Get involved: send your pictures, video, news & views by texting st albans to 80360, or email us
St Albans MP Anne Main's full interview with John Lyon
12:21pm Thursday 4th February 2010 in News
Agreed Note of interview with Mrs Anne Main MP, 30 November 2009 Present: Mr John Lyon (JL)
Mrs Anne Main MP (AM)
Friend of Mrs Main
JL Thank you for coming in. And I’m grateful to your friend for accompanying you today. This is [the notetaker]. She will take a note of our discussion and show it to you so you can comment on it and so that you can be satisfied as to its accuracy.
The note will be included in the memorandum I will submit to the Committee on the complaint and you can expect it to be published with the Committee’s Report.
You have had my letter of 3 November in which I set out the main areas I wanted us to cover.
Other matters may arise during the course of the interview.
Are you happy for me to go ahead?
JL Can I first confirm the facts? When you came into the House in May 2005, you rented your St Albans flat. You then bought it from your landlord in November 2006.
AM That’s right. I did look this up for you.
JL Thank you. From August or September 2006 until May 2009, at your suggestion your daughter Claire Tonks stayed in your flat during the week. Your daughter did not pay you rent. Your daughter initially stayed there three to four nights a week, but by the time she left it had fallen to one to two nights a week.
AM Yes. I didn’t keep a diary of her stays at the time, but that is my best estimate.
JL During the same period you stayed at the flat on average between one and two nights each week. Your daughter did some cleaning, shopping and other chores for you when she stayed at the flat.
AM I have seen your letter to my daughter. May I say that we never thought of the chores as having been done in return for the accommodation—no more than I would think of it when asking my fourteen year old to empty the dishwasher, or when my husband checks the oil and the tyre pressure on my car. Hopefully I have given you some idea of the kind of family role that she played.
JL Thank you. Your ACA claims from 2005–06 to 2007–08 amounted in all to £65,000, which included your food claims of about £10,000 over that period.
AM Yes, assuming those are based on the revised figures I gave you.
JL The arrangement with your daughter came to an end in May 2009.
JL Is that a reasonable summary of the facts?
JL May I start by asking you about your flat in St Albans?What made you decide to buy the flat in 2006, having started to rent it?
AM The landlord told me that he was considering selling it. But he told me he would give me the first option to buy, and I checked with the Fees Office. They said it was within the rules to do so. Until then I had had no thought of buying. It was an unfurnished flat. I had just made it comfortable and it would have been an upheaval to move. And it is also very convenient for my job: right opposite the cathedral and next to the council offices, and you can walk all around the centre from there. I spent three years as the prospective parliamentary candidate. I am aware of the difficulties of the traffic flows and parking restrictions.
JL Could you have continued to rent in, say, another flat in the complex?
AM No. There are only four. It is a small block.
JL Your daughter’s evidence is that you would often be in St Albans in the evening and then drive back to Beaconsfield after the traffic had eased. Is that broadly right?
AM Sometimes that might be the case. It was not the case when the House was sitting, but it was more likely in the summertime when I might spend my evenings at the flat or have an engagement in St Albans. My family are based in our main home and I like to get home and see my husband in the evening. So it would vary.
JL How often did you drive back?
AM It happened more if the House was in recess. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday—or Wednesday, Thursday, Friday—I would need to spend some evenings in St Albans. If my husband had been at home with our son I could have stayed over.
JL But can you help me on how often that was?
AM I would spend my days in St Albans. Then there was the relentless driving up and down the M25—it is one of those stretches which is always congested. I wouldn’t choose to sit in traffic jams but if my son had a parents’ evening or other similar family event I would drive back.
JL But your daughter was speaking about you driving back at the end of the evening, after your 100 Anne Main constituency engagements.
AM Even on a Sunday it is really busy—but sometimes I braved it to get back to Beaconsfield.19 I wanted a reasonable degree of regularity for my family life. Sometimes if I didn’t need to go back or if I was just too tired after a long day, I would stay over. I might make the decision ad hoc.
JL Given that so often you could get back to Beaconsfield, did you consider staying in a hotel when you could not?
AM It is pretty soulless, staying in a hotel. It wouldn’t feel like home. It would be harder to have my family there. It also wouldn’t provide the flexibility for me to come and go: you would have to pre-plan. When I joined the House I attended the induction course and they told us MPs weren’t expected to live life out of a suitcase. So I set up the arrangements which best suited my family. I note the complainant has researched a hotel near my flat. It would be pretty soulless to stay in a hotel. And hotels don’t allow you to dip in and out, or to shower, rest or park if you are not staying there, or to keep a change of clothes there.
JL I am trying to establish how often you drove back to Beaconsfield. I am grateful for the help you gave me on your diary, but it doesn’t always provide evidence to show whether or not you stayed the night in St Albans. You have said that there could have been another 20 nights when you stayed over. Can you help me on how you arrived at that estimate?
