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Peer faces suspension from Lords

The former Conservative council leader Lord Hanningfield is facing suspension from the House of Lords for the rest of the current Parliament over his claims for allowances.

The Lords Privileges and Conduct Committee said the peer - who was jailed in 2011 over his parliamentary expenses - should face the maximum sanction after he was found to have claimed the allowance for 11 days on which he did no parliamentary work.

The committee recommended that Lord Hanningfield - who was leader of Essex County Council - should repay the £3,300 which he had wrongly claimed.

This case followed an investigation by the Daily Mirror which found that Lord Hanningfield was claiming the daily allowance for peers of £300 while only spending short periods of time in Parliament.

Following a complaint, the Lords Commissioner for Standards, ex-Hampshire chief constable Paul Kernaghan, carried out an inquiry focusing on 11 days in July 2013 when he spent less than 40 minutes in the parliamentary estate.

"Lord Hanningfield was unable to point to any specific work that he had undertaken on the 11 days covered by the commissioner's investigation," the committee said.

" In our view it is clear that the daily allowance should be claimed only on days when parliamentary work has been undertaken.

"We recommend that Lord Hanningfield be required to repay to the House the £3,300 he wrongly claimed and that he be suspended from the service of the House until the end of the current parliament."

In his report, Mr Kernaghan found that in making the incorrect claims, Lord Hanningfield "failed to act on his personal honour".

The committee's report will now be considered by the full House of Lords tomorrow when peers will decide whether to accept its recommendations.

In a statement following the release of the report, Lord Hanningfield said he regarded his peer's allowances as a "de facto salary" which earned him around £30,000 a year and was unaware that what he was doing was wrong. He made clear he intends to return to the House of Lords after his suspension.

Lord Hanningfield said: "Since my release from prison and return to the House, I have had but one goal in mind, and that is to return to work and continue to serve the taxpayer, something I believe I have tried my very best to do since I became a peer in 1998.

"Following my release from prison I was suffering from psychological and physical health problems, I was anxious about returning to the House following my suspension and while it was thoughtless of me to claim the full allowance on the 11 dates in question, considering I spent so little time on the parliamentary estate, I never attempted to hide any of these transgressions, simply because I was unaware that what I was doing was wrong.

"Nevertheless, I would like to thank my fellow peers, and members of the general public, for their ongoing support during what has been the most difficult period of my life.

"I regret that my mistakes have ultimately resulted in me being suspended from the House but would like to assure the people and organisations that I was in the process of helping that I will continue with the work that I have started, outside the Lords, to ensure that our efforts will not have been wasted upon my return.

"Like many other Lords, I believe the allowance to be a 'de facto' salary, something which the Commissioner himself conceded in his report, is an acceptable way to view it.

"As I have stated many times before, I claim the allowance on 100 days during the year, which amounts to an annual salary of £30,000 and no more. I also consider myself to be a working peer every single day of the year and regularly conduct parliamentary work outside of the parliamentary estate, from my home in Essex.

"And so, even if I am not speaking in the House or participating in a debate or vote, I am still required to travel to the House in order to claim the allowance, just as there are many more days a year where I will work all day and not claim at all.

"The fact remains that the Daily Mirror elected to follow me and monitor my movements over the course of a month in which I was decidedly unwell, and I maintain that had they chosen to do so in any other month since, they would have gleaned an entirely different account of my activities and efforts, one which far more accurately reflects my normal routine.

"The House of Lords does not offer any form of 'sick pay' and while I realise that my efforts to return to the House proved to be counter-productive, I rely on the aforementioned allowance in order to pay the various people whom I employ.

"It appears that I am now going to be reprimanded, on a technicality, as I could not provide 'substantial' evidence of the work that must be carried out on the days in question, in order to justify the claim, even though that would appear to contradict the principal idea that the allowance may indeed be viewed as a 'de facto' salary.

"It will be difficult to recover from this most recent setback but that has never stopped me before. It will at least allow me the opportunity to complete the book I have begun to write on my life, and the last five years in particular."

In its report last year, the Mirror said it monitored Lord Hanningfield's movements on 19 days in July 2013 and on 11 of them he travelled to Westminster from his home in Essex but spent l ess than 40 minutes in the Lords before returning. The shortest attendance during the month was 21 minutes and the longest more than five hours.

When confronted by the paper, the former leader of Essex County Council suggested that "clocking in and out of Parliament" was a normal part of being a peer, and claimed that as many as 50 others were doing the same.

Lord Hanningfield was stripped of the Conservative whip in 2010 over his expenses claims and served nine weeks of a nine-month sentence in 2011 after being found guilty of six counts of false accounting relating to nearly £14,000 of parliamentary expenses. On that occasion, he was suspended from the Lords for nine months.

Lord Hanningfield - former pig farmer Paul White, 73 - served on Essex County Council from 1970-2011, and was its Conservative leader from 2001-10. He was made a life peer as Lord Hanningfield in 1998.

Labour MP John Mann called on the Government to introduce legislation in next month's Queen's Speech to automatically expel anyone committing a criminal offence from the House of Lords.

The Bassetlaw MP said : "A one-year ban is hopelessly inadequate. Lord Hanningfield should be banned for life.

"If this were a case of a benefits cheat who repeatedly offended, he would receive a significant prison sentence.

"A lifetime ban is the only appropriate punishment for the 'clocking in' Lord Hanningfield."

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "It's hard to imagine what else Lord Hanningfield could do to be thrown out of the House of Lords for good.

"It's welcome news that he's been suspended for the rest of this Parliament but taxpayers are right to be angry that he'll be back on the red benches in a year's time. The reputation of Parliament will be dragged even deeper into the mud if he has the cheek to take another penny from the taxpayer.

"The system should be reformed so those with criminal convictions can be expelled permanently."


From Belfast Telegraph