Sunday, February 05, 2017

House of Frauds: Cheating peers claim £300 for just a few minutes' work while their taxis run outside, says the 'Baroness of Excess'

Politicians are facing a new expenses scandal over reports that cheating peers claim £300 a day for turning up to the Lords for a few minutes while keeping a taxi running outside.

A row erupted last night over comments by former Lords Speaker Baroness D’Souza in a new fly-on-the-wall documentary. 

She reportedly said ‘many’ peers did no work and that one arrived by taxi, then left in the same vehicle ten minutes later. She did not identify the culprit.

Lady D’Souza’s intervention is all the more remarkable given that she came under fire last year for charging £230 expenses for keeping her chauffeur-driven car waiting four hours while she went to the opera on official duty.

Her comments in the BBC programme follow persistent rumours of widespread abuse of the way peers can claim a £300 tax-free daily allowance simply by turning up and ‘clocking in’.

They do not have to speak in the chamber or, say critics, prove they have done any work to get paid.

There were gasps of shock when Lady D’Souza – nicknamed the Baroness of Excess – appeared to confirm it at a private screening to peers of the first episode of the three-part series called Meet The Lords, which is due to be broadcast later this month. 

One peer said: ‘She said there is a core of peers who work incredibly hard but many who do not do anything.

The House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. Baroness D'Souza's comments follow persistent rumours of widespread abuse of the way peers can claim a £300 tax-free daily allowance simply by turning up and ‘clocking in’

‘She said she was leaving one day and saw a peer – who she would not name – who got out of a taxi, told the cabbie to keep the engine running, went into the Lords, came back in ten minutes, got back in the taxi and left.

‘The clear implication was that the peer was on the fiddle and wasn’t the only one. People couldn’t believe she said it. It was blatant double standards.’

Until a few months ago, Lady D’Souza, 72, was Lords Speaker, responsible for presiding over debates in the Upper House. 

In 2015, it emerged she had run up a £30,000 bill for entertaining dignitaries over five years, including £1,120 for taking Russian delegates to the ballet.

She also claimed £230 for a chauffeur-driven car which waited outside for four hours while she watched an opera.

Lady D’Souza, who was paid £101,000 a year as Speaker, with allowances of up to £36,000, defended her spending record. 

She said it was her job to ‘promote parliamentary democracy’ and insisted that it was not ‘an excessive amount of money’. She also said taxpayers did not begrudge her spending £4,000 on flowers to brighten up her office.

Former Tory chairman Lord Tebbit criticised the documentary for its 'sneering' tone and for trivialising the Lords

Peers get £300 a day plus subsidised restaurants and travel expenses for those who live outside London. In 2015, it was claimed 20 ‘silent’ peers had claimed £1.6 million in expenses despite having made virtually no speeches in five years. 

It was also alleged that 117 peers – one in seven – did not speak in the chamber in 2015.

Former Tory chairman Lord Tebbit said: ‘The BBC film adopts a typically sneering tone and has trivialised the Lords. 

‘Yes, some peers sit around reading the paper in the library and prop up the bar. But there are brilliant men and women on all sides who work harder than MPs and get paid less for it.’

Lady D’Souza declined to comment last night. A BBC spokesman said: ‘Baroness D’Souza is a highly respected peer whose opinion on the proper functioning of the Lords is clearly a matter of some public interest.’

A House of Lords spokesman insisted the documentary showed how it was doing its work as ‘an active and effective revising chamber’.

Source : Daily Mail