AM I know I did a lot of things which are not in my diary, even though I write nearly all my engagements in there. People might say during an engagement “Are you free after this?” and I would say “I can be,” and pick up the phone to my husband. But looking at a particular time several years ago now, I can’t say that I did something else or that I didn’t. Going back nearly five years is a long time and many people would not remember. And not many MPs could produce hard copy diaries like these, but I can. Here is what it looks like, so that you can see how I gave you all the data I did.
JL We are not looking for arithmetical perfection in the numbers: but I hope we can establish a reasonable estimate of the number of nights you spent in St Albans.
AM I understand. But of course I didn’t know back then that I was going to be sitting here, so my diary doesn’t usually show overnight stays. You’ll find “Stay overnight” written in my diary occasionally, but that is so that my husband would know if he looked at it whether he could go out.
JL I am trying to find out how broad your estimate is.
AM I am trying to give you a feel for what I do. Sometimes I’ll find the traffic report and say “Okay, I’ll go up to St Albans tonight for an early engagement—or at ten a.m. tomorrow…” There were times when for various reasons I couldn’t guarantee getting to St Albans in a timely fashion unless I stayed overnight.
JL Yes, I hope we have captured those in the summary I sent you. That suggests you were in St Albans anywhere between one and two nights a week: that allows for some of the margin you 19 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “Even on a Sunday it is really busy—but sometimes I would go back to Beaconsfield after carrying out my constituency duties in St Albans during the day.”
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main pointed out that she would also have had to pre-book.
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “I set up the arrangements which best suited my family and my duties to my constituents.”
Anne Main have suggested was needed to cover the uncertainties in your diary. I have proposed to accept that as your best estimate.
AM I understand.
JL I am grateful. In your letter of 21 July you say that you used your flat for “preparing case work notes, drafting responses for my own staff and other parliamentary work”. What office facilities do you have in the flat?
AM I have a computer and desk in the second bedroom. The Conservative Association has an office in the constituency, within the regional offices of the Conservative Party in London Colney. I pay £300 a month. That gives me the use of a small room, with a desk and a computer terminal supplied by the House, and use of various pieces of office equipment. When the voluntary workers are in, that room is their office and I can’t just use it.22 I can’t just drop in, and there is no soft furniture, no hanging space and no changing rooms.23 You might think, like the complainant, that I could do all these things elsewhere, but the reality is that I cannot.
JL What work would you do in your flat?
AM I would work from home using the phone.24 For example, on a Friday, I would dictate to my caseworker, explaining what letters or actions I wanted. I would do this after my surgeries so that by Saturday my constituents would have a letter from the MP saying what action was taken in their case.
JL Did you claim IEP for your constituency office?
AM Yes. I pay for a proportion of staff time for the person who helps me when I am working in the constituency office, and for telephones, things like use of the printer and copier, use of the waiting areas.
JL Did this mean that your caseworker worked in your flat?
AM No. My staff are based wholly in Westminster. I have no staff in St Albans.25 I would dictate case work over the phone.
JL Was your computer linked to the parliamentary network?
AM We could get access, but I am not a great one for using laptops. I would use it primarily for typing documents mainly and emailing. I would dictate down the phone. If someone brought in original documents I might copy their documents and fax them from the St Albans office. Sometimes I would ring the Westminster office from the flat and say “I want you to write a letter saying…”
JL Did you use your flat at any time for party political activities?
AM Absolutely never.
JL How do you respond to the suggestion that the expenses you claimed on the flat weren’t necessarily incurred because you were regularly able to get back to Beaconsfield in the evening?
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “I must plan and book my surgeries.”
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “…there is no soft furniture, no hanging space and no changing rooms, so this would never be a substitute for a flat.”
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting Mrs Main said “I would work from home replying to emails, drafting speeches, using the phone to speak to my staff or return calls to my constituents. In other words whatever needed doing at that time.”
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “I have no full time staff that are based in St Albans.”
Anne Main AM Having the flat helped me to serve my constituents better. Before, I had a long and tiring commute—I could spend several hours a day commuting and there was no flexibility. My constituents expected me to be in St Albans. Having the flat helped me do my job, it really really did.
JL Could I now ask you about your daughter’s use of the flat? As I understand it, it was your suggestion that she should go and stay there. Is that right?
AM Yes. I talked it over with my husband. There was an overlap for six months when we were both working full time and then he had the opportunity to work from home. He said that I could be freed up more, emotionally, to concentrate on being an MP and serving St Albans. 26 We felt I was missing out on family life. At that time my daughter was living at home, so my husband said that Claire could stay over in St Albans. 27 Claire thought it would be quite nice. Everyone knew about the arrangement. They thought it was quite nice, that my daughter could spend time with me, go out shopping with me. Claire had roughly the same length of commute from Beaconsfield and St Albans, because she worked in London, so she said, “I don’t mind doing that.”
