£2m cost of Scotland’s peers sparks call for reforms of House of Lords
The Duke of Montrose and his coat of arms; Lord Alcluith in ermine robes and business suit and Lord Mackenzie, former trade union leader.
By Bill Heaney and Ferret investigative journalists
We have three members of the House of Lords living in and around this area of West Dunbartonshire.
They are part of a small group of peers living in Scotland who have claimed more than £2.1 million from taxpayers over 12 months, up 16 per cent on two years ago.
The rising costs uncovered by The Ferret have prompted politicians and campaigners to call for peers to cut their “shameful” use of business class air travel. They are also demanding “radical reform” of the House of Lords.
Our trinity of talkers are Lord McFall of Alcluith, a former MP; the Duke of Montrose, a hereditary peer, and Lord Mackenzie, Baron MacKenzie of Culkein, a retired trade union official.
The first two live in Dumbarton and the Duke of Montrose is laird of all he surveys along the east bank of Loch Lomond.
For each day they turn up in the red chamber of the House of Lords in the Westminster parliament we pay them around £400 in attendance fees and expenses.
They just have to sign in and then they can turn right around and walk out the door again into Parliament Square.
Or they can go off for a debate – or a doss – in the chamber before heading off to the dining room for a subsidised lunch or a cheap drink in one of the similarly subsidised bars.
The peer who claimed the largest total amount was Liberal Democrat, Lord Bruce of Bennachie.
He claimed £64,622 over the 12 months to July 2018, for 152 days’ work. Lord Bruce (Malcolm Bruce) was formerly an MP for Gordon for more than 25 years before he entered the House of Lords as a life peer.
According to his register of interests, he also receives payments for acting as consultant to a number of international development organisations. This work includes acting as consultant to the Parliament of Myanmar, funded by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.
Liberal Democrat peers in Scotland make up six of the top 10 list of most expensive peers, who are all male. The remaining places include two Labour peers, one Conservative peer and one independent crossbencher.
Former First Minister of Scotland, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, pictured right, is the most expensive Labour peer. He claimed the second largest overall amount from taxpayers.
He pocketed £63,842 for 144 days’ work on House of Lords business, including more than £16,000 on air travel.
According to his register of interests, he has also been paid to act as chair of the Sustainable Development Fund panel of Scottish and Southern Energy plc. He also has a paid role as an advisor to the accounting firm, PriceWaterhouseCooper.
Members of the Lords who are not paid a salary are able to claim a tax free attendance allowance. They can choose to claim a lower rate of £153 or a higher rate of £305.
Prior to March 31, 2018, the lower rate was £150 and the higher rate was £300. Peers can also choose not to claim the attendance allowance at all, even if they attend the house.
They are able to claim an allowance for attending meetings or visits outside the House of Lords at the lower daily rate. Business class air travel is covered by the House of Lords expenses scheme, but first class rail travel is not.
Another way of analysing the cost of peers is per day worked. By using this measure the crossbencher Earl of Stair, John Dalrymple, remains the most expensive peer living in Scotland, despite cutting his daily costs by 11 per cent compared with two years ago.
Including travel costs, he claimed £17,523 for 26 days’ work over 12 months. According to the website Public Whip, the Earl has participated in seven per cent of votes in the current session.
The hereditary peer owns an estate in Dumfries and Galloway and the Stranraer and Wigtownshire Free Press, a weekly local newspaper. He is a second cousin of Prince Charles. He declined to comment.
The difference between the daily rate claimed by some peers compared with others is often the amount claimed for travel costs. Collectively the amount claimed for air travel by peers living in Scotland has risen by 23 per cent in two years.
Colin Howden, director of sustainable transport campaign group Transform Scotland, argued that peers could cut costs and their environmental impact by switching from air to rail travel.
“In a year when the threats posed by climate change became ever more stark, it is shameful that Scotland’s peers have decided to massively increase their use of the most polluting form of transport for travel to London,” he said.
“Many more of these journeys should be being made by rail rather than by air. Not only would this be better for the climate but rail travel provides a much more productive working environment. Rail is also often significantly cheaper than air for business travel to London, so this would help reduce these excessive costs being imposed on the taxpayer.”
Alexandra Runswick, director of Unlock Democracy, said the ever increasing bill for peers could not be fixed by a “piecemeal” approach to managing costs. Rather than simply putting stricter controls on costs, she argued the whole chamber should be radically reformed.
Houses of Parliament in Westminster.
“The scandal of silent peers claiming vast expenses will no doubt irk the public at a time when the government is tightening its belt in many other areas of public finance. But reforming the House of Lords expenses system would be adding a lick of paint to a building that needs to be demolished,” she said.
The House of Lords was “full to the brim” with party donors, cronies of the party leader and heredity peers who have seats reserved “by birthright,” Runswick said.
“In a democracy it should be the people that decide, through free and fair elections, who makes our laws,” she added.
“The House of Lords is not representative, accountable, or democratic. The public wants an elected second chamber, which political parties have repeatedly failed to deliver.”
The SNP MSP, George Adam, backed calls to abolish the House of Lords and pointed out that it is dominated by older men.
“It is utterly ridiculous that unelected and unaccountable peers think it’s acceptable to spend taxpayers’ money on expensive travel in return for little to no work,” he said.
“Not only is the House of Lords undemocratic, it is completely unrepresentative of the population it is supposed to serve – only 25 per cent of peers are women, and just four per cent are under the age of 50. The SNP has long called for the House of Lords to go. These new figures show that it’s time that this archaic institution was shut down for good.”
