ANNA MIKHAILOVA: ‘Ermine on ermine’ storm over peers who claims £323… for saying nothing in the House of Lords!
An ‘ermine on ermine’ row between two peers has shone a much needed spotlight on the House of Lords’ attendance allowance system being wide open to abuse.
A peer has questioned whether the way members are entitled to claim £323 a day just for showing up isn’t long overdue for reform.
In particular, they’ve pointed the finger at Baroness Falkner as one alleged ‘serial offender’ when it comes to claiming without contributing to debates.
Kishwer Falkner, 66, cut her political teeth in the Lib Dems as a policy wonk and failed to become either an MP or MEP before being made a life peer in 2004.
She earns up to £5,976 a month – often for days where she doesn’t speak in the second chamber – on top of her salaries as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – £500 a day – and as a member of a Bank of England committee.
Kishwer Falkner, 66, cut her political teeth in the Lib Dems as a policy wonk and failed to become either an MP or MEP before being made a life peer in 2004
Take, for example, last November, when, quite within the rules, she claimed for 15 days’ allowance at a cost of £4,684 to taxpayers, while speaking on only two days that month.
And in March and February this year, she claimed £7,271 for 26 days and spoke on just 11 of them.
According to my mole, during a debate on the Race and Ethnic Disparities report in April, Falkner ‘came in later, sat silent on the benches for a while and left to claim her allowance’.
Falkner explains that the hybrid system of virtual and actual attendance that has been implemented due to Covid means crossbenchers must apply to be ‘listed’ to speak, with no guarantee of being called. As EHRC chair, had she tried to get listed for the race debate?
According to my mole, during a debate on the Race and Ethnic Disparities report in April, Falkner ‘came in later, sat silent on the benches for a while and left to claim her allowance’. The House of Lords is seen above in 2015
No, she said, it was her ‘policy’ as head of the regulator not to speak in the chamber on these issues, as it would be ‘inappropriate’ to give ‘running commentary’.
Besides, she added, ‘there is more to the job than speaking’, highlighting her work reading and voting on legislation, and giving evidence to committees.
She argues that attending debates – even when she doesn’t contribute – offers more understanding ‘than one would glean sitting in front of Parliament TV’.
Maybe so, but it also doesn’t pay £4,684 a month to watch Parliament TV at home.
Cash-for-questions-training Tory MP James Gray has finally broken his silence on my revelations last Sunday that a PR company pays him to help clients game Parliament’s main scrutiny process – select committees.
In an email to a concerned constituent, Gray still would not identify which witnesses he trained, but wrote: ‘Non-Parliamentarians are often (justifiably) very nervous before appearances… I know nothing about the questions they will be asked; but I am very familiar with the way in which they will be asked. Some MPs on select committees pride themselves on being ‘attack dogs’ and… I am happy to help.’ Yes, but should a sitting MP be the one to do it?
Meanwhile, his paymaster, Electric Airwaves, quietly removed its client list from the website days after telling me there was ‘nothing illegal’ in paying serving MPs for training witnesses.
Not illegal, but certainly very shabby.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), set up after the MPs’ expenses scandal, today poses no deterrent to lazy, greedy parliamentarians who regularly break the rules because the regulator is protecting them from public exposure.
In the last tax year, 84 MPs failed to submit receipts for their claims within the 120-day deadline.
Regardless, Ipsa paid the claims – totalling £44,000 – a Freedom of Information request has shown, but refuses to identify the culprits because it would, it claims, ‘endanger the safety’ of the MPs.
Not only that, the regulator defended the rule-breakers, saying: ‘MPs have not been immune to the negative aspects of the pandemic.’
Pity Ipsa was not so solicitous about the personal details of 216 parliamentary staffers, whose salaries and payroll numbers were accidentally uploaded to the so-called watchdog’s website in a ‘serious data breach’. Writs are now flying.
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