Guid Laird, that’s an awful lot of money…

LORD Laird tends to get a fairly easy ride in the media; he gives good quotes, occasionally stumbles onto a half-decent story and is a colourful character who thinks he understands PR. None of which excuses the fact that this bumbling buffoon costs you and me more than anyone else in the House of Lords – despite only having spoken seven times in the upper house last year.

What is particularly galling is that while the one-man Ulster-Scots cross-border taxi service is happy to point the finger at others for being a waste of money, he doesn’t seem to realise that this is how many see him. According to the Independent:

The official record of Lords expenses, published yesterday, shows that Lord Laird claimed his daily attendance allowance 145 times, at a cost of £12,319. He also claimed £30,734 for staying overnight in London, and £14,564 for flights between London and his home in Ulster. With office costs of nearly £14,000, including £598 for postage, and other travel costs, the total came to £73,206.

The article adds:

The 65 year old peer, who began his career in banking and later founded the Belfast firm, John Laird Public Relations, was the youngest member of the Northern Ireland parliament in 1970, when he took over the seat vacated when his father died. He was then an Ulster Unionist, but sits in the Lords as a cross bencher.

In 2000, he ran into criticism when it was discovered that he had spent over £1,000 in three months on meals in the House of Lords, for which he billed the publicly funded Ulster-Scots Agency, of which he was chairman.

Government auditors also criticised his taxi bills, including £260 for a return trip from Belfast to Dublin. Lord Laird said that there a security reason that he needed to use taxis, because he often travelled in a kilt, which made him conspicuous.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Though he speaks only rarely in Lords debates, he also holds an unbeaten record as the most prolific asker of parliamentary questions. Answering his written questions cost the taxpayer more than £100,000 in the same year”

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/pound74000-for-the-most-expensive-peer-1837911.html

    Criticised for asking questions? That’s a new one…

  • Belfast Gonzo

    PT

    I suppose it depends on what the questions are. If it’s possibly for a Minister to lump 34 of them together, you really have to wonder if he is holding the government to account in the best way.

    And do you have to travel to London 145 times to submit a written question? Given that many of them are about wasting taxpayers’ money, isn’t it time that someone called Laird on the drain on the public purse that he is?

  • Rory Carr

    Quit whinging and count yoursrlves lucky. So it costs £73K to keep him in London for 145 days each year. We Londoners would happily pay twice that amount to keep the old fart out of London!

  • DR

    Can I just remind you all that he dosnt get a salary for the job, and does work hard, ok he does go of on the odd tangent but he also will take up the no hope case that the rest dont want to know about, whats your axe to grind gonzo? “this is how many sees him” should really said, “this is how gonzo sees him” are you saying any of his costs arent legitimate? its buttons commpared to what the bankers and silly servants waste every year and by hounding him your just sticknig the boot into someone who at least trying to work for the public interest.

  • Carson’s Cat

    Pigeon Toes
    “Criticised for asking questions? That’s a new one…”

    Its not actually that new – the Health Minister was trying something similar a while back. Hence a couple of stories about the cost of Assembly Members daring to ask questions of Ministers.

    John McCallister was wheeled onto Nolan a few weeks back to criticise the cost of questioning the Health Minister. I’m sure he’ll be just as keen to criticise Lord Lard for doing the same.

  • Framer

    At least he goes to parliament unlike almost all our MPs and his questions are not usually about Turkish North Cyprus like other lords from Northern Ireland.

    Let’s see what the other NI peers get by way of payment for their minor efforts?

    Check this out for the Laird list in the last session:

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200809/ldhansrd/ldallfiles/peers/lord_hansard_1388_wad.html

  • Belfast Gonzo

    So it’s OK for Laird to hold the government accountable on how it spends taxpayers’ money, but it’s not OK for holding Laird up to scrutiny when he wastes it?

    I’m sure some of his costs are legitimate. It’s the ones that aren’t that bother me. Quite why someone needs to claim for 145 nights in London when he only spoke seven times is beyond me.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Framer

    I liked this question:

    “To ask Her Majesty’s Government how much the Northern Ireland Office spent on taxis from 1 September in each of the past five years.”

    Not as much as Laird while in the Ulster Scots Agency, I’d imagine.