The Liberal Democrats and Labour were asked to comment on the criticisms of payments to their named peers. In response both parties stressed their support for reforming the House of Lords.
A LibDem spokesperson said: “Scottish Liberal Democrat peers make substantial contributions to public life, voting and speaking regularly.
“However, our party has long argued that parliament is unrepresentative of the electorate and weak in restraining the power of the government. That’s why we have championed radical reform of the unelected House of Lords.”
A spokesman for Scottish Labour said: “All Labour peers are now appointed on the basis they will campaign for the abolition of the Lords and its replacement with an elected second chamber.”
Who are these three local peers from whom we seldom, if ever, hear these days?
Least known is Lord Mackenzie who lives in Dumbarton. Hector MacKenzie, Baron MacKenzie of Culkein, is aged 78 and is a Scottish nurse and former trade union official.
An islander, he was educated on the Isle of Erraid Public School, in Argyll, the Aird Public School on the Isle of Lewis, the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway and the Portree High School in Skye.
He went then to the Leverndale School of Nursing in Glasgow and the West Cumberland School of Nursing in Whitehaven.
MacKenzie was student nurse at the Leverndale Hospital and West Cumberland Hospital. Since 1969, he had worked for the Confederation of Health Service Employees, first as assistant regional secretary, then as regional secretary for Yorkshire and East Midlands. He was general secretary from 1987 to 1993. MacKenzie is a member of UNISON.
In 1966 he received the Lindsay Robertson Gold Medal for Nurse of the Year, and in 1999 he was created a life peer as Baron MacKenzie of Culkein, of Assynt in Highland. Lord MacKenzie of Culkein was married to Anna Morrison from 1961 to 1991; they have one son and three daughters.
Eighteen peers living in Scotland are affiliated to Labour. The Scottish Labour Party website suggests that it has 24 members in the House of Lords, but we found that some Scottish Labour peers gave no address or provided an address outwith Scotland, so these peers were excluded from this analysis. There are 15 Conservative peers, 10 Liberal Democrat peers, 10 crossbench peers with no political party affiliation and one peer living in Scotland, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who is a former leader of UKIP.
There are no SNP peers because of a long-standing party policy of opposing the House of Lords as “an affront to democracy.”
John Francis McFall, Baron McFall of Alcluith PC., aged 74, currently serves as the Senior Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords.
He was previously a Labour Co-operative Member of Parliament from 1987 to 2010, first for Dumbarton and then from 2005 for West Dunbartonshire. He also served as Chairman of the House of Commons Treasury Committee.
McFall went to St Patrick’s High School and Paisley College of Technology and obtained a BA from the Open University in Education and Philosophy. He was a chemistry and maths teacher from 1974–87 in Dumbarton, Kirkintilloch and Glasgow, becoming a deputy-head in Glasgow and Secretary of his Constituency Labour Party before he entered Parliament.
Whilst a teacher he completed a part-time course over three years at the University of Strathclyde for an MBA. In 1994, he became a Visiting Professor at Strathclyde University Business School, and now is a member of the Strategic Advisory Board at the University of Glasgow Business School. He is a member of the GMB Union.
He was first elected for the Dumbarton constituency, Scotland, at the 1987 general election, after the previous MP, Ian Campbell retired. His original majority was a little over 2,000. Dumbarton constituency was replaced with the new West Dunbartonshire constituency for the 2005 general election, which McFall won with a majority over 12,500.
In 2001 he was appointed Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, and reappointed for a second term in this position in 2005. The committee conducted inquiries into the banking crisis, producing evidence of the bonus culture, the lack of banking qualifications among many top bankers and poor oversight of the industry by the Financial Services Authority.
In 2010, McFall announced his intention to stand down as an MP at the 2010 general election. Later that year, he was created a life peer as Baron McFall of Alcluith, of Dumbarton in the County of Dunbartonshire, He was appointed as Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords with effect from 1 September 2016. He is known as Senior Deputy Speaker while holding the office. He is Chair of the Scotch Whisky and Spirits All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and of the Royal Navy APPG.
He is Chairman of Strathleven Regeneration Company and of Clydebank re-built, two development companies based in his constituency.
He is married to Joan, a teacher from Dumbarton, with four children. He has run marathons, although not in the last ten years.
The “latest news” on his website was last posted back in 2013.
The Duke of Montrose is a hereditary peer. The title of Duke of Montrose (named after Montrose, Angus) has been twice in the Peerage of Scotland, firstly in 1488 for David Lindsay, 5th Earl of Crawford. It was forfeited and then returned, but only for the period of the holder’s lifetime. Thus, it was not inherited.
The title was bestowed anew in 1707, again in the Peerage of Scotland, on the fourth Marquess of Montrose, and has since been in the Graham family. The title is also tied as the chieftainship of Clan Graham.
The Duke’s subsidiary titles are: Marquess of Montrose (created 1644), Marquess of Graham and Buchanan (1707), Earl of Montrose (1503), Earl of Kincardine (1644 & 1707), Earl Graham of Belford (1722), Viscount Dundaff (1707), Lord Graham (1445), Lord Aberruthven, Mugdock and Fintrie (1707) and Baron Graham of Belford (1722). The titles Earl and Baron Graham of Belford are in the Peerage of Great Britain; the rest are in the Peerage of Scotland. The eldest son of the Duke uses the courtesy title Marquess of Graham and Buchanan.
The family seat is Auchmar House, near Loch Lomond, Stirlingshire. It was previously Buchanan Castle, near Drymen, Stirlingshire. https://wordpress.com/post/democratonline.net/11796