Andy McSmith's Diary: Dead peers – they don’t do much, but cost us less

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New members of the House of Lords, who are alive, take a more active role in its affairs than former members, who are dead. I owe this startling insight to Lord Foulkes, a venerable Labour peer who was complaining to the Chairman of Committees about the shortage of space in the building caused by the arrival of 117 new peers created by the present government.

“New working peers are, quite rightly, attending more frequently than those who have left or have died off,” Lord Foulkes observed.

Lord Sewel, the Chairman of Committees, tentatively concurred: “It is likely that the new creations are more active than those who are no longer with us,” he said.

Note that neither man was alleging that those peers “who are no longer with us” are entirely inactive. This would suggest that they can not be entirely sure whether any of their colleagues, in fact, dead. Anyone who has witnessed a House of Lords debate will understand their difficulty.

One still among the living is Lord Hanningfield, the former Tory leader of Essex County Council, who has not spoken in any Lords debate nor asked any oral or written questions since he was charged with fiddling his expenses in February 2010. But since being released from prison, he has seldom let pass any opportunity to sign in and claim the £300 a day attendance allowance to which he is still legally entitled. The register shows that up to the end of last May – the latest month for which figures have been published – he had claimed £40,800, plus travel expenses.

So let’s hear it for those dead peers: they might not be contributing any more than Lord Hanningfield to Parliament’s debates, but at least they are not costing anything.

McBride spins himself a promotion

Belated congratulations to Damian McBride. The disgraced former Downing Street spinner has been promoted. From being in charge of a team of six press officers at the Catholic charity, Cafod, he is Head of External Communications at the same organisation, with a 17-strong department formed by merging the media office with a section known as CCS.

His elevation may come as a surprise, as the last we heard was that Cafod had declined to accept any royalties from sales of McBride’s notorious memoirs and the charity’s trustees were considering its implications and debating whether action is needed.

McBride was promoted in December, but the news has only just been posted on Cafod’s website, where a hack from the Catholic newspaper, The Tablet spotted it. The same hack rang to ask whether McBride’s book is on the agenda for this weekend’s Cafod board meeting, but could not get an answer.

At least you could say they grow on you...

We Brits are said to hold our politicians in low esteem, but our view of the Commons is reverential compared with what Americans think of the US Congress, according to a survey by Public Policy Polling. One question asked whether they had a higher opinion of Congress or toenail fungus: 49 per cent said toenail fungus, 41 per cent said Congress, and 15 per cent did not know.

A cliffhanger of a complaint

The Tory MP Tim Loughton made a curious claim during his Commons tirade this week against the Sussex police. He accused them of failing to see he is a victim of harassment after a constituent allegedly sent him a message “urging me to commit suicide”. Mr Loughton tweeted about a children’s charity event in which volunteers were to abseil down a Sussex cliff. His tormentor replied: “Go on, Tim, make the kids’s lives better by jumping off a cliff.” That, surely, is a joke: not a nice joke, but hardly one to detain the police.

Something just doesn’t add up

The House of Commons has this week been dealing with the issues of adult literacy and numeracy, inspiring the blog LeftFootForward to dig up this exchange from when the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, appeared before the education committee last year. Question: “If ‘good’ requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?” Answer: “By getting better all the time.” Question: “Were you better at literacy than numeracy, Secretary of State?” Answer: “I cannot remember.”