Revealed: The new expenses scandal in the House of Lords

Darren Hughes
Darren Hughes

Posted on the 21st September 2017

It turns out the expenses scandal didn’t end in 2009 – it’s been bubbling away in a different chamber: the House of Lords.

Today we’ve published the findings of our extensive analysis of voting, speaking and expenses records in the Lords. It shows a ‘something for nothing’ culture among some peers – and a need for substantive reform.

It shows that peers who haven’t spoken in the Lords for an entire year have claimed nearly £1.3m in expenses and allowances.

We’re witnessing an ‘expenses free-for-all’ in the Mother of All Parliaments, with expenses claims soaring by 20% in just two years – at a time when public services have been under strain.

The figures are stark. 115 Lords – one in seven of the total – failed to speak at all in the 2016/17 session, yet still claimed an average of £11,091 each, while 18 peers failed to vote while claiming £93,162.

And most peers (58%) now claim more than the average full-time Brit’s take-home pay – for what is essentially a part-time role.

There’s plenty more if you scratch beneath the surface:

  • 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

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.

This scandal of stay-at-home peers comes 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.

Most people would find it 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. Many are earning more than most full-time Brits, for doing a very part-time role.

Rather than spending thousands 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.

Moving to a much smaller upper chamber – one that is properly accountable – would mean the Lords would no longer seen as a retirement home for party donors, but instead something fit for the Mother of all Parliaments.

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.

This research isn’t coming out of the blue – in just the past week Commons Speaker John Bercow has called to cut the size of the upper chamber. And next month, a key Lords inquiry on reducing the number of peers will be published, at the same time as we’ll be releasing our Audit on the state of the House of Lords.

From lobby-fodder Lords only turning up to claim and vote, to couch-potato peers rarely turning 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.

Sign our petition for an elected House of Lords
  • Rob M

    The House of Lords drastically needs pruning. Apart from the fact that it’s massively expensive and bloated in size, it doesn’t reflect the voting preferences of the voting public. Liberals in particular are vastly over represented. It’s also full of people who have basically been gifted peerages for services rendered to political parties, rather than people who have genuinely served the nation, Peter Mandelson for instance, and Shami Chakrabarti.

    • Gordonwick

      The House of Lords has NEVER reflected the voting preferences of the British public, because that was never its intention. It is meant to provide a revising chamber, with the ideal being members being from many specialist occupations, who are able able to contribute WITHOUT being forced to follow a party line. There is a bias in favour of lawyers, and against scientists and technologists, and you cannot solve that by elections.

  • stephengreen

    I utterly oppose an elected HoL and in fact prefer a hereditary HoL, with a smattering of Life Peers, as it was and should be again.

    The sorry state of the HoC is enough to make one wary on the preposterous idea of more professional politicians producing more professional results. Hereditary independence is what’s required, not an increase in the professional class who have done so much damage to our country.

    Finally and most critically, why is there no outline of which peers you are referring to? The majority of the HOL are Life Peers an unedifying bunch at the best of times.

    • Chris Woodward

      Spot on Stephen Green! Totally correct in every way.

    • Chris Rudd

      No – totally wrong. Being granted privilege by birth is totally irrational.

  • John Marchant

    One of the reasons we are leaving the EU is because it is undemocratic, the difference between the EU and the House of Lords ? The similarity, oligarchies.

    • Gordonwick

      The EU is undemocratic? You are ignoring the fact that all EU MPs are elected by us, the voters; exactly the same as our UK parliament. If the EU is undemocratic by that definition, then so is the UK.

  • Amansaman

    I imagine that this report will get plenty of column inches, but while the HoL does desperately need reform, expenses is not the best lens for looking at the problem. Democracy should cost something. I don’t want Lords speaking in debates just to improve their speech / expenses ratio. I also don’t want a second chamber that can only be filled by people who have enough personal funds not to worry about expenses. None of this is to say that we should turn a blind eye to some of the more gravy covered bits of this train, but it really is much less of an issue than numbers or patronage.

  • Frances Voelcker

    Voting in the house is only one part of the duties of the House of Lords. They also serve on specialist committees, which meet weekly, where they carry out wide-ranging enquiries before making reports and recommendations. The comparisons between hours in committee as well as attendance and voting patterns would be a more correct way of assessing ‘value for money’. The specialist scrutiny role needs a special candidate selection process to ensure that the candidates for election to the Upper House have one of the needed specialisms. Hereditary Lords may occasionally have such expertise (by chance) but should be selected and appointed on the same basis as other members of the Upper House, and this could be by popular election from candidates lists, standing as people with a particular specialism or expertise through experience. There is still the risk that only some personality types will put themselves up for election, so that a process of head-hunting and nomination to stand for election (by civil servants?) may be needed.

Read more posts...

Wales needs a stronger Senedd that’s fit for the future

In 20 years of its existence – through the growth in the Assembly’s responsibilities to the expansion of the Welsh Government and its powers, one thing has changed very little: the Senedd’s capacity to scrutinise,...

Posted 12 Dec 2017

Welsh Assembly