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Expenses scandal peer to quit top Labour job

Labour’s chief whip in the Lords is to quit – after admitting claiming expenses for overnight accommodation in London and for commuting by train from Brighton.

Lord Steve Bassam claimed £260,000 over seven years – £36,366 a year – in an allowance for senior members of the House of Lords if their main home is not in the capital.

But at the same time he claimed £41,000 – £6,400 a year – in travel expenses for rail tickets and cab fares as he made the one-hour, 55-mile train journey daily from Brighton to London.

Sky News has learnt the 64-year-old peer announced his plans to resign at the weekly meeting of Labour peers.

“Steve has told fellow members of the Labour Lords group that he plans to step down from his role as opposition chief whip early in 2018 once a replacement has been elected by our peers,” a Labour source in the Lords told Sky News.

“That will happen by the end of January or early February, depending on the election timetable.”

The Lords office holders allowance claimed by Lord Bassam is essentially a second-home allowance for senior peers whose duties require them to be in the Palace of Westminster for long hours.

Lord Bassam was a Labour minister under Tony Blair and has been the party’s chief whip in the Lords since 2008.

He is also a former leader of Brighton Council who was awarded a peerage by Mr Blair in 1997 and appointed as a junior Home Office minister.

As chief whip, the second most senior position in his party in the Lords, he is responsible for discipline among Labour peers. He is also a member of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.

He cannot be sacked because his post is an elected one. Rather than await the outcome of a party disciplinary inquiry, he has quit at the earliest opportunity.

Lord Bassam is nicknamed ‘Lord Swampy’ because he set up the Brighton and Hove Squatters Union in the 1970s and campaigned to bring empty properties into use.

As opposition chief whip, he is paid a taxpayer-funded salary of £63,537 – with the allowance boosting his total annual pay to £99,903.

When his double expenses claims were revealed in the Mail on Sunday, he agreed to pay back the £41,000 he claimed in travel expenses, a much smaller sum than his claims for accommodation.

“With my home outside London, I have been in receipt of the relevant office holders allowance for the opposition chief whip in the Lords,” he said.

“At the same time, in accordance with rules laid down by the House, I have claimed costs for my regular travel to and from Parliament.

“While I have not been advised that any breach of the rules has taken place, waiving the right to such travel claims would perhaps have been a more appropriate response on my part.

“I will not be submitting any further claims in this way and instead use the office holders’ allowance to cover those additional costs.

“I will also discuss with House officials the steps necessary to repay previous travel claims.”

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