By Katie Ghose
Another year, another round of Lords scandals. Revelations emerged last week that a peer left a taxi waiting outside Parliament while he went inside to register for his daily £300 allowance – and then hopped back in. This isn't a claim coming from reformers: it's from the former speaker of the House of Lords, Baroness D'Souza.
She says he's not alone. In fact, she says the Lord was one of "many, many, many who contribute absolutely nothing, but who claim the full allowance". The scandal has been revealed in the BBC’s new Meet the Lords series, which will be shown tonight.
We already knew some peers claim their £300 without speaking or voting, but to hear this from the former Lords speaker herself is astonishing – and shows just how severe this problem really is.
Baroness D'Souza has exposed a truly scandalous situation. Sadly though, since they're unelected, there is essentially no way to get rid of peers who do this. The public are sick to death of the kind of behaviour that Meet the Lords highlights.
Our research at the end of 2015 showed that £1.3m was claimed by 64 peers in the 2014/15 financial period who failed to speak in that year. And peers who failed to take part in any votes from 2010-2015 claimed £360,000 back from the taxpayer. The situation with the Lords is spiralling out of control, both in terms of size and cost.
With examples of hereditary peers complaining about doing parliamentary work, this documentary also highlights the farce that is the hereditary peerage system. The practice of holding so-called 'by-elections' for hereditary peers – with only aristocrats able to vote and stand – is an embarrassment to our politics.
Some of these by-elections have had an electorate of three or less, which makes a mockery of the 'mother of all parliaments'. Scrapping the hereditary peer system would be a start in the process of clearing out our out-dated upper house and cutting the second largest chamber on Earth (after the People’s Republic of China) down to size.
So: the solution. Rather than spending thousands on peers who fail to even speak up in parliament, we need a fairly-elected upper House. That call is only likely to grow after this series looks set to lay bare some of the outrageous abuses of privilege in the upper chamber.
This documentary provides yet more evidence that we urgently need to sort out the House of Lords, and move to a fully-elected chamber where the people who make our laws are elected by the public – and can be kicked out by the public. Let’s fix this broken House before the situation gets any worse.
Katie Ghose is chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society
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