  • DR

    sure they are all asleep no one lsitens

  • Rory Carr

    He may have only spoken seven times, Gonzo, but he was listening very hard on the other 138 days and if you have ever listened to a House of Lords debate then you will appreciate what a debilitating ordeal that can prove to be.

    Of course he always had the option of simply signing in then buggering of to luncheon at Wheelers and then on to Stringfellows for some relief from the strains of high political life.

  • Captain Bufton-Tufton

    Where are all the UCUNFers? Strangely silent….

  • fair_deal

    Agree with PT on the questions.

    If he is there on the 145 days I am having difficulty in seeing the issue here? A person from Northern Ireland being an active participant in the HoL I’d consider a good thing.

    The next issue is whether the claims are exorbitant. Based on the information in this article this doesn’t seem to be necessarily the case. For example if he had a return flight for each of the 145 days that would work out at about £100 per return flight.

    As regards the hotel stays it seems to average out at £212 per day, never stayed in a London hotel but always told they are dear, is that expensive/average/low?

    His postage has him sending approximately 1660 first class letters in a year – that works out at about seven per working day.

    If it is shown that his number of flights and hotel stays were much lower than the 145 then the costs do head towards profligacy or that he has signed in then cleared off there would be issues but the evidence thus far doesn’t prove it.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    The evidence doesn’t suggest he was particularly active in the House though.

  • fair_deal

    The number of speeches don’t but the level of questions does.

  • fair_deal

    Actually I have double checked on they work for you 4 is the average number of times a peer speaks in a year so 7 is above average.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    I really don’t see why anyone would need 145 days in London to submit any number of questions.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    … or speak seven times.

  • Laughing (Tory) Unionist

    While I can’t, natch, speak for the posturing, liberal sc*mb*g end of UCUNF, here’s a stab at the black-heareted reactionary UCUNF take on John Laird: throughly good thing, indeed, wild craic altogether. Does his job, goes over, makes a fuss, raises points others with the same bully pulpit can’t be bothered to (naming no spouses – and what a fricking waste of a seat in parliament that was). So yeah, John Laird, official good egg. QUANGOcratic rip-off merchant too, but you can’t have everything.

  • Dec

    A person from Northern Ireland being an active participant in the HoL I’d consider a good thing.

    Eh, care to outline why? Still I suppose it frees up park benches for the elderly and infirm elsewhere.

    Actually I have double checked on they work for you 4 is the average number of times a peer speaks in a year so 7 is above average.

    Jeez, I’ll have to rethink my opinion on the House of lords. Trousering £12 Grand a year for turning up and asking 4 questions is value for money. Lairds worth his weight in gold.

  • ‘bumbling buffoon’ – I think that’s over the top BG and it’s also verging on libellous. Lord Laird may not be your cup of tea – but I have to say that he was the best spokesman Ulster Scots issues had.

    As for the cost of keeping him as a Lord in London – well that’s the price of Britain’s peculiar type of democracy….isn’t it?

  • Tochais Siorai

    How about ‘Stotterin Daftie’ then?

  • DR

    BTW, I think we accept at the assembly most of the real work is done by the committees, not on the floor of the house, I persume the good Laird serves on some of these?

  • paulstpancras

    On the first of Christmas – one Lord a fleecing…

  • Moochin Photoman

    I think it’s perhaps of more interest that our Culture Minister is ‘livid’/ragin’? over the running of thon feckin waste of money the ulster scots dialect agency

  • Which bumbling buffoon missed this? 😉

    “On one occasion a minister was so deluged with written questions from him that he bundled 34 of them together and answered them all in a single written statement. Civil servants calculate the average cost of answering a written question in 2008 was £149, implying that questions from Lord Laird comfortably exceeded £100,000.” … Belfast Telegraph

    “On one occasion, a minister was so deluged with written questions from this one Ulster peer that he bundled 34 of them together and answered them all in a single written statement.

    Civil servants have calculated that the average cost of answering a written question, at December 2008, was £149, implying that Lord Laird questions comfortably exceeded £100,000.” .. The Independent

    This reminds me of the piss-poor churnalism evident at the time of the ‘Marconi cottage’ news item 🙂

  • paddy

    ees as much use as a chocolate fire guard.should be in a nursing home along with the rest of the house sure their all doteing

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Erm, no-one… it’s the same report by the same journalist. But you already knew that; at least I assume that explains the smilies.

