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Just three hereditary peers with Wales-based titles have claimed over £1.6m in expenses

23 Mar 2021 6 minutes Read
Lord Colwyn, Lord Trefgarne and Lord Aberdare

Just three hereditary peers with Wales-based titles have claimed over £1.6m in expenses since 2001.

Lord Aberdare, Lord Colwyn, and Lord Trefgarne, who sit in the House of Lords by birthright, retain the right to make or amend laws, and claim £323 a day tax-free, plus travel, for parliamentary work in Westminster.

There are 85 dukes, earls and barons in total, who have cost the taxpayer almost £50 million in expense claims since 2001, a Sunday Times investigation has found.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town has criticised the presence of hereditary peers in the chamber. She told The Sunday Times that it is “not something that would be accepted by the British public today”.

The average hereditary peer has spoken in the chamber just 50 times in the past five years. This compares with 82 times among life peers.

When hereditary peers do speak, they are 60 per cent more likely to mention their own business or personal interests.

The presence of hereditaries was supposed to be a temporary compromise after most were removed by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 1999.

When a hereditary peer dies or one retires, a by-election takes place amongst the group to replace them with another.

Only members of the same party as the departed can vote and the number of peers per party is frozen at 1999 levels. This means that in some contests there are just three voters.

These by-elections have been halted temporarily because of the pandemic. This means there are fewer than the 92 hereditary peers that there are ordinarily in the House of Lords.

‘Absurd’ 

Commenting on the investigation Nancy Platts, Coordinator, Politics for the Many, said: “Hereditary peers demonstrate one of the most absurd aspects of our outdated political system – landowners born to be legislators, given lifetime appointments in our parliament based solely on the circumstance of their birth. We can’t continue to call ourselves a real democracy unless this ancient failing of our broken constitution is abolished.

“Trade unions have long been at the forefront of demands for a democracy that puts ordinary working people front and centre. Anyone who makes our laws should be accountable to the people they make them for – that means a fully elected second chamber.

“We need reforms that not only scrap hereditary peerages but the cronyistic lifetime appointments that have seen the Lords look more like a private members club for party donors and political allies than a working legislative chamber.”

“The unelected House of Lords has no place in a democratic and progressive society. We must sever the ties between power and privilege and instead put real power in the hands of the many, in communities and workplaces around the county.”

Within the House of Lords, the hereditary group is a large bloc. This means it has more representatives than all the MPs for the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish parties, plus the Lib Dems and Greens.

They are also among the least representative of modern Britain. All are white, and 29, which is nearly half of them, went to Eton. Between them they own at least 170,000 acres, which is the equivalent to nearly half the size of Greater London.

They are all men because most aristocratic titles automatically go to the first-born son and, failing that, the closest male relative because of what is called male primogeniture. The royal family abandoned the practice in 2013.

‘Expenses’ 

Lord Trefgarne, or David Trefgarne, 79, has claimed £622,758 in expenses since 2001. Since 2016, he has voted 348 times, spoken 198 times, asked 72 questions, and he has been on three committees.

His peerage is based in Cleddau in the County of Pembroke, and was created in 1947 for the barrister, journalist and Liberal as well as Labour politician, George Garro-Jones.

The current Lord Trefgarne was educated at private school Haileybury and Imperial Service College in Hertford. Unlike his father, he sat as a Conservative when he took his seat in 1962 at the age of 21. He went on to serve in Margaret Thatcher’s government in junior positions including at the Foreign Office and the trade and health departments.

He advised aerospace and engineering companies after leaving the government. He also became honorary president of the Libyan British Business Council.

He apologised in 2011 after it was discovered he’d written to Colonel Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, asking for help recovering £1 million in fees.

This was for work campaigning for the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber. He denied that he’d received any payment.

In 2015 he was banned from driving for speeding. Trefgarne claimed he was speeding because he “urgently needed the toilet”.

Lord Colwyn, 79, commonly known as Anthony Hamilton-Smith, has claimed £830,378 in expenses since 2001. He has voted 381 times since 2016, has spoken 29 times, has asked 50 questions, and has not been a member of any committees.

He entered the House of Lords in 1967 as a Conservative and has served as deputy speaker for six years until 2016 but was unsuccessful in his 2011 bid for the speakership.

The peerage is based in Colwyn Bay and was created in 1917 for the businessman Sir Frederick Smith.

Hamilton-Smith was educated at the Gloucester private school Cheltenham College. He then went on to Barts and after that to Royal Dental Hospital, before spending four decades as a dentist and going on to run a Harley Street practice.

The trumpet-playing dentist is part of a jazz group called Lord Colwyn’s Three B Band. It has played at weddings and other celebrations, including for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in the Lords. He is also co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary jazz appreciation group.

Lord Aberdare, 73, commonly known as Alastair John Lyndhurst Bruce, has claimed £185,919 in expenses since 2001. Since 2016 he has voted 328 times, has spoken 101 times, has asked 68 questions and has been a member of one committee.

The peerage is based in Duffryn in Glamorgan and was created in 1873 for the Liberal politician Henry Bruce, who served as Home Secretary from 1868 to 1873.

The fourth Baron, Morys George Lyndhurst Bruce, held office in the Conservative administration of Edward Heath as Minister without portfolio as well as Minister of State for Health and Social Security. He was later a Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords.

The current Lord Aberdare was educated at Eton and then went on to study at Christ Church, Oxford.

He joined the Lords in 2009 following a career in business, which included more than 20 years at technology giant IBM in Britain, America and Belgium.

Aberdare is a director of the recording company FCM, which his father, the fourth baron and real tennis champion, helped set up. The company produces recordings of Shakespeare plays, as well as interviews with athletes and Bible stories for children. He has spoken out about the impact of Brexit on musicians who want to tour Europe.

Between 1994 and 2006 he was a trustee of the National Botanic Garden of Wales, and has been an Honorary Fellow of Cardiff University since July 2008.

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