Four Lib Dem MPs censured over second home allowances

Lib Dem MPs Richard Younger-Ross, John Barrett, Sandra Gidley and Paul Holmes have been ordered to apologise and repay a total £16,500 in the latest twist of the long-running expenses saga.

The four were among a larger number of MPs who were paid a lump sum in return for paying higher rent at the Dolphin Square apartments near to parliament.  The MPs personally received the lump sum, whilst the taxpayer paid the higher rent.

Two of the MPs have been ordered to repay half the lump sum they received, the other two to repay a quarter.

Overall, Lib Dem MPs have had a good, though clearly far from perfect, record on expenses.  Far fewer Lib Dem MPs have had to repay expenses, and the repayments have been substantially lower, than for the other two parties.

So, understandably perhaps, Conservative blogger Iain Dale, more used to the long line of Tory MPs flipping second homes and trying to claim moat maintenance and duck houses on expenses, is gleeful that these four Lib Dems have been asked to repay the money.  He’s keen to suggest that this makes the Lib Dems somehow as bad as the other two big parties on expenses.

Whilst we at Lib Dem Voice would love to indulge Iain Dale, the facts sadly say otherwise.

Taking into account these four, Lib Dems are being asked to repay a little under £60,000 in total, compared to around £450,000 for each of the Tories and Labour, and the average Lib Dem MP is being asked to repay well under half the average Conservative MP’s repayment.

Then there’s how this latest ruling came about.

The Lib Dem MPs, concerned that they might have broken the rules, referred themselves to the Standards Commissioner and undertook to abide by the ruling.

Labour and Conservative MPs also took the same deal at Dolphin Square, but none have referred themselves, or been referred by their parties.

Has anyone ever claimed that the Lib Dems were without fault on expenses?  No, of course not.

In his speech to conference last Sunday, Nick said

People say all politicians are the same. They are not. Of course, Liberal Democrats are not perfect. But no Liberal Democrat MP “flipped” their home in this way. None of our outer London MPs even claimed a second home allowance. And it was Liberal Democrats who fought Labour and Conservative attempts to keep the scandal hidden. So don’t let them tell you we are all the same because it isn’t true.

Nick’s comments were correct on Sunday and remain correct today.

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37 Comments

  • Anthony Aloysius St 20th Mar '10 - 10:37am

    “Then there’s how this latest ruling came about.
    The Lib Dem MPs, concerned that they might have broken the rules, referred themselves to the Standards Commissioner and undertook to abide by the ruling.”

    What you don’t mention is that this “concern” materialised only _after_ the Daily Telegraph published an article revealing what had happened. In other words, they referred themselves to the commissioner only _after_ they’d been found out.

  • I’m sure LibDem MPs are far less corrupt than others but these four didn’t seem to have any problem taking a windfall profit on the back of their housing expenses.

    What action will the party be taking against them for betraying our trust?

  • Andrew Suffield 20th Mar '10 - 10:58am

    This is so obscure and subtle that I’m not all that sure it is wrong, from the descriptions given by the media (would have to closely examine the situation). It’s quite reasonable to think that until it was pointed out to them, the MPs involved had not realised that there might be an issue.

  • If this is wrong why is at alright for MP’s to bag any appreciation in the value of a second home that they have bought.at taxpayers expense.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 20th Mar '10 - 11:09am

    Andrew

    I think I can save you the trouble of “closely examining” the situation. Look at it like this:

    The taxpayer is paying your rent for you. You agree with your landlord to raise that rent in return for a cash payment of £10,000-20,000. You pocket the money. The taxpayer is left paying an increased rent.

    It amuses me that when politicians are up for election, they portray themselves as superhuman experts with their fingers on every pulse, but when they are caught abusing the expenses system they are happy to be thought of as naive ingenus who can barely understand a balance sheet …

  • Anthony Aloysius St 20th Mar '10 - 11:11am

    “If this is wrong why is at alright for MP’s to bag any appreciation in the value of a second home that they have bought.at taxpayers expense.”

    According to Nick Clegg, it’s _not_ all right to do that, and supposedly he is going to ensure that no Lib Dem MP does so. (Though how he will manage that is anyone’s guess.)

