By Co-Founder and Managing Director Matt Gillow
The House of Lords costs the taxpayer £68 million per year.
That’s not even including building and maintenance costs; with more than 800 Peers (814, March 2016) that amounts to an average of £83,000 per member. £20 million of that total sum comes from expenses and tax-free travel allowances.
One member kept a taxi running outside whilst signing in to collect their £300 daily allowance. The Sunday Times reported that Lord Paddick billed the taxpayer £9,000 for first-class flights back to the House in order to make a 446-word speech (that’s £20 per word.) In 2014/15, Politics Home reported that £621,000 was claimed by Peers who didn’t speak once during any debate.
When you have an over-spending, bloated (it’s the second largest legislature in the world, only behind China) upper-chamber, whose primary aim is to scrutinise Commons legislation - we should start asking questions about waste and over-crowding. Previous Lord Speaker Baroness D’Souza, despite coming under scrutiny for her own dodgy expenses, acknowledged in a Speech to the Women's Institute in 2016 that "all is not well in their Lordship’s House". She suggested in quite rightly that the House could "very comfortably carry out its work... with between 450-500 members", without compromising the meticulous scrutiny of legislation or the range of expertise available. Doing so, along with capping expenses for non-administration related claims (or ending taxpayer subsidies on Westminster bars and restaurants) would go some way to slashing the cost of the House, pretty much in half - saving upwards of £30 million per annum. It is absolutely right that, in a time when taxpayers are being asked to tighten their belts, that officials should be doing the same - and capping excesses and cutting numbers achieves both a practical, and a moral goal. £30 million per annum is no insignificant sum in efficiencies, and could be spent on tax cuts – for example.
The vast majority of the reasons government has failed to implement House of Lords reform in the past are party political. Coalition government got itself into a stand-off over the issue, as the Liberal Democrats torpedoed changes to constituency boundaries, with Cameron and Osborne parking plans for Lords reform in order to appease their backbenchers. Traditional Labourites, too, don’t like wide sweeping constitutional changes, and even some of the more reforming Labour MPs worry that Lords reform could threaten their hand in the UK’s parliamentary power duopoly. Pragmatic, progressive, and pro-taxpayer reform has been skated over for too long in the interests of consolidating power in party politics.
Jonathan Isaby, previously political director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, quite rightly noted that the last thing ‘taxpayers want their hard-earned cash to be spent on is subsidised alcohol for politicians and civil servants.’ This should also be extended to the general excesses of the Lords - and indeed the Commons. The Lords should practice what they preach - and if making them do so means enacting reform, then so be it.
Sources and Further Reading:
- 'Pickles closes down 'Prezza Arms', the subsidised bar in his own Whitehall department', Evening Standard, (16 March 2013)
- 'Each House of Lords peer costs the taxpayer £83,000 per year', The Herald Scotland, (8 March 2017)
- Tim Sculthorpe and Tamara Cohen, 'Lord Speaker charged taxpayers £230 to keep her chauffeur-driven car waiting outside the opera for FOUR hours', Daily Mail, (22 December 2015)
- 'Lord Speaker addresses Women's Institute: transcript', parliament.uk, (11 June 2016)
- Rowena Mason, 'Lord Speaker's expenses reveal £230 bill for chauffeur to wait outside opera', The Guardian, (22 December 2015)
- Emilio Casalicchio, 'Expenses: £621,000 claimed by silent peers in 2014-15', Politics Home, (29th May 2016)
- 'Peers: Per Capita Costs:Written question - HL5613', parliament.co.uk, (24 February 2017)
- 'House of Lords 'should cut number of peers to 600'', BBC, (31 October 2017)
- Tim Shipman, James Lyons and Grace Marsh, 'Peer’s 4-minute speech cost taxpayer £8,800', The Sunday Times, (29 May 2016)
- Oliver Wright, 'House of Lords reform in tatters as David Cameron withdraws support for Nick Clegg’s ambitious plan', The Independent, (3 August 2012)
Image: UK Parliament @Flickr