Barry Sheerman, the Labour MP for the neighbouring constituency of Huddersfield, is apparently refusing to register a first-class train pass he has received from Grand Central, an open-access train operator, because he isn’t willing to estimate its value.
This is particularly concerning because he considered it appropriate to sign Early Day Motion 219, which praises Grand Central and encourages the Department for Transport to support open-access operators, whilst having at that point received the pass.
So, despite the primary reason for requiring members to register gifts being to allow others to identify possible conflict of interests, Barry Sheerman won’t register a gift from an organisation that he is happy to sign a motion supporting.
Sheerman is by no means the only MP to have been given such a pass. It seems many of those representing constituencies which are near the locations served by Grand Central have been given one. I’ve not heard of anyone else refusing to register it though.
Whilst the other recipients will no doubt be focusing on their duty to represent their constituents, Sheerman is instead continuing this pointless dispute with the House of Commons authorities. He’s said, “I’m trying to settle this in the House of Commons but I’ve not yet got any satisfaction and I will now take the matter to the Speaker. I will also take it to the head of the House of Commons Commission.”
This all seems rather unnecessary. I’m sure his constituents will be delighted to see that rather standing up for them, their MP is wasting time engaging in pointless disputes about train tickets.
UPDATE (18 November)
The above was prompted by the Huddersfield Daily Examiner article, “Barry Sheerman accuses House of Commons of ‘daft ruling’ over free first-class rail pass”, which was published on 15 November. This article was at least the second the Examiner had published regarding this topic and I did check the Register of Members’ Financial Interests a few weeks ago which would have been the version as of 25 October, and noted the pass wasn’t mentioned.
Whilst the Examiner article of 15 November says Sheerman “has not registered his free first-class rail pass in protest”, that is incorrect. The latest copy of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests dated 8 November does mention the gift. Foolishly I assumed the Examiner article was accurate and hadn’t checked the register myself until now. So, Sheerman has registered the pass, the difference between him and the other MPs who have received one seems to be that Sheerman has only registered the value of the benefit to date rather than estimating the full value of the benefit.
It seems that the dispute relates to whether he periodically registers the benefit he has received in using the pass or, as others have done, provide an estimate for the maximum potential value. There are advantages and disadvantages of both in my view but Sheerman’s method would create more work for him and the House of Commons so it is perhaps understandable that they have asked him just to provide an estimate.
My view on this whole situation hasn’t changed however in light of this new information. This remains a pointless dispute which will be distracting Sheerman from his real duties as an MP and it doesn’t seem unreasonable for the House of Commons to ask that he provides an estimate of the maximum potential value so I fail to see why Sheerman is complaining about this.