Revealed: the true cost of the House of Lords

Posted on the 15th November 2017

Electoral Reform Society release landmark report on the second chamber: The High Cost of Small Change: The House of Lords Audit

The Electoral Reform Society have released a devastating analysis of the state of the House of Lords in 2017 – revealing the ‘democratic crisis’ at the heart of the Lords.

The Audit coincides with a key Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday calling for reform of the upper house [1] – after a report of the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House [2] suggested moving to a still-unelected, 600-member house by 2028. ERS polling found that 88% of people believe the Lords should be smaller than 600 members [3].

The findings have spurred the ERS to call for substantive reform of a ‘crumbling, crony-packed chamber’, with The High Cost of Small Change: The House of Lords Audit revealing:

  • Lords-a-claiming: 455 Lords claimed more than the average take home pay of full-time employees during the 2016/17 session – despite the house sitting for just 141 days.
  • 33 inactive peers picked up £462,510 in tax-free expenses [4] – claiming an average of £746 per vote
  • Daily allowance and travel costs for the 2016-17 session came to over £19 million.
  • Couch-potato peers: Nearly 1 in 10 of the peers eligible to vote throughout 2016/17 (9.2% – 72 of the 779) are inactive when it comes to scrutinising the government’s work on committees, in the chamber, or through written questions – vital roles for the revising chamber
  • A noisy minority: The top 300 voting peers account for over 64% of all votes in divisions during the 2016/17 session – suggesting much of the work of the Lords is done by a minority of peers
  • Not so independent: Despite claims that the Lords is less partisan than the Commons, 78% of Conservative peers failed to vote against the government once in 2016/17, while the average Labour Peer voted against the government in 90% of votes
    • Meanwhile, Crossbench peers vote far less than partisan Lords – 41% voted fewer than ten times in 2016/17 (compared to 14% for Labour and 7% for the Conservatives)
  • An ageing upper chamber: Nearly one in five peers (18%) are over the age of 80– compared to just 6.6% of the over-21 population (only over-21s can sit in the upper house)
  • House of Has-Beens? The House hosts 184 ex-MPs, 26 ex-MEPs, 11 ex-MSPs, 8 ex-Welsh AMs, 6 ex-London AMs, 11 ex-MLAs and 39 current or ex-council leaders, as of April 2017.

72 peers failed to speak in the chamber, table a written question or serve on a committee at all in the whole of 2016/17. 33 of them claimed a huge £462,510 (an average of £14,015 each).

New analysis shows the 33 expenses-claiming ‘couch potato peers’ took part in just 24% of votes – meaning they claimed an average of £746 per vote.

Recent analysis by the ERS shows 109 peers made no spoken contributions – with 63 of these claiming a total of £1,095,701 in expenses.

The ERS is calling for a proportionally-elected upper house of 300 members.

In 2015, the ERS launched House of Lords: Fact vs Fiction [5]showing that in the 2010-2015, £360,000 was claimed by peers in years they failed to vote once. Yet the problem of inactive peers appears to have worsened significantly.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“Despite some minor reforms, the problems of Britain’s broken upper house continue to fester. With nearly one in ten unelected peers failing to contribute in key ways – despite many of them picking up large sums – we have a democratic crisis in our second chamber.

“The vast majority of party-affiliated peers toe the line, while many Crossbench peers simply don’t turn up. The so-called ‘independent’ chamber is packed full of party loyalists.

“The past few years have seen one expenses scandal after another, with peers turning up to claim without substantially contributing. We have seen a barrage of appointments based on patronage. And we’ve seen Peers themselves admit they treat our upper house as a retirement home, a private members’ club. This is no fit state for the Mother of all Parliaments.

“This report lays bare the rotten state of this unelected second chamber – from couch-potato peers to lobby-fodder lords. We need real reform now – not tinkering around the edges.

“Politicians must now meet the challenge before this crumbling, crony-stuffed house declines even further. Voters want real change. It’s time for both MPs and peers to embrace it.”

The report concludes:

“The second chamber is demonstrably in need of serious reform. Whether it is the thousands claimed by inactive peers or the dominance of defeated politicians, it is clear that until we let the light in, the rot within the Mother of all Parliaments will only get worse.

“We must see parties commit to a far smaller, proportionally-elected upper house. At a time of significant constitutional, economic and political change, the need for an effective House of Peers or Senate is overwhelming.

“Whatever the final details [of an elected upper house], the principle remains: those who vote on our laws should be accountable to those affected by those laws. As we have shown, that is a matter both of principle and pragmatism.

“Now is no time for minor tinkering; the public call for a real overhaul is loud and clear. Let’s get on with meeting our democratic duty – and give voters the revising chamber Britain needs.”

ENDS

A copy of the report available to view here: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/HoL-2017-Audit.pdf

Methodology Notes

Voting and speaking data cover the year between 18th May 2016 and 27th April 2017, the last full Parliamentary session (state opening 18 May 2016 to Prorogation 27 April 2017).

Expenses data run from June 2016 to April 2017 – May 2016 expenses are excluded as the 2016/17 Parliamentary session started half-way through the month. This means the real figures will be slightly higher than reflected here.

Data on voting and expenses was obtained via the official House of Lords web pages: https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/house-of-lords-publications/records-of-activities-and-membership/voting-records/ and http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/members-allowances/house-of-lords/

Data on spoken contributions taken from the official Hansard Online site https://hansard.parliament.uk/

Expense data include daily attendance allowance (£150 or £300 per day) and travel expenses. Note: Expenses data does not include office expenditure, or House of Lords infrastructure costs. This again means the actual figures will be higher than those reflected here. Office expenditure is excluded as the ERS believes Peers who do contribute should not be penalised for incurring real day-to-day costs.

Notes to Editors

[1] The Westminster Hall debate is being hosted by Tommy Sheppard MP (SNP):https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CDP-2017-0222

[2] http://www.parliament.uk/size-of-house-committee

[3] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/four-in-five-voters-think-lords-should-be-smaller-than-peers-recommendation/

[4] Those who failed to speak, sit on a committee or submit a written question in 2016/17 but still claimed expenses.

[5] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/House-of-Lords-Fact-Vs-Fiction-Report.pdf

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