Page last updated at 17:54 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Peers should get 200-a-day allowance, says review

House of Lords chamber
Peers do not get salaries but are entitled to various allowances

Peers would get a £200-a-day attendance allowance under proposed reforms to expenses in the House of Lords.

The Senior Salaries Review Body review followed claims some peers abuse the £174-a-night overnight allowance.

It says overnight claims should be cut to £140 but daily allowances for office costs and food, worth up to £161.50, be replaced by the £200 attendance fee.

But it says peers should have to prove their attendance through an electronic "clocking on" system at Westminster.

For peers who claimed the maximum possible allowance, the new system amounts to a £5 a day rise but also introduces a raft of new rules on what they can claim.

Office costs

The £200 daily attendance allowance would include the current £75 office costs allowance and current £86.50 subsistence allowance - but would be limited to days Parliament is sitting. Currently peers can claim for 40 days a year when it is not.

Peers who attend the House of Lords every day it sits - an average of 150 days a year - could receive up to about £30,000 a year if they claimed the maximum attendance allowance.

To give them a pay rise as reward for general abuse of expenses is madness
John Mann
Labour MP

Many do not currently claim the maximum daily allowance for office costs, food and taxis, which are meant to reimburse out-of-pocket costs. But SSRB Chairman Bill Cockburn said the changes should not increase the current £18m-a-year bill for Lords expenses.

This is because the overnight allowance was being cut by £36 a night and was only available for one night per day's sitting - currently peers can claim for two nights.

A similar proposal for a flat-rate allowance for MPs earlier this year was abandoned amid widespread criticism that it did not require receipts and amounted to MPs being paid to turn up.

'Lazy lords'

And Labour MP John Mann argued that it amounted effectively to a pay rise for peers - who do not take a salary.

He said: "It's right that the rules should be made tighter so lazy lords can't exploit the system, but to give them a pay rise as reward for general abuse of expenses is madness.

"The Lords must be trying to create sympathy for the Commons, it's the only possible explanation."

We urge the House to consider whether a system of electronic logging of presence on the parliamentary estate could be developed
SSRB report

The SSRB also recommends that ways to improve the system of "verifying and measuring" peers' attendance be investigated.

Its report says the current system of proving attendance at Westminster is "antiquated" and open to abuse and urges the Lords to "consider whether a system of electronic logging of presence on the parliamentary estate could be developed".

It suggests existing electronic passes could be used to verify attendance when deciding on paying out expenses.

Transitional period

Among other proposals in the report are that claims for mortgage interest on "second homes" be phased out, that peers be taxed on their allowances and that those who live "within a reasonable commuting distance of the House" should not claim the overnight allowance.

Overnight claims should be restricted to rent, running costs on owned or rented properties and bed and breakfast at hotels or clubs, it says.

It recommends a transitional period of five years for peers who already claim towards mortgage repayments on second homes.

Our recommended overall level of financial support is broadly unchanged but the proposed conditions are more precise and transparent
Bill Cockburn
SSRB chairman

Peers should also sign a declaration about which property is their "principal residence" and write a confidential statement explaining why it is not within commuting distance of Parliament.

On travel, peers are entitled to claim for first class rail tickets "where this is justified by their need to work" and business class flights outside Europe, but should have "regard to value for money", the report says.

All mileage claims should be explained and receipts provided for overnight and travel claims.

Receipts required

The report also criticises "confusion" and "inconsistency" in allowances because of peers who are ministers and says the SSRB should be able to review the salary and allowances of peers who are ministers or office holders.

SSRB chairman Bill Cockburn said the proposals would "restore public confidence in the funding arrangements of the House of Lords".

The report said: "Our recommended overall level of financial support is broadly unchanged but the proposed conditions are more precise and transparent, requiring receipts for allowable expenditure on overnight accommodation and travel.

"We also recommend that the system be subject to independent audit including a sample of individual claims."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he accepts the proposals and the Leader of the House of Lords Baroness Royall will now take them forward.

Lord Speaker Baroness Hayman said the report would be debated in the Lords before Christmas, and a new regime could be in place for 2010-11 financial year.



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