Unpaid holidays?

Lord Tyler

When Parliament returns there may be a new spotlight on the pay and expenses arrangements for Peers.  And quite right too – they are just as messy as those for MPs.

Unjustifiably, the present rules mean Peers claim tax-free “allowances” for attendance, and as recent media stories have confirmed, that encourages people to just ‘pop in’ for a matter of moments and then zip off.  Many have outside interests and jobs elsewhere, so the Lords seems to be more a sort of allowances vending machine than it is a place of regular and serious work.  Naturally that is frustrating for those of us who are there most of the time.   Only a minority of the Members are “working Peers” – that is, we have the peerage to do a job, not to access fancy notepaper and a convenient dining club.

Another anomaly is that when the Recess comes the allowances all but stop.  A limited “office costs” allowance is there for 40 non-sitting days, a strange arrangement given that the Summer Recess alone runs for 82 days.  It means that if you employ someone for research assistance and secretarial support, you should in theory enforce unpaid holidays on them, just because Parliament has this absurd system of disappearing for three months at a time.  Also, the amount of the present allowance means there is a risk of breaching national minimum wage legislation.

Lord Norton has already made reference to some possible changes, and I’m happy to consider all the options.  It’s not clear, though, why it wouldn’t be sensible to make Peers see their position as a job, for which attendance is expected (my colleague Lord Steel has proposals to dismiss people who don’t come in), and make us pay tax on a proper salary – which should be less than that of MPs, since our workload is markedly lighter.  There should then be proper (but modest) provision for employing an assistant, preferably tapping into the full payroll arrangements they have in the House of Commons.  At present, if you want to employ someone, you claim the allowance for yourself and then pass it on.  That’s so obviously open to abuse, and it should change.

There will have to be a debate, too, about how to assist Peers who, like me, do not live in London.  I have lived in Cornwall for 40 years, even before I was MP there, and I still do now.  If we want a diverse House of Lords, representing every part of the UK, provision has to be made to ensure people can live in other parts of the country and have somewhere to stay in London.

The trouble is that any progress will be set in the context that Peers are unaccountable.  What if there are abuses?  In the Commons, there have been star chambers, scrutiny panels, deselections, ignominious resignations.  At our end, because we don’t have the basic accountability structure brought about by elections, whatever arrangements we come up with to replace the status quo, whether extravagant or Spartan, the public will be frozen out.   And until real reform comes there will be far too many Peers on the payroll.

Meanwhile, in the very first weeks of a Recess lasting nearly 12 weeks there are already huge national issues to address. Wouldn’t it be good to have at least one House of Parliament back in September, doing its job, and holding Ministers to account?

The Federal and Parliamentary Parties work together to create a cohesive and effective organisation.

18 comments for “Unpaid holidays?

  1. Croft
    17/08/2009 at 2:16 pm

    I have no principled issue with increasing the allowance to cover all the days of the holiday. The difference at present is presumably a reflection of a lower level of work that most, though not all, peers undertake in the recess. I think your point about direct employment not via the member is unanswerable. However as MPs’ too often use admin to employ their family (~1/3 iirc) it does not enjoy any credibility. Ban that and some trust will be regained.

    I’m probably in a minority when I think peers need more support. Considering the revising role which is often highly technical it does seem rather odd how little support individual peers get – even on a pooled or shared system to professional not just administrative assistance. Lord Norton commented that private bills receive no official support or drafting expertise which strikes me as an absurd system. Some level of paid/permanent drafting advice for any private members bill would seem likely to cost little but could markedly help individual members.

    A contract for specific work bypasses the minimum wage, one tied to the house sittings obviously presents few problems either. If you have a annual contract then there would be an issue in the recess but it is self created by choosing to structure the job terms in that way?

  2. Frank W. Summers III
    17/08/2009 at 8:14 pm

    I have become a bit of a “fan” (vulgar term but apt) of the Lord of Louth depsite not agreeing with him on all things of importance. However, while only a foreginer I am converted. I hope the House of Lords will install a punch clock with cards assigned to each peer by first name and NHS file number. A large steam whistle could start and end every work day and the peers could all wear coveralls with gold-brass zippers and a graphic screen printing of the kit they wear on the opening of parliament. Just because everyone elese is running like hell from the model of work which typified early twentieth century Birmingham is no reason the Peers should not become its finest exmplar. Surely such a policy would make the United Kingcom all it could ever hope to be.

