Peers who have barely spoken in the House of Lords for an entire year have claimed more than £7m in expenses and allowances, new research reveals.
Critics have condemned the “something-for-nothing culture” in the second chamber after analysis of official figures found that 115 peers – around one in seven – failed to speak at all in debates during the 2016-17 session, despite claiming more than £1.3m in attendance fees.
Analysis by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) found that nearly half of the 798 peers made 10 contributions or fewer in the same year, claiming £7.3m, while some £4m was pocketed by 277 members who spoke five times or fewer.
The research prompted calls for a move away from “couch-potato peers” towards an elected upper House with a smaller number of salaried peers, instead of current rules where members do not receive a salary but can claim up to £300 for sitting days.
However, a House of Lords spokesman said the analysis failed to consider the wider contributions of many peers in holding the Government to account.
It comes after Commons Speaker John Bercow described the size of the House of Lords as “patently absurd” and suggested the number of peers be halved to 400.
Darren Hughes, ERS chief executive, said: “There appears to be a growing ‘something-for-nothing’ culture in our upper house, with tidy sums being claimed by those who barely contribute.
“And there are a worrying number of couch-potato peers and lobby-fodder Lords at a time when there is plenty to scrutinise – ostensibly the upper chamber’s role.
“The fact that over £4m is being claimed by those who speak only a handful of times a year shows just how dire this undemocratic situation has become.
“It’s completely unacceptable that peers can claim thousands without even speaking or voting in the House – and it highlights the reality that there is no accountability for peers.”
Claimants included Northern Ireland peer Lord Laird, who got £48,000 in expenses despite only voting twice, and steel magnate Lord Paul who spoke twice while claiming £38,000 in expenses. Both were approached for comment.
SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart told The Independent that the Lords was a “national embarrassment” and peers who failed to contribute should be kicked out.
He said: “The Electoral Reform Society has done us a massive favour by shining a light into the darker recesses of this parliamentary circus.
“The public should be appalled that these unelected ‘lobby fodder Lords’ can claim £300 a day just for turning up – even if it is only for an hour.
“The place is now quickly becoming a national embarrassment ripe for abolition.
“These 115 silent Lords who haven’t said a word in the past year should be there first to be shown the door quickly followed by the rest of the cronies, donors, failed politicians and hangers-on.’’
His concern was echoed by Labour former deputy Commons leader Chris Bryant, who told The Independent: “A significant number of peers are clearly taking us all for a ride.
“That’s the problem with a job for life doled out on the basis of personal patronage. It’s long been clear the Lords is unsustainable.”
James Price, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said there were “many talented Lords” who aid the democratic process but those who do not contribute should not be able to claim expenses.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair cut the size of the second chamber when he abolished hereditary peers in 1999, although the number has swelled to nearly 800 in recent years.
A probe is currently underway into reducing the size of the House, which will reportedly consider bringing in a retirement age for those on the red benches.
The Lords spokesman said: “The Electoral Reform Society’s calculations are undermined by their narrow focus on spoken contributions.
“Speaking in the chamber is only one of the ways members hold the Government to account and this research ignores members’ contributions including amending legislation, asking the Government written questions and serving on select committees – more than 320 members served on committees in the last session of Parliament – as well as parliamentary work away from the Chamber.
“It is inaccurate to describe a House that tabled 5,608 amendments to legislation, asked Government 7,395 written questions and published 170 Committee reports in 2016-17 as a ‘part-time’ House.
“The Lords is an active and effective revising chamber.”