Expenses trial: 'Other peers were over-claiming'
- 24 May 2011
- From the section UK Politics
A peer on trial over expenses has said he claimed to stay overnight in London while actually returning home "because all the other peers were doing it".
Former Essex County Council leader Lord Hanningfield, 70, denies six counts of false accounting.
He told jurors he was "doing the job of four frontbenchers" and did not have "an extravagant lifestyle".
He said he claimed expenses to care for his dog because the pet was "the only thing I have in my life outside work".
Lord Hanningfield, who is appearing at Chelmsford Crown Court under his name Paul White, was suspended from the Parliamentary Conservative Party and stood down as a frontbench business spokesman in the House of Lords when he was charged over his expenses.
Cross-examined on Tuesday he was asked why he had claimed £27,000 to pay an assistant whose salary was £12,000.
The peer said MPs could claim up to £130,000 a year for staffing, but there was no such allowance for peers and he had claimed extra in some categories because of losses in others.
Asked if he had made claims for overnight stays and travel in London, when he actually returned to Essex, because he felt the system was unfair he said: "I did it because all the other peers were doing it. I do know other peers who made similar claims but I will not name them."
Prosecutors say he never stayed overnight in London at the time of the claims between March 2006 and May 2009.
But the peer told the court he saw the money as a "living-out-of-London allowance" rather than overnight subsistence.
And he said he had not claimed back tens of thousands of pounds for meals and expenses to which he was entitled over his 40-year career, and had spent far more on the public than he had ever claimed.
"I do not lead an extravagant lifestyle, most of my clothes are from Marks & Spencer, I enjoy the occasional glass of wine but that's about it. I have no savings, no stocks and shares, nothing like that," he said.
He was also asked whether it had been appropriate to claim for someone to walk his pet, a Bernese mountain dog called Jefferson, but became emotional as he told the court the animal was "crucial to my life".
Earlier in the proceedings, he said: "As I lived alone I wouldn't survive without my dog - it's someone I could talk to and walk with."
On Monday the peer told the trial he had "quite honestly assumed" he could claim the maximum for overnight stays because most other peers did so.
The trial has heard he receives the state pension and a small agricultural pension of £120 a month - although he would be entitled to a local government pension for his 40 years on Essex County Council he had "never got around to filling in the forms".
The trial continues.