by Patrick Worrall and Georgina Lee
Zac Goldsmith has been found in breach of Parliamentary rules over a letter he sent to constituents using public funds in October last year.
The Conservative minister told the Parliamentary watchdog he had “never made use of this facility before”.
But last year, FactCheck reported how he sent an earlier letter on House of Commons notepaper, which is paid for by the taxpayer.
The October letter
Now a Conservative peer, Lord Goldsmith was the MP for Richmond Park in October 2019, when he wrote to local voters on House of Commons stationery praising the government for announcing an increase in school funding.
MPs are only allowed to write to constituents using stationery provided to them by the House of Commons if they stick to a strict set of rules.
A local resident who received the letter, which arrived in early November, complained to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, alleging that the letter was “unfairly promoting the Conservative party in the run-up to an election”.
The Commissioner ruled that the October 2019 letter “could reasonably be characterised as party political; promoting local and national Conservative Party policy and highlighting your own work on an issue of local interest shortly before an election.”
After receiving the Commissioner’s judgement, Lord Goldsmith said he “sincerely regret[s] having fallen foul of the rules” in respect of the October letter and apologised. He has agreed to pay back £8,954 to the House of Commons.
Lord Goldsmith, now a Foreign Office minister, also told the watchdog twice that he had “never” used the “facility” before.
But back in June 2019, FactCheck approached Lord Goldsmith about a different letter to constituents, also unsolicited and written on House of Commons paper.
The letter detailed his efforts to persuade the then-chancellor to drop plans for cuts to national police budgets. The MP also said that he had signed a joint letter calling for more support for police, hosted public meetings on crime, and had been liaising with councillors, the NHS and the police over plans for a local ambulance site.
We asked the then-MP whether the content of the June 2019 letter could be in breach of the rules that forbid using public funds to send “newsletters (including annual reports or general updates to constituents on a range of issues)”.
Lord Goldsmith has never provided us with a comment in respect of the July letter. We understand that he did not consider it to be in breach of the rules.
This is a different rule to the one Lord Goldsmith was found to have breached when he sent the October 2019 letter.
In correspondence with the Parliamentary watchdog, Lord Goldsmith says twice that he had “never” used the “facility” before. If he means that he never sent unsolicited mail to constituents on House-provided stationery, he’s wrong. FactCheck reported that he did just that in June 2019.
We have not seen evidence that anyone complained to the Parliamentary Commissioner about the July 2019 letter and to our knowledge, it has not been investigated.
Lord Goldsmith was contacted for comment before this article was published.