Lord Hanningfield, the former Tory council leader once jailed for expenses fraud, has become the first peer in the centuries-old history of Parliament to be punished for not doing any work.
In an unprecedented ruling, the Lords Privileges and Conduct committee has said that the peer should be banned from Parliament building until May 2015, and should have to pay back the £3,300 worth of allowances he claimed last July.
His suspension is the stiffest penalty the Lords can inflict on one of its members. Under an ancient quirk of the law, they have no power to prevent a peer from reappearing in the House of Lords after a general election.
Ennobled in 1998 for his work as Tory leader of Essex County Council, Lord Hanningfield received a nine-month prison sentence in 2011 for fiddling his expenses, but still protests that he did nothing wrong.
In April 2012, he returned to the House of Lords and began claiming £300 a day tax-free attendance allowance. By the end of July 2013, he had claimed £51,300, though he had never spoken in the Lords chambers or any of its committees, nor asked any questions. That month, he was caught by a Daily Mirror photographer leaving the building just 21 minutes after he had arrived.
Paul Keraghan, Lords Commissioner for Standards, questioned Lord Hanningfield and found no evidence that he had done any work in July to earn his allowances. Though the peer claimed he needed the money to pay staff, he had no staff between May and October to pay.
In a statement, Lord Hanningfield admitted that he had been “thoughtless” in claiming his allowance for the 11 days in July. He added: “I claim the allowance on 100 days during the year, which amounts to an annual salary of £30,000 and no more. I consider myself to be a working peer every single day of the year.”