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Is that a Tory peer in the woodpile?

Baron Dixon-Smith, a Tory frontbencher and one of the country's senior peers, found himself in the middle of a race row last week when he used the phrase "nigger in the woodpile" during a Lords debate on the Housing and Regeneration Bill. After an intervention by Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, the peer stated: "I apologise, my lords. I left my brains behind."

The 73-year-old, who is the Tory local government and communities spokesman, claimed that the phrase "slipped out without my thinking". He said that it had been "in common parlance when I was younger".

David Cameron has so far refused to take any action against him. But a Conservative spokesman admitted last night that the comment had been "inappropriate" and added "he has apologised twice and that was the right thing to do".

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, said: "I regard this remark as racist, because it's deeply offensive... It shows a lack of understanding of and sensitivity to the ethnic community."

This is the latest in a string of race rows that have rocked the Conservative Party in recent months. London Mayor, Boris Johnson, was forced to apologise earlier this year for calling black people "piccaninnies".