Hereditary peers have claimed nearly £500,000 in expenses during the pandemic as unprecedented numbers turned out to vote remotely.
The 85 Lords who hold titles because of their birthright claimed £484,000 from the taxpayer between April and October last year.
While peers are usually given a tax-free daily allowance of £323 each time they work from parliament, during the pandemic the amount has been halved to £162 for remote attendance.
The payment is only granted if peers participate but with remote attendance easier than making the journey to Westminster, Lords have been taking full advantage.
In the past 12 months the average hereditary peer has voted 113 times out of a possible 143, reported The Sunday Times.
For the same period last year, hereditary peers votes 24 times out of a possible 51.
The 85 Lords who hold titles because of their birthright claimed £484,000 from the taxpayer between April and October last year. Pictured, State Opening of Parliament in 2019
Meanwhile, life peers’ average attendance is 104 out of 143 votes. Last year life peers took part in 26 out of a possible 51 votes.
Hereditary peers attended 79 per cent of votes this year compared with 47 per cent the year before.
Norwich-based Lord Addington, 57, can boast the biggest claim. He has been granted £21,538 since the start of lockdown, including £2,994 in travel expenses.
Other big claimants include the Earl of Caithness, 72, who has been given £15,358 since April, and Lord Trefgarne, 79, who has claimed £12,824.
They have both derailed a private members bill sponsored by Lord Grocott, 80, to remove hereditary peers from the chamber.
Between them Caithness and Trefgarne have claimed nearly £1.6 million since 2001.
Hereditary peers have been taking part in 79 per cent of votes this year compared with 47 per cent the year before. Pictured, members of the judiciary talk among themselves before the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lord’s Chamber on December 19, 2019
It comes a week after it was revealed two leading members of the House of Lords – who are set to battle it out to become speaker – want to axe hereditary peers from Parliament’s Upper House.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town told the Sunday Times hereditary peers were ‘not something that would be accepted by the British public today’.
Lord Alderdice told the paper hereditary peers should be allowed to ‘wither away’.
The pair, along with Lord McFall of Alcluith, are currently in the running to become Speaker of the House of Lords.
Baroness Hayter (pictured left) of Kentish Town told the Sunday Times hereditary peers were ‘not something that would be accepted by the British public today’. Lord Alderdice (pictured right) told the paper hereditary peers should be allowed to ‘wither away’
The pair, along with Lord McFall of Alcluith, are currently in the running to become Speaker of the House of Lords (pictured)
Of the more than 800 hereditary peers across the UK, a maximum of 92 selected hereditary peers are entitled to sit in the House of Lords.
The number was slashed to 92 under sweeping reforms introduced by Labour in 1999 to significantly cut the number of hereditary peers allowed to sit in Parliament’s upper house.
Hereditary peers, who carry the titles of Duke, Marquess, Marchioness, Earl, Viscount, Baron and their female equivalents, are those who have their titles passed down by family their family.
They would previously automatically inherit their seat in the House of Lords upon the death of their relatives.
But the House of Lords system was replaced in 1999 with one of ‘life peerages’ – where people are appointed to the House of Lords and given a peerage which lasts until the lord dies.
As a compromise in the new system, which saw the total number of lords slashed from 1,330 to 669, Labour allowed 92 hereditary peers to remain.
When one hereditary peer dies or retires, a new lord is elected from the pool of hereditary peers by a system of by-election.
There are currently four available seats among the hereditary peers. However by-elections have been suspended since March last year due to Covid.
Despite Labour’s sweeping changes in 1999, clamour for reform in the House of Lords has continued.
There are currently 800 seats – including hereditary and life peers – in the House of Lords – making it the second biggest legislature in the world after the National People’s Congress in China.
The life peerage system has its critics, due to the lords being appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister.
Labour and Conservative governments have in the past been accused of attempting to ‘flood’ the house with Labour or Conservative lords.
But hereditary peers remain the most controversial element – with claims they are unrepresentative of the UK population.
They have an average age of 72, all of them are white, all of them are men and almost half went to Eton College.
Opponents are also wary of the influence of their potential to influence Government policy.
Though the House of Lords cannot directly block bills from the House of Commons, they can an amend and delay bills.
In reality, the Lords’ main role is to review and give insight into new laws – with appointed lords often being highly experienced experts in their fields.
But the ability to delay bills can become a powerful tool in the run-up to elections, particularly when a Government wants to push through policy in the run-up to a vote.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, a life peer who was formerly a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee and ex-party chairman, is one of those calling for an end to hereditary peers in the lords.
Baroness Hayter, 71, told the Sunday Times she felt the by-election system for hereditary lords was ‘wrong’ and has called on a vote on whether they should be resumed after Covid.
Meanwhile, Lord Alderdice, who sits for the Liberal Democrats, has also backed their permanent suspension.
The third candidate, Baron McFall of Alcluith, a former Labour lord who currently serves as the Senior Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, told the Sunday Times he ‘admired’ the work of those advocating reform.
He added that by-elections had become ‘absurd’.
All three candidates for the role of speaker of the House of Lords have urged Boris Johnson to accelerate reform of the upper house.
Baron McFall of Alcluith (pictured), a former Labour lord who currently serves as the Senior Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, told the Sunday Times he ‘admired’ the work of those advocating reform
All three candidates for the role of speaker of the House of Lords have urged Boris Johnson to accelerate reform of the upper house
It comes as an investigation by the Sunday Times, published last week, found that hereditary peers have cost the taxpayer almost £50million in expenses in the last 20 years.
Peers can claim £323 a day in tax-free expenses, as well as travel costs.
However, the investigation by the Sunday times found that the average hereditary peer has spoken in the House of Lords 50 times in the past five years.
This is compared to the 82 times that a life peer has spoken on average over the same period.
There are also 60 per cent more likely to mention their own business or personal interests when they do speak, the paper adds.
A House of Lords spokesperson told the Sunday Times that the upper house was ‘busy and effective’ in its role of holding the Government to account and that all of those in the house took their role ‘very seriously’.
The upper house took huge criticism from Tory MPs following the Brexit referendum.
In 2018 Conservative politicians, including former Tory leader Ian Duncan Smith accused the House of Lords of attempting to thwart Brexit.
He warned there had to be a ‘reckoning’ and a ‘complete and total overhaul’ of the Lords.
The backlash was sparked by peers voting to keep Britain in the Single Market and to remove the fixed date for leaving the EU, as well as repeatedly amending the Withdrawal Bill.
It also caused a negative response from the British public, according to a poll carried out in 2018.
Confidence in the Upper House plummeted as 76 per cent of voters said they felt peers were ‘out of tune with the will of the British people’. Even more said the Lords was ‘outdated throwback’.
The data came from a Daily Mail poll, carried out by ComRes, which revealed some 58 per cent of voters believe peers would be wrong to try to thwart Brexit, with 24 per cent thinking they should do so.
In February last year it was revealed peers paid themselves almost a third more in 2019 than in the previous 12 months as 31 claimed more in expenses than the standard take-home wage of an MP.
The cost of expenses and the payment of daily parliamentary attendance allowances in the House of Lords rose by some 29 per cent in the 12 months to March 2019, reaching £23 million.
The average tax-free payment received by peers was £30,827 – more than the median salary of UK workers.
Parliamentary authorities defended the payments as they insisted they had risen because peers had been asked to work more days than the previous year.