The House of Lords authorities are refusing to hand over officials’ estimates of how much it will cost taxpayers to replace the chamber with a mostly elected senate, prompting anger from Tory politicians.
Officials have rejected a freedom of information request by the Financial Times, saying that the relevant information was produced “solely” for the joint committee on Lords reform. “A decision was taken by them not to publish it as part of their report,” they said in their response.
David Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden, said there was a “clear-cut case” for the cost estimates to be put in the public domain.
“There is a very clear argument for this,” said the influential former frontbencher. “It will be very hard for them to refuse to do it.” Mr David predicted that the question would be put to Nick Clegg: “What’s he going to say? ‘We don’t know?’ He can’t do that can he?”
Another Tory MP told the FT: “This is a genuine public issue how can we reach a decision about its merits when we have no cost-benefit analysis?”
The issue comes to a head on Wednesday when Lords reform is part of the Queen’s speech setting out the legislative programme for the forthcoming parliamentary year. Baroness Shephard, a Tory peer on the joint committee, has said that the “public really should know” what the extra cost of an elected chamber would be. “I wonder if it were put to them …whether they would be as enthusiastic for 450 more elected paid party politicians,” she said.
Estimates of the cost vary because of the many different assumptions as to the size and scope of the new chamber.
Lord Lipsey, a Labour peer, has estimated that the elected chamber could cost an extra £433m from 2015 to 2020. But the peer has admitted that this is probably an over-estimate as it was calculated nearly a year ago and ignores the fact that for the first decade there would be surviving members who would not receive a salary.
Lord Tyler, a Lib Dem peer who backs the reforms, said opponents had used “ridiculous exaggeration” in their cost estimates. “They owe your House an apology for making such misleading use of totally out-of-date and speculative estimates.”
But that still leaves everyone at sea as to what a realistic figure should look like. Mark Harper, constitutional reform minister, has said the government could not publish any costings until it had more detail of how new second chamber would work.
The Lords officials said that their estimates were based on “certain assumptions” which ultimately could prove to be incorrect.