Scandal of silent peers revealed: £1.3m claimed by Lords who never speak

Posted on the 21st September 2017

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

  • For immediate release, Thursday 21st September 2017, 00:01
  • For more information or to arrange an interview with a spokesperson, contact mediaoffice@electoral-reform.org.uk or 07717211630

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 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 [1] – 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 [2].

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

[See table at bottom of PR for full breakdowns]

The research follows calls in the past week from Commons Speaker John Bercow to cut the size of the upper chamber [3] – and ahead of the publication of a key Lords inquiry [4] 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 [5].

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.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Spoken contributions 16/17 (779 peers) Number of peers % of peers (/779) Total Cost Cost per Peer
Never spoke 115 14.76% £1,275,472 £11,091.06
Never spoke and never voted 31 3.98% £3,963 £127.84
Never spoke and voted 5 times or fewer 47 6.03% £116,257 £2,473.55
Never spoke and voted 10 times or fewer 60 7.70% £166,800 £2,780
Spoke 5 times or fewer 277 35.56% £4,086,764 £14,753.66
Spoke 5 times or fewer and never voted 39 5.01% £23,422 £600.56
Spoke 5 times or fewer and voted 5 times or fewer 77 9.88% £250,438 £3,252.44
Spoke 5 times or fewer and voted 10 times or fewer 115 14.76% £510,246 £4,436.92
Spoke 10 times or fewer 394 50.58% £7,321,274 £18,581.91
Spoke 10 times or fewer and never voted 42 5.39% £32,965 £784.88
Spoke 10 times or fewer and voted 5 times or fewer 85 10.91% £311,624 £3,666.16
Spoke 10 times or fewer and voted 10 times or fewer 131 16.82% £658,314 £5,025.29

 

[1] Between 1st June 2016 and 27th April 2017, £19,199,922.00 was spent on daily allowance and travel expenses with the average Peer receiving £22,273.69 (above the median UK take home pay).

[2] The average peer votes just 35 times per year, and speaks 34 times.

[3] www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41264966

[4] www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4889930/More-160-peers-kicked-Lords.html

[5] http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/other-committees/size-of-house-committee/

Methodology

Membership

  • On the first day of the session, the memberships of 4 peers ceased due to non-attendance during the previous session. During the session, 18 new peers joined, 11 died, 11 retired and 40 were ineligible to take part in the work of the House (leave of absences, membership of the judiciary, roles within the chamber voting and a suspension).
  • This leaves a body of 779 peers who served the entirety of the 2016/17 session and were members of the House for all 77 votes in the House.

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