The Conduct of Baroness Uddin - Privileges and Conduct Committee Contents


APPENDIX: REPORT FROM THE SUB-COMMITTEE ON LORDS' CONDUCT


Members' reimbursement scheme: the conduct of Baroness Uddin

Introduction and summary

1. This report responds to a letter from the Clerk of the Parliaments dated 12 March 2010 which, following the Report from the Committee for Privileges on the procedure for considering complaints against members[10] ("the report on procedure"), invited the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests[11] to help him investigate a complaint about Baroness Uddin's use of the members' reimbursement scheme.

2. We find that the facts of Lady Uddin's occupation of her designated main residences for the purpose of the members' reimbursement scheme both in Frinton and in Maidstone did not meet the criteria endorsed by the House Committee on 26 January 2010 (p16E)[12]. She wrongly claimed £125,349.10 and should be required to repay this amount. We further find that Lady Uddin did not make her claims for night subsistence away from the properties and for the mileage allowance in good faith. We recommend that the House sanction Lady Uddin by requiring her to make a personal statement of apology to the House and thereafter suspending her from the service of the House for three years or until she has repaid the amount wrongly claimed, whichever is the later.

The allegation, complaint and process of investigation

Allegation and complaint

3. On 3 May 2009, the Sunday Times newspaper alleged that Lady Uddin had designated as her main residence a flat in Kent which neighbours said had been unoccupied for years (p44):

"A Labour peer who lives in the East End of London has claimed about £100,000 in parliamentary expenses on a flat in Kent that neighbours say has been unoccupied for years ... Inquiries by The Sunday Times have established that the Lady bought a two-bedroom flat in Maidstone in 2005 and has named it as her main home to claim almost £30,000 a year in accommodation expenses from the House of Lords. Residents from the five other flats in the same block as Uddin's property all say they have never seen her there. They could see through the windows that the bedrooms were unfurnished."

4. Mr Angus Robertson MP complained about Lady Uddin's alleged conduct on 3 May 2009 (p45).

Procedure for investigation of allegations about expenses

5. The House Committee is the principal domestic committee of the House and is responsible for the members' reimbursement scheme (p5B). On 20 October 2009, the Committee endorsed a procedure for dealing with complaints relating to the scheme (p15H). It involved investigation by the Clerk of the Parliaments as Accounting Officer; reference to this Sub-Committee in "complex or serious"[13] cases; report by the Clerk of the Parliaments to the House Committee; and sanctioning by the Committee for Privileges if appropriate (p16B). On 6 July 2010, the Clerk of the Parliaments and House Committee agreed to stand aside in this and two other cases where this Sub-Committee had been involved: thus this report goes via the Clerk of the Parliaments to the Committee for Privileges and Conduct, to whom lies Lady Uddin's right of appeal[14].

Procedure in this investigation

6. On 5 May 2009, the Lord President (Lady Royall of Blaisdon) announced that the Clerk of the Parliaments, as Accounting Officer, would carry out an initial investigation into the allegations against Lady Uddin[15]. Lady Uddin then met and corresponded with the Clerk of the Parliaments in relation to his investigation. The Metropolitan Police had meanwhile decided to investigate whether Lady Uddin had committed an offence under section 17 of the Theft Act 1968 or the Fraud Act 2006. The Clerk of the Parliaments suspended his own investigation into Lady Uddin until the criminal process had concluded. On 12 March 2010 a joint Crown Prosecution Service/Metropolitan Police Service panel decided not to prosecute Lady Uddin and the Clerk of the Parliaments resumed his own investigation; he immediately asked the Sub-Committee to "investigate and determine the facts of the complaint" (p56J).

Investigation by the Sub-Committee

7. The report on procedure says that we may not accept for investigation a complaint going back more than four years[16]: we may thus examine conduct in this case from 3 May 2005. We have not limited our investigation to the allegation made by the Sunday Times newspaper but have instead generally investigated Lady Uddin's use of the members' reimbursement scheme. We have focused on Lady Uddin's claims for night subsistence and travel. Lady Uddin's claims for day subsistence, office costs and Select Committee expenses are not at issue.

8. Our investigation was interrupted by the dissolution of Parliament on 12 April 2010. The new House met on 18 May and appointed the Committee for Privileges and Conduct on 2 June. The Committee appointed this Sub-Committee on 7 June. We reported to the Clerk of the Parliaments on 28 July with the recommendation that, to retain confidentiality during the summer recess without affecting the timetable for any appeal, he should forward the report to the Chairman of the Committee for Privileges and Conduct only towards the end of the summer recess.

Procedural fairness

9. Lady Uddin, in correspondence with the Registrar, stressed her concern that the investigation might be unfair (p60G):

"I am told that the enquiry into my affairs has been occasioned by an article appearing in the Sunday Times. This does not seem to me to be appropriate when others have had the opportunity simply to have their explanations accepted by Mr Pownall. My case appears to have been singled out for special treatment. I simply do not understand why that is the case when I have satisfied the criteria set out above.

I am deeply concerned as to how the adjudication the committee is to undertake can respect the principle of natural justice and the requirements of a fair trial when there has been such extensive media coverage, both of my own affairs and of the criteria applied by Mr Pownall.

First, at the time of announcement of the cessation of the criminal investigation into my affairs, Mr Pownall made unprecedented public comment on the criteria he had set for the purpose of the House's internal investigations. He went on to add to the standards he had previously published and remarked that his standards were not intended to apply to the criminal investigation.

I ask how it can be appropriate for criteria to be determined as investigations proceed and for the Officer responsible then to comment on their application in the media.

Secondly, it seems to me that wide spread media coverage has involved a public debate of the merits of my expenses and allowances claim. That cannot be fair."

10. She continues in her statement (p62K):

25. Whilst respecting the absolute authority of the House and its procedures I have failed to understand why some explanations made by some members in respect of their allowances have been accepted by the Clerk of the Parliaments, Mr Pownall, in February 2010 whilst claims made by myself have been the subject of such intense scrutiny.

11. She further complains that she was given insufficient opportunity to consult her friend during the oral evidence session; and that the deadlines we set for her thereafter were too tight (pp201L; 198L; 201E).

12. Lady Uddin has been referred to this Sub-Committee when others were not because her case was investigated by the police but the others were not. The Clerk of the Parliaments considered that any case investigated by the police fell into the "complex or serious" category and so required the Sub-Committee's assistance[17]. In endorsing the Clerk of the Parliaments' approach to certain cases, the House Committee "concluded that the Clerk was justified in relying on explicit written assurances from Members, noting that the consequences for a Member found to have misled the Clerk would be serious" (p16K).

13. We have been careful to follow the requirements of the report on procedure, especially in relation to procedural safeguards. We have taken no account of media coverage of Lady Uddin save that the allegation about her use of the members' reimbursement scheme was made in the initial article. We consider the question of precedent and the decided cases at paragraphs 87-92. In our opinion, the process in this case has been fair and appropriate. Lady Uddin's concerns about the conduct of the evidence session and subsequent timetable are for the Committee for Privileges and Conduct to consider on any appeal.

Evidence

14. The Sub-Committee had as written evidence the amounts claimed by Lady Uddin since April 2001 (p47A) and her claim forms since March 2006[18] (pp31-43); correspondence between the House authorities and Lady Uddin (p46-67); a letter from the Sunday Times and transcripts of most[19] of the telephone conversations and interviews on which their article was based (pp68F-101); and witness statements taken by the Metropolitan Police Service in the course of their investigation of Lady Uddin (pp103-63). We welcome the constructive approach of the police in taking the difficult decision to release to us the material they gathered. The officers of the Sub-Committee corresponded with Lady Uddin. We took oral evidence in private from Lady Uddin, to whom we had earlier disclosed the written evidence. The report on procedure says[20]:

"Procedural safeguards

25. The Code of Conduct states that "in the investigation and adjudication of complaints against them, Members of the House have the right to safeguards as rigorous as those applied in the courts and professional disciplinary bodies." They may be accompanied to any meeting by a colleague, friend or legal adviser, but every effort is made to keep proceedings informal, and there is no expectation that they should be so accompanied. If they do choose to bring a friend or adviser, they will nevertheless be expected to answer for themselves (and not through their friend or adviser) any questions put to them."

15. Lady Uddin brought Lady McDonagh with her to the evidence session.

16. We recommend that all of this evidence be published, subject only to giving the police sufficient time to allow them to inform those from whom they took statements.

