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Politics: Peer takes seat after long title fight

THE GOVERNMENT is soft on drug addicts. The Tories are soft on reform of the House of Lords. And anyone who disagrees is soft in the head.

Welcome to the world of Baroness Arlington, Britain's newest hereditary peer and self-appointed "conscience of the people". Jennifer Jane Forwood, 60, took her seat in the Lords yesterday after a legal battle to regain her family title. In a two-minute ceremony she took the oath of allegiance and shook hands with Lord Irvine of Lairg, Lord Chancellor, to become the first Arlington since 1685 to sit in the second chamber. Her ennoblement, making her one of 17 female hereditary peers, follows a two-year struggle to prove she was the rightful heir of a title bestowed on her ancestors by Charles II.

The Arlington title was created in 1664 for Sir Henry Bennett of Harlington, west London, losing its H when the letters patent was made out.

It fell into abeyance when the last Lord Arlington died in a car crash in 1936 but Lady Arlington discovered on the death of her mother that it could be passed through the female line. She acted when she learnt that a hereditary peerage is abolished for ever if it lies in abeyance for more than 100 years. Now, though reform will abolish her right to sit and vote in the Lords, the title will continue to exist.

In interviews after her ennoblement yesterday Lady Arlington had the air of one to the manor born. With a voice that could cut crystal, she railed at reforms that will remove her right to sit in the Lords before she has warmed her red leather pew. "They are out of touch with people's opinions. Everyone in my home town, the ordinary people - and I am not being patronising - wish me well. There's no jealousy. They are all behind the hereditary peers and say we shouldn't be kicked out at all."

Yet William Hague's failure to challenge the reforms means she will sit as a cross-bencher. "I was slightly displeased they have thrown in the towel on the hereditaries. I would have liked to see them put up more of a fight," she said. "I am sitting on the crossbenches as the conscience of the people."

As the mother of a drug addict, Lady Arlington says she will add reality to the Lords even during her short tenure. Her son James, 30, was jailed twice and she is certain the anti-drugs policy unveiled this week is flawed. "James was at the bottom of everything ... It was the threat of going to prison for another year that did it ... A short sharp shock for addicts is a very good thing ... I think they're going a bit soft. Cannabis is the most dangerous drug of the lot. My son went on to heroin and crack cocaine as a direct result of taking cannabis." Lady Arlington had wanted to make drugs the subject of her maiden speech. Unfortunately for lovers of plain- speaking, old-fashioned discipline, she will probably never get the chance: the Lords reform Bill will almost certainly be passed by autumn.