Legends in their own ermine: The 2007 good peer guide

As Jack Straw announces reforms of the House of Lords, Andy McSmith and Cahal Milmo pay tribute to some of the more colourful members who light up the chamber
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Indy Politics

Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare Conservative

Background: Public school and Oxford. Conservative MP for Louth, 1969-74. Deputy Chairman of the Tories, 1985-86.

Best known as: The millionaire thriller writer Jeffrey Archer. He has benefited from a rule that not even a jail sentence for perjury disqualifies a peer from membership of the Lords. If he had been an MP, he would have been forced to leave Parliament. Indeed, he felt he had to quit the Commons in 1974 after running up financial problems, although he had committed no offence. He does not speak or vote.

Voting record: 0 per cent

Lord Winston of Hammersmith Labour

Background: Robert Winston, the 67-year-old surgeon, scientist and fertility expert is also a familiar face on television.

Best known as: A pioneering gynaecologist who led the way in the use of IFV techniques. His media-friendly manner led to him graduating to television, presenting critically acclaimed series such as Child of Our Time, Human Instinct and Walking With Cavemen. Active on behalf of Labour, he is serial member of committees and speaks regularly in the Lords on arts, sciences and education.

Voting record: 16.5 per cent

Lord Adebowale of Thornes Crossbencher

Background: Housing administrator and charity executive Best known for: Became one of the first "people's peers" to be nominated for the Lords as part of the Labour Government's reform package. A former housing administrator in Newham, east London, Victor Adebowale, 44, went on to to run Centre Point, the youth social exclusion charity before becoming chief executive of Turning Point, the UK's biggest social care charity in 2001. Now also a member of the Government's New Deal Task Force.

Voting record: 2.9per cent

Baroness Falkender of West Haddon Labour

Background: A builder's daughter educated at Northampton High School, and London University and former secretary working for the Labour Party.

Best known as: Marcia Williams, secretary, gatekeeper and political adviser to Harold Wilson. Her alliance with him began when his career was in the doldrums in 1956, and lasted 20 years. She personally wrote the "lavender list" - Wilson's resignation honours list. The 74-year-old has never made a speech in the Lords in the 32 years she has been a member, but she does not vote.

Voting record: 12%

The Marquess of Cholmondeley Crossbencher

Background: Page of honour to the Queen at age 14. Eton and Sorbonne, with family seat at Houghton Hall, King's Lynn. The name is pronounced "Chumly".

Best known as: Aged 46, now head of an old, super-rich family. When most hereditary peers lost their seats in 1999, only two - the Duke of Norfolk, and Lord Cholmondeley - kept their places as of right, the latter because of his hereditary role as Lord Great Chamberlain. He does not speak or vote in the Lords.

Voting record: 0%

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

Background: Public school- and Cambridge-educated barrister, aged 46. A QC since 1991.

Best known as: "Tony's crony". His big career break was to share a flat with Tony Blair 30 years ago. He was in line for a safe Labour seat in Dudley in 1997, but the local Labour Party rejected him when they found out that he had sent his children to public schools. Blair then gave him a peerage, and a sequence of Government posts, including a period running the Greenwich Dome. He has been Lord Chancellor since 2003.

Voting record: 57.7 per cent

Baroness Jay of Paddington Labour

Background: Blackheath High School, Somerville College, Oxford. Her father, James Callaghan, was Prime Minister from 1976 to 79.

Best known as: Callaghan's daughter, and first woman to be appointed Leader of the Lords. Lady Jay, 66, was not a hereditary, though it could be said that she was born into Labour aristocracy. When her former husband was ambassador in Washington, she had an affair with the journalist Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, whose wife Nora Ephron wrote a novel about it.

Voting record: 50.4 per cent

Lord Randall of St Budeaux Labour

Background: The son of a teacher, as a teenager he started as an electrical fitter in a Plymouth dockyard, rising to manager.

Best known as: He is barely known at all. Now 68, he was Labour MP for Hull West in 1983-97, rising to a second-rank job on the opposition front bench, then gave up his seat, which went to Blair's favourite trade-union leader, Alan Johnson, now Education Secretary. MPs are sometimes offered peerages in exchange for giving up their seats, but we do not know whether Randall did a deal.

Voting record: 55.8 per cent.

Lord Lloyd-Webber of Sydmonton Conservative

Background: As Andrew Lloyd Webber, he is responsible for a series of popular musicals.

Best known for: Beginning with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (with Tim Rice) in the late 1960s, the classically trained Lloyd Webber produced musicals, such as Evita, Cats and Phantom of the Opera, which have been hugely successful with middlebrow audiences, ensuring lengthy West End runs, though not always the critically acclaimed. He is also a collector of sentimental Victorian art.

Voting record: 0.9per cent

Lord Pearson of Rannoch UK Independence Party

Background: Old Etonian son of a senior Army officer. Founder and chairman of PWS holdings, a group of reinsurance brokers.

Best known as: a maverick ex-Tory opponent of the EU. Well known for berating the BBC for its alleged pro-EU bias, he was one of two peers who defected to Ukip last month, giving the tiny party its first foothold in Parliament, undeterred by the words of his former leader, David Cameron, who described Ukip's members as "fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists."

