Appendix 1: Memorandum from the Parliamentary
Commissioner for Standards |
Complaint against Mrs Anne Main MP
1. This memorandum reports on my investigation
into a complaint that Anne Main, the Member for St Albans, made
claims against the Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) which were
not wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the purpose
of performing her parliamentary duties.
2. On 9 June 2009, Mr J.P. Harper of St Albans
wrote to me to make a formal complaint against Mrs Main.
He claimed, first, that "over the four years since becoming
an MP she has claimed in excess of £85,000 in Additional
Costs Allowance related to the rental and subsequent mortgage
interest and associated costs of purchase for a second property
in St Albans city centre, plus expenses for furnishings and food."
Mr Harper alleged that these claims were invalid: Mrs Main was
not entitled to claim mortgage interest and associated expenses
for a second property because her family home, in Beaconsfield,
was less than 20 miles from the boundary of her constituency.
He also alleged that, on the basis of information Mrs Main had
given in a newspaper interview about the number of nights she
had spent in St Albans in 2008, it would have cost the taxpayer
significantly less in that year if she had instead on each occasion
stayed overnight in "one of the most expensive 4 star
local hotels" and "paid the full rack rate".
Mr Harper maintained that "such misuse of public funds
fell foul of the spirit" of the principle set out in
section 3.3.1 of the Green Book, namely the requirement to bear
in mind the need to obtain value for money from accommodation,
goods or services funded from the allowances.
3. Second, Mr Harper said that Mrs Main had allowed
her adult daughter, Ms Claire Tonks, to live rent-free in the
St Albans flat, which he claimed was a breach of the rule set
out in section 3.3.2 of the Green Book, namely that Members "must
avoid any arrangement which may give rise to an allegation that
you are, or someone close to you is, obtaining an immediate benefit
or subsidy from public funds." Mr Harper said that the
Daily Telegraph newspaper had obtained evidence from neighbours
and from Companies House that Ms Tonks "treated the flat
as her main residence". He added that she was also on
the electoral roll at that address and said that Mrs Main had
confirmed that no rent was paid. He said that Mrs Main's defence
of the arrangement, as quoted in a Daily Telegraph article
of 22 May 2009, a copy of which he sent me,
had been that she had been told by the Fees Office that such an
arrangement was perfectly acceptable. Mr Harper commented, "If
questioned, I suspect the Fees Office, and any reasonable taxpayer,
would accept that occasional
overnight stays by family members are acceptable,
but allowing a family member, or anyone else for that matter,
to stay permanently
and for free is not acceptable and outside
both the written Rules and their spirit."
4. Third, Mr Harper said that Mrs Main had claimed
a 10% second-home discount on the local council tax even though,
according to Companies House records, her daughter lived there
as her main residence. He commented, "It is probably up
to the local Council to investigate the facts, but at the very
least Mrs Main has brought her office into disrepute by making
such a dubious claim."
5. Fourth, Mr Harper said that Mrs Main had claimed
a round-sum amount each month for groceries amounting to between
£3,000 and £3,600 a year. If she had lived, as claimed,
in the second home for only 68 nights in 2008, Mr Harper said
that this would mean that she had spent £44 per day on food.
He went on to say, "Even if it is assumed that the claim
covers the 165 days or so per annum that Parliament is in session
i.e. £18 on average per day, such an amount cannot surely
be justified as 'value for money' under Principle 3.3.1. The fact
that round-sum amounts were claimed is prima facie evidence of
a lack of rigour in accounting for the expenditure of public funds
and should not be allowed."
6. Mr Harper concluded by saying, "Whether
or not Mrs Main has been badly advised or has not read the Rules
properly is immaterial. At the very least she has claimed incorrectly
and should be made to revise her claims for the last four years
on a proper basis ie for the number of overnight stays in London
or her constituency when wholly, necessarily and exclusively on
Parliamentary business. If she incurred no third-party costs for
such stays (ie because she stayed in the St Albans flat she had
purchased) then no claims should be entertained and if she cannot
support an overnight stay by convincing documentary evidence such
claims should be disallowed. This should result in a significant
reimbursement of monies to the taxpayer."
7. The Daily Telegraph article of 22 May
2009, which Mr Harper enclosed with his complaint, alleged that
Mrs Main had claimed a 10% second home discount on her council
tax for an apartment in her constituency even though her daughter
had lived there for up to three years. The article said that Mrs
Main's principal home was "a large detached house in Beaconsfield,
Bucks, 25 miles from St Albans. The house is roughly six miles
further from Westminster than the St Albans flat." The
article went on to say that Mrs Main had "charged the
taxpayer £1,095.68 a month in mortgage interest payments
for the flat, along with service charges, utility bills and furnishing
costs. She has claimed a 10 % discount on council tax since 2004amounting
to £171.09 last yearand submitted the bill on her
expenses." The article said that "Two neighbours
who live in other flats in the buildingwho the Telegraph
spoke to alongside the MP yesterdayboth said that it was
the first time they had met her. Several neighbours were familiar,
however, with Miss Tonks
Challenged by the Telegraph
as to why Miss Tonks was apparently living at the taxpayer-funded
apartment, Mrs Main confirmed that her daughter paid no rent and
insisted that she stayed there only 'two or three times a week'."
The article also said that Ms Tonks appeared on the electoral
roll at the St Albans property and in 2008 had registered the
address with Companies House when she took on a company directorship.
8. The article said that, under the rules relating
to second home allowances, Members were entitled to claim only
for expenses incurred in the course of parliamentary duties and
could not claim for anyone other than themselves. The article
reported Mrs Main as saying, when asked about her daughter's living
arrangements, "She's looking for a place in London now
I consulted the
[House of Commons] Fees Office, and asked
if family members were allowed to stay with me in the flat. I
was told it was perfectly acceptable and as a parent, who sees
very little of her family, it has been enormously supportive to
have her there, albeit that this was only ever going to be a temporary
Relevant Rules of the House
9. The Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament
provides in paragraph 14 as follows:
"Members shall at all times ensure that their
use of expenses, allowances, facilities and services provided
from the public purse is strictly in accordance with the rules
laid down on these matters, and that they observe any limits placed
by the House on the use of such expenses, allowances, facilities
10. The rules in relation to allowances have
been set out in successive editions of the Green Book. The rules
in force at the time of Mrs Main's election to the House were
set out in the April 2005 edition of the Green Book. In his introduction
to both this edition and the succeeding July 2006 edition, Mr
Speaker Martin wrote:
"Members themselves are responsible for ensuring
that their use of allowances is above reproach. They should seek
advice in cases of doubt and read the Green Book with care. In
cases of doubt or difficulty about any aspect of the allowances
or how they can be used, please contact the Department of Finance
and Administration. The Members Estimate Committee, which I chair,
has recently restated the Department's authority to interpret
and enforce these rules."
11. Paragraph 3.1.1 in both the April 2005 and
the July 2006 editions sets out the scope of the Additional Costs
Allowance as follows:
"The Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) reimburses
Members of Parliament for expenses wholly, exclusively and necessarily
incurred when staying overnight away from their main UK residence
(referred to below as their main home) for the purpose of performing
Parliamentary duties. This excludes expenses that have been incurred
for purely personal or political purposes."
12. Paragraph 3.2.1 of the April 2005 edition
(reproduced in the July 2006 edition) set out the eligibility
criteria in the following terms:
"You can claim ACA if:
a You have stayed overnight in the UK away from
your only or main home, and
b This was for the purpose of performing your
Parliamentary duties, and
c You have necessarily incurred additional costs
in so doing, and
d You represent a constituency in outer London
or outside London."
13. Paragraph 3.3.1 of the April 2005 edition
(reproduced as paragraph 3.4.1 of the July 2006 edition) sets
out the rules concerning the location of overnight stays as follows:
"If your main home is in the constituency,
you can claim ACA for overnight stays in Londonor in another
part of the constituency if reasonably necessary in view of the
distance from your only or main home. Please contact the Department
of Finance and Administration for information on such arrangements.
"If your main home is in London you can claim
for overnight stays in the constituency.
"If your main home is neither in London nor
the constituency you can choose in which of these areas to claim
14. Paragraph 3.9.1 of the April 2005 edition
(paragraph 3.11.1 of the July 2006 edition) defines a Member's
main home as follows:
When you enter Parliament we will ask you to give
the address of your main UK home on form ACA1 for the purposes
of ACA and travel entitlements. Members are expected to locate
their main homes in the UK. It is your responsibility to tell
us if your main home changes. This will remain your main home
unless you tell us otherwise.
The location of your main home will normally be
a matter of fact. If you have more than one home, your main home
will normally be the one where you spend more nights than any
other. If there is any doubt about which is your main home, please
consult the Department of Finance and Administration."
For the purpose of the ACA, overnight stays within
20 miles of your constituency boundary are regarded as overnight
stays within your constituency."
Similarly, for the purposes of the ACA, overnight
stays within 20 miles of the Palace of Westminster are deemed
to be overnight stays within London."
15. Paragraphs 3.11.1 of the April 2005 edition
and 3.13.1 of the July 2006 edition give examples of allowable
- "Mortgage costsfor
one additional home in either London or the constituency. This
is limited to the interest paid on repayment or endowment mortgages,
legal and other costs associated with obtaining (and selling)
that home (eg: stamp duty, valuation fees, conveyance, land searches,
- Hotel expensesin
either London or the constituency. (This may include overnight
accommodation and food but no alcohol)
- Other foodreasonable
additional costs while you are away from your main home
- Telecommunications charges
16. Paragraphs 3.12.1 of the April 2005 edition
and 3.14.1 of the July 2006 edition list categories of expenditure
which are not allowable, including:
"Living costs for anyone other than yourself".
17. The July 2006 edition introduced a number
of new principles applying to Members' use of the Additional Costs
Allowance. These included, at paragraph 3.3.1 and 3.3.2 respectively:
"You must ensure that arrangements for your
ACA claims are above reproach and that there can be no grounds
for a suggestion of misuse of public money. Members should bear
in mind the need to obtain value for money from accommodation,
goods or services funded from the allowances."
"You must avoid any arrangement which may
give rise to an accusation that you are, or someone close to you
is, obtaining an immediate benefit or subsidy from public funds
or that public money is being diverted for the benefit of a political
18. I wrote to Mrs Main on 17 June
to invite her comments on the complaint. I noted that the essence
of the complaint was that her claims against the Additional Costs
Allowance (ACA) were not wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred
for the purpose of performing her parliamentary duties.
19. I asked her in particular for the reasons
why she had established her apartment in St Albans, and the date
on which she did so, a description of the accommodation, and details
of her mortgage. I also asked why she considered it was necessary,
and within the rules of the Green Book, to establish a property
in St Albans when her main home was in Beaconsfield and, allegedly,
within 20 miles of her constituency. I asked what arrangements
she had made for her daughter to stay in the apartment; the extent
of her residence there, including the accommodation available
to her, whether her daughter kept her clothes and possessions
in the apartment and what contribution, if any, she made to the
cost of the apartment, and why, allegedly, that apartment was
the registered address her daughter had given to Companies House.
20. I asked Mrs Main what claims she had made
for the council tax for the apartment, and the reason for those
claims. I also asked her how many nights she had herself spent
in the apartment in each financial year since she had been elected
in 2005, together with the evidence, including any diary entries,
on which she relied for this information. I asked what claims
she had made against the ACA for this apartment in each financial
year since her election, together with copies of her claim forms
and supporting documentation if available. I also asked what claims
for food she had made against the allowances over this period,
whether they were for her sole use and how she explained the amount
claimed against the number of nights she had spent in the apartment,
together with any receipts she might have for the food.
21. I also asked Mrs Main why she considered
that her claims against the ACA were wholly, exclusively and necessarily
incurred and provided value for money given the location of her
main home, and the use to which she and her daughter had put the
apartment, and whether she had consulted the House authorities
about any aspects of this arrangement, together with copies of
any documentation relating to these consultations.
22. Mrs Main replied on 22 June.
Besides responding to my specific questions, Mrs Main also supplied
traffic information and reports
"which support my need for a home in St Albans".
She also said "At all times, as a new MP, I sought advice
about my arrangements from the Green Book and the House of Commons
Department of Finance and Administration. I believe that my expenses
were incurred wholly, exclusively and necessarily for the purpose
of performing my parliamentary duties and engagements, whilst
serving my constituents and familiarising myself with and immersing
myself within my constituency." Mrs Main also provided
constituency diary entries, transposed from hard copies, "as
comprehensively as I can"
and drew my attention to the fact that she had had a back operation
in 2006 which had prevented her from working for a period of 5-6
23. In response to my specific questions, Mrs
Main said that, after consulting the Fees Office, who had been
made fully aware of the location of her main home in relation
to her constituency, she had established a home in St Albans in
2005. This was to ensure that she was "able to carry out
the range of commitments I have in St Albans at all times".
She said that this applied particularly on Friday, Saturday and
Sunday, often early in the morning or late in the evening. She
added, "It is essential that I have a home in St Albans
and, indeed, my flat is at the heart of the city".
24. Following her election in 2005, Mrs Main
had initially rented the flat unfurnished, and had "set
about furnishing it simply, and economically in accordance with
the rules". In 2006, the landlord decided to sell the
flat and had given her first refusal to purchase it. As she had
established a base there and "it was perfect for my situation",
she decided to consider this option. She had contacted the Fees
Office for guidance as to whether this was acceptable and said
she was informed that this was within the rules. She had therefore
purchased the property. She obtained a 90% interest-only mortgage
("therefore I own 10% of the flat") and took
over ownership. Mrs Main said that the mortgage "was the
lowest cost rate product that I could identify at the time".
In 2007, when mortgage rates were increasing, she said she
had changed the mortgage product to a new rate "to minimise
the cost to the State". Mrs Main reiterated that she
had consulted the Department of Finance and Administration and
was told that it was perfectly acceptable to purchase the flat
and to claim for costs incurred. She said that she had claimed
within the specific guidelines in force at the time and "at
every level have openly and transparently disclosed my position
to the Fees Office".
25. Mrs Main told me that she stayed in the flat
regularly overnight and used the flat "when I need to
be in St Albans on constituency business which I fulfil assiduously,
often until a late hour. Many major functions which I am expected
to attend routinely take place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
I not only use the flat to stay over but also as a base for eating/changing
between numerous diverse functions, catching up on surgery casework
and telephone surgeries, planning and report writing etc.".
She said that her diary would confirm the amount of time she spent
in St Albans and "the full nature of my workload".
Mrs Main added that between April 2006 and March 2009 she had
attended 569 engagements, meetings and events. She said that she
also spent time in her flat whilst regularly getting to know her
constituency, "meeting residents and attending events
not in necessarily an official capacity but in order to familiarise
myself with the ongoing issues in St Albans
all of these are diarised as they are of an informal nature, but
essential to my role as an MP."
26. Mrs Main said that she spent the other nights
of the week in her main home in Beaconsfield "in order
to have a limited time with my family on the nights when the House
rises at an earlier time." She said that on Mondays and
Tuesdays she "rarely" got home before 11.30-11.45pm
and at 8.30-9pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Mrs Main said that,
as she sat on four committees, she "routinely"
had to catch a train at 7.15am in order to make a 9am start "and
have some time in my office to set out tasks for my staff".
She said that she also made her own private arrangements to stay
in London if she needed to stay over due to lateness. She commented,
"My work life means I spend little time in my family home."