I spoke to the Fees Office and I was told that spouses and children were fine to stay in the second home“…if she is living in your home, if she is your daughter and you don’t charge her rent.”
We are not talking about her playing at house—but it makes a huge difference having someone living in the second home, especially a member of your family. If I bought a bunch of flowers, for example, I didn’t have to worry about it two or three days later. I might ring up my daughter and say “I’m over tonight, shall we go out for a meal?” It is not easy to go out on your own, but it made a huge difference that I could do that—it felt more like home.28 JL Did your husband and your three other children spend much time at the flat?
AM It was not something any of them could do. My husband would spend small amounts of time there when he could. My younger son might come over in the day and come with me round the market; or my elder son might come over to see his sister.
Claire was not as tied up as the others.
JL You mentioned the chores she did.
AM She did small chores but she certainly wasn’t the cleaner. I am quite happy to say that I never expected her to clean cookers, the fronts of cupboards or the insides of windows. If I wanted a cleaner I paid for it, but I didn’t charge any cleaning to my expenses. And she stayed in for a delivery when my washing machine broke. 29 JL Was it accurate that she did this in return for her accommodation?
AM Absolutely not. She was not a Mrs Mop. It wasn’t true of my husband either when he painted the flat. I tried to think of it as my second home.
JL Your daughter’s evidence is that each week she did some light cleaning and other chores, and 26 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “He said that I could be freed up more, emotionally and time wise, to concentrate on being an MP and serving St Albans.”
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “… so my husband and I discussed that Claire could stay over with me in St Albans.”
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “…but it made a huge difference that I could do that with my daughter – it felt more like home.”
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “And she helped in small ways, for example she stayed in for a delivery when my washing machine broke.”
Anne Main some shopping on her way home from work. And she spent time with you when you were there.
On the basis of this evidence, can you help me on why it was necessary for her to be there between one and four nights a week to provide you with this sort of support when you were yourself there between one and two nights a week?
AM She didn’t have to be there at all. My daughter went there and organised her life around the times when I was likely to be there. The times she was there provided a form of continuity for her.30 I never thought that was how second homes operated. If it was my husband supporting me in the same way, no-one would have asked questions. 31 JL Did she keep many belongings at the flat?
AM She kept some personal stuff; a capsule wardrobe. Stuff she found useful. But in our main home she had a bedroom filled with her personal things.
We didn’t think we had to justify her use of the home;32 we were just in a rhythm where I would ring up and say “Are you there tonight?” and she would say “Yes I am” or “No I’m not.”
JL Was the arrangement that she needed your permission to do certain things in your second home?
AM She didn’t treat it in the same way as our main home. She knew there was a set of regulations which applied to the St Albans home. For example if I go away on holiday I might leave my elder daughter in our main home. She is responsible, and I would be happy for her to throw a party.
And she has brought home rolls of wallpaper to put up. 33 JL If the St Albans flat is your home what is the distinction?
AM When it was a rental flat she knew there were certain rules, and things I couldn’t do. She also knew it wasn’t appropriate to change the carpet—she would have to ask me. Changing the carpet or bedspreads or having friends to stay is more what she could do in her own home. But in the second home she would be more careful, and ask me, “Is it all right Mum?”.
JL Did she ask permission to go there each time?
AM No, it was taken as read that she could go there. We had already agreed she could go there. I had got permission from the Fees Office.
JL Your daughter reduced the number of nights she spent at the flat from October 2007 because she wanted to spend more time with her boyfriend. Does that not suggest that she did not really need to spend so much time there earlier to provide you with support ?
AM You keep asking me why she needed to be there.34 I would have loved her to be there the whole time, as much as possible—or my husband, if he could have come more often. But St Albans elected me not a package deal.
30 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “The times she was there simply provided a form of continuity for her and me.”
31 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “I was never under any impression that was how we were expected to operate our second homes. Namely, that my family could only be in it if I was there.
If it was my husband supporting me in the same way, no-one would have questioned it, would they?”
32 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “We didn’t think we had to justify her use of the home after having checked the arrangement prior to her spending any time there, with the Fees Office…”
33 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “Of course she didn’t treat it in the same way as our main home” … “She is responsible and I would be happy for her to throw a party, but obviously I would not expect her to treat the second home in the same manner. And she could personalise her room, or do what she wanted.”
34 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “As a mother I would have loved her to be there the whole time, as much as possible – or my husband, if he could have come more often.”
104 Anne Main And if her elder sister had wanted to come at that time I would have said “Great.”
JL Did your daughter come back with you from the flat when you drove back to Beaconsfield after the M25 had cleared?
AM No. And after this none of my children want to go near the flat.
JL What benefits did you get from your daughter living in the flat?
AM I saw that you suggested she got peace and quiet.
JL I hope I did not suggest that.