Voting record: 32.2 per cent

General the Lord Ramsbotham of Kensington Cross Bench

Background: Haileybury and Cambridge University, the son of a former bishop of Wakefield, and a career soldier, aged 72.

Best known as: Chief inspector of prisons, 1995-2001. Clashed frequently with Home Office ministers over jail conditions. He became a general in Northern Ireland and then ran Hillingdon Hospital Trust for a year. This week, he led a successful stand against the Government over exemptions in prisons for deaths due to corporate manslaughter.

Voting record: 32 per cent

Lord Armstrong-Jones of Nyman Cross Bench

Background: As Tony Armstrong Jones, he was a photographer who married the late Princess Margaret in 1960. They divorced in 1978.

Best known for: Marrying the Queen's sister - but this did not detract from his career as a photographer, for which he was critically acclaimed. He also designed the aviary at London Zoo. His title of Earl of Snowdon was changed to a life peerage in November 1999 under a device designed to allow first-generation hereditaries to retain their seats. Aged 77.

Voting Record: 0 per cent

Lord Strathclyde Conservative

Background: A Scottish landowner, aged 46, educated at Wellington College, and universities in England and France, he was the son of Sir Thomas Galbraith, Tory MP for Glasgow Hillhead.

Best known as: Conservative leader in the Lords since 1998. Likes to be called Tom, though his full name is Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy Blicquy Galbraith. He became Tory leader just before the passing of the 1999 Reform Act, and so was one of the original batch of 92 hereditary peers elected by fellow hereditaries to remain in the Lords

Voting record: 46.7 per cent

Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven Conservative

Background: Now 81, she is the daughter of a grocer from Grantham.

Best known as: Maggie Thatcher, the longest serving prime minister of the 20th century. It is assumed that part of the reason why she left the Commons in 1992 and accepted a peerage was in order not to be like Sir Edward Heath, her predecessor, who stayed lurking in the Commons for many years. Her successor, Sir John Major, left the Commons but did not take a peerage, perhaps he did not want to see either of them ever again.

Voting record: 21.6 per cent

Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

Background: Daughter of the feminist writer Vera Brittain, and of Professor Sir George Catlin. Educated at private school and at Oxford University.

Best known as: Shirley Williams, the only woman apart from Barbara Castle to sit in the Labour cabinets of the 1970s. She was one of the most popular figures in the government, despite being part of the minority who supported entry to the EU. She was a founder of the SDP in 1981, and led the Liberal Democrats in the Lords in 2001-04. She is still an active politician at age 76.

Voting record: 59.4%

Lord Ashcroft of Chichester Conservative

Background: The son of a colonial civil servant, who spent part his childhood and most of his business career in Belize, in central America.

Best known as: The self-made billionaire who bankrolled the Tories in the bleak years after 1997. He was nominated for peerage by William Hague - showing that Tony Blair is not alone in awarding peerages to party donors. As a condition of taking his peerage, he promised to give up his tax exile status and return to the UK. Knighted on recommendation of Belize government.

Voting record: 15.3 per cent

Lord Deedes Conservative

Background: Harrow-educated journalist. His once wealthy family hit hard times and had to sell their home to Kenneth Clark, father of the Tory MP Alan Clark.

Best known as: The veteran Daily Telegraph journalist Bill Deedes, and reputed model for John Boot in Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop. Deedes, 93, was MP for Ashford in 1950-74, and a junior minister under Anthony Eden. He was a friend of Denis Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher gave him a peerage when he stepped down from the editorship of The Daily Telegraph in 1986.

Voting record: 7.8 per cent

Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbencher

Background: Tonbridge School, then Oxford University.

Best known as: 'Convenor' of the crossbench group of peers. This is not the same being a party leader, because he does not try to tell the crossbenchers how to vote, but he keeps them up to date with parliamentary business and handles negotiations. The 72-year-old learnt this skill as a career diplomat and civil servant. He is a more assiduous attender at the Lords than other crossbenchers, who include quite a number of permanently absent or silent members.

Voting record: 60 per cent

Lord Alli of Norbury Labour

Background: A television production executive, 42.

Best known for: Founding Planet 24, the production company that created the Big Breakfast, The Word and Survivor, with his long-term business and life partner, Charlie Parsons, and Sir Bob Geldof. The company was later bought by Carlton. Now part-owner of Shine Limited, a media production company he founded with Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of Rupert. Became the first openly gay peer when he entered the Lords in 1998.

Voting record: 50.8 per cent.

Baroness James of Holland Park Conservative

Background: Phyllis Dorothy James, known to everyone as P D James, is a former Home Office civil servant .

Best known for: Her series of crime novels, beginning with Cover Her Face, published in 1962, featuring her best known character, the detective/poet Adam Dalgliesh. Many were dramatised ontelevision. The 87-year-old also wrote The Children of Men, a futuristic novel recently made into a film starring Clive Owen. Can appear slightly formidable in interviews.

Voting record: 10.2 per cent