27. Mrs Main described her St Albans apartment
as "a modest two bedroom flat with lounge/dining area
and also a small kitchen and bathroom and designated parking.
The location with parking helps ensure that I am not affected
by severe traffic problems and parking shortages in St Albans
city centre". The apartment is "tucked away
off the main 'high street' firmly in the heart of the city centre.
With all the traffic and restricted parking issues that beset
St Albans this location enables me to walk routinely to most events
and ensures that I am punctual and reliable in all my duties within
the city centre." Mrs Main said that driving even a short
distance across the centre of St Albans "can routinely
take upwards of half an hour and reaching other parts can take
much longer as St Albans has some of the busiest non motorway
roads in the county
" She commented, "Traffic
congestion impacts on my need to be able to be at the heart of
my constituency not at the mercy of the road conditions which
would necessitate my diary needing greater blank spaces simply
to allow for travel."
28. Mrs Main said that, while her main family
home in Beaconsfield was 25 miles away from the city of St Albans,
it involved "a journey around some of the most congested
parts of the M25". She said that the journey could take
upwards of an hour or more at peak times "or even worse
as it regularly grinds to a halt". She said that this
could "make guaranteed diary scheduling impossible particularly
for early engagements such as surgery appointments, school visits,
On top of any M25 journey, especially on weekdays
and recess constituency working days I must confront the St Albans
congestion which can severely disrupt timetabling." She
reiterated that the central location of her flat "means
I can walk to many local functions
Having a flat in St Albans
clearly enables me to perform [constituency]
She noted that "even under the recent tightening up of
distance claims my situation is still acknowledged to be within
the claiming distance criteria for second homes" even
though the tip of her constituency was within 20 miles of London.
She continued, "However, the judgement being applied now
in similar situations is that the constituency needs to be 'bisected'
by the 20 mile rule not just caught on a far edge, so my constituency
is still deemed to be outside the 20 mile rule and suitable for
an ACA claim."
29. In response to my inquiry about the details
of her mortgage, Mrs Main said that the title to the flat passed
to her on 1 November 2006. She had paid a 10% deposit, and she
had an interest-only mortgage.
30. Mrs Main said that she had "consulted
with both the House of Commons and the Green Book" on
her arrangements. She said that she had been told "after
fully disclosing my situation that my arrangement was acceptable
within the rules, and I was entitled to claim the ACA as my main
home was neither in London nor in my constituency." Mrs
Main also said that her constituency "spans a distance
of some 11 miles and that the distance to the furthest edge is
29 miles away from my main home". The centre of her constituency,
where most of her meetings and engagements took place and where
she said 87% of her constituents lived, was 25 miles away from
her main home. Only one part of one ward, with 977 constituents,
was within 20 miles of her main home, and she only did house visits
there; she did not hold surgeries and had no office there. She
added, "My flat is in the centre of the city near the
majority of places I need to visit in my constituency duties and
near London Colney where I hold my surgeries, consultations and
meet groups of residents."
31. Mrs Main reiterated that journey times on
the M25 "can be considerable. Travel in business hours
has taken up to 1.5 hours due to slow moving and congested traffic.
Even if I was to travel the 'backroads' as might be suggested
journey times via Hemel Hempstead can easily average 60 minutes".
She continued, "I routinely experience 80 minute commutes
using either back roads or motorway routes. In addition, these
back roads also become severely impacted when M25 problems occur
as commuters use alternative routes to reach their destinations".
Mrs Main summed the position up thus: "Traffic is a constant
determining factor in and around my constituency". She
commented, "As you will see from the congestion hotspot
the majority of my constituency sits within an area considered
to have the highest number of congestion hotspots and is surrounded
by other similarly affected areas, which impact on actually reaching
St Albans." She noted the statement in the Green Book
that ACA could be claimed in another part of the constituency
if reasonably necessary in view of the distance from a Member's
only or main home, and commented, "I believe that my arrangements
particularly in light of the accepted congestion and 'real' travel
times that beset my constituency satisfy this 'reasonableness'
test and I accepted advice from the Fees Office on this matter."
32. Summing up why she needed a property in St
Albans, Mrs Main said, "I would like to reiterate that
every decision with regard to my constituency home has been with
the advice of the Fees Office which is fully aware of the location
of both homes. In view of the distance calculated, the distance
from my main home to my second home is roughly 25 miles. Being
located in the heart of my constituency is important, in order
that I can access various functions which regularly occur in the
town centre or immediate environs and be able to reasonably expect
to keep to timetable whilst at all times carrying out my parliamentary
33. Mrs Main said no formal arrangements had
been made for her daughter to stay in the St Albans flat on a
full-time basis. After checking with the Department of Finance
and Administration she had been "informed that 'only an
MP's spouse and children are supposed to share the second home'".
She said that her daughter kept no possessions of any significance
in the flat, and her clothes were limited to "a portable
amount". Her daughter had stayed with her "in
a sporadic fashion with some periods when she was not there at
all, other times she stayed more frequently."
34. Mrs Main said that her daughter made no monetary
contribution to the cost of the flat "as she stayed under
the guidance that 'spouses and children may share the second home'
and it was not regarded as her main home". She said that
her daughter always used her own mobile phone, and bought her
own food and sundries if needed. However, "in order to
ensure I did not waste valuable time on domestic chores she did
contribute in kind by undertaking to do my cleaning, bed changing,
laundry and putting out of the rubbish when requested to help
me out." Mrs Main said that "This help was valuable
to me and meant that I had no need to employ a cleaner (as I could
have done under the ACA expenses) and I was confident that the
flat was not being left totally unattended for more than a few
days at a time and importantly my mail and any messages could
be picked up sometimes earlier than I might have done so myself."
35. Mrs Main said that her daughter's personal
mail, including bills and bank statements, had always been sent,
and continued to be sent, to "our family home in Buckinghamshire,
where she still has her own bedroom and keeps her clothes and
possessions and her friendship group still resides". She
commented that none of her children paid rent when staying at
the family home. Mrs Main added that her daughter was now living
for the majority of her time in London, and the rest of her time
was still spent in Beaconsfield.
36. Mrs Main said that her daughter's giving
of the St Albans address to Companies House was "a genuine
mistake on her part, which has now been rectified". The
reason that she had given the flat address was that she had been
asked by her managing director for a mailing address for some
documents to be sent urgently for signature. As she had been expecting
to stay at the flat for the following few days she gave the flat
address. Her daughter had been unaware of the official nature
that giving the address of the flat would mean and it had simply
been a response to the question of where she was staying in the
particular week. Mrs Main said that she had been "completely
unaware of her decision and indeed would not have agreed to it".
Her daughter had been unaware of any implications of giving such
an address and, indeed, with all other documentation (such as
bank accounts, car insurance, etc) being sent to the family home
in Buckinghamshire, "she recognises that it was a mistake
on her part and has corrected it".
37. Mrs Main said that she "checked by
phone on whether it was possible for any of my children to stay
at my constituency home with the parliamentary Fees Office at
the time, and I was advised that it was within the spirit of the
rules as expressed within the Green Book.
At no point was
I given any indication of time limits on her stay. I was aware
that my setup was not unusual, and that many other MPs also had
older children living in their second home. My daughter has no
financial interest in the property. She has spent variable and
decreasing amounts of time in the flat and has now left completely
which was always her intention".
38. Mrs Main said that as the flat was neither
her own or her daughter's main residence, it qualified for 10%
relief on council tax. She noted that council tax on Members'
second homes was an allowable expense. Mrs Main said that she
had received the discount "in accordance with the forms
I received from the local authority, which asked if this was my
main home, which it was not, and asked whether we had a main home
elsewhere on which we paid full council tax, which we did. As
such, as the owner of this property, which was my second home,
I was entitled to receive a 10% Council Tax discount".
She added that the property was not the main home of any other
person, and was not regarded as such. She commented, "Clearly
there cannot be any personal gain from this arrangement, I paid
90% of the council tax and claimed the exact amount. If I had
paid 100% of the council tax I would have claimed 100%".
39. Mrs Main said that she could prove "through
comprehensive hard copy diary entries, tallying with mileage claims
some of the nights spent in my second home. But at other times,
when I did not claim for mileage expenses incurred, I have less
'proof' of my travel arrangements between my homes."
She said that, where her flat was situated in a small block of
four, each with their own front door, all three of the other flats
were rented out and had changed hands, sometimes on several occasions,
since she originally purchased her flat. She added, "However,
local people and organisations have publicly supported my claim
that I try to work 100% for my constituency (see newspaper cutting).
I am renowned for my hard work, well known
and frequently seen in St Albans."
Mrs Main reiterated that she also spent "a significant
amount of time in my constituency staying over and attending events/familiarising
myself with the constituency and meeting people, chatting to local
police etc this type of activity is absolutely vital to ensuring
I am fully grounded in all the issues and priorities affecting
my constituency. You cannot absorb this sort of information by
sitting in a casework surgery or simply being a dignitary at a
function". She added that "All information provided
shows the absolute bare minimum amount of time I can demonstrate
I spent in my second home, but as I did not expect to have to
'prove' my presence in St Albans
I cannot give 'proof'
of the other times, however I have estimated
this to be of the order of upwards of 20 nights per year,
plus many other times when the flat has
been necessary for use during the day (for eating/changing/resting
between numerous diverse functions, catching up on surgery casework
, making telephone surgeries or liaising with my office.)"
40. Mrs Main enclosed with her letter copies
of the claims she had made against the ACA for her St Albans apartment
for each financial year since she was elected.
She also set out her total ACA claims for each of the financial
years from 2005-06 to 2007-08, and these are reproduced in the
||Total ACA claim (£)
41. Mrs Main said that her food claims were "for
my sole use". She commented, "Food as per paragraph
3.11.1 (other food) in the Green Book, was for reasonable additional
costs away from my main home and was not as much as I actually
incur whilst eating away from my main home. During a typical seven
day week, I usually do not spend more than one or two evenings
with my family in Buckinghamshire when meals are available and,
as such, incur significant food bills/meals bills". She
did not have any receipts for food bills as, according to the
Green Book, these were not required as supporting documents for
42. Mrs Main believed that her "extremely
busy" diary and her "heavy work schedule which
frequently runs from early morning to late evening reflects the
necessity of my maintaining a second home in St Albans. I believe
these details show that my second home represents value for money.
Without my second home, I would not be able to function at the
level that I currently do, in service of my constituents. Even
if rules are altered with regard to expenses for second homes
I shall at all times continue to endeavour to maintain my home
in St Albans as long as I serve as the Member of Parliament, as
I believe I cannot carry out my duties without it".
She repeated that she had undertaken 569 individual activities,
meetings and engagements over the past three full tax years. The
breakdown of these activities which she provided is set out in
the following table:
|Year||Number of engagements
||5-6 weeks out due to back operation
43. Mrs Main also said that, prior to her election, she had
been selected as the candidate in 2002, and as such had no constituency
base. She had needed to commute for three years as she worked
to win the seat and in effect shadow and learn the role of a Member.
She commented, "Apart from sometimes being late for functions
or unable to accept them due to time issues re the motorway, I
regularly had to wash and change between functions in the chairman's
home or local toilets as well as eating takeaways in my car or
local cafes. In order to ensure I could meet early and late deadlines
I had to leave far earlier than necessary
It was gruelling
and unsustainable and that was without any parliamentary duties
in the House, late sittings, etc. It was a tiring and frankly
chaotic existence which wrecked our family time and it is not
a life I could even envisage sustaining as the elected Member
which is why I elected to have a home in St Albans not London".
Mrs Main added that, had she not chosen to have a home in
St Albans "the complex multiple scheduling I operate means
my ability to work would be severely compromised and I would have
to undertake to do fewer functions which would obviously not serve
my constituents as well as I could ."
44. Mrs Main summarised the position regarding
her use of the St Albans apartment in the following terms: "I
stay in the flat and use it when I need to be in St Albans on
constituency business which I fulfil assiduously, often until
a late hour. I not only use the flat to stay over which is vital
but also as a base for eating/changing between numerous diverse
functions, catching up on surgery casework, making telephone surgeries
or liaising with my office etc, my diary confirms the amount of
time I spend in St Albans."
45. As to consultations with the House authorities
about her arrangements, Mrs Main said that she had sought advice
from the Department of Finance and Administration, and the Green
Book regarding these, and had been told that they were in order.
She said that these consultations had been conducted over the
telephone as suggested in the Green Book, and she was not aware
which if any of the calls had been formally logged.
46. I wrote again to Mrs Main on 25 June.
I asked how old her daughter was when she was staying in the flat,
whether she was financially dependent on Mrs Main at that time,
for an estimate of the period during which she was using the apartment
and, in each financial year of that period, how many nights her
daughter stayed there, and if either Mrs Main or her daughter
could confirm why her daughter needed to stay at the St Albans
apartment during this time. I also asked Mrs Main if she could
give me an estimate of the number of nights a year she believed
she had spent in her family home. I noted that I had seen from
her letter that she had said: "My work life means I spend
little time in my family home." However, earlier in that
paragraph, she had said: "I spend most of the other nights
of the week in my main home in Beaconsfield
elsewhere in her letter she had estimated that she spent "upwards
of 20 nights per year" in her St Albans apartment. I
asked Mrs Main if she could help me to reconcile these statements,
taking account of the definition of a main home in the Green Book.
47. Mrs Main responded on 29 June.
She said that her daughter Claire had been 24 years old in 2006
when she started spending some time at Mrs Main's request in the
St Albans flat. Her daughter was not financially dependent on
her, but she was at that time living as a family member, not paying
rent, in Mrs Main's Beaconsfield home where she had her own room
and facilities. Mrs Main added that "this arrangement
was ongoing and not expected to change". Mrs Main said
that her Beaconsfield home "is a substantial six bedroomed
family property in proximity (10 minute walking distance) to the
Beaconsfield train station with its excellent commuter services
into London which is where my daughter works and had worked during
the entire period." Mrs Main said that her daughter "spent
times in Beaconsfield when it suited her, and when I was principally
at home for family times such as Christmas, Easter etc she also
spent time with her boyfriend who has his own flat in London."
She estimated that allowing for holidays, and for periods spent
in Beaconsfield and elsewhere when staying in the flat, her daughter
had spent typically no more than three nights in a week in the
flat starting in 2006, and that this had decreased to "a
more typical" two nights a week or less. She had ceased
staying in the flat in May 2009. Mrs Main repeated what she had
said in her previous letter
that her daughter had stayed with her in a sporadic fashion with
some periods when she was not there at all. She said, "The
total number of nights are hard to calculate but I estimate it
to be between 95 and 100 nights
48. Mrs Main said that her daughter "did
not need to stay in the flat as she had a home in Beaconsfield
where she lived without paying rent as a family member and that
was ongoing, as previously indicated and convenient for her job
and travel by train into London." Mrs Main said that
it was she who felt the arrangement by which her daughter stayed
in St Albans "would not only assist me in my busy role
by ensuring that I could carry out my duties as fully and as frequently
as I wished to in St Albans with the limited diary time available
without worrying about the need to tackle necessary household
chores or employ a cleaner, but also it helped me to have occasional
companionship and family support when I see so little of my family."
