The cost of silence

The House of Lords plays a crucial role in scrutinising the Government and its legislation – not least because so many bills leave the House of Commons not properly studied after being subject to strict timetabling. But unfortunately its members sometimes stand accused of taxpayer-funded extravagance. Last weekend’s Sunday Times reported the extraordinary case of Lord Paddick, the one-time senior Metropolitan Police officer and London mayoral candidate. He billed the taxpayer nearly £9,000 for business class flights – from New York to London and back again – in order to make a 446-word speech when Parliament was recalled in 2014. That’s about £20 a word or £2,224 a minute. Were no economy class flights available? And even if there was no economy class flight available to get back to London in time for the debate, how on earth can he justify flying business class at our expense to return to the Big Apple when there was no sense of urgency?

While Lord Paddick’s case raises questions about what can be claimed, at least he was contributing to debate. Politics Home has reported that in 2014/15, £621,000 was claimed by 43 ‘silent peers’ – peers who didn’t speak once during any debate but regularly continued claiming the daily allowance for turning up to Parliament. Figures taken from Parliament Ltd. show the worst offenders were Lord Taylor of Blackburn, Lord Kirkhill, Lord Howie of Troon and Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill who claimed almost £160,000 between them, despite not having uttered a single word that was recorded in Hansard. Further to this, £130,000 was claimed by 34 peers who never cast a single vote on government legislation. The claims from Lord Carswell, the Earl of Stair and Lord Steyn amounted to a quarter of this bill.

With the Government supposedly committed to reducing the cost of politics, it cannot be right that money is dished out to peers who are seemingly playing no role in scrutinising the executive and its legislation. Of course members of the House of Lords need to be remunerated for the important work they do, but it is clear that some are claiming the allowance without doing the job expected of them. If the public are to have confidence that the system is not being abused, peers not willing to pull their weight should be taking up the option of retirement which is now open to them.