British parliament suspends Swraj Paul, two other MPs

Thursday, October 21, 2010

LONDON - Indian-born business tycoon and member of Britain’s House of Lords Swraj Paul was Thursday suspended from the house along with two other legislators for wrongly claiming reimbursement for their stay in London, a media report said.

According to BBC, three peers have been suspended from the House of Lords and told to repay expenses after wrongly claiming tens of thousands of pounds.

Lord Paul has been suspended for four months and cross-bencher Lord Amirali Alibhai Bhatia for eight months. Both have already repaid substantial sums. Baroness Manzila Pola Uddin has been suspended until Easter 2012 and told to repay 125,349 pounds.

The legislators approved the measures recommended by the House of Lords Privileges and Conduct Committee, which looked into their claims following allegations that they had been deliberately designating little-used properties outside London as their “main homes”.

The three members were accused of claiming overnight allowances worth 174 pound a night, to stay near Westminster when Parliament was sitting as well as travel expenses.

Baroness Uddin has already been suspended from the Labour Party and Lord Paul has resigned his Labour Party membership. Lord Paul has already paid 41,982 pounds and Lord Bhatia has paid back 27,446 pounds, the BBC said.

The committee’s report, published earlier this week, said that all three of those investigated “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”.

The Labour peer and donor Lord Paul “freely admitted” he never spent a night at the one-bedroom flat in Oxfordshire he designated as his “main residence” between late 2005 and end of July 2006, the report said.

But the report responding to his claims 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.”

The committee said they could not claim, on the balance of probabilities, that he acted dishonestly or in bad faith but added: “However, his actions were utterly unreasonable and demonstrated gross irresponsibility and negligence.”

As he had already repaid the money he should be suspended for four months, the report said.

Responding to the report, Lord Paul said: “I am disappointed that I seem to have been treated more harshly than others.” He said the rules were unclear but he would accept the committee’s decision.

Leader of the Lords Lord Strathclyde said he was “shocked and dismayed” by the report and said the measures would be “some of the toughest handed down in modern times, but in my judgement they are fully justified”.

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