Mrs Main said that she had consulted the Fees Office about
various issues concerning her St Albans flat, and in those conversations
she had been told that "only spouses and children"
were allowed to share the second home. She also said that at no
point was she given any indication from the Fees Office in their
advice that the age of her children or frequency of staying was
a consideration or limiting factor, nor did the rules covering
ACA state anything to that effect. Mrs Main reiterated her previous
comments that her daughter had supported her by undertaking, whilst
staying there, to do her cleaning, bed changing, and laundry,
etc., had checked for mail and messages, and had ensured the flat
did not sit unattended for security reasons during any of her
personal family holiday periods.
49. Mrs Main said that, as she had previously
stated, she spent all other nights when not in St Albans in her
main home in Beaconsfield, with obvious exceptions such as holidays/social
events, occasional business visits, and "on less than
ten occasions in four years the need for overnight stays in London
associated with train/travel disruption meaning I was unable to
get home after parliamentary duties." The spreadsheets
she had previously supplied
showed her stays in St Albans that she could "prove".
She said that these showed that in 2006-07 she had made a minimum
of 66 overnight stays plus an estimated up to 20 additional nights
for year totalling 86 nights (plus an additional day usage) despite
having over 5 weeks off duties due to a serious back operation.
For 2007-08, the data showed a minimum of 69 nights plus an estimated
up to 20 additional nights totalling 89 nights (plus additional
day usage), and for 2008-09 a minimum of 80 nights plus an estimated
up to 20 additional nights totalling 100 nights (plus additional
day usage). Mrs Main commented, "If these figures are
placed together, then the time I spend or would expect to spend
in my main home would be in the region of 265 nights in any one
year not taking into account deductions for any periods spent
away on family holidays, which typically would average about four
weeks holiday time spread through the year, or other brief work-related
absences as outlined above." Mrs Main also clarified
the expression "upwards of 20 nights" which she
had used in her letter of 22 June
with reference to an estimate of the additional non-diarised dates
when she was in St Albans. She said that it should have read "up
to 20 nights".
50. Mrs Main said that her statement "my
work life means I spend little time in my family home"
referred to "the amount of day time or
'waking time' during a working week when
I would expect to be able to join in with family meals, and see
I had hoped that the statement referring to
'my work life' had made it clear I was
referring to day time before 9pm-11.30pm." She
reiterated that when the House was sitting she commuted by train,
often early in the morning, worked the hours needed on parliamentary
duties which she said were governed by the House sitting times,
"after which I do indeed return, often at a late hour
to our main home, where my family lives, to stay overnight
for the estimated 265 plus nights as outlined above".
As to her arrangements when the House was not sitting, Mrs Main
commented, "When the House is not sitting, my travel and
work pattern alters and I spend the time I need to in my constituency
carrying out my duties, travelling to my constituency by car and
staying over there as shown in the spreadsheets, but at all other
times during the hours available to me I stay and sleep at our
main home with the obvious exceptions for times away on holidays
51. I wrote to Mrs Main again on 8 July.
I said that I had now completed the work on her diary in respect
of her overnight stays in St Albans, I noted that, whilst her
diaries indicated the days on which she had engagements in her
constituency, the information I needed to establish related to
the number of nights she had spent at her St Albans apartment.
For that purpose, the record of a constituency engagement in the
evening, or first thing in the morning, although not conclusive,
might in my view reasonably suggest an overnight stay in St Albans.
In a number of instances, however, it was not clear from the printout
of her diaries how the engagements she had listed corroborated
her statements about nights spent at her constituency property;
nor in some cases was it clear whether the engagement had been
of a parliamentary character rather than personal or party political.
I sent her a series of questions designed to clarify these points.
52. Mrs Main replied on 21 July.
She said that her constituents expected her to have a home in
her constituency and be seen about not always as the "special
guest". She was expected to support businesses, go to
local cultural events, to frequent local shops and restaurants
and to be able to "share their concerns by actually spending
time being local and part of the community." Mrs Main
said that, in order to serve her constituents fully, it was essential
that she learned "everything about my constituency, keep
continuously up to date on: local vandalism/litter/graffiti/fly-tipping
hotspots, road and road surface issues, waste collection services
and associated issues, river water abstraction/flooding/riparian
problems/gulley clearance, speeding/pollution/light phasing alterations/junction
problems, planning applications, train/station issues, bus shelter
sitings, mobile phone mast sites and locations, street lighting
and safety issues, shops/business closures, the appearance of
our tourist attractions, buses, disabled access, road signage,
the viability of our market, noises/nuisance emanating late at
night from licensed premises particularly if a licence extension
is being sought etc and indeed all the issues and concerns facing
my constituents, which is why I regularly stayed over in my flat."
53. Mrs Main said that "as reflects the
more usual role of a modern MP I certainly do not just concern
myself simply with House duties and formal events but all of the
above issues and many more and my residents certainly expect this
of me as my post bag and phone calls to my office confirm."
Referring to her entry on the website theyworkforyou.com, Mrs
Main said that she ranked highly for her duties in the House with
debates, questions etc, but her constituents also expected to
get a 100% service from her at a local level. Mrs Main said, "They
regard me as their voice and champion
" and that
she was expected to have an informed view on all the issues she
had outlined. Her constituents often required detailed letters
of support or objection from her, and only when she had satisfied
herself as to the issues involved would she write letters to the
Council. Mrs Main said her constituents "do not expect
me to say that it is the duty of the Council, or tell them to
contact their local councillor regarding these issues. Many times
they have felt unhappy with the response from the Council and
they look to me to try to move things forward or to provoke a
more positive response and they expect me to be informed."
54. Mrs Main said that she "always tried
to have some lightly diarised days to give myself flexibility
and leave time to do the research I need and formulate my response
to the information I have gained". She "always
responded to all major consultations
Clearly, it is impossible
to complete a one hundred page multi-option document referring
to various specific parts of the district in an informed manner
if I had not undertaken in my non diarised time to walk around
the various areas etc.". She did not completely fill
up her diary "to allow time for such research and note
taking" before she sent in a "comprehensive response
or before, on planning issues, I decide to add support or otherwise
to residents' concerns". Inevitably, because she believed
in being freely available to her constituents and well informed
on their behalf, not all the work that she undertook within her
constituency on parliamentary business was necessarily diarised
in her paper diaries, from which she had taken details of events.
Mrs Main said that her paper diary was augmented by diaries kept
within her Westminster Office, and although she attempted to keep
both diaries in synchronisation that was not necessarily possible
or necessary. Also, Mrs Main told me that there would be "dynamic
additions that are just phoned through to me based on requests
coming into my Westminster office regarding constituency issues.
For example, there are frequent additions to diary events on the
day and people will ring me to see if I can meet up with them
at short notice to chat about something of concern. Indeed, just
walking about my constituency particularly in the city centre
often generates several such encounters." The Muslim
community, for example, would frequently see if they could meet
informally outside the mosque hours "for a chat"
if she was around. Mrs Main said that she did not enter these
informal short-notice arrangements in her diary as they were not
55. Mrs Main continued, "Given the fact
that the majority of your questions are asked regarding dates
over the past three years, it is clearly difficult if not impossible
for me to recall every event on every day in light of the alternative
but necessary activities I undertake
I do not keep a diary
in the sense of making a daily record of everything I have done
only what I had planned to do or have committed to as formal engagements
I have provided some answers
of what I believe occurred and ask you
to bear in mind my approach to fact finding, site visits and follow
up work. These activities can take up a great deal of time and
need to be done in a time appropriate way".
Mrs Main added that the time she spent at the flat in St Albans
"will also cover preparing case work notes or drafting
responses for my staff and other parliamentary work that I undertake
wherever I can. I do not have my own constituency office, merely
limited use of the Conservative Association area office for which
I pay the St Albans Conservative Association."
56. I wrote to Mrs Main on 23 July saying that,
on the basis of the work she had done on the time she had spent
in St Albans, I aimed to produce a schedule which would summarise
her pattern of overnight stays there.
I said that, while the diaries and the further information she
had given me were inevitably estimates, I hoped that she and I
would be able to agree that they provided the best estimate of
her likely overnight stays in each of the years in question.
57. I wrote again to Mrs Main on 6 August.
I told her that I had now completed the diary analysis on the
basis of the material she had sent me on 21 July,
and that, having studied her diaries, I considered that they helped
to support the estimates she had given me of her overnight stays
in her St Albans home. I also told her that, given the uncertainties,
I did not consider that there were sufficient grounds to add to
these estimates the additional undiarised 20 nights a year which
she had suggested. I attached to my letter the table set out below
as summarising the figures which I proposed to use as a best estimate
of her stays in her constituency home. I also said that I considered
it would be helpful for me to approach her daughter, Ms Claire
Tonks, about the complaint.
||Nights spent in constituency home
|2009-10 (to end of June)
* Includes back operation and 5 weeks bed rest
58. I wrote to Ms Tonks on 6 August
and enclosed with my letter extracts
from Mrs Main's letters to me of 22 June,
29 June, and 21 July.
I asked her why she had stayed in her mother's flat in St Albans
from 2006 to 2009; for an estimate of the number of nights she
had stayed there for each financial year in the period; how many
nights she spent there at a time; how often she stayed there with
her mother; and why the arrangement came to an end in May 2009.
I also asked what costs she met when she was staying at the flat;
whether her stays at the flat were solely for the purpose of undertaking
household chores and how regularly she performed them; why she
used one of her mother's car parking spaces even when she was
not herself staying in the flat; how she divided her time between
the flat and any other places where she lived and worked; whether
it was true that, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, her
name appeared on the electoral roll for the St Albans address,
and if so, exactly how this came about; and why the St Albans
address was notified to Companies House on two occasions, how
the mistake referred to by her mother had came about, and what
she did to correct it.
59. Ms Tonks replied on 18 August.
She said that "as a family we knew Mum was finding living
and working away from the main family home for long hours quite
tiring and stressful.
Because we were concerned about her
work life balance, we all wanted to support her and we discussed
what we could do."
She added that her mother had injured her back, that it was still
not completely resolved, found heavy jobs difficult, and needed
rest. Because her mother was "finding the busy job of
being an MP and the day to day management of the flat in St Albans
tiresome to cope with
she asked if I would help out."
Ms Tonks commented, "Obviously I work full time and certainly
was not being 'employed' as her cleaner but I did feel I could
help her out in whatever way she needed which certainly included
managing the upkeep of the flat for her and any other occasional
chores she might want sorted just as I would at our home in Beaconsfield."
60. Ms Tonks told me that her mother had told
her that she had checked the arrangement out with the Fees Office
and had been told that spouses and children were "ok to
be in the 2nd home". She had therefore "willingly
agreed" to spend some time in St Albans. Because she
worked in London the commute from St Albans was not a problem
for her, but she "would not have stayed there if I had
been told it was not allowable as I had no need to be in St Albans."
She added that her mother "was also aware that many other
MPs had their children of various ages staying in their second
homes so neither of us believed our arrangement was out of the
ordinary and neither Mum nor myself attempted to hide the arrangement
61. Ms Tonks said that her mother was "extremely
busy and works long hours", so she helped her by doing
all the necessary household chores in the flat when needed, such
as, the laundry, bed making, general cleaning up etc. She commented
that her mother "never had to do those things and always
left them for me to do". Ms Tonks also said that, because
she could be flexible in her job, it meant that she "could
also agree to be present in the flat if Mum needed me to be."
So she arranged to be in the flat if her mother had a delivery,
such as a replacement washing machine, and undertook to be present
when her mother had "paid personally for the flat to have
a professional 'spring
clean' which covered tough jobs such
as oven cleaning and window cleaning."
She had also overseen the fitting of a new stair carpet and "sorted
out the putting up of curtains etc." She also said that
she "helped out by doing some decorating with
[her stepfather] when he came over to sort
out maintenance in the flat". When
she was able to be in the flat she had picked up any messages
or mail if her mother had asked her to, and forwarded it on, and
collected cleaning and heavy shopping. She commented, "I
was company for her if we overlapped our stays, it freed up her
time and enabled her to get on with what she needed to do in St
Albans and allowed her time for her paperwork and to frankly get
some rest. Because neither of us were there full time sometimes
our stays overlapped, but sometimes I only knew she had been there
when I hadn't due to things in the fridge or flowers etc in the
flat." Ms Tonks added that the flat did not have any
outside space, so in the summer she had preferred to spend the
majority of her time in Beaconsfield "as we have a large
garden with a swimming pool". It was also where her social
life was based, consequently "weekends were typically
spent either in London or Beaconsfield".
62. Ms Tonks said that she could not recall how
many nights she had stayed in the St Albans flat "as I
simply wasn't counting". She estimated that "at
its most frequent it may have been that I stayed in the flat a
maximum of three to four nights in a particular week, but then
some weeks I was not there at all or I only stayed maybe one or
two nights to get some things done for Mum." However,
she added that the time that she had been able stay over in St
Albans had been "decreasing to a couple of nights a week
at most as I spent increasing amounts of time with my boyfriend
who only lives three miles from where I work in London".
She had told her mother that she "felt I could not keep
up the arrangement for much longer, my own job was getting more
time intensive and it was getting difficult for me to travel to
and from St Albans to London". She had wanted to move
in with her boyfriend full time and "we wanted to buy
a flat together near to where we both work, so it would have also
been too difficult financially to then keep going over to St Albans."
As her own circumstances had changed, "one or two nights
in any week had become the norm. Mum and I had discussed this
and she said she would have to get a cleaner and
[Ms Tonks' stepfather] agreed to try and
help out more." Ms Tonks added that,
in the end, the arrangement "ended overnight due to the
media firestorm that engulfed my Mum".
63. Ms Tonks said that when she stayed at the
flat she bought all her own food. She had also used her own mobile
for phone calls. Her car was usually, but not always, left in
St Albans because she did not need it in London. She was not a
frequent driver, and could have had use of one of her parent's
cars if she had needed it. She said that "it was helpful
to have use of a car in St Albans however so that I could sometimes
drive back to Beaconsfield from the St Albans end if needed, there
is no easy train route to do that journey. I used it mostly to
go and get the bulky shopping from the supermarket".
Ms Tonks said that she "wanted to support my Mum by being
able to vote for her if possible". Because her time "was
split in varying amounts between Beaconsfield, London and St Albans
I nominated to vote in St Albans so I could vote for my Mum."
64. Ms Tonks said that "the Companies
House registration was a complete naive mistake on my part and
my mum was totally unaware of it until it featured in the Telegraph
worked for a very small company and instead of a pay rise they
had agreed to make her a director. She had been asked "for
a contactable address
but no mention was made of registering
it at Companies House". At the time, she was in St Albans
for a few days, "so I gave the flat as the address and
this address was just carried over by admin in the office for
the registration. I didn't know it had any implication and I could
easily have said Beaconsfield but since either Mum or I would
have popped in and out of the flat fairly regularly at this period
it just seemed as easy to say St Albans as a contactable address."
Ms Tonks said that this had now been corrected as she had "notified
my company immediately after this error was pointed out that the
flat was not to be considered my permanent address and that the
only address that should be considered permanent was my main home
in Beaconsfield and they notified Companies House to correct the
listing. My other mail such as bank statements, phone bills etc
were all still going to Beaconsfield and they still do."
65. Ms Tonks concluded by stating that "at
no point did I seek to gain advantage from being in the flat.
I thought I was there to help out, live as a family member and
support my Mum".
