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Review ordered to ensure 'robust measures' over IT equipment for peers

Published 06/11/2015

Officials admit they have lost track of the number of gadgets handed out to peers
Officials admit they have lost track of the number of gadgets handed out to peers

Peers have been allocated up to four printers each and multiple laptops and iPads - with the Lords authorities admitting their records of who has what are inadequate.

Members who go on leave of absence from the chamber are also being allowed to keep thousands of pounds worth of IT kit and taxpayer-funded home broadband connections.

The House of Lords has launched a review of its IT register after a freedom of information request by the Press Association exposed chaotic record-keeping. Rules on how much equipment peers can receive have also been tightened.

A powerful cross-party Lords committee stepped in to prevent officials proactively publishing a breakdown of kit issued to peers earlier this year for fear of embarrassment.

The system has seen members able to get up to four printers - one for home use, one for their office, another for "travel", and one shared with other peers at Westminster.

However, days before the details were disclosed under FOI, rules were changed so that in future members will only be entitled to one printer in their office and one shared with other peers.

The authorities have now also banned new home broadband connections. But more than 200 existing connections, costing the taxpayer around £50,000 a year, will stay in place.

The register of equipment, which is supplied for the personal use of peers, suggests that more than 1,100 devices have been allocated to peers. But it is littered with errors, and officials admit the record-keeping has been seriously flawed.

Among the details disclosed are:

:: Baroness Gardner of Parkes has been allocated four printers - two HP OfficeJets, an HP LaserJet, and a Canon Pixma.

The Tory peer insisted she had "access to a number of printers, some of which I share with others". "These help me to fulfil my parliamentary duties and enable me to respond to many letters received," she added.

:: Former Lords leader Lord Hill of Oareford is listed as having a desktop and laptop despite being on leave of absence since October 2014 - when he began a five year term as Britain's representative on the European Commission.

:: Lord Janner, whose dementia is considered too serious for him to stand trial over allegations of child sex abuse, is recorded as having two laptops despite being on leave of absence since October 2014.

A Lords spokesman said the 87-year-old former Labour MP for Leicester West had in fact given the computers back in June and September this year - but suggested he may still have two older printers that were not listed on the register.

:: Lord Taylor of Warwick, who sits in the House despite serving a sentence for expenses fraud, has two printers, a desktop computer and a laptop as well as taxpayer-funded home broadband.

He did not respond to an email asking for comment.

:: Liberal Democrat Lord Rennard has an iPad, two laptops, and a home broadband connection.

He said he had been issued with the iPad while a member of the Information Committee as part of efforts to reduce printing costs, and kept it after he left.

"I understand that in future I will only be allowed the use of one laptop and one iPad," he said. "In the meantime, all equipment provided to me has been properly used by me, or people acting on my behalf and needing access to such equipment, to support my work as a peer."

:: Baroness Massey is listed as having two iPads, a laptop and three printers. She said that was "wrong" and in fact she only has one of each device.

The taxpayer still appears to be funding broadband bills for a number of peers who are on leave of absence, including Baroness Lockwood and Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead.

The figures do not cover the monthly data costs for around 180 iPads recorded as having been issued to peers.

Members of the Lords do not receive salaries, but are entitled to a tax-free allowance of £300 for every sitting day they attend.

Only ministers and office-holders can claim expenses for secretarial support, up to around £7,000 a year.

A House of Lords spokesman said: "During their time in Parliament, Lords Members can be loaned one computer for use in their Parliamentary Office, and one laptop computer or an iPad.

"Lords members can be loaned both a laptop and an iPad if they are a member of a committee.

"In the past, printers for home use were also issued on loan although no new loans of printers for home use are possible with effect from October 21 2015. Desktop printers are shared between occupants of Parliamentary offices.

"All Parliamentary IT equipment is supplied on loan and must be returned when an individual ceases to be a Member of the House of Lords.

"Members are allowed to keep their IT equipment while on leave of absence because they are still able to return to the House.

"IT equipment is returned if a Member dies or retires."

The spokesman added: "In fact-checking the details of IT equipment issued following this FOI request it has become clear that records were not always as accurate as they should have been with some members recorded as having more equipment than is actually the case.

"The clerk of the Parliaments has asked the Digital Service to review this and the processes and records will be audited in the near future to ensure that appropriate and robust measures are in place."

Dia Chakravarty, political director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Peers will need office equipment to do their jobs, but it's deeply concerning that the parliamentary records were so inaccurate.

"Laptops and printers cost taxpayers a fortune so every possible step must be taken to ensure that the record books are clear, and expensive kit isn't dished out without any check on who already has what.

"The authorities should also ensure that they are buying cost-effective equipment and aren't wasting taxpayers' cash on unnecessarily high-end gadgets."

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