Scandal of silent peers reveals £1.3M claimed by Lords who never speak
Electoral Reform Society release analysis of voting, speaking and expenses records in the Lords, showing ‘something for nothing’ culture among peers – amid calls for substantive reform
Peers who haven’t spoken in the Lords for an entire year have claimed nearly £1.3m in expenses and allowances, research from the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has revealed.
115 Lords – one in seven of the total – failed to speak at all in the 2016/17 session, despite claiming an average of £11,091 each, while 18 peers failed to vote but still claimed £93,162.
It comes amid an ‘expenses free-for-all’ in the Lords, with expenses claims soaring by 20% in just two years – at a time when public services have been under strain.
The findings show that most peers (58% of those attending the whole 2016/17 session) now claim more than the average full-time Brit’s take-home pay – for what is essentially a part-time role.
The research follows calls in the past week from Commons Speaker John Bercow to cut the size of the upper chamber – and ahead of the publication of a key Lords inquiry on reducing the number of peers.
Peers do not have to offer proof they have contributed in order to claim up to £300 tax-free per day, plus expenses.
The findings come ahead of a full ERS audit on the state of the House of Lords next month, which will be published to coincide with the launch of the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the Upper House’s report.
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “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.
“(And) there are a worrying number of couch-potato peers and lobby-fodder Lords 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.
“It’s 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.
“With a 20% surge in expenses claims in the past two years, this is a House that is spiralling out of control. Rather than spending immense sums 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.
“Huge amounts of money are going to the people who contribute the least. This is an outrageous situation. We need to move to a much smaller upper chamber – one that is properly accountable – so that the Lords is no longer seen as a retirement home for party donors but something fit for the Mother of all Parliaments.
“However, 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.
“From lobby-fodder Lords who only turn up to vote, to couch-potato peers who fail to turn 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.”
The research also finds
- 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