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Dorries apologises over TV fees

Tory MP Nadine Dorries was forced to apologise to the Commons for failing to properly register her media earnings, including any fee received for her appearance on ITV show I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here!

In a short personal statement she told MPs she apologised "fully and unreservedly for what was a genuinely inadvertent breach of the rules".

The Commons Standards Committee found that she should have declared earnings for media work channelled through Averbrook Ltd, of which she is a director.

The committee was also critical of her for failing to co-operate fully with an investigation by Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Hudson.

Ms Dorries refused to disclose how much she was paid for her appearance on the jungle-based reality show in November last year, claiming it would breach a confidentiality clause in the ITV contract.

The committee said that Ms Dorries should properly register all payments, whether they were to Averbrook or any other third party, and apologise to the House.

Ms Dorries threatened to take legal action over Ms Hudson's inquiry, which was triggered by a complaint from Labour MP John Mann, the report revealed.

In a letter to the commissioner Ms Dorries wrote: "I should inform you that I feel your report amounts to a witch hunt and I have forwarded it on to legal professionals for further advice regarding my position in relation to the committee and you personally.

"You are choosing to use a vexatious complaint made against me to reinforce your 'on the hoof, make it up as you go' policy. I will not tolerate that or any report which invokes libellous negative coverage against me as a result and will not hesitate to pursue you personally should that be the case."

In a letter to Ms Hudson last month the MP said she had taken on extra media work to meet a £67,000 legal bill.

"As a single parent with financial responsibilities for a disabled ex-husband, an elderly mother and a child in full time education, I faced the possibility of bankruptcy or finding a way to pay the bill.

"This is the initial impetus that drove me to undertake media work."

Ms Hudson found that the payments made to Ms Dorries as a result of her appearance on the show should have been declared.

The committee's report said: "Ms Dorries contended that such payments (if any) were made to a company, Averbrook Ltd, of which she is a director, and that she was not required to register income received by the company, but only any remuneration she drew from it.

"Ms Dorries further contends that as she was not required to register the company's income, she did not have to respond to the Commissioner's requests for information about payments from her media work."

The report said that, while her media work may not have influenced her representation of her Mid Bedfordshire seat, it was "likely to have been linked to her work in the House".

It added: "We find it hard to believe she would have been invited to appear on I'm a Celebrity if she had not come to public prominence as a Member of the House.

"It is clear that Ms Dorries's media work was remunerated, whether or not those payments were made to her or to her company.

"We agree with the commissioner that Ms Dorries should have registered payments for such media services even though those payments were made through Averbrook Ltd."

Ms Dorries told the committee that if she disclosed how much she had been paid by ITV she would "fall foul" of the contract's confidentiality clause, although she did indicate in evidence that it was "minuscule".

But the committee said the House's right to information "cannot be overridden by confidentiality agreements" and added: "In any event, Ms Dorries should not have signed a contract which required her to keep confidential matters which should have been registered."

Explaining her use of Averbrook to receive payments when she appeared before the committee on October 15 Ms Dorries told Labour's Fiona O'Donnell: "I can just say that the 'I'm a Celebrity' thing is absolutely minuscule.

"I have just been paid a major six-figure advance for a book that I have written, but I need to have a proper procedure by which that is accounted.

"I cannot just have sums of that magnitude paid to me personally without having a proper accounting vehicle through which to disclose them to the Inland Revenue."

Ms Dorries attempted to update her entry on the register of MPs' interests at the end of October, covering the previous 12 months.

It showed Averbrook's gross income was £142,000, giving a profit of £82,000, and that Ms Dorries had taken a £10,000 dividend on October 30.

She spent approximately 60 days working on Averbrook's projects, which were described as "writing and media appearances".

But the committee said that while the revised entry "gives a broad view of Ms Dorries's major activities, and the time she spends upon them" it did not meet the requirements of the register which calls for more precise details about the source of payments.

In its conclusion the committee said: "Ms Dorries must register the details required by the rules."

It added: " The House's Code of Conduct and disciplinary system depend on Members being prepared to explain their conduct, to submit to public scrutiny and where necessary, to respond to the Commissioner's inquiries."

The committee said Ms Dorries should consult the registrar within 21 days about the detail of her entry on the register.

"We will monitor Ms Dorries's compliance and will recommend further action if necessary," the report said.

Taxpayers' Alliance chief executive Matthew Sinclair said: " The MPs' register of interests is there precisely so the public can scrutinise the financial and business relationships of those we elect to represent us.

"Refusing to declare income, or being deliberately belligerent in response to legitimate inquires about what has been declared, undermines transparency in parliament and the public's faith in politicians.

"Claims that payments made to an MP via a company do not have to be declared will ring hollow to a public who well remember MPs clinging to technicalities during the expenses crisis."

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