AM I don’t think she benefited other than from seeing me and feeling she was helping me. There was no material benefit: she had her own home in Beaconsfield with a comfortable room there. She can have her boyfriend and other friends to come to stay. The benefit was to me: we could spend time together. There was no financial benefit, and she didn’t need to be there. 35 JL What do you say to the suggestion that, as an adult young woman hoping shortly to leave home, it was a benefit for her to have some time living in the flat, away from the rest of the family?
AM She had lived away from our home whilst at university, including in the second year of her university course when she had to undertake a company placement, also when she was travelling in Australia for a few months before returning to the family home. So she wasn’t just practising living away from home. I suggested it. If she had wanted to move out of our home we could have helped her.
JL Did she not in effect have two residences, Beaconsfield and St Albans, as shown by her use of St Albans in her registration forms sent to Companies House and her voter’s registration in St Albans?
AM On the voter registration, you can register in more than one place. She registered there because she wanted to vote for me, which she never did because we haven’t had an election. Companies House: that was a stupid naive mistake: when the press got hold of it she said, “I didn’t realise what I had done.” I didn’t know about it at the time. She just didn’t think about it at all.
She thought she had two homes. It is very common : half my friends have adult children staying in their homes. So do other Members. But the St Albans home is temporary—it finishes the minute I finish. Beaconsfield is our real home. If she wanted to hold say a birthday party, it would be in Beaconsfield. That would have been the difference.
Costs JL I drew your attention to the Committee’s report on Rt Hon Tony McNulty MP36 when I wrote to you about this interview. My next questions follow up on that report. They relate to the costs incurred by your daughter living at the flat.
AM I have not studied the report so it would not be appropriate for me to comment on it. But from the press reports—which I take with a pinch of salt—his situation was not remotely like my situation. I am not even sure that the Member checked with the Fees Office.37 JL In the first year at least, your daughter’s use would seem to have been more than your use. Did she meet any of the utility bills which could be assigned to her use of the flat? 38 35 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “The emotional benefit was to me as a parent: we could have a mother and daughter time and spend time together. There was no financial benefit, and she didn’t need to be there, but it helped me in my role having her there sometimes, as it freed up my time to serve my constituents.”
36 Committee on Standards and Privilege, Tenth Report of Session 2008-09, HC 1070.
37 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “I certainly did.”
105 Anne Main AM No.
JL Were there any costs for which you did not claim against your ACA?
AM Cleaning, maintenance, mileage, a stair carpet; some purchases which went beyond the purely serviceable… I’m trying to remember. There was a boiler service. And my husband painted the flat and fitted bits and pieces. I have always tried to ensure my claims are modest. I never felt I had anything to hide. My local newspaper had my unredacted claims before the redacted ones were published.
Much has been made of the John Lewis list. I was not even aware that there was a John Lewis list.
My purchases were not luxurious. I tried to shop carefully at budget and low cost stores. I do not max out my expenses. I did not claim everything I could, and when I did claim my claims were modest.
JL Could you produce annual figures for these expenses that you did not claim?
AM I have no idea what they amount to but I could try to work it out. It could be about £1,000 in total.39 The carpet I replaced on the stairs was about 15 years old.
JL Did you claim for full utility costs from the ACA: gas, electricity, water?
JL What about service charges or car parking—did you claim for those?
AM Yes, I paid service charges. But the car parking came with the flat: I had two designated places and a guest parking area. There is no charge associated with parking at the flat.
JL And you claimed for all of the discounted council tax, as I understand it.
AM Yes. I claimed 10% discount because I paid full council tax elsewhere. That qualified my flat for the discount. I could only have claimed the single person’s discount if no-one else was ever in the flat.
JL But your husband and other children didn’t stay there.
AM Yes they did on occasions, and I couldn’t know when I paid the council tax which members of my family were going to stay there. 40 JL Let me now ask about the mortgage. I believe from looking at your ACA claims that the purchase price of the flat was £250k. Your mortgage was £225k. Is that right?
JL Did you claim the full mortgage interest?
AM Yes. It has been accepted by Sir Thomas Legg.
38 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “I have never accepted that my daughter had more use of the flat than me, although on occasions she may have slept the night there when I did not. I do not recall you placing this assertion next to the question which I, according to this transcript, have replied to. I have repeatedly pointed out that my flat served many purposes and as I have said it is impossible for me to calculate exactly how many nights I slept there and believe this assertion as written is not accurate and was not worded to me as a question on this day. Therefore, my response refers only to consideration of the utility bills and we have no recorded response to the first part of this sentence.”
39 In her comments of 14 December on the note of the meeting, Mrs Main said “It could be about £1,000 or more in total.” She later sent a list of items she believed she could have claimed for but had not. See WE 32.
40 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “Yes they did on occasions and I couldn’t know when I paid the council tax which members of my family were going to stay there with me, so the only accurate position was the fact that I paid full council tax and was therefore entitled automatically to the 10% discount, which was all I claimed back from the Fees Office.”
106 Anne Main JL Did you make any allowance in your mortgage interest claim for your daughter’s use of the flat?
AM No. Why would I? If my husband was there I wouldn’t have made an allowance.
