the constituency.

On closer examination of my 08-09 diary I have also revised my estimates for this year. I have revised other years to include the nights I stay in London, however, I emphasise these are paid for at my own expense.

06-07  Home  208  London 112  constituency  0  elsewhere  45

07-08  Home  223  London  10  constituency  89  elsewhere  44

08-09  Home  235  London  9  constituency  97  elsewhere  24

09-10  Home  218  London  3  constituency  37  elsewhere  42

2009-2010. I have provided a number of nights. My time at the constituency house was focused in May and June as I had a large number of AGM etc to attend and my daughter had exams.

The truth is that I don't keep a record of where I sleep and when. I have a pattern. My travel arrangements are complicated as I often travel to the house after I have dropped my daughter off, work from the constituency office and then leave for London. Although I sometimes spend the day in the constituency house/office, I don't actually sleep there. As mentioned above, I know I am always at home on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If I have anything to attend in the constituency I always drive home afterwards.

...I moved the location of the constituency home a few weeks ago and chose a cheaper isolated property in the middle of a woodcutting yard ...

From October this year onwards I hope my youngest daughter will be able to attend university and I will be spending Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and sometimes Thursday when Parliament sits in the constituency.

If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact me.

... I do hope that given how close we are to a General Election that this can be resolved quickly.

25 January 2010


223   WE 25. This was the letter from Neighbour 3. Back

224   Not included in the written evidence Back


 
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