Former Essex County Council leader in hot water again following 21k Lords claims

Former Tory peer Lord Hanningfield

Former Tory peer Lord Hanningfield - Credit: Archant

DISGRACED Essex peer Lord Hanningfield has defended claiming more than £21,000 in daily allowances despite not speaking during any House of Lords debate since his release from prison.

Lord Hanningfield – real name Paul White – was jailed for nine months in July 2011 after being found guilty of false accounting following an investigation into his parliamentary expenses and says he is intentionally keeping a low profile.

He served just a quarter of his sentence and was released in September 2011, returning to his role in the House of Lords last April.

Records show that in the first eight months since he resumed his political career he did not speak in any debate or table a written question yet still legitimately claimed £21,000 in allowances and a further £1,736 in travel costs.

Members of the House of Lords can claim a £300 daily allowance and claim travel costs. In November alone the 72-year-old claimed £5,100 in daily allowances and a further £407 in travel costs – £361 on train fares and the rest on taxis and parking.

Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell criticised Lord Hanningfield’s recent Lords record, saying that although he was not breaking any rules it was a “slap in the face” for the taxpayer.

He said: “It’s quite extraordinary that having been sent to prison for fiddling his expenses he should then return to the scene of the crime and claim £300 every time he goes through the door as if it is some game of Monopoly.

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“I believe it’s a moral abuse and the system needs to be changed. Let it not be forgotten that we are talking about somebody who was the most senior Conservative councillor in the country at one point and was also a shadow minister and would no doubt be a minister in the current Government had he not been found guilty.”

Last night the former Essex County Council leader defended his recent record in the Lords and said he had been working hard in his parliamentary office.

Lord Hanningfield, who was made a Life Peer Baron Hanningfield of Chelmsford in 1998, said he had been advised by friends to “keep a relatively low profile” in a bid to avoid negative headlines following his release from prison but he was hoping to become more active in the Lords very soon.

He said: “You don’t get scored by how many times you speak or ask questions. I have been advised by friends to keep a relatively low profile for the moment. I want to get involved in some committees. I’m working on it.

“I want to regain all of that but I have to apply. It’s very much dependent on what the Lords put you on. I’m gradually building my career up again.”

In February he won £3,500 damages from Essex Police after a High Court ruled that he had been unlawfully arrested in July 2011 by officers investigating his expenses claims while leader of the county council. The investigation was later discontinued without any charges being brought.

He added: “At the House of Lords you have an office and I’m getting a lot of letters and emails. I won a case against Essex Police and people are seeing me as a person who can stand up to bureaucracy.”

In contrast to Lord Hanningfield, Lord Framlingham has spoken in seven debates and received answers to six written questions in the past year, Baroness Scott of Needham Market has spoken in 19 debates and received 18 answers to questions and Lord Deben – former MP John Gummer – has spoken in 38 debates.

One of the most active peers from our region is Lord Marlesford, who has spoken in 24 debates and received written answers to 49 questions.