Factometer: unrated

The claim
“Every peer has their own tax status and my view is that quite a lot, more near 100, are non-domiciled.”
Lord Paul, Channel 4 News, 3 March 2010

Cathy Newman checks it out
The billionaire Tory donor Lord Ashcroft finally broke a decade-long silence to declare that he was a non-dom on Monday. A non-dom is, of course, someone who doesn’t pay full UK tax (not a political contraceptive device as some Westminster wags have been suggesting).

In the furore that’s followed, the Tories have attempted to turn the table on Labour, querying the tax affairs of Gordon Brown’s friend Lord Paul. But when I spoke to the Labour peer, he said he was in good company in the House of Lords. In fact he made the rather eye-popping claim that 100 of his fellow peers were also non-doms.

Over to the team for the analysis
The official definition of a non-dom is someone who doesn’t have to pay UK tax on their foreign income. That’s because although they may live in Britain, they have strong links to another country. They or their parents might have been born abroad, for example.

But the problem with counting non-doms is no one actually knows how many there are in the country, let alone in the House of Lords.

Lord Ashcroft is one. Labour peer Lord Paul has been open about his non-dom status (although he told us he’s now lived here long enough to be “deemed domicile” – meaning he has to pay inheritance tax in the UK.) Conservative peer Baroness Gardner is another one.

That’s three out of 733 peers in the Lords – are there 90 or so more? This is where it gets tricky. Tax affairs are generally private, and that’s why Lord Ashcroft only fessed up after a decade of pressure.

We can rule out the 72 Lib Dem peers – a spokesman said the party had checked and none were non-doms. The Lib Dems, who have waged a campaign against non-doms, estimate there were a total of 10 or 15 in the Lords – considerably fewer than Lord Paul’s tally.

The House of Lords doesn’t have a record. Neither does the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which vets new peers. Since 2005, the Commission has ruled that anyone joining the Lords must be permanently resident in the UK, which usually means they pay full British tax.

Cathy Newman’s verdict
Short of making a raid on the Revenue’s secret files, we’re not going to be able to come up with 100 names to back up Lord Paul’s claim. You might however be able to get to that kind of figure by adding the number of non-doms to the number of Lords who live abroad (but pay tax here).

Six peers voluntarily – and I think quite amazingly – admit they don’t live in the UK, despite passing the laws of the land.  Many more no doubt live abroad but don’t own up to it. All this should come to an end soon. A new law not only outlaws non-doms but also insists peers should be permanently resident here. About time too.