Page last updated at 14:44 GMT, Friday, 11 July 2008 15:44 UK

Lib Dem whip broke postage rules

Paul Burstow
Mr Burstow offered to cover the cost of sending the newsletters

A senior Lib Dem MP broke parliamentary rules by sending newsletters to constituents at taxpayers' expense, the Commons standards watchdog says.

Chief whip Paul Burstow used pre-paid Commons envelopes to send the material attacking a Tory rival to voters in his Sutton and Cheam constituency.

But Standards Commissioner John Lyon said the pre-paid service was not meant for party political campaigning.

Mr Burstow has apologised and offered to repay the 1,500 postage costs.

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt made a complaint to Mr Lyon after hearing letters to new constituents sent in pre-paid Commons envelopes contained attacks on a future general election rival.

Mr Blunt said Mr Burstow had been "deliberately misusing the system to gain an unfair political advantage over his opponent at the next election at taxpayers' expense".

Matter closed

But Mr Burstow insisted that it was "a simple administrative error which shouldn't have happened and won't happen again".

I believe this practice directly undermines democracy by the incumbent politician unfairly entrenching his position
Crispin Blunt
Conservative MP

Mr Lyon ruled that the material, sent between January 2007 and June this year, should not have been sent in pre-paid Commons envelopes, which are intended for replies to constituents on issues on which they have contacted their MP.

But he said the Lib Dem MP could legitimately have charged the cost of sending the letters against his parliamentary allowances.

In a letter to Mr Blunt, he said he had accepted Mr Burstow's apology and now considered the matter closed.

Mr Lyon said he would report his findings "informally" to the cross-party Standards and Privileges Committee, which oversees the handling of allegations against MPs, but would not be recommending it should take any action.

Reigate MP Mr Blunt said: "At a time when the public are deeply sceptical about how MPs use taxpayers' money to do work on behalf of their constituents it is to be regretted that the Liberal Democrats' own chief whip was deliberately misusing the system to gain an unfair political advantage over his opponent at the next election at taxpayers' expense.

"I believe this practice directly undermines democracy by the incumbent politician unfairly entrenching his position. This must stop.

"It strikes straight at the heart of an open and fair democratic process."

Mr Burstow said he had stopped the practice "as soon as I discovered what was happening". He added: "The inquiry concluded it was a perfectly legitimate thing for me to do, but I should have been paying for it with one allowance rather than another.

"Mr Lyon is not taking this to the Standards and Privileges Committee. I think people should draw a conclusion from that."


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