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

70.  Letter to the Commissioner from Ms Julie Kirkbride, 4 March 2010

I write in response to the further information you seek in your letter of 17th February.

I note the reprise of the issues you seek to resolve in your second paragraph as a result of [this] complaint. [The complainant's] claim that my brother lived in my constituency property was based on two pieces of "evidence" he supplied which I addressed in my previous correspondence and to which the answers, I believe, demolish the vexatious accusation that is being made.

Furthermore, the issue of the additional mortgage I claimed to build a third bedroom to be used by a child carer which may—or may not be—my brother at any one time was precisely the issue addressed by Sir Thomas Legg and Sir Paul Kennedy. I hope you will note the conclusion reached by Sir Paul Kennedy which was as follows:

"I accept that by 2008 there were restrictions on transactions with family members. ACA could not be used to meet the costs of a mortgage or for leasing accommodation from a partner or family member, but I see no reason why that should have been extended to prevent you from recovering the costs of an additional mortgage required to enable you to provide a child carer's bedroom just because at that time it was envisaged that the child carer would normally be your brother.

"Accordingly, I am satisfied that there are special reasons in your individual case..."

As you know, I feel strongly that I am being subjected to triple jeopardy and I hope that in the light of this adjudication by Sir Paul that you will feel that this particular issue of the extension of my mortgage has been decided.

In relation to your third paragraph, I think that few busy working mothers keep a detailed note about who is looking after their child at any one time—life just isn't like that. I also hope that you noted that if there were any occasions when my brother did stay in my constituency property in my absence it was in order that he could use the office equipment located there to maintain my website (an activity he did for free and which is charged to the taxpayer by most MPs) or because he was helping my Bromsgrove staff with ICT support.

I will now turn the specific questions you ask.

Firstly, you ask who covered childcare on other nights of the week during recesses. I answered that point in my response to your letter dated January 26th. I quote: "As I have said before, I would have someone resident in [the Bromsgrove property] to provide care for my son at the weekends and during House of Commons recesses so that I was free to carry out my parliamentary duties. This person was normally my brother, but I have no record of the nights he spent there, nor records of when another person fulfilled his childcaring role."

Secondly, you ask about payment. I have never paid my brother in cash or in kind, for the care of my son. He looks after my son because he loves us both and he has the time to do it. When my brother cannot help me in Bromsgrove I ask my mother-in-law or friends I have made in the Bromsgrove Conservative Association to step in. I normally repay their kindness with a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers.

In London I pay our au pair a cash sum every week.

Thirdly, in London the main carer for our child is an au pair who similarly offers a flexible arrangement given the unpredictability of our working life. However, my brother also comes to London to help. If my husband and I are going abroad we feel it inappropriate to leave an inexperienced au pair in charge of [our son] for a prolonged period. Equally, it is unfair to ask our au pair to work seven days a week without a break. It might also be the case that our au pair would wish to return home (before Christmas or in the summer) before the start of the parliamentary recess and so I might ask my brother if he would cover childcare in London during these periods when he was in a position to do so given his other commitments.

Fourthly, the normal pattern of my overnight stays were to be in London during the week when the House was sitting, travelling to Bromsgrove on Friday night and returning to London on Sunday to ensure [our son] could be at school on Monday morning. Where parliamentary recesses and school holidays were coterminous we would be in Bromsgrove when not on holiday.

Fifthly, I find the question that my brother should pay me—either in cash or kind—for the time he spent at my constituency property to enable me to perform my parliamentary duties bizarre. Just for the record, can I make clear that he certainly did not pay me in cash or kind for anything, but I do not see how anyone would think that it might be appropriate for him to do so in the circumstances. We do buy each other Christmas presents which seems a reasonable thing for a brother and sister to do!

In conclusion, can I repeat that as a female MP, married to another, who had a child whilst a Member of Parliament, I found myself in a somewhat unique position. I had an inexhaustible and unpredictable demand for childcare and a duty to my child to act in his best interests as his mother. I therefore felt fortunate that my brother was able to help me to look after my son which obviated the inevitable guilt I would otherwise have felt able to spend with him. Indeed, had it not been for my brother's help I would have felt that it was not in my child's best interests for me to carry on as the MP for Bromsgrove.

I hope my letter now fully answers your outstanding inquiries and that I can look forward to your dismissing the complaint.

4 March 2010

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