Former CBI head Digby Jones is facing questions over his value to the House of Lords after claiming £15,000 of expenses and allowances in a period when he did not speak in any debates or ask any questions.
Lord Jones was made a peer in 2007 as a minister in Gordon Brown’s “government of all the talents”. More recently, he has been a prominent Brexiter, denouncing the pro-Remain politicians “cosy in their London constituency or expenses-paid Westminster office”.
Parliamentary records show that he has not spoken in a debate since April 2016 — when he asked a question on warships. Since then, he has claimed £15,290 in attendance fees and travel expenses. Peers receive £300 for each day that they sign in at Westminster.
Lord Jones has spoken just three times in the past four years in debates. He has sat on no select committees and asked no written questions of ministers recently, according to the parliamentary website.
He said that this was “only one measure” of contributing to the Lords, and that he used his membership “to learn and meet people”.
“I see the Lords as a non-executive director of the country,” he said, pointing to its job in revising legislation. He added that he saw his role promoting “socially inclusive wealth creation”, and would speak in future, “if I have something to say that others aren’t saying”.
Expenses and allowances claimed by 115 non-speaking peers in 2017-17 parliamentary session
Lord Jones, who was director-general of the CBI between 2000 and 2006, has voted seven times since April 2016. He was absent on more than 100 other occasions, including votes on the Queen’s Speech and the Article 50 notification bill, according to the Public Whip website. His contributions away from the chamber include regular blogs on his website and chairmanship of Triumph Motorcycles.
The Electoral Reform Society, a pressure group, said it had identified 115 peers — 15 per cent of the total — who did not speak in the 2016-17 parliamentary session but who claimed £1.3m in expenses and allowances between them. It added that 31 peers had not spoken or voted during the period. The session lasted from May 2016 to May 2017.
“These figures are a damning indictment of the state of the House of Lords. There appears to be a growing ‘something for nothing’ culture in our upper house, with tidy sums being claimed by those who barely contribute,” said Darren Hughes, the organisation’s chief executive.
The House of Lords said that the calculations were flawed because of “their narrow focus on spoken contributions”. It said that members also contributed by “amending legislation, asking the government written questions and serving on select committees . . . as well as parliamentary work away from the chamber”.
The Lords is expected to play a key role revising Brexit legislation, including the EU withdrawal bill, early next year. The chamber’s supporters point to its ability to incorporate expertise, with members such as the scientist Robert Winston and the former Waitrose boss Mark Price. Its critics say it is anti-democratic, and too large. John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, said last week that it was “patently absurd” for the Lords to have more members than the 650-strong elected chamber.
“It could most definitely be halved in size and I think most fair-minded people would say, it should be,” he told an event organised by the Institute for Government.
Dick Newby, the Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, said the Electoral Reform Society figures showed the chamber was “in need of radical reform”.
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