There was “ambiguity” in expenses rules for peers, the chief of the House of Lords administration has admitted, with no need for members to provide proof of what they had spent.
Michael Pownall, former Clerk of the Parliaments, told Chelmsford Crown Court that there was some confusion about how much members were actually allowed to claim.
Giving evidence at the trial of former Essex CC leader Lord Hanningfield, who is accused of falsely claiming parliamentary expenses, Mr Pownall said: “There was a lack of clarity about how much members could claim within the maximum amounts fixed.
“I still believe that members regarded it as a reimbursement system but without any requirement to put in invoices it was their decision as to how much to claim.”
He later added: “There was ambiguity and uncertainties in the amounts which members could claim, I certainly accept that.”
In cross-examination, defence counsel Alun Jones QC claimed that many peers regarded daily expense limits as allowances to which they were entitled, regardless of what they had spent.
He quoted a 2008 internal review which found: “In practice over the years the [expenses] scheme has been used to generate an income for some peers.” This meant that they were claiming more money back than they had actually paid out.
The vast majority of peers were claiming the maximum allowance for accommodation, subsistence and travel, the jury was told, but were not required to provide receipts to prove their outlay.
Mr Pownall said: “I had no reason to investigate because it was a system without receipts or invoices…I took the system as it was.”
However, in re-examination prosecutor Clare Montgomery QC asked him: “Was there any ambiguity about whether travel was a reimbursement scheme…or a general allowance which you could use for anything?
Mr Pownall said: “It was to pay back what you spent.”
She also asked: “Was there any ambiguity in relation to the rule that you could only claim night subsistence for nights you spent in London?”
He replied: “No, no ambiguity.”
Earlier the court heard from other members of House of Lords staff, who explained that travel expense claims were only checked against mileage information that the peers themselves had provided.
The 70-year-old denies six counts of false accounting.