Lib Dem peer admits exploiting expenses loophole

From The Sunday Times:

A HEREDITARY peer whose ancestor gave his name to the Falkland Islands has admitted “exploiting a loophole” in the rules to claim more than £140,000 in expenses from the House of Lords. Lord Falkland, the 15th viscount, designated a converted oast house in Kent as his main residence so he could collect allowances. Yet neither he nor his wife owns or rents the property. It actually belongs to his wife’s aunt, who also pays the utility and telephone bills. By saying his main residence was outside London, he was able to claim £174 a night for accommodation in the capital. …

Falkand, a Liberal Democrat, added: “I am quite prepared to accept the fact that a loophole has been here and a number of us have exploited it, there’s no doubt about that.”

He has not claimed the allowance since the summer when the whips’ office flagged up problems with his expenses. The Lib Dems had been carrying out a review of peers’ expenses prompted by disclosures in this newspaper.

“The chief whip said to me . . . you would find it hard pushed, wouldn’t you, to claim you spent more time in what you declare as your main residence. I couldn’t deny that,” he said.

When asked whether he was prepared to repay the taxpayer, he replied: “If somebody said to me, ‘in the spirit of things would you give some of the money back because you have been exploiting a loophole?’ I would say I would certainly try to contribute to that if it were the right thing to do.”

In her latest monthly report to party members, published here on LDV, party president Baroness Ros Scott noted;

The expenses issue continues to rumble. Currently both Houses are waiting for the publication of the independent reviews on allowance/expenses (Kelly in the Commons and the Senior Salaries Review Body in the Lords). Work on a Lib Dem Parliamentary Code of Conduct can be finalised when the outcome of these reviews is clearer.

That Code of Conduct can’t come soon enough …

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36 Comments

  • Herbert Brown 8th Nov '09 - 5:01pm

    Falkand, a Liberal Democrat, added: “I am quite prepared to accept the fact that a loophole has been here and a number of us have exploited it, there’s no doubt about that.”

    And immediately before that it says:
    Last Friday Falkland said that on entering the Lords he had been encouraged by fellow peers “to find an address” outside London which he could use to claim allowances.
    He acknowledged this was “nonsense” but said it had been thrust upon him because peers do not receive a salary and he would otherwise have been “out of pocket”.

    And it also says he isn’t wealthy enough to pay back “even a proportion” of the money.

    It’s worth reading the full article to get the full flavour of the man’s duplicity.

  • A short prison sentence would seemed to be called for, i imagine that expulsion from the party will come quickly ?

  • Herbert Brown 8th Nov '09 - 6:47pm

    “So I”m not sure Falkland was duplicitous, so much as just doing what everyone else was doing.”

    I was referring to the rather tangled web he wove when initially trying to deny he had done anything wrong, as detailed in the article.

    But in any case, is it really asking too much of a man who has set himself up to legislate for the rest of us, that he should know it’s wrong to claim money on the basis of false statements about his circumstances?

  • Herbert Brown 8th Nov '09 - 6:50pm

    “… i imagine that expulsion from the party will come quickly ?”

    Evidently not, as the article says the Chief Whip has known about it since the Summer!

  • Can we not give him to Argentina?

  • Jo,

    Just get used to it. I left the party over a year ago and I still haven’t managed to get myself removed from all the party mailing lists.

  • Martin Land 8th Nov '09 - 9:38pm

    Strange how we seem t have so many people here who have left the party but simply won’t just go away…

  • Martin,

    I’m still a liberal and so I’m still mainly a Lib Dem voter, so I still take an interest in what the Lib Dems are doing. I do that in part by participating in the public section of Lib Dem Voice. If you want a members-only experience you should probably be reading the members-only forum, no?

  • Jo & ianm : not relevant to the lead item! Don’t post complaints on this thread, pleeze.
    Anyway – you’re much more likely to be ignored on a thread unrelated to your problem than if you keep emailing / phoning Cowley Street.

