Smith's marginal seat in peril after expenses apology

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Indy Politics

Jacqui Smith suffered the humiliation of being forced to apologise in the Commons yesterday for wrongly designating her family home as her second property for expenses purposes.

A seven-month parliamentary inquiry concluded that the former home secretary had broken the rules by claiming the south London house she shared with her sister was her main residence.

The designation of her family house in her Redditch constituency as her second home enabled her to claim up to £24,000 a year of public money towards its maintenance.

Ms Smith received the full backing of her local party yesterday, and insisted she would defend the Worcestershire seat at the next election.

But her prospects of clinging on in the ultra-marginal constituency – where her majority is just 2,716 – received a heavy blow with the publication of the inquiry's conclusions.

Ms Smith had argued that her government duties meant she spent more nights in her sister's house than in Redditch, and was therefore justified in the designation.

It took John Lyon, the Standards Commissioner, four months to get the full facts from her private office and the police who were guarding her over that period, amid signs of resistance from the Home Office.

But he concluded: "After becoming Home Secretary, Ms Smith spent more nights in her home in Redditch than she did in her home in London."

He also said: "Ms Smith reached a mistaken interpretation of the term 'main home' which, on any objective view, did not fit her personal circumstances and which was therefore contrary to the purpose as well as to the letter of the rule."

However, the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee acknowledged that she had followed advice from the Westminster authorities over the designation of her second home, and had not profited from the error. Ms Smith will not have to repay the £64,000 she claimed over four years on the detached house in Redditch where her husband and two sons live. But the inquiry found she "clearly breached the rules of the House" and ordered her to appear before other MPs to say sorry.

In a two-minute statement in the Commons, Ms Smith apologised for the mistake, but made clear her anger over the inquiry's conclusions.

She said she spent more nights in London than Redditch for three of the four years covered by the inquiry. She added: "I have never flipped my designation and I only own one home."

Ms Smith noted that Mr Lyon had concluded "in retrospect" that she should have used her discretion to alter the designation of her main home. She added: "I accept the committee's conclusions and I therefore apologise to the House."

She also apologised "unreservedly" to Parliament for claiming on expenses the cost of films watched at her home – including two pornographic films viewed by her husband.

Mr Lyon noted that she had paid the money back and that she had paid a "heavy price in terms of her public standing and the intrusion into her family life" over the disclosure of the claims.