Redaction

17. The police rightly redacted certain personal information in the witness statements which they provided to the Sub-Committee, including addresses. We have printed the statements as received, without adapting them into House style (pp103-63). Using the contents of the statements, the material provided by the Sunday Times and publically available information including the electoral roll, we have recreated the addresses of those of Lady Uddin's neighbours who gave statements. We have used the addresses in this report and in the contents page of the evidence volume. We have done so because knowledge of each witness's address is important to attributing credibility and weight to each statement.

18. Lady Uddin asked us to redact certain details in this report and the evidence (p202A). We have not done so because we consider it important to submit a complete account to the Clerk of the Parliaments and Committee for Privileges and Conduct. The Committee for Privileges and Conduct, when considering in what form to report to the House, may wish to consider whether to redact information about Lady Uddin's children.

The facts

19. The report on procedure says[21]:

"Assessing the evidence

26. When its investigation is concluded, the Sub-Committee assesses the evidence. In order to find against a Member, the Sub-Committee requires at least that the allegation is proved on the balance of probabilities.

27. If the investigation has uncovered material evidence that is at variance with the Member's version of events, this will be put to the Member, who will have a chance to challenge it. Before reaching its conclusions, the Sub-Committee will also share with the Member a draft of those parts of its report dealing with issues of fact, so that the Member has an opportunity to comment on them.

28. If there remain significant contested issues of fact, the Sub-Committee will agree its own account of the facts of the case, while drawing to the attention of the Committee for Privileges and the House any challenge to this account made by the Member concerned."

20. To fulfil these paragraphs, we showed Lady Uddin a draft of our account of the facts set out in paragraphs 21 to 85. She challenged a number of points in our draft. We have taken account of some but not all of her points in the version below and, as required, we draw attention to the memoranda by Lady Uddin printed at pp198J and 203C.

21. The facts of the case are as follows.

The members' reimbursement scheme

22. The members' reimbursement scheme is founded on resolutions of the House and is explained in a General Guide published by the Finance Department and in a Quick Guide set out on the reverse of the claim form. The Clerk of the Parliaments is responsible for administering the scheme, subject to direction by the House Committee on points of difficulty or doubt (p5B). The relevant resolutions and guidance are set out in full at pp1-15 of the printed evidence but we must here quote some relevant passages.

The resolutions of the House and published guidance

23. The principal resolution of the House in relation to day and night subsistence is that of 25 July 1991 (p1D). It reads:

"(1) Members of this House, except any Lord who receives a salary under the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975 and the Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, shall be entitled to recover (in addition to the costs of travel for which other provision is made) expenses certified by them as—

(a) expenses incurred (otherwise than as mentioned in sub-paragraph (b) below) for the purpose of attendance at sittings of this House or of Committees of this House, or

(b) expenses incurred in staying overnight away from their only or main residence where it is necessary to do so for that purpose."

24. The principle that a member may claim a separate allowance towards the recovery of the cost of travel by car for the purpose of parliamentary duties was established by a resolution of the House of 17 May 1961 (p1A). The current resolution relating to travel by car is that of 10 November 2004 (p2C). It reads:

"That this House approves the following proposals with respect to payments of car, bicycle and motorcycle allowances to Lords for journeys which they have commenced on or after 10 November 2004—

(1) The maximum allowance payable in respect of a journey by car, motorcycle or bicycle should be payable at the rate which is applicable to that kind of vehicle under subsection (2) of section 230 of the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003, as amended from time to time.

(2) For the purposes of paragraph (1), the reference in that subsection to "the first 10,000 miles" is to the total number of miles of travel by car by the Lord claiming the allowance, which is either—

(a) undertaken for the purpose of attending this House for the purposes of his parliamentary duties, or

(b) undertaken while on parliamentary duties within the United Kingdom."

25. It is clear from the resolutions that the purpose of the scheme is the recovery of expenses necessarily incurred in attending the House.

26. As to the guidance, the 2005 edition of the General Guide read (pp2-14):

"1.2.1 Members of the House of Lords do not, in general, receive a salary in respect of their parliamentary duties. However, Members may be reimbursed actual expenses arising out of these duties, in accordance with the rules of the Members' Reimbursement Allowance Scheme. The Members' Reimbursement Allowance Scheme is governed by Resolutions of the House. Rules for the recovery of Members' expenses are administered by the Clerk of the Parliaments who also has limited discretion to deal with matters that arise on claims. Points of particular difficulty or doubt may be referred to the House Committee, which supervises the arrangements for the reimbursement of expenses ...

1.3 Taxable status

1.3.1 All amounts paid in settlement of claims as detailed in this guide represent reimbursement of actual expenses arising out of unpaid parliamentary duty, rather than income from employment. Consequently, they are not subject to income tax, and need not be included on a tax return ...

4 ATTENDANCE AT SITTINGS AT WESTMINSTER

4.1 General - Expenses Related to Attendance

4.1.1 The basic principle underlying the scheme is that the entitlement to recover expenses arises only in respect of attendance at sittings of the House or its committees at Westminster …

4.1.3 Members who wish to claim attendance expenses must complete and sign the attendance expenses claim form and forward it as soon as convenient after the end of each month, or period of claim, to the Members' Expenses Section. A Member's signature effectively certifies that the amount claimed has been spent for the purposes of parliamentary duties as set out above. Receipts are not required ...

4.2 Travelling Expenses

General

4.2.1 Claims may be made only for journeys over five miles between a Member's main place of residence in the United Kingdom and Westminster. Claims for incidental travel costs (e.g. those arising from short distance journeys within a five mile radius of Westminster, tolls and car parking charges) are covered by the day subsistence allowance (4.5).

4.2.2 Members seeking to receive travel costs must register their main place of residence with the Members' Expenses Section. Members with more than one main place of residence may register an alternative main residence with the Members' Expenses Section for the purpose of claiming travelling expenses. Registration is subject to the approval of the Clerk of the Parliaments ...

4.2.4 Members may recover the cost of fares incurred by them for travel by any public railway, sea, and air or bus service, or the costs of journey made by private car ...

Road

4.2.8 Claims in respect of journeys by private car are payable at:

·  40p per mile up to 10,000 miles in the year ending 31 March; and

·  25p per mile for mileage in excess of 10,000 miles in the same year.

No other claims in respect of motoring expenses are reimbursable under the travelling expenses heading. Incidental travel costs such as tolls, congestion charges and car-parking charges can be claimed against the daily limit of the day subsistence allowance (4.5).

4.4 Night Subsistence

4.4.1 Members whose main residence is outside Greater London may claim for expenses of overnight accommodation in London while away from their only or main residence. The maximum daily limit is £154.50.

4.4.2 A Member whose main residence is outside Greater London and who maintains a residence in London for the purpose of attending sittings of the House may claim this allowance towards the cost of maintaining such a residence.

4.4.3 Claims for night subsistence are only permissible in respect of nights actually spent in London either immediately preceding or following attendance at a sitting or meeting described in paragraph 4.1.1 above. For example, a Member who necessarily travels to London on a Sunday and attends sittings of the House on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and then returns home on Friday or later may claim night subsistence for a maximum of 5 nights at up to a maximum of £154.50 per night (i.e. a maximum of £772.50 for the week). However, if the Member returned home on the Thursday evening, the maximum claim for night subsistence would be 4 nights at up to a maximum of £154.50 per night (i.e. a maximum of £618 for the week).

4.4.4 Members who choose to travel home each night or whose main residence is within Greater London cannot claim the night subsistence allowance."

27. The General Guide was updated in January 2007, October 2008 and April 2009. The language used to describe the scheme was materially the same in each edition until 2009, which left out the word "allowance" in several places, including in the title of the guide[22] and in paragraph 4.4.2 in relation to night subsistence.

28. The claim form used until October 2008 read (p31):

"I certify that during the month of ............ I have attended a sitting of the House or of a Committee of the House on the under-mentioned dates and claim reimbursement of:

(a) Night subsistence incurred in such attendance or in respect of the maintenance of a London residence (other than a main residence) used for the purpose of attending the House (see note (i)) ...

(d) Travelling Expenses (please ensure all travel dates are entered) (see note (v))"

Thereafter paragraph (d) read (p35F):

"(d) Travelling Expenses see note (v)"

29. At the bottom of the form, the claimant has to print his name, sign, date the claim and enter his main place of residence.

30. Notes (i) and (v) refer to the Quick Guide printed on the reverse of the claim form which in 2005 read (pp14-15):

"(i) Night Subsistence - Members whose main residence is outside Greater London may claim expenses, within a daily limit of £154.50 (from 1 August 2005 to 31 July 2006), for nights spent away from their only or main residence for the purpose of attending sittings of the House a) where they have incurred expenses of overnight accommodation in London or; b) as a contribution towards the costs of maintaining a London residence in connection with their parliamentary duties. Claims can only be made in respect of days of attendance ...

