A former Ulster Unionist peer has defended his “good day’s work” at the House of Lords after claiming more than £48,000 in expenses last year – despite voting only twice and making no speaking appearances.
Lord John Laird was named as one of more than 100 members who claimed a total of almost £1.3 million without making any spoken contributions during the last 12 months.
Lobby group the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) described the Lords as “out of control” and said the expenses claims reflected a “something for nothing” culture among peers.
Lord Laird - who first entered the Lords in 1999 – said his ill health and lack of mobility meant his contribution was mainly through tabling written questions on many important issues.
“The problem I have, is that I have had a heart attack which has caused me heart failure ever since,” he said.
“I also have arrhythmia, which means my heart operates at only 70% and not 100%, and on top of that I’ve got arthritis on the knees so I can’t walk very far.
“If you start an idea in the Lords – that those people who are handicapped should not be in the Lords – then you are going to lose a lot of people, including people who are specifically there because they are handicapped. I get taxi fares, because I can’t get in and out of tube trains and things.”
Lambasting the latest batch of expenses claims, the ERS said: “We’re witnessing an ‘expenses free-for-all’ in the Mother of All Parliaments, with expenses claims soaring by 20% in just two years – at a time when public services have been under strain.”
Lord Laird faced similar criticism in 2009 when he topped the expenses list with a claim of £73,000 for the previous 12 months.
The life peer was the subject of further media scrutiny in 2013 when a Panorama documentary broadcast allegations that he was prepared to table questions in return for payment.
In response, the former chairman of the Ulster-Scots Agency said: “I did not agree to act as a paid advocate in any proceedings of the House nor did I accept payment or other incentive or reward in return for providing parliamentary advice or services.”
Defending his track record, Lord Laird said he had “put down questions on everything,” and added: “It takes a long time to research these things, to meet people. People know that I table these questions so therefore if someone has a problem with an army pension or something, they are quite likely to come to me. That’s work I’m very pleased to do and I’m very busy.
“I have put down 14,000 questions in 18 years, and that takes a lot of work. The expenses are £300-a-day, we don’t get paid a salary.”
Lord Laird said many of the peers have “certain expertise” not found in the Commons.
“I regard myself as part of that,” he said.
“I also regard myself as doing a very good day’s work in terms of the questions I ask and all the other stuff that I do.”
A spokesman for the Lords said: “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 work away from the chamber.”