  3. Kyle Mulholland
    17/08/2009 at 9:04 pm

    But… surely noble Lords would be capable of controlling themselves and not doing this ‘popping in and out’ business, which might be expected of the mere MPs, but something within me says that if one is elevated to the peerage, such a thing should NEVER be a problem. If noble Lords have been up to this nonsense then they do not have the right kind of moral compass to recieve such an honour and perform such a public duty.

  4. Nick
    18/08/2009 at 12:55 am

    If you can’t supervise yourselves, you can’t supervise or revise Parliament.

    You’re redundant.

    We shoudl abolish the HoL. Completely.

    All legistlation has to be approved by a referenda. We as the electorate can do that. 50 million pairs of eyes are better than the few who turn up and check, rather than turn up and check out.


  5. Adrian Kidney
    18/08/2009 at 8:33 am

    I think you make a good point, Lord Tyler.

    I think a modest wage would be sensible – perhaps on the same level as the current expenses system is, but made into a salary.

    Perhaps we should also introduce the US system of 3 weeks on, two weeks off, instead of the 3 months off we currently have?

  6. Grizzelda Guid
    18/08/2009 at 11:24 am

    I have always believed the HOL needed drastic reform more so now then ever because of the way the Labour party has dragged it down by using it to get their place-men in.
    I want to see it on similar lines to the American system, we seem to copy most of the bad Ideas from America but not the good ones. David Starkey is worth listening to on this subject. We have pretended to have democracy in this country for far to long, the public should decide by voting, also it is essential that whoever they are they can and will be sacked for wrong doing, not just moved or as is now promoted, when this is sorted out then start thinking about how and what to pay, if you want public trust.

  7. Paul
    18/08/2009 at 1:56 pm

    Congratulations on an excellent article. How many of your ‘peers’ would have the backbone to speak up in this way, about a totally flawed and abused allowance system. Everyone knows about the ignoble racket of zipping in and zipping out, to obtain an easy meal ticket. Alas, the papers are, I suspect, merely catching their breath, before another round of expense abuse expose. I gather the overnight allowance and ‘main residence’ scam still has plenty of mileage in it. Even a layperson can find glaring examples of avarice and rapaciousness. Take Lord Colwyn. He has spoken umpteen times about his regular habit of cycling to the House. Of course, that was before he knew that his expense claims would be opened for public scrutiny ! He has been a practising dentist in Wimpole St for 40 years, and only recently started working part-time. As we all know, he blows his trumpet all over London. He is a member of the Chelsea Residents Association – why ? Because he is an established resident at Oakley Gardens Chelsea, that’s why ! He even runs businesses from the family home and main residence in Chelsea, where the family and children have lived since the 70’s. So why does he claim every overnight allowance, based on his country cottage in Glos being his ‘main residence’ ? Perhaps you could ask him ? Everyone knows this sort of ‘fiddle’ is rife, yet it goes on and on. All strength to you Lord Tyler – you will need it.

  8. HardWorker
    18/08/2009 at 3:29 pm

    Lord Tyler, You’re quite right – and I hope you contributed to the SSRB review of Lords’ Allowances. The £75 per day staffing allowances means Lords researchers cannot earn anything like their colleagues in the Commons (let alone the minimum wage), or must be funded from a Lord’s personal ‘wealth’. As one of these sorry souls, I am effectively unemployed during the summer months, which makes this a completely unsustainable career. The current allowances system also forgets that many Lords do continue their work when not actually physically at Westminster, and their offices remain open. That’s why the 40 day limit you refer to must be scrapped.

    You are right to highlight that the system of Lords passing on their expenses to researchers and assistants is open to abuse, but more importantly it introduces an awkward relationship between employee and employer.

    Let’s hope the SSRB comes up with some sensible reforms for members’ allowances – and fast.

  9. Len
    18/08/2009 at 3:57 pm

    @Grizzelda and Nick, I respectfully disagree. The idea that we don’t have democracy is just not true. I mean, everything the House of Lords does is vetted by the Commons – they are essentially subordinate, but rebellious. Their power lies in the fact that they try to persuade the elected officials to change a bad idea, either through direct discussion with MPs or the government, or through attracting media attention to the issue.

