Blair accused of abusing power to appoint peers

The Prime Minister is abusing his powers of patronage and appointing too many peers directly to the House of Lords, a parliamentary watchdog has warned Downing Street.

The Prime Minister is abusing his powers of patronage and appointing too many peers directly to the House of Lords, a parliamentary watchdog has warned Downing Street.

Tony Blair has received a formal complaint about giving titles on "a whim" and of using a back-door route to push his favourites into the upper house. The House of Lords Appointments Commission, set up by Mr Blair to vet new peers and oversee the appointments process, has complained that the Prime Minister is crowding out their own choices by pushing his own candidates for ennoblement.

No 10 has received a formal objection about the numbers of the Prime Minister's "exceptions" ­ peers whom he has appointed without going through the normal vetting process ­ and questions about whether he is stretching his powers of patronage.

"Tony Blair is showing the arrogance of power," said Lord Oakeshott, a senior Liberal Democrat peer and former member of the joint committee on House of Lords reform. "His personal patronage is crowding out the ability of the appointments commission to appoint other able candidates.

"How can it do its job properly when Tony Blair's personal patronage is using up all the spaces? Peers must be picked by the proper process and not according to the whim of one man."

The appointments commission has contacted No 10 asking for a limit to be put on the number of peers the Prime Minister can nominate.

The decision to challenge Downing Street came after a meeting of the commission when members questioned whether the Prime Minister was abusing his powers by directly selecting independent peers, who do not belong to any political party.

Particular concerns were raised about the Prime Minister's reasons for choosing a new independent peer who is expected to be appointed directly to the Lords by Mr Blair next week. Downing Street refused to back down over the appointment.

Earlier this week No 10 acknowledged the commission's concern with a formal statement saying that it would limit to 10 the number of direct nominations for non-political peerages.

In its plans for House of Lords reform published in 2003, the Government said it would "remove a significant ele ment of prime ministerial patronage" so that "no prime minister can in the future create peers as she or he wishes".

Since 2001 the Prime Minister has appointed eight independent peers, including Eddie George, a former governor of the Bank of England.

Mr Blair has also appointed dozens of Labour peers since becoming Prime Minister, including Lord Levy, the Labour fundraiser, and Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Mr Blair's former flatmate, who is now the Lord Chancellor. The new limit will not apply to Mr Blair's choice of Labour's political peerages.

The commission was furious when in 2001 Mr Blair gave Sally Morgan, a close aide, a peerage. He bypassed the normal vetting process and went straight to Buckingham Palace to award her a title. The House of Lords Appointments Commission yesterday said it was "pleased that the Prime Minister has now defined the scope of his powers".

Downing Street said Mr Blair "wanted to make clear this is something that will be used relatively sparingly".

LABOUR IN THE LORDS

Baroness Morgan of Huyton

As political secretary at No 10, Sally Morgan was a key aide of Tony Blair when she was given a Labour peerage in 2001. She worked for Mr Blair when he was leader of the opposition and became a minister in the Cabinet Office before returning to Downing Street where she is now a close ally, confidante and "gate-keeper".

Lord Drayson

The drugs tycoon Paul Drayson was made a Labour peer in May last year. His pharmaceutical firm PowderJect made an estimated £20m when it was chosen by the Government to supply smallpox vaccine after the 11 September attacks. He had already made two £50,000 donations to Labour, and made a £505,000 gift last June, six weeks after being sent to the Lords.

Lord Gould of Brookwood

Tony Blair's personal polling expert, he is known as the "king of the focus group". Lord Gould will play a key role in the forthcoming general election campaign, his fifth, when he will be based at Labour's new campaign headquarters in Victoria Street. He was drafted in to help modernise the party's communications in 1986 by Peter Mandelson.

Lord Triesman

Sent into the House of Lords after being squeezed out as Labour's general secretary in 2003. A former academic and leader of the Association of University Teachers, he is now a government whip. An ultra-loyal Labour figure, he had hoped to remain the party's general secretary until after the forthcoming election but was the victim of an internal power struggle.

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