UK & World News

  • 17 December 2013, 17:12

Peer Claims Clocking Row Is 'Storm In Teacup'

Ex-Tory peer Lord Hanningfield has claimed that allegations that he clocked in to the House of Lords for 40 minutes to earn 300 are a "storm in a teacup".

But the peer's protests failed to stop members of both Houses of Parliament proposing reforms to prevent abuses of the system, following an expose in the Daily Mirror.

Lord Hanningfield, who was previously jailed during the expenses scandal, was caught on film by the newspaper allegedly 'popping in' to the House of Lords to receive his allowance.

The newspaper said that on 11 of 19 days that it monitored the peer's movements in July, he travelled to Westminster from his home in Essex, but spent less than 40 minutes in the Lords each time before leaving.

The 73-year-old told Sky News on Tuesday morning the Mirror's investigation was a "lot of rubbish" and that he was previously "wrongly convicted" of expenses fraud.

He said: "It's a storm in a tea cup. It's a lot of rubbish about nothing that the Mirror have done.

"I wasn't very well in July, so I didn't spend as long in London as I have in the last three months.

"I've spoken twice in the House of Lords in the last few weeks and asked lots of questions and I intend to carry on doing that."

Paul White, as the peer used to be known, was jailed for nine months in July 2011 after pleading guilty to six counts of false accounting for wrongly claiming 14,000 in parliamentary expenses.

After his release from jail, in July this year the Mirror filmed him as he visited parliament 11 times in 19 days, spending less than 40 minutes each time.

It took until December to discover that the peer claimed attendance allowance on each of the 11 days.

While there is no suggestion the former Conservative broke any rules, the scandal that has erupted as a result of the Mirror's findings has led to calls for changes in the way the upper chamber operates.

Speaking in the Lords itself, Leaders of the House of Lords Lord Hill said he was dismayed by the press reports and the damage it could do.

He said a number of ideas have already been put forward to change the way the Lords works including: new sanctions for members who break the conduct of conduct, a private members bill in the Commons to expel members who commit a serious criminal offence, and, at the Committee stage, sanctions for members who bring the Lords in disrupt.

David Cameron's spokesman said the Prime Minister shared Lord Hill's "dismay" over the peer's behaviour and backed moves to strengthen disciplinary proceedings.

Labour said it was floating the idea of making peers fulfil a minimum number of hours per day to qualify for attendance allowance. It may use new clocking in and clocking out technology - like swipe cards.

The Electoral Reform Society demanded an end to "lucrative and comfortable jobs for life" and said there should be a revival of coalition plans for an elected second chamber - which were derailed by Tory backbench MPs.