Speaker of House of Lords Baroness D'Souza charged £230 taxi fare to taxpayer after night at the opera

Revelation from FOI requests leads to accusations the peer has a 'downright frivolous' attitude to public money

Nigel Morris
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 22 December 2015 20:44 GMT
Baroness D’Souza is the second holder of the post of Lord Speaker
Baroness D’Souza is the second holder of the post of Lord Speaker (Getty )

A return trip by taxi from the Houses of Parliament to the Royal Opera House should cost around £20 or less than £5 by the London Underground. Alternatively it takes around 25 minutes to stroll the mile between the two buildings.

But the taxpayer was left with a £230.40 bill when the Speaker of the House of Lords, Baroness D’Souza, spent an evening watching Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana with a Russian dignitary in June 2013.

The clock in her chauffeur-driven Mercedes E class car ticked up for four hours as it waited to bring her back to her residence in Westminster.

The scale of her spending on cars, as well as international travel, was disclosed in Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and led to accusations that she was adopting a “downright frivolous” attitude to public money.

It emerged five months after the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, faced heavy criticism for running up similar bills travelling to functions around London.

Lady D’Souza’s trip by Mercedes from Westminster to Canterbury for the enthronement of Archbishop Justin Welby in March 2013 cost £627. Mr Bercow made exactly the same journey in a separate car for £525.

Meanwhile the taxpayer was another £269.75 out of pocket when the Lords Speaker went to lunch with the Japanese ambassador at his residence in Kensington. Her car and its driver waited four and a half hours for her to emerge from the building three miles from Parliament.

A return taxi fare would have been around £30 and she would have got change out of £5 if she had taken the Tube.

Her expense returns, which were revealed following an FOI request by the Press Association, also showed she spent nearly £26,000 on a ten-day trip with three officials to Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The Lords Speaker’s business class flights amounted to £3,281, while her Harbour View Room at the Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong cost £293 and her executive suite at Le Meridien in Taipei cost £248.

The next morning the party and two local British officials ran up a £123 tab at a breakfast meeting to discuss her itinerary.

Lady D’Souza, a 71-year-old scientist, is the second holder of the post of Lord Speaker. She was appointed to the peerage 11 years ago and sits as a crossbencher.

A Lords spokesman said: “The Lord Speaker usually drives herself to events she attends as a representative of the House of Lords.

“However, at events she has attended at high-profile venues … the security requirements of the hosts often require she is brought in a car which must also wait for her departure.

“The hosts often do not permit a separate car to be sent to collect guests for security reasons. The Lord Speaker’s Office always explores the possibility of booking separate cars in order to ensure best value for money.

“Part of the Lord Speaker’s role is to represent the House at international conferences and foreign Parliaments. Significant efforts are made to ensure travel is booked in the most cost-effective way possible.”

But Dia Chakravarty, political director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “People will struggle to conclude that her present spending on travel is anything other than wasteful and occasionally downright frivolous.”

He said: “Taxpayers will be dismayed to learn that the simplest of journeys by Baroness D’Souza has ended up costing them hundreds of pounds.

“Whoever has been making her travel arrangements urgently needs to reassess whether they have been achieving value for money and amend future plans accordingly.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “The Lords is wholly undemocratic and will never have the legitimacy it needs for a healthy democracy until this is changed.

"The good work of our peers has been overshadowed by a few members of the Lords who show disregard for their status and responsibility as public servants.”

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