  • David Allen 8th Nov '09 - 10:45pm

    “You’re much more likely to be ignored on a thread unrelated to your problem than if you keep emailing / phoning Cowley Street.”

    Er, pretty close contest, I’d have guessed!

  • Herbert Brown 8th Nov '09 - 11:05pm

    “No forgiveness, no mercy. Sacked tomorrow; repayment and prosecution shortly to follow.”

    If only. A public reprimand of any kind from the party would at least be something – as opposed to what’s happened so far, which apparently amounts to “Stop the fraudulent claims and no more will be said”.

    I think there’s enough information in the public domain to show that if “prosecution” ws the result of this type of fraud, quite a number of peers would already be in the dock. The problem is that in Rennard’s case we have an official ruling that there is no definition of “main residence”. So, basically, anything goes.

    Absolutely disgraceful.

  • Andrew Suffield 9th Nov '09 - 12:57am

    Sacked? I’m not sure that’s even possible. Note that this is a hereditary peer – he was not given this position by the public or the government, and did not receive it for political reasons; rather, he inherited it from his father. I’m not sure what you can do to a hereditary peer, on the party level. We don’t seem to have a procedure to unelect hereditary peers from sitting in the House of Lords. Doesn’t seem to hold any status in the party that I can see. In fact, he’s not even really a Lib Dem peer (those are Russell, Avebury, and Addington). Falkland is just one of the 15 peers elected by the whole House (“to serve as Deputy Speakers or in any other office as the House may require”), that happens to support the Lib Dems. What would you do, demand that he stop supporting Lib Dem policies? Return his donations?

    If there’s anything that can be done to him by the party, I don’t see it.

  • Grammar Police 9th Nov '09 - 7:54am

    Remove the whip? (Can you even do that to Lords?)

  • Herbert Brown 9th Nov '09 - 8:05am

    “If there’s anything that can be done to him by the party, I don’t see it.”

    Of course the party could do something, if it wanted to. There are all kinds of options, ranging from a public reprimand to withdrawal of the whip and expulsion from the party.

    But based on past form the party will just try to pretend it hasn’t happened.

  • Jo, nobody cares

  • Grammar Police 9th Nov '09 - 8:51am

    Jo, an independent website seems a really odd place to post such things. Have you emailed [email protected] or indeed, logged in on the party’s list server and removed yourself from the email lists (which anyone on the list server can actually do?)

  • Martin Land 9th Nov '09 - 9:15am

    Measures should have been taken in the summer by our Chief Whip in the Lords, but we can all work out why they were not, can’t we?

  • Jo

    Simply tell the next person who rings that you are not Jo and that Jo has died. Equally return all post marked “return to sender – deceased”. It is the most effective way of getting off lists I know.

    Tim

  • Andrew Suffield 9th Nov '09 - 8:58pm

    Remove the whip? (Can you even do that to Lords?)

    Not when they don’t have it. Note that Falkland’s seat in the Lords has got nothing to do with the Lib Dems, he just happens to support the party. He will also never stand for election again – as I understand it he holds that seat until removed (by death or abolition of hereditary peers) – so the loss of party campaigning support would be irrelevant.

    There are all kinds of options, ranging from a public reprimand to withdrawal of the whip and expulsion from the party.

    Reprimand away – that’s hardly “sacked”. In this case, “expulsion from the party” is just a pretty term for “return his donations”. I’m not sure why you would punish somebody for their expenses claims by giving them more money. It would not take away his seat in the Lords or his ability to claim further expenses.

    There are all kinds of options if you just want to make an empty gesture. Actually sacking him? I don’t see how. It’s vaguely disturbing that the House of Lords Act left us with so little control over the remaining seated hereditary peers, but the whole thing was a hasty compromise that nobody expected to be around long enough to matter. It does have curious parallels to the call for there to be a way to “sack your MP”.

