NB: There is a clarification at the foot of this article
What do you earn?
BS and KM: £64,000
Do you have any additional income?
BS: I’m chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee and earn £13,000 for that. I have some outside interests. I’m chairman of an educational trust, I’m chairman of about three things.
But you haven’t asked me what I do with the money. People like you will say: ‘Do you earn any money outside?’ but they don’t say: ‘What do you do with the money Barry?’ I’ve so far, in the last three years, donated nearly £100,000 to charity but the second question is never asked.
All of the money?
BS: Yes. If a private sector organisation asks me to give a lecture and it’s not educational, I charge them anything from £300 to £500 per performance to be given to my favourite charity.
I’m obsessive about education outside the classroom and that goes towards the £2.5m we have raised for the John Clare Trust.
The expenses are published every year and people say: ‘He came higher than her,’ and so on, but people have to bear in mind the level of activity.
Sometimes it’s the level of activity and how well you do your job and how well you service your constituents. People in the media should come and spend a day with us. Put what we do in context.
KM: We are all a little quiet about our charity work. I do things in a slightly different way. I don’t charge, but I give my services for free, mostly for domestic violence.
Barry Sheerman, do you have a London flat that you let?
BS: Yes, to my daughter.
Have you ever lived in it?
BS: Yes. It was bought when my mother was very elderly and my father could no longer look after her.
We bought it just before interest rates went to 15%. We have had it for a very long while, it was let for a while, but now my daughter lives in it.
Have you ever claimed on it?
BS: Absolutely not, it’s nothing to do with that, it’s a tiny little flat that certainly wouldn’t be big enough for me and my wife to live in.
KM: As an MP, if you came to the House without very much, it looks like it’s very extravagant buying all these televisions and sofas. But what are we going to sit on? It’s all very well getting a flat, but if you’ve got nothing in it where are you going to sleep at night?
BS: When I first became an MP I went to London and I lived in pretty awful accommodation.
My family and four children couldn’t come to London to see me because there were no facilities and gradually there has been the allowance system and the ability to have a decent home in London and a decent home in your constituency.
I am going to continue fighting for decent standards in parliament because I’m not going back to the days where you could not afford to have a proper base in both ends of the country. Do you want abnormal people to become MPs? No, we want typical people.
Kali Mountford, you are spending less time in London because of illness but are still claiming for a place there. Why?
KM: I have claimed on one place until the rental agreement expired and recently decided to take new flat because it’s closer and we put some disabled access in so that I can attend more often with the agreement of doctors.
I have been there this week. I can’t do the full range of duties but I wasn’t happy not attending parliament. I want to be there as long as I can be there.
Your attendance, voting record and so on has decreased and people are asking if you can still serve your constituents adequately.
KM: One time I had a higher record than some of the whips.
I liked doing my job and had a reputation for standing committees, legislation and so on. I’d come off one and go to another, but when the pain was getting too bad I couldn’t do it anymore.
I hope that people are generous enough to understand that when people are ill you get support.
I asked if I could have more specialist equipment to carry on and the occupational therapist said no, because it would mean that I would have carried on working even more and she wouldn’t allow it. She told the chief whip to send me home immediately and I got distressed, and it led to me having to resign.
What about your husband’s position, how much does he get paid?
KM: I can’t tell you how much. All staff are paid the trade unions rate, family members have to be registered in the mid-range.
He doesn’t get extra payments as my carer, but there is an allowance for me being ill and someone else gets a job because of it – not him and it’s not a relative.
Will you get a parachute payment when you leave?
KM: No, I don’t know what that is. You don’t get a payment as finishing as an MP. There is a winding up allowance to pay for everything that you have to finish, some staff are not entitled to redundancy but I’ll have to pay them something.
You both claimed the maximum additional costs allowance for 2004-05, 2006-07 and 2007-08, all in excess of £20,000 a year. The average salary in Kirklees is £18,000, so you’re claiming more than their basic salary. How do you justify it?
KM: It costs a lot to live in London and the further you live away, how long you have had property for and all sorts of variables add up to whether or not it’s expensive.
BS: When we got into parliament we were told: ‘Do you realise how expensive it is to have a second home in London? We will provide you this much and this is what is eligible.’