(v) Travelling Expenses - These may be claimed for journeys between main place of residence in the United Kingdom and London by any public railway, sea, air or bus service. Claims in respect of journeys by private car are restricted to an allowance of 40p per mile up to 10,000 miles then 25p thereafter. Claims in respect of journeys undertaken by motorcycle are paid at the rate of 24p per mile and by bicycle at the rate of 20p per mile."

31. The rates changed over the period. In August 2006 paragraph (v) read:

"(v) Travelling Expenses - Claims may be made only for journeys over five miles between a Member's main place of residence in the United Kingdom and Westminster by any public railway, sea, air or bus service. Claims in respect of journeys by private car are restricted to an allowance of 40p per mile up to 10,000 miles then 25p thereafter. Claims in respect of journeys undertaken by motorcycle are paid at the rate or 24p per mile and by bicycle at the rate of 20p per mile. Claims for incidental travel costs are covered by the day subsistence allowance (see section (ii))."

32. In August 2009 paragraph (i) had a sentence added to the end: "When claiming Night Subsistence dates of travel must be shown on the claim form." As did paragraph (v): "Members are required to provide receipts or vouchers when submitting claims for ticketed travel in excess of £50 per return journey (£25 per single journey).".

33. Although the Quick Guide says "Members are encouraged to contact the Finance Department, House of Lords for general assistance, or to discuss any particular points that arise from their claims", in practice the onus on interpreting the scheme has fallen on the individual member. Save for the Lord President (Lord Soames) speaking of the member's "usual residence"[23] when moving the motion which first set up the night subsistence regime in 1979, there was no guidance on the meaning of "main residence" other than the two words themselves until March 2010[24].

Lady Uddin's designated main residences, claims and circumstances

Lady Uddin's designated main residences

34. Lady Uddin successively designated three main residences in the period from 3 May 2005 to the end of the last Parliament on 12 April 2010. Until 1 August 2005 it was XXXXXXXXX, Frinton on Sea, Essex CO13 XXX. From 1 August 2005 to 1 January 2010 it was 3 The Chenies, Chancery Lane, Maidstone, Kent ME15 6EE. In this report, we divide this period at Maidstone into two: before and after 24 April 2009, the date on which Lady Uddin became aware of the Sunday Times' interest in her main residence (p88L; Q32). On 1 January 2010 Lady Uddin designated XXXXXXXX, Wapping, London, E1W XXX as her main residence (Q28).

Period 1: Frinton: 3 May 2005 to 31 July 2005

Facts relating to the Frinton property: circumstances

35. Lady Uddin became a member of the House in 1998. On an unknown[25] date in 2001, she designated XXXXXXXX, Frinton on Sea, Essex CO13 XXX as her main residence. The property is a large house which used to be a care home (p96H; Q228). Lady Uddin's brother and sister-in-law own the property and have lived there since 1999 (p94A; Q20).

36. The House of Lords Finance Department has retained the amounts claimed each month by members under each head since 2003 but has only retained claim forms from March 2006; members' earlier claim forms have been disposed of in accordance with the department's disposal policy. From the data held, it appears that Lady Uddin claimed night subsistence, day subsistence, office costs and the mileage allowance for weekly journeys by car from and to Frinton almost every weekend when the House was sitting for the period May to July 2005 (p24E). This pattern of claim is true for the period back to the start of retained records in 2003 and appears also to be true of the period back to the point of designation in 2001 (p47A; QQ289-90).

37. Lady Uddin has XXXX she required a "bolt hole" for breathing space XXXXXXXX (p163D; p61K). She initially rented a one bedroom flat in Windsor for this purpose but could not afford the rent. So she began to use her brother's home as a bolt hole (p61K; p163D). She decided to continue living in the marital home with her children in the week (QQ219; Q267). She had two separate lives: one family, one to herself (Q237). The stress in Lady Uddin's personal life was confirmed by her peer mentor (Lady Pitkeathley) (p164F) and we have taken these circumstances on trust.

38. In oral evidence, Lady Uddin told us that her brother invited her to stay in his house (Q289), he was happy for her to say there (Q219) and that she lived as part of their family (Q275). She had an allocated room (Q269) in which she kept clothes and papers (QQ271-2).

39. The police did not investigate this period but the Sunday Times interviewed Lady Uddin's sister-in-law, who has lived at the property since 1999. She could not recollect Lady Uddin ever having lived at the property (p93H). Lady Uddin said that her sister-in-law had been "terrified" by the journalist and was simply trying to make him go away (Q267).

Facts relating to the Frinton property: travel and frequency of visit

40. From the data held, it appears that Lady Uddin claimed the mileage allowance for weekly journeys by car from and to Frinton every weekend when the House was sitting for the period May to July 2005 (p24E).

41. In oral evidence, Lady Uddin told us that she had stayed at the property most weekends (QQ261; 290) but lived in her London residence with her children in the week (QQ262-5). She and her family spent a large part of the summer recess of 2009 in Frinton (Q228).

Period 2: Maidstone before Lady Uddin became aware of the Sunday Times' interest: 1 August 2005 to 24 April 2009

Facts relating to the Maidstone property: circumstances

42. In 2005, Lady Uddin decided to acquire a property in her own right. She bought No 3 The Chenies as a newly-built flat and this is the only property which she owns herself (p61K; p163F). (In London, she, her younger children and husband live in a house rented by her husband under a housing association tenancy.) She has paid full council tax on the property since 1 August 2005, the date on which the property both was first occupied for the purpose of council tax (p150G; p151A) and was designated as her main residence (p30L). She claimed night subsistence away from Maidstone every week when the House was sitting and claimed the mileage allowance for weekly journeys by car from and to Maidstone every weekend when the House was sitting, with a few exceptions (paragraph 56 below).

43. In oral evidence, Lady Uddin told us that her purpose in acquiring the Maidstone property was to have a place of her own (Q310) as a "bolt hole" (Q220) in the light of XXXXXXXXXXXXX (paragraph 37 above). It provided her with her own space (Q101) as a sanctuary (Q85). Her husband was either unaware of the property (p88L) or, in Lady Uddin's explanation, he knew about the flat but was clear that it was not in any way his (Q42). When invited to comment on the transcript of the oral evidence session, Lady Uddin said that she had an agreement with her husband that she would stay at Maidstone for one or two nights a week for a break, to prepare for the week ahead and to concentrate on XXXXXXXXXXXXX (Q96).

Description of The Chenies

44. The Chenies is a cul de sac to the east of a road called Chancery Lane in Maidstone, Kent. The only building on The Chenies is a terraced row of new-build flats on the north side of the road. The road has both bays for residents' parking and space for others to park on the street. There is a map of Chancery Lane and its locality at (p145) and pictures of 1-6 The Chenies at (pp141-3; p192E-194E). A single front door and staircase serves six flats; two on each floor. 1-6 The Chenies is the first entrance having turned into the road from Chancery Lane.

45. The police took statements from twelve of Lady Uddin's current or former neighbours (pp120-31). We have noted earlier that the witness statements were redacted but it appears to us that the occupation of 1-6 The Chenies was as follows:
X - Matthew Hollis First floor on street side; second floor on rear side X - Sarah Dunn
3 - Lady UddinEntrance. Ground floor on street side; first floor on rear side X - Yvonne Adams
X - Shelley Constable; previously Gemma Fox; previously Stuart Brown Lower ground floor on street side; ground floor on rear side X - Angela Storey

46. No 3 is the entrance level flat on the left hand (west) side; it has a kitchen/living room, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a balcony overlooking a nature reserve (p126; QQ54-9). The other flats are similar if not identical (QQ62; 152).

Description of Lady Uddin's flat

47. Lady Uddin told us that her flat had been furnished throughout: it had always had furniture, curtains and lampshades (QQ 64-76; 152), some due to it having been the show flat[26] (Q152), but it had been basically furnished in accordance with her lifestyle (Q205; Q216; 219). There was no bed in the second bedroom because she used it to pray and meditate, though some clothes and belongings were stored there (Q205). There were toiletries in the bathroom (Q199). She asserted that there was nothing wrong in sleeping on the floor on a mattress (Q216) though it strikes us that she would not have needed to do so since she told us that the flat had always had one bed and a sofa bed (QQ 73; 65; 206). She later told us that she slept in the bed in the main bedroom (p200J). She did not use the balcony of the flat, but opened its doors in good weather (Q78-9).

