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Mirror exposes jailed peer claiming £300 Lords attendance allowance and going home minutes later

By Darren Boyle

A peer exposed by The Mirror this morning leaving Parliament less than 40 minutes after clocking-in to the House of Lords to claim £300 in expenses said he has done nothing wrong.

Lord Hanningfield, who served nine weeks in prison in 2011 after falsely claiming £28,000 in parliamentary expenses, was filmed by the Daily Mirror for 19 days in July arriving in Westminster.

For 11 of those days he spent less than 40 minutes inside Parliament.

Hanningfield insisted he spent the £300 allowance on “entertaining, meeting people, [and] employing people”.

The peer told the Daily Mirror that he was a “full-time peer” and was not breaking any rules by clocking-in and leaving within a short period of time.

On one day, he spent just 21 minutes at Westminster while the longest period with the precinct was five hours.

However, under new simplified rules introduced following Hanningfield's earlier imprisonment, peers only have to sign-in personally to receive the £300 payment. As a result, he is not believed to have broken any parliamentary rules.  

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The Mirror said during the month of July Hanningfield claimed £5,700 in attendance allowances with a further £471 in travel costs for commuting between his home in Essex and Westminster.

When door-stepped by journalist David Collins, Hanningfield said: “Lots of peers go in and check in for their expenses, but they are using their expenses for a lot of things, entertaining, meeting people, employing people."

He added: "Clocking in and out of Parliament is only part of being a peer."

"By the time I have people at home to help, time I have people in the House of Lords to help me, I spend something like £150 a day on expenses, so I don't really make any profit."

He said: "I have to live, don't I? I don't do anything else. How do you think I am going to eat, how am I going to pay my electricity bills?

"My income from the Lords will be about £30,000 a year, I pay about that in £18,000 in expense to other people, I'll end up with £12,000 a year."

He told the newspaper: "I can name 50 that do it. I see the same people go in and out as I do. I don't want to be persecuted."

Hannigfield is a former leader of Essex County Council however he was stripped of the Tory whip in 2010 when he was named in an earlier expenses scandal that led to his imprisonment.

The Mirror said that between April 2012 and July 2013 he claimed a total of £51,300 in attendance allowance despite making no speeches in the Lords chamber.

"Being a lord is not just going in the House of Lords. It's the post you have. I have 15 letters a day, I have all sorts of things like that.

"I can do some of it at home, some of it at my office in the Lords.

"I admit I don't go much into the main chamber. If you look at my records since October it's changed dramatically because I've spoken twice.

"Let me explain again. I was trying to get myself organised after a nervous breakdown, a traumatic period."

Hanningfield repaid £70,000 following the earlier scandal.

Labour MP John Mann said: "There needs to be a full investigation into how he has been allowed to get away with it. We need to give the House of Lords a proper and transparent spring-cleaning."

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) said the case highlighted the need to end the "absurd anachronism" that convicted criminals were able to keep their peerages, but said much wider reform was required.

A backbench Bill allowing for expulsions from the House of Lords is being debated by the Commons and is expected to receive Government backing.

But the ERS said that was just "tinkering at the edges" in the wake of the scuppering by Tory MPs of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's attempt to introduce an elected second chamber.

Chief executive Katie Ghose said: "There are currently Lords reform proposals doing the rounds which at least end the absurd anachronism that convicted criminals are allowed to keep their peerages.

"But most members of the public are shocked when they find out that criminals can still be lords, and dealing with this one aspect of the out-of-date second chamber is just tinkering at the edges.

"We need a complete overhaul of the House of Lords. We need to drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

"It's no wonder people feel alienated from politics when they see peers clocking on for £300 a day and clocking off shortly after. After all, who'd be able to get away with that in normal life?"

She added: "As the second chamber swells beyond its capacity to do its job properly, reform is coming back on the agenda, whether the party leaders like it or not.

"In an era when more and more people are turning away from politics, it's vital that we refresh our institutions so that they're fit for purpose in the 21st century.

"The House of Lords is an anachronism which gives people lucrative and comfortable jobs for life.

"An elected House of Lords would allow the public to hold their lawmakers to account – and that's what democracy is all about."

David Cameron's official spokesman said he had not spoken to the Prime Minister about the peer's claims but told reporters: "I understand the concerns that have been raised."

The House of Lords Commissioner for Standards – who is is responsible for investigating alleged breaches of the peers' code of conduct including on the use of expenses – has not yet received any complaint about Hanningfield, a spokesman said.

Mann's office said the MP was expected to formally request an investigation later today.

Meanwhile the Leader of the House of Lords has expressed his "dismay" over today's Mirror splash. 

Hall said authorities were now looking at measures to “deal with the small number of members whose behaviour falls below the standards we rightly expect".

Without naming Hanningfield, Hill said: "Like me, noble Lords will have been completely dismayed to read reports in the press this morning about the behaviour of a member of our House.

"Dismayed about the behaviour and dismayed about the shadow it casts over the whole House."

Hall confirmed the new measures, including a new private members bill, will enable the authorities to stop payments to rogue Lords as well as expelling them permanently in the case of serious criminal conviction

"The Government supports this Bill and I look forward to it making progress."

Hall said: "Despite stories like today, I'm extremely proud of the work we do in this chamber – of legislating, scrutinising and holding the Government to account.

"For our part, the (party) leaders will take forward the steps I've outlined in the new year.

"But ultimately the reputation of this House rests in all our hands, which is why I believe noble Lords will want to support steps to strengthen the sanctions available to us."

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