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The Sun is reporting today that Gillingham & Rainham MP Rehman Chishti could be in trouble for failing to declare his visits to Gillingham FC on time.

Mr Chishti, who also represents Rainham Central Ward on Medway Council, declared seven free tickets to the MEMS Priestfield Stadium between February and December 2015, donated by Gillingham Football Club and worth a total of £900.

The Sun claim that failing to log all of these visits until 1 March 2016 was a breach of the Parliamentary Rules.

Although he did not comment to The Sun, Mr Chishti did tell KentOnline that:

I am a proud and passionate supporter of my local team and try to attend home matches when I can to cheer on the team.

I had declared all information to the House of Commons Register of Members’ Interests in relation to my attendance at matches and hospitality received by the club in the last year.

The Sun newspaper has raised a point with regards to the timing in making these declarations on the Register of Interests.

I have asked the Parliamentary Registrar of Members’ Financial Interests to look into this and clarify this as an urgent matter.

On 1 March, Mr Chishti declared that he had received hospitality for the following matches:

Gillingham v Sheffield United
7 February 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

Gillingham v Notts County
3 May 2015 – though logged in the Register as 2 May 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

Gillingham v Wigan Athletic
22 August 2015
Two director’s box tickets with hospitality, total value £200

Gillingham v Doncaster Rovers
5 September 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

Gillingham v Blackpool
12 September 2015
Two director’s box tickets with hospitality, total value £200

Gillingham v Bury
14 November 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

Gillingham v Burton Albion
12 December 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

It is well known that I have not always seen eye-to-eye with Mr Chishti and on matters of policy, but I must point out that he has done nothing wrong in accepting this hospitality, and I fully commend the club for making the local Member of Parliament welcome at the stadium.

However, the question mark arises over the timing of the declaration. The Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members states that:

The House requires new Members, within one month of their election, to register all their current financial interests, and any registrable benefits (other than earnings) received in the 12 months before their election. After that, Members are required to register within 28 days any change in those registrable interests. Such a change includes both the acquisition of a new interest and the ceasing of any registered interest, for example because an employment has ceased or because a holding has reduced in value or been sold.

Chapter 1 Paragraph 2

In terms of hospitality:

Members must register, subject to the paragraphs below, any gifts, benefits or hospitality with a value of over £300 which they receive from a UK source. They must also register multiple benefits from the same source if these have a value of more than £300 in a calendar year.

Chapter 1 Paragraph 22

On a literal interpretation of the rules, it appears as though Mr Chishti has fallen foul of the requirement to declare the hospitality when the value exceeded £300 (such deadline appearing to be 18 September 2015 for the initial declaration, with 8 January 2016 appearing to be the deadline for the final update).

Having now laid out the facts, though, my question is just how much time do the journalists at The Sun have to trawl through the Register to uncover what is (essentially) a minor discrepancy? And, in the long run, does it really matter to anyone in the constituency if this declaration was a little late?

The strict anti-corruption rules are established to stop a (hypothetical) Member of Parliament from receiving a (hypothetical) sum of, say, £5,000.00 from a (hypothetical) green energy company and then voting to block a (hypothetical) coal-powered generator being built. They are not, to my knowledge, in force to prevent a Member of Parliament watching his local football club play on a Saturday afternoon, even if such a ticket is provided free-of-charge by that club.

For interest, I trawled through Hansard from 7 February 2015 to date, and could only find two references to Gillingham Football Club amongst Mr Chishti’s many contributions, being:

Will the Minister welcome the initiative that has been set up in my constituency with support from DWP and the local Gillingham football club, along with Medway Watersports, to provide young people with skills and positive experiences to assist them in securing employment or further training?

9 March 2015

And:

Will the Minister welcome the new apprentice teaching sports assistants coach programme put on by Gillingham football club in my constituency, which is working with primary schools to get more sports coaches into primary schools?

15 June 2015

All very complementary, but not really a material benefit to my beloved Gillingham FC – and certainly not worth £900 of free tickets (says I tongue-in-cheek and certainly not suggesting that Mr Chishti in any way accepted free tickets for any corrupt or otherwise inappropriate reason).

In summary, Mr Chishti does appear to have fallen foul of the rules (as I read them) – although it is worth reiterating that he has written to the Registrar for urgent clarification – and may, indeed, deserve a slight slap on the wrist for doing so.

However, once the matter has been clarified, and any such slap-on-the-wrist has been administered, Mr Chishti must be left to enjoy his (correctly-declared) football at the greatest team in Kent in peace, while commentators can go back to focusing on more important matters, such as discovering where he stands in the EU Referendum debate or supporting his Bills to improve services for people with a mental illness.

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