48. The reason for setting out Lady Uddin's description of the flat in some detail is because her neighbours and others, both in interviews with journalists and in formal statements to the police, individually state that the flat was unfurnished until the weekend of 25-26 April 2009.

49. We quote four of the statements. Ms Yvonne Adams, who lives across the staircase from Lady Uddin's flat, says (p128E):

"Since the very beginning there have been white sheets at the two front windows of flat 3. All the other flats have lattice blinds or curtains so white sheets look tacky. On one occasion one of the sheets partly fell down. There was a ceiling light on. There was no lampshade, just a bare bulb. It was night time and it illuminated the whole flat. All the internal doors were wide open. I could see right into flat 3 and there was absolutely no furniture."

50. Mr Stuart Brown, who lived below Lady Uddin's flat from 1 April 2006 to 9 April 2009, says in relation to investigating a water leak and alarm on 4 June 2007 (p129C):

"I looked through the letterbox at number 3. There must have been a light on because I could see damp on the carpet. I could see the hall and part of the living area which contained the kitchen. It reminded me of when we first moved into our flat; there were no personal items there at all. The carpets in all the flats were light in colour. We had put a rug down in our flat to prevent any mud from spreading. There was no rug in flat 3 and nothing like a glass or mug or anything to suggest the flat was occupied."

51. Mr Ian Allcock, who lives further down The Chenies, says (p123H):

"Since I have lived at The Chenies, I have seen all the flats occupied apart from flat 3 which up to fairly recently has always been empty. The reason why I can be certain about the property being unoccupied was the fact that there were no curtains at the window and you could see in.

About a year ago, I was going to work at my usual time when I was surprised to see a light on in the flat, before that it had always been dark, this allowed me to see into the right hand bedroom which was apparently devoid of furniture. This light stayed on for months and I can remember saying to my wife "I wouldn't want to pay their electric bill". I assumed that someone had been shown around the flat and the agent had failed to turn off the light.

Another reason why I believe the flat was unoccupied was I have never seen any of the windows or patio doors open, even in the hottest weather."

52. On Saturday 25 April, Mr Mark Ryan, a plumber and builder, went to Chancery Lane in his marked commercial van, to quote for a job coincidentally for the brother of a friend of Lady Uddin's (a Mr Moshahidur Rahman: p124L; p86D; Q192). He was approached by "an Indian guy" who said "my boiler's not working, can you have a look". He agreed to do so and went into No 3 The Chenies where he saw a woman he later recognised to be Lady Uddin. His statement continues (p125B):

"We went into the kitchen/diner/sitting room (all one room). There was a breakfast bar and the boiler was to the left. I had a look at the boiler and filled it up with water to increase the pressure. The room was not lived in. I remember seeing a cupboard under the boiler and there being nothing in it. It is unusual because I could get access straight to the pipes, no pots or pans or cleaning stuff. I ran the taps. I can't remember the details of what was in the kitchen, but it definitely wasn't a place where you would stay at the weekend. The whole place looked like the rent hadn't been paid for six months and the tenant had done a runner.

I then bled the radiators. I went into the bathroom, there were no towels and no shower gel or shampoo or anything like that. It definitely wasn't clean but it wasn't dirty, it just wasn't lived in.

There was a bedroom at the back of the flat. It had a mattress on the floor but with no sheets or pillows, again it was not a lived in room. There was also a clothes rack for drying clothes, I think I had to move it to get access to the radiator, there were no clothes on it.

I then went into the second bedroom. The room was empty apart from some clothes that were slung on the floor. There may have been some built in cupboards but there was no other furniture, there was certainly no bed in it. I was only in the flat for at most ten minutes."

53. Mr Ryan drew an accurate sketch of the flat as an exhibit to his statement to the police (p126; QQ54-7).

54. Lady Uddin did not accept that the flat was unfurnished (Q142) and invited us to take no account of these statements on four different grounds. First, that it is not possible to see into her flat from the street (QQ152-6) and that Mr Ryan, the only witness to have been inside the flat, had in fact only been in the hall and kitchen and not in the other rooms (QQ192-3; 198-9; 206). Secondly, that each witness was biased against her due to having been asked leading questions by journalists and by having seen the adverse publicity she had received in the press (QQ150; 157; 200; 201; 212; pp200L; 203F). Thirdly, that the witnesses used loose language in their statements (Q200). Last, that her neighbours were wrongly comparing the basic (but appropriate to her lifestyle and pattern of weekend occupation) furnishing of her flat to their flats occupied full-time as homes (Q216).

55. The neighbours and plumber had earlier made similar, consistent observations to the journalists from the Sunday Times before the newspaper had published their article of 3 May 2010 which alleged that Lady Uddin had not lived in the Maidstone property. Transcripts of those interviews are at (pp70-101). Lady Uddin invited us to take no account of these statements on the ground that the journalists' questions had been leading (pp 200L; 203F).

Usage and frequency of occupation

56. Lady Uddin claimed the mileage allowance for weekly journeys by car from and to Maidstone every weekend when the House was sitting, with the exception of 18 November 2006; 3 March 2007; 3 November 2007; and 6 and 13 December 2008 (pp26-9). The claimed days of travel to Maidstone are usually Friday or Saturday; the return to London is usually on Sunday. For the three months April to June 2008 she recorded on her claim forms journeys from and to the property every weekend but did not claim the mileage allowance[27]. When the Finance Department queried this, she told them that she had been given a lift (p38D).

57. Lady Uddin told us that she had indeed stayed overnight at Maidstone every weekend when the House was sitting (QQ49; 45). She usually went on her own but was often accompanied by the son XXXXXXXXXX, who would also stay overnight (QQ98; 124). Her youngest son (a child) might have stayed once or twice, she was uncertain (QQ96-100); but she was clear that she ensured that her lifestyle did not affect her children (Q101). She would shop for necessities at a petrol station or at Bluewater or Lakeside shopping centre on her way to Maidstone rather than shop in Maidstone (Q114). She showers two or three times a day and tended to shower in London at the end of the day, before travelling to Maidstone (Q116-22) but also used the shower at Maidstone (Q120). She spent her time reading or listening to the radio, keeping herself to herself (QQ105-6; 144). She cooked in the kitchen (Q90). The time she spent at Maidstone was often at unsocial hours (p62B), arriving late on Friday night or Saturday morning and leaving early on Saturday or Sunday morning (Q144). In the course of the weekend she might visit her brother or mother and might return to London in the day to be with her children (Q108). She did not develop friendships or have much contact with her neighbours in either London or Maidstone because her family and other friends were sufficient (QQ107; 161; 112). She had however visited Ms Yvonne Adams' flat (Q152), been seen by Ms Adams every 6 weeks when with a group of people (Q144) and Mr Matthew Hollis had visited her flat in relation to water leaks (Q158). These events are not referred to in either of those neighbours' statements, though Ms Adams may have so seen Lady Uddin (p128A) and the inference can be drawn that Mr Hollis's former girlfriend (but not him) may have met Lady Uddin (p70K). Letters from the managing agent were forwarded to her London residence (Q288) on her instruction (p131H).

58. Lady Uddin told us that she continued to use the flat in the recess though was less precise in her answers (QQ81-89). Distilling her answers on the use she made of the flat in the recess, she used it once a week at weekends, returning to London for the week. She and her family spent a large part of the summer recess of 2009 at her brother's home in Frinton (Q228).

59. We rehearse this account in some detail because her neighbours state, in contrast, that the flat was unoccupied until the weekend of 25-26 April 2009. One neighbour recalls the flat being occupied for a period: Mr Daniel Revell, who lives further down The Chenies, says (p127B):

"I did not see anyone who lived at number 3 but I did see someone in the flat. I would qualify this by saying that I could see lights on and even the lights of a television being watched. All of the above incidents happened in the first few months of us moving into the flat, which was in December 2005. I cannot recall exactly when the net curtains came down but it was about 2 years ago [statement made 18 July 2009]. From that point the flat has stood empty and you could see a light was on in the hall but the flat was bare."

60. Ms Yvonne Adams, who lives across the staircase from Lady Uddin's flat, recalls six-weekly brief visits (p128A):

"The only movement in flat 3 was when a group of five or six Indians, they looked like a family, went in to air the place. They opened the back window and doors, they put the curtains at the back of the flat out of the window, that's why it was obvious they were airing the place. The balcony out the back of my flat is only about 10 feet from the balcony at the back of flat 3, so I could see it clearly. These five or six Indians only stayed for ten or fifteen minutes. I may have seen them in passing coming in through the communal door. This event only occurred approximately every six weeks. It was always at a weekend, during the day time, but I can't remember what part of the day.

