'Half of Lords' clock in to claim expenses
- 17 December 2013
- From the section UK
Half the members of the House of Lords clock in and out of Parliament for a few minutes a day in order to claim a £300 daily attendance allowance, a former Conservative peer has said.
Lord Hanningfield made the claim when challenged to explain his own attendance record.
The Daily Mirror alleges on 11 of 19 occasions he attended the Lords in July he spent less than 40 minutes there.
There is no suggestion the peer broke any rules.
Members of the House of Lords are not paid a salary but can claim a daily allowance of £300 if they attend a sitting.
Lord Hanningfield, a former leader of Essex County Council, claimed £5,700 in total for his 19 days of attendance during July and the Mirror reports his shortest attendance that month was 21 minutes.
During July, Lord Hanningfield did not speak in any debates or attend any committee hearings.
When confronted by the Mirror about the claims, Lord Hanningfield said "at least half" the members of the Lords checked in to claim expenses.
He said he spent half of the £300 daily fee on expenses and so did not really make any profit. He was a full-time peer who needed the money to pay his electricity bills and buy food, he said.
Since October Lord Hanningfield has spoken twice and submitted four written questions.
He told BBC Essex's Tom Barton: "Doing work in the Lords is not just working in the chamber, unless you are going to speak.
"During July I was preparing myself for what I'm doing now and during this term I've been speaking and asking questions. I'm really back to an active life in politics and I don't appreciate the Mirror following me around in July."
The Conservative Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Hill, said in a statement on Lord Hanningfield's comments that he was "dismayed about the behaviour and dismayed about the shadow it casts over the whole House".
He said steps were "already in train" to deal with peers "whose behaviour falls below the standards we rightly expect".
In the New Year, members of the Lords would be asked to approve proposals to stop allowances to peers who breached the code of conduct, he added.
The BBC understands that the Labour leader in the Lords, Baroness Royall, wants to amend the code of conduct for peers to take action against those who bring the House of Lords into disrepute.
She is also suggesting the rules should be amended so that peers claiming the attendance allowance would have to be in Parliament for a minimum of four hours.
Liberal Democrat Lord Steel, who himself put forward proposals earlier this year to force peers who do not attend regularly to retire, said the current system of allowances was a "bit daft".
He told Radio 4's The World at One peers should have to swipe in and out of Parliament to show how much time they had spent in the building - as this would "stop the sort of thing of which Lord Hanningfield is accused".
"The attendance allowance is supposed to represent work in Parliament," he said.
"I have to admit it is not a very good system... Sometimes it works the other way around. Last Tuesday I was in from about 10am to 10pm but because I did not go into the chamber - I was in six different meetings and by the time I went down to the chamber the House had risen - I got nothing for that day."
There are currently 779 "eligible" members of the House of Lords. More than 40 other peers have taken a "leave of absence" for health or professional reasons, meaning they cannot attend.
A voluntary retirement scheme was introduced in 2011 but so far only three peers have chosen to use it.
In 2011, Lord Hanningfield served nine weeks of a nine-month sentence for parliamentary expenses fraud totalling nearly £14,000.
During his trial, a court was told he had submitted false claims for hotel bills including one when he was actually on board a flight to India at the time, and that he had fraudulently claimed for train fares and car mileage.
But Lord Hanningfield, who entered the Lords in 1998, told BBC Essex he had "drawn the short straw" during the expenses scandal and that "most" MPs and peers had been allowed "to pay the money back without any problem".
He added: "I got treated rather badly, I think. I didn't do anything more than anyone else and most peers know that."
Lord Hanningfield, who had the Conservative whip withdrawn in 2010, said he might "hopefully" return to the party one day, adding: "I still do a lot of work and I still tend to support the coalition government's politics.
"The effects of the last four years traumatised me. I had virtually a nervous breakdown."
He added: "I don't think I should have been convicted... I think it was a travesty of justice."