Peer pressure

Lord Lipsey


When I start my Lords’day at 7.00 am or so, there is nothing more irritating than reading yet another press story saying we peers just pop in to collect our £300 daily expenses. It is particularly galling when it appears in the Sunday Times, where I worked for six happy years, and which reported on Sunday that “provided that they “clock on” with Lords officials, peers do not need to prove that they have done a day’s work.”

The facts are nearly right. In fact, you qualify for the £300 expenses (peers are paid no salary) if you go into the chamber. There, officials sit with lists of peers ticking those who come in and these lists are used to check claims.

Where the logic falls short is in suggesting peers are only working if they are sitting in the chamber. And this is rubbish, as ridiculous as suggesting that journalists are only working if they tapping at their typewriters.

Most of the things an active peer will do – reading briefs, attending meetings of Lords, all-party and unofficial committees, meeting representatives of outside bodies, addressing meetings, broadcasting and writing, attending official functions-and so on are nothing to do with going into the chamber. Indeed, when you are not involved in a particular bill or interested in a particular question, going into the chamber is probably low on the list of productive things you do  in a day.

In any case, what different system could there be? Peers could be asked to fill in a time sheet recording what they are doing all day. But anyone determined to milk the system – if there are any peers who are trying to do that I haven’t met them – could simply create a work of fiction. Or perhaps the house should insist its officials shadow a peer night and day, to certify if they are or are not working. It’s absurd.

There is a further difficulty. The job a peer does is nowhere defined. In practice it is a mix of things – improving legislation, contributing to public policy making, offering access to parliament to those with an interest in its workings and so on. The precise nature of the mix will vary from peer to peer, and from week to week.

You get busy patches and quiet patches. Hansard records that I participated 166 times during the short period the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies bill was before parliament. It also records that I did not contribute at all in April and May – because I was on sabbatical at Harvard University in receipt (rightly) of no expenses or state funding.

It isn’t even clear what qualifies as lord’s work. Am I doing my job as a peer writing this blog?

Oh well. At 7.30 usually when the dinner break starts, at 10.00 on other days when there is a late whip, and on rare occasions through the night, I know I am , even if I should be unable to prove it to the satisfaction of the Sunday Times. The same goes for the huge majority of my Lordly  colleagues.

12 comments for “Peer pressure

  1. Twm
    13/06/2011 at 3:57 pm

    this is rubbish, as ridiculous as suggesting that journalists are only working if they tapping at their typewriters.

    Heh! Heh! That really is asking for trouble!
    Surely one of the biggest problems of intellectual work (such as journalism may possibly be!)is that it can be very difficult indeed to decide when you really are doing the intellectual work, and not just sleeping with your eyes open.

    It may have been easier in the days of the ciggie smoking journalist, who would be deemed to be having a rest once he’d lit up his smoke.

    Surely the output of the keyboard, as we now call it, is the only way of quantifying work done, cigarette in the corner of the mouth or not???!

    Perhaps the theory does not extend to the HofL, which is why the chamber definition applies. The mikes and speakers are so delicately set up, that you can not but help listening, even if you are completely asleep and at rest…… and that Noble lord, is defined as work!

    This explanation effectively distinguishes journalism from being a peer,and their comparative status.

    1) Awake and tapping
    2) Asleep and napping!

  2. 13/06/2011 at 4:19 pm

    “In fact, you qualify for the £300 expenses (peers are paid no salary) if you go into the chamber”.

    My understanding is that those people who are paid a salary, and incur expenses over and above their salary submit a claim (usually with receipts) to recover the expenses.

    If members of the Lords are paid £300 per day without submitting claims for genuine expenses, along with receipts, then they are being paid a salary!

    • Lord Lipsey
      Lord Lipsey
      14/06/2011 at 2:21 pm


  3. Lord Lipsey
    Lord Lipsey
    14/06/2011 at 2:22 pm

    Peers get neither salaries nor expenses but allowances which are neither one nor the other.