Flat 3 had curtains at the back of the flat. They were always drawn, day and night. I love my balcony because it overlooks a nature reserve to the rear of The Chenies. Every time I looked over to flat 3's balcony all I could see was leaves. I also remember a jumper overhanging their balcony. After a while algae started to form on the jumper, it all went green.

I can't emphasise enough I am 100% certain no one has ever lived in flat 3."

61. Mr Matthew Hollis, who lives above Lady Uddin's flat, says that her flat was unoccupied (p121K):

"Flat 3 is directly below my flat. There is without question no one who has lived in number 3 until the last two of three months [statement made 2 July 2009]… Before the last two or three months I heard absolutely nothing in the flat below - guaranteed. I never heard or saw anybody connected to flat 3. In fact about a year ago I had some washing drying over the balcony. It fell off and landed on Lady Uddin's balcony. I totally forgot about it. I thought about hooking it up but in the end forgot about it."

62. Ms Sarah Dunn, who lives above Ms Adams, recalls the incident (p121A):

"I remember an incident probably last summer where the people at flat 5 hung some washing on their balcony and at some point some of the washing blew off ... a couple of long sleeve tops or shirts had fallen onto the balcony of number 3. These shirts remained there for months and in fact long enough for the shirt to have gone green and mouldy."

63. As does Ms Anne Manning, a resident in Chancery Lane adjacent to The Chenies, (p124H):

"But up to the last few weeks (about May 2009), we saw no activity on the middle balcony - that is in strict contrast to the balcony above and patio below and many of the other balconies to the rear of The Chenies. The balcony of the middle flat nearest to us for many months had what looked like an old sweater hanging over the balcony. It sort of irritated me because I kept thinking why doesn't someone take it in. Since about May 2009 it has disappeared."

64. Mr Moshahidur Rahman, the brother of a friend of Lady Uddin's, a local resident and the person from whom Lady Uddin told us that she sought help when her boiler was broken (Q192), said to the Sunday Times that he thought Lady Uddin lived in London always and had never met her (p85L; 86A).

65. Lady Uddin invites us to take no account of these statements on the grounds noted above (paragraph 54 above; Q160) and on the further ground that the variety in the accounts is in fact consistent with weekend occupation (Q161).

66. The police obtained Lady Uddin's water and electricity accounts and those of neighbours for comparison. As Lady Uddin says, it would be unfair to compare the consumption of a full-time Chenies resident with that of a person usually in London when the House of Lords was sitting. It is however fair to consider whether Lady Uddin's use of water and electricity is consistent with the pattern of weekend occupation she asserts.

67. EDF Energy calculate, from readings of a meter in a communal cupboard, that Lady Uddin's flat used about 3.29 kWh a day. A standard consumer uses 9kWh a day (p146K). Some appliances use electricity whether or not a flat is occupied: a fridge is a good example. A 100 watt incandescent bulb uses 2.4 kWh of electricity if alight all day. The usage in Lady Uddin's flat is consistent with a flat lightly occupied at weekends or with an unoccupied flat illuminated on a timer for part of each day.

68. Lady Uddin's flat has a water meter fixed to the supply. Water bills exhibited by other residents in the block suggest that South East Water provide the supply and Southern Water the drainage (Q138). Lady Uddin claimed that she was simultaneously billed by South East Water, Southern Water and a third company, Mid Kent Water (Q126; 133). Mid Kent Water merged with South East Water in December 2007[28]: the two companies did not simultaneously supply water or drainage to the same households. South East Water calculate, from readings of the meter in the street, that flat 3 used the following volumes of water (p148D):
Usage in period Approximate average usage per month CumulativeMeter reading date
4m3 1 August 2005
5m30.45m3 or 450 litres 9m320 June 2006
1m30.17m3 or 17 litres 10m313 December 2006
3m30.38m3 or 38 litres 13m323 August 2007
0m30m3 or 0 litres 13m311 December 2007
0m30m3 or 0 litres 13m39 June 2008
5m30.83m3 or 83 litres 18m310 December 2008
0m30m3 or 0 litres 18m313 February 2009

69. South East Water estimate that an average person uses 84m3 a year (230 litres a day) and a low usage person 39m3 a year (p148J). An average person occupying a flat on their own each weekend would thus use 1.84m3 of water a month and a low usage person 0.85m3 a month. Lady Uddin's metered usage is less than this in each period. South East Water replaced the meter on 13 February 2009 because they suspected that it had stopped working (p148H).

70. Lady Uddin invites us to take no account of the metered water usage on three grounds. First, that the companies' billing was chaotic, mistaken and by three companies (Q126). Secondly that the meter was broken (Q140). Last that it accurately reflects weekend usage (Q126; 131).

Travel by car from and to Maidstone

71. Lady Uddin claimed the mileage allowance for weekly journeys by car from and to Maidstone every weekend when the House was sitting with the exceptions noted at paragraph 56. The claimed days of travel to Maidstone were usually Friday or Saturday; the return to London was usually on Sunday. She told us that she made these journeys (Q51) on the days stated on her claim forms (QQ49-50).

72. From 17 September 2003 to 31 May 2008, Lady Uddin's car was a Honda CR-V Auto SE Sport; thereafter it was a BMW X5 3.01 SE Auto (p153K). There are pictures of both of these "sport utility vehicles" at (p154A): they are large cars (Q249). Lady Uddin told us that she might arrive late on a Friday night and leave early on a Saturday morning (Q144) (the latter despite her claim forms indicating return on Sundays); that she might go away from the flat (including returning to London) in the course of a weekend's residence at Maidstone (QQ100; 108); that she parked either in her designated parking bay or on the street if her bay was occupied by someone else (Q288; 246); and that she had her parking permit for her numbered bay, bay 8 (QQ254-6).

73. Each flat in The Chenies has a numbered parking bay. In June 2006, the managing agents, Countrywide Property Management, sent numbered permits to the residents but sent the wrong permit to each resident (p132). Lady Uddin was sent the permit intended for flat X (bay 3) but the occupant of that flat, Mr Daniel Revell, said in his statement that she did not pass it on to him. He was initially reluctant to use his rightful bay given that someone else (i.e. Lady Uddin) was in possession of the permit but, on seeing that the bay was not being used, he started to use it (p120C):

"The company sent out permits which we were supposed to display in the car windscreen but unfortunately they sent the permit for bay 3 to flat 3 and likewise for the rest. I gave the permit that I received for bay 7 to the resident in flat 19 but I never received our one back from flat 3."

74. The correct bay for Lady Uddin's flat was bay 8 (Q254). Lady Uddin's neighbours state that that bay was used regularly by another resident of The Chenies. An anonymous resident of The Chenies, who received the permit intended for Lady Uddin, said in her statement (as summarised by the police) (p131E):

"That they received by mistake a car parking permit from the site's Management Company, which related to a parking space allocated to Lady Uddin. They received their correct permit from another resident, but were unable to pass on Lady Uddin's permit to her as they could not get any answer from repeated visits to Lady's property. Furthermore this same witness noting that Lady Uddin's car parking space was not being used instructed her lodger to make use of it. This arrangement continued until the media attention started, after which a black BMW X5 started using it."

75. Mr Ian Allcock confirmed this (p123H):

"As far as I am aware all the residents use the correct bays except Peter who lives in no. XX who doesn't own a car and a young girl who lives in or associates with the woman in flat XX, she parks her car in the bay that is allocated to flat 3."

76. Lady Uddin did not recall this confusion (QQ255-6).

77. Mr Allcock saw the BMW at about the time the story broke: it blocked the car park; over the next few weekends, it would "turn up on a Friday night or Saturday, unload some items, then leave" (p124B). Ms Sarah Dunn said (p121D):

"Since this appeared in the papers I can recall that on a Sunday night my husband and I were returning home and saw a tall Asian man standing in the car park smoking a cigarette.. We had driven past him to park further along the car park and as we came back to the communal entrance door, I saw that he let himself in with a key. We followed him in and as he appeared out of place and I had not seen him before, I actually watched where he went. I saw him go into number 3... I remember seeing a large black car in the car park and it had tinted windows. I have never seen this car before this night. I don't know the make but the closest comparison I can give is that it is the size and shape of a Range Rover. I thought it was a strange car to be connected to these flats as most people here are usually 2 or 3 people per flat as they all have 2 bedroom flats and this car was a large family car."