Let me tell you that I am a rule follower. When I came in to the House I had never had expense accounts. I had been a teacher and worked in the voluntary sector. When I went on the induction course they told us to use the allowances properly and wisely. You don’t expect to find yourself in trouble when you do that.41 Even my parliamentary reports—I always run them through the Fees Office. At all times if in doubt I will try to ask, to do what is reasonable.42 If anyone had said do things differently I would have, but no-one ever did.
JL I understand from your daughter’s evidence that she bought all her own food. Is that correct?
AM She did.
JL Can I now turn to the application of the rules to your arrangements? The first issue is the requirement that you may not claim for the living costs of anyone other than yourself. You say that that rule is modified by the fact that it was your daughter whose living costs were being met and Members are allowed to have their spouse and children living with them in their second home. Is that right?
AM I discussed it with the Fees Office.43 JL The Fees Office say that you might well have received the answer you have given me. But I want to be clear about your recollection of what that answer was. You have given me two differing versions: On 29 June you told me that, while you had been told by the Fees Office that "only spouses and children" were allowed to share the second home, “at no point was I given any indication from the Fees Office in their advice that the age of my children or frequency of staying was a consideration or limiting factor”.
In your 11 November letter, you said that in your discussions with the Fees Office “I queried if the age of my daughter was relevant and I was informed that it was within the rules for my daughter to live or stay in the second home as a non-renting family member.”
Can you help me to reconcile these two accounts? The first implies that the Department made no mention of age or frequency of staying. The second implies that they specifically addressed both those points.
AM I am trying to recall exactly what I said .44 I know I rang them up and asked “Who can stay in the second home?” They said “The MP’s spouse and children.” I rang another time saying “I’m thinking of my daughter staying in my second home. She lives at home and is over 18.45 When I asked if that was a problem, they said “No.”
I can’t remember if anyone asked how old she was, although I am sure I made it clear to them at 41 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “I abided by the introduction in the Green Book which was to seek guidance if in doubt and abide by their interpretation of the rules. “ 42 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “At all times if in doubt I will ask, to do what is reasonable and right.”
43 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “I discussed it before doing so with the Fees Office.”
44 In her comments of 14 December on the note of the meeting, Mrs Main added “I am trying to recall exactly what I said but obviously that is difficult…. I made it quite clear at all times that she was an adult living at our main home. …. I can’t remember if anyone asked how old she was, although I am sure I made it clear to them at the time. But I remember clearly asking about her being able to stay in the flat before doing it.”
45 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “I made it quite clear at all times that she was an adult living in our main home.”
107 Anne Main the time. But I remember clearly asking before doing it.
JL I am trying to establish exactly what you asked.
AM I definitely said she was an adult. “Is it okay for my daughter to be in my second home? I would like to share it with my daughter.”
JL Did you refer to her work?
AM I can’t remember. It was 4½years ago. Why would I have thought it was relevant?
I would like to think I said she was working but I really can’t remember. I would not have thought to write down the conversation. But I gave the clear impression she was an adult daughter in my second call. The logical conclusion would have been that she was working.46 JL Did you mention that your daughter would be spending a significant number of nights there by herself?
AM I was not asked. I agree that there were times when she was there and I wasn’t. But I was at the flat a lot of time when she wasn’t there. I was in the flat in the day considerably more than she was, especially in recess times. There were times when she was there just to sleep.
I never said “I want you to be there on Thursday”. I just set up a rhythm for her. It was nice for me to be flexible about coming and going—and it wasn’t reasonable to expect her to match my movements.
JL How often was she there in the evenings when you weren’t?
AM It would be mainly during the week, when the House was sitting, and when there was voting.
JL Is there in your view any point at which a Member’s children should no longer to be able to benefit from the “spouse and family” arrangement—when they are too old? When, for example, they are in their 30s or 40s?
AM No, I wouldn’t say there should be a maximum age. Every case is different.47 The companionship of older children is something that many parents would like.
JL Your daughter was 24 when the arrangement started and was in full-time employment. It was a matter for you of course whether you charged her rent when she stayed at your home in Beaconsfield. But did you consider charging her rent for her stays in the St Albans flat, since the costs were met from public funds?
AM No. We were discouraged from having rental agreements.
If she had been paying rent at home I would have thought about it.48 But she didn’t pay rent. She was there as a family member. I would not have considered charging rent. And the flat cost the same whether she was there or not: there were no extra costs on the mortgage or service charge.
JL In the report on Mr McNulty49 the Committee suggested that it is not the additional costs that matter. It is the full living costs of another person that should be taken into account.
Since an adult who was not your husband was staying in the flat, would you make a distinction 46 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “But I always gave the clear impression she was my adult daughter. The logical conclusion may have been that she was working.”
