The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has today announced it will bring a case against Lord Hanningfield relating to allegations of expenses fraud during July 2013.
The allegations surround dates where Lord Hanningfield spent between 28 minutes and 38 minutes at the House of Lords before departing due to ill health, continuing to conduct his Parliamentary work at other locations. Daily allowance and travel expenses were claimed for these dates.
Bringing the case, Scotland Yard alleges that Lord Hanningfield was dishonest in claiming the daily allowance and travel expenses on the basis that he spent such a short time attending the House of Lords that he could not have undertaken any Parliamentary work and that as a result, it was untrue and misleading that he undertook work.
Representing Lord Hanningfield, criminal defence lawyer Daniel Godden of Hodge Jones and Allen says that he does not believe there is a strong enough case to answer: “We will be fighting this charge all the way. My client is very disappointed that the CPS is pursuing any offence in respect of his claim for expenses.
“He has cooperated with the police inquiry into his expenses and has always maintained that he conducted Parliamentary work both prior to, and after, attending the House on the requisite dates in July 2013. Any day where he left the House after a short amount of time was linked to his continuing ill health, which was documented in evidence given to the Scotland Yard inquiry.”
Daniel Godden argues: “The individual member must determine whether or not they have undertaken Parliamentary work which entitles them to the daily allowance of £300 or a reduced rate of £150. The concept of Parliamentary work is so wide that we believe Lord Hanningfield has made it clear in his interview under caution that he subjectively was of the view that he was entitled to claim the daily allowance for carrying out Parliamentary work.
“We further point out that there is no guidance on whether or not a member should claim £300 or the reduced daily allowance of £150. The briefing note states that the member may “elect” to claim a reduced daily allowance and that it is for the “member to decide whether to claim the full rate, or the reduced rate”. Therefore, the fact that Lord Hanningfield claimed £300 rather than £150 is irrelevant.”
Daniel concludes: “What is clear is that a grey area exists around what constitutes Parliamentary work and further where this is carried out. We will fight to have our client acquitted and will push for a rule change to make this point much clearer and to eradicate this farce around what and when expenses can be claimed.”
Lord Hanningfield will not be making any comment.
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Notes to editors:
1. Unlike members of Parliament in the House of Commons, members of the House of Lords are unsalaried and do not receive any employment benefits. However, there are two exceptions: a few office holders receive a salary; and some ministers receive a salary from the government for their government roles.
When members who do not receive a salary attend the House of Lords they are eligible to receive allowances and, within certain limits, some travel expenses they incur in fulfilling their Parliamentary duties. In July 2013, these were £300 for each qualifying day of attendance at Westminster or a reduced allowance at the daily rate of £150. Members who lived outside Greater London were entitled to recover travel expenses for journeys between a registered residential address and Westminster by a reasonable route to enable them to attend sittings at the House of Lords.
The handbook advises that ‘It is for the individual member to decide whether a claim for the daily allowance is made at the full rate, the reduced rate or not claimed at all.’
2. Hodge Jones & Allen was founded in 1977 in Camden and has 200 staff based in Euston NW1. The firm practices personal injury, clinical negligence, civil liberties, family law, wills and probate, housing, dispute resolution, criminal defence and serious fraud.