Eddie Mair 4pm - 7pm
The House Of Lords Needs Changing... But Not For The Reason You Think
21 February 2017, 11:28
“There’s something rotten in the State of Denmark”, wrote William Shakespeare. 400 years on, he wouldn’t have to go as far as Denmark to find something really smelly. He could just wander down to the House of Lords, writes David Mellor.
Next Monday’s BBC Documentary about the Lords apparently lifts the lid on examples of cynical abuse of public trust, and public funds, by their Lordships.
Like the Peer described by the former Lords Speaker, Lady D'Souza, who was observed leaping out of a taxi, rushing in to claim his/her tax free £300 quid, and jumping back into the taxi again.
However, on closer analysis, Lady D'Souza surely has nothing to be smug about. She says this peer should be “utterly nameless”.
Begging your pardon, and touching my forelock, may I dare to query Lady Smuggins’s logic.
Why should this Peer be nameless? Surely it was Lady D'Souza’s duty to peach on him. By looking the other way, she, in effect, condoned what was going on, thereby allowing the practice favoured by many Peers of treating the Lords as a piggy bank to continue.
Did she immediately rally other leading figures of the Lords, and say something had to be done to prevent this sort of abuse? Or did she do nothing? I bet I know the answer.
In the programme, a Lords spokesman boasts about the imprisonment of Tory Peer Lord Hanningfield as an example of the Lord’s authorities vigilance in defence of the public purse.
Rubbish. Hanningfield is just the exception that proves the rule, that, in essence, this is a cosy little club that overlooks fraudulent behaviour, as evidenced by Lady D'Souza’s story.
What about the Labour Peer who, in order to get more money, claimed as his permanent residence a room in a hotel he owned, which he rarely, if ever visited. Or the Labour Peeress, who was fined tens of thousands of pounds for serial abuses, hasn’t paid, but continues to appear, vote, and doubtless claim her expenses.
The reality is, these are people, (and there are many others like them), who should have been chucked out, but haven’t been, because the Lords rules are not tough enough to punish appropriately what in any other sector of society would be regarded as blatant fraud.
Much is also apparently made in the programme, about dribbling geriatrics being dumped there as if the Lords was a commodious day centre.
No doubt a lot of that does go on. But what about some of the younger ones. Like the Anglo-Chinese 20-odd-year-old, who was ennobled by Dave to run a bit of his Big Society (remember that pile of poo?)
Within a matter of months, he resigned from the BS, but of course, stayed on in the Lords, and can remain, there given normal longevity, for 50 years or more. Why?
Indeed, why should a lot of Peers be there at all? For every distinguished one – and there are many, - there are two or three amongst this overblown, now 800-member institution, who are there as mere lobby fodder, party hacks, or party donors, getting their social reward. For that last group, it’s not an opportunity to serve, merely an opportunity to give the wife a bought bauble, and, as one artlessly said to me years ago, “to get the best table in restaurants”.
David Cameron has tested to destruction the theory that this kind of House of Lords is fit for purpose. He packed the Lords with 260 Peers, most of them of no real distinction or use to a wider public at all. His resignation list in particular was a disgrace. Arise Baron Bagge-Carrier. Let me bow before Lady Teasmaid, from Dave’s outer office. What a shower.
The expenses fiddling, and all the geriatrics stuff, are actually side issues. The real scandal about the Lords is that an arbitrarily chosen pack of non-entities, no more distinguished than any dozen people you might bump into today on the tube or in the street, have been given a job for life, deciding issues of great importance to the future of our country, when they have no serious qualifications for being there.
Forget about all those 300 quids, this the real abuse. Something should be done about this overblown body. But I’m not holding my breath.