People's peers accused over poor attendance

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Tony Blair's appointment of "people's peers" came under renewed scrutiny yesterday after the publication of their attendance records and expenses.

Tony Blair's appointment of "people's peers" came under renewed scrutiny yesterday after the publication of their attendance records and expenses.

The figures, released alongside records for MPs' allowances, showed that some of the peers - who were ennobled to make the House of Lords more accountable and reflective of modern society - have barely stepped foot in the chamber.

Some of the peers were accused of avoiding debate and treating the place, which has subsidised food and drink, like a club. Even the chairman of the Lords committee which vets new members of the upper house and appoints the so-called people's peers came in for criticism.

The figures showed that Lord Stevenson of Coddenham has one of the worst attendance records in the Lords and has failed to attend a single debate in the past year.

The independent peer, who was made chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commission by the Prime Minister, has only spent five days in the House of Lords in debates and committees since 2001.

Yesterday, his spokeswoman explained that his failure to attend more often was because he was extremely busy with other commitments, including Halifax-Bank of Scotland and the House of Lords Appointments Commission. She said: "Look at what else he does. He is also chairman of HBOS. He has made a commitment to go when he can to contribute."

But Lord Oakeshott, a Liberal Democrat peer and advocate of Lords reform, said Lord Stevenson should set an example to the peers his committee had appointed by playing a more active role. "How can the appointments commission ensure that people's peers turn up when the chairman is not prepared to lead by example?" he asked.

Lord Browne of Madingley, chief executive of BP, who was selected by Lord Stevenson's committee from thousands of applicants, spent one day last year in the Lords.

Lord Adebowale, another people's peer who is the chief executive of Turning Point, which works with young people involved with drugs and alcohol, spent 10 days in the House of Lords on parliamentary business last year. Baroness Greenfield, professor of pharmacology at Oxford University and another people's peer, attended for only six days.

Not all the 14 people's peers have poor attendance records and both Baroness Howe of Idlicote and Lord Bhatia play active roles. But one senior figure in the Lords yesterday accused many peers of using it as a dining club. She said the people's peers should come under particular scrutiny because they applied for the peerages, which were sought after by hundreds of members of the public. "It's a relatively small number of peers who really do pull their full weight," she said.

Peers, who do not receive a salary, are entitled to subsidised food and drink and can claim thousands of pounds in allowances for accommodation. The expenses and attendance records show a big discrepancy between their actual attendance and their tendency to claim taxpayers' cash, with some claiming almost £50,000 in expenses a year and others claiming nothing.

Yesterday, there were calls for reform of the allowance system for both peers and MPs.

Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, questioned why cabinet ministers - including the Prime Minister - who have official residences in London should be able to claim thousands of pounds of taxpayers' cash in subsidies for private homes they rarely live in.

The husband and wife team of Labour MPs, Alan and Ann Keen, each claim £17,669 in housing allowances, even though they live only nine miles from Westminster. They represent seats in west London, but because their constituencies are in outer London they are allowed to claim up to £20,000 for their second home in Covent Garden.

WHO ATTENDED - AND HOW MUCH IT COST

Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, Chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commission which appoints 'People's Peers', did not spend a single day in the Lords last year and claimed no allowances.

People's Peer Lord Browne of Madingley, chief executive of BP, spent one day in the Lords and claimed no allowances.

Lord Black of Crossharbour, the former owner of 'The Daily Telegraph' who gave up his Canadian citizenship to become a UK peer, spent four days in the Lords last year and did not claim allowances.

People's peer Lord Adebowale, chief executive of the drugs charity Turning Point, spent 10 days in the Lords last year. He claimed no allowances.

Hereditary Labour peer Viscount Simon diligently spent 165 days in attendance and claimed £42,000 in expenses.

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