Statement from George Freeman MP

8th July 2020

Having first stood as a Member of Parliament ten years ago on a platform of working to restore public trust in our political system after the Expenses Scandal, I have always taken parliamentary standards and minimising expenses extremely seriously. 

That’s why I was mortified that I have been found in breach of the rules on the use of parliamentary stationery for my update to constituents before the prorogation of Parliament, and my personal work for constituency charities. 

I want to make sure constituents understand exactly what the complaints relate to:

  1. Pre-Prorogation update to constituents 
  2. Tours of Parliament for Norfolk charities 
  1. Pre-Prorogation update to constituents 

When Parliament prorogues for an election, MPs cease to be MPs and have to shut down all Parliamentary offices and IT.  Any updates on constituency issues as MP must be sent BEFORE Prorogation.  

The campaign letters referenced were sent out as an update to residents in a number of villages with concerns about the specific issue of rat-running – an issue they feel will worsen both during and after the North Tuddenham-Easton A47 dualling works have taken place, and even more so when the proposed Norwich Western Link is completed and connects to the A47 Wood Lane/Berry’s Lane Junction in Honingham.

At the start of October last year, I was invited by councillors at Kimberley and Carleton Forehoe Parish Council to attend an urgent, non-party political community meeting to “get a grip” of the situation. 

Approximately 25 people were in attendance, representing residents of the ten villages in the area most affected, and among the actions agreed was my proposal for the creation of a local Taskforce to represent their views, as well as an initiative to invite the views of the public.

The letters I sent were the first step in the process of ensuring that my suggestion of a newly created Taskforce reflected the views and concerns of all those in the affected areas. It was in no way party political (it didn’t mention any party politics)  and I believe that I would have been utterly negligent in my sworn duty as a Member of Parliament if I had not written to my constituents to update them on this matter in a non-political way.

I understood the rules permitted correspondence using Parliamentary stationary in the course of being a constituency MP on the basis that it did not in any way make Party Political points, which I have been studiously careful never to do so. I was not aware that the rules went further and prevented MPs from describing their previous work in case that it was viewed as presenting their work in a favourable light. In my mailing, I did refer to my previous work on such matters – as I believed it was wholly relevant to explaining why it was that I was contacting many of my residents for the first time on this issue. 

(Of the 000’s letters sent: only one complaint (from a political opponent) was received, which is what triggered the Commission enquiry). 

While I still maintain that the mailing was not intended to be anything other than an update to a small group of villages affected by a looming deadline on traffic mitigation measures, I of course respect, and accept, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards decision to find me in breach of the guidance and require me to repay the costs of the stationery which has now been repaid in full by me personally. 

I have since reviewed all of the guidance with my team and have introduced steps to ensure that no such breaches ever happen again.

2. Tours of Parliament for Norfolk charities 

The old practice of MPs using Parliamentary facilities for local party fundraising is rightly now no longer allowed.  

I often arrange for visits and tours of Parliament by local schools and community groups, and for local charities in Mid Norfolk I have offered for local raffles tea with me in Parliament (at my cost obviously) and a personal tour by me (not the House authorities).  

Apparently such visits - even when carried out and funded by me personally - are now against the new rules. Neither I nor my Constituency Office Manager was aware of this.  I have of course apologised and made clear to local constituency charities that I can sadly no longer offer such visits anymore.  


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