  • Herbert Brown 9th Nov '09 - 11:11pm

    Andrew

    But of course I never suggested the party had the power to remove Viscount Falkland from the House of Lords. What I said was that if the party did feel it wanted to express some kind of disapproval of the actions of this Liberal Democrat parliamentarian, who has defrauded the public purse of more than £140,000 by lying about where he lives, there were a number of ways in which it could do so.

    And wherever do you get the bizarre idea that Viscount Falkland doesn’t take the Lib Dem whip in the Lords? Did you not even read the small extract from the article quoted above, which made it clear that it was the Lib Dem whips’ office which made him stop claiming the money? (Mind you, reading what you’ve written, I’m doubtful whether you even understand what “taking the whip” means.)

    And why on earth do you think the party would have to refund this impoverished aristocrat’s donations, if it expelled him? Where refunding donations from crooks is concerned, the words “Michael” and “Brown” spring immediately to mind!

  • Andrew Suffield 10th Nov '09 - 2:31pm

    The article says only that the person who told him he should stop was the chief whip, not that he accepted they had any authority over him. As for “taking the whip” – the thing is, that doesn’t have a clear definition for the Lords, at least as far as the 15 peers elected by the whole House are concerned. I’ve looked quite carefully, and I can’t find any rules that apply to them. It’s not at all like the formal system in the Commons.

    If you think the Lords whip’s office has some power that I’ve missed, by all means, indicate the relevant legislation. Everything I can find indicates that Falkland answers only to the House as a whole.

  • Herbert Brown 11th Nov '09 - 2:39pm

    Andrew

    Well, at least you no longer seem to be claiming that Viscount Falkland doesn’t take the Lib Dem whip, or that the whip couldn’t be withdrawn from him.

    So what exactly are you trying to say? That the party’s power over peers is more limited than its power over MPs, because peers aren’t reliant on party support for re-election? I think we’re all well aware of that. But it doesn’t mean that the party can’t express its disapproval of what the man has done, in any number of ways.

    That the party has done absolutely nothing to express its disapproval is a matter of choice, not of inability.

  • Herbert Brown 16th Nov '09 - 8:47am

    I had hoped that the party’s failure to administer any kind of reprimand whatsoever over Viscount Falkland’s fraudulent claims for £140,000 – and indeed the fact that the whips knew about it and simply tried to cover it up – might at least mean we could be spared any more hypocritical cant from Nick Clegg about “cleaning up politics”.

    But no.

    Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has called for the Queen’s Speech to be cancelled and replaced with emergency reforms to “clean up politics”. … Mr Clegg said he wanted Parliament to quickly adopt new powers to sack corrupt MPs and to abolish hereditary peers.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8361715.stm

    But maybe he had the abolition of a particular hereditary peer in mind?

  • Herbert Brown 19th Nov '09 - 8:02pm

    Interesting to see that 3 MPs and 3 peers are facing criminal charges following a police investigation:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/6601356/MPs-expenses-fraud-charges-for-six-MPs-and-lords.html

    One of the peers is Baroness Uddin, who claimed her main residence was a property in Maidstone that is alleged to have been “barely occupied”. “Police and criminal lawyers are confident that charges will be brought. “

    So it appears that the lack of any definition in the rules of a peer’s main residence – which was the reason for the recent complaint against Lord Rennard not being upheld – is not seen as an impediment in bringing a criminal prosecution.

  • Herbert Brown 20th Nov '09 - 12:41am

    And while we’re on the subject, here’s an amazing story about the resignation of the chairman of the Parliamentary Standards and Privileges Committee, after it was disclosed that his wife had barred him from his “second home” because he had been using it to carry on an adulterous liaison. Naturally, since then he has claimed nearly £30,000 in expenses related to that home:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/6609018/MPs-expenses-David-Curry-quits-as-standards-chief-over-new-Telegraph-disclosures.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

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