  • JC McQuaid

    Yiz nae ken thet thon mon’s quare importint til al men an’ weemin who loves spakein in oor ann hamely tang, an’ us folk’ll nae be scunnered by yer pettiness an’ maen-mindedness.

  • It was obviously the same journalist, BG. He’s named McSmith in the Indie but his contribution goes unnamed in the BelTel.

    One of the smilies related to the quality of reporting of the coalyard cottage story.

    A point not made by McSmith is that if the Ministers had given full and frank answers at the first attempt there would have been less of a need for John Laird to drag the information out through repeat questioning.

  • igor

    Nevin

    They all run off the one news feed. Havnt you noticed before?

  • igor

    Anyway, anyone know the Ulster Scoots for

    “What terrific value”

  • Border Fox

    Quare guid beng far ye bock….

  • I thought there would be a greater variety of sources, igor. The MSM was badly caught out when it published what appeared to be a misleading advert for a house as a news story – see my earlier Marconi link.

  • fair_deal

    BG

    The repetition of 145 isn’t selling me, going there is part of the job. At the minute it just reads like a complaint that someone bothers to turn up.

    As I said I need more information to be convinced that something unacceptable is happening here – for example I would point that the average per night cost is higher than the permissible allowance of £174 so why aren;t these two figures correlating more closely?

    Dec

    “care to outline why?”

    I thought you’d have noticed by now I’m a Unionist from NI so a local contribution to a national forum I consider a good thing.

  • willis

    I was just wondering if Ulster Scots DAB adios will still use valves?

    Broadcasting: Analogue Radios
    Question

    Asked by Lord Laird

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government further to the Written Answer by Lord Carter of Barnes on 30 June (WA 30-31), what assessment they have made of the domestic reception of digital radio broadcasting in Northern Ireland, the time taken to warm up digital radios and their signal reception. [HL4805]

    The Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting (Lord Carter of Barnes): The Digital Radio Working Group (DRWG)* looked closely at digital audio broadcasting (DAB) current and planned coverage across the UK. One of the key purposes of the work of the group was to provide momentum to encourage digital radio rollout. This has continued with the Digital Britain White Paper.

    Figures provided by the DRWG’s Spectrum Group at the end of 2008 showed that 87.6 per cent** of the population in Northern Ireland are able to receive DAB. We acknowledge there is a short delay when switching on some DAB radio sets. This is caused by the processor “powering up” in much the same way as a computer does.

    There have been discussions between broadcasters and manufacturers about improving the reception of DAB sets. I expect this to continue in the future to improve the reception of sets further.

    *The DRWG was established in November 2007 by the Secretary of State to consider digital radio in the UK.

    **The figure of 87.6 per cent population coverage of DAB in Northern Ireland is based on BBC Radio 2’s coverage. Radio 2’s FM coverage in Northern Ireland is 98.3 per cent.

  • “Civil servants have calculated that the average cost of answering a written question, at December 2008, was £149, implying that Lord Laird questions comfortably exceeded £100,000.”

    Jim Allister questioned the awarding of the Rathlin ferry contract and the DRD spent £55,000 on a whitewash so perhaps McSmith’s ‘implication’ requires further scrutiny. Not all questions cost anywhere near the average cost. One year on and the DRD committee still hasn’t examined this report and the EU commission is expecting a UK response to its own questions by December 22. The EU fast track Pilot investigation commenced in March 2009 and should have had a UK response within 10 weeks. However, the UK has had to work through the OFMDFM and DRD and that’s bound to drag things out. Of course, you can read all about this EU investigation in the MSM – not 🙂

    Sometimes John Laird eventually gets a simple straightforward answer to a question as happened recently:

    Asked by Lord Laird [09 Dec 2009]

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Rathlin ferry MV “Canna” had a valid passenger certificate throughout September 2008. [HL505]

    The Secretary of State for Transport (Lord Adonis): Further to my Answer of 29 June 2009 (Official Report, col. WA 23) the MV “Canna” did not hold a valid passenger certificate between 1 and 11 September 2008.

    The DUP in North Antrim and the SDLP in Foyle have each had an opportunity to deal with Rathlin ferry reserved issues through the House of Commons but failed to do so. The Ministry for Transport intends to impose no penalties on the operator so anyone who gets a fixed MOT penalty for driving a car a few days beyond the valid certificate date could raise the issue of equality 😉