Lord Hanningfield: Disgraced Essex peer barred from Lords

Lord Hanningfield Image copyright PA
Image caption Lord Hanningfield will not be able to sit in Parliament until May 2015

His office has been locked, he isn't even allowed to visit the House of Lords tea room. Lord Hanningfield is banned from the parliamentary estate for the next year.

"Suspension until the end of this Parliament is the maximum sanction available to the House," the Chairman of the Privileges and Conduct Committee, Lord Sewell, told peers.

"The maximum sanction is justified in this case, not least because this is not Lord Hanningfield's first offence."

Ten peers have now been suspended from parliament since 2009. Lord Hanningfield was originally suspended in 2011 and on both occasions it's been for the same offence, namely, fraudulently claiming expenses.

This suspension follows an investigation by the Daily Mirror which discovered that Lord Hanningfield was often travelling from his home in Essex, clocking in and then going straight home again.

When the Commissioner for Standards investigated, he found that over an 11-day period, the peer had claimed £3,300 in daily allowances but had been on the parliamentary estate for less than 40 minutes.

Lord Hanningfield said he had been working on a debate about the railways, but he couldn't produce any of the work and besides, the debate had only been announced on day nine of the 11 days under investigation.

Lord Hanningfield admitted that it was "thoughtless" to claim the full allowance but said he didn't believe he was doing anything wrong.

"Like many other Lords, I believe the allowance to be a 'de facto' salary," he said in a statement.

" 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."

'Spirit' of law

The Privileges Committee was unimpressed. To claim the allowance it expects peers to show their face in the chamber or at a select committee or prove that they have been doing work elsewhere.

Lord Sewell announced that the rules for expenses are being amended to remind peers that expenses should be claimed not just in line with the code of the law but the spirit of the law as well.

"I sincerely hope that the case before the House today will be the last case of its type," he said, before the House voted unanimously for Lord Hanningfield's suspension.

Critics say Lord Hanningfield has got off lightly. He was only made to repay the money he claimed over the 11 days which were investigated, while The Daily Mirror had followed him over a longer period.

This was different to the last time Lord Hanningfield was in trouble over his expenses. Then he had claimed for trips that he never made. This time he had made the trips but did not remain in the Westminster.

He argues that he stuck to the rules, the House of Lords says he didn't stick to the spirit of the rules.

There is a wider debate about whether members of the House of Lords should be paid a salary. Lord Hanningfield has always claimed that being a peer has left him out of pocket which is why he claimed as much as he could in expenses.

There are signs that reform may come in the future but given his record Lord Hanningfield is hardly the right person to make the argument for change.