    • 14/06/2011 at 2:30 pm

      Tell that to the judge. I think Lord Taylor has already tried that one…

    • danfilson
      15/06/2011 at 2:38 pm

      Are those allowances taxable in the same way as a salary, with a tax code? Or paid gross on the assumption they are reimbursing some unquantified and unevidenced expenses? I’m not starting a witch-hunt (yet; I reserve my rights, as they say) but just curious.

      I recall some anecdote about a professional who charged a large sum for a short period of work, and justified this by saying that yes it was only 5 minutes but there was a lifetime of acquiring knowledge etc behind it (for which I suppose he probably multiple-claimed on all his other fees – he must have been a lawyer).

      • danfilson
        20/06/2011 at 7:11 pm

        Mention tax and there’s a deathly silence, I note

      • danfilson
        20/06/2011 at 7:38 pm

        No doubt it was a locksmith as I’ve just paid one £80 for 5 seconds work if you disregard his travel time. Even Ronaldo doesn’t earn at this rate, I believe

  4. Senex
    14/06/2011 at 8:40 pm

    Welcome to the blog Lord Lipsey!

    It is outrageous that the Sunday Times should take a pejorative view on expenses in the way you suggest. But let’s examine your responsibilities away from Parliament on what might be perceived as taxable income by the tax authorities.

    You may be covered by a tax dispensation on expenses and then again you might not. In the former case your accountant would advise you that any expense claimed by you would not be covered by the dispensation and it must be declared at year end on a P11D or under Self Assessment where it would attract tax and national insurance. In these respects there is nothing to distinguish you from the Editor of the Sunday Times.

    However, when you come to the house and claim your expenses you enjoy a non receiptable dispensation, a lump sum, for the expenses claimed which is not tested for compliance except for attendance and no P11D or Self Assessment is required. Now contrast this with your experience outside of Parliament and you must conclude that public dignity may be offended.

    The blog has a ‘Humble Petition’ a means of indirectly electing the house and removing any dependence on public monies to fund members’ necessary expenses. Each tribe is incorporated with peers set as non executive directors. Directors as you know enjoy stricter responsibilities than PAYE employees under tax law. Each of these incorporations is a satellite to a holding company that funds the entire HoL taking monies from the state or any other subscribing bodies.

    You see, one must take a leaf from the states money laundering operation the Treasury. Not only does it absorb the nefarious proceeds of crime it lifts the pennies from dead men’s eyes without batting an eyelid. If the state can does this so can the House of Lords but not the House of Commons because the notional employer of MPs is the Treasury? In this respect the Treasury cannot place itself on trial for employee tax evasion and this represents a paradox that may also offend public dignity.

    The High Courts have never given what is required of them by law, the identity of an MPs notional employer and the matter has been refused appeal to the Supreme Court.

    Ref: Baron Lipsey of Tooting Bec

  5. 15/06/2011 at 3:25 pm

    Forgive me, Lord Lipsey,

    But reading over the Hansards you have at regular intervals even, contradicted yourself. More to the point, what exactly is it you expect to be done?

  6. MilesJSD
    17/06/2011 at 2:50 am

    If the basic rationales of Peers’ Assets, Incomes and Parliamentary-Pay are ‘logical’, then it is logical to require a peer to ‘earn’ that £300 namely by “entering the Chamber for the purpose of doing £300 of time-expertise-and-effort work, in that chamber” –

    but it appears that the pay-rationales are not thus logical, in that a peer can enter the chamber, pick up £300 and then clear off for the day to – what ?

    well, not necessarily do any constituency-work or other public-service, but simply and possibly to “blow” that £300 hand-out on luxuriously destroying more of the Earth’s already corruptly over-consumed Lifesupports;

    reading between the lines (and the ‘logic’) that’s how the presented ‘arguments’ are looking.

    That “the job a peer does is nowhere defined” is a corruption of responsibility, and it must be a constitutional weakness as well as a legislative and civil-service-executive one.

    Likewise, for a governance-peer to think it “absurd (that a peer’s work and productivity both should and could be defined, monitored and accounted)” is surely some sort of corruption, of the common-human-mind, at least.


  7. Radiance Strathdee
    20/06/2011 at 12:44 pm

    When and why did it change from 29 pounds per day? (that was the weekly benefit rate for our young people in the hostels which is why I remember)

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