  • No disciplinary action has been taken over any of the Lib Dem MPs or peers that broke rules. Even in the case of these 4 that an Independent Commission says, that they need to be punished. Nick Clegg says that there will be no party imposed punishment!

    These 4 MPs (in the words of the Commission) put their private needs before the public needs.

    That is a shocking statement. But the author thinks they did no wrong? Go figure. They should have the party whip temporarily removed and the 3 that are re-standing should face a local party re-selection contest. Their opponents would probably prefer that they remain in place and face the electorate.

    One of them took £18,000. Hardly small beer. A “We only took £20,000 wrongly but that is ok as others took £80,000” is an awful principle.

  • Who cares. Not me. Get lives.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 20th Mar '10 - 12:41pm

    What I find breathtaking is this little snippet from Younger-Ross, with reference to the fact that his acceptance of an £8000 payment resulted in the taxpayer paying £4500 a year more:
    “In his defence, Mr Younger-Ross claimed the cost to the taxpayer did not increase because if he had not accepted the payment he would have claimed more money from his allowance to redecorate the flat.”
    [apparently the link is preventing this comment from appearing]

    Is someone who thinks in this way really a fit person to represent the party in parliament?

  • I can think of countless examples of trade unions, private and public organisations where this sort of thing is/was thought of as ok. In fact if I’m not mistaken an Employment Tribunal supported workers sacked for doing something similar because it was ‘custom and practice’. The report shows that the Fees Office set out advice to MPs after a official had given the practice the green light, but fail to tell the MPs!

  • Andrew Suffield 20th Mar '10 - 2:10pm

    The taxpayer is paying your rent for you. You agree with your landlord to raise that rent in return for a cash payment of £10,000-20,000. You pocket the money. The taxpayer is left paying an increased rent.

    Cute but irrelevant. Let’s aim a little closer to reality:

    Your landlord is bought out by a new company. They increase the rent on your property by 50%. You can pay the new higher rent, or move out. As is required by your tenancy contract, they offer you compensation for the cost of moving out, which you cannot claim expenses for. You can turn that down if you want, but your rent is getting hiked no matter what you do.

    Not so obvious now, is it? If the government were to reduce the maximum amount of rent payable for MPs, then these people have to move and pay the costs of moving out of their own pockets… so is it really unreasonable for the company who hiked the rates to pay for those costs?

    Well, that’s going to depend on the details of the scenario. Now, look more closely at the ruling: two were told to repay half, and two were told to repay a quarter. So, the decision was that actually, it is okay for them to receive compensation for their expenses in this scenario, but that the amount of money was too high.

    Can you honestly say that the MPs should have been able to make this judgement on their own?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 20th Mar '10 - 2:57pm

    Andrew

    It really would help if you could be bothered to acquaint yourself with the basic facts.

    “The aim of the new owners appears to have been to encourage existing tenants, many of whom were on long leases which guaranteed advantageous terms, to give up their right to those terms.”
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmstnprv/491/49103.htm

    Of course, Beith and Campbell refused the offer of a lump sum, and retained their assured rents.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 20th Mar '10 - 3:02pm

    And the committee did _not_ conclude that it was OK for them to receive the payments.

    On the contrary, if you read the report, you’ll see that at the time the offer was made the Commissioner prepared advice for MPs, should they ask for it:
    “It advised Members who had claimed the whole of their rent from ACA to pass on to the House any money they decided to accept, because it would be “inappropriate to gain a personal benefit.” Arrangements could be made to set the amount against future rental payments.”

    Unfortunately these MPs did not seek advice, and instead simply pocketed the whole of the money.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 20th Mar '10 - 3:13pm

    It’s worth adding that the circumstances of the four MPs were all different, and in two cases (Gidley and Holmes) the committee accepted that the acceptance of the offer had not led to an increased cost to the public purse.

    But in the other two cases (Barrett and Younger-Ross) they concluded that the acceptance of the offer had ” led to a substantially increased cost to the public purse”.

  • Living in hope 20th Mar '10 - 3:38pm

    If capital gains tax was paid on the amount received from the property developer and the balance used to pay for allowances/expenses that could otherwise be claimed for directly out of the public purse, then all fine by this supporter.

  • Iain Roberts wrote “@HF Not sure how you came to the conclusion I thought the four MPs did nothing wrong.”

