What do our Lords cost and are they worth it?
- Credit: PA
Their roles are the subject of great debate - but who are the region’s representatives in the House of Lords, what do they do and how much do they claim?
Peers from the region today insisted they provide good value by improving legislation and holding the Government to account in return for the thousands of pounds they cost the taxpayer in allowances.
Our investigation has found that in 2014/15, the eight backbench members of the House of Lords with links to the region worked more than 800 days in Westminster – costing the taxpayer £235,000 in allowances and travel claims.
Unlike MPs, members of the House of Lords do not receive a salary unless they are a minister, and are entitled to a £300 daily or £150 half-daily attendance allowance which must cover everything from accommodation to staff and stationary.
They can separately claim travel costs from their home.
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The level of claims vary among peers, with some making none at all, as do the number of votes and interventions in the main chamber of the upper house, though peers say this is not an effective way of judging how effective a member is at helping craft the laws of the land.
The House of Lords is the second chamber of parliament and its role is to scrutinise, check and challenge the decisions made in the House of Commons as well as be a forum of independent expertise.
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However, there has been much debate on potential reform of the chamber, amid claims it is non-democratic and members are not chosen by the public. The Lords we spoke to defended the role they carried out, but backed some form of reform.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who took advantage of new rules brought in during the last parliament which allow Lords to retire, claimed ‘morally dead’ members who claimed thousands but did little were in the minority.
But he did admit it was hard to implement rules to separate those who were “invaluable” and those who do not render useful service.
He said: “I think any peer – except those who are morally dead – say we have a clear and powerful obligation to render significant useful service to the public for the honour of being a peer.
“There is a lot of talk in the Lords about honour and I wish that it were universally observed in conduct.”
He admitted there were a significant number – although a minority – who did not render any useful service, but do fulfil the requirements for being able to claim expenses or allowances.
“I would like to see something done about it,” he added.
Former Essex County Council leader Lord Hanningfield served a ban from the House of Lords for most of the final year of parliament after it emerged he had claimed thousands of pounds in a “clocking-in” scandal.
It was revealed by a national newspaper that he was spending as little as 21 minutes in Parliament while claiming the full £300 daily allowance.
But Lord Phillips said it was extraordinarily difficult to dream up a set of rules that don’t run into a bureaucratic nightmare.
“Some of the most valuable peers in terms of the hours that they put into the chamber do very little and yet are invaluable.
“They are still in full flood of their careers, usually at the top and can thus bring to the deliberation of the house a wealth of real experience that is so lacking in the Commons.”
He warned the Lords detailed scrutiny of legislation was needed because while the Commons was made up of “decent hard-working people”, year by year they were less experienced in the ways of the real world.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market, a former Liberal Democrat councillor who has lived in Suffolk since 1981, said raw numbers and figures showing votes and speeches needed to be treated with caution.
As well as 128 days in Westminster, figures show she also worked 18 days away from Westminster.
She is chairman of a select committee which scrutinises EU legislation, something she said was a “big commitment”.
“My usual routine is that I go to London on a Monday and come back on a Thursday or Friday. With the two select committees I am pretty busy the whole of that time.
“The problem with judging how effective individual members is it is quite difficult to get the information out there,” she said.
She said she had recently spent a whole weekend at a European conference that would never be reflected in figures.
“There are people in the House who bob up and down and make interventions the whole time. Their numbers look really good.
“But I will be really honest and say they add nothing to the knowledge of mankind. They are often silly party political points.
“Let’s suppose you have someone who is a real expert and they come in six times a year to make a speech about something they really know about, they can make a real contribution,” she said.
Baroness Jenkin, who lives in Essex, is a member of the select committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability, which meets weekly and also spends time visiting organisations outside parliament.
Her other work also includes membership of a number of all-party parliamentary groups, including one on hunger which published a high-profile report last year and one on Women In Parliament.
She said: “I am a full time peer. I have no other job or employment. I attend Parliament almost every day when it is sitting, and often when it is not.
“I am usually at my desk by 9am and more often than not here until 9pm or 10pm. I do not always claim for each day Parliament is sitting in full, which the rules allow, because some of my work is charitable and not directly connected with Parliament.”
That said, she would like to see further incremental reform of the House of Lords.
“My personal preference would be for a proportional scheme of some kind related to the popular vote, but there are many different options”.
Lord Marlesford, who is president of the Suffolk Preservation Society, Marlesford Parish Council chairman, a church warden and farms in Suffolk, said he had been lobbying for a four villages bypass.
In Westminster he has been championing new laws around council tax valuation bands, litter legislation and questioning the Government on new rules on smoke and carbon monoxide, which he said he had brought to a halt amid concerns that millions would have to comply by October.
He said that the number of speeches was an indicator of a peers’ activity, but not the only indicator.
He said that if one expert Lord made one great speech he would be worth having for the whole year.
Lord Deben said his focus in the House of Lords was on environmental matters as chairman of the Climate Change Select Committee. He also said that as President of the Suffolk Coast Against Retreat he spent a good deal of time working on flooding issues.
Lord Framlingham, former deputy speaker of the House of Commons, regularly asks questions on rural affairs and engages with interested groups.
Lord Rose, the former boss of Marks and Spencer joined the House of Lords last year.
He attends irregularly and does not claim.
Former cabinet minister Lord Tebbit was MP for Epping and then Chingford and now lives in Bury St Edmunds.
He was made a life peer in 1992 after he left the House of Commons to devote more time to caring for his disabled wife who was paralysed in the IRA Brighton bomb attack.
Tomorrow: What your local councillor claims.
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The case is ‘stronger than ever’ for reform, claims group
It was seen by many as one of the signs major cracks were appearing in the coalition government between the Conservatives and Liberal-Democrat Party.
In 2012, an ashen-faced Nick Clegg announced that plans for major reform of the House of Lords had been abandoned after Prime Minister David Cameron allegedly ‘broke the coalition’ contract.
Had they been approved, the changes to the make-up of the Lords would have seen 80% of peers elected and the total number of members halved to 450.
The aim, said backers of the move, is to make it more democratic, less reliant on those who, some felt, had no right to make major decisions affecting our country.
Three years down the line, while reform is still on the agenda, it’s currently unlikely to be anything like the scale of change that was initially being discussed.
This is something the Electoral Reform Society, which believes that while some members of the House of Lords work hard, as a whole it ‘costs far too much for an institution that fails to represent the British public’, would like to change.
It recently published a report showing that a total of £1.2m was claimed in expenses and allowances last year by peers who did not speak and that 116 have failed to speak at all since the start of the 2014 parliamentary session, but have claimed £830,418 between them.
Its chief executive, Katie Ghose, described its findings as a “national scandal” and said: “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.
“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.”
Most peers do not receive a salary, but are instead allowed to receive allowances and travel expenses to fulfil their parliamentary duties.
Those who are not paid a salary can claim a flat rate attendance allowance of £150 or £300 for each sitting day they attend the House.
They must physically turn up to the House of Lords to make the claim.
Apart from travel costs, they cannot claim any other expenses and from this they must pay for any accommodation in London, office costs, including stationary and also the salaries of any staff to support their work.
Ministers in the House of Lords receive a salary and are not allowed to claim the allowances based on attendance.