Friday, December 26, 2008

Their noble parasites

It really is quite remarkable that, as power is increasingly transferred to Brussels, where more and more legislation is made, the cost to the taxpayer of our own domestic "legislators" continues to go up.

That we find from the print edition of The Daily Telegraph today, although a visit to the website reveals that this is recycled from the online edition, where it was posted on 17 December. The story, however, loses nothing of its force for being a few days old.

The thrust of the story is that each member of the House of Lords now costs us nearly half a million pounds a year, the total costs of running the "most exclusive club in London" now reaching £305 million in the last financial year. In 2002-2003, the total cost was £110 million.

From the current inflated sum, direct expenses paid to peers top £18 million, with some 17 peers claiming £60,000 each in "tax-free perks". They include Britain's most expensive lordship, Labour's Baron Brett of Lydd in Kent, a former trade union leader, whose expenses totalled £66,197. He registered an address in Cumbria as his main home. Lord Kinnock, the former Labour Party leader and EU commissioner, submitted claims totalling nearly £22,000 after being made a peer in November 2007.

The Daily Mail runs a similar story, but focuses more on the individual gravy-train riders, attracting over 200 comments on its website – all of them hostile to the peers as far as I can see. Needless to say, by far the greater number of the pigs with their snouts firmly in the trough are Labour peers.

Where their Lordships – and the Commons – seem to have been highly productive, however, is in creating new offences, The Telegraph running a story – which only seems to be in the print edition – which tells us that the "government" has been creating an imprisonable offence once every four days over the past ten years.

Strictly speaking, it is not the government (hence the quotes) as Parliament – the House of Commons and Lords combined - must approve any measure that introduces an imprisonable offence.

Of course, it is a long time since that Parliament took any interest in such matters and, the record shows us why. With the members of both Houses now more interested in lining their pockets than doing their jobs – debates on MPs' expenses being among the best attended – it is easy to see that they have little time to attend to the liberties of the Queen's subjects.

What this really does reinforce, though, is how far our ruling classes have become detached from any sense of reality. If they had they slightest grip, they would not be milking the system but, given that there seems to be little connection between them and the real world, they are quite happy to justify their increased takings.

It cannot last. It never does. The tumbrels will eventually roll. But, for the time being, we have to suffer "their noble parasites" – as they preside over the wreckage of what was once a proud and useful institution.