Thursday 21 May 2009

Andrew Dismore & Expenses

Andrew Dismore wrote to me to explain his position on expenses. I thought I'd publish it here without comment. Make your own mind up.

20th May 2009

Dear Mr Tichborne,

In view of the widespread concern about parliamentary allowances I thought I should write to you with my views.

May I firstly start by saying that I have been as shocked and horrified as the public has been, over some of the claims put forward by some MPs. Indeed, people forget sometimes that I, and other MPs, are taxpayers, too, and do not like to see public money misspent any more than you do.

The recent revelations clearly show the need for change, and I have put forward my own suggestions for reform to the Committee on Standards in Public Life (the “Kelly” committee) including a complete abolition of the “Second Homes Allowance”, to be replaced with a system of renting or hotel accommodation which would overcome these difficulties. This might work out a bit more expensive for the taxpayer, but I believe such a price is necessary to restore the reputation of Parliament.

Having said that, I have always been open about my own allowances claims: By way of example, please feel free to read my most recent press releases, issued of 12th March (click here) and 15th April (click here), giving the background explanation, where appropriate. You will see, amongst other things, that I have renounced the right to claim the “second home allowance”.

I do not have (and never have had) a country house, with or without a moat, a tennis court, swimming pool or chandelier. My trouser press was a gift from my mother, and not part of any claim!

I did not go into politics for money. When I was a local government councillor, my very modest responsibility allowance (£1200 per year, a pittance compared to what leading members of Barnet Council claim) was entirely donated, in full, towards providing a service for my ward constituents.

When I stood for Parliament, I knew I would far worse off than in my previous occupation as a solicitor. The pay cut was almost 50%, for almost double the hours of work. I accepted this willingly, because I went into politics to serve the community and to try to make life better for all, individually, locally and nationally; not to enrich myself.

Indeed, since I was elected, I have spent tens of thousands of pounds of my own money, supporting my constituency office, particularly in the early years of my time in Westminster, when the then staffing allowance was not enough to provide the quality of service I believe you, my constituents, are entitled to expect.

The Daily Telegraph has been trawling through MPs’ allowances claim forms, and supporting receipts. The only comment on mine so far, has been to compare me favourably, with the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, in the neighbouring constituency. I note it was only after this exposure, that she decided to publish her returns, and (in 6 month’s time) follow my lead in giving up the second home allowance.

In relation to my own large pile of documentation, unsolicited, I invited the Evening Standard to send a reporter to read through them and to take whatever notes or copies he wished (though publication would obviously need to exclude personal data like account and card numbers).

I have offered similar access to the Hendon and Edgware Times.

I believe that the Evening Standard reporter was satisfied that there was nothing untoward in any of the claim forms or supporting documentation: I am sure if there had been, it would have been reported in the Evening Standard, by now!

I am starting a new section on my website, on which my expenses returns will appear regularly, as soon as possible after their submission (click here). As to the historic records, which the Evening Standard inspected, I asked the Commons authorities if there was any way I could make them public, electronically, before they are formally published by the House in a few weeks’ time. The volume of paper is such that it is not practical to publish them in any other way. I was told there was no easy way of putting them on the internet, but once they are published I will then try to create a link from my website. The “journalist” inspection is the best I can do in the meantime.

As to other Parliamentarians, it is quite clear that there have been some appalling abuses carried out, for which I believe that we have all been found guilty by association, but inevitably we must all share the common criticism, of not having amended the rules before.

I am a member of the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee, and we have made a number of recommendations, which regrettably were not all taken up, for example relating to the designation of which home should be the second home.

One of our most recent recommendations was that MPs should be taken entirely outside the allowance setting process, and this should be left to the Kelly committee. We tabled unanimous, cross party, amendments to this effect for the debates in April, which explains my votes, then, as the Government accepted one of those amendments but not the others.

In the past, I have supported disclosure of MPs’ allowances, contrary to what my opponent suggests. I did not support the disclosure of MPs’ private constituency correspondence which was at risk from the Freedom of Information Act. This also explains my votes on that issue at the time.

I also think it is fair to say that some of the newspaper reports have been somewhat disingenuous and have not given a full picture of the circumstances of particular claims; and there has been an element of party political bias or choreography in the way the Daily Telegraph, a Conservative leaning newspaper, has released the information.

For example, while focussing on the minutiae of some of the “furniture” claims, they have virtually ignored the claims by the Leader of the Opposition, a multi-millionaire, for almost £24,000 a year just for his mortgage interest payments, which have passed without criticism.

My political neighbour, the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, has also claimed substantial sums for the purchase of her second home.

When I was claiming for the “second home allowance” for my Burnt Oak flat, I claimed for running costs only. I did not claim anything for the cost of buying it.

Nevertheless, this cannot justify in any way the outlandish cases that have been brought to the public’s attention. It is right that action is taken, and I am pleased the Prime Minister has suspended offenders from the Labour Party.

I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment further on individual cases, because, as a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, I may well be called upon to be one of those passing sentence, if the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards, who is an independent investigator, reports to us on breaches of the rules, which may well have been committed despite protestations to the contrary.

It is necessary that urgent action is taken, and I am pleased that interim measures are now being proposed, pending the Kelly review.

I hope, though, that this gives you an indication of my own concern on the issue, and the fact that I have personally tried to be as open as I possibly can as far as my own claims are concerned, which I published long before the Commons required it, each year.

If you have any specific questions about my own claims, I will certainly do the best I can to respond to them.

Yours sincerely,


Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mr Dismore reminds us that when he was a councillor he only claimed £1,200 a year which he describes as “a pittance compared to what leading members of Barnet Council claim”Labour councillor Alison Moore’s allowances totalled £29,205 last year.

So there we have it, Labour MP attacks Labour councillor standing in Finchley!

Mr Dismore might not have claimed as much as other MPs, but that does make it right. No London MP should ever have been allowed to claim a second homes allowance. If they wants a second home, they should pay for it themselves.

Theresa Villiers has told the Barnet Press she will stop claiming the ACA in 6 months to give her time to make alternative arrangements. But still no word as to whether she will pay back the stamp duty. David Cameron has told MPs to pay back money they should not have claimed - even if it was within the rules.

Anonymous said...

Er... Why 'no comment'? Was that a condition of Mr Dismore writing to you? It must be the first time ever you have published something without comment - you must have a view... surely?

Rog T said...


A fair question. There were no condition from Mr Dismore.

I thought that it was the best way to post it. I'm planning to do a response to it over the weekend.

It is quite a long letter so I thought that I'd let people digest it & then have my say.

Dan, I can assure you that the best way to get a good slagging off here is to try and force me to say any thing.

You may wonder why the delay. Well there are a few things I wanted to check out & I've been busy with work to do it properly.

If Theresa Villiers sends me a letter I'll do it in exactly the same fashion. I'd also do the same for Brian Coleman, Mike Freer or anyone else if they sent such a letter explaining their behaviour.

I hope that allays your fears that I've been taken to the testiclke slapping room at Millbank

GreggyH said...

Are you aware that Mr Dismore has not stopped his incessant claiming for mileage?

I have a complaint with the GLA about his behaviour, especially in light of his seeking to return to Parliament.

The most despicable element was claiming £4 mileage allowance to attend a Holocaust Memorial Day event in Hendon. For someone who has no doubt dined out on his involvement in establishing the day in the UK, to think this is appropriate behaviour for the last two years is mind blowing.