'Silent peers' claim almost £1.3m despite not speaking in Lords debates

House Of Lords

Peers who did not speak once in House of Lords debates over the past year still claimed almost £1.3m in expenses and allowances, according to research by the Electoral Reform Society.

The campaign group analysed speaking and voting records for the Lords – excluding brief interjections, written questions and answers, or attendance in committees – to determine how many peers were claiming their tax-free daily allowance of £300 despite failing to contribute to debates.

The research shows that a total of £1,262,670 was claimed in expenses and allowances last year by peers who did not speak. In total, 116 have failed to speak at all since the start of the 2014 parliamentary session, but have claimed £830,418 between them. Fifty-five of those also voted fewer than five times, but together claimed £92,075.

Thirty peers claimed more than £750,000 between them over the course of the last parliament, from 2010 to 2015, without speaking. Eight who failed to either speak or vote in the last parliamentary session from 2014-15 claimed a total of £29,812.

Members of the Lords who can show they have carried out “appropriate parliamentary work” in Westminster are entitled to claim a tax-free daily allowance of £300, or £150 if they are away on official visits.

According to the latest House of Lords annual report, net operating costs for the chamber were £94.4m for 2014-15, a slight rise from the previous year’s £93m. Of this year’s total, £20.7m was spent on members’ allowances and expenses.

Last month, David Cameron announced 45 new peers, bringing the total to more than 800. He appointed 26 Conservatives, including a former MP who claimed expenses to clean his moat, a City banker who has given millions to the party, and the chief executive of a company criticised earlier this year for failing to pay the minimum wage.

The chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, Katie Ghose, described the findings of the research as a “national scandal” which strengthened the case for reform of parliament’s upper house.

“These figures show that the House of Lords is well and truly bust,” she said, calling on Cameron to act on his promise, made before the general election, that he would tackle the growing size of the Lords. Cameron has appointed new members at a faster rate than any prime minister since life peerages began in 1958. They include 102 Tory peerages since he took office.

“The case is now stronger than ever for serious reform of Britain’s unelected upper chamber – a chamber that is spiralling out of control, both in terms of size and cost,” said Ghose.

“David Cameron announced 45 new peers at the end of August, swelling our already bloated upper chamber to over 800 members – an absolutely outrageous situation which will do nothing for people’s faith in politics.

“The prime minister says he regrets not reforming the chamber in the last parliament. Given these new findings, now is the time to act on that and get on with the vital work of ensuring we have a democratic upper house, where the public finally get a say.”

Questioned over the apparently broken election promise shortly after the announcement of the dissolution honours list, a source close to Cameron disclosed that he was now willing to support changes that would limit the number of years that peers could sit in the house and vote on legislation.

“The PM is not going to attempt to go down the route of changing the constitution again. But he would be open to changes such as setting time limits if they are put forward through the Conservatives in the Lords,” the source said.

Cameron would also support further encouragement of peers to stand down, according to the source: “More than 120 peers have stood down this year, but there is certainly room for finding ways of encouraging more to do so.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Monday 7th September 2015 13.59 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010