A Tory frontbench peer is being investigated by Scotland Yard after claiming £100,000 over seven years for overnight stops in London despite living less than 50 miles from the capital, it was reported last night.
According to the Daily Telegraph, detectives are investigating whether Lord Hanningfield travelled home to Essex while claiming "overnight allowances" for staying in London.
Lord Hanningfield is a Conservative transport spokesman in the Lords and leader of Essex County Council. He has a full-time chauffeur provided by the authority and lives in West Hanningfield, near Chelmsford. He is said to have claimed £99,970 in "overnight subsistence" over seven years, including £17,120 for the 12 months ending March 2008, the last year for which figures are available.
The rules on Lords expenses state that peers can claim £174 a night if their main home is outside London and their stay is "for the purpose of attending sittings of the House". They say: "Members who travel home each night or whose main residence is within Greater London cannot claim overnight subsistence." Peers are required to "clock in" at the Lords in order to receive their allowances.
Lord Hanningfield blamed a "vindictive campaign against me" and insisted he could justify all of his expenses claims. He told the Daily Telegraph: "I work extremely hard on the front bench and am satisfied that I can account for my expenses."
The police disclosed last month they were investigating the expenses claims of a "small number" of MPs and peers. Also under scrutiny are Baroness Uddin, a Labour peer, as well as two Labour MPs Elliot Morley and David Chaytor.
A Met spokesman last night refused to comment on whether Lord Hanningfield was among those under investigation. The disclosure of the police inquiry could put pressure on David Cameron, the Conservative leader, to suspend the peer until it is completed.
Lord Hanningfield reportedly claimed £25,000 from taxpayers for overnight accommodation and daily allowances in 2007-08. As well as the £99,970 in "overnight subsistence" over seven years, he also claimed £49,955 in "day subsistence", which covers meals and incidental travel.
Lord Hanningfield can also claim expenses as leader of the Essex Council. He claimed expenses of £59,110 in 2006-07, including £36,030 as leader, £5,319 for travel and £7,466 for fares and subsistence.