Jailed peer 'has Lords role to play' on prison reform

Lord Taylor leaving court Lord Taylor was a rising star of the Conservatives in the 1990s

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Lord Taylor of Warwick, who was jailed over his expenses, says he will return to the Lords as he has a "role to play" informing the debate on prison reform.

He and fellow former Conservative Lord Hanningfield were suspended from the Lords on Wednesday after serving prison sentences for expenses fraud.

Lord Taylor said he could speak from the heart having heard "the jangling of keys from inside the door".

His suspension runs until 31 May and Lord Hanningfield's until April.

Peers approved their suspension - to run concurrently with their sentences - on Wednesday without a vote. Under current laws, peers cannot be permanently excluded from the House.

Lord Taylor was jailed for 12 months for fraudulently claiming more than £11,000 in taxpayers' money while Lord Hanningfield was jailed for nine months after falsely claiming expenses of £13,379.

Both were freed from prison on licence in September.

Lord Taylor, who currently wears an electronic tag, told the BBC he had not been back to the Lords since his release: "I was asked to stay away since January and I have adhered to that."

But he said he had received a lot of "very supportive" letters, including from peers, and said nobody had suggested to him he should not show his face in the Lords again. While there may be one or two critics, he said: "Most will realise I have a role to play."

Lord Taylor said he was keen to inform the debate about prison reform on his return to the Lords. He says Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is "on the right track" but he is worried he "seems to be a rather isolated voice".

"The new intake of MPs on all sides seem to be very antagonistic towards prison reform because they think it works well with their constituents, but I think it's not being honest," he said.

Peers held a brief debate on the suspensions before backing them unanimously

He said prison was a "temporary band aid" and if inmates were not trained and educated, they would simply come out and commit more crimes: "The public need to know it is more effective to train the prisoners. We need a more educated debate."

He backs more community service sentences, which he says are more effective, and more training for those who do go to prison to give them a "sense of responsibility".

Lord Taylor said he could now "speak from the heart" on the issue: "I have heard the jangling of keys from inside the door."

He is also interested in unemployment and apprenticeships and says he would like to continue mentoring schemes for young people.

"I would just like to try and make amends by showing I can do public service again - it's a privilege to do public service."

'On the treadmill'

Lord Taylor was at Wandsworth Prison, a category B prison in south London, for a month, where he briefly shared a cell with another expenses convict - the former Labour minister Elliot Morley. The two men discussed "how we were feeling, how we were going to keep fit" - but not details of their cases, he said.

He spent 22 and a half hours a day in his cell and had been stripsearched before going onto the prison wing: "But in a couple of days you have to settle down into routine. To begin with it's about survival, then you realise you can do more than survive, you get to know how to keep yourself safe, where the towels are - and get used to the food."

"There was a lot of kindness in prison - that was a surprise," he said, recounting the story of a prisoner who had given him his spare orange.

Start Quote

At the time I thought was acting within the rules but on reflection ... I just have to accept I was wrong”

End Quote Lord Taylor of Warwick

The former barrister says he was able to help other prisoners with legal advice. Once he was moved to Standford Hill, an open prison in Kent, he was able to move more freely and continued to offer legal advice - as well as taking on jobs as a toilet cleaner and an educational orderly - helping prisoners with reading.

The former Conservative minister Jonathan Aitken, who served time in jail for perjury more than a decade ago and works with offenders, also wrote to him: "He told me he has a more fulfilling life now than he did before. He regards himself as a better man - I hope that will be the same for me."

He says doing the jobs gave him time to think about the future and his family and friends. His Christian faith also helped get him through, he says.

Two other men caught up in the expenses scandal were also with him at Standford Hill - fellow peer Lord Hanningfield and the former Labour MP Jim Devine, who he says he went to the gym with: "We would quite often be on the treadmill side by side."

Lord Taylor's chances of becoming a party spokesman on the prison reform may have disappeared - he resigned the Tory whip when he was charged in July last year and will sit as an independent peer. Lord Hanningfield had the Tory whip withdrawn so will also sit as an independent.

Lord Taylor said it would be up to the Conservatives if he were to join their team: "I'm relaxed about that. I was never ambitious for office anyway. I don't see myself as a politician."

On his expenses claims - he says there was clearly a problem with the rules and there was a "lot of confusion" but added: "I'm not looking for sympathy, or trying to make excuses but clearly something was wrong... At the time I thought was acting within the rules but on reflection... I just have to accept I was wrong."

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