78. The neighbours' statements are consistent that Lady Uddin's car was not seen in The Chenies until the weekend of 25-6 April 2009, though not all of the statements mention the car.

79. A neighbour of Lady Uddin's in London said to a journalist from the Sunday Times that the BMW was visibly in London at the weekends, though it is unclear to what period he was referring (p90F).

Period 3: Maidstone after Lady Uddin became aware of the Sunday Times' interest: 25 April 2009 to 31 December 2009

80. Lady Uddin told us that her conduct in relation to the flat did not change in the light of the Sunday Times' interest in the property (Q158), though she herself presented us with photographic evidence that she had recently increased the furnishing of the flat (p196H).

81. Lady Uddin's neighbours at Maidstone say in their statements to the police that there was a change. Ms Yvonne Adams, who lives across the staircase from Lady Uddin's flat, says (p128G):

"Things all changed the Friday before the article came out in The Sunday Times. I didn't see anybody but a mat appeared outside flat 3's door, net curtains were hung at the front window and I heard a lot of activity in the flat. It seemed to me that someone was moving in and at this time I had no idea that a newspaper article was going to be published. Although I heard noises I never smelt anything like cooking."

82. The occupants of the flats above and below Lady Uddin's made similar statements. Mr Matthew Hollis, who lives above, said (pp121K-122D):

"Flat 3 is directly below my flat. There is without question no one who has lived in number 3 until the last few months [statement made 2 July 2009]. I know this because I have heard someone in flat 3 late on Friday nights in the last two or three months. The floors here are so thin I can hear them banging around. In fact the first couple of times I heard them in there recently I thought about phoning the police. Over the last couple of months I have heard them leave on Saturday morning about 9 or 10am….

I have seen the BMW X5 on most Fridays in the last two or three months and once I saw a Transit van on a Saturday morning unloading a load of furniture. I heard the furniture being taken into Flat 3. I heard all the furniture banging very clearly."

83. Ms Angela Storey, who lives below, said (p130J):

"I should also mention that in May sometime, just after the story broke, I was lying in bed when I noticed a lot of noise coming from upstairs. I couldn't tell if it was coming from flat 4 or flat 3 but the walls are very thin and you could tell it was coming from upstairs. I would describe the noise as someone picking up and dropping stuff and the sounds of moving stuff around. I spoke to a neighbour Penny a couple of days later and she mentioned to me that flat 3 had curtains up and looked like someone had moved in. I had noticed that a door mat had appeared outside flat 3."

84. Lady Uddin invited us to take no account of these statements on the ground that each witness was biased against her due to having been asked leading questions by journalists and by having seen the adverse publicity she had received in the press (QQ150; 157; 160; 200; 201; 212; pp200L; 203F).

London

85. Mr and Lady Uddin have lived at XXXXXXXXXX, Wapping, London E1W XXX since 1993. It is a three-bedroom house rented by Mr Uddin from a housing association (QQ9-13) and occupied by him, their younger children and Lady Uddin. Throughout the period under investigation, Lady Uddin stayed in this property during the week and had childcare responsibilities (Q219). She claimed that it had not been her home since 2001 (Q280) but also referred to it as such (Q122). Mr Komar Uddin and Mrs P M Uddin have paid full council tax on the property since 14 July 1993 (p153B). XXXX. Lady Uddin said that she did not have neighbourly friendships in London (Q112). Sunday Times journalists interviewed at least two of Lady Uddin's neighbours in London, both of whom appeared to have had some knowledge of and contact with Lady Uddin and her family (pp89B-93F).

The issues

86. This case raises three issues: 1) whether Lady Uddin's designated main residences in the period under investigation met the criteria endorsed by the House Committee for these investigations; 2) whether Lady Uddin correctly claimed for travel from and to those main residences; and 3) if the facts identify one or more wrongly designated main residences, whether Lady Uddin acted in good faith in making her designations and claims for night subsistence and travel.

Issue 1: whether Lady Uddin's designated main residences in the period under investigation met the criteria endorsed by the House Committee

87. On 26 January 2010, the House Committee endorsed the Clerk of the Parliaments' approach to determining allegations about members use of the members' reimbursement scheme, as recorded in the published extract of the minutes of that meeting (p16E):

"He [the Clerk of the Parliaments] emphasised that he was operating under the current scheme, one of the weaknesses of which was that there was no clear definition of a main residence. He had however taken the view, within the context of the individual assessment of each case, that there needed to be a minimum threshold beyond which it would be inappropriate for a Member to designate a property as a main or only residence, and consequently claim overnight subsistence when staying in London.

He sought the endorsement of the Committee of the criteria which he was incorporating into his assessment of cases where frequency of visits was an issue: i.e. that the main residence had to be visited for a minimum of one weekend per month over the year when the House was sitting and for periods during recesses. These factors would be taken into account, along with other evidence, when assessing the validity of the designation of a main residence. He drew the attention of the Committee to the fact that it was probable that more stringent requirements would be a feature of the new scheme for Members' expenses.

He also raised the issue of whether a property that was occupied by a relative other than a spouse or partner could in any circumstances be designated as a main residence under the current scheme. It was felt that this could in very specific circumstances be appropriate, subject to the thresholds established and depending on the detail of the Member's connection with the property, including relevant financial responsibilities."

88. We consider the criteria endorsed by the House Committee to be binding on us: it is the principal domestic committee of the House and explicitly responsible for the members' reimbursement scheme (p5A).

89. "Visit" is used in the criteria in the context of "weekend". We consider that "visit" must include an overnight stay. We also consider that "one weekend per month" is not a minimum threshold set by the House Committee, but the minimum frequency of occupation when the House was sitting subject to "other evidence". It is a necessary but not sufficient criterion. In the case of a property occupied by a relative other than a spouse or partner, "very specific circumstances" are required, "subject to the thresholds established and depending on the detail of the Member's connection with the property, including relevant financial responsibilities".

90. The Committee for Privileges' and our own report on Lord Clarke of Hampstead's use of the members' reimbursement scheme, agreed to by the House on 6 April 2010, is also relevant. In that report, we found that[29]:

"17. It is clear to us that a member may only claim under the scheme i) if they have stayed overnight away from their main residence; and ii) they have attended the House. There is no ambiguity about these conditions ...

23. Our interpretation of the resolution, General Guide and Quick Guide taken together is that a member who maintained a residence in London for the purpose of attending the House could reasonably claim that the night subsistence provision was a flat rate allowance intended to reimburse the member for the costs of maintaining such a residence (General Guide paragraph 4.4.2). A member who did not maintain a residence in London was however entitled only to claim for the recovery of actual expenses (General Guide paragraph 4.4.1). The former is no longer the case as the word "allowance" was removed from the guidance in April 2009."

91. The report from the Committee for Privileges was agreed to by the House and is binding.

Recent cases

92. In the period since the House Committee endorsed the criteria for determining a main residence for the purpose of these investigations, the Clerk of the Parliaments has determined a number of complaints raising similar questions (pp17-23) and a further number of media allegations against members who were not subsequently complained about. These decided cases do not however form any precedent. Each of the Clerk's published reports constitutes the application to specific circumstances of the criteria endorsed by the House Committee: the questions the Clerk faced when deciding the cases he did, and the questions we face in deciding this case, are questions of fact. They establish no principle, rule or threshold. The Clerk's several decisions are thus not statements of precedent and they do not bind us as we determine the facts of this case. We have proceeded on the basis that we may take into account any fact relevant to the circumstances, even if the Clerk did not take such a fact into account in the cases he decided.

Opinion of the Sub-Committee

Period 1: Frinton: 3 May 2005 to 31 July 2005

93. The criteria endorsed by the House Committee require that a main residence be visited a minimum of one weekend per month over the year when the House was sitting and for periods during recesses. In the case of a property occupied by a relative other than a spouse or partner, "very specific circumstances" are also required, "subject to the thresholds established and depending on the detail of the Member's connection with the property, including relevant financial responsibilities".

Frequency of visit

94. We have little evidence in relation to the short period which we may examine during which the Frinton property was Lady Uddin's designated main residence. For want of evidence, we make no finding as to precisely how frequently Lady Uddin stayed overnight at the Frinton property but, on the balance of probabilities, taking into account our findings below as to Lady Uddin's credibility as a witness, it was not as frequently as almost every weekend when the House was sitting from 2001 to 2005.

95. Frequency of visit is however not the only criterion relevant here. In the case of a property occupied by a relative other than a spouse or partner, the House Committee set additional criteria (p16J):

"[designation of a property occupied by a relative other than a spouse or partner] could in very specific circumstances be appropriate, subject to the thresholds established and depending on the detail of the Member's connection with the property, including relevant financial responsibilities".

