New peers are told to work for party

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LABOUR'S EFFORTS to redress the balance in the Conservative-dominated House of Lords take a step forward today as Tony Blair creates 18 new life peers.

The Prime Minister's second list of working members for the upper house has almost three times as many Labour names as Conservative on it. The Tories have five new peers, while the Liberal Democrats have four.

At this rate, it would be a long time before the party of government overtakes the Opposition in the Lords. Before today's changes, the Conservatives had 474 peers, while Labour had 156 and the Liberal Democrats 67. There were 323 crossbenchers and 119 others.

Plans to abolish voting rights for hereditary peers should help to balance the figures, but even after that the Conservatives will still have significantly more clout in the upper house. After today's list, the Conservatives will have 174 life peers to Labour's 157.

Downing Street stressed that the new peers had been chosen for their work on behalf of the party. A spokesman said they would be expected to attend regularly to vote and speak in the House. "They are very much working peers - and the word `working' is there for a very good reason," he said.

The Conservative deputy chairman, Michael Ancram, a hereditary peer and MP, dubbed the new Labour peers "Tony's Cronies". Mr Blair's spokesman had explained after a defeat earlier this year that the working peers' job was "to represent the party, not snub the Prime Minister. We'll be more careful who we appoint in future."