Now you see them ... people's peers 'less visible than hoped'

Lord Browne of Madingley tops the list of ennobled 'ordinary' citizens who miss debates and votes
Click to follow
Indy Politics

A confidential House of Lords report into the performance of Britain's "people's peers" reveals that some have turned up to only a handful of debates and votes.

The report warns that some of the peers have "not been as visible as hoped" since Tony Blair introduced them in 2001 in an attempt to bring "ordinary" people into Parliament. More than 40 men and women from backgrounds including business and academe have been elevated to serve as people's peers.

An internal review of their performance reveals that the peers attended the House of Lords on fewer than half the working days available to them in the first four years after the scheme began. Peers are paid £86.50 per day for turning up in the Lords – or £174 if their visit requires an overnight stay in London.

The review also reveals these peers had taken part in only one in seven Lords votes between 2001 and 2006. Despite this, the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which ordered the review, insists publicly it is happy with their contributions. Privately, commission members suggested summoning the worst offenders for a dressing-down, and publicly "naming and shaming" them. They also want newer lords to be "mentored" by older peers to show them what is expected from them.

According to the review, obtained by The Independent on Sunday, people's peers attended an average of 45.3 per cent of sitting days between 2001 and 2005, compared with 71 per cent for Lib-Dems, 68 per cent for Labour and 56 per cent for the Tories.

Lord Browne of Madingley, the former boss of BP, was the worst offender, missing 98 per cent of sitting days while completely failing to vote at all. Lord Adebowale, head of the charity Turning Point, missed 92 per cent.

People's peers took part in 14.2 per cent of votes between 2001 and 2006. Conservative peers voted a third of the time, while both Labour and the Lib Dems took part in around half of all votes.

The Labour MP Paul Flynn, a member of the Public Administration Select Committee, said the people's peers experiment was "a failure to rank alongside the cones hotline. They set out to produce people's peers, but they ended up appointing peers' peers instead."

Some people's peers said last night that the voting figures picture was "misleading" and failed to take into account other contributions, including committees, speeches and questions.

Baroness Deech, who took part in 10 out of 182 votes up to 2006, said: "I don't vote unless I am conversant with the issues – that is, unlike party political peers, I do not just come in to vote and go away again. I am still working, currently chair of the Bar Standards Board, and have to fit it all in, as well as commuting from Oxford and many other unpaid activities."

Lord Broers said the commission figures did not cover work such as his chairmanship of the Science and Technology Committee, "which involved several meetings per week and extensive time spent in taking evidence and in writing reports".

A spokesman for Lord Bilimoria, the Cobra beer company founder, said his figures had been skewed by the fact that he was not introduced into the Upper House until 2006. He said that Lord Bilimoria's activity had been above average since then, and that he had made a number of significant contributions to the House.

The spokesman added: "To criticise the people's peers on the basis of their voting record misses the purpose of the role of the peers. The people's peers will tend to vote on areas where they can bring expertise; they are not necessarily appointed to scrutinise a wider section of legislation outside of their areas of expertise."

House of Lords figures show that the overall attendance record of the people's peers has improved since the review.

Lord Browne and Lord Adebowale were unavailable for comment.