66. I replied to Ms Tonks on 2 September.
I said that I appreciated that she did not have precise information
about the number of nights she had spent in St Albans, but, subject
to any further points she might wish to make, I proposed to proceed
on the assumption that she had spent between two and three nights
a week in St Albans, with three nights more usual at the beginning
of the arrangement and two nights in the final year. I said that
I understood from her that the arrangement ended in May 2009,
and asked, for the sake of completeness, for her best estimate
of the month in 2006 when the arrangement started. I also said
that, as I understood it, her evidence was that she acted, in
effect, as her mother's part-time housekeeper for the St Albans
flat and that she was there for no other purpose. I said that
it would appear, however, that she spent more nights in the St
Albans apartment than did her mother. While I noted her evidence
of the chores Ms Tonks had performed in St Albans, I said it would
be helpful to know why she needed to spend so much time there
and why it was necessary for her to stay there overnight on so
67. Ms Tonks responded on 10 September.
She said that she estimated that she had started staying in St
Albans on a regular basis "from the end of August or early
September 2006". As to the amount of time she had spent
in St Albans, she said that, having been told that she was allowed
to stay in the flat after her mother had checked this out with
the Fees Office, "I simply sorted out my own business
and personal life around the help I had agreed to give her. I
certainly did not think I had some time-limited schedule to follow."
Ms Tonks said that her mother "felt the arrangement had
helped her enormously and the flat was always up and ready whether
she stayed overnight or used it in the day for working etc".
She added, "Sometimes she
and I would try to overlap purposely in order to have some family
time together, perhaps go out for a meal and then our evenings
would not have to be taken up with routine household jobs. But
I do after all work full time in quite a demanding job. I did
not feel any need to rush back late in an evening and get all
the chores over and done with. I did them in my own time and at
my convenience. My mother told me to stay in the flat when it
suited me to do this housework or when she needed me to be there,
and that is what I did."
68. Meanwhile, on 3 September, I had written
to the Director of Operations at the Department of Resources,
seeking his views on the matter.
In particular I sought his comments and advice, taking account
of the rules of the House, on the acceptability of the Member
maintaining and claiming for an apartment in St Albans when her
main home was in Beaconsfield, within 20 miles' distance from
her constituency, and on the acceptability of the use of the apartment
by Mrs Main's adult daughter, taking account of the fact that
she seemed to have spent more time there than the Member and that
no allowance seemed to have been made for her living costs.
69. The Director of Strategic Projects replied
to me on 11 September.
On the acceptability of a Member maintaining and claiming for
an apartment in St Albans when her main home was in Beaconsfield,
within 20 miles of her constituency, he said that "Essentially
the rule was (and is) that eligible Members could claim for overnight
stays either at a home within 20 miles of the Palace of Westminster,
or at a home within the constituency (or within 20 miles of the
constituency boundary)." There had never been a rule
that an additional home in the constituency was not permitted
if the main home was within 20 miles of the constituency. Mrs
Main was therefore "within the rules of the House to claim
for an additional property in her constituency while her main
home was in Beaconsfield."
70. On the use of the apartment by Mrs Main's
adult daughter, the Director said that, 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. He continued, "However, where rent was
not paid, there was no rule which governed who might or might
not live in, or stay at, a home on which ACA was claimed."
He noted that Mrs Main had said in her letter to me of 22 June
that her daughter made no monetary contribution to the cost of
the flat. From this he inferred that Mrs Main had never received
any income from her daughter for her occupation of the property.
Although Mrs Main had made it clear that she received certain
services from her daughter, he was "not sure whether this
should be regarded as a consideration for her occupation to which
a monetary value could be ascribed."
71. The Director also said that the Green Book
made it clear that Members could not claim under the ACA for the
living costs of anyone other than themselves. The Director said
that it appeared that Mrs Main had not abated the costs which
she charged to the House in respect of her daughter's occupation
of the property. He added that, in his view, "it would
have been appropriate for her to do so in respect of claims for
items, such as utility charges, which could be attributable partly
to her daughter's occupation." The question of mortgage
interest was in his view a different one, "since its level
was unaffected by Mrs Main's daughter's occupation of the apartment."
72. I wrote to Mrs Main on 11 September to bring
her up to date on the evidence I had received so far, and to invite
any comments she might wish to make on it at that stage.
I said that I would need to come to my own conclusion on the advice
given on behalf of the Department of Resources, and would do so
once I had all the relevant information.
73. Mrs Main replied to me on 15 September.
She commented that "the position as stated by the Fees
Office about claiming for the second home exactly concurs with
advice I was given at the time which is why I have maintained
at all times that my arrangements were completely within the rules.
The advice about who may live or stay in the property is the same
as that given to me at the time. Because of the advice that I
received I told my daughter it was within the rules for her to
stay there and people have always been aware of my situation"
Mrs Main noted the Department's comments with regard to utility
bills, which in her view "could only refer to gas and
electricity since my water is not metered". She reiterated
that her daughter had met her own personal costs on food and phone
bills. Mrs Main said she "would find it extremely hard
to assess what, if any, portion of any gas or electricity utility
bill I should have considered abating given that I am often there
in the day even if I do not stay the night." Mrs Main
said that if her daughter had used appliances or machines for
vacuuming, "I do not understand how it would be possible
to calculate her 'personal usage' given that the chores would
have to be done anyway. In the winter I always have the heating
and hot water on a timed switch on for short periods each day
to keep the flat aired, warm and ready for my use and this would
occur whether anyone was there or not".
74. Mrs Main said that she found it "somewhat
puzzling" that the Department had questioned whether
her daughter's help around the flat should be seen as potentially
"receiving services". She commented, "As
a family we do not regard such mutual family support as 'services
rendered'." Mrs Main said that her daughter's companionship
and help were never seen in that light, "just as such
family help and support is not regarded in that 'commercial
light' in our main home where our family
members help out when needed." Mrs
Main said that she thought that most people would think that it
would be somewhat strange if charging for a cleaner and claiming
that cost from her expenses was regarded as preferable to her
daughter "acting like a family member and helping out
around the house." Her husband had also done "significant
maintenance" in the flat but she "would not consider
Nowhere in the Green Book was this "family support scenario"
outlined as a matter for consideration, nor had she been given
any guidance to that effect. She concluded by reiterating that
she had, at all times "tried to work fully within the
rules and guidance as set out in the Green Book and with the advice
of the Fees Office."
75. I replied to Mrs Main on 1 October.
I told her that I had decided, in the light of her response, that
it would be helpful in resolving the complaint if I could take
oral evidence from her daughter, and was in contact with her to
make the necessary arrangements.
76. I interviewed Mrs Main's daughter, Ms Claire
Tonks, on 26 October.
I emphasised that my inquiry was not about her, but about whether
her mother was within the rules of the House in the way she used
the St Albans flat. Ms Tonks agreed that she had stayed in her
mother's flat in St Albans from about August or September 2006
to May 2009 for a number of nights most weeks; that she had initially
stayed an average of three to four nights a week, but that this
decreased to one or two nights a week towards the end; that she
had stayed overnight in order to help with chores and to be a
companion to her mother; that she undertook a range of tasks,
some requiring her to be at the flat during the day, and others
that she did after work in the evening; that she usually left
her car in St Albans because the parking space was available and
she used the car mostly for shopping trips, or sometimes so that
she could drive back to Beaconsfield; and that she gave the St
Albans address to her boss but did not know it would be used on
the directors' registration form sent to Companies House.
77. Ms Tonks was not sure exactly when in 2006
the arrangement had started. Her mother had been finding it difficult
working the hours she did and splitting her time between St Albans
and Beaconsfield, and "she always liked to come back to
Beaconsfield at night". Her mother had said "it
might be nice for me to spend some time in St Albans and help
out in exchange for being able to live there," although
she later noted that the word "exchange" implied
a more formal relationship than existed: "I was simply
supporting my mother." Her stepfather was also concerned
and her mother had not been feeling well. She commented, "It
just seemed like a nice thing for me to do". When the
arrangement started, she had no real idea of how much time she
would spend in St Albans, or how long the arrangement would last.
She commented, "It wasn't anything we discussed. It was
supposed to be a flexible arrangement. My mum didn't always know
if I was there any more than I knew if she was there".
She had "a feeling we expected it to be for a few nights
per week. I never wanted to spend too long there. If my mum was
there I hoped we could go out for dinner or go to the pub or have
supper together. But if I had stayed at St Albans I would have
had no social life. I would have been on my own. I never wanted
to be there full time."
78. Ms Tonks said that her mother knew that she
and her boyfriend wanted to buy a house. She said, "So
as soon as he got a base in London I wanted to move in with him.
He lives three miles from my office. I wanted to be there. I didn't
want to be at St Albans." The arrangement "was
always going to be temporary, my living at home after I had gone
travelling. I moved back home to get on my feet." It
had nonetheless lasted longer than she thought it might.
79. Ms Tonks agreed that the arrangement by which
she stayed in St Albans was a weekday arrangement; she did not
stay there at the weekend. She spent more time in Beaconsfield
over the summer because there was no garden in St Albans. She
commented, "There were periods of time when I spent more
time in St Albans than in Beaconsfield purely because of what
was going on with my mum. But overall I spent more time at Beaconsfield
in the summer". She had usually commuted between the
flat and her work in London; the journey was marginally shorter
from St Albans than from Beaconsfield. She did not have a season
ticket, but bought daily tickets.
80. Ms Tonks said that she had a wardrobe in
the flat and in Beaconsfield as well, so she had clothes in both
places. Her mother kept items such as a hairdryer in St Albans.
When she came to St Albans she would bring some things with her,
but she also washed and left some clothes there. She had a laptop
that she would generally keep at St Albans "because we
had a computer at the family home. I kept a couple of books there
too. In terms of personal things I had a couple of family photos
but not much else". She had not decorated her room, but
"left it as it was".
81. Ms Tonks said that she had been at the flat
"a handful of times" during the day to open it
for maintenance and deliveries. She commented, "I am lucky
with my work, that I can work from home during the day, if my
project allows". She added, "Occasionally on
a Saturday I might be in if my mum was in the high street. For
things like the delivery of the washing machine my mum might ask
me to be there only if my stepdad couldn't be there. It would
be unusual." She said that she would go shopping for
groceries for both her mother and herself. She would go to the
supermarket for bread and milk because "she would like
me to have those in the house". She would also keep the
fridge stocked with microwave meals, and would do this on a weekly
basis. She usually stopped off at a supermarket on her way home
82. Ms Tonks said that whether her mother ate
out on nights when she was at the flat depended on her engagements.
She commented, "Normally she would have either an appointment
starting about 9pm or she would get back very late and she would
want something light to eat when she got in. There was no routine
to her diary." As regards the scale of her mother's shopping
requirements, Ms Tonks commented, "I was trying to help
her in small ways at least. In my job I don't get home until 8
or 9pm so perhaps we would have a pub dinner or something."
83. Ms Tonks said that the flat had an en
suite bathroom attached to one of the bedrooms, a lounge and
kitchen. She had cleaned "as and when needed. It wasn't
heavy duty cleaning, just running the vacuum cleaner around to
keep it looking nice." Her mother had arranged a professional
deep clean because she was "more particular than me
in her mind it all looked a bit grubby."
84. Ms Tonks said that her stepfather had stayed
at the flat "a couple of times". Her boyfriend
had also stayed a couple of times, on each occasion with the permission
of her mother. Ms Tonks did not know how often she had stayed
overnight at the flat when her mother was there. She commented,
"She liked to go back to Beaconsfield at 10.30 or 11pm
when the M25 cleared. She was at the flat more frequently than
she stayed the night." As to why Ms Tonks needed to be
there three nights a week to support her mother when Mrs Main
was there on average only one night a week, Ms Tonks commented,
"My mum didn't suggest spending time there so I could
do the cleaning. I wasn't there as the cleaner. It was to make
the place more lived in. We both thought it was okay for me to
be there. We had no reason to think otherwise. For me it didn't
make much difference where I lived. But my mum liked the flat
feeling lived in."
85. As to whether Ms Tonks had herself gained
a benefit from the arrangement, she commented, "I suppose
I got a benefit in the same way as I got a benefit out of anything
at home. I am lucky to be able to live at home and I used it as
an extension of my home". It "wasn't the point"
that it gave her a chance to live in a place largely of her own
rather than live in the family home. She said, "It did
feel quite nice to have some peace and quiet some times but that
wasn't the reason for being there. It was a natural consequence
of my being there."
86. Ms Tonks said that the number of nights she
had spent in St Albans dwindled from three to four to one to two
a week because her boyfriend had moved to east London, where she
worked so she "started to spend all my time with him then".
That had happened "about a year and a bit ago. His
job had moved to Buckinghamshire in the autumn of 2007 and I was
spending a lot of time there. Then he moved to London, and I pretty
much started living full time with him." The time she
spent in St Albans had tailed off from October 2007. She commented,
"I was still spending some time there but it was tricky
to be there very much." Ms Tonks said that her mother
was aware that she wanted to spend her time with her boyfriend
and that they wanted to get a house together. Ms Tonks accepted
that this might suggest that she could have undertaken her duties
in St Albans staying, say, only one night a week, but commented,
"we wouldn't have had time together".
87. As to why she had chosen to vote in St Albans,
Ms Tonks said that her mother had advised her that because her
time was split she could choose where to vote. She commented,
"I wanted to vote for my mum, so I registered in St Albans."
88. As to why she had given the St Albans address
as her "usual residential address" on a company
registration form she had signed on 7 March 2008, Ms Tonks commented,
"My boss is prepared to vouch that she asked me to give
the address to be used for documents in case the company got into
trouble. So I gave the St Albans address. At the time I was spending
time at the flat. That is where I was, so I gave that address
to her; it was where I was best contacted for documents. I now
think I shouldn't have done that. It was only when the Telegraph
got hold of it that I thought about it. All my bank and other
documents went to Beaconsfield." At the time when she
signed the document, in March 2008, Ms Tonks said that she "still
spent quite a few days at the flat. It was just one of those stupid
I asked Ms Tonks if she had noticed that the form asked for her
"usual residential address",
she said "I hadn't looked at [the
form]. I don't recall. I didn't feel any
reason not to use the address.
I could have given either
address. I can't recall reading 'usual
residential address'. I didn't pay enough
attention to the form".
89. On 2 November I wrote to Mrs Main asking
her for some final information.
I noted that I did not seem to have received some of the information
which I had asked her for in my letter of 17 June.
This was her estimate of the number of nights she had spent in
the St Albans apartment in 2005-06, together with any evidence
including diary entries on which she relied for this information;
and details of the claims she had made for food in each financial
year, and how she explained the amount claimed against the number
of nights spent in her flat. I also told Mrs Main that I had asked
the Department of Resources to clarify the rules on food claims
in the light of her letter of 22 June.
I also said that she might wish to note the Tenth Report of Session
2008-09 of the Committee on Standards and Privileges
which I believed was relevant to my consideration of the complaint
90. On 3 November I wrote to the Director of
Operations in the Department of Resources.
I asked whether Members' food claims under the rules should be
made only for food consumed when it was necessary to stay overnight
away from their main home in their residence funded by the Additional
Costs Allowance, or whether it was permissible for them to claim
for food consumed when they were spending a night away from their
main home, wherever its location.
91. The Director of Operations replied on 11
November. He said
that his interpretation of the position on food claims was that
Members whose main home was neither in the constituency nor in
London could receive an allowance in respect of expenses incurred
for overnight stays in London or overnight stays in the constituency.
