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Hanningfield defends £300 House of Lords 'clock-in' cash
8:27am Tuesday 17th December 2013 in News
LORD Hanningfield, who was jailed for expenses fraud, has defended regularly "clocking in" to claim a £300 daily attendance allowance despite spending less than 40 minutes inside the House of Lords.
The former leader of Essex County Council - who served nine weeks of a nine-month sentence in 2011 for falsely claiming £28,000 in parliamentary expenses - suggested it was normal practice and that as many as 50 others did the same.
The money went on "entertaining, meeting people, employing people", he said, adding that he was a "full-time peer" who needed to be able to pay his electricity bill and buy food.
There is no suggestion that Lord Hanningfield, a former leader of Essex County Council, broke any rules , but he faced calls from a Labour MP for him to be investigated by parliamentary authorities over the practice.
The Daily Mirror 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 before returning.
The shortest attendance during the month was 21 minutes and the longest more than five hours, it said - with a total of £5,700 claimed in attendance allowance over the month and £471 in travel costs.
Confronted about the claims by the newspaper, Lord 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."
The former leader of Essex County Council, who was stripped of the Tory whip in 2010, said that in July he had been "trying to get myself back on track" after suffering a breakdown because of the expenses scandal.
Since October, he said, he had "dramatically" upped his contributions in the Lords - speaking twice and attending committees.
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," Lord Hanningfield said.
"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."
The peer said that he had "made some mistakes" and paid back £70,000 in previous claims but continued to dispute his guilt and suggested he wished he had appealed against his conviction.
An guide for peers on claiming the £300 daily allowance says that it is available to those "who certify that they have carried out appropriate Parliamentary work".
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."
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