Lib Dem MP Jeremy Browne appeals against decision which would have stopped him buying Taunton home

by Stephen Tall on December 17, 2009

Here’s the statement on Jeremy’s website:

Taunton constituency MP Jeremy Browne is appealing against a decision by the House of Commons ACA Review Team that would have prevented him from buying a home in Taunton with his own money. Instead Sir Thomas Legg’s House of Commons ACA Review Team has requested a repayment of £17,894 in mortgage interest payments, dating from the initial arrangements Jeremy Browne made when he was elected in 2005. The appeal, conducted by Sir Paul Kennedy, will be considered and published, along with the full ACA Review Team report, in January 2010.

Jeremy Browne said:

“When I was elected as an MP in 2005 I bought my home in Taunton. I paid the deposit for the house using my own money from before the election and took out a mortgage to repay the remainder. I have always funded every penny of my Taunton home and maintained a completely clear distinction with the flat where I stay when I am in London.

“The ACA Review is now saying that I should not have used my own money from before I was elected to buy my home in Taunton. Instead they say that I should have spent that money on subsidising my expenses claims for my London flat.

“I believe I acted entirely honourably and in good faith. I deliberately avoided buying a much more expensive flat in London or ‘flipping’ between properties, even though both of these were within the rules. I seem to have been tripped up on a technicality even though I have lower mortgage claims for my London flat than hundreds of other MPs.

“The money that I used to buy my home in Taunton predates my election as the MP and has nothing to do with expenses. The ACA Review Team is saying that I should not have been allowed to buy a home in Taunton or should have designated the London flat as my main home, but I spend the majority of my time living in Taunton and that is clearly my principal place of residence.

There will be many people – perhaps understandably – who regard with deep suspiciion any MP complaining that Sir Thomas Legg’s expenses system has been unfair to them.

But it strikes me that Sir Thomas’s findings, at least in this case, run the risk of repeating the heinous mistake made by those MPs who exploited the system for personal gain. Those MPs – the Labour and Tory MPs who ‘flipped’ their homes, or claimed for ‘phantom’ mortgages – defended their actions by claiming they were acting within the rules. Many of them have, so far at any rate, got away with it.

Sir Thomas seems to be interpreting the rules strictly, but very narrowly, so that those who didn’t necessarily stick to the letter of the law – but acted within its spirit, and not for personal gain – are now the ones being hit hardest. That strikes me as rough justice.

Some will say that doesn’t matter: the public needs to see MPs held to account for the abuses committed by their colleagues, and if a few innocent suffer along the way, then tough luck. But I’m a liberal, and I don’t like that sort of thing.