This meant that there was a choice as to whether to establish
an additional home in the constituency or London, but having exercised
that choice the expenses incurred must be at that location, or
en route to that location, for them to be claimable. "So,
for Mrs Main her food expenses must be in relation to costs incurred
in St Albans where she had her additional home. The costs must
also be associated with an overnight stay." The Director
said that "On this last point, if asked, we would interpret
this such that the food purchases could be either side of an overnight
stay (i.e. stayed overnight Monday; food purchase for which the
costs were allowable would be either the Monday or Tuesday)."
92. The Director also said that in this context
both the Resolution of the House on ACA and the Green Book were
"somewhat opaque". He said that "mostly
Members would refer to the Green Book, which on the question of
food claims in July 2006 said:
"3.13.1 Examples of expenditure allowable
under the additional costs allowance
Other foodreasonable additional costs while
you are away from your main home."
The Director commented that he thought "it
is possible for a Member erroneously to infer from the text of
the Green Book the notion that food is claimable when he or she
was away from their main home providing the costs were necessarily
incurred for the purpose of performing his or her Parliamentary
duties. Paragraph 3.2.1 of the Green Book (Eligibility) would
also give this impression if read on its own, although it is clear
here that it would have to have been be in conjunction with an
93. Meanwhile, on 6 November the complainant,
Mr Harper, had written to me again.
With his letter he enclosed a copy of a press release issued by
Mrs Main on 5 November.
In his letter, Mr Harper argued that "Mrs Main's property
purchase was a property speculation, not a pre-requisite for fulfilling
her perception of her role as an MP" and that he quoted
figures to demonstrate there were other, more cost effective,
alternatives to meeting her requirements. I replied to Mr Harper
on 6 November saying that I would take account of the points he
had made if necessary in the course of my inquiry into his complaint.
94. Mrs Main responded to my letter of 2 November
on 11 November. She
said that prior to her election she had neither a home in the
constituency nor in London. She had not had a home in St Albans
before the flat was rented from 10 June 2005. Consequently, despite
health issues, she had had to spend a significant amount of time
on "long and tiring" commutes between those two
places and her family home in Beaconsfield, whilst carrying out
parliamentary duties and constituency duties. The flat had been
"let unfurnished and it took a few weeks allowing for
purchases and delivery of key items such as the beds and sofas
for me to move in fully." However she had managed to
have "a degree of occupancy"
from around 17 June 2005 when she "used the flat as a
base for getting changed, having a meal, catching up on paper
work between engagements etc."
95. Mrs Main said that she had done her best
to try to give details of her formal diary commitments, despite
a long period of time elapsing, and attached a table.
She added that she found it "somewhat unreasonable that
I am being asked to try and prove where I am at all times. As
an MP, particularly in a marginal seat I am expected to be seen
out and about by my constituents, to live and spend time with
them. I also value having spaces/flexibility within my diary to
speedily agree to pop in to view issues, or agree to meet up with
individual constituents, often at very short notice, not always
written down, and all of this is part of my role as the MP".
Mrs Main said that she knew, having discussed this matter with
colleagues, many of whom based themselves full time in London,
that "the frequency of use of my constituency home whilst
on purely official diarised duties was typical or even in excess
of many. It is clear that other Honourable Members also spent
time simply being in their constituencies and being part of the
community and expected their family to be able to do likewise.
This is all a vital part of community engagement but is difficult
to 'prove'. I continue to maintain that my use of my flat is more
frequent than my business diary confirms, both on number of nights
spent and also day visits."
96. Mrs Main reiterated that diary engagements
could not and did not reflect the only times she spent in her
flat in the course of her role as the Member for St Albans. She
said that her presence in St Albans was "indeed expected
as part of my role as MP and as a member of the community. I use
my flat for getting changed and ready for different events, having
meals, resting and working, all of which are vital for me to deliver
a good service to St Albans." Mrs Main said that she
had undertaken an average of at least 200 official engagements
per year. Apart from holiday weekends "there are very
few weekends a year where I am not engaged on the Friday evening,
the Saturday or the Sunday. My office records show I have contacted
and dealt with over 18,000 separate constituents, some on multiple
issues that have been raised by them
Being an MP is not
a 'family friendly'
9 to 5 Monday through Friday; it is often
a 7 day per week job with long hours and I pride myself in the
diligence that I apply to it."
97. Mrs Main said she had had a serious fall
and injury in February 2005, which resulted in a total severance
of her anterior cruciate ligament, and damage to cartilage in
her right knee. It also transpired that she had a herniated disc
in her back as a result of the fall but it took a year of severe
pain and progressively worsening symptoms for that positive diagnosis
of her condition and it resulted in the major operation on her
back in May 2006. "I still suffer periods of severe backache,
which makes prolonged standing difficult. My numerous engagements
and these health issues meant that I found my flat vital in order
to help me [to]
be able to carry out my duties and as I have previously stated
I used my flat regularly in the day well as staying overnight."
98. Mrs Main said that I might "wish
to consider the question as to where I was supposed to be in between
engagements, where could I work and catch up with paper work,
how was I supposed to rest with my back if I had nowhere to go
and how was I supposed to get changed or showered if I needed
to". She continued, "This is why regardless of
the new regulations that may now come into force under the Legg
review I shall have to maintain a base in St Albans as I cannot
have my main home in my constituency. We are a fortunate but not
a wealthy family and it will not be easy to do this. I already
commute into London, routinely getting back to our main home at
11.45 pm on Mondays and Tuesdays and 8.45 on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
I sit on three committees and often have a 9.15 start which means
I catch a train at 7.10 am so to spend the other days of the week
commuting on the M25 at all hours and living out of my car is
not reasonable or possible."
99. Mrs Main said that as she was a woman with
a husband whose own life and work was not centred in the constituency
and with a young child at school the "triangulation"
of maintaining her role in all three areas was quite difficult
and not family friendly, but it was made easier with support from
her family. At all times Mrs Main said, she had consulted the
Department of Finance and Administration for advice and guidance.
"I consider myself a law abiding citizen who as a new
Member of Parliament was anxious to ensure that I fully complied
with any rules and regulations surrounding the use of resources."
She reiterated that, to ensure she was fully complying with
the rules, "I rang up the DFA for advice and guidance
about any of my arrangements before I made any of them."
Mrs Main accepted that this advice and guidance was now being
questioned, but she drew my attention to Mr Speaker's note in
the front of the Green Books of April 2005 and June 2006 which
was in force until March 2009, and which stated:
"Members themselves are responsible for ensuring
that their use of allowances is above reproach. They should seek
advice in cases of doubt and read the Green Book with care. In
cases of doubt or difficulty about any aspect of the allowances
or how they can be used, please contact the Department of Finance
and Administration (DFA). The Members Estimate Committee, which
I chair, has recently restated the Department's authority to interpret
and enforce these rules."
100. Mrs Main said she had "fully complied
with that firm ruling that it was the Department's views and authority
I should seek and comply with." Consequently she had
"sought advice on my eligibility for renting/purchasing
the flat and my daughter's presence in the flat. If I had not
been given that guidance, I should have had to consider my options."
In her discussions at the time with the DFA she had "queried
if the age of my daughter was relevant and I was informed that
it was within the rules for my daughter to live or stay in the
second home as a non-renting family member."
101. Mrs Main said she noted my comments that
I considered that "the case on Mr McNulty's household"
might be relevant in some way to my consideration of her situation.
She commented, "I strongly maintain that this is not and
should not be the case. His case appeared to centre on his parents,
complete I assume with their possessions, living full time in
his second home since at least 2001. It appears they were treating
it completely as their own home, which Mr McNulty visited from
time to time and which they had no intention of leaving. It is
only reasonable to assume that they over a lifetime would have
had and maintained at their own expense a separate household.
If the house, funded by the ACA, had been sold by Mr McNulty logically
it would have meant they were then homeless and so needing to
take up accommodation at their own expense and move all their
102. Mrs Main said her situation was "very
different". Her daughter had "always lived at
our main home in a continuous fashion as part of the family unit,
except for the term times spent away as a student in
] before graduating in 2004. After
graduation Claire had, whilst living at home, undertaken a short
period of work experience
before travelling as planned with
a student friend to Australia in April 2005 for four months. She
then returned to our home to take up her current full time position
with [her employer].
At no time has she left to form her own household nor was she
expected to do so.
There was and is no time limit on my
children being able to stay at home." Mrs Main continued,
"I do not see any guidance from the DFA which suggests
that after a certain age older children must either leave, not
use or must be seen to contribute to the second home and as I
stated I clarified this with the DFA when I requested their guidance."
103. Mrs Main also said that her daughter "did
not live in St Albans full time, nor was she going to; in fact
her time spent there diminished". When her daughter was
not in St Albans or visiting her boyfriend "she could
and would at any time return to our main home where her possessions,
the majority of her clothes and our pets, including her own cat
Min were". Mrs Main said that her daughter's bedroom
in her main home "was decorated and personalised by her,
her mail was delivered there and her friendship group was centred
there. Other than her involvement with me as her mother her life
and work were not centred in any way on St Albans, nor could she
do anything in the flat with out my permission, whereas our main
home she treated as and regarded as her home and like her siblings
could do as she pleased."
104. Mrs Main said that her daughter "did
help me in various small ways by spending time in St Albans as
a family member, but I particularly wanted to have some family
time, support, and occasional companionship, which is why I checked
with the DFA if this was permissible before proceeding".
Her husband "supported me in my demanding role as the
Member for St Albans by giving up full time work and working from
our main home in order to look after their our youngest son."
He had "carried out many of the parenting roles that
as a mother I could no longer fulfil due to my busy scheduling
and long work hours on behalf of my constituents."
Mrs Main's daughter had been "there
in St Albans as my daughter and part of my family; there was no
additional cost to the taxpayer for my daughter to be there for
a few days at a time in order to support me and I maintain it
was fully within the rules and interpretation of the rules as
confirmed by the DFA in their response to yourself and given to
me at the time."
105. Mrs Main said that she had no details of
food receipts for the periods in question, "nor was I
required to have them". She said that, "in St
Albans, my daughter at all times paid for her own food and I paid
for mine when I was there.
The costs claimed reflect those
for my own meals, beverages (non-alcoholic) and food purchased
and eaten away from my
home during the course of my duties".
She drew my attention to the provision in section 3 of the Green
Book relating to "OTHER FOOD 'reasonable additional costs
while you are away from your main home'". She added,
"As has been proved by my extensive work schedule in St
Albans and taking into account my parliamentary duties, other
than going to sleep, I spend very little time actually in my main
home particularly at any family meal times when the House was
sitting. I need to eat at reasonable meal-times which for me therefore
means eating meals outside our main home." Mrs Main commented
that the figure I had given for her total food claim in 2007-08
was incorrect. She had noticed an error in the spreadsheet that
she used for expense reconciliation, and had contacted the Department
of Finance and Administration in 2008 to make them aware of it.
She had repaid the sum due in 2009. She said that between 5th
April 2008 and 20th May 2008 she had claimed £300 for food.
She "then took a personal decision not to claim food after
this date although clearly I have still incurred significant daily
costs for eating away from my main home since."
106. Mrs Main concluded by noting that in my
original letter to her,
I had drawn her attention to the Speaker's introduction on the
Department's authority in guidance and interpretation of the rules
in the relevant Green Book, which she said had "been pivotal
in my decision making. I am aware that the Fees Office, in their
letter to you, confirmed that it was within the rules for me to
claim for the second home and that there was no ruling which prohibited
who could stay, or live in the second home."
107. I replied to Mrs Main on 12 November.
I noted that, as she herself had recognised, the summary of her
diary appointments for 200506 did not provide the basis
on which I could estimate how many nights she had been in St Albans
over that year. I said I would need, therefore, to rely on her
estimates in her letter of 29 June
that she had spent between one and two nights a week in her St
Albans flat. I added that I had noted the wider points she had
made about her use of the flat. I noted that she had said that
she had rung up the Department of Finance and Administration for
advice and guidance about her arrangements before she had made
them, and had been given advice at the time about who might live
or stay in her property. I said I was assuming, therefore, that
this conversation took place with the Department shortly before
August 2006. I also noted that she had consulted the DFA about
the purchase of her flat, and asked if she had any further details
of these conversations, including the dates, and who she had spoken
to. I also said that, in any event, I was asking the Department
of Resources whether they had any record of these conversations.
108. I attached for her consideration a revised
schedule of her food claims, reflecting the correction she had
made, and this is
summarised in the table below:
||Total food claims (£)
I also enclosed a copy of my letter to the Department
of Resources of 3 November
and their response of 11 November.
I noted that the Department interpreted the rules as requiring
food claims to relate only to food costs incurred by the overnight
stays in the home for which the Member was making an ACA claim.
I offered her the opportunity to give me a written response to
this advice before we met for our interview, or to respond at
the interview. I said either way that it would be helpful if possible
to have an indication of what proportion of Mrs Main's food claims
related to her overnight stays in the flat in St Albans.
109. On 12 November I wrote again to the Director
of Operations at the Department of Resources. 
I asked whether the Department had any record or recollection
of conversations which Mrs Main reported that she had had with
the DFA about her arrangements. I noted that there appeared
to have been two occasions when Mrs Main had sought the advice
of the House Authorities, and asked whether the Department had
any record of these conversations and for any comments on these
two exchanges and the terms in which Mrs Main recalled them having
110. The Director of Operations replied to me
on 17 November. He
confirmed that there was no record held by the Department of any
conversations with Mrs Main about her ACA. He continued, "However,
it is also the case that only a minority of calls are documented
on our logging system, mainly those which sought substantive advice.
Whilst I would have expected, therefore, Mrs Main's enquiries
to be reflected in a record of some sort, I cannot rule out that
it simply was not recorded by staff at the time." The
Director also commented that Mrs Main was of the 2005 intake and
"I recall that she attended the induction process for
new Members shortly after the election. At this election Members
received comprehensive briefing about the parliamentary allowances
and they were alerted to the need to seek guidance when in doubt
about the Green Book rules." The Director also expressed
the view, which he said was shared by his senior managers, that
"the advice Mrs Main says she received could not be ruled
out. It has always been an arguable point about the interpretation
of the Green Book in respect of children, including young adults,
living with their parents in an additional home. An interpretation
given in 2009 is very different from what might have been advised
in 2006. It is my belief that had Mrs Main put the basic question
and issue to one of our helpline staff she might well have received
the answer she has offered to you in evidence." On 18
November, I sent Mrs Main a copy of my exchange of correspondence
with the Department.
111. I interviewed Mrs Main on 30 November.
She agreed that when she came into the House in May 2005, she
had rented her St Albans flat, and subsequently bought it from
the landlord in November 2006. From August or September 2006 until
May 2009, when the arrangement ended, her daughter, Ms Claire
Tonks, had stayed in the flat, at Mrs Main's suggestion, during
the week. Her daughter did not pay rent, and Mrs Main's best estimate
was that her daughter had initially stayed there on three to four
nights a week, but by the time she left it had fallen to one to
two nights a week. During the same period Mrs Main herself had
stayed at the flat on average between one and two nights each
week. Mrs Main agreed that her daughter had done some cleaning,
shopping and other chores for her when she stayed at the flat,
but commented that "we never thought of the chores as
having been done in return for the accommodation". Mrs
Main also agreed that her ACA claims from 2005-06 to 2007-08 amounted
in all to £65,000, which included food claims of about £10,000
over that period.
