Please find attached an exchange of letters between Rt Hon Sir Paul Kennedy and Dr Julian Lewis MP. When the Review of MPs’ Expenses began, Dr Lewis said he would wait until the end of the process before commenting, which he is now doing as follows:
"Before the expenses row occurred, and after a false story – subsequently withdrawn and apologised for – appeared in the News of the World in March last year, I asked for all my expenses claims to be examined by the House of Commons authorities with a proverbial fine-tooth comb. This they did and that is why I was able to state that I had made no improper claims and did not expect to have to make any repayments.
This was confirmed by David Cameron’s Scrutiny Panel, which re-examined all Conservative MPs’ claims documents after the expenses scandal broke. It recommended that no repayments needed to be made by me.
Late last year, a third examination (by Sir Thomas Legg) informed me for the first time that a single month’s mortgage interest had been allocated in the Fees Office to the wrong financial year in error. Neither I nor anyone else had been able to notice this because the relevant paperwork was left out of the documents scanned and published by the Commons authorities. As soon as I was made aware of the mistake, I repaid the sum involved.
The only other repayment recommended was for a kitchen appliance which had been specifically approved in advance by the Fees Office in order to avoid the extra costs involved in fitting a different model. I am very glad that I appealed this item because, although ruling that I should repay the extra sum (which I immediately did), the attached letter from Sir Paul Kennedy makes it absolutely clear that
'There can be no possible criticism of what you did when replacing the washer/drier. Any prudent householder would have done the same.'
His letter also makes it absolutely clear, as I have said all along, that there has been no impropriety whatsoever in the claims that I have made.
Throughout my time in Parliament, I have usually featured somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of the way down the list of MPs ranked in terms of their ‘expensiveness’. This is because I have regularly not sought to claim many items which I would have been entitled to claim, year after year, if I had wanted to maximise my expenses. That will continue to be the case.
Several months ago, David Cameron set up a scheme for Conservative Shadow Ministers to publish their expenses claims online as soon as they are submitted. This is an excellent system and I was pleased to be told, by his office, that I was the first Shadow Minister – outside the Shadow Cabinet – to upload my data when it was launched."
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TEXT OF LETTER FROM Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP
TO Rt Hon Sir PAUL KENNEDY, 29 January 2010
Dear Sir Paul,
I have safely received your letter of 28 January concerning my ACA Repayment Appeal – and I wish to thank you for the terms in which you wrote it.
As you say, Sir Thomas Legg recommended repayment for just two items. One was for a single month’s mortgage interest which, several years ago, was mistakenly allocated in the Fees Office to the wrong financial year. The paperwork was then left out of my documents, when scanned and published by the Fees Office, so no-one knew that this error had been made until very late last year. Naturally, I repaid the £829.85 involved immediately it was brought to my attention.
I appealed only the second recommended repayment – namely, for £239 on a single kitchen appliance, a washer/drier machine. The replacement of this had been approved by the Fees Office in 2006 – on a like-for-like basis – specifically to minimise the cost to the public purse of plumbing, fitting and having to buy new kitchen units to house the machine, which would otherwise have been incurred.
As I informed you previously, if my Appeal had succeeded I intended to give the £239 to a local charity anyway – in order to show that the money itself was not an issue. What is an issue is the attempt by people of ill-will to try to impute misconduct to MPs inappropriately.
Given that you have freely stated that:
“There can be no possible criticism of what [I] did when replacing the washer/drier. Any prudent householder would have done the same”,
and that you have emphasised that I had no way of knowing that a ‘guideline price’ of £550 for such an item even existed, I am delighted to accept your decision in the positive spirit in which it has been made and to comply with it.
It is – as you clearly appreciate – extremely important for those MPs who have acted in good faith, when making claims after seeking prior guidance from the Fees Office, not to have our integrity unfairly impugned. By the way in which you have phrased your letter to me, and no doubt to others placed in similar situations whilst acting in good faith, you have made such unfairness much less likely to happen.
Dr JULIAN LEWIS
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TEXT OF LETTER FROM Rt Hon Sir PAUL KENNEDY
TO Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP, 28 January 2010
Dear Dr Lewis,
The ACA Review says that in July 2006 you were paid £829.85 for mortgage interest related to the previous year. You have, I understand, repaid that sum.
The Review also says that in July 2006 you were paid £789 for a washer/drier, which exceeded the guideline price of £550 by £239, so you are recommended to repay that sum.
In your Grounds of Appeal to me you explain that at the material time you were unaware of any guideline price. I accept that. You also say that all you were doing was replacing a worn out appliance in a fitted kitchen with an identical appliance which fitted in the available space. It was made by Bosch, not an unduly expensive brand, and because it fitted in the available space there were no significant extra costs for plumbing, wiring or re-ordering the kitchen. Had such costs been incurred you could have reclaimed them, so your course of action restricted the burden on public funds. Furthermore, you discussed with the Fees Office what you proposed to do, and received approval, an assertion supported to some extent by an email from the Fees Office which I have seen.
There can be no possible criticism of what you did when replacing the washer/drier. Any prudent householder would have done the same. But I am sure that you would accept that anyone assessing your claim to recover the full cost from public funds would have to draw a line somewhere. The Review has drawn that line by reference to a guideline, of which you knew nothing. No doubt had you known of it you would not have claimed more, but the guideline having now been established and applied to all Members’ claims such as yours, my carefully restricted Terms of Reference (a copy of which I enclose) only permit me to interfere if I can find special reasons in your individual case showing that it would not be fair and equitable to require repayment. I can find no such reasons. The ultimate result is that (like others who purchased furniture) you have had the benefit of an appliance which fits your kitchen and the public will have contributed to its cost up to the limit of the guideline price.
I would therefore dismiss your appeal.
My report to the MEC [Members’ Estimates Committee] will be in the form of an introductory section, followed by copies of my replies to the individual appellants, so this reply will form part of my report.
Sir PAUL KENNEDY
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KENNEDY REVIEW TERMS OF REFERENCE
To consider written submissions made by any Member against a recommendation of the Legg review of past ACA [Additional Costs Allowance] claims in his or her case to require a repayment, and showing cause why there are special reasons in the individual case that it would not be fair and equitable to require repayment either at all, or at the level recommended.
To reach conclusions on such submissions in the light of any further evidence as may be required and to report in writing as soon as possible to the Members Estimates Committee.