We claimed the maximum because it costs much more than the maximum to live in London. Some people buy objects, others have higher mortgage rates. Even when I look at stuff that I put down, I claim less than what it costs, I do a lot of entertaining in the houses of parliament and it costs a lot, and we can’t claim and we don’t.
But why should you be able to? Why should the man on the street pay for you to take someone out to lunch?
BS: I’m saying we don’t. We are saying that we do a lot beyond what the allowance allows us to do and we’re happy to do it.
Everything I have to pay is what I have to pay for living in London as an MP.
If you spent time with us in London, there is a constant stream of people coming through, we don’t mind going out there as ambassadors for the town, but it doesn’t come cheap.
In that case, is the allowance enough?
KM: Some people would say it must be there or thereabouts. I spend about £5-6,000 more on top of what I claim – things I could have claimed for according to the Green Book. I sometimes list them and sometimes don’t. I bought almost all my furniture but only claimed for a bit of it.
Why are other MPs not claiming the maximum amount?
BS: They already live in London so they haven’t got second homes.
If you’re wealthy you can afford not to take up all the allowance, and I’m not a millionaire. Some of the more wealthy ones don’t claim. The ordinary working MP who commutes, and wants a decent style of life then they have to claim.
KM: Trust me, it’s not extravagant.
But you claimed for a vacuum cleaner. How do you justify that?
KM: You can’t undertake parliamentary duties without a fully furnished accommodation, and so if you’re going to get a cleaner which I do from time to time, you need that kind of thing. If I’d had a spare one I would have taken it down.
Why do you claim for food?
BS: You’re allowed some food commitment for eating in the House of Commons.
If you look at my claims, about £200- £275 a week, by the time I’ve finished buying coffees, soup and sandwiches in the Commons you go well beyond that for your own consumption, and that’s all we claim for.
KM: We are always away from home and we often can’t leave the House of Commons, we always have to be within eight minutes of it if there’s a vote and that’s the problem.
We have to eat in restaurants in the House of Commons and it becomes expensive.
You can’t get breakfast for much less than £5, it works out at about £25 a day.
Our subsistence is the same as others doing similar jobs. Parliament is our second home and we are not even in our flats all of the day, we are rarely in the flats, you can’t expect us to be going home and doing a quick stir-fry.
BS: The rules are the rules and you’ll find that certainly in our cases food is a part of it.
Can you hand-on-heart say that you’ve both acted within the rules and within the spirit of the rules and you have a clear conscience for what you claimed for?
BS: We both spend more than we receive for all the things we put in for and, above that, we put into representing this town more than those allowances represent by a large margin.
Have either of you made any claims that you regret looking back?
KM: No. I think if I was going to regret it I wouldn’t have done it.
BS: I haven’t claimed for anything I shouldn’t have and I’m very happy with the scrutiny that the whole thing’s getting now.
I resent people apologising on behalf of the MPs, they might want to apologise but I don’t think I’ve done anything.
I’ve never wanted to vote on my own salaries and expenses, I’ve been forced to. I’ve always argued against.
And I’ve also said to all three leaders – Cameron, Brown and Clegg – will we accept Christopher Kelly’s report (into MPs’ expenses) when it comes out? I haven’t heard any of them say yes. And if they don’t we will be in the same mess.
We want a fair system by an independent body. Unfortunately the prime ministers have never accepted that principle.
Kali, you were on the advisory panel for members’ allowances. Why hasn’t anything been done before now?
This was what we have been looking at for two years, writing all of this, we were conscious that this needed to be done and it was set up by the speaker.
We didn’t need the Telegraph to do this, we were doing it anyway. If people think I looked annoyed because of the Telegraph it’s because I knew how much work we’d put into this.
Looking at claims that we thought were doubtful, we needed to clean it up. There is nothing there that we hadn’t looked at and how we’d regulate it.
Have you been shocked by some of the allegations? Which ones?
KM: Some of them, but I’d prefer not to name names.
In some cases because of who they are rather than what they have done. I have been really sad to find they have been accused of something that I would never have anticipated.
Some people you think ‘I’d expect it from them’ and so it’s not so shocking.
Some of them have made mistakes. Some mistakes are on behalf of the Telegraph because some of them submit receipts on which there are plenty of things they haven’t claimed for so they are accused of claiming for things they really didn’t and some people have submitted similar receipts and have claimed for things accidentally they never intended to claim for, like dog food and that was a little misdemeanour that was never intended.
