THE “window is closing” for reform of the House of the Lords as public patience with the unelected upper chamber runs out, the SNP has claimed.

MP Tommy Sheppard said repeated failed attempts at an overhaul meant “we must now look and prepare for the complete abolition and replacement of the Lords”.

The warning came as it was revealed retired peers are being allowed to use the subsidised dining rooms in the Lords for life despite quitting the red benches.

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Former lords and up to six of their guests can use the perk, enabling former peers to keep in contact with ministers and potentially influence policy.

A recent review set up by Lords Speaker Norman Fowler recommended cutting the size of the Lords by a quarter to no more than 600.

New peers should be limited to 15-year terms, rather than get jobs for life on £300-a-day tax free allowances, with a “two out, one in” policy for all parties, it said.

The report also said no group should have a majority, with a fifth of peers crossbenchers.

The target for culling the Lords - the world's second largest legislative body after China’s People’s Congress - was set at 2027, when there should be 574 peers and 26 bishops.

A recent Electoral Reform Society poll found only 10 per cent of people wanted the Lords unchanged, while almost two-thirds (62 per cent) said it should be elected.

Mr Sheppard, the SNP’s House of Lords spokesperson, said the Fowler report may have been “the last possible chance for reform”.

He said: “That opportunity may now have been missed. Peers are not accountable to the electorate and the chamber is now stuffed with party hacks, cronies and election losing has-beens, as well as convicted criminals. It is an utter affront to democracy.

“We are fast approaching a situation where the legitimacy and credibility of the House of Lords will be in crisis. The reforms suggested in the report were too limited and timid.

“We cannot be in the same situation this time next year - the window for reform is closing.

“We must now look and prepare for the complete abolition and replacement of the Lords.”

He also highlighted the “staggeringly unrepresentative” nature of the Lords, as only a quarter of its members are women; 44 per cent live in London and the south-east of England and 56 per cent are more than 70 years old.

Expenses and stipends for its members account for £20m of its annual £100m cost.

Concern over the bloated size of the Lords led to a 2015 law allowing peers to resign, and more than 70 have since done so.

However it emerged yesterday that retirees are still allowed to use many Lords facilities.

Material released to The Times under freedom of information about the former Tory peer Lord Ashcroft, who quit in 2015, revealed the unpublicised bonus.

Writing to Lord Ashcroft after he submitted his resignation, David Beamish, then clerk of the parliaments, said: “The house committee has agreed that the access privileges available to retired bishops should be made available to members who retire”.

These included the right to “sit on the steps of the throne; and use the library (apart from the research facilities), the peers’ guest room, the peers’ dining room with up to five guests and the Barry room with up to six guests.”

Willie Sullivan, senior director of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “At a time when we need to be reducing the burden of the unelected House of Lords, granting all former peers access to its subsidised bars and restaurants is massively self-defeating.”

James Price of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said former peers needed to recognise “retirement should mean the end of the road for their benefiting from taxpayers’ money”.