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Clock-in row peer reported to Met

A member of the House of Lords has been reported to police over allegations related to his parliamentary expenses.

The development came after Lord Hanningfield, who was jailed in 2011 for abuse of expenses, defended his right regularly to claim a £300 daily attendance allowance despite reportedly spending little time in the chamber of the Lords

The case has sparked a re-examination of rules on peers' expenses and reignited demands for an elected second chamber.

On 11 of the 19 days that the Daily Mirror newspaper monitored Lord Hanningfield's movements in July, he spent less than 40 minutes in the Lords after "clocking in" with an official in the chamber before returning to his home in Essex.

The shortest attendance during the month was 21 minutes and the longest more than five hours, with £5,700 claimed in attendance allowance and £471 in travel costs, the newspaper said.

Labour MP John Mann said he was reporting the former Tory peer to the Metropolitan Police for investigation under the 1968 Theft Act.

"Lords can claim either by the half-day or the day," said Mr Mann. "If what has been reported is accurate, he has been doing much less than half-days but claiming for a day.

"If it is true that he has been claiming in the way that has been reported, then it is right and proper that there should be a police investigation into this. The taxpayer would expect no less."

In a letter to Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, obtained by the Mirror, Mr Mann said it appeared that Lord Hanningfield's actions could amount to obtaining money by deception.

In a defiant justification of his actions, Lord Hanningfield said the requirement to appear in the chamber is "only a mechanism for paying you" and that failing to speak or vote should not be a bar to receiving the expenses cash.

Most of the money went on "entertaining, meeting people, employing people," he said, claiming that he would "end up with £12,000 a year" for himself which he needs to eat and "pay my electricity bills".

He claimed that half the members of the House are doing the same and that he could name at least 50.

Lord Hill, the leader of the upper chamber, expressed "dismay" at the behaviour of Lord Hanningfield, who retained his seat despite being jailed for falsely claiming £28,000 in taxpayer-funded expenses.

There is cross-party agreement on the need to beef up the code of conduct to allow action against "the small number of members whose behaviour falls below the standards we rightly expect", Lord Hill said.

Downing Street said Prime Minister David Cameron shares the dismay and backs the proposed crackdown on those deemed to have brought the House of Lords into disrepute.

It remains unclear whether this will include changing the attendance rules, which Lord Hanningfield did not break, to impose a minimum period that must be spent in Parliament to qualify for the cash.

But the case also reignited demands for an elected second chamber in place of what the Electoral Reform Society calls "an anachronism which gives people lucrative and comfortable jobs for life".

Members of the House of Lords do not receive a salary, but can claim £300 a day for attendance and "appropriate Parliamentary work" at Westminster. They can also opt to receive the reduced rate of £150.

Moves to introduce a sanction of withdrawing financial support and access to facilities from members who breach the code of conduct are due to be brought forward for approval early next year.

Peers jailed for a year or more in future also face being banned, in line with the rules for MPs, after the Government indicated it would support backbench legislation introduced by Tory MP Dan Byles.

"Ultimately the reputation of this House rests in all our hands, which is why I believe noble Lords will want to support steps to strengthen the sanctions available to us," said Lord Hill.

It is important "for us to deal with the small number of members whose behaviour falls below the standards we rightly expect", saying of Lord Hanningfield's behaviour that he is "dismayed about the shadow it casts over the whole House".

A Scotland Yard spokesman said the Met was not aware of Mr Mann's complaint having been received.


From Belfast Telegraph