Mr Andrew Mackay and Ms Julie Kirkbride - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents

42.  Letter to the Commissioner from the former Head of the Fees Office, 8 August 2010

Thank you for your letter of 3 August including further comments by Mr Andrew Mackay on my evidence to you of 18 July.

May I firstly supply additional information of what would have influenced any advice given by me to Mr Mackay.

My introduction to ACA was during the period May 1976 to April 1978 whilst I was a member of the Exchequer and Audit Department (later to become the National Audit Office, on 1 January 1984) and personally responsible for the audit of both House of Commons and House of Lords.

I recall ACA very vividly because I raised an "Audit Query" quite early on in my examination whereby, when for example the ACA maximum was £3,000 p.a. MPs—who were so entitled to claim—were claiming £250 p.m. and merely certifying that they were claiming "reimbursement of expenditure incurred wholly, exclusively and necessarily on overnight stays from their main home." The months were given and the certificates were duly dated and signed. No other information was supplied.

The consequence was that steps were taken subsequently by the Fees Office so that additional information was acquired such that the auditor could pursue a better audit trail.

When I was appointed as an Assistant Accountant in the Fees Office in October 1980, the claims had been improved, with further improvements in the pipeline such that by the time the first Green Book was presented in time for the 1992 General Election the claims were showing much more information, supported by documents where necessary.

However, the nub of the ACA was the declaration of "main home" as being the home, where a Member had more than one, where the Member spent most nights, i.e. where he or she laid their heads at night.

Evidence supplied by the Director of Strategic Projects

This evidence I had not seen previously so it could not have affected my evidence in any way—thank you for the copy but I will comment on it.

The position of the Director of Strategic Projects was created in the wake of my successor's retirement in September 2004 when he was holding the position of Director of Operations in the Finance and Administration Department. The Director of Strategic Projects was to be part of the Resources Department headed by the Director General, who had previously been the Director of the Finance and Administration Department since his appointment in January 1997.

It was he who was responsible for the disposal of all the Members' personal files maintained by the Fees Office when they moved from [address] to [address] some time in 1999 or 2000, I believe.

Hence there was no proper evidence of action taken regarding Members' details—changes in addresses, travel arrangements, office and employees—which covered a period of more than 40 years.

Mr Mackay has stated that both he and Miss Kirkbride declared openly their positions in respect of claiming ACA and that the Director of Strategic Projects felt that, in the absence of any comment from any official, it was reasonable for Mr Mackay to infer that all was well.

If those declarations were merely their separate monthly claims and in the absence of any knowledge of what was or not agreed in September 1997, plus the added absence of any prior audit (another change brought in by the Director General of Resources of payment of Members' claims first before any checking of the contents of those claims), I fail to see how that inference could be made.

I do not even know whether anybody in the office responsible for "payments" would necessarily know that Mr Mackay and Miss Kirkbride were indeed Mr and Mrs Mackay. Nor do I know whether or not any subsequent examination of their particular ACA claims were carried out by the Compliance Section after their payments had been made.

Further comments on all the evidence

Mr Mackay has asserted throughout that their main home has been [the Bromsgrove property] since September 1997.

It follows, therefore, that both should have stated so and claimed for the appropriate expenditure incurred on their London home.

It seems to me that it is inconceivable for each of them to have separate "main homes" and thus be entitled to claim for both of their homes.

I do recall that at no time during the period October 1997 to September 1998 did either Member send their ACA claims to me personally to ensure that they were complying with whatever advice I may have given. Many other Members took advantage of taking this action in order to ensure that both parties were in agreement to advice I had given whether by phone or by an interview throughout my whole time in the Fees Office (18 years).

In the light of all the evidence now supplied by me—and Mr Mackay's comments thereon—it is inconceivable to even suggest that I could have—or would have— advised Mr Mackay to take the action he has taken.

The action that they have taken, however, reflects that whilst Mr Mackay's claims could be accepted as correct, Miss Kirkbride's are incorrect based on the false premise that her main home is in London and that she is entitled to ACA in respect of the expenditure incurred on their home in [Bromsgrove] in her constituency.

There is, therefore, no reason for me to change my evidence, for Mr Mackay is wrong in his recollection of my advice given in September 1997. I note that there is no evidence supplied by Miss Kirkbride—with whom I had only spoken on 2 June 1997—whose claims should never had been accepted for payment.

In conclusion, I shall merely state a phrase which is most apt in considering Mr Mackay's evidence—RES IPSA LOQUITUR.

I am, of course, available if you require any further information.

8 August 2010

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