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Diary: Oh, to be an ex-con Lord, free once more to claim expenses

Second chance for former Tory chairman of Essex County Council who served two months for fiddling his allowances

The House of Lords has been back at work all week, holding its usual learned and mostly pointless debates.

The peers returned from their summer break a week before MPs, knowing that the threat to abolish them is officially not going to happen before the 2015 general election. The Government has not even legislated to bar Lords convicted of criminal offences from turning up to claim expenses, which they would not be able to do if they were elected.

Lord Hanningfield, aka Paul White, the former Tory chairman of Essex County Council, served just over two months of a nine-month prison sentence for fiddling his allowances. He claimed £3,000 in attendance allowance and £284 in rail and taxi fares in May, and £1,200 in allowances and £112 costs in April. The MPs jailed for similar crimes and who are now ruined must so wish they had been life peers. 

A graceful exit? No thanks

One cost-free Lords reform has been quietly introduced. A life peerage used to be literally for life with no escape even for those who would like to call it a day. Last year, the Lords rewrote their rules to give ageing peers the option of retiring but without a pay-off. In an assembly that includes 150 members aged over 80, you might think they would be queuing to take up this option, but they are not. John Habgood, the former Archbishop of York, 85, and Jeremy Hutchinson, a lawyer and husband of  the late actor Dame Peggy Ashcroft, formally retired last week. No one else has.

Rendel gives up the Newbury ghost

When John Major’s government was falling apart in 1993 , a talented Tory MP named Judith Chaplin died suddenly, and Liberal Democrat David Rendel had his third crack at the seat. He won by 22,055 votes, and remained Newbury’s MP until Richard Benyon retook the town for the Tories in 2010. Yesterday, Mr Rendel announced that he will not be contesting the seat again because the general election clashes with elections to Berkshire County Council –not to mention that the prospect of Liberal Democrats winning any Commons seats that they do not already hold are rather small.  

Grief in New Labour land

In Tony Blair’s old constituency of Sedgefield, the former executive officer of Ferryhill Town Council, Jamie Corrigan, has filed a claim for constructive dismissal. When the council met this week, press and public were excluded and a row broke out behind closed doors about who would take the minutes, since it obviously was not going to be Mr Corrigan. It got so out of hand that police were called to escort two councillors off the premises.