    Remember that a significant reason for retaining the House of Lords is the level of expertise of the members. Chiefs of Defence staff, police commissioners, a head of MI6, scientists, statisticians, professors, all can go into the House of Lords and provide us with the level of informed debate that is so often sadly absent from the House of Commons. Not to mention the former ministers, who all make a valuable contribution as well.

    Even where they do not have direct expertise or experience on the issue at hand, they will know where to look and who to talk to to get high quality information.

    I’m not saying it’s perfect, and certainly, there have been too many ‘dud’ members put in especially before the Appointments Commission was set up, but by god, I’d take this over the American system any day. Certainly, I would like the abolition of the appointments system for party peers, and instead put it through the Appointments Commission with a party ‘recommendations list’ that the Commission can vet completely for ability, experience and potential contribution to the House.

    And I think direct democracy, as suggested by Nick, would not work either – the question of how many would vote given voter apathy or confusion on so many issues, and how many amendments would be tabled from a population of fifty million combined with how long it would take to vote on them, is troubling. Who among us would have time to scrutinise it and learn the issues given day jobs, and how big a stance would media outlets take, including the Murdoch media (who I wouldn’t trust for the world)? I can’t help but think it would end badly for all concerned.

  10. Nick
    18/08/2009 at 5:58 pm

    Direct democracy works. We have the example of Switzerland to see that it can.

    As for the media, we currently have people paid to bribe and threaten MPs, the whips. Why haven’t you made that illegal? It shows polticians are illegal because they are threatened into voting a certain way. Murdoch can’t do that. Complete red herring. We current have the BBC doing the same when it comes to the license fee and the NHS.

    How many ammendments? Easy. None. It’s pass or fail.

    Expertises of members? Not needed if the expertise is in the country is there? You’re always going to be a minute subset of the expertise of everyone. Lets widen it up. We also know that lots turn up, check in, check out, collect the cheque. Not much expertise being shown there.

    I mean, everything the House of Lords does is vetted by the Commons is complete twaddle. Appointed by the PM. Patronage. No electoral mandate.

    Sorry, you have to go. Nice gentlemans’ club whilst it lasted.

    We can control government better with the right of veto.


  11. Adrian Kidney
    19/08/2009 at 12:11 am

    I would like to point out to Nick that while Switzerland has an extensive degree of direct democracy it doesn’t work how he imagines it.

    For one thing the cost in resources for someone to launch a campaign to call for a referendum on passing a law or repealing one passed by Parliament is quite high. In fact, it can only be done by highly organised interest groups with any real success.

    This means that while interest groups in the UK are quite inclusive, highly democratic and interactive between governors and governed, in Switzerland the necessary professionalization to be effective makes them essentially mini-political parties. The separation is just there.

    This is backed up by surveys which indicate that the Swiss has just as much an impression of separation from the political process and a feeling of not being listened to, and a general feeling of apathy (45% turnout at elections, lower for referenda), shows that direct democracy is not a simple answer. It sounds nice, but it’s just that.

    In addition there are real issues with how referendums grotesquely misrepresent the people on highly divisive issues. On such hot topics as the EU, for example, myself, as a moderate, would be effectively disenfranchised by a highly polarised debate, and a resolution in favour or against something relating to the EU would indicate a decision far more extensive than what has actually agreed. For example, a referendum to accept the Lisbon Treaty, if decided ‘No’, would be taken by most as a desire to leave the EU, when it hasn’t been the case at all.

    There’s also the problem of bad decisions by the public being made sacrosanct by being passed in referendum, crippling the country from making swift remedy by repealing a past bad decision.

  12. Nick
    19/08/2009 at 1:22 am

    For one thing the cost in resources for someone to launch a campaign to call for a referendum on passing a law or repealing one passed by Parliament is quite high. In fact, it can only be done by highly organised interest groups with any real success.


    That is because you are deliberately not reading what I have proposed.

    I’ve proposed the right of veto and that all legistalation goes to referenda.

    If you re-read my comments none have suggested anything such as the right of proposing legistlation from the public. MPs come up with the acts. The acts get put to a referenda.

