Three senior peers — Labour’s Lord Swraj Paul and Baroness Manzila Pola Uddin and independent Lord Amir Bhatia — were on Thursday formally suspended from the House of Lords for varying periods over their expenses claims.
The House took the action after a report of the House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct recommended their suspension for wrongly claiming expenses. They were also ordered to repay thousands of pounds they had claimed in excess.
Lord Paul was suspended for four months, Baroness Uddin until Easter 2012 and Lord Bhatia for eight months.
Both Lord Paul and Lord Bhatia have already repaid the excess amount while Baroness Uddin has been told to pay back £125,349.
The claims relate to parliamentarians’ entitlement to a “second home’’ allowance if their main residence is outside London. This is to help them with their expenses when staying in London because of parliamentary work.
In all the three cases, the committee found that they “had long-established London residences, in which they spent the bulk of their time, before acquiring a ‘main residence’ outside London, in which they spent a much smaller portion of their time”.
It said Lord Paul “freely admitted” he never spent a night at the one-bedroom flat in Oxfordshire that he designated as his “main residence” between late 2005 and end of July 2006.
The committee, however, acknowledged that he had not acted “dishonestly’’ or in “bad faith’’.
“We do not feel justified in finding , on the balance of probabilities, that Lord Paul acted dishonestly or in bad faith. However, his actions were utterly unreasonable and demonstrated gross irresponsibility and negligence,’’ it argued.
The report said: “Lord Paul explained his interpretation of the term ‘main residence’ by reference to his cultural background. He insisted that ‘anyone coming out of India would not understand what main residence means’. He accepted that he had ‘not once’ looked at the guidance on the back of the claim forms.”
Reacting to the report, Lord Paul said he was “pleased’’ that the committee had found that “my actions throughout the investigation have been transparent and consistent and that the claims were honestly made and not in bad faith’’.
He denied acting in bad faith and said that he had voluntarily returned about £40,000 after the allegations surfaced. He believed he had been treated “more harshly than some others’’.
“Given the lack of clarity in the rules which applied at that point, I do not believe that my own conduct in any way merits the decisions which the sub-committee and now the full Committee have reached,’’ he said.
A Labour Party spokesman was reported as saying that Baroness Uddin had been suspended from the party and may face disciplinary action, while Lord Paul was said to have resigned his party membership.
“The Labour Party expects the highest standards of its representatives and fully supports the committee’s report,” the spokesman said.
Lord Strathclyde, Labour party’s Leader in the House, said he was “shocked and dismayed” by the report.
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