FOREST MP VINDICATED ON EXPENSES CLAIMS
PRESS INFORMATION – 2 July 2009
New Forest East MP Julian Lewis has been exonerated of any wrongdoing in relation to his Parliamentary allowance claims, known as the Additional Costs Allowance (ACA). As previously reported, all Conservative MPs were required to have their claims for this allowance – designed to meet expenditure on a second home – checked and cleared by a Scrutiny Panel, headed by Chief Whip Patrick McLoughlin and Opposition Assistant Chief Whip John Randall. Nearly half of them have been instructed to pay money back.
Mr Randall has now written to Dr Lewis confirming that his detailed ACA claims have been examined, and that
"we do not require you to answer any queries about them and there is no requirement for any repayments to be made".
In a separate letter from the House of Commons Resources Department, the New Forest East MP’s conduct over the refurbishment of his London flat has also been vindicated. A number of newspapers had repeatedly alleged that he attempted to claim from the ACA for a wooden floor in 2006, and that this had been rejected. However, the Commons Authorities have now categorically stated that at no time did Dr Lewis indicate any intention to claim for particular items, when asking for advice in January 2006 as to which parts of the refurbishment were allowable.
He had merely sought advice and accepted it.
Mr Chris Sear, Assistant Director of Operations/Head of Policy, wrote to the MP:
"I can therefore confirm that you did not at any time submit a claim for flooring, and indeed your claim specifically excluded the item in question".
Mr Sear added that by seeking advice as to which items were appropriate to claim, in this way, Dr Lewis had acted
"in accordance with best practice as recommended by this department. Therefore, I can also confirm that it is not true that you attempted to claim £6,000 in expenses for a wooden floor at your second home".
The MP commented:
"These two letters fully endorse what I told the media, right at the outset, when this horrific expenses row exploded. One newspaper even invented a headline which had me declaring 'I Won’t Pay Back a Penny', when in reality I had never made such a statement. I always said that I was sure no repayment would be required – and this prediction has now been confirmed."
Dr Lewis added:
"As for the flooring, the House Authorities have stated in the clearest possible terms that no claim was ever made or suggested by me, and that I followed best practice as recommended by the Department of Resources.
"I trust that some of the people who were so quick to make political capital against me will now examine their consciences."
* * * *
Julian's summary of expenses is available here. The most recent set of figures shows that, out of 646 MPs, 525 MPs claimed more in expenses/allowances than Julian Lewis.
* * * *
MEMO FROM JULIAN LEWIS MP TO ALASTAIR JAMIESON
16 May 2009
Thank you for your e-mailed letter. I shall do my best to respond as fully and as quickly as I can to the four points you raise.
1. I moved in to my London flat in July 2004. It is a block built in about 1994 and the flat appeared not to have been redecorated since. By January 2006, therefore, I decided that the time had come to undertake a full redecoration and I obtained a quotation for this to be done. You have a copy of this quotation as page 17 of the relevant year’s bundle amongst my ACA documentation. It was obvious to me that some of the proposed work would be claimable and some would not. I therefore submitted the estimate to the Fees Office with a request for their guidance as to what was appropriate to claim and what was not and I received the response from [the Validation Officer] dated 23 January 2006, which constitutes page 15 of the bundle.
I did not in any way question or challenge the advice that she gave and therefore did not claim for the biggest single item – namely, the wooden flooring. As you can see on pages 13 and 17, when submitting the claim form I wrote the following on the claim form: "NB I have excluded the £5995 plus VAT for the flooring, as discussed in previous correspondence. JL". And, alongside the reference to the flooring, I wrote the words "Exclude – JL" and underlined this. At no stage did I claim for the flooring and it did not cost the taxpayer a penny.
Turning to the remaining six items on the list, all I genuinely and openly sought was the advice of the appropriate official as to what was and what was not suitable to claim, and I followed that advice without question. The advice was that, of the total bill for fully redecorating the flat for £10,140 plus VAT, it was appropriate to claim £4,145 plus VAT and that is what I did. I did not go ahead with the work before receiving the guidance, but only afterwards – in the full knowledge of the advice received from the House of Commons that I would be paying about 60% of the overall cost myself.
2. The legal bill: this concerned a dispute between the person who had sold me the flat and the managing agents and involved arrears incurred by him, which were being wrongly added to my service charge bills. I had to employ a solicitor to sort this out, which he did for this sum. As the service charges for the flat were legitimate ACA claims, there was a danger that they would include sums which neither I nor the ACA should have to pay. My solicitor sorted this out very efficiently and, again, I asked for guidance as to whether this bill was claimable under these circumstances. Had I received advice to the contrary, I would not have claimed it.
