Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Three disgraced Peers return to House of Lords

Three disgraced peers are returning to the House of Lords. Two have served jail sentences and repaid their false claims. Another has just repaid £125,000 in wrongly claimed expenses, after previously claiming that she could not afford to do so. The members, Lord Hanningfield (Paul White), Baron Taylor of Warwick (John Taylor) and Baroness Uddin (Manzila Pola Uddin) were all suspended after their abuse of the Lords expenses system was discovered.

Lord Hanningfield - "benefits cheat"
Paul White was jailed on 1 July 2011 for 9 months for false accounting after a jury at Chelmsford Crown Court found him guilty over a £13,379 expenses claim. In some cases, White had double-dipped, claiming the same expenses for chauffeur-driven travel from both the House of Lords and from Essex Council, where he was Council Leader. In other cases he claimed for stays in London when he had, in fact, returned to Essex.

On sentencing, Justice Saunders said that he would be remembered as a "benefits cheat".

He was held at Wandsworth and then Stamford Hill open prison before being released in September 2011. White returned quietly to the Lords on Monday 23 April 2012, following the Easter recess. He is once again claiming £300 per day in attendance expenses.

Baron Taylor of Warwick - "protracted course of dishonesty"
John Taylor falsely claimed expenses for travelling and staying in Oxford. He was found guilty on 25 January 2011 on six counts of false accounting and jailed on 31 May 2011 for 12 months.

Justice Saunders found that Taylor lied, was guilty of a "protracted course of dishonesty" and stated that "making false claims involved a breach of a high degree of trust".

He was released from prison in September 2011 under the home detention curfew scheme and is eligible to return to the Lords on 11 June 2012.

Baroness Uddin - "wrongly claimed" £125,349
Manzila Pola Uddin claimed £174 a night in subsistence by designating a property in Maidstone as her main home. She is rarely seen there and lives full-time in a property belonging to Spitalfields Housing Association in Wapping.

In October 2010 the House of Lords Privileges and Conduct Committee decided that Baroness Uddin should repay £125,349 and be suspended until Easter 2012. In December 2011 the House Committee in the Lords further recommended that she should not be allowed back until the outstanding amount is repaid in full. However, it admitted that it had no way of forcing her to repay and that "Debt recovery through the courts is not practical in relation to such repayments". There is currently no mechanism to expel her from the House of Lords, without an Act of Parliament.

The House Committee had discussed allowing Uddin and Hanningfield to use their £300 Lords daily allowance to pay back the debt. However, they rejected that option, stating: "We consider that it would be inappropriate for a member to return to the House while still owing money."

After previously claiming that she cannot afford to repay the money, it now emerges that she repaid the entire debt of £125,349.10 earlier this week.

She will now be able to return to the Lords on 9 May 2012.

by Marcus Williamson
Freelance journalist
25 April 2012

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