47 In her comments of 14 December on the note of the meeting, Mrs Main added “and every family is also different.”
48 In her comments of 14 December on the note of the meeting, Mrs Main said “If she had been paying rent at home I suppose I might have thought about whether I needed to check it out. But she didn’t pay rent. She was there as a family member, and we were discouraged from renting as well. Why should I have considered charging rent? She was there as my daughter.”
49 Committee on Standards and Privileges, Tenth Report of Session 2008-09, HC 1070.
108 Anne Main between your husband and your adult children in this respect?
AM I wouldn’t necessarily make a distinction between my husband and my daughter who shared the accommodation.
It is not for me to say if there is a point when an older child should get thrown out or charged rent.
JL Would you agree that the House was subsidising her living costs?
AM No, I would dispute that. There were no additional costs. I don’t believe you can put it in those terms. I as a parent got the benefit of some time with my family. The benefit was in emotional terms.50 The previous Member for St Albans had a flat in London. I could have had a flat in London. If I had wanted to benefit my children, as the complaint suggests—since my son and both my daughters work in London I would have set up my flat in London and provided them with accommodation there. I regularly work late in London, so I could have also stayed there.
But the best benefit for my constituents since we don’t have a home in St Albans, was to have the flat there .51 JL What do you say to the Department of Resources’ advice to me in their letter of 11 September that you should have absorbed some of the costs of your daughter staying in the flat, such as utility charges?
AM I thought about that when I read it. My heating, hot water and lights are on a timer. I don’t want the flat looking as if no-one is in it. How would I try to work out the small time when my daughter was there and the lights and heating would not have been on? I am not sure how I could have done that.
JL I would like to be clear on the principle you are following. Are you arguing that the costs of your daughter’s use of utilities should in principle have been met by you, but not the fixed costs?
AM I don’t know that I am. Would you say the same if it was my husband who was there? And I don’t believe there was any electricity or utilities I can ascribe to my daughter’s use, since she was there so little time in the day.
JL Do you agree with the Department of Resources when they said that variable costs but not fixed costs should be taken into account to reflect your daughter’s living costs?
AM I have always been prepared to accept the Fees Office’s advice and interpretations. But no one at the time suggested that we should think like that.52 I thought I had checked out my arrangement fully with the Fees Office. So many Members have their family in their second home, I don’t know anyone who does this.53 But if that was the ruling at the time I would have accepted it.
JL Do you accept it now ?
50 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “I as a parent got the benefit of some time with my family. The benefit was solely and entirely in emotional terms, no other.”
51 In her comments of 14 December on the note of the meeting, Mrs Main said “But the benefit was for my constituents - who I was elected to serve - since we don’t have a home in St Albans, and I needed a home in St Albans the flat was located there.”
52 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “But no one at the time suggested that we as a family should think like that.”
53 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “I don’t know anyone who operates in this way.”
109 Anne Main AM If that is their view, then I may have to accept it. But it is impossible to say which bit of the utility bill was wholly down to my daughter’s use and which was down to mine.54 JL You say you weren’t told this at the time. If you had been, would you have accepted it?
AM I didn’t have that guidance at the time. I don’t even see how you could do this.
I would challenge this view if it was given to me now.55 I always accept the Fees Office guidance, but I would have also had to ask how to fulfil it. You can’t be given guidance retrospectively.
My daughter came over to St Albans because my husband couldn’t spend much time there. I maintain that there were no extra utility costs that we wouldn’t have had anyway.
JL But do you accept the principle that you should have tried to identify the costs partly attributable to your daughter’s stays?
AM I don’t accept it. Members were and are entitled to have spouses and children in their second homes, without apportioning the costs. The House must surely expect us to live as a family in our second home.
I don’t believe anyone said that I should be trying to apportion the costs of my husband.56And in any case there were no extra costs.
I am trying to think of examples of extra costs which could have arisen. I accepted that my daughter should meet her own food costs.57 And if for example there had been a cost for her parking permit I would have expected to pay that.
I think it was reasonable for my family to be there. I believe it is in the spirit of the rules to have a family life at the same time as Members carry out their parliamentary duties. If not, Members would need no more than a single bedsit to stay in.58 JL In the case of Mr McNulty59 the Committee decided that the House should not meet the living costs of another person.
AM I do not accept the comparison. That case was not at all the same as my daughter staying with me. I understand in Mr McNulty’s case it concerned two independent adults, living full time in the house as their main home. My daughter had not taken on that role of having her own home and forming a second household.60 The rules JL In 2006, the rules were added to by specifically providing that you must avoid any arrangements which may give rise to an accusation that someone close to you is obtaining an immediate benefit or subsidy from public funds (3.3.2). What do you say to those who suggest that living without paying mortgage interest, utilities, or council tax (or rent) as your daughter did, represents an immediate benefit to her?
54 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “I regard this observation in their response to you as retrospective, and this possible scenario was never raised at the time.”
55 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “But it certainly wasn’t given to me then.”
