Expenses rules to be tightened

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Indy Politics

Vague rules on Lords expenses, which have resulted in 10 peers being cleared by the Lords' chief clerk and "insufficient evidence" to prosecute Labour peer Baroness Uddin, will be tightened up after the general election.

A new definition of a peer's "principal residence" for expenses purposes - generally the home where they spend most of their non-parliamentary time - was unanimously approved by the House of Lords tonight.

Peers also agreed that summaries of members' expenses claims will in future be published quarterly rather than annually.

Peers whose "main residence" is outside Greater London may claim up to £174 a night to attend sittings of the House.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer this month blamed a "very real difficulty" in the Lords rules for his decision not to prosecute Lady Uddin, who had designated her flat in Maidstone, rather than her rented house in Wapping, as her main home.

The Sunday Times, quoting her neighbours in Maidstone, had alleged that Lady Uddin rarely visited the Kent property.

Mr Starmer said Lords officials had told him in November that peers could designate an address "as they see fit". But this had been refined in February to mean any home that the peer visited "at least once a month".

It was on this basis that the Lords chief clerk, Michael Pownall, rejected complaints against Liberal Democrat Lord Rennard in October and a further nine peers, among them the Lord Speaker Baroness Hayman, last month.

Another peer, former Tory frontbencher Lord Hanningfield, along with three former Labour MPs, is due at Southwark Crown Court next week to face charges of false accounting in connection with their parliamentary expenses claims.

In future peers will have to sign a declaration "stating the location of their principal residence, and giving confirmation that it is outside Greater London".

The declaration would "include a statement of where members spend most of their time when the House is not sitting (including weekends), and in particular where they spend most nights".

Peers agreed tonight that members claiming overnight allowances should supply documentation to the Lords finance department "to verify that their principal residence is outside Greater London". There would also be internal and external audits.