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Monday, February 24, 2020

Reform needed as costs spiral

The Sunday Times reports that peers paid themselves almost one-third more last year just as the size of the House of Lords is set to swell to its largest in two decades.

Their analysis has found that the cost of peers’ expenses and daily attendance allowance rose by 29% in the year to last March to £23m and that taxpayers face a triple hit:
One lord, former Labour minister Lord Cunningham, claimed a total of £79,437 last year, according to official House of Lords figures.

Cunningham, 80, made 17 spoken contributions to the upper chamber despite checking in for his allowance on 159 of a possible 161 days.

Lord Paul, a regular on The Sunday Times Rich List, claimed £47,885 in expenses despite his family having a £2bn fortune. The business magnate, 89, spoke only once in the chamber.

More than 110 peers did not make any spoken or written contribution to the House during the period, but claimed a total of more than £1m.

Lord Bhatia claimed £44,530 in expenses after turning up 149 out of a possible 161 days — yet did not address the House or sit on a committee.

The millionaire has previously been suspended from the House over expenses claims.

Another “silent” peer was the former Labour MP Baroness Adams of Craigielea, 72, who claimed £52,252 including £13,761 on flights between her Scottish home and Westminster.

Peers are paid a daily rate of £313 tax-free for signing in and certifying that they are carrying out parliamentary work, and can receive travel expenses for themselves and family members.

An internal report prepared for the Lords audit committee, which was released earlier this month, warned that Lords expenses are still “vulnerable” to being “exploited for personal gain”.

“Unelected Lords are taking advantage of the lack of scrutiny in the upper chamber,” said Willie Sullivan, a senior director at the Electoral Reform Society. “The Lords is a rolling expenses scandal — and we’ll see this year after year unless there is reform.”

It comes as lords expect their number to expand by about 41 new members, including an estimated 28 Conservative peers. It would take their number to 834.

This is despite the prime minister previously saying that the House of Lords — which at the time had just over 800 peers — was so large that it was “out of control”, and its numbers should be cut in half.

How anybody can justify maintaining this expensive, bloated, unaccountable institution in its present format is beyond me. It is not just reform we need it is the abolition of the Lords altogether and its replacement with an elected second chamber of the regions and nations.

At least then, the members of this chamber could be held accountable for their performance and their expenses. We might even save some money.
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