As if the House of Lords did not already look like a private members’ club, an investigation by The Times has revealed that peers can continue to use the House of Lords’ subsidised dining rooms even after they retire.
That means former politicians, who were not elected but selected for the role – are enjoying cheap food and drink thanks to taxpayers’ hard-earned cash.
In all, £1.2million per year is used to subsidise food and drink in the House of Lords.
A menu from the chamber, published following a Freedom of Information request in 2013, revealed a pint of draft beer cost £2.60 and a bottle of House of Lords claret is £14.80.
Meanwhile a two-course table d’hôte lunch costs £15.50, with main courses including sirloin beef and whole sea bream stuffed with olives and tomatoes.
Is it any wonder that Lib Dem life peer, Lord Tyler, described it as “the best day care centre for the elderly in London” in an interview for the BBC’s documentary Meet the Lords last year?
There is an obvious injustice in retired peers still having access to the perks of the job while no longer contributing to the scrutiny of proposed legislation as it makes its way through the house.
But there is also a very real risk posed to democracy in allowing these people unfettered access to politicians who do still have a say.
The privileges afforded to retired peers include the right to use the chamber’s library, the peers’ guest room, the peers’ dining room with up to five guests and the Barry room (a brasserie-style restaurant) with up to six guests. Since 2015, when a law was introduced allowing peers to resign, 70 have done so. But they can also bring guests.
Taking this into account, this means there is the potential for 420 unelected men and women to have unrivalled access to the 800 currently active peers in Parliament – per sitting day. This gives them the opportunity to push their own agendas on people who influence the country’s legislation – without any of those conversations being recorded or open to public scrutiny.
And all of this is in the context of what is already an unelected and undemocratic chamber: one in which 455 Lords claimed more than the average take home pay of full-time employees during the 2016/17 session – despite the house sitting for just 141 days.
This week’s revelations about retired peers is further evidence that the House of Lords is in desperate need of democratic reform. The Lords is looking more like a private members’ club by the day.
But the revelations in The Times go beyond mere appearances: the chamber is at risk of becoming a House of Lobbyists – with unrivaled access for some, while ordinary citizens are locked out.
Read the ERS’ latest report on the Lords: ′The High Cost of Small Change: The House of Lords Audit’