    Where Iain did you say they did wrong?

    You omitted to state the words of the Commissioner such as that “….. decided to accept the principal offer of a lump sum without sharing it with the public purse and that in doing so .. breached the Code of Conduct by putting … personal interest before the public interest.”

    Putting their personal interest before the public interest is not some minor transgression.

  • Iain ok, where did you state that they did anything wrong? I have re-read your article a few times and have failed to find that and keep wondering if I missed something? What do you think they did wrong?

  • Andrew Suffield 20th Mar '10 - 11:13pm

    And the committee did _not_ conclude that it was OK for them to receive the payments.

    And yet strangely they allowed them to keep part of the payments. You are suggesting that the committee decided it was not acceptable but let them keep the money anyway?

    Your attempt to confuse the issue by quoting that paragraph about what “the aim of the new owners appears to” have been, rather than quoting the actual facts of their actions (below), makes it obvious that you’re being deliberately dishonest here.

    6. The three offers are summarised in the Commissioner’s memorandum, as follows:

    * Option A, “Cash and Go” version, which would involve the current tenant being paid a sum of money by the new owners of Dolphin Square, who would secure vacant possession of the flat;
    * Option A, “Cash and Stay” version, which would involve the current tenant being paid a sum of money by the new owners of Dolphin Square, and staying in their flat at a higher rent, on an assured shorthold tenancy, with no security of tenure on expiry of the fixed term;
    * Option B, a fixed term lease that could run until June 2034, starting with a rent the same as the current rent but gradually increasing year on year.[5]

    That’s pretty straightforward. The rent was going up, and they were offered compensation for (potentially) having to move – the same thing that always happens in these situations.

    What’s more, your claim:

    Unfortunately these MPs did not seek advice, and instead simply pocketed the whole of the money.

    is directly contradicted by the document you reference:

    In evidence to ourselves and to the Commissioner, Members have put forward examples of the ways in which the money they received from the new owners of Dolphin Square was spent and, to a greater or lesser extent, all have said that the payments were used to defray expenses that resulted from their positions as MPs. Some said that if they had not used the payments in this way, they would have been able to make claims for the amounts under Parliamentary allowances; others said that the payments helped to make up for costs they had incurred in excess of, or outside of, the amounts available under Parliamentary allowances.

    So they did not in fact “pocket the money”, and by your own admission you knew that. That’s outright libel. I can’t say I’m very impressed with the case you’re making.

  • Let’s try this:

    In evidence to ourselves and to the Commissioner, Bank Robbers have put forward examples of the ways in which the money they stole was spent and, to a greater or lesser extent, all have said that the payments were used to defray expenses that resulted from their positions as parents of starving babies. Some said that if they had not used the payments in this way, they would have been able to make claims for the amounts under State benefit allowances; others said that the payments helped to make up for costs they had incurred in excess of, or outside of, the amounts available when making bogus benefit claims.

    “So they did not in fact ‘pocket the money’…. That’s outright libel.”

    Er, yes Andrew, it probably is, but by whom?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Mar '10 - 12:55am

    Andrew Suffield

    You have a hell of a nerve in accusing me of being dishonest!

    You must understand now – if you didn’t understand it before – that when you said previously their rents would have risen whether they took the payments or not was simply untrue. The payments were offered to induce them to relinquish their tenancies. In two cases the committee stated explicitly that as a result of them accepting the payments there was “a substantially increased cost to the public purse”.

    In plain terms, what you posted was a lie. Nothing more, and nothing less. Why can’t you have the honesty to correct it?

    And again, if you could be bothered to read the report, you would see why the committee allowed them to keep part of the payments. It was because the committee considered that not all of the rent had been paid by the taxpayer. I reckon they got off incredibly lightly. But that’s the problem with politicians policing their own behaviour.

    And as for that crap about it being libellous to say that they pocketed the money, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so ludicrous. In the sentence before, I had pointed out to you that – had they had the sense to ask his advice about the offer – the commissioner would have told them to hand the money over to the House of Commons. Instead, they pocketed the money. What they did – or claimed to have done – with the money _after_ they had pocketed it is beside the point.

