Leading article: Of cash and peerages

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The Independent Online

Mr Blair's latest nominations for peerages, which we report today, repeat the tawdry pattern of the past eight years, which has seen a long and unimpressive list running from Bernie Ecclestone via the Hinduja brothers and Lakshmi Mittal to Paul Drayson. Now we add some more names to the roll-call. Chai Patel, owner of the Priory group of private psychiatric hospitals: Labour donor. Sir David Garrard, property developer: Labour donor. Sir Gulam Noon, founder of the curry ready-meals company: Labour donor. Barry Townsley, head of a private stockbroker: Labour donor.

This newspaper has little time for the honours system in this country, and less for an upper House of Parliament consisting of political appointees. It would also be naïve to imagine that politicians will cross-examine that closely the motives of businesspeople bearