Revealed: The New Expenses Scandal In The House of Lords
By Darren Hughes – Electoral Reform Society: Meet the couch-potato peers. It turns out the expenses scandal didn’t end in 2009 – it’s been bubbling away in a different chamber: the House of Lords.
Today we’ve published the findings of our extensive analysis of voting, speaking and expenses records in the Lords. It shows a ‘something for nothing’ culture among some peers – and a need for substantive reform.
It shows that peers who haven’t spoken in the Lords for an entire year have claimed nearly £1.3m in expenses and allowances.
Get Briefed, Get Weekly Intelligence Reports - Essential Weekend Reading - Safe Subscribe
We’re witnessing an ‘expenses free-for-all’ in the Mother of All Parliaments, with expenses claims soaring by 20% in just two years – at a time when public services have been under strain.
The figures are stark. 115 Lords – one in seven of the total – failed to speak at all in the 2016/17 session, yet still claimed an average of £11,091 each, while 18 peers failed to vote while claiming £93,162.
And most peers (58%) now claim more than the average full-time Brit’s take-home pay – for what is essentially a part-time role.
There’s plenty more if you scratch beneath the surface:
- Lobby-fodder Lords: £4,086,764 has been claimed by the 36% of peers who spoke five times or fewer in the past year, many of whom simply turn up to vote
- 167 peers made 10 or fewer spoken contributions – yet claimed more than the average take-home salary
- Couch-potato peers: peers who voted ten times or fewer claimed £1,032,653 in 2016/17
- The ‘something for nothing’ culture: £7.3m claimed by peers who spoke ten times or fewer this past year, while 131 peers spoke and voted ten times or fewer – claiming £658,314 in 2016/17
- The noisy minority: 10 peers – 1.16% of the total – account for over a fifth of spoken contributions, while the top 50 speakers account for 51% of total speeches
- Supersized-chamber: Despite being the second largest chamber in the world, most of the Lords’ huge costs come from those who contribute the least: the most active 300 peers claim only half the expenses – showing the size of the Lords can be cut without significantly limiting its work
These figures are a damning indictment of the state of the House of Lords. There appears to be a growing ‘something for nothing’ culture in our upper house, with tidy sums being claimed by those who barely contribute.
This scandal of stay-at-home peers comes at a time when there is plenty to scrutinise – ostensibly the upper chamber’s role.
The fact that over £4m is being claimed by those who speak only a handful of times a year shows just how dire this undemocratic situation has become.
Most people would find it completely unacceptable that peers can claim thousands without even speaking or voting in the House – and it highlights the reality that there is no accountability for peers. Many are earning more than most full-time Brits, for doing a very part-time role.
Rather than spending thousands on peers who fail to even speak up in Parliament, we need a fairly-elected upper House – with a much smaller number of salaried peers – ending the rolling expenses scandal the chamber has become.
Moving to a much smaller upper chamber – one that is properly accountable – would mean the Lords would no longer be seen as a retirement home for party donors, but instead something fit for the Mother of all Parliaments.
Piecemeal changes like imposing a retirement age will do little to deal with the real issue – a total lack of accountability among Lords that allows this kind of behaviour to grow and fester.
This research isn’t coming out of the blue – in just the past week Commons Speaker John Bercow has called to cut the size of the upper chamber. And next month, a key Lords inquiry on reducing the number of peers will be published, at the same time as we’ll be releasing our Audit on the state of the House of Lords.
From lobby-fodder Lords only turning up to claim and vote, to couch-potato peers rarely turning up at all, the situation in the second chamber is a scandal. Now let’s fix this broken House before the situation gets any worse.