Monday, 21 November 2016

Morecambe MP David Morris caught up in further expenses furore

Local MP David Morris is caught up in another Parliamentary expenses row, after House of Commons records apparently revealed he claimed £1,400 for driving in the UK - while he was on official foreign trips.

The Mail on Sunday broke the story at the weekend, reporting Mr Morris, who in addition to being MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale is also the government's Self Employment Ambassador, claimed for 25 trips which covered 4,402 miles.

The journeys were made when he was out of Britain on 11 foreign fact-finding trips, according to official expenses records, but the MP said he believed the discrepancies could be an error by the Commons expenses watchdog, the Independent Parliament Standards Authority (IPSA).

Details of Mr Morris's mileage claims are published on IPSA's official website. His overseas trips with a number of all-party parliamentary groups are declared on the separate MPs' official register of interest.

The Mail on Sunday reports a comparison of the two records shows that Mr Morris claimed mileage in the UK for 11 journeys when he was on four separate trips to Gibraltar over a total of 15 days. Most of the £479 claimed during his Gibraltar visits was for 'mileage in constituency' – whereby MPs can claim expenses to visit constituents or attend constituency functions.

Fact finding Mr Morris in Gibraltar. Via his official Twitter

The records also reveal the MP claimed £151.75 for three journeys during a week when he was officially in the Falklands. In April, he is also recorded as claiming £390 for four separate journeys during a five-day official trip to the United Arab Emirates; and claimed £232 for two car journeys "within his constituency", despite being on a week long visit to Taiwan.

Mr Morris told the Mail on Sunday he was confident that each claim has been made legitimately.

"There appears to be a difference between what has appeared on the MPs' system and what information IPSA have published on the public system," he said.

He told the newspaper he could not provide "in depth' comments on individual claims until he had checked his records, but said "I am confident that each claim has been made legitimately. There appears to be a difference between what has appeared on the MP's system and what information IPSA have published on the public system."

An IPSA spokesman declined to comment.

UPDATE: In a statement on Tuesday 22nd November 2016. Mr Morris said

“Having now had time to assess my paper documentation in London it is clear that the majority of the allegations occurred on dates when I was in the country (12 out of 25) either before I flew out or after I arrived back, and therefore should not have even been included in the article.

“I have identified five claims which were made for journeys by myself but where it is clear the wrong date has been automatically selected on IPSA’s system where the lines have been entered on the form.

“I will be contacting IPSA to clarify this information and to log a common fault experienced by other MPs with the system which should be rectified.

“I will also be highlighting with IPSA errors in their new public system where incorrect payment amounts have been attributed to claims which are different to those which appear on the MPs’ system.

“I have encountered three claims which are in dispute. Two of these claims were deleted before submission but appear to have been processed on the new IPSA system, one of the claims is an IPSA computer error when two lines have been duplicated.

“Both of these will be investigated with IPSA.

“I think this exercise highlights the need for a new computer system for MPs’ expenses as it appears that the current system is antiquated, resulting in errors that have the potential to do great harm to MPs’ reputations.

“I will be taking this matter up with IPSA and I have instructed solicitors who will be advising on potential legal action against the Mail on Sunday.”

"Credit" Card Spat with IPSA

This isn't the first time Mr Morris has fallen foul of IPSA. Regular readers of virtual-lancaster will recall that earlier this year 14 MPs - including David Morris - had their taxpayer-funded credit cards blocked after they ran up debts worth £27,000 - just one month after he called on the Labour leader of Lancaster City Council to resign after "mismanaging" the council's finances.

The Indpendent newspaper (among others) reported that a Freedom of Information Act request revealed the action was carried out by the IPSA, which issues MPs with credit cards to pay for a variety of items such as travel, accommodation and stationery. Mr Morris made it clear in a press statement that all uses of the card were permissible claims and were for "legitimate office costs".

Boundary Changes Clash

Former hairdresser and pop band member Mr Morris has recently been criticised after it was revealed the Conservatives are campaigning for an electoral boundary change that would split Lancaster right down the middle.

Last week, he and Cat Smith clashed in the Commons over claims by the Lancaster MP that a number of her constituents regarding letters that they have received from David Morris about the Boundary Commission’s proposals. "Some of my constituents have been left confused, given the subject matter, believing that their MP has already changed under boundary changes," she said.

After an intervention by the Speaker of the House John Bercow, Mr Morris did not deny he had contacted Lancaster constituents - regarded as a Parilamentary discourtesy - but said he had not written "to the hon. Lady’s constituents by name or used parliamentary paper, resources or a portcullis emblem".

"I also did not deliver any of the letters personally, as I was away on parliamentary business out of the country at the time. I have therefore not breached any protocol. As far as the views that have been expressed are concerned, they are the views of my constituents and I am representing them as their Member of Parliament. Their responses to the letter concur with the opinion of both sides, which is that we should keep Morecambe and Lancaster separate."

His comment to the House in this debate seem at odds with the proposals mooted by the Conservatives, which have raised concern locally.

• You can view Mr Morris expenses for 2014 - 2015 on the IPSA web site here and view all his expenses since he took office in 2010 here

• David Morris Official web site:

• Find David Morris MP on Facebook here. He doesn't allow comments from people who might disagree with him. You can also follow him on Twitter

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