Diary: Expenses fiddlers fear not – the Lords has mercy on you


A convicted criminal recently released from jail slipped into the House of Lords on Monday, registered his presence, and slipped out again, unchallenged.

He was Lord Hanningfield, previously known as Paul White, former Tory leader of Essex County Council, who was released in September after serving less than two months of a nine-month sentence for cheating the taxpayer of nearly £14,000 of bogus expenses.

The Standards Commission calculated that he had wrongly claimed more than £30,000. However, he has repaid the money and is within his rights to go back and claim attendance allowance like any other peer.

Another peer, Pola Manzila Uddin, is also expected to turn up in the Lords for the Queen's Speech on 9 May, for the first time since she was suspended for 18 months for falsely claiming more than £125,000 in overnight expenses.

Her fellow peers thought they had seen the last of Baroness Uddin, a former Labour peer, because she had been told she could not come back until she had repaid the money. Surprisingly, she has. Her suspension ends this month. If either of these people had had to stand for election, their political careers would be finished. An MP sentenced to a prison term is automatically expelled from the Commons, while one who had done what Uddin did might be able to cling on until the next general election, but that would be it.

But a life peerage is for life, no matter how much a peer disgraces public office. Even suspending them is a novelty. The former Liberal leader, David Steel, is trying to push through a rule change that would bar people like Hanningfield and Uddin in future, but the Government does not want any minor tinkering with the way the Lords is run, for fear that it would weaken the case for the bigger reform of creating an elected second chamber. While the arguments continue, no criminal need fear being stripped of his peerage.

Nadine's speaks up for herself

The irrepressible Nadine Dorries has been interviewed by Easy Living magazine. In it, the Tory MP who so spectacularly torpedoed David Cameron's relaunch on Monday by berating him and George Osborne for being "arrogant posh boys", has said that she is "incredibly fond of David" and "I've said loads of things I shouldn't say (but) if I was a quiet backbencher, the media wouldn't be interested". You can't argue with that.

Beleaguered Hunt is off to the Tower

By coincidence, the stream of startling revelations about Jeremy Hunt emerging at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday came just ahead of a scheduled visit by the Culture Secretary to the Tower of London.

There was a time when powerful men who went into the Tower never came out.

So just how does the cap fit, George?

"Tax relief on charitable donations – especially through the Gift Aid scheme – is a great encouragement to giving," I read. "We shouldn't tax people on what they give to charity... charitable giving should be out of untaxed income."

These sentiments, and more, can be found in a document entitled A Stronger Society – Voluntary Action in the 21st Century published in 2008 by the Conservative Party, with a foreword by David Cameron.

It makes interesting reading as ministers battle to explain why George Osborne has put a cap on tax relief for charitable donations.

BBC's toilet claims go down the pan

The burghers of Shrewsbury have had an apology from the director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson, over a suggestion made in the Postcode Lottery series that all public toilets in the town have been closed down.

Though Shropshire County Council provides no toilets in Shrewsbury any more, the town council has kept them open. A BBC researcher was studying the county council's accounts when it would have been more instructive to have nipped into Shrewsbury to have a slash.