Downton Abbey creator to become Tory peer

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Indy Politics

The creator of hit ITV period drama Downton Abbey is to be made a Conservative peer in the House of Lords, it was revealed today.

Julian Fellowes, the film director and screenwriter, was among 54 new working peers announced by Downing Street.

The list also included party donors including millionaire car importer Bob Edmiston and Conservative co-treasurer Stanley Fink, as well as Tory fundraiser Andrew Feldman.

Labour donor Sir Gulam Noon, the curry tycoon, was also honoured.

Former Army chief General Sir Richard Dannatt is to take a place in the Lords as a crossbencher, despite being nominated by David Cameron when he was leader of the Opposition.

Divorce lawyer Fiona Shackleton, whose clients have included Sir Paul McCartney and the Prince of Wales, will become a Tory peer.

The Labour benches will be joined by Dame Joan Bakewell - once described as "the thinking man's crumpet".

Michael Grade, the former BBC chairman and ITV executive chairman, will also become a Conservative peer, as will businessman Sir Michael Bishop.

Tory ex-MPs who are to join the House of Lords include Howard Flight, the former Conservative deputy chairman forced to resign after being taped before the 2005 general election suggesting the Tories had secret spending cut plans.

The others are Richard Spring, former chief whip David Maclean and Sir Michael Lord, who became deputy speaker of the Commons.

Additions to the Labour benches include Stewart Wood, a former adviser to Gordon Brown until after this year's general election.

Labour Party general secretary Ray Collins and former Labour MP Oona King are also to receive peerages.

The inclusion of party donors such as Mr Edmiston and Sir Gulam threatened to renew the controversy over honours for political benefactors.

They were both questioned under caution as part of the 2007 police inquiry into whether loans were made in return for the promise of an honour. No charges were brought and the investigation concluded without a prosecution.

Mr Edmiston converted a £2 million loan to the Tories into a donation, and Sir Gulam gave more than £200,000 and lent £250,000 to Labour.

Scottish National Party MP Angus MacNeil, whose complaint to police sparked the cash-for-honours inquiry, said: "David Cameron should be mindful of the mess Tony Blair found himself in over the appointment of party donors to the Lords.

"There should be no link between donations and peerages, but we again have big donors being elevated to the Lords.

"This is supposed to be a democracy, but the UK Parliament now has more unelected peers than it has elected MPs - another reason Scotland would be better off with independence."

Mr Cameron's spokesman, asked about the donations controversy, said: "There is an established process on appointing peers, and that is that they are vetted through the House of Lords Appointments Commission, and there is an established process on donations, which is that they have to be declared to the Electoral Commission."

Director of pressure group Unlock Democracy Peter Facey said: "If politicians and Prime Ministers want to reward their friends, instead of sending them to the House of Lords, what's wrong with a gold watch?

"People who make and amend our laws should be elected by the public, not selected for good deeds done in the past by grateful politicians.

"House of Lords reform is long overdue, yet despite much talk from this Government we have yet to see concrete proposals.

"We await the Government's proposals with baited breath. We don't want this to turn into another broken promise. Until then these appointments will stick in the throat."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the new appointments to his party's benches in the Lords would contribute to the work of Parliament.

"They are all excellent appointments and they will be working peers who will actively hold the Government to account," he said.

"They were chosen for their experience across a broad range of fields, and I am sure that they will add to the work of Parliament."

Mr Collins, who is stepping down as general secretary, said: "I am deeply honoured that Ed Miliband has appointed me to the House of Lords, where I will be able to continue my work on behalf of the Labour movement."

Liberal Democrat appointments to the Lords include John Sharkey, who chaired the party's general election campaign this year, and former MP Susan Kramer, who lost her seat in May.