Lords-a-leeching

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Proposed reforms of the House of Lords expenses system have run into trouble - the lords aren't happy.

Last month the House discussed a review of peer expenses by the Senior Salaries Review Board, which suggested paying £200 a day to peers who turn up and sign on. This would be on top of £140 a night for peers who live outside London. The new system would cut the nightly allowance given to peers by £35 - but would also increase the daily allowance by £38.50.

Despite the leaders of the three main parties recommending that the House accepts the "architecture and principles" of the review, there are loud grumblings emanating from the backbenches.

Lord Palmer, a cross-bench hereditary peer, called the £200 a day allowance "an utter insult" and "derisory", arguing that senior accountants could earn £600 an hour.

Palmer was even more angry about the £140 a night payment for staying in hotels, which would force elderly female peers to undergo the "scary experience" of taking taxis to the outskirts of London if they wanted to find a hotel suitable for someone of their standing. (Perhaps someone should tell him about the £29 a night rooms in central London's Travelodge hotels.)

But the capping on travel expenses - especially the ruling that first class travel should only apply to the peer themselves and not their spouse, and should only be claimed when they are working - really enraged them.

Lord Palmer again: "The idea of having to share a [sleeping] compartment with a complete stranger or indeed another noble lord is completely unthinkable!"

Baroness Shephard, a former education secretary, was also worried about travel: "It could be most embarrassing when we see what is happening in sleepers. What is certain is that [peers] won't be with their spouses - your spouse is going to be in the guard's van."

The majority of those in the debate spoke with anger against the proposals, which are to be reviewed in light of their less than warm reception amongst the nobles.

Peers do not receive a salary for their work - but the expenses don't look too bad for volunteer work. And, with the average age of a peer being 69, it has to beat the state pension.