3. You refer to a list of claims covering a four-year period, all of which relate to my London flat and ask why I consider these to be an appropriate use of public funds. The main item is the bill of £2,369.75 for four new Bosch kitchen appliances and their installation. This was incurred because four appliances in the kitchen (oven, hob, dishwasher and washing-machine) were damaged, worn-out or, in the case of the electric hob, extremely uneconomic. All were well over ten years old and their replacements were the exact new equivalents of the worn-out units. They were not an upgrade. It was entirely appropriate to renew the items in this way and I am sure there must be few MPs claiming the ACA, who have not made similar claims according to the guidance given. Where kitchen appliances dating from 1994 are still useable – the fridge/freezer and the microwave, as well as all the original kitchen units – I am still using them and will continue to do so until they also require replacement. This is in stark contrast to cases where people have claimed many thousands of pounds for installing complete new kitchens.
Turning to the trouser press, I bought two of them, for the simple reason that I need one in my constituency home and one in my London flat. I paid for the one in my constituency home and the ACA paid for the second one in London, just as the ACA paid for other household items arising from the need to have two homes rather than one. The same applies to the £98 for two bedroom rugs. As I paid for the wooden flooring myself, this £98 should be compared to the claim I could have made for carpeting the entire flat, which would have been well in excess of £1,000.
With regard to the other items, totalling £307.56 over four years, I think you will agree that this is a tiny sum for oddments over a four-year period and illustrates the fact that I have not been systematically claiming for minor items in the way that it would have been possible for me to do.
Likewise, I have never claimed a penny for anything to do with home entertainment. I paid entirely for the flat-screen television, DVD player and satellite system and have never sought any reimbursement for television licences or other entertainment subscriptions.
4. Photocopying at the National Archives
In 2006, I was made a member of the Royal College of Defence Studies as a result of my participation at the most senior level of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. Part of the 12-month RCDS course is to write a 10,000-word dissertation. Mine was on the subject of “Britain’s Need for a Nuclear Deterrent”. This fell into 2 parts. The first 5,000 words were analytical, but the latter half of the dissertation was an historical study. This involved original research at the National Archives and the copying of the relevant archives from the Chiefs of Staff Committee in the period under consideration. I was undertaking my work as a Parliamentarian on an approved Parliamentary Scheme and so I asked whether this expense was allowable. I was told that it was – hence the claim.
About 80 dissertations were submitted by the 2006 intake of the RCDS, and I am pleased to say that mine was one of the dozen selected for publication. I can e-mail you a copy if you wish to verify this.
I trust this answers all your queries, but please do not hesitate to ask if anything further occurs to you.
Finally, Mrs Brooks in my office tells me that, when you telephoned this morning to request an e-mail address, you said that this was in order to end me “a response to [my] letter”. I presume you meant my recent letter to Rhidian Wynn Davies, so I am disappointed not to have received it.
* * * *
LETTER FROM ALASTAIR JAMIESON TO DR JULIAN LEWIS
PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL
16 May 2009
Dear Dr Julian Lewis,
The Telegraph Media Group is investigating the expense claims made by Members of Parliament under the House of Commons Additional Costs Allowance system since the 2004/05 financial year. We are considering the publication of an article in tomorrow’s newspaper (May 17 2009) that will contain details of your expense claims.
We are aware of the provisions of the statutory instrument passed by Parliament last July and will therefore not be publishing MPs’ addresses or any other details which could compromise security.
However, as a matter of legitimate public interest and concern, we intend to publish the following details about your expense claims under the Additional Costs Allowance. We would invite you to respond to the following points.
1. In January 2006 you were advised by the House of Commons that it would not be in order to claim £5,995 plus VAT for a wooden floor with acoustic underlay. Did you indeed ask the House of Commons if you could claim for this, and if so please explain why you would have considered this an appropriate use of public funds? Did you have the work completed before you claimed? If not, did you go ahead with the installation of the wooden floor with acoustic underlay at your own expense? Do you think the £4,870 you claimed for the remaining redecoration an appropriate use of public funds?
2. In July 2005 you claimed for legal costs of £352 in relation to a dispute over service charges at the flat. Please explain why you considered this to be an appropriate use of public funds.
3. During the period you also claimed for a £119 wall-mounted trouser press, £5 for a ‘sweater tidy’, £4 for wax polish, £39.99 for a Brabantia laundry bin, £98 for two bedroom rugs, £23 for kitchen utensils, £11.25 for light bulbs, £51.17 for unspecified ‘kitchen bits and pieces’, £128.15 for unspecified ‘floor light, bulbs [sic], ironing board cover etc’, £45 for a shower curtain and £2,369.75 for new Bosch kitchen appliances and their installation. Please explain why you considered these an appropriate use of public funds?
4. What was the nature of the photocopying at the National Archive in Kew in summer 2006 for which you claimed £397 on your Incidental Expenses Allowance?
We do not presently see the justification for all of these claims under the rules or spirit of the rules set out in the Parliamentary Green Book. These stipulate that enhancing property is not allowed and that “extravagant or luxurious” purchases should be avoided.
Please could we receive your comments by noon today and please could you also inform us if you do not wish to comment.
Many thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you shortly.
* * * *
[NOTE: Following receipt of my reply, the Sunday Telegraph did not submit any challenges or follow-up questions. In the book which the Daily Telegraph published in September 2009, 'No Expenses Spared', not one of my claims was criticised, or even mentioned.]