There are many odd things about the House of Lords. One minor anomaly is that lords don’t get paid a salary.
But they do get a tax free allowance of £335.50 for every day they bother to turn up at parliament.
These expenses are generous. For instance, in 2005 one Lord Taylor of Blackburn claimed over £57,000. But it has emerged there may be other ways for peers to make a little cash.
This peer told journalists, “I will work within the rules, but the rules are meant to be bent sometimes.” He simply requested an annual fee of £120,000. Lord Taylor is an adviser to Canatxx Energy Ventures, which also made a £3,000 gift to Jack Straw.
Canatxx Energy Ventures has been seeking to overcome local opposition in order to build a gas storage plant in the Wyre estuary, close to Straw’s constituency.
During questions on 22 October last year on winter energy supplies, Lord Taylor intervened to highlight “the national need for gas storage”.
Lord Taylor also worked for BAE Systems as a consultant from 1994 to 2005. He is seen by many as the point of contact between the defence industry and the Labour government.
BAE was allegedly involved in providing £600 million in bribes for Saudi princes to get an arms deal. Inquiries into the deal were repeatedly blocked by New Labour. A cabinet opponent of the inquiry was Jack Straw.
But it’s not just about defence. Lord Truscott, a former energy minister, allegedly pledged to get an amendment “granted”. He claimed to have helped to ensure that the recent Energy Bill included a commitment for smart energy meters to be installed in British homes. He is a consultant to a Swiss firm that sells such meters.
Truscott is a consultant and non-executive director for a number of firms working mainly with oil gas and mineral extraction in Europe and Russia. He has been keen to intervene in energy debates.
None of the lords is accused of doing anything illegal. But behind the allegations stand a network of big businesses spending huge sums on lobbying for their interests.
One in five lords is undertaking “consultancy work”. Some 145 peers out of 743 to sit in the House of Lords are acting as “consultants” or “advisers” to outside interests.
This isn’t about a few brown envelopes – it is about business buying up politics. What shouldn’t be surprising any more is how keen Labour is to take up the offers.