    For myself, what I find most depressing about this is that whatever misdemeanour Lib Dem politicians are found guilty of – and, make no mistake, this was judged to be a serious misdemeanour – there is always someone willing to excuse it, to tell lies on their behalf, and generally to abuse and defame those who complain about it.

    I only hope your gutter tactics aren’t representative of the party in general.

  • Sorry those Lib Dems who are trying to split the difference between this case and the flipping, duck houses etc are utterly wrong. The expenses issue is clearly about right and wrong and any MP of any party who takes a big cheque and asks the tax payer to pick up the bill is equally liable.

    AAS is right (for once) this is as bad as any other scandal – there was no excuse and frankly the leadership’s reaction is utterly disgraceful.

  • liberal light 21st Mar '10 - 7:41am

    so who are the other mps who did this?

  • Interesting the media seem to be keepiing quite quiet about this after the initial outburst. I am also wondering about who the other MPs might be. I must say that in the present climate it was pretty stupid to have accepted these payments and if I was Nick I would have demanded that they repaid the lot.

  • Adrian do you think that the party should discipline these 4 MPs for putting their private interest ahead of that of the public?

    The other parties have responsibility for their own MPs.

  • They should not have done it in the first place!

    As they got ‘caught with their hands in the cookie jar’ don’t give them so much credit for bringing the issue to everyone’s attention.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Mar '10 - 2:38pm

    Adrian

    What on earth do you think we can do about it, as ordinary members of the public? I only wish we could do something about it!

    You’re an MP, why don’t you do something about it, rather than just trying to score party points?

  • Adrian, trying to deflect the issue of the 4 onto other parties is just pure spin BS from the Malcom Tucker school of spin. I thought your party does not do that?

    If 50 people were burglars in a town, should 4 who are caught be given discharges just because there are 46 others yet to be charged?

    Do you not see the damage that these 4 have done to your image and will continue to do damage, if your party condones their behaviour? You cannot claim to be “clean up politics and the image of MPs” if you let these 4 off. Set an example ahead of the other 46. It is called Leadership.

  • Have just sent this to the PCS:

    Dear Commissioner,

    With regard to the four Liberal Democrat MPs who reported themselves to you over the lump sum payments they received from their landlord, Dolphin Square, I understand that some 50 other MPs and Peers who were tenants of Dolphin Square may also have received such lump sum payments.

    None of them appear to have declared these payments to you. Please investigate the situation.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Mar '10 - 4:17pm

    “… I am scoring party points by highlighting the honourable behaviour of 4 Lib Dems …”

    Well, I suppose you deserve some credit for your candour.

    But “honourable behaviour”?

    Certainly in the cases of the two whose acceptance of the cash “led to a substantially increased cost to the public purse”, if they had been honourable they would not have taken the money in the first place, they wouldn’t have kept quiet about it until the press had broken the story and they would have repaid the money voluntarily rather than waiting to be told to.

    It’s not good enough to keep saying “we’re not as bad as the other two parties”. Don’t you think people deserve better than that?

  • Adrian you wrote “What do you say about MPs who didn’t refer themselves to the authorities, who have pocketed the money in full, and are now charging you as a taxpayer for the increased rent or other costs subsequent on choosing Option A?”

    I would mount the campaign to have them deselected and will do when their names come out – which they will. Just as i have already done with my party’s MPs such as Kirkbride. We need to encourage each other to get the people who make put themselves before the public interest. Otherwise we get the politicians we deserve. We (the people) need the Lib Dems to clean their house up.

    Now will you agree to do the same with your 4? You would if you had any sense of principle that charging for Moat cleaning is at least the same level of abuse (and probably less costly) than pocketing thousands gained from a rental change. But Nick Clegg has not and does not seen the elephant trap opening up ahead of him.

  • David Langshaw 21st Mar '10 - 8:31pm

    Let me see if I have understood this correctly………Party A agrees to give Party B a large sum of money, if Party B gets Party C to make (increased) regular payments to Party A. Party C is not aware of the arrangement between Parties A and B.

    If that happened in the Third World, with our Aid Budget, it would be called Bribery and Corruption. If it happened in comerce or industry it would be a sacking offence. If it happened in a Tory or Labour run Council, the Lib Dems would be making a great deal out of the situation.

    Sorry, some things are just wrong. This is one of them.

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