Expenses peers suspended after Lords’ judgment

By Peter Wozniak

Three members of the House of Lords were suspended today after the privileges committee recommended the toughest sanctions to be visited on peers for centuries.

Labour peers Lord Paul and Lady Uddin, as well as crossbencher Lord Bhatia, all received damning verdicts from the Lords privileges and conduct committee – verdicts which peers voted in favour of today.

Of the three, Lord Paul escaped relatively mildly in the report, which said that his actions in wrongly claiming expenses were not “dishonest”, but were “utterly unreasonable, and demonstrated gross irresponsibility and negligence.

“They therefore render him liable to sanction by the House.”

Lord Paul has paid back the money totalling over £40,000. Following the vote he has been suspended for a total of four months.

Lord Bhatia and Lady Uddin have not escaped as lightly. Both were judged to have wrongly designated their home of residence in order to extract expenses from the “night subsistence” allowance.

The crossbencher has been suspended for eight months, will have to repay £27,446 and deliver an apology to the House.

The report added of Lord Bhatia: “His apology must be unconditional, and agreed in advance with the chairman of the sub-committee, to be sufficient.”

The worst offender in the committee’s eyes, however, was Labour peer Lady Uddin, who will endure the most severe punishment for a member of the Lords since the 17th Century.

The committee’s report concluded: “Lady Uddin deliberately misrepresented her living arrangements to take advantage of the night subsistence and travel elements of the members’ reimbursement scheme, a scheme designed for the recovery of expenses necessarily incurred in attending the House.

“There is every indication that this misrepresentation started before 2005 and would have continued beyond 2009 had she not been discovered.”

Lady Uddin wrongly claimed a total of £125,349.10. With the sanctions having been approved she will be suspended from the House until 2012, as well as being forced to pay back the money.

The saga of parliamentary expenses continues to linger over Westminster, with three MPs and another peer facing criminal charges. Their attempt to use the ancient legal defence of parliamentary privilege was rejected by the court of appeal.