56 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “I don’t believe anyone said that I should be trying to apportion the costs of my husband, nor do I believe they would suggest it.”
57 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “and she did”.
58 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “and no members of their family living with them.”
59 Committee on Standards and Privilege, Tenth Report of Session 2008-09, HC 1070.
60 In her further comments of 23 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added, “my daughter has always lived at our main home. I decided with the Fees Office that she could stay as an adult in the second home and I do not believe that it is fair or reasonable to compare my situation with Mr McNulty’s.”
110 Anne Main AM Would she see it as a benefit? Would I? There was no need for her to stay there. There was no financial benefit. In our main home she lived as a member of our family in a large house with plenty of car parking and a better commute at least at some times. It was not like her giving up renting somewhere.61 The benefit was solely for me.
JL Do you think that there was a personal benefit to her?
AM No. It was an emotional benefit to me, to have my family around me. It made me happier to spend my time in St Albans. It didn’t feel so arduous.62 JL What about the suggestion that you were required by the rules to avoid any arrangement which would lead to the accusation that someone close to you obtained an immediate benefit?
AM The story had appeared in the local press ages ago, in 2006, well before the complaint arose. My Association were fully aware of the arrangement as were other people. No-one complained until the complainant recently did, after media comment on all MPs’ expenses. But in the political world you can always be accused. Accusations are not difficult to make. I have 70,000 constituents—and one chose to complain.
I have never sought to hide my arrangements, that I was trying to be both a mother and a good MP. But no-one accused me before the Telegraph story.
JL In the light of the Committee’s report on Mr McNulty’s case,63 do you consider that it would have been wise for you to have made a formal arrangement, even though she was your daughter, so that the terms of her living in St Albans were set out in writing and lodged with the House authorities?
AM I wouldn’t know what arrangement to formalise. I have no formal arrangement of this sort for my husband,64 My family is my family.65 Food JL Finally, could I ask you about your food claims? In your letter of 11 November, you told me that you claimed for your meals and beverages “eaten away from your main home” during the course of your duties. You will have seen the Department’s letter, also of 11 November, which says that your food costs must be “in relation to costs associated with your overnight stays in St Albans.”
Do you accept the Department’s ruling?
AM I have the Green Book of 2006. If you look at paragraph 3.13.1, it seems very clear. You claim for reasonable additional food costs while you are away from your home. I don’t know why the Director thinks the rules are opaque.
I have claimed for Monday and Tuesday evening meals in London whilst on parliamentary duties, and evening meals on other nights if I was late in St Albans.66 I have never claimed for all my food, or for mileage.67 I worked on the system of around £10 per meal on Mondays and Tuesdays: the food in Parliament is subsidised. The rest of my food was 61 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “It was not like her giving up renting to go and live somewhere rent free and so save herself some money.”
62 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “No it was an emotional benefit to me, to have my family around me. It made me happier to spend my time in St Albans serving my constituents. It didn’t feel so arduous spending so much time away from my main home and the family.”
63 Committee on Standards and Privileges, Tenth Report of Session 2008-09, HC 1070.
64 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “ nor would I have considered it…””
65 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “I believe we are entitled to family life.”
66 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “I have claimed for Monday and Tuesday evening meals in London whilst on parliamentary duties, and evening meals and breakfasts on other nights if I was late and staying over in St Albans."
111 Anne Main in St Albans. I would also eat out some of the time. I like good quality food.
JL Your daughter said she bought readymade food.
AM She was a bit bemused to be asked about food. If I asked her to get food I would want something of a decent quality.68 I used to try and eat out in St Albans As an MP particularly in a marginal seat, I need to be out and about. I have to get to know the butcher and the market stallholders. I was on the panel to judge local restaurants: I needed to eat at them. I have to get to know local people. 69 JL Did you take some of these meals before you went home to Beaconsfield?
AM Not really. I always felt I underclaimed.70 JL But, according to the Department’s advice, you shouldn’t have claimed for some of these meals.
Their advice is that you were allowed to claim for food either side of your nights in St Albans: between one and two nights a week.
AM I always believed my food claims were modest. I claimed only what I thought was reasonable.
But I have in any case not claimed for the last 18 months.
I thought I could claim for Monday and Tuesday whilst on parliamentary duties but now I am told that I can’t.71 JL If you and your daughter went out for a meal, who paid for her?
AM I did. I would pay for her food and for the wine.72 JL The Director of Operations letter talks abut the opacity of the rules. The scope of the Additional Costs Allowance is set out in paragraph 3.1.1. of the Green Book. The argument is that all the rules which follow must be taken as coming within that scope. The scope of the ACA is to reimburse Members for expenses incurred when staying overnight away from their main UK residence. In your case, that was expenses incurred in your overnight stays in St Albans. Do you therefore accept that some of your food claims were not permissible under the rules, in particular the food you ate when in London?
