Absent peers are whipped into line

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Indy Politics

Before they got their peerages, Labour's new Lords were made to promise they would stick to a tough regime of long debates and late-night votes.

Before they got their peerages, Labour's new Lords were made to promise they would stick to a tough regime of long debates and late-night votes.

Party leaders have been shocked by the appalling record of some working peers, who, it is said, "like accolades but not the hours" and often miss important votes.

Each of Labour's 20 new Lords, appointed last week, was grilled by Lord Carter, the government chief whip in the upper house, to ensure no one thought to "take the peerage and run". All were told that they should spend at least three evenings a week in the House for late-night, three-line whip votes. They will even be assigned "mentors" to make sure they do not slip into the bad habits of their colleagues.

Labour has discovered that more than half the life peers appointed by Tony Blair - including some high-profile names - have missed a third of votes. But many Conservative peers are also poor attendees. A fifth of life peers of all parties turn up to the Lords only on one day a week, or even less often.

The worst Labour absentees, reportedly, include Lord Haskins, chairman of Northern Foods, who donated money to the Labour party - who had turned up twice in one five- month period. Lord Hollick, the chief executive of United News and Media, the owner of the Express, and Lord Bragg, were also poor attendees, both missing many votes.

Labour particularly hopes the new peers, along with nine Liberal Democrats, will tip the balance in the debate on Section 28 of the Local Government Act when it returns to the Lords. Labour only lost the last vote on it by a margin of 15. However, in the last Section 28 vote only 113 of Labour's 181 peers voted, causing some dismay among Labour's whips in the Lords.

Labour intends to put in place up to 25 further peers. But even then it will not have a majority in the Lords; at present it has 202 peers, the Conservatives have 236, Liberal Democrats 63, cross-benchers 161, bishops 26 and others 11.

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