UK Politics

Ex-minister Lord Knight rapped for doctoring form

Lord Knight
Image caption Lord Knight admitted he had acted unwisely

A former minister has been criticised for doctoring a form in an attempt to justify subsidising Labour Party literature with parliamentary expenses.

Lord Knight signed and backdated a paper as he faced an investigation by the Commons sleaze watchdog.

The Standards and Privileges Committee called it a "serious misjudgement" and ordered him to repay more than £3,600 spent on a printing machine.

Lord Knight, formerly Jim Knight, lost his Commons seat in May's election.

The doctoring took place when he was out of Parliament, between his defeat and his ennoblement later in the summer.

'Misleading'

Mr Knight bought a risograph - a high-speed digital printing machine - in January 2008 for £7,279, which he claimed back through his parliamentary communications allowance.

The Labour Party in his South Dorset constituency was to provide space for the machine and pay for maintenance, in return for being allowed to use it.

However, Mr Knight never cleared the deal with the Commons authorities, and claimed £1,665 for running costs such as ink up to the end of 2009.

Standards Commissioner John Lyon launched an inquiry in March after receiving a complaint that the taxpayer-funded printer had been used to produce newsletters and campaign literature for Labour Party candidates in local elections.

As part of his evidence, Lord Knight, a former education minister, provided a copy of an agreement with South Dorset Labour Party that was dated January 2008.

But Mr Lyon noticed that his signature had imprinted on other documents that were from much later.

The commissioner said in his report: "I asked Mr Knight to explain how this sharing agreement, which appeared to be signed and dated January 2008, could have had at least one of these signatures imprinted on a sheet submitted to me in June 2010 covering invoices from 2009 and 2010.

'Embarrassing'

Lord Knight replied: "When I found the file copy last month I discovered that I had not signed it. I unwisely chose to sign it and back date it, hence the imprint on the invoices.

"Clearly this could be misleading and I apologise unreservedly. I hope this doesn't detract from the fact that both South Dorset Labour Party and I were conscious of the potential complications of storing parliamentary equipment on party property.

"It was for this reason the agreement was made and it is the principles in this agreement that have guided the use of the risograph by my office and the South Dorset Labour Party."

He added: "It was not my intention to mislead. I signed it merely for the sake of completeness. It was an embarrassing error of judgment."

The committee concluded: "In our view, this was a very serious misjudgment, albeit one made when Lord Knight was a member of neither House...

"Had Lord Knight made such a misjudgment when he was a Member of this House, it would in our view have constituted a breach of paragraph 15 of the Code of Conduct."

This bans MPs from undertaking "any action which would bring the House of Commons, or its members generally, into disrepute".

The committee said the agreement with the local Labour Party had not been wrong in principle, but it should have been "tightly drawn and based on actual usage", and cleared with the Commons authorities.

It added: "There is no doubt that Lord Knight should have taken greater care to ensure that the arrangements for the purchase, location and running costs of the risograph were beyond reproach."

The committee ordered that he repay a total of £3,620 which had been calculated as the total benefit received by Labour from the arrangement.