Thus, frequency of visit remains essential but there is i) a further dominant criterion: "the detail of the Member's connection with the property, including relevant financial responsibilities"; and ii) a subordinate criterion: "very specific circumstances".

"Very specific circumstances" and "connection with the property"

96. The criteria endorsed by the House Committee provide no guidance as to what constitute "very specific circumstances" and a sufficient "connection with the property" for it appropriately to be designated as a member's main residence. We thus have to establish our own criteria to decide those facts.

97. In terms of "very specific circumstances", we consider that XXXXXXX is a legitimate circumstance in which a person might designate a family member's home as her main residence. XXXXXXX. In our opinion, the circumstances of Lady Uddin's designation of her brother's property as her main residence might meet the very specific circumstances required under the test endorsed by the House Committee.

98. There is however one further, dominant, limb of the test to consider: connection with the property. In terms of this limb of the test, we consider that the connection must be such to find that, irrespective of occupation by a relative other than a spouse or partner, the property was Lady Uddin's "main residence" within any natural meaning of those two words taken together. We accept that "main residence" is not defined either in the resolution establishing, or in the guidance on, the members' reimbursement scheme. The consequence is that it would be unreasonable retrospectively to apply a single definition. It does not mean however that a designation which defies any natural meaning of those words may be allowed.

99. The connection would certainly be sufficient if, in circumstances of XXXXX XXXXX, the claimant had moved XXXX and into the designated property. That is not here the case. Lady Uddin needed what she described as a "bolt hole" for breathing space but continued to live in the family home for the working week throughout the year. She may have stayed at the Frinton property on occasional weekends or more frequently. We accept that the Frinton property was of great value to her as a "bolt hole". Due however to her return on each occasion to her children and husband in the week, we do not accept that the property ever acquired the character of a main residence for the purpose of the members' reimbursement scheme. Although Lady Uddin claimed to have led two separate lives, in practice her behaviour was insufficient to validate that claim. We find that Lady Uddin's connection with the Frinton property was insufficient for it to meet any natural meaning of "main residence" for the purpose of the members' reimbursement scheme.

100. We thus conclude that Lady Uddin did not have a sufficient connection with the Frinton property to have designated it as her main residence given her brother's ownership and permanent occupation of the property. She was therefore wrong to have designated it as her main residence for the purpose of the members' reimbursement scheme and to have claimed night subsistence away from it.

Period 2: Maidstone before Lady Uddin became aware of the Sunday Times' interest: 1 August 2005 to 24 April 2009

101. It is clear that Lady Uddin owns and is financially responsible for the Maidstone property. In these circumstances, the criteria endorsed by the House Committee, and by which we are bound, are as follows (p16G):

"the main residence had to be visited for a minimum of one weekend per month over the year when the House was sitting and for periods during recesses. These factors would be taken into account, along with other evidence, when assessing the validity of the designation of a main residence."

102. Lady Uddin claimed to have stayed overnight at Maidstone almost every weekend when the house was sitting. The statements made to the police say otherwise without exception. On which account should we rely?

103. We accept Lady Uddin's account of the circumstances of her marriage. We have however some difficulty with Lady Uddin's account of the facts of her occupation of her designated main residences. First, she was reluctant to answer specifically the written questions put to her by the Registrar (pp63B-64C) and to discuss her case with the police (p161K). Secondly, in oral evidence, she was at times evasive (QQ94-7; 116-20; 299-301) and at others her account was inconsistent (QQ129, 254-5; QQ126-41; Q216, p200J; Q242, p56B) to the point of contradiction (QQ70-1, 206, p200J; Q144, pp26-9). She provided several further significant details as footnote corrections to her evidence (QQ79; 96; 122; 152; 205). Nor do we accept her reasons for why we should take no account of the witness statements given to the police. First, the witnesses are clear that the flat was unfurnished, not that it was lightly furnished. As to Lady Uddin's contention that it is not possible to see into her flat from the street, we consider that it would be possible to see into her flat if illuminated at night and without curtains. Secondly, as to Lady Uddin's contention that the witnesses were biased in their statements to the police due to their having earlier been asked leading questions by journalists and by having seen the press coverage, we consider that neither factor was sufficient to prejudice the witnesses to the point that each was prepared to lie to the police. The neighbours' accounts in their interviews with the Sunday Times are consistent with each other and consistent with their statements to the police. The neighbours were interviewed by the Sunday Times journalists before the newspaper published its allegation.

104. We have however considered carefully what weight we should attach to the witness statements given to the police. Each of the statements by Lady Uddin's neighbours, the plumber and the utilities companies was given to the police under the formula "this statement is true to the best of my knowledge and belief and I make it knowing that, if it is tendered in evidence, I shall be liable to prosecution if I have wilfully stated anything in it which I know to be false or do not believe to be true" (p103B). Nonetheless, we are conscious that we have not examined these witnesses ourselves and so have not been able to form judgments as to their individual credibility. We consider that, in view of their number, we can rely on the essence of these witness statements taken as a whole. We consider that the statements to the police about the furnishing of Lady Uddin's flat, her water usage, and her and her car's visibility at Maidstone together prove, well beyond the balance of probabilities, that Lady Uddin in this period did not stay at the Maidstone property for the minimum of one weekend per month over the year when the House was sitting. We find that Lady Uddin deliberately misled us as to the frequency of her stays at Maidstone.

105. Lady Uddin was wrong to have designated the Maidstone property as her main residence for the purpose of the members' reimbursement scheme and to have claimed night subsistence away from that property in the period 1 August 2005 to 24 April 2009.

Period 3: Maidstone after Lady Uddin became aware of the Sunday Times' interest: 25 April 2009 to 31 December 2009

106. Lady Uddin became aware of the Sunday Times' interest in her Maidstone property on 24 April. We accept that, from this point, there is third-party evidence of her having stayed overnight in the Maidstone property at least one weekend a month. We find that, in this period, Lady Uddin met the minimum frequency of occupation required under the criteria endorsed by the House Committee.

107. While frequency of occupation is a necessary criterion, even in these circumstances it is not a sufficient criterion: "other evidence" is also to be taken into account (p16G). We are entitled to consider whether the Maidstone property became Lady Uddin's main residence on 25 April 2009 or whether, due to other evidence, her main residence in fact remained elsewhere. Despite XXXXXXX XXXX, Lady Uddin's life in the week has always remained at her London residence where her younger children and husband live; and her London residence again became her main residence on 1 January 2010. We find that Lady Uddin's presence at Maidstone increased from 25 April 2009 only in an attempt to suggest that the property was and had been her main residence since August 2005. We find that, despite Lady Uddin's presence, the Maidstone property did not acquire the character of a main residence within any natural meaning of the words. Lady Uddin remained wrong to have claimed night subsistence away from the Maidstone property in the period 25 April 2009 to 31 December 2009.

Conclusion

108. With the assistance of the Finance Department, we have calculated that Lady Uddin wrongly claimed £121,139.50 in night subsistence over the three periods. Lady Uddin should be required to repay this amount.

Issue 2: whether Lady Uddin should have claimed for travel from and to her main residences

109. Lady Uddin should not have designated either the Frinton or the Maidstone property as her main residence. Claims for travel may only be made for journeys made between a main residence and Westminster in respect of parliamentary duties (pp6K; 15B). As neither the Frinton property nor the Maidstone property was Lady Uddin's main residence, she was not eligible to claim for travel from and to either Frinton or Maidstone. We do not need to find precisely how many of the journeys she in fact made.

110. With the assistance of the Finance Department, we have calculated that Lady Uddin wrongly claimed £4,209.60 under the mileage allowance for journeys by car over the period. Lady Uddin should be required to repay this amount.

Issue 3: if the facts identify one or more wrongly designated main residences, whether Lady Uddin acted in good faith in making her designations and claims

111. Having found that Lady Uddin wrongly designated the Frinton and Maidstone properties as her main residences and that she made claims for night subsistence and travel to which she was not entitled, we now turn to the issue of good faith. If Lady Uddin did not act in good faith when making her designations and claims for night subsistence and travel, then she is liable to sanction. If however Lady Uddin had good reason to believe that her designations and claims were valid, sanction might be inappropriate.

112. We look separately at her understanding of the scheme, designations and claims for night subsistence; and then her claims for travel.

Understanding of the scheme, designations and claims for night subsistence

113. Lady Uddin maintained to us that she had not broken the rules of the scheme (Q234) but had acted in good faith throughout (p61E) and that both the Frinton and Maidstone properties had validly been her main residences for the purpose of the scheme (Q300).

