Since 2010, the Prime Minister has appointed rather a lot of Peers. 244, to be precise. That’s a lot of new politicians. So it was strange to hear the news on Friday that the government are going ahead with cutting the number of MPs from 650 to 600.
The government is ignoring the advice of the Commons Political and Constitutional Committee, published last March. Why? Because they want to ‘cut the cost of politics and tackle the deficit left by the previous Administration’, in the government’s own words.
Why then, has the Prime Minister appointed Peers to the House of Lords at a faster rate than any Prime Minister in British history?
Let’s look at what this means. 244 Peers in six years – or in other words, 40 new unelected politicians per year.
But, you might say, Peers are unpaid.
Well, not exactly. Peers are able to claim up to £300 a day tax-free for turning up. They don’t have to prove that they’ve done anything – they just have to sign a form.
In the 2014-2015 term, around £100m was spent on the House of Lords. We worked out exactly how much the average Peer claims in expenses and allowances per year. It’s £25,826 – about the average full-time UK wage, but for a (sometimes very) part-time job – and some of course claim much more than that. And that’s before office costs, extra staff, catering and infrastructure costs are taken into account. When the whole cost of the Lords is taken into account, the average Peer costs £118,000 a year.
But let’s take the conservative estimate. 244 Peers at an average cost of £26k a year in just expenses and allowances. That equals… *drum roll please* … £6.3m per year.
So Cameron is responsible for an extra £6.3m per year in increasing the cost of our unelected and already bloated upper chamber. There has been a 17% increase in the number of Lords, at the same time as the government are reducing the number of MPs by 8%.
Cutting the number of elected MPs to save money, in this context, looks pretty tenuous – and not just in terms of cost. Fewer MPs means fewer people for Select Committees and all the scrutiny work that’s needed. And if the government doesn’t reduce the number of Ministers, it also boosts the power of the Executive at the cost of backbenchers. With a higher proportion of MPs on the government pay-roll, there’s a high risk that the Commons will be undermined as a greater percentage of MPs are forced to tow the government line. So there are democratic issues at stake too.
Good democracy costs money. Politics costs money, and running a country costs money. Having 100 MPs would be cheaper than 650, while having just 1 MP would be cheaper still. But at what cost?
So here’s an idea: how about the government concentrates on the real money-drain, but more importantly the real democracy-drain: the unelected House of Lords.