True Cost of HoL

Peers paid themselves almost one-third more last year just as the size of the House of Lords is set to swell to its largest in two decades.

Analysis by The Sunday Times found that the cost of peers’ expenses and daily attendance allowance rose by 29% in the year to last March to £23m.

In a triple hit for taxpayers:

● The average tax-free payment was £30,827, higher than the median salary of a UK worker, while 31 lords claimed more in expenses than the standard take-home pay of an MP

● Peers are set to receive an above average pay rise of 3.1%, taking their daily payment for attending to £323

● The latest round of peerages is expected to bring the total number of lords to 834, the highest since Tony Blair axed the majority of hereditary peers in 1999.

One lord, former Labour minister Lord Cunningham, claimed a total of £79,437 last year, according to official House of Lords figures.

Cunningham, 80, made 17 spoken contributions to the upper chamber despite checking in for his allowance on 159 of a possible 161 days.

Lord Paul, a regular on The Sunday Times Rich List, claimed £47,885 in expenses despite his family having a £2bn fortune. The business magnate, 89, spoke only once in the chamber.

More than 110 peers did not make any spoken or written contribution to the House during the period, but claimed a total of more than £1m.

Lord Bhatia claimed £44,530 in expenses after turning up 149 out of a possible 161 days — yet did not address the House or sit on a committee.

The millionaire has previously been suspended from the House over expenses claims.

Another “silent” peer was the former Labour MP Baroness Adams of Craigielea, 72, who claimed £52,252 including £13,761 on flights between her Scottish home and Westminster.

Peers are paid a daily rate of £313 tax-free for signing in and certifying that they are carrying out parliamentary work, and can receive travel expenses for themselves and family members.

An internal report prepared for the Lords audit committee, which was released earlier this month, warned that Lords expenses are still “vulnerable” to being “exploited for personal gain”.

“Unelected Lords are taking advantage of the lack of scrutiny in the upper chamber,” said Willie Sullivan, a senior director at the Electoral Reform Society. “The Lords is a rolling expenses scandal — and we’ll see this year after year unless there is reform.”

It comes as lords expect their number to expand by about 41 new members, including an estimated 28 Conservative peers. It would take their number to 834.

This is despite the prime minister previously saying that the House of Lords — which at the time had just over 800 peers — was so large that it was “out of control”, and its numbers should be cut in half.

In 2015, when he was mayor of London, Boris Johnson called for a “Dignitas approach” in which members who were not really interested in the job were given “an offer they can’t refuse” to step down.

However, he is expected to swell their ranks himself in the coming weeks with the dissolution honours. Tory donors including the leave-supporting financial services boss Peter Cruddas, and Michael Spencer, founder of the broker Icap, are expected to be ennobled.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has put forward eight candidates for peerages, including Karie Murphy, his former chief of staff, who was widely blamed for the party’s disastrous election campaign, and its former deputy leader, Tom Watson.

Even its own members believe the Lords is too large. In 2017, members agreed to endorse a report from the Lord Speaker’s committee which recommended capping the size of the House to a maximum of 600 members.

“This job could be done by about half of the current number of peers,” said Baroness D’Souza, 75, formerly the Lord Speaker, who added that “550 to 600 at the most could not only do it, but man all the committees, while remaining a full-time house with a part-time membership — which means members bring expertise from their work back into the House”.

Lord Carlile, who now sits as a crossbench peer, added: “A smaller Lords is a better debating chamber — you can develop arguments better and the public would regard it as preferable.”

In 1999 the Labour government introduced the House of Lords Act, which removed most hereditary peers, but as a compromise 92 remained. The total number of peers fell from a high of 1,210 to 690.

Johnson is now exploring plans to scrap the House of Lords and replace it with an upper chamber that gives a voice to “the nations and regions”. He is also considering moving the chamber to York.

What they cost us

From left, Lord Bhatia, Lord Cunningham and Lord Paul

From left, Lord Bhatia, Lord Cunningham and Lord Paul

Lord Paul
Business magnate and crossbench peer 

Cost to taxpayer
Family wealth £2bn
Speeches in the chamber 1

Lord Cunningham
Former cabinet minister and Labour peer 

Cost to taxpayer
Other jobs Two — consultant and adviser at wealth manager
Speeches in the chamber 17

Lord Bhatia
Crossbench peer, twice suspended over expenses claims

Cost to taxpayer
Wealth: Multimillionaire
Speeches in the chamber 0