We were already looking at this issue before the Telegraph articles.
All of this misdoing would have been found and put right.
Everybody would’ve known about it and it would have been dealt with in a calm and rational way and we could have had an open debate about what to do about it and we would have been able to say let’s deal with these people who have done wrong properly and we wouldn’t have been having trial by chequebook journalism.
BS: There is one particular person who has been accused who is on my committee, David Chaytor (MP for Bury who claimed £13,000 for a mortgage that did not exist).
I’ve always found him the straightest person I could possibly imagine.
I believe when the full enquiry goes through we will find he has not broken the laws and I will stand by any of my colleagues until they have been proven to have done something wrong.
The Telegraph is highlighting certain of them in a particular way and some of them look amusing, to clean the slime off your moat or to have a duck house. Some of them sound ridiculous and slightly amusing, but they are not amusing.
Do you think there should be criminal prosecutions?
KM: If someone has broken the law and they have shown to have broken the law, absolutely yes.
There should be a proper process, you don’t jump to conclusions and my own view is that process should involve referral to the House of Commons standards committee.
For other people the remedy might be within the law, within the tax law where it’s a civil remedy or in the criminal law, where it might be fraud.
We do acknowledge that we are people that have been given this really big duty on behalf of the public, so we have to be better than average behaviour. But equally we are entitled to a proper hearing.
BS: Most of the MPs we are talking about have done nothing wrong. There is a significant minority where the allegations are quite serious, but I suspect it is very few that are of a criminal type.
Some of them may have bent the rules and we have to find out if they have bent them or not. But you are innocent until proven guilty in this country but I’m not willing for any of my colleagues to be charged and sentenced by the Daily Telegraph.
I have to remind you that their former owner, Conrad Black, is still in prison for massive fraud in Canada.
Once this independent group is established to go through people’s expenses.
I was trying to total up the number of MPs flagged up by the Telegraph.
The vast majority of MPs have come under scrutiny and come through unscathed. Many of them have done no wrong and some of them believe the way the Telegraph has spun the story about them has prejudged a proper analysis of what it was.
Should there be general election?
KM: Not over this. You shouldn’t be voting on who you want as your next government over expenses, because for one thing no one party will come out of this well. A general election should be separated out of this issue.
BS: We need to let this get sorted and settled before we go into a general election.
Will this issue dissuade potentially very good MPs from wanting to pursue careers as MPs?
KM: I think that’s a very real possibility because I even know of some MPs who are not accused of anything thinking of standing down themselves, which makes me sad.
BS: No. This will calm down and it’s still the best job in the world.
What do you think of our MPs’ responses? Let us know by contacting the Examiner on 01484 437728 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A thank you to readers who submitted their questions. They included: Bill Macbeth of Huddersfield, Betty Sweeney of Dalton, P Fahey of Fixby, C.R. Atkinson of Honley, Tony Whittaker of Skelmanthorpe, George Mellor of Meltham, K Gledhill of Dalton, Gerald Sharp of Waterloo, Julie Hosty, D Exley formerly of Highburton, Markham Weavill of Linthwaite, A E Brown of Huddersfield, Alan Starr of Golcar, Nigel Bates and David Billington.
Other readers also submitted questions and we did not ask every question submitted but have tried to cover the most popular subjects.
On May 23 and June 4 , we reported that Colne Valley MP Kali Mountford had told us that there was no payment for ‘finishing as an MP’.
In fact, when we first asked her about so-called ‘parachute payments’, there was some confusion about whether we were referring to an allowance that allows retiring or defeated MPs to clear their backlog and hand over cases to their successor, or to the resettlement grant, which is essentially a redundancy payment.
Ms Mountford believed we were talking about the former allowance, which does not directly benefit MPs. We accept that Ms Mountford was not seeking to mislead people and apologise for any confusion.
Additionally, we quoted Ian Leedham, Ms Mountford's husband and assistant, as saying that he could not remember which charitable causes she donated money to after receiving a windfall on her second home.
We are happy to clarify that he was not referring to the sums given to charity but to the precise amount of capital gains tax they had paid following the sale of their second home.