112. Mrs Main said she had decided to buy the
flat in 2006 because the landlord had told her that he was considering
selling it, and had said he would give her the first option to
buy. She had checked with the Fees Office, and they had said it
was within the rules to do so. She commented, "Until
then I had had no thought of buying." Mrs Main said that
the flat was rented unfurnished. She "had just made it
comfortable and it would have been an upheaval to move. And it
is also very convenient for my job: right opposite the cathedral
and next to the council offices, and you can walk all around the
centre from there. I spent three years as the prospective parliamentary
candidate. I am aware of the difficulties of the traffic flows
and parking restrictions." She said that could not have
continued to rent in another flat in the complex because "There
are only four. It is a small block."
113. As to the frequency of occasions when she
would be in St Albans in the evening and then drive back to Beaconsfield
after the traffic had eased, Mrs Main said, "Sometimes
that might be the case. It was not the case when the House was
sitting, but it was more likely in the summertime when I might
spend my evenings at the flat or have an engagement in St Albans."
She said that her family was based in her main home and "I
like to get home and see my husband in the evening. So it would
vary." She said that it happened more if the House was
in recess. "On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursdayor Wednesday,
Thursday, Friday I would need to spend some evenings in
St Albans. If my husband had been at home with our son I could
have stayed over." As to how often this was, Mrs Main
said, "I would spend my days in St Albans. Then there
was the relentless driving up and down the M25it is one
of those stretches which is always congested. I wouldn't choose
to sit in traffic jams but if my son had a parents' evening or
other similar family event I would drive back." She subsequently
commented, "Even on a Sunday it is really busybut
sometimes I would go back to Beaconsfield after carrying out my
constituency duties in St Albans during the day". She
summarised the position thus: "I wanted a reasonable degree
of regularity for my family life. Sometimes if I didn't need to
go back or if I was just too tired after a long day, I would stay
over. I might make the decision ad hoc."
114. Mrs Main said that she had not considered
staying in a hotel when she could not get back to Beaconsfield.
She commented, "It is pretty soulless, staying in a hotel.
It wouldn't feel like home. It would be harder to have my family
there. It also wouldn't provide the flexibility for me to come
and go: you would have to pre-plan". She added, "When
I joined the House I attended the induction course and they told
us MPs weren't expected to live life out of a suitcase".
She continued, "hotels don't allow you to dip in and out,
or to shower, rest or park if you are not staying there, or to
keep a change of clothes there". She subsequently commented,
"I set up the arrangements which best suited my family
and my duties to my constituents".
115. I asked Mrs Main how she had arrived at
the estimate that there could have been another 20 nights beyond
those recorded in her diary when she had stayed over in St Albans.
She said, "I know I did a lot of things which are not
in my diary, even though I write nearly all my engagements in
there. People might say during an engagement
'Are you free after this?' and I would
say 'I can be',
and pick up the phone to my husband. But looking at a particular
time several years ago now, I can't say that I did something else
or that I didn't. Going back nearly five years is a long time
and many people would not remember
I didn't know back then
that I was going to be sitting here, so my diary doesn't usually
show overnight stays. You'll find
'Stay overnight' written in my diary occasionally,
but that is so that my husband would know if he looked at it whether
he could go out."
Mrs Main said that she was trying to give me "a feel for
what I do. Sometimes I'll find the traffic report and say
'Okay, I'll go up to St Albans tonight for an early engagementor
at ten a.m. tomorrow
' There were
times when for various reasons I couldn't guarantee getting to
St Albans in a timely fashion unless I stayed overnight."
116. As to the office facilities she had in the
flat, Mrs Main said that she had a computer and a desk in the
second bedroom. She also said that the Conservative Association
had an office in the constituency, within the regional offices
of the Conservative Party in London Colney. She paid £300
a month, which gave her the use of a small room there, with a
desk and a computer terminal supplied by the House, and use of
various pieces of office equipment. She added, "When the
voluntary workers are in, that room is their office and I can't
just use it. I can't just drop in, and there is no soft furniture,
no hanging space and no changing rooms". She subsequently
added that "
this would never be a substitute for
a flat". In the flat, she "would work
from home using the phone". She commented, "For
example, on a Friday, I would dictate to my caseworker, explaining
what letters or actions I wanted. I would do this after my surgeries
so that by Saturday my constituents would have a letter from the
MP saying what action was taken in their case." She subsequently
added that she "would work from home replying to e mails,
drafting speeches, using the phone to speak to my staff or return
calls to my constituents. In other words whatever needed doing
at that time".
117. Mrs Main said that she claimed against the
IEP for her constituency office. She paid for "a proportion
of staff time for the person who helps me when I am working in
the constituency office, and for telephones, things like use of
the printer and copier, use of the waiting areas." Her
staff were based wholly in Westminster, and she had no full-time
staff based in St Albans. Her computer could get access to the
parliamentary network, but she was "not a great one for
using laptops. I would use it primarily for typing documents mainly
and emailing. I would dictate down the phone. If someone brought
in original documents I might copy their documents and fax them
from the St Albans office. Sometimes I would ring the Westminster
office from the flat and say,
'I want you to write a letter saying
She "absolutely never" used the flat for party
118. I asked Mrs Main how she responded to the
suggestion that the expenses she claimed on the flat were not
necessarily incurred because she was regularly able to get back
to Beaconsfield in the evening. She said, "Having the
flat helped me to serve my constituents better. Before, I had
a long and tiring commuteI could spend several hours a
day commuting and there was no flexibility. My constituents expected
me to be in St Albans. Having the flat helped me do my job, it
really really did."
119. Mrs Main agreed that it had been at her
suggestion that her daughter went and stayed at the St Albans
flat. She had talked it over with her husband. There had been
an overlap for six months when he and she were both working full
time and then her husband had had the opportunity to work from
home. Mrs Main said that her husband had said that "I
could be freed up more
to concentrate on being an MP and
serving St Albans." She added, "We felt I was
missing out on family life. At that time my daughter was living
at home, so my husband said that Claire could stay over in St
Albans. Claire thought it would be quite nice." Mrs Main
said that "everyone knew about the arrangement. They thought
it was quite nice, that my daughter could spend time with me,
go out shopping with me. Claire had roughly the same length of
commute from Beaconsfield and St Albans, because she worked in
London, so she said,
'I don't mind doing that.' I spoke to the
Fees Office and I was told that spouses and children were fine
to stay in the second home
if she is living in your home, if she is your daughter
and you don't charge her rent.'" She
continued, "We are not talking about her playing at housebut
it makes a huge difference having someone living in the second
home, especially a member of your family. If I bought a bunch
of flowers, for example, I didn't have to worry about it two or
three days later. I might ring up my daughter and say,
'I'm over tonight, shall we go out for a meal?' It
is not easy to go out on your own, but it made a huge difference
that I could do thatit felt more like home". Mrs
Main said that her husband and her other three children were unable
to spend much time at the flat. Her husband would spend small
amounts of time there when he could. Her younger son might come
over in the day and come with her round the market; or her elder
son might come over to see his sister. She commented, "Claire
was not as tied up as the others."
120. As to the work done by her daughter in the
flat, Mrs Main said, "she did small chores but she certainly
wasn't the cleaner. I am quite happy to say that I never expected
her to clean cookers, the fronts of cupboards or the insides of
windows. If I wanted a cleaner I paid for it, but I didn't charge
any cleaning to my expenses." She said that her daughter
also helped in small ways, such as staying in for a delivery when
the washing machine had broken. Mrs Main said it was "absolutely
not" accurate to say that her daughter did this work
in return for her accommodation. She commented, "She was
not a Mrs Mop. It wasn't true of my husband either when he painted
the flat. I tried to think of it as my second home."
She said that her daughter "didn't have to be there at
all. My daughter went there and organised her life around the
times when I was likely to be there. The times she was there provided
a form of continuity for her." Mrs Main subsequently
added that these also provided a form of continuity for both of
them, and that she had never thought that there was any requirement
in respect of Members' second homes that "my family could
only be in it if I was there".
121. Mrs Main said that her daughter kept "some
personal stuff" in the St Albans flat "a capsule
wardrobe. Stuff she found useful. But in our main home she had
a bedroom filled with her personal things." She commented,
"We didn't think we had to justify her use of the home;
we were just in a rhythm where I would ring up and say
'Are you there tonight?' and she would
say 'Yes I am' or
'No I'm not.'". Mrs Main said
that her daughter did not treat the flat in the same way as their
main home. She commented, "She knew there was a set of
regulations which applied to the St Albans home." She
did not ask permission to go there each time as "it was
taken as read that she could go there. We had already agreed she
could go there. I had got permission from the Fees Office".
Mrs Main said that she "would have loved"
her daughter to be there the whole time, as much as possibleor
her husband, if he could have come more often. She commented,
"But St Albans elected me not a package deal. And if her
elder sister had wanted to come at that time I would have said
122. Mrs Main said that her daughter did not
come back with her from the flat when she drove back to Beaconsfield
after the M25 had cleared. She did not think that her daughter
"benefited other than from seeing me and feeling she was
helping me. There was no material benefit: she had her own home
in Beaconsfield with a comfortable room there. She can have her
boyfriend and other friends to come to stay. The benefit was to
me: we could spend time together. There was no financial benefit,
and she didn't need to be there". Mrs Main subsequently
added that "the emotional benefit was to me as a parent:
we could have a mother and daughter time and spend time together.
it helped me in my role having her there sometimes, as
it freed up my time to serve my constituents". She said
that her daughter had previously lived away from home whilst at
university and whilst travelling for a few months, and commented,
"So she wasn't just practising living away from home.
I suggested it. If she had wanted to move out of our home we could
have helped her".
123. On the question as to whether her daughter
in effect had two residences, as shown by her registration as
a voter in St Albans and her use of the St Albans address on her
registration forms sent to Companies House, Mrs Main noted that
a voter can register in more than one place. Her daughter had
registered as a voter in St Albans "because she wanted
to vote for me
" Her inclusion of the St Albans
address on the form for Companies House was "a stupid
naive mistake". Mrs Main said she had not known about
it at the time, and that her daughter "just didn't think
about it at all". Mrs Main said that her daughter "thought
she had two homes". She commented, "It is very
common: half my friends have adult children staying in their homes.
So do other Members. But the St Albans home is temporaryit
finishes the minute I finish. Beaconsfield is our real home. If
she wanted to hold say a birthday party, it would be in Beaconsfield.
That would have been the difference".
124. Mrs Main said that her daughter had not
met any of the utility bills which could be assigned to her use
of the flat. She herself had not claimed against the ACA
for a range of costs, including cleaning, maintenance, mileage,
a stair carpet, a boiler service and some decorating costs. She
commented "I have always tried to ensure my claims are
modest. I never felt I had anything to hide
were not luxurious. I tried to shop carefully at budget and low
cost stores. I do not max out my expenses. I did not claim everything
I could, and when I did claim my claims were modest."
She estimated that the expenses she did not claim could be about
£1,000 or more in total.
She also claimed for full utility costs from the ACA: gas, electricity,
water, and for service charges that she paid on the flat. She
said that there was no charge associated with parking at the flat.
She had claimed the 10% discount from the council tax because
she paid full council tax elsewhere and that qualified her flat
for the discount. She commented, "I could only have claimed
the single person's discount if no-one else was ever in the flat."
Her husband and other children had stayed in the flat "on
occasions, and I couldn't know when I paid the council tax which
members of my family were going to stay there." She subsequently
added that, as a result, "the only accurate position was
the fact that I paid full council tax and was therefore entitled
automatically to the 10% discount, which was all I claimed back
from the Fees Office."
125. Mrs Main confirmed that the purchase price
of the flat was £250,000 and her mortgage was £225,000.
She claimed the full mortgage interest, and did not make any allowance
in her mortgage interest claim for her daughter's use of the flat.
She commented, "Why would I? If my husband was there I
wouldn't have made an allowance". She added, "Let
me tell you that I am a rule follower.
At all times if
in doubt I will try to ask, to do what is reasonable. If anyone
had said do things differently I would have, but no-one ever did".
Mrs Main confirmed that her daughter had bought all her own food
whilst living in the flat.
126. Mrs Main said that she had discussed with
the Fees Office the question of her daughter living in the St
Albans flat before she had done so. I asked her, in the light
of what she had said on the subject in her letters to me of 29
June and 11 November,
about her discussions with the Fees Office. Mrs Main said, "I
know I rang them up and asked
'Who can stay in the second home?' They
said 'The MP's spouse
and children.' I rang another time saying
'I'm thinking of my daughter staying in my second home. She lives
at home and is over 18.' When I asked if
that was a problem, they said
'No'. I can't remember if anyone asked
how old she was, although I am sure I made it clear to them at
the time. But I remember clearly asking before doing it."
Mrs Main said that she "definitely said she was an adult.
'Is it okay for my daughter to be in my second home? I would like
to share it with my daughter.'" She could
not remember whether she referred to her daughter's work, commenting,
"I would like to think I said she was working but I really
can't remember. I would not have thought to write down the conversation.
But I gave the clear impression she was an adult daughter in my
She subsequently said that "I always
gave the clear impression she was my adult daughter. The logical
conclusion may have been that she was working."
127. Mrs Main said that she was not asked if
her daughter would be spending a significant number of nights
there by herself. She commented, "I agree that there
were times when she was there and I wasn't. But I was at the flat
a lot of time when she wasn't there. I was in the flat in the
day considerably more than she was, especially in recess times.
There were times when she was there just to sleep. I never said
'I want you to be there on Thursday'.
I just set up a rhythm for her. It was
nice for me to be flexible about coming and goingand it
wasn't reasonable to expect her to match my movements".
Her daughter was at the flat in the week when Mrs Main was not
"mainly during the week, when the House was sitting, and
when there was voting".
128. Mrs Main did not think that there should
be a maximum age beyond which a Member's children should no longer
to be able to benefit from the "spouse and family"
arrangement. She said that every case, and every family, was different,
and commented, "The companionship of older children is
something that many parents would like." She had not
considered charging her daughter rent when she stayed at the St
Albans flat, and said "We were discouraged from having
rental agreements". She added, "If she had been
paying rent at home I would have thought about it. But she didn't
pay rent. She was there as a family member. I would not have considered
charging rent. And the flat cost the same whether she was there
or not: there were no extra costs on the mortgage or service charge".
Mrs Main said that she "wouldn't necessarily
make a distinction between my husband and my daughter who shared
the accommodation. It is not for me to say if there is a point
when an older child should get thrown out or charged rent."
129. Mrs Main did not agree that the House was
subsidising her daughter's living costs. She said "I would
dispute that. There were no additional costs. I don't believe
you can put it in those terms. I as a parent got the benefit of
some time with my family. The benefit was in emotional terms."
She subsequently added, "The benefit was solely and entirely
in emotional terms, no other."
Mrs Main also commented, "The previous Member for St Albans
had a flat in London. I could have had a flat in London. If I
had wanted to benefit my children, as the complaint suggestssince
my son and both my daughters work in London I would have set up
my flat in London and provided them with accommodation there.
I regularly work late in London, so I could have also stayed there.
