+++ Parliamentary authorities clear Lord Rennard of breaking expense rules

This just in from the Clerk of the Parliaments, the official who has been investigating a complaint against the Liberal Democrat peer and former Chief Executive Lord Rennard.

The ruling rejects allegations that Chris Rennard claimed overnight subsistence for days that he was not present and also rejects allegations that he made claims related to having a home outside London that he wasn’t entitled to make:

In these circumstances and after due consideration, I have decided not to uphold [the] complaint: I have concluded that Lord Rennard’s claims for expenses were in accordance with the rules and guidance on Members’ expenses applicable at the time.

The key parts of the ruling state:

I should explain that claims for expenses arising from overnight subsistence can only be authorised for days on which a Member’s attendance at the House is recorded. [The] allegation that Lord Rennard did not attend on all the days for which he claimed overnight subsistence is not, therefore, well-founded; and I accordingly do not uphold this aspect of the complaint…

So far as Lord Rennard’s re-designation of his main residence in 2007 is concerned, he has explained to me that his circumstances changed in 2007 when his wife took early retirement and he made significant changes to his lifestyle. He bought a flat in Eastbourne in October 2007 and registered this as his main residence with the House of Lords’ Finance Department.

Taking up some of the detailed points which you made, he has explained to me that he and his wife are on the electoral register for both residences and that they had voted in Eastbourne in the recent European and County Council elections … He explained that he is … actively involved with the local party in Eastbourne. He stressed too that he and his wife pay council tax for the Eastbourne property.

I have also reviewed some of Lord Rennard’s recent claim forms. These confirm that he travels to and from his Eastbourne address quite regularly at weekends (perhaps two out of three). He indicated that he normally resides there in recess periods (i.e. he stays there more than in his London property whilst recognising that he would often also be away from both homes through other work or holidays.) He also indicated that until recently his employment had entailed extensive periods of work and travel around the country at weekends.

In view of the assurances by Lord Rennard about the change in his circumstances and the time he spends in Eastbourne, and in the absence of any definition of main address in the current guidance to the House of Lords’ Members Expenses Scheme, I have come to the conclusion that I should not uphold the complaint.

The full ruling was uploaded to the Parliamentary website earlier this evening and you can read it here.

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27 Comments

  • Lloyd George never blushed, either.

    That didn’t make him any less disgraceful.

  • Herbert Brown 20th Oct '09 - 9:47pm

    “He indicated that he normally resides there in recess periods …”

    How peculiar. He had a full time job in London, combined with attendance at the House of Lords. When the House of Lords was sitting, he stayed in London; when it was in recess, he stayed in Eastbourne and presumably commuted to London every day.

  • I’m afraid the Clerk seems to have breached Guido’s 11th commandment: Thou shalt not absolve a Labour or Lib Dem politician from allegations of sleaze.

  • Herbert Brown 20th Oct '09 - 10:04pm

    “he has explained to me that he and his wife are on the electoral register for both residences and that they had voted in Eastbourne in the recent European and County Council elections”

    And this is really strange. When I checked the online electoral register (which is the edited version, of course) following the News of the World allegations at the start of May, Rennard showed up in London but not in Eastbourne. Now he shows up in both.

    Of course, the fact that he voted in Eastbourne in the European elections this year is rather less than convincing, considering they took place more than a month after the allegations were first published!

  • Paul Pettinger 20th Oct '09 - 10:20pm

    So Chris Rennard designated a property in Eastbourne in 2007 as his main residence while Chief Executive of a political party based 5 minutes from the House of Lords? How can any one now realistically conclude that he did not re-designate his main residence to abuse the expenses system and cheat the tax payer?

    The letter from the Clerk of the Parliaments is utterly ludicrous. Chris Rennard’s main residence since he was accused of re-designating his home to abuse the expenses system is totally irrelevant.

  • Steven Rhodes 20th Oct '09 - 10:35pm

    So, Paul

    “Chris Rennard’s main residence since he was accused of re-designating his home to abuse the expenses system is totally irrelevant.”

    Just about says it all. Having been acquitted, you craft a sentence which effectively says “since he was accused of being guilty his acquittal is irrelevant”

    Under your test nobody could ever be found innocent. How could his main residence NOT possibly be of the utmost relevance? Designation is wholly about which is a person’s main residence.

    Flabbergasting.

  • Silent Hunter 20th Oct '09 - 11:26pm

    I see shares in Government WHITEWASH have soared again!

  • Paul Pettinger 20th Oct '09 - 11:33pm

    Steven Rhodes , that Chris Rennard can prove he now lives in his Eastbourne property does not demonstrate that it was his main residence when he was Chief Executive. The only evidence the Clerk of the Parliaments has found to support Chris Rennard’s claim that his Eastbourne property was his main residence when Chief Executive of a political party based all the way in central London, is that Chris Rennard claims that his Eastbourne property was his main residence. That’s not an investigation, it’s farce.

    You may think it clever politics to turn a blind eye to such abuse when it’s your own side and applaud investigations that do not actually seek to properly investigate challenging questions, but it is not a mature or sensible way to deal with such problems. If you do then I fear you may have begun loosing touch with why it is important to obtain political power in the first place.