AM I went by the rules set out in 3.2.1.(b) of the 2006 Green Book which refer to claims being for the purpose of performing parliamentary duties. It says that you can claim for food if it is for the purpose of performing your parliamentary duties.
JL But 3.2.1 (a) provides that you can claim if you have stayed overnight away from your main home, and (b) says it has to be for your parliamentary duties. The “and” means that both conditions must be met.
AM It says in 3.13.1 that you can claim for “reasonable additional costs while away from your main home”. It is set out as a separate allowance.
I had interpreted it to cover two main meals each week at the House of Commons and the rest of the time in St Albans.
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “or for some other things.”
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “If I asked her to get food I would want her to buy the sort of food I usually buy.
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “So I would try to eat out sometimes.”
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “No. I always felt I underclaimed.”
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added " … “and that they believe I may have claimed those meals in error.”
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “Sometimes I did personally pay for her food and I always personally paid for any wine.”
Anne Main JL I am not sure why you say it is a separate allowance. Is it not part of the ACA?
AM It doesn’t specify food elsewhere in the chapter. You are allowed “reasonable additional costs while you are away from your main home.” I interpreted this as two main meals a week in the House and for the rest, my food in St Albans.73 JL You claimed between £3,100 and £3,300 a year for food between 2005–06 and 2007–08. Broadly, what proportion of these claims were related to your overnight stays in St Albans?
AM Well, £20 per week when the House was sitting was for food in London. But I haven’t claimed any food for 18 months.
I have no wish to big up my expenses, quite the opposite. A lot of the time I don’t claim for things when I could.
JL Did you at any time consult the House authorities about your food claims?
AM No. I thought the wording was quite clear. I would have checked if it wasn’t.
Conclusion JL In conclusion, may I summarise the allegations against you? First, that it was not necessary for you to have a flat in St Albans since you did not spend a sufficient number of nights there and have shown that you could return to your main home in Beaconsfield after your constituency commitments had concluded.
Second, that your claims did not take sufficient account of the living costs of your daughter in the flat, and that as a result either you or she, or both, got a personal benefit from the arrangement?
And finally, that you made claims from 2005–06 to 2007–08 for food which was not related to your overnight stays in St Albans and was therefore in breach of the rules?
Are there any further points you wish to make on any of these allegations?
AM Yes. I would like to say that I serve my constituents to the best of my ability. There is no dispute in the rules about the location of my home. If I had any wish to have a property benefit I could have had a second home in London. But I needed the flat to serve my constituents. I took guidance and followed it. This is a very very important point: even when it comes to issuing parliamentary reports I get a definite ruling on them before they go out. Also I have underclaimed on many things.
My claims are modest, within the rules and are made after consultation. I accept the point about the food bills but, as the Fees Office said, the rule could be seen as opaque.74 I have never had any intention to deceive or maximise my expenses.
My only thought was to be the best and hardest working MP for my constituents. I was quite horrified to find myself in this position. Nobody forced me to have the flat, but after three years as prospective parliamentary candidate working hard, living life on the road, driving to and from my home and experiencing the stress and tension I just knew that it wasn’t going to work.
Whatever happens with the allowances in future I will maintain a base in St Albans.75 73 In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main added “At the time I interpreted this as two main meals a week in the House and for the rest, my food in St Albans.”
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “although I felt the wording was clear.”
In her comments of 14 December on the note of this meeting, Mrs Main said “. Nobody forced me to have the flat, but after three years as prospective parliamentary candidate working hard living life on the road, driving to and from my home and experiencing the stress and tension and timetabling delays I just knew that it wasn’t going to work without a flat in St Albans. Whatever happens with the allowances in future I will maintain a base in St Albans in order to fully serve my constituents.”
113 Anne Main I don’t feel that I incurred any extra costs for the taxpayer. I always tried to keep my claims low and modest, and to follow the spirit of the rules.
JL Thank you. In view of the emphasis you have put on guidance from the Fees Office, I should say that there is no record within the Fees Office of your consultations.
AM I understand that, but there is no record of other things I have discussed with them too, although I didn’t know that at the time when I responded to your enquiries. When I said to you that I took advice I didn’t know what they recorded and what they didn’t. So, if I had not been confident that I was telling you the truth, then they could have made a liar out of me.76 JL Thank you. Any final points you would like to make?
AM No, thank you.
JL Thank you very much, both for your oral evidence and for responding to my enquiries with your written evidence. I am very grateful to your daughter for her assistance, and to your friend for accompanying you to this interview. I do appreciate it. As you know, you can expect the note to be included with the memorandum I will prepare for the Committee and it will be subsequently published with the report.
Once I have the note of the meeting I shall prepare the factual sections of my memorandum which again I will show you to check its accuracy. I will then add my conclusions and submit the full memorandum to the Committee. The Clerk will show you it and invite any comments you want to make about it and any comments will be submitted to the Committee with my memorandum.
Thank you for coming in.
AM Thank you.
Interview finished 4pm
Comments are closed on this article.