by Stephen Tall on May 27, 2009
Mea culpa, gentle reader, this is definitely not breaking news… After a bank holiday of back-breaking gardening and a Tuesday of work-fuelled meetings (my colleagues can add their own excuses), LDV failed to bring you news of Nick Clegg’s plans to clamp down on allowances claimed by members of the House of Lords – an issue of more-than-passing-interest to Lib Dems following the resignation of party chief executive Lord (Chris) Rennard amid allegations that he had profited personally from the scheme by designating his Eastbourne flat (rather than his London house) as his main residence.
Nick Clegg intensified pressure for reform of Lords’ allowances today when he said peers from his party would change the way they claim under the current system, which he described as “wholly unsatisfactory”. The Liberal Democrat leader said the peers would not only have to abide by the letter of the rules relating to the overnight allowance, but by their spirit as well. He made his announcement as the Sunday Times claimed that at least a dozen peers were claiming the allowance – worth up to £174 a night for peers who say their main home is outside London – even though they owned property in the capital where their mortgages had been paid off. …
Lib Dem peers are among those who appear to have benefited most from the current system. Lord Razzall and his partner, Baroness Bonham-Carter, claimed almost £60,000 a year for overnight stays in London, and Lord Thomas of Gresford and his wife, Baroness Walmsley, claimed almost £40,000. There was no suggestion that either couple had broken the rules.
However, Clegg said the rules were designed for a different era. “You’ve got a system that was designed to give allowances to wealthy peers who had great piles, feudal estates in the country, and who drifted into London from time to time into this 19th-century club to occasionally vote,” he said. “You have now got a number of peers, including Liberal Democrats, who work extremely hard … but unlike MPs they are not paid a penny, so the allowance system has in effect become a replacement for a salary.” There were also allegations that many peers were exploiting the system by designating holiday homes as their main residence.