Page last updated at 16:24 GMT, Monday, 12 October 2009 17:24 UK

Smith apology for expenses claims

Ms Smith apologised "unreservedly'' for claiming the cost of films

Former home secretary Jacqui Smith has apologised in the House of Commons for breaching expenses rules.

She designated her sister's house in London, which she shares, as her "main home" and then claimed second home allowances on her Redditch family home.

A standards inquiry found that she "wrongly" designated her home but had followed officials' advice at the time.

Ms Smith said she accepted the findings and apologised to the Commons and to her constituents.

She will not have to repay any money as the standards committee ruled that "no further action" be taken.

The report was published on the same day hundreds of MPs have been receiving letters from Sir Thomas Legg, a former civil servant who has been carrying out an audit of all second homes expense claims made since 2004.

'Shared home'

The six-month inquiry into Ms Smith by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon, was responding to two complaints - one that she had wrongly designated the London house belonging to her sister, at which she paid rent, as her main home.

The second related to the revelation that Ms Smith had claimed for pay-per-view films on her second homes allowance.

In the report Mr Lyon upheld both complaints and recommended Ms Smith apologise to the House of Commons for the home designation.

It said under previous rules she had been required to designate her London residence as her main home when she became a minister in July 1999.

Those rules changed in 2004 but Ms Smith left the London house - where she paid rent for sole use of a room and "shared use of the rest of the house" - as her designated "main home".

She should have exercised the discretion given in the rules to identify the residence she shared with her family in her constituency as her main home
Standards report

She argued that as a busy minister she spent more time in London.

In June 2007 she sought confirmation from Commons officials that that was reasonable, given that her family was in Redditch but she spent most of her time in Westminster - and was told they agreed with her.

But the commissioner said that advice was "flawed" and Ms Smith could "have taken a broader view of her situation than she did" and taken into account the number of nights she spent at both properties.

That may have led her to conclude "that her main home, in the sense that most people understand the term, was the house that she shared with her family".

'Gravitational pull'

The definition of the main home of an MP is normally determined by where they spend the most nights.

Police evidence suggested that between 28 June 2007 and 31 March 2008 Ms Smith spent 26 more nights in Redditch than in London - her account had suggested it was only two.

Mr Lyon found she "should have identified her constituency home as her main home throughout the period covered by the complaint".

While he found her London home was "more than some sort of temporary room in a stranger's house" he concluded: "The gravitational pull in terms of family and property is, on the basis of all the evidence I have seen, Redditch and not London."

I am disappointed that this process has not led to a fairer set of conclusions
Jacqui Smith

The Commons standards and privileges committee, which published the report, said the fact Ms Smith had sought and acted in accordance with advice from the House of Commons authorities was "a significant mitigating circumstance".

It also said it could not be established whether the taxpayer "is any worse or any better off" as a result of the way Ms Smith claimed her second homes expenses and recommended "no further action" be taken.

Ms Smith's husband's claim for an adult film was much reported at the time and was described by Ms Smith as "intensely embarrassing". But Mr Lyon said MPs must be careful that they only claim for the "minimum package" of TV services required for their Parliamentary duties.

'Subjective judgements'

It found she had made five claims over eight months for films and sporting events "over the basic subscription" and had not checked the documentation submitted in support of her claims.

Mr Lyon said "she clearly did not treat her claims with the care expected of all those who look for reimbursement from the public purse".

But it was accepted that she had paid back "a sum in excess" of the amount wrongly claimed and had apologised so they recommended no further action be taken.

In a written response to the inquiry Ms Smith said she was "disappointed that this process has not led to a fairer set of conclusions, based on objective and consistent application of the rules as they were at the time".

She said the report "appears to be heavily influenced by subjective judgements about my personal circumstances" and said commissioner's judgement differed from that of the Commons resources office "which advises members on how to comply with the rules".

In her statement to the Commons later she said Ms Smith told MPs she apologised "unreservedly" for claiming for pay-per-view films - money she has already paid and said was a mistake.

On the issue of her second home designation she said she was pleased it was recognised that her London home "was indeed a home" and said she had spent more nights in London than Redditch "for three of the four years in question".

"I have never flipped my designation and I only own one home. The committee recognised that there's no evidence that the taxpayer would be any worse or any better off as a result of me having made a different decision."

But she said: "I accept the committee's conclusion and I therefore apologise to the House."



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