Parliament: House of Lords - Snowdon accepts Blair's offer to be made a life peer

THE EARL OF Snowdon headed a list of 10 hereditary peers who were awarded life peerages by Tony Blair last night. They will keep their seats in the House of Lords after it is reformed.

Six former leaders of the Lords are being made barons in recognition of their long service, said Downing Street. They included the Earl Jellicoe, who volunteered his resignation in 1973 from the Heath government for entertaining prostitutes at the height of a call-girl scandal involving another minister, Lord Lambton.

Five royal members of the House - the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of York, the Duke of Kent, the Duke of Gloucester and the Earl of Wessex - turned down Mr Blair's offer of life peerages.

Handing out the life peerages to the 10 hereditaries including six Tories may give the lie to the Conservative claim that the Government is stuffing the Lords with "Tony's Cronies", but it angered Labour MPs who support a fully elected upper chamber and are building up opposition to the way that Lords reform is being handled by the Government.

The Earl of Snowdon, the former husband of Princess Margaret, is a photographer who is an occasional attender of the Lords. The other newly created life peers include Lord Carrington, who resigned as Foreign Secretary from the Thatcher cabinet over the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands and Lord Cranborne, who negotiated the deal to retain 92 hereditaries until stage two of House of Lords reform behind William Hague's back.

The Prime Minister's office defended the move, insisting that it had made clear in a White Paper on the reform of the Lords that life peerages would go to hereditary peers of first creation. In addition to the Earl of Snowdon, they are: the Tory peer Lord Aldington, the Labour lord the Earl of Longford; and the crossbencher Lord Erroll of Hale.

Hereditary peers who were not thrown a lifeline will today begin subtly canvassing for election for some of the 90 seats set aside for hereditaries. The results of the election will be announced on Friday. Three former Leaders of the Lords, Lord Belstead, who held the position between 1987 and 1990; Lord Windlesham, who led the House between 1973 and 1974 and Lord Shepherd, the Labour leader between 1974 and 1976, also dropped out of the contest to take life peerages.

"At this stage, there is quite a scramble going on because there are at least 60 hereditaries who are hard-working but unfortunately not enough spaces for all of them," one Tory hereditary peer said.

"There is quite a depressing atmosphere at the moment because so many of them will have to go, so if Lord Cranborne wants to accept a life peerage that will be welcomed, because it means that another place becomes vacant."

Fifteen office holders in the Lords have already been elected to the seats for the hereditaries, leaving 75 up for election. Two more are non- elected and reserved for the Lords Great Chamberlain and Earl Marshal. There are 42 seats for the Tories and the voting by first preference means Conservative peers will be expected to vote 42 times on each ballot paper.

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