    The Party and some activists may wish to ‘manage’ this story away without dealing with the deeply serious allegations at its root, but as we said in 2003, not in my name.

  • Herbert Brown 21st Oct '09 - 12:55am

    “… He explained that he is … actively involved with the local party in Eastbourne.”

    It may be worth showing what Mark has omitted in this respect:
    “… that his Liberal Democrat party membership had remained in London since party rules provide for membership to be held where you live or where you work. He explained that he is, nonetheless, actively involved with the local party in Eastbourne.”

  • Painfully Liberal 21st Oct '09 - 9:51am

    Glad to hear he’s been cleared

    There have been a predictable number of comments that essentially say “I don’t care that he’s been fully investigate and exhonerated by and independent source, I’m an ultra-partisan internet troll and I desparately wanted him to be crooked – if I want a thing to be true badly enough, doesn’t that make it true?”

  • It stinks to high heaven , but apparantly it’s our stink so it’s all right. I am one disillusioned Lib Dem party member.

  • Herbert Brown 21st Oct '09 - 10:22am

    “he’s been fully investigate and exhonerated by and independent source”

    But of course, no such thing has happened. After all the months of allegations and investigations, the Clerk has simply accepted Rennard’s “assurances” and observed that the complaint shouldn’t be upheld “in the absence of any definition of main address”

    And this is what we knew all along. The rules don’t define what “main residence” means, so it’s impossible to demonstrate that the rules have been broken!

    Even on Rennard’s own account – and that is apparently based on “recent” records and current behaviour, while it’s now almost six months since the original allegations – it’s evident that he spends well under half his time in Eastbourne. If he were subject to the same rules that apply to MPs, he couldn’t have claimed a penny.

    And in any case, let’s not lose sight of the fact that when he did stay in London, he stayed in his own home. What conceivable justification could there be for claiming £40,000 of public money, when he had incurred not a penny of accommodation expenses? No justification, except that the rules – and the system of trust under which they operated – allowed him to do so.

  • Painfully Liberal 21st Oct '09 - 10:31am

    The investigation cleared him to pretty much the fullest extent it could. I’m soory, but in your case and that of a number of others, it’s fairly clear that there’s absolutely nothing they could have said or done tthat would satisfy you. You’d already decided on his guilt (largely I suspect for reasons of wish fulfilment) and there’s nothing that could persuade you otherwise.

  • As a LibDem voter, admittedly not in possession of all the facts, it depresses me that the LibDems also subscribe to the policy of “he’s a bastard but he’s OUR bastard” that you slag off the others for following.

  • Herbert Brown 21st Oct '09 - 10:51am

    “The investigation cleared him to pretty much the fullest extent it could.”

    I think any reasonable person would say that “clearing Rennard to the fullest extent” would involve finding evidence that Eastbourne really was his main residence on some sensible criterion – rather than, in essence, concluding that the rules are so badly drafted that they can’t be broken.

  • Painfully Liberal 21st Oct '09 - 10:58am

    “I have also reviewed some of Lord Rennard’s recent claim forms. These confirm that he travels to and from his Eastbourne address quite regularly at weekends (perhaps two out of three). He indicated that he normally resides there in recess periods (i.e. he stays there more than in his London property whilst recognising that he would often also be away from both homes through other work or holidays.) He also indicated that until recently his employment had entailed extensive periods of work and travel around the country at weekends.

    In view of the assurances by Lord Rennard about the change in his circumstances and the time he spends in Eastbourne, and in the absence of any definition of main address in the current guidance to the House of Lords’ Members Expenses Scheme, I have come to the conclusion that I should not uphold the complaint.”

    I’m really not sure what you mean by “finding evidence” This seems a fully plausible explanation to why his Eastbourne home can be considered his primary residence. Besides, if there are allegations of wrongdoing, surely the onus isn’t on him to prove his innocence, but on the investigators to prove his guilt. That’s a concept called “innocent until proven guilty”

  • Herbert Brown 21st Oct '09 - 11:57am

    Painfully Liberal

    “This seems a fully plausible explanation to why his Eastbourne home can be considered his primary residence.”

    I think it’s clear that it wouldn’t be so considered if the same rules applied to Lords that apply to MPs. And that’s even if one accepts the curious picture of Rennard sleeping in London while the Lords happen to be sitting, but commuting to his full-time London job from Eastbourne when they happen to be in recess. Did he really do that when he was Chief Executive, or is that what he does currently?

    But as you say, he doesn’t have to prove anything. How could he, when the rules don’t define what “main residence” means?

  • Herbert Brown 21st Oct '09 - 12:03pm

    James

    Do you see any hint in the pro-Rennard comments above that there is a problem concerning Lords’ allowances that needs to be dealt with?

    The message I’m getting from them is that Rennard has been vindicated and that he was perfectly justified in claiming £40,000 to cover the costs of sleeping under his own roof. Is that really the party’s attitude?

  • Duncan Borrowman 21st Oct '09 - 7:19pm

    I have been to quite a few parties at Chris’s house in Stockwell. Also round for dinner on quite a few occassions privately. Always on weekday evenings. I have spoken to Chris over the phone at weekends – often in Eastbourne since 2007. The only times I havebeen to his Stockwell home at weekends were for a late night curry after work during General Elections, long before he purcahsed the Eastbourne home.

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