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Lords' Speaker claims hundreds of pounds expenses for chauffeur-driven Mercedes

Published 22/12/2015

Expenses details revealed that Baroness D'Souza kept cars waiting, racking up three-figure bills for travelling short distances
Expenses details revealed that Baroness D'Souza kept cars waiting, racking up three-figure bills for travelling short distances

The Speaker of the House of Lords racked up a £230 bill keeping a chauffeur-driven car waiting for some four hours while she watched an opera a mile from Parliament.

Baroness D'Souza also spent £270 holding a car for four and a half hours while she had lunch with the Japanese ambassador in central London, and £738 keeping a luxury Mercedes parked for up to 10 hours during an event at Windsor Castle.

Using a Mercedes to get from Westminster to Canterbury for the enthronement of Archbishop Justin Welby in March 2013 cost £627 - with Commons counterpart John Bercow making exactly the same journey in a separate car for £525.

The Lord Speaker has also spent tens of thousands of pounds on travel, flying business class, staying in hotels costing up to £300 a night, and ordering £123 of room service for a "breakfast meeting".

Fresh details of the expenses incurred by the peer - a former university lecturer who earns a salary of more than £100,000 for a largely ceremonial role and does not require an official car for security purposes - have been released following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Press Association.

Limited information has been published in the past, but in the wake of a landmark Court of Appeal ruling on the scope of FOI the Lords authorities have now supplied copies of individual receipts submitted on Lady D'Souza's behalf.

Earlier this year a similar disclosure for Lady D'Souza's Commons counterpart, John Bercow, revealed a £172 bill for attending a conference less than a mile from parliament.

Among the details released are:

:: Lady D'Souza used a chauffeur-driven Mercedes E class supplied by Little's to get to the Royal Opera House - just a mile from parliament - on the evening of June 20 2013.

She watched Benjamin Britten's Gloriana with the chairman of the Federation Council of Russia, and was brought back to the Lords four hours later at a cost of £230.40.

:: On September 17 last year the Lord Speaker went to lunch with the Japanese ambassador at his residence in Kensington Gardens, three miles from parliament. The car and driver were ordered to wait outside, charging £269.75 for four and a half hours.

A return taxi fare would have been around £30, and taking the Tube from Westminster to Notting Hill Gate less than £5.

:: On October 18 2012, Lady D'Souza attended a memorial service for Baroness Shireen Ritchie of Brompton at Chelsea Old Church, SW3, around 2.5 miles from the House of Lords.

The Mercedes E-class was on call for three hours at a cost of £172.80.

:: A Mercedes S-class was ordered from the WestOne firm in June 2012 to take Lady D'Souza and Black Rod David Leakey to a Garter ceremony at Windsor Castle. It was told to park and wait before returning, billing £738 for 10 hours.

:: A 10-day official trip to Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan in the Autumn of last year left a bill of nearly £26,000.

Accompanied by three officials, Lady D'Souza flew BA business class to Tokyo and back from Hong Kong at a cost of £3,281.

Her "executive deluxe" room at the five-star Le Meridien Taipei on October 5 was £248.

The following morning there was a £123 tab for "in-room dining" for the party and two local British officials - including fresh orange juice, fresh grapefruit juice, watermelon juice, coffee and "fruits".

A Lords spokesman said the group were holding a "breakfast meeting" to discuss the "priorities for the visit".

That night, Lady D'Souza was in a King Executive Harbour View Room at the Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong, costing £293.

A House of 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 including those that you have highlighted, the security requirements of the hosts often require that 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.

"As part of international visits modest gifts are sometimes exchanged. Gifts given by the Lord Speaker are almost always sourced from the House of Lords gift shop."

Dia Chakravarty, political director of the Taxpayers' Alliance, 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.

"People will struggle to conclude that her present spending on travel is anything other than wasteful and occasionally downright frivolous."

The Court of Appeal's FOI ruling established the principle that expenses receipts contain more information than itemised lists of spending.

A Lords spokesman insisted the House would have disclosed the material regardless of the case.

"The Court of Appeal ruling regarding Ipsa did not change the House of Lords FOI release policy as we have always provided copies of documents related to expenses including receipts when requested under FOI," the spokesman said.

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