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

72.  Letter to the Commissioner from the Director of Strategic Projects, Department of Resources, 25 March 2010

Thank you for your letter of 15 March to [the Director of Operations]. I am replying on behalf of the Department of Resources.

I deal first with the use of Ms Kirkbride's additional home by her brother. The Department was not aware that Mr Kirkbride stayed at the constituency home. In the Green Books which were in force from 2005 to 2009, Members were "strongly advised" against subletting or renting out any part of a property on which ACA was claimed (this rule applied also to paying guests). If they did so, they were required to notify the Department, who would reduce their claims by the amount of their rental income. They were not permitted to claim for the mortgage costs of any part of the property occupied by a lodger or paying guest unless this was offset against their claim. However, where no rent was paid, there was no rule which governed who might or might not live in, or stay at, a home on which ACA was claimed.

At the time, the Department would not therefore have been concerned if someone other than the Member used an ACA-funded property for occasional stays. If the Department had become aware of a more regular arrangement, it might have sought more information from the Member. But it would have been unlikely to have been concerned if the person staying in the property from time to time was not paying rent but was providing a function that enabled the Member to carry out his or her duties more effectively.

From the precedents of recent cases considered by the Committee on Standards and Privileges, it is clear that the test which should be applied to cases when another person occupies a second home is whether the expenditure for which claims are made is wholly and exclusively incurred in connection with the Member's parliamentary duties. Where another person's living costs are subsidised by ACA/PAAE payments made to a Member, or that person receives a benefit, it is also clear that this is outside the rules. In the case considered in the Committee's Eighth Report of the current Session, the Committee concluded that, even though it was the Member who had received a personal benefit (in this case, emotional support) from a family member staying in their second home, the Member should nevertheless repay a proportion of the amounts she had received (although in this case, the family member's use of the second home was "substantial, regular and sustained").[204]

There seem to me to be special elements in the current case. First, Mr Kirkbride's living costs do not seem to me to have been reduced to any substantial degree by his occupation of Ms Kirkbride's second home. He tells you that his lifestyle was peripatetic, but that he was part-owner of another property which he regarded as his main home. Of course, there will have been some savings to him at the margin because of the utilities and so on that he used at Ms Kirkbride's property, and it would be possible to argue that she should have abated her claims in respect of the times he was present. But if one pursued this argument to its logical conclusion, every Member ought to have abated his or her ACA/PAAE claims for every guest who stayed at his or her second home—or indeed for every visitor. I would therefore view the element of Ms Kirkbride's claims which met the costs of accommodating Mr Kirkbride as being only at the margin claims in respect of his living costs.

It is also clear that it was Ms Kirkbride who received the benefit from Mr Kirkbride's presence in her second home, and that this was a benefit which enabled her to discharge her parliamentary role: his presence enabled her to perform her constituency duties. Mr Kirkbride thus performed a service rather than obtaining a benefit. That he stayed overnight was directly related to the service he performed. I would be surprised if other Members have not regularly asked babysitters to stay overnight in their second homes or have had nannies who have done so. Others may have employed residential staff such as housekeepers. Mr Kirkbride's kinship with Ms Kirkbride can be disregarded for these purposes, except that it meant that the consideration which Mr Kirkbride received for his services was not a material one and, as both she and he have said, there would have been no perceived need for any formal record of the arrangements they came to as brother and sister.

I should add that the complainant is correct in asserting that the provision of childcare is not claimable against parliamentary allowances. However, it is relevant to mention in this context that the recent Speaker's Conference on Representation has concluded that more needs to be done to attract parents with young children to the House. In particular, the Conference concluded that "Decisions on childcare are a matter of personal choice and for many MPs their arrangements will be essential to their ability to carry out their parliamentary duties. Parents will choose to have their children looked after in their homes (in the constituency and/or in London) by other family members, by nannies or registered childminders, or in a nursery or crèche. All of these choices are equally valid and should be equally respected by the parliamentary authorities." (para 271)[205]

Mr Kirkbride also stayed occasionally at Ms Kirkbride's additional home in order to help her with her parliamentary ICT needs. There is perhaps one difference between these stays and the stays for childcare purposes: in the case of childcare, overnight stays were intrinsic to the help offered, whereas overnight stays in order to help with constituency ICT were incidental. However, if Mr Kirkbride had charged his sister for his ICT services (no such charges were made), he could have claimed for accommodation as part of those charges and Ms Kirkbride could have claimed these charges against her IEP. In that sense, providing overnight accommodation could be regarded as having saved public funds.

You also ask about the claims Ms Kirkbride made in respect of her extended mortgage. An additional loan of £50,000 was taken out in May 2008 to cover improvements to Ms Kirkbride's additional home. This was reflected in increased claims for mortgage interest from June 2008. The 2006 version of the Green Book states that "re-mortgaging is permissible if moving to different accommodation or if repairing or improving your existing ACA home. Members should consult the DFA before making any major commitments" (para 3.73).

There would have been no reason not to permit claims in respect of an extended mortgage to allow for extra accommodation for the needs of a Member's dependent child. There is no correspondence from the Department to Ms Kirkbride to confirm the arrangement, although she refers to the advice given to her in her letter to the Department of 16th June 2008, which we have on file. It appears likely that the agreement was made orally, and the absence of any comment on Ms Kirkbride's letter implies that the Department agreed with her.

You will be aware that Sir Thomas Legg regarded the additional mortgage as conflicted because the payments "were used to provide accommodation for a non-dependent family member". However, Sir Paul Kennedy regarded claims in respect of the extension of the mortgage to be permissible because it was an extension to permit an improvement to the property which was allowed under the rules, and because it was not relevant that the carer for whom the extra room was provided would normally be the brother of Ms Kirkbride.[206]

You may also want to know that there have been no claims made in respect of the property from any allowance other than ACA/PAAE. Furthermore, no claims were made for services provided by Mr Kirkbride, either in respect of childminding or (as I mention above) for ICT support. Some ICT equipment, software and peripherals were bought by Mr Kirkbride and delivered to him at Ms Kirkbride's second home. Ms Kirkbride subsequently claimed back the relevant costs from her IEP. This took place sporadically between 2004/2005 and 2008/2009.

We have no details on file of any discussions which the Department had with Ms Kirkbride, or someone on her behalf, about her childcare arrangements or plans for extending her constituency property.

A summary detailing Ms Kirkbride's ACA/PAAE claims from 2004/5 to 2008/9 is attached.[207]

Please let me know if I can help further.

25 March 2010

204   Committee on Standards and Privileges, Eighth Report of Session 2009-10, HC 353, para 9 Back

205   Speaker's Conference on Parliamentary Representation, Final Report of Session 2009-10, HC 239-I, para 271. Ms Kirkbride was a member of this Conference.  Back

206   WE 61, WE 62 Back

207   Not included in the written evidence. A summary is at WE 73. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 21 October 2010