Costly cronies of the House of Lords

Doug Cowan, Head of Digital

Posted on the 24th August 2015

In our new report, House of Lords Fact vs Fiction, we took a look at some of the enduring myths that surround our unelected second chamber.

Peers are technically unpaid, but unlike the thousands of people around the country who volunteer in their local communities each week, members of the House of Lords effectively get to pick how much they get in allowances. Just for checking in, Peers can claim either £150 or £300 tax-free depending on how much they feel they deserve. On top of this they can claim expenses for limited travel costs.

Between February 2014 to January 2015, £21 million was spent on handouts to members of the House of Lords, with the average Peer receiving £25,826 tax-free – despite the chamber only sitting for about 130 days of the year.  For the same cost as 780 part-time peers we could have 300 democratically-elected and accountable peers on an MP’s salary.

Whilst many Lords will put in a full day’s work for this money, there is nothing to stop a Peer coming to London for the day, popping in to the Lords bar for a (subsidised) sherry, before claiming their travel and £300 for a night at the theatre.

Illustration by David Biskup

Is this happening? As Lords don’t have to justify their claims it’s hard to tell, but we know that in the 2010-2015 parliament, £360,000 was claimed by 62 Peers for years in which they did not vote once.  In the last session of parliament alone, over £100,000 was claimed by Peers who did not vote at all – and research we’re releasing this week in the Daily Mirror will show that thousands is also claimed by Peers who fail to speak on the floor of the House, too.

Of course the cost of running the House of Lords isn’t just their allowances – there’s all the other infrastructure costs too. The net operating costs of the House of Lords in 2013-4 were £93.1m, approximately equivalent to £118k per Peer.

So whilst on the basis of allowances and expenses, an additional 100 Peers would cost almost £2.6m, this is likely an underestimate of their true costs. Firstly, new Peers tend to be younger and more frequent attendees, meaning they will be higher allowance claimants. Secondly, these figures do not include office costs, including the extra staffing, food, admin and Parliamentary staff costs associated with having extra Peers.

According to David Cameron, the rationale for reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600 was to ‘cut the cost of politics’. But the design of the House of Lords – with Prime Ministers facing an incentive to pack it full of cronies and secure a majority there – means the costs of patronage in our unelected chamber will only ever increase.

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