    That means we can abolish the House of Lords, because you’re completely redundant. You don’t get to decide anything on legistlation, the voter does, all of them. What you want to keep is your little club at our expense. A small number, hand picked by patronage deciding on laws. ie. No democracy what so ever. Look at the examples where Blair threatened to pack the HoL with cronnies to get his way. Democratic? Not one iota.

    As for voter apathy, tell me what’s the turn out of Lords for votes? How many times has it been more than 45%? Bugger all. You’re too interested in checking in, checking out, cashing the cheques.

    Take EU, I’m pro trade within the EU. I’m not pro most of the other features. However, referenda are likely to go against me and the UK would pull out. It probably doesn’t have a choice, it can’t afford the membership any more. 8 Trillion in debt that the Lords haven’t dealt with.

    As for bad decisions, you haven’t stopped any. The public is more likely too.

    So come, out with the numbers. What’s the average number of Lords out of the total number who bother to vote?

    We can check just how apathetic you are when it comes to voting, before you condem the voter.


  13. Grizzelda Guido
    19/08/2009 at 12:20 pm

    The reason there is voter apathy is because we are not involved or listened to, people think they cannot change anything regardless of what they do the Government still trundles on doing whatever they have decided in the first place, in fact they have tried their level best to suppress demonstrations and criticism. Nick has made a good point, I agree with him, we must start looking at other Countries and take the best ideas, for far to long we have been told we are the best in the world at everything, we most certainly are not, and I fear there is to much vested interest for them to change.

  14. Adrian Kidney
    19/08/2009 at 4:01 pm

    Nick – why are you talking to me as if I’m a Lord? You flatter me 🙂

    Turnout for the Lords – if you take absolute figures – is less, but you’re missing the point. The Lords know what they’re talking about, have the resources to research and determine the truth of facts, and (on the whole) attempt to come to a reasoned and nonpassionate conclusion based on evidence, and do their best to seek consensus with the elected House.

    Referendums however do not operate on these lines. Information is readily available but most people either don’t know or don’t care about the subject. Only a hard core of people who have already made up their minds will vote with a reasoned view (hopefully). The remainder either won’t turn up, or will vote – but there’s the great danger that it’s the side with the slickest ad campaign, and the catchiest electoral slogans, that win.

    Grizzelda, as I pointed out, voter apathy is universal, both in the UK and in Switzerland. There’s the same degree of cynicism and a feeling that we’re not listened to. Simply throwing voting opportunities at people won’t help. There has to be another, more effective way, and I believe it’s through making our existing institutions more effective and responsive.

    The British think in Parliamentary, not popular terms.

  15. Nick
    19/08/2009 at 6:26 pm

    Turnout for the Lords – if you take absolute figures – is less, but you’re missing the point


    Quite. They are apathetic. Just as MPs are apathetic almost all the time because its the party in charge who decides all in private.

    If they have to get that past the electorate, they will have to get out their and convince the voters why they are right, not using bribery and threats via the whips.

    The electorate can’t be whipped. MPs and Lords can.

    Hence those in power don’t want it. They like you want the cosy little club, either because its their turn, or because they think like buggins, they will get a turn soon.

    Referenda are easy.

    We want to do X. It will cost you Y. Do you agree?

    To say the electorate can’t be trusted just shows how Fascist politicians have become and how divorced from any form of democratic principles


  16. Adrian Kidney
    20/08/2009 at 6:03 pm

    Nick, you are being offensive with your resort to the label of fascism. Please don’t resort to it. I am not a fascist.

    You have not addressed the issues I have arisen and instead dismissed them as somehow fascist. That is a lazy discussion, and you should instead focus on disproving my valid points.

  17. nick
    20/08/2009 at 7:07 pm

    Not lazy at all. You were the one who dismissed the idea that we are all equal and capable of making our own minds up on legistlation.

    Instead, you want a small minority, such as those given their jobs by patronage, making the decisions and dictating to others what to do.

    That fascism and that’s why I used the term.


  18. Adrian Kidney
    20/08/2009 at 8:58 pm

    Then you have a very bad idea of what fascism is, Nicky.

    My view is that we are all equal but we cannot be equal in the level of information we receive and give judgement to.

    You are quite deceived if you think we are capable of making balanced judgements devoid of the slants the media give to such issues.

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