Many peers contribute "absolutely nothing" to Parliament, a former lord speaker claimed as she alleged one member kept a taxi running outside while signing in to collect the £300 daily allowance.
Baroness D'Souza suggested the "sense of honour" that used to come with being a member of the House of Lords had been lost.
The comments came in an interview for a documentary about the House of Lords which saw former Cabinet minister Lord Blunkett and Lord Tebbit criticise the process for appointments to the upper house.
On the BBC show Meet The Lords, which combines interviews and fly-on-the-wall footage, Lady D'Souza said: "There is a core of peers who work incredibly hard, who do that work, and there are, sad to say, many, many, many peers who contribute absolutely nothing but who claim the full allowance.
"I can remember one occasion when I was leaving the House quite late and there was a peer - who shall be utterly nameless - who jumped out of a taxi just outside the peers' entrance, left the engine running.
"He ran in, presumably to show that he'd attended, and then ran out again while the taxi was still running.
"So I mean that's not normal, but it is something that does happen and I think that we have lost the sense of honour that used to pertain, and that is a great, great shame."
Lord Blunkett and Lord Tebbit questioned some of the appointments prime ministers had made to the upper house.
Labour former home secretary Lord Blunkett said: "You have got people who may well be, out of the patronage of the government of the day, rewarded for either keeping their mouth shut or opening their mouth or their purse at a particular moment in time."
Tory peer Lord Tebbit said: "Far too many people have been put in here as a sort of personal reward.
"You wouldn't have imagined Mrs Thatcher wanting to give a peerage to Denis Thatcher's tailor or something like that.
"But we have come pretty close to that in recent years."
Liberal Democrat Lord Tyler joked: "It is the best day care centre for the elderly in London, families can drop in him or her and make sure that the staff will look after them very well nice meals subsidised by the taxpayer, and they can have a snooze in the afternoon in the chamber or in the library."
At a preview screening of the show, Lord Speaker Lord Fowler acknowledged there were concerns about the size of the upper house, which has more than 800 members.
He said: "The public and the press, as I know to my cost, regularly mock the size of the House, over 800, second only in size to the Chinese people's congress and all that.
"And they are right, we need to be smaller and I set up a committee under (Lord) Terry Burns to work on achieving just that."
:: Meet The Lords will be broadcast on Monday February 27 at 9pm on BBC Two.
A House of Lords spokesman said: "The House of Lords is an active and effective revising chamber that considered 3,678 amendments to legislation in the last session, and members contribute to that work in a wide variety of ways.
"The forthcoming documentary Meet The Lords shows members doing exactly that.
"In the 2015-16 session, 710 members spoke in debates, 779 voted in divisions, and 321 were members of select committees.
"However, parliamentary work is not limited to these activities, and much of it would not leave a record in Hansard.
"All members have to certify that they have undertaken parliamentary work when claiming for attending the House.
"Where members are shown to have claimed when they have not undertaken parliamentary work, the House has the power to suspend them - as in the case of Lord Hanningfield.
"The House has a robust Code of Conduct overseen by the independent Lords Commissioner for Standards."