But the best benefit for my constituents since we don't have a
home in St Albans, was to have the flat there." She subsequently
added, "the benefit was for my constituentswho
I was elected to servesince we don't have a house in St
Albans, and I needed a home in St Albans the flat was located
130. As to the Department of Resources' advice
to me in their letter of 11 September
that she should have absorbed some of the costs of her daughter
staying in the flat, such as utility charges, Mrs Main commented,
"I thought about that when I read it. My heating, hot
water and lights are on a timer
How would I try to work
out the small time when my daughter was there and the lights and
heating would not have been on? I am not sure how I could have
done that". When I asked Mrs Main if she was arguing
that the costs of her daughter's use of utilities should in principle
have been met by herself, but not the fixed costs, she said "I
don't know that I am. Would you say the same if it was my husband
who was there? And I don't believe there was any electricity or
utilities I can ascribe to my daughter's use, since she was there
so little time in the day".
131. On the advice of the Department of Resources
that variable costs but not fixed costs should have been taken
into account to reflect her daughter's living costs in St Albans,
Mrs Main commented, "I have always been prepared to accept
the Fees Office's advice and interpretations. But no one at the
time suggested that we should think like that. I thought I had
checked out my arrangement fully with the Fees Office. So many
Members have their family in their second home, I don't know anyone
who does this. But if that was the ruling at the time I would
have accepted it". As to whether Mrs Main now accepted
the Department's view, she said, "If that is their view,
then I may have to accept it. But it is impossible to say which
bit of the utility bill was wholly down to my daughter's use and
which was down to mine". She subsequently commented,
"I regard this observation in their response to you as
retrospective, and this possible scenario was never raised at
the time". When I asked her if she would have accepted
the Department's view as set out in their letter to me had it
been expressed to her at the time she sought advice, she said,
"I didn't have that guidance at the time. I don't even
see how you could do this. I would challenge this view if it was
given to me now".
She subsequently added, "But it certainly
wasn't given to me then".
She also said "I
always accept the Fees Office guidance, but I would have also
had to ask how to fulfil it. You can't be given guidance retrospectively.
My daughter came over to St Albans because my husband couldn't
spend much time there. I maintain that there were no extra utility
costs that we wouldn't have had anyway".
132. When I asked Mrs Main if she accepted the
principle that she should have tried to identify the costs partly
attributable to her daughter's stays in St Albans, she said, "I
don't accept it. Members were and are entitled to have spouses
and children in their second homes, without apportioning the costs.
The House must surely expect us to live as a family in our second
home. I don't believe anyone said that I should be trying to apportion
the costs of my husband."
She subsequently added, "nor do I believe
they would suggest it."
Mrs Main also said "And in any case there
were no extra costs. I am trying to think of examples of extra
costs which could have arisen. I accepted that my daughter should
meet her own food costs. And if for example there had been a cost
for her parking permit I would have expected to pay that. I think
it was reasonable for my family to be there. I believe it is in
the spirit of the rules to have a family life at the same time
as Members carry out their parliamentary duties. If not, Members
would need no more than a single bedsit to stay in."
She subsequently added "and no members of their family
living with them." Mrs Main also did not accept any comparison
between her own case and the case of Mr McNulty.
She commented, "That case was not at all the same as my
daughter staying with me. I understand in Mr McNulty's case it
concerned two independent adults, living full time in the house
as their main home. My daughter had not taken on that role of
having her own home and forming a second household." Mrs
Main subsequently added, "my daughter has always lived
at our main home. I decided with the Fees Office that she could
stay as an adult in the second home and I do not believe that
it is fair or reasonable to compare my situation with Mr McNulty's."
133. I asked Mrs Main, in the context of the
addition made to the rules in 2006 that Members must avoid any
arrangements which might give rise to an accusation that someone
close to them was obtaining an immediate benefit or subsidy from
what she would say to those who suggested that living without
paying mortgage interest, utilities, or council tax (or rent)
as her daughter had done in St Albans, represented an immediate
benefit to her daughter. She said, "Would she see it as
a benefit? Would I? There was no need for her to stay there. There
was no financial benefit. In our main home she lived as a member
of our family in a large house with plenty of car parking and
a better commute at least at some times. It was not like her giving
up renting somewhere. The benefit was solely for me." She
subsequently added, "It was not like her giving up renting
to go and live somewhere rent free and so save herself some money."
Mrs Main did not think that there was a personal benefit to her
daughter. She said, "No. It was an emotional benefit to
me, to have my family around me. It made me happier to spend my
time in St Albans. It didn't feel so arduous." As to
the requirement to avoid any arrangement which would lead to an
accusation that someone close to her had obtained an immediate
benefit, Mrs Main commented, "The story had appeared in
the local press ages ago, in 2006, well before the complaint arose.
My Association were fully aware of the arrangement as were other
people. No-one complained until the complainant recently did,
after media comment on all MPs' expenses. But in the political
world you can always be accused. Accusations are not difficult
to make. I have 70,000 constituentsand one chose to complain.
I have never sought to hide my arrangements, that I was trying
to be both a mother and a good MP. But no-one accused me before
the Telegraph story".
134. I asked Mrs Main if, in the light of the
report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges on Mr Tony
McNulty, she considered
that it would have been wise for her to have made a formal arrangement
regarding the terms of her daughter living in St Albans, set out
in writing and lodged with the House authorities. She said, "I
wouldn't know what arrangement to formalise. I have no formal
arrangement of this sort for my husband. My family is my family".
She subsequently added, "I believe we are entitled to family
135. As regards Mrs Main's food claims, I asked
her if she accepted the ruling of the Department of Resources,
set out in their letter to me of 11 November,
which said that her food costs must be "in relation to
costs associated with your overnight stays in St Albans".
She said, "I have the Green Book of 2006. If you look
at paragraph 3.13.1. it seems very clear. You claim for reasonable
additional food costs while you are away from your home. I don't
know why the Director thinks the rules are opaque. I have claimed
for Monday and Tuesday evening meals in London whilst on parliamentary
duties, and evening meals on other nights if I was late in St
subsequently added "I have claimed for
Monday and Tuesday evening meals in London whilst on parliamentary
duties, and evening meals and breakfasts on other nights if I
was late and staying over in St Albans".
She also said, "I
have never claimed for all my food, or for mileage. I worked on
the system of around £10 per meal on Mondays and Tuesdays:
the food in Parliament is subsidised. The rest of my food was
in St Albans. I would also eat out some of the time. I like good
When Mrs Main asked her daughter to get some food, "I
would want something of a decent quality."
She continued, "I used to try
and eat out in St Albans. As an MP particularly in a marginal
seat, I need to be out and about. I have to get to know the butcher
and the market stallholders. I was on the panel to judge local
restaurants: I needed to eat at them. I have to get to know local
people". I asked Mrs Main if she
took some of these meals before she went home to Beaconsfield.
She commented, "Not really. I always felt I underclaimed".
136. I pointed out to Mrs Main that, according
to the Department's advice, she should not have claimed for some
of the meals she had claimed. She said, "I always believed
my food claims were modest. I claimed only what I thought was
reasonable. But I have in any case not claimed for the last 18
months. I thought I could claim for Monday and Tuesday whilst
on parliamentary duties but now I am told that I can't."
She subsequently added that the Department "believe I
may have claimed those meals in error". Mrs Main also
said that, when she and her daughter went out for a meal, she
sometimes paid personally for her daughter's food and always paid
personally for any wine.
137. I asked Mrs Main if she accepted that some
of her food claims were not permissible under the rules, in particular
the food she ate when in London. She said, "I went by
the rules set out in 3.2.1.(b) of the 2006 Green Book which refer
to claims being for the purpose of performing parliamentary duties.
It says that you can claim for food if it is for the purpose of
performing your parliamentary duties
It says in 3.13.1 that
you can claim for 'reasonable
additional costs while away from your main home'.
It is set out as a separate allowance.
I had interpreted it to cover two main meals each week at the
House of Commons and the rest of the time in St Albans."
138. Mrs Main said that, of her claims for food
between 2005-06 and 2007-08, "£20 per week when the
House was sitting was for food in London. But I haven't claimed
any food for 18 months." She added, "I have
no wish to big up my expenses, quite the opposite. A lot of the
time I don't claim for things when I could". She said
that she had not consulted the House authorities at any time about
her food claims, and commented, "I thought the wording
was quite clear. I would have checked if it wasn't."
139. At the end of the interview, after I had
summarised the allegations against her, and invited her to make
any further points she wished, Mrs Main said that she served her
constituents to the best of her ability, and that there was no
dispute in the rules about the location of her home. She commented,
"If I had any wish to have a property benefit I could
have had a second home in London. But I needed the flat to serve
my constituents. I took guidance and followed it. This is a very
very important point." Mrs Main also said that she had
"underclaimed on many things", and her claims
were "modest, within the rules and
made after consultation.
I accept the point about the food bills but, as the Fees Office
said, the rule could be seen as opaque" although she
subsequently added that she "felt the wording was clear."
She added that she had "never had any intention to
deceive or maximise my expenses." Mrs Main continued:
"My only thought was to be the best and hardest working
MP for my constituents. I was quite horrified to find myself in
this position. Nobody forced me to have the flat, but after three
years as prospective parliamentary candidate working hard, living
life on the road, driving to and from my home and experiencing
the stress and tension I just knew that it wasn't going to work.
Whatever happens with the allowances in future I will maintain
a base in St Albans. I don't feel that I incurred any extra costs
for the taxpayer. I always tried to keep my claims low and modest,
and to follow the spirit of the rules."
140. Finally, Mrs Main noted that there was no
record within the Fees Office of her consultations with them.
She said, "I understand that, but there is no record of
other things I have discussed with them too, although I didn't
know that at the time when I responded to your enquiries. When
I said to you that I took advice I didn't know what they recorded
and what they didn't. So, if I had not been confident that I was
telling you the truth, then they could have made a liar out of
me." She subsequently added "but they confirmed
that the guidance would have reflected what I have always said."
141. Mrs Main sent me on 14 December 2009 a list
of items which she could have claimed against her Additional Costs
Allowance and had not.
Findings of Fact
142. Mrs Main became the Member for the St Albans
constituency in the general election of May 2005. Her main home
is in Beaconsfield, where she also lived before she was elected.
A small part of her constituency is within 20 miles of her main
home. In June 2005, Mrs Main began renting a two-bedroom flat
in the centre of the city of St Albans, which is more than 20
miles from her main home, and in November 2006 she purchased it
using a 90% interest-only mortgage. She has claimed against the
Additional Cost Allowance for the costs of the flat since she
began renting it. Mrs Main claims a 10% second home discount in
respect of council tax on her St Albans flat.
143. The total of nights that Mrs Main has spent
in the St Albans flat for which there is reliable evidence from
her diaries is set out in the table below:
||Nights spent in constituency home
|2009-10 (to end of June)
* Includes back operation and 5 weeks bed rest
Mrs Main considers that she has also spent up to
a further 20 nights a year in her St Albans flat in connection
with her parliamentary duties.
144. In August or early September 2006, Mrs Main's
adult daughter, Ms Claire Tonks, began staying regularly in the
St Albans flat, at her mother's invitation. This arrangement finished
in May 2009. She did not pay rent, nor did she contribute to other
costs incurred by Mrs Main on the property such as service charges
and utility charges. Ms Tonks initially stayed in the flat for
three to four nights a week but by the time she had left it had
fallen to one or two nights a week. Ms Tonks had a full-time job
in London. When not staying at the flat, Ms Tonks lived either
at Mrs Main's main home in Beaconsfield, or with her boyfriend
145. Mrs Main made claims against the ACA for
food from 2005-06 to 20 May 2008, when she decided to make no
further claims. The breakdown of her claims by financial year
is given in the table below:
||Total food claims (£)
146. The Department of Resources consider that Mrs Main was
within the rules of the House to claim for an additional property
in her constituency while her main home was in Beaconsfield.
The Department consider that, at the time when Mrs Main's daughter
stayed in the St Albans flat, where rent was not paid there was
no rule which governed who might or might not live in or stay
at a home on which ACA was claimed. The Department also consider
that Mrs Main should have abated the costs which she charged to
her allowances to take account of her daughter's occupation of
the property in respect of items, such as utility charges, which
could be attributable partly to her daughter's occupation.
The Department consider that the rules relating to food claims
against the ACA allow Mrs Main to claim for food costs only if
they are incurred in St Albans where she has her additional home,
and if they are associated with an overnight stay; she should
not have claimed for food costs incurred in London.
147. Mrs Main believes that all her expenses
she has claimed against the ACA in respect of the St Albans flat
were incurred wholly, exclusively and necessarily for the purpose
of performing her parliamentary duties and engagements. In her
view, she needs the flat in St Albans to enable her to perform
her constituency duties, and she intends to retain a base there
whatever happens to the allowances. Mrs Main says that, on a number
of occasions, she consulted the then Department of Finance and
Administration, including about her arrangements in St Albans
before she began renting and before she invited her daughter to
stay at the flat on a regular basis: the Department was content
with what she intended to do on each occasion. She does not believe
that the rules impose any upper limit on the age of qualifying
family members who can occupy a Member's second home funded from
the ACA without any allowance being made for that person's living
costs. Mrs Main considers that her daughter provided her with
the benefit of emotional support. The household chores which her
daughter undertook were to support her and were only the sort
of help which any family member would provide. Mrs Main considers
that the emotional and practical support received from her daughter
helped her perform her constituency duties and made it easier
for her to combine her constituency work with her family life.
Mrs Main does not believe that her daughter's occupancy of the
St Albans flat incurred any costs to the public purse through
her ACA claims that would not have been incurred had she alone
used the property. She believes that it would in practice be impossible
to identify costs, such as utility costs, specifically attributable
to her daughter's occupancy of the property. Mrs Main accepts
that she should not have claimed against the ACA for meals consumed
148. The principal question I have to consider
is whether Mrs Main's claims from 2005 to 2008 for the costs of
her second home, a flat in her constituency in St Albans, were
wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred, given that her main
home was less than 20 miles away from her constituency boundary
and that her adult daughter regularly stayed in the flat.
149. I am also to consider whether Mrs Main's
food claims against the Additional Costs Allowance were in accordance
with the rules.
150. In seeking to resolve this complaint I have
addressed the following matters:
1. Was Mrs Main eligible to claim for a second home
in her constituency?
2. Was the St Albans flat necessary in order to fulfil
her parliamentary duties?
3. Were her accommodation costs wholly and exclusively
incurred on her parliamentary duties?
4. Were her food claims in accordance with the rules
of the House?
151. I address these questions in the following
Was Mrs Main eligible to claim
for a second home in her constituency?
152. I have established in a previous case that
the rules at the time allowed a Member to have a second home in
their constituency even if their main home was within 20 miles
of that constituency boundary.
153. A literal reading of the rules could suggest
that Mrs Main's principal home in Beaconsfield was both her main
home and her constituency home. This is because the rules appear
to define a constituency home as being one within 20 miles of
the constituency boundary and Mrs Main's Beaconsfield home is
within that distance. But, as I have previously stated, that is
not how the rules have been interpreted or operated. They have
been used as a way of identifying whether a Member may claim for
a second home once their main home has been identified. Mrs Main's
main home is in Beaconsfield. Her constituency home is in St Albans,
in her constituency.
154. I conclude, therefore, that it was consistent
with the interpretation of the rules at the time, that like other
Members of Parliament, Mrs Main could have a home in her constituency
despite her main home being within 20 miles of that constituency
155. It is still necessary, however, to demonstrate
that, in those circumstances, the second home in the constituency
was necessary in order for Mrs Main to perform her parliamentary
duties. And it is to that question I now turn.
Was the St Albans flat necessary
in order to fulfil Mrs Main's parliamentary duties?
156. Mrs Main has pointed out the difficulty
and uncertainty in travelling between her home in Beaconsfield
and her home in the constituency. This journey by road took some
time and was uncertain because of the weight of traffic. Equally,
her daughter's evidence is that Mrs Main liked to return from
St Albans to spend the night in Beaconsfield when the road had
cleared. The result was that Mrs Main spent on average between
one and two nights a week in her constituency flat. In addition,
I accept Mrs Main's evidence that she made more regular daytime
use of the flat when she was working on her parliamentary duties
in her constituency, including on the days when she subsequently
returned to her Beaconsfield home.
157. I consider that Mrs Main has established
the use she made of her St Albans property. Her firm view is that
this was necessary to enable her to serve her constituents as
fully as she would wish. She has stated that she would continue
to need such a property even if parliamentary funding could not
be used to meet its costs. I have said in a previous report that
Members should expect to have a considerable degree of discretion
in the way that they decide to conduct their constituency and
I consider that Mrs Main's exercise of discretion in establishing
her St Albans property in order to serve her constituents was
reasonable in all the circumstances.
158. I therefore conclude that it was within
the rules for Mrs Main to have a flat in her constituency and
to make claims for that property against her parliamentary allowances.
I do not therefore uphold this part of the complaint.
Were Mrs Main's accommodation
costs wholly and exclusively incurred on her parliamentary duties?
159. I have stated in my report on an earlier
in my judgement costs are not wholly and exclusively incurred
for the purpose of performing a Member's parliamentary duties
if the Member's claim includes the living costs of someone other
than themselves, or if they or someone close to them receive a
personal benefit from the arrangement. This latter prohibition
was included for the first time in the July 2006 rules, but is
in my judgement implicit in the overarching rule that Members
may claim only for costs wholly and exclusively incurred on parliamentary
160. From September 2006 to May 2009, Mrs Main's
daughter stayed in Mrs Main's flat on average more nights than
she herself did. Initially, it was an average of three to four
nights per week. This reduced after the first year and, by the
end, it was one or two nights a week. But, nevertheless, this
represented a substantial, regular and sustained usage of the
flat by Mrs Main's daughter over a period of some two years and
nine months. Mrs Main made no reduction in her claims for the
cost of her daughter's use of the flat over that period, although
I accept their evidence that her daughter bought her own food.
161. The Committee on Standards and Privileges
have accepted that the living costs of another person include
the full costs of living in such a property, including fixed costs
such as council tax and mortgage interest. Mrs Main has accepted
that she made no allowance for the living costs of her daughter.
But she has argued that she was not required by the rules to do
so. This is because she considers that there was no additional
cost incurred from her daughter staying in the flat. And, more
importantly, because she believed, on the basis of Fees Office
advice she received at the time, that it was permissible for a
Member's children, including their adult children, to share their
ACA-funded home. She has argued that her daughter provided emotional
support for her work in the constituency as well as undertaking
some domestic chores.
162. I do not accept the argument that Members
should take account only of any additional cost associated with
somebody else living in their second home. I set out the principle
in my memorandum on Mr McNulty which the Committee accepted in
its report. The
rules prevent a Member claiming for the living costs of another
person. A person's living costs must cover what it would cost
for them to live in that accommodation, rather than the additional
cost which a Member might incur. In this respect, this complaint
is analogous to those against Mr McNulty
and Mr Hunt.
163. I accept, however, that the complaint raises
different issues from those raised in either of those two cases,
because, as Mrs Main has fairly argued, this was her daughter
who at other times (when she was not in St Albans or elsewhere
in London) was living with her in her main home as part of the
164. It is true that the rules have been interpreted
as permitting a Member's partner and their children to share the
second home with them. I have considered whether this interpretation
should be applied to Mrs Main's circumstances. If it were, then
she would not be in breach of the rule prohibiting claims for
other people's living costs or against receiving a personal benefit.
165. I do not consider that the dispensation
applied to Members' partners and children can be held to apply
to children regardless of their age. Mrs Main's daughter was an
adult in full time employment. She was 24 at the time the arrangement
started (27 at the end). She had a demanding and responsible job.
She became a director of the small company she worked for while
she was staying at the flat. She regularly spent nights in the
flat when her mother was not there. The evidence shows that she
was an independent person, with her own life, her own friends
and her own career. On any interpretation of the evidence, Mrs
Main's daughter is an independent adult. She could have been expected
to have been responsible for her own living costs. It was entirely
a matter for Mrs Main whether she subsidised those costs, for
example by not charging her adult daughter rent when she stayed
in the family's Beaconsfield home. There was nothing unusual in
that: many other parents do the same. But it does not follow that
the same principle should apply to parliamentary-funded accommodation.
Public funds should not have been expected to meet the living
costs of Mrs Main's adult daughter when she stayed in the St Albans
flat. That should have been a private matter for the family. It
should have not been a matter for public funds.
166. I am reinforced in this conclusion by the
fact that the rules in the Green Book at the time allowed Members
to claim travel allowances for children up to the age of 18 (and,
by individual arrangement with the then Department of Finance
and Administration, for children over 18 who also had a disability).
While different considerations might be held to apply for different
parts of the expenses regime, to reflect the particular purpose
of those expenses, in the absence of alternative guidance, and
taking account of the particular circumstances of this case, I
consider that the travel rule is a reasonable supporting indication
of the overall intention of the Green Book in meeting certain
costs incurred by Members' children.
167. Mrs Main has argued that her daughter only
stayed at the flat in order to support her in her parliamentary
duties. She needed to be there to give Mrs Main emotional (and
some practical) support to enable her to carry out those duties
better. And it enabled her to maintain a relationship with her
adult daughter while dealing with the pressure of parliamentary
business. I accept Mrs Main's explanation of why her daughter
stayed at the flat. I note that her daughter recognised that it
also provided her with some peace and quiet. But I accept too
that this was an incidental benefit and not the purpose of her
staying there. The evidence suggests that the benefit from Mrs
Main's daughter staying at her St Albans flat was to Mrs Main
herself, not to her daughter.
168. The question is whether such support for
Mrs Main should be met from public resources. I recognise that
this is a matter for judgement, but my own judgement is that the
support described by Mrs Main provided a personal benefit to the
Member. It was not a benefit or service which Mrs Main should
have expected to have been met from parliamentary allowances.
Mrs Main did accrue such a benefit because she did not take account
of the living costs of her daughter in the St Albans flat and,
therefore, parliamentary resources met more of the cost than would
otherwise have been the case.
169. I conclude, therefore, that under the circumstances
which applied to the arrangements established by Mrs Main, she
should have taken account of the living costs of her daughter
arising from her daughter's regular stays in the St Albans flat
and reduced her claims against her Additional Costs Allowance
accordingly. She was, in my judgement, in breach of the rules
in not doing so. I therefore uphold this part of the complaint.
170. It is fair to make the following additional
i) I accept that Mrs Main consulted the House
authorities before letting her daughter use her St Albans flat.
There is no record of those discussions and its precise terms
are unclear. It seems likely, however, that the Department agreed
that a Member's partner and children could live with them in their
second home. That is, of course, true. It is possible that the
Department was aware, as Mrs Main has said, that her daughter
was over 18 and that the Department continued to raise no objection.
I think it is less likely that Mrs Main went into further detail
about her daughterincluding her age and employment. I think
it probable, therefore, that the Department gave advice without
full information and that that advice, given on the telephone,
was broad in scope. It is not possible at this remove to say what
advice the Department would have given if they had had all the
relevant information (as on balance I do not believe they had).
I accept, however, that they may well have continued to accept
the arrangement without advising Mrs Main to abate her claims,
contrary to my judgement of the way the rules should have been
interpreted and operated at the time.
ii) It is unlikely that the cost of the St Albans
flat would have been significantly less had Mrs Main's daughter
not used the flat overnight for part of the week. The mortgage
interest and other fixed costs would have been the same. The utility
costs would, I think, have been less, but the difference would
not have been very large on the reasonable assumption that the
flat would have continued to be heated as necessary when Mrs Main
was not there. But the test in the rules is not whether there
have been additional costs but whether the Member's claims covered
the living costs of another person and whether those claims provided
a personal benefit to the Member (or someone close to them). Inasmuch
as those costs should have been identified and used to reduce
the Member's claim, the cost to public funds of the Member's use
of the property would have been reduced.
iii) The complainant suggested that Mrs Main
should not have paid a discounted council tax rate because of
her daughter's use of the property. The complainant also pointed
out that this was likely to be a matter for the local authority
concerned. I agree. I do not believe that Mrs Main's council tax
payments provide additional evidence about her or her daughter's
use of the property. I note Mrs Main's evidence that she believes
that she was eligible to a pay a reduced council tax for her flat
in St Albans on the basis that she paid a full council tax on
another home. There is no suggestion that Mrs Main's council tax
claims exceeded what she paid.
Were Mrs Main's food claims in
accordance with the rules of the House?
171. Mrs Main claimed over £3,000 a year
for her food from 2005-06 to 2007-08 inclusive. Mrs Main's evidence
is that this covered meals taken in her constituency and two evening
meals a week at a total cost of £20, while she was working
in Westminster. Mrs Main believed that it was permissible under
the rules for a Member to claim for all food costs which were
not taken at their main home during the course of their parliamentary
duties, but accepts the judgement made by the Department during
the course of this inquiry that this was an incorrect interpretation
of the rules. Mrs Main should have claimed only for food costs
associated with her overnight stays in St Albans.
172. I accept the Department's judgement as,
on reflection, does Mrs Main. The wording of the Green Book was
phrased in a way which could catch a Member out because, as an
example of allowable expenditure, it states that a Member may
claim for reasonable additional costs of food while they are away
from their main home. But a full reading of the section makes
reasonably clear that all claims under the Additional Costs Allowance
must be as a result of costs incurred as a result of the Member
staying overnight away from their main home, and that such overnight
stays must be for the purpose of performing their parliamentary
duties. Furthermore, a Member whose main home is neither in London
nor in the constituency can choose in which of these areas to
claim for ACA (including food) but they cannot claim in both.
It follows that Mrs Main's claims for each of the relevant years
should not have included the cost of the two weekly meals which
she has said she ate in Westminster when she attended Parliament.
173. Mrs Main's evidence is that all the rest
of the food she consumed and claimed for, other than the food
she ate when attending Parliament, was associated with her overnight
stays in St Albans. For instance, she says that she did not claim
for her daughter's meals, even when they ate out, and she did
not claim for any food eaten in St Albans when she drove back
in the evening to Beaconsfield. I have no evidence to suggest
that any of the rest of her food claims were outside the rules.
174. I conclude, therefore, that Mrs Main was
in breach of the rules of the House in including in her claims
under the Additional Costs Allowance the costs of food which she
consumed other than in the course of her overnight stays in St
Albans, namely her meals in Westminster. Mrs Main has accepted
175. I conclude, therefore, that Mrs Main was
not in breach of the rules in establishing and claiming for a
flat in St Albans in her constituency, even though her main home
was less than 20 miles from her constituency boundary. I do not
therefore uphold this part of the complaint. I have found, however,
that Mrs Main was in breach of the rules of the House in permitting
her adult daughter to stay regularly over a period of two years
and nine months in her parliamentary-funded flat in St Albans,
without reflecting the full living costs of those stays in the
claims she made against her Additional Costs Allowance. As a result
her claims were not wholly and exclusively incurred in the performance
of her parliamentary duties: Mrs Main received a personal benefit
from the arrangement. Mrs Main was also in breach of the rules
in claiming for some food which was not consumed as a consequence
of her overnight stays in St Albans. I therefore uphold both these
parts of this complaint.
176. I do not consider Mrs Main's breach of the
food rules to be at the serious end of the spectrum. It was clearly
based on a misinterpretation of the rules which, given the way
this section was drafted, was in my judgement understandable.
The consequences of Mrs Main allowing her daughter to stay regularly
in her St Albans flat for an extended period were more serious
in that, given that her daughter was staying there, Mrs Main's
claims against parliamentary resources should have been substantially
less than they were. But Mrs Main's own responsibility has to
be mitigated by the advice she may have received from the House
authorities. That is likely to have encouraged her to continue
to allow her adult daughter to treat her parliamentary funded
home in the way she treated her Beaconsfield home, without recognising,
as Mrs Main has not recognised or accepted, the distinction between
meeting an adult daughter's living costs from private funds and
meeting them from the public purse.
John Lyon CB
39 WE 1 Back
WE 2 Back
WE 3 Back
WE 4 Back
Not included in the written evidence. Back
Not included in the written evidence. Back
Not included in the written evidence. Back
Paragraph 3.3.1 Back
Not included in the written evidence. Back
In her letter of 29 June (WE 6), Mrs Main said that "upwards
of 20 nights" was not correctly phrased as it should have
read "up to 20 nights" and "was referring to an
estimate of the additional non-diarised dates when I was in St
Albans, which should be added to the total of each year's diarised
Not included in the written evidence. Back
WE 5 Back
WE 6 Back
WE 4 Back
Not included in the written evidence. Back
WE 4 Back
WE 7 Back
Not included in the written evidence. Back
WE 8 Back
Not included in the written evidence. Back
WE 9 Back
WE 10 Back
WE 8 Back
WE 11 Back
Not included in the written evidence. Back
WE 4 Back
WE 6 Back
WE 8 Back
WE 12 Back
WE 13 Back
WE 14 Back
WE 15 Back
WE 16 Back
WE 4 Back
This letter was written before the publication of the Tenth Report
of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, Session 2008-09
(Mr Tony McNulty),HC 1070 Back
WE 17 Back
WE 18 Back
WE 19 Back
WE 20 Back
WE 21 Back
WE 3 Back
WE 4 Back
HC 1070 Back
WE 22 Back
WE 23 Back
WE 24 Back
WE 25 Back
WE 21 Back
WE 26 Back
Not included in the written evidence Back
WE 3 Back
WE 27 Back
WE 6 Back
WE 28 Back
WE 22 Back
WE 23 Back
WE 29 Back
WE 30 Back
WE 31 Back
Mrs Main later sent a list of items she believed she could have
claimed for and had not. See WE 32. Back
WE 6 Back
WE 26 Back
WE 16 Back
Committee on Standards and Privileges, Tenth Report of Session
2008-09, HC 1070 Back
Paragraph 3.3.2. See paragraph 17 above. Back
Committee on Standards and Privileges, Tenth Report of Session
2008-09, HC 1070. Back
WE 23 Back
WE 32 Back
The Department's evidence predates the publication of the Tenth
Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, Session 2008-09
(Mr Tony McNulty) (HC 1070). Back
Committee on Standards and Privileges, Tenth Report of Session
2008-09,HC 1070 Back
Tenth Report of Session 2008-09, HC1070 Back
Tenth Report of Session 2008-09, HC 1070 Back
Tenth Report of Session 2008-09, HC 1070 Back
Tenth Report of Session 2008-09, HC 1070 Back
Fourth Report of Session 2009-10, HC 157 Back