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The Missing Million-Pound Donor Lords

Byline Times analyses the attendance rate of 12 Peers who have donated more than £1 million to the party that appointed them

Peers wait in in the House of Lords for the State Opening of Parliament. Photo: PA/Alamy

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House of Lords members who donated millions of pounds to the party that appointed them have attended just 20% of sitting days in the upper chamber, Byline Times can reveal. 

Byline Times analysed the attendance rates of the 12 Peers appointed since 2013 who have donated more than £1 million to the party that appointed them to the Lords and found they attended Westminster for 31 days on average across all of 2022.

Many of them had extremely limited attendance, with three of them attending Westminster under ten times across all of 2022. 

Money but Not Time

The Lord on the list with the lowest attendance rate was JCB scion and major Conservative financier Antony Bamford.  The 77-year-old billionaire has donated at least £5.5 million that we could locate to the Tories directly or through JCB, the company his father founded and that he now chairs. Appointed to the Lords in 2013, he attended Westminster just three times in 2022 – a less than 2% attendance rate.

Only two Lords appointments in the last decade have donated more to the Conservatives than Bamford according to the Electoral Commission – Michael Farmer (£9.5 million) and Michael Spencer (£7.9 million). While Farmer attended the Lords 70 times last year, Spencer went to Westminster on just 13 occasions. 

Multimillionaire financier James Lupton was appointed to the Lords in 2015 and has donated some £3.4 million to the Conservatives directly and through related companies. He attended Westminster on just six occasions during the Lords’ 156 sitting days in 2022. 

Liberal Democrat Peer Rumi Verjee meanwhile donated almost £2 million to the party before and after his 2013 appointment to the Lords. He attended Westminster just eight times in 2022 according to Lords records, with a roughly 5% attendance rate.

The full list of the 12 millionaire donor Lords in question is Michael Hintze, David Brownlow, Peter Cruddas, Alexander Fraser,  Rami Ranger and Zameer Choudrey (as well as Farmer, Spencer, Lupton and Bamford) – all Conservative – as well as Labour’s William Haughey and the Liberal Democract’s Verjee. 

The group made up the vast majority of the more than £50 million donated by Lords members appointed since 2013 to political parties, either before or after their appointment. 

And while some of those, like Brownlow, had very high attendance rates for 156 days the Lords sits each year, or others, like Hintze, have been in the Lords for just a few months, many rarely or almost never attended Westminster to participate in debates or votes in 2022. 

Previous analysis by Byline Times found that over half of the Conservatives’ biggest donors since 2010 eventually received an honour or title.

Despite that, 13.6% of the 1,042 peers who have sat in the Lords since April 2015 have attended Westminster on 25 days or less, with 58 having never attended the House during the period.

Patronage and Leverage

The problem with alleged ‘crony’ appointments has raised concerns from campaigners that many Lords may not be concerned with fulfilling their roles, but leveraging their position. 

Concern over Peers allegedly gaining preferential access to lucrative government contracts has become a growing controversy in recent months after the Guardian reported that Conservative peer Baroness Michelle Mone and her three children received £29 million in profits made by the firm PPE Medpro on government COVID contracts that Mone allegedly leveraged her government connections to receive.

In December, Baroness Mone announced a leave of absence from the House of Lords, in order to “clear her name of the allegations that have been unjustly levelled against her.  She denies any wrongdoing.

“The House of Lords shapes laws that affect the lives of every single person in this country, so who sits in it and what they do matters,” said Dr Jess Garland, director of policy and research for the Electoral Reform Society. “It is concerning that a significant number of people given peerages also happen to have donated large sums of money to the parties that have appointed them.

She added: “This is why the current bloated and undemocratic Lords needs to be replaced with a smaller elected chamber, where the members are chosen by the people of this country, not by their relationships with prime ministers and party leaders.”

Despite the growing number of concerns however, Labour have seemingly walked back plans, backed by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, to replace the Lords with an elected chamber of the nations and regions of the UK, which would remove the ability of Prime Ministers to shape appointments. 

Labour last month announced plans to appoint dozens of peers to the House of Lords if it wins the next election in an attempt to wrestle control of the upper chamber from the Tories.

Byline Times contacted all the lords on the list for comment.

A spokesperson for Lord Verjee said it was “naïve and misleading to suggest contribution to the House of Lords, society and humanity is based on attendance in the chamber”.

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They added that “many Members choose to only take part in business related to issues where they have significant experience to bring to bear” and stressed that “it is wrong to suggest any link between Lord Verjee’s attendance and the donations to the Liberal Democrats”, which were made to help support under-represented candidates in the party.  

They went on: “Lord Verjee was appointed to the House of Lords for his diversity of thought and diversity of experiences. He sat on the select committee for Citizenship and Civil Affairs and was appointed to the Economic Affairs committee this year. 

“Members of the Lords are not salaried, and Lord Verjee does not claim the attendance allowance, so produces no cost to the taxpayer.”

They also stressed the “meaningful contributions” Lord Verjee makes in and out of the Lords, including “visiting and working with charitable projects” which had been a major focus of his in 2022.

Lord Cruddas told Byline Times in an email that his voting record and attendance was among the “best or very close to the best” and said, “I am in the Lords when required by my party to support the Government [in votes] or when I can contribute, it is not necessary for me to be there on a daily basis”.

He added that he juggled his Lords role alongside serving as a chief executive of his firm finance firm CMC Markets as well as charity and Conservative campaigning roles, but still ensured to attend more than 90% of votes.

Lord Cruddas stressed that he had been a party donor since 2009 but was only appointed to the Lords in 2021, and emphasised that he felt the reason he was appointed was more to do with his role as a co-founder of Vote Leave. He also offered to provide us a signed copy of his autobiography, “which will tell you about my public service, charitable work and foundation and my business successes”.

A spokesperson for the House of Lords stressed that Lords members “are not paid a salary, and are not required to attend all sittings of the House”. They added that “they can only claim daily attendance allowance for days they attend Parliament and undertake Parliamentary work”. 

A Government spokesperson refused to comment.

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