114. In testing Lady Uddin's good faith, we are not assessing her conduct against the criteria endorsed by the House Committee but against any natural understanding of the scheme and "main residence" that might be held by a reasonable person. This is because the criteria endorsed by the House Committee were not designed retrospectively to define "main residence" for the purpose of the scheme but were designed only as criteria to be applied to the retrospective examination of certain members' claims.

115. Lady Uddin's understanding of the scheme was that she could designate as her main residence anywhere where she was staying at weekends if it could be considered her home (QQ225; 301). If one had more than one residence, it was a question of election: "main" had no meaning (QQ284-5). The clear purpose of the scheme is the recovery of expenses necessarily incurred in attending the House when away from one's "main residence" on any natural meaning of those words. Lady Uddin's understanding of the scheme defeats its objective and her understanding of "main residence" is unreasonable.

116. Lady Uddin says that she came to this understanding on advice from her Chief Whip (Lord Carter), mentor (Lady Pitkeathley) and other members. Before designating the Frinton property as her main residence, Lady Uddin says that she described the circumstances of XXXXXXXX to her Chief Whip and others; told them that the property was her brother's home; that she was staying there at weekends; and that she was "spending money" (QQ222; 226; 230). Lady Uddin says: "It was made clear to me by my Chief Whip and my colleagues that if I was staying at weekends in a place that could be determined to be my home that I was able to then claim overnight subsistence" (Q225). "I was guided to designate the place where I was at the weekends and that this was acceptable within the rules" (Q230). Lord Carter is deceased and Lady Pitkeathley does not recall discussing the rules of the members' reimbursement scheme or her domestic arrangements in any detail with Lady Uddin (p164D).

117. This advice, if received, mitigates Lady Uddin's understanding of the scheme for the same reason that it helped to mitigate part of the conduct of Lord Clarke of Hampstead[30], but it does not obviate her lack of good faith for two reasons. First, she accepted that it remained her own responsibility to make her designation and claims in accordance with the rules (Q236). Secondly, Lady Uddin's actual circumstances did not meet her own understanding of the scheme. On the original day of designation, she may have had the intention of living two separate lives, weekday and weekend each week (Q233-7), but the facts in relation to her occupation of both properties do not meet even her own understanding of the rules. She was not at Frinton every weekend and it did not become her home. It should quickly have become clear to her that she was not staying at Maidstone at weekends. It should also have been clear to her that, in those circumstances, she was not making her claims for night subsistence when away from her designated main residence in good faith; and that the continued designation had become a deliberate misrepresentation of her position even on the basis of her understanding of the scheme.

Claims for travel

118. Lady Uddin claimed the mileage allowance for journeys by car from and to both of her successively designated main residences almost every weekend when the House was sitting. In oral evidence, she confirmed that she had made each of these journeys. In relation to Frinton, we have decided not to find precisely how often Lady Uddin travelled to the property but have found that it was not as frequently as almost every weekend when the House was sitting (paragraph 94 above). In relation to Maidstone, we have found that she travelled to the property less than once a month (paragraph 104 above).

119. We find that the vast majority of Lady Uddin's claims for journeys in the period under investigation were not made in good faith and that Lady Uddin made these claims with the intention of adding verisimilitude to her designation of her main residences.

Conclusion

120. We find that Lady Uddin did not act in good faith in making her claims for night subsistence away from the Frinton and Maidstone properties; in maintaining her designation of each of those properties as her main residences; and in claiming the mileage allowance for weekly journeys by car from and to the Maidstone property.

Sanction

121. We have found that, despite difficult personal circumstances which might have legitimised the intention underlying her original designations, the facts of Lady Uddin's occupation of her designated main residences both in Frinton and in Maidstone did not in fact meet the criteria endorsed by the House Committee. Lady Uddin deliberately misrepresented her living arrangements to take advantage of the night subsistence and travel elements of the members' reimbursement scheme, a scheme designed for the recovery of expenses necessarily incurred in attending the House. There is every indication that this misrepresentation started before 2005 and would have continued beyond 2009 had she not been discovered.

122. Lady Uddin maintained throughout that she had acted in good faith; so she has not yet either repaid money or apologised. The day before we heard evidence from Lady Uddin, she wrote to us to reiterate that she had acted on advice and complied with the rules. She went on to say that, despite this compliance, she "should have maintained a higher standard" and volunteered a payment of £5,500 "in recompense" (p67E). The sum is slightly more than she claimed for travel but was not meant to represent a sum wrongly claimed (QQ302-6). Lady Uddin wrongly claimed £125,349.10.

123. We recommend that the House sanction Lady Uddin by requiring her to make a personal statement of apology to the House and thereafter suspending her from the service of the House for three years or until she has repaid the sum of £125,349.10 wrongly claimed, whichever is the later. Her apology must be unconditional, and agreed in advance with the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, to be sufficient. We consider that the suspension should be renewed in the next Parliament if Lady Uddin has not repaid the money by the end of the current Parliament, but that can only be a matter for the next Parliament.



10   The Code of Conduct: procedure for considering complaints against Members, 4th Report from the Committee for Privileges, session 2007-08, HL Paper 205, paragraph 11 bullet 2. Report agreed to by the House on 18 December 2008. Hereafter referred to as "the report on procedure". Back

11   In the last Parliament, the Sub-Committee was styled the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests; it is now styled the Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct. Back

12   The references in this report to the printed evidence are in the form "p16E" and "Q114". The former refers to page 16 of the printed evidence at letter E; the latter to question number 114 in the transcript of oral evidence. Back

13   Report on procedure paragraph 11 bullet 2: "Matters relating to the Members' Reimbursement Allowance Scheme are the responsibility of the Clerk of the Parliaments, as Accounting Officer for the House of Lords. In exceptional circumstances he may request the Sub-Committee to assist him in investigating a complex or serious complaint".  Back

14   House of Lords Code of Conduct, adopted on Monday 2 July 2001 paragraph 19(e): "If after the investigation the Sub-Committee finds the allegation proved, the Member complained against has a right of appeal to the Committee for Privileges"; the report on procedure paragraphs 32-37 sets out the appeal procedure.  Back

15   Lady Uddin told us that, in the light of the allegation, she referred herself for investigation (pp60C; 66D) but there is no record of such a reference. Back

16   Report on procedure, paragraph 11 bullet 4. Back

17   Report from the Committee for Privileges on the procedure for considering complaints against Members (4th Report 2007-08 HL Paper 205) paragraph 11; see also paragraph 5 of this report. Back

18   The amounts paid to all members each financial year under each head of the members' reimbursement scheme since April 2001 are published on the Parliament website. The House of Lords Finance Department has retained the amounts paid each month to members under each head since April 2003 and has retained claim forms since March 2006; all members' earlier claim forms have been disposed of in accordance with the department's disposal policy. Back

19   The Sunday Times also supplied the Sub-Committee with the recordings on which their transcripts were based. We did not rely on the newspaper's transcripts but commissioned our own. Those published as evidence were either corrected or created by the clerks. We did not receive the recording of one interview: the printed transcript of that interview is marked as unverified. A journalist also appears to have interviewed Lady Uddin at least once by telephone (Q37) but we were not provided with any record of any such conversation. Back

20   Report on procedure, paragraph 25. Back

21   Report on procedure, paragraphs 26 to 28.  Back

22   Until April 2009, the guide was entitled "Members' reimbursement allowance scheme general guide". Back

23   HL Deb 26 July 1979 col 1135-37. Back

24   Financial Support for Members of the House: Declaration of Principal Residence and Publication, 3rd Report from the House Committee session 2009-10 HL Paper 89. Report agreed to by the House on 22 March 2010. Back

25   The relevant record has been disposed of in accordance with the Finance Department's disposal policy. Back

26   Ms Yvonne Adams, who lives across the staircase from Lady Uddin's flat, also claims to have bought the show flat (p127J). Back

27   The same is true of the journeys on 15 and 22 July 2007 and certain of those made in March, April, October and November 2009. Back

28   See, for example, the South East Water Limited annual report and accounts for the year ended 31 March 2008. Back

29   The conduct of Lord Clarke of Hampstead, 4th Report from the Committee for Privileges, session 2009-10, HL Paper 112, paragraphs 26 to 32. Back

30   The conduct of Lord Clarke of Hampstead, 4th Report from the Committee for Privileges, session 2009-10, HL Paper 112, paragraphs 26 to 32. Back


 
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