The deadline by which members of the House of Lords had to become fully UK-resident for tax purposes passed last night.
Guess how many peers chose to quit the Lords rather than sacrifice their cherished non-domiciled tax status? Five. Lords Foster, Bagri, Laidlaw and McAlpine and Baroness Dunn. Most of them spend very little time in the UK, and even less time turning up to vote or speak in the upper chamber.
Three things worth noting:
1) Despite the fuss that the Tories tried to kick up over the multimillionaire Labour peer (and former deputy speaker of the Lords) Lord Paul, none of the five leaving the Lords is a Labour (or Lib Dem) peer. (Lord Paul also confirmed to me in an interview four months ago that he would be ending his non-dom status this year.) Three out of five (Bagri, Laidlaw and McAlpine) are Tories (the other two are cross-benchers); Laidlaw was one of the most important Tory donors, contributing £4m to the party’s coffers.
2) Lord Ashcroft, the Tories’ biggest donor and former deputy party chairman, whose “target seats” strategy failed to secure David Cameron a Commons majority, has confirmed that he is giving up his controversial non-dom status in order to stay on in the Lords.
3) It is “absurd”, as Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, observes, that these five scampering peers are able to retain their titles (as lords and baroness). For once, I agree with the Daily Mail headline: “Why in the name of justice are peers who quit the Lords to avoid paying tax not stripped of their titles?”
But let’s be honest: the debate over non-doms in the Lords is a distraction from the real issue, which is the upper chamber itself.
While I acknowledge that some life peers do hard work and make good contributions to legislative debates, the House of Lords is, in and of itself, an undemocratic, antediluvian, elitist anachronism.
If Nick Clegg and his Con-Dem coalition allies can, once and for all, rid this country of unelected peers and introduce a wholly elected second chamber, I for one will be eternally grateful to them.