Party leaders criticised as big donors land peerages

THE continuing appointment of big donors from the main political parties to the House of Lords has been criticised as “indefensible” and “out of touch”.
Critics say the House of Lords has become too crowded. Picture: GettyCritics say the House of Lords has become too crowded. Picture: Getty
Critics say the House of Lords has become too crowded. Picture: Getty

Leading Scottish businessman Sir Willie Haughey, the boss of Glasgow-based City Refrigeration, who has donated £1.3 million to Labour since 2003, was among a 30-strong list of new working peers unveiled by the UK government yesterday.

It also included JCB boss Sir Anthony Bamford, whose family and firm have given £2.5m to the Conservatives in recent years, and Domino’s Pizza entrepreneur Rumi Verjee, who has given more than £800,000 to the Liberal Democrats.

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Former Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie is also going to the House of Lords, as well as ex-Liberal Democrat MSP Jeremy Purvis. Justice campaigner 
Doreen Lawrence, who was thrust into the public spotlight after the murder of her son Stephen in 1993, becomes a baroness on the Labour benches.

But the decision to ennoble a number of donors prompted criticism, with claims that the Lords is becoming “overcrowded”. Its numbers are set to swell to 785, compared with 650 MPs. The working peers were nominated by the party leaders and cleared by the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission.

The decision to ennoble Sir Willie was endorsed by Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont. “Willie Haughey’s tireless charity work, his commitment to creating opportunities for young people and his devotion to the city of Glasgow mean this recognition is well deserved,” she said.

A Tory source defended the peerage for Sir Anthony, describing him as a leading industrialist who has made a “massive contribution to British business”.

But Alexandra Runswick, director of Unlock Democracy, an independent all-party campaign for constitutional reform, called the Lords appointments an “indefensible system for stuffing a parliamentary chamber with political appointees”. She added: “It is the usual list of party donors and cronies with a handful of more notable people to distract attention away from the fundamental lack of legitimacy.”

Peers are not paid a salary, but are entitled to a £300 tax-free allowance for every day they attend a parliamentary sitting.

On the basis of 137 sitting days last year, the 30 new peers would have cost the taxpayer around £1.2m, plus travel and other expenses. The extra spending could leave David Cameron facing awkward questions after insisting the cost of politics should not be allowed to rise. The coalition’s plans to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600 have already been dropped, and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is proposing they receive a significant pay rise.

Other Conservative peers included financier Howard Leigh, who has given £37,682 to the party since 2011, as well as Paralympic swimmer Chris Holmes.

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The Labour list included ex-party fundraiser Jon Mendelsohn and the chairman of Global Radio Group, Sir Charles Allen.

Liberal Democrats included former London mayoral candidate Brian Paddick, the party’s former communications director Olly Grender, and Ministry of Sound co-founder James Palumbo, whose only listed donation was auction prizes worth £7,000 to the Conservatives.

Mr Verjee has given more than £800,000 to the Liberal Democrats since 2010 through his company Brompton Capital, but party sources insisted that his nomination was due to his business and charity work.

Labour’s shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: “David Cameron promised to cut the cost of politics but by appointing rafts of new lords since the election, he’s done exactly the opposite. Not only has David Cameron shown he’s happy to say one thing and do another, but by making this his priority at a time when hard-working people are concerned about the spiralling cost of living under the Tories, he’s proving just how out of touch he is.”

Miss Goldie, who led the Scottish Conservatives between 2005 and 2011, is to stay on at Holyrood as an MSP for the West of Scotland. “I’m very honoured and regard this as a great privilege to be a member of the House of Lords,” she said.

Mr Purvis, who was an MSP between 2003 and 2011, has also been appointed policy and strategy adviser to Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.

The appointments restore the Conservatives’ position as the largest party in the Lords by a single seat, with 222 peers to Labour’s 221 and the Lib Dems’ 99.