Belfast Telegraph

My conscience is clear, says Northern Ireland peer Lord Laird over £48k expense claims

A Northern Ireland member of the House of Lords has said his conscience is clear and he will continue doing what he is doing after it emerged he claimed almost £50,000 in a year.

Lord Laird claimed £48,279 in House of Lord expenses in a year - yet only voted twice and did not give a single speech.

The 73-year-old former Ulster Unionist said that many issues in the Lords did not concern Northern Ireland and that as he was registered as disabled he could not make it to the chamber on time from his office.

He stressed he was hard working, saying that in 18 years he had submitted some 14,000 questions.

"£48,000 a year to live in London for so many weeks in a year may seem a lot, but it is not a lot in terms of London rates," he told the BBC.

"I will do what I can do and will continue to do what I can do and I will not be doing anything else.

"I have a totally clear conscience."

He said he had no intentions of retiring.

Campaigners have criticised "couch potato peers" after new research suggested more than 100 claimed almost £1.3m despite not speaking in the Lords for a year.

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) said 115 peers - around one in seven - did not contribute in a debate during the 2016/17 parliamentary session but claimed an average of £11,091.06 each.

ERS chief Darren Hughes said: "There appears to be a growing 'something for nothing' culture in our upper house, with tidy sums being claimed by those who barely contribute."

There is no suggestion Lord Laird broke any rules or the law, but it is not the first time his expenses hit the headlines.

He claimed expenses of £73,000 in 2008-09, making him the most expensive peer in the Lords that year. He was also suspended from the Lords for four months in 2013 being caught up in two newspapers investigations into 'cash for access'. The Ulster Unionists Party suspended him and he quit the party.

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