Lords' expenses system a 'quirk', says accused peer

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The Independent Online

A former Tory peer accused of lying about his expenses believed it was a "quirk" of the House of Lords to list as his main residence a property he never stayed at, a court heard today.

Lord Taylor of Warwick is on trial for claiming travel costs between a home in Oxford and London, when he actually lived in the capital.

In practice, the expenses system works differently from the guidelines peers are given, he told the jury at London's Southwark Crown Court.

The 58-year-old said he followed the advice given to him by his colleagues, and it was commonplace for the wording of the guidelines not to be adhered to strictly.

During cross-examination he was asked by Helen Law, prosecuting, where he lived.

"I physically lived in Ealing," he replied. "It was the only place I physically lived in, yes."

Mr Justice Saunders, the trial judge, then said: "Residing means physically living, doesn't it, Lord Taylor?"

The peer said that in reality, the term "main residence" was more ambiguous.

He said: "There were difficulties, and I certainly wasn't the only one."

Lord Taylor said it was a "bone of contention" among peers in the House.

Judge Saunders continued: "There was ambiguity over it?"

He replied: "Yes. It was a quirk like many other things in the House of Lords."

The peer compared it to ceremonially walking backwards in front of the Queen when she gives her speech in the upper chamber.

Lord Taylor, of Lynwood Road, Ealing, west London, faces six allegations of false accounting on various dates between March 2006 and October 2007.

He said previously in the trial that he visited the Oxford property, owned by his half-nephew's partner, only twice and never stayed over.

Lord Taylor insisted he made many trips up and down the country that were directly relevant to his role a as a Conservative peer.

The peer said: "The reality is that just about every issue that affects a human being comes from Parliament."

He said the expenses claims he made for travelling between London and Oxford contributed, in some part, towards the overall costs of travelling.

Ms Law then asked him why he did not simply claim for those journeys, as he was able to do, if they were indeed made while on parliamentary duty.

He replied: "In retrospect I believe what I should have done is, before each of those trips, get reimbursed for the trip I was about to make, but unfortunately life was busy.

"Looking back at the situation, that would have been better.

"In fact I would have been better off doing it that way."

The prosecutor went on to suggest Lord Taylor did not claim the travel expenses on those trips because they would not have been signed off as official parliamentary journeys.

He refuted that, saying he would not have been invited to attend such events if he was not a lord.

Lord Taylor denies making the false expense claims.

Lord Taylor told the court he did not believe there was a maximum amount of money he could claim on the parliamentary expenses scheme, as long as those journeys were to and from the listed residence outside London.

He said: "I wasn't aware of a specific limit.

"In terms of travel it had to relate to your main residence."

The judge then asked if it followed, in the way Lord Taylor interpreted the system, that a peer could nominate a home in northern Scotland, and as long as there was a family connection to it, he could claim for travel expenses.

Lord Taylor said: "Yes, my Lord."