Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lord Hanningfield is convicted on six counts of fraud over his parliamentary expenses, there needs to be proper reform of allowances

Dear All

Another day and another ‘victim’ of the Westminster expenses scandal is hung out to dry.

The peer and former Essex Council leader Lord Hanningfield has been found guilty of fiddling his expenses.

And as he never coughed earlier, he gets no reduction in sentence unlike ex-Labour MPs who have gone before him.

Lord Hanningfield, whose real name is Paul White, had denied six counts of false accounting relating to his parliamentary expenses!

The prosecution said he had claimed for overnight stays in London between March 2006 and April 2009, when he had actually returned home to Essex.

His version that he told the court was that he had seen it as a "living-out-of-London allowance" rather than overnight subsistence.

The jury thought otherwise.

The jury at Chelmsford Crown Court found White guilty on all six counts and he will be sentenced in six weeks' time.

And he might be off to prison as everyone in the expenses scandal before as joined Club Fed or HMP Longpoke as a guest of the Queen but she doesn’t pop in there.

Members of the House of Lords were able to claim up to £174-a-night to stay in London when attending Parliament.

If their main home is outside the city, which is reasonable enough but this should be changed to a daily allowance based on verified attendance.

However White had made claims for journeys and overnight stays in London, which he never made.

Westminster operates on the honour system which has been abused greatly.

The prosecution when he made claims for overnight stays, he usually made the 50-mile trip home.

And on one occasion he was on a plane bound for India at the time, on others he was "at hotels outside London all paid for by someone else, mainly Essex County Council".

In his defence he argued he had subsidised his long years of public service out of his pocket, and said most other peers claimed the maximum under the allowance.

The trial heard he had told police:

"It is an allowance scheme, not a reimbursement scheme. Quite honestly, people see it as a way of recouping what we spend."

But the rules are quite straight forward and clear, however I believe that members of the House of Lords should get a daily allowance if they are a member, effectively this should be a salaried position.

Then we won’t have these problems.

Paul White was an Essex councillor for 40 years and led the council from 2001 until he was charged in 2010.

His political career stands in ruins but it should be that way, there needs to be a grown up debate about people in public service being paid a decent salary whether they be Councillor, Lord, MP or MSP.

That way their focus will be on their job, not trying to screw the system.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

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