17:18 Thursday 9th May 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: Conservative MP Stewart Jackson is being sued by the expenses watchdog after refusing to repay profits on his taxpayer funded home. He had been asked to hand back £54,000 as potential capital gains made on the home since MPs were barred from claiming for mortgage interest. But he’s refused, and has accused the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority of bullying him. Our reporter Alan Soady had the story from Westminster. (TAPE)
ALAN SOADY: Well you might remember that at the height of the expenses scandal, one of the biggest things that made the headlines was about MPs having second homes. Some were accused of flipping their homes, in other words to claim for one house in their constituency perhaps, rather than claiming that their London property is their main home, so as they could claim expenses on it. Now all of that at the time was perfectly within the rules. When the rules changed in 2010, for new MPs there was no way that they were going to be allowed to claim for mortgages on their second homes. But there were those MPs who had been doing it until that point, and who were allowed a bit of a transition period to readjust their circumstances. And Stewart Jackson was one of those, where the condition was that they would take a valuation of the property they were claiming mortgage interest payments on in 2010, and then when the transitional period came to an end last year, there would be another valuation done on the property. If they’d made a profit according to those valuations, then they’d be told that they would have to pay back perhaps not just the amount of money that they got in mortgage interest,claims, but also to cover any profit that they may have made on the property. Well Stewart Jackson has been told that his property that he was claiming for did go up in value. Therefore the expenses authority, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, have asked him to repay £54,000, that is more than he had claimed in the first place. He is disputing that the valuations (sic) and therefore that he is now being taken to court by them for them to recover the money. In turn, he is threatening to countersue.
CHRIS MANN: Now, he is not alone, as you said. Other MPs have been asked to repay money, up to almost a total of half a million. As little as £737, that’s Ken Clarke, and David Jones, the Welsh Secretary, £81,446. But Stewart Jackson is the only one to say no, he’s not going to pay the money back.
ALAN SOADY: That’s right. Yes. He was one of twenty nine that was asked to pay back. As you say he is the only one that is digging his heels in on this. Of other MPs who had been also allowed to continue temporarily claiming for mortgage interest, they’re not being asked to pay back anything, the rest of them, because their valuations of their properties that they were claiming money for have gone down. And so it’s deemed that they have lost money, therefore they don’t even have to repay what they claim. Now why is Stewart Jackson the only person taking a stand on this? It’s possible that it could be that he is the only one that feels that his valuation was incorrect. I suspect that going on past form with all of the expenses fallout that we’ve had over the last few years, that there may be some among these twenty nine who were told to repay the money that think that perhaps it’s just too much hassle. Perhaps it could cause me political difficulties if I’m seen to kick up a fuss about this, even though privately maybe one or two of them do feel quite aggrieved.
CHRIS MANN: Well Stewart Jackson has not sold the property I can tell you. He is the only Member as we said not to agree a repayment, and in a statement he has said that he’s being bullied here.
ALAN SOADY: Yes. He feels that the IPSA, the Parliamentary Standards people, are being very heavy handed in bringing legal action against him. He says that he’s been willing to negotiate with them. He’s not saying that he refuses to pay any money back whatsoever. It’s just that he disputes this particular £54,000 that they owe. (sic) He is accusing them of not being open to those discussions, or at least not as open as he would expect. They on the other hand are standing firm. They are adamant that the valuations were the fairest possible, that everybody else seems, at least on the face of it, to be happy with them in the sense that they are r paying the money. And so the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is saying that basically Stewart Jackson in their view should cough up. and therefore they feel justified in pursuing it through the courts.
CHRIS MANN: They’re a relatively new body aren’t they Alan? What authority do they have? What power do they have? And is this the first time this has ever happened?
ALAN SOADY: They are a newish authority. They were established in the wake of the expenses scandal. Within Parliament IPSA is a fairly controversial organisation. There are some MPs who even publicly have been very critical of it. There are some who feel that it can be a bit draconian, that perhaps at times with some of its decisions and some of its rulings that it may be is going too far and really is not fair. Having said that, the whole reason that it was set up in the first place was because, as we discovered with the expenses scandal when the news first broke of it, the system was a bit of a mess to say the least. And also there was a feeling from the Commons authorities that they needed to restore public confidence, and that’s why they felt that in establishing this organisation it was a fairly robust one. But in terms of what authority it has, and how far its remit can go, frankly whether or not it should be able to actually take an MP to court over all of this is something that a lot of MPs have talked about and questioned.
CHRIS MANN: Alan Soady reporting from Westminster.