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Personal Statement

Volume 498: debated on Thursday 29 October 2009

With permission, I would like to make a personal statement. I should like to thank the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges for the report and memorandum that was published this morning. I should like especially to thank the commissioner for his diligence and courtesy throughout this investigation. I am grateful that he recognises that I was within the rules of this House in establishing and claiming parliamentary allowances for my constituency home. I welcome his acceptance that my claims were necessarily incurred and that I consistently claimed significantly below the maximum allowed.

I accept fully that I made careless mistakes on both mortgage interest and council tax claims, for which I apologise unreservedly to the House, but I identified those errors and repaid them in full in April and May 2009.

I further accept the admonition from the commissioner about the informal nature of my arrangements. I regret that I did not recognise that a more formal arrangement would have been wise and preferable so as to avoid the risk of an appearance of benefit, and I apologise for that.

The commissioner has accepted that my claims have the effect of abating all costs except mortgage interest and council tax, and were therefore in line with advice that was given to me by the Department of Resources, which was repeated to him as recently as three months ago. He has, however, challenged that advice—that mortgage interest as a fixed cost need not be abated—and has determined that it was too narrow. He has recognised that his conclusion is at odds with the Department’s advice, which he accepts I followed.

I fully accept that this investigation has been an opportunity to shine further light on both the advice given and the rules as they pertained at the time, and that the commissioner has every right to redefine such advice and apply it retrospectively. Indeed, had the advice been given to me in terms that have now been suggested by the commissioner, I would of course have acted differently.

None the less, I accept the report’s conclusions in full, including the requirement to repay, with no complaint, and I apologise without reservation to the House. I should have been much clearer about my arrangements and taken steps to ensure that I was not open to any charge of benefit, and I should have had much more concern for how these rules were perceived by the public, rather than just following them.

I apologise for any part I have played in the diminution of the standing of this House in the eyes of the public. It is, however, time to move on. I apologise to the House once again without reservation, Mr. Speaker; and I thank you for allowing me to make this personal statement and for helping me to set a course to do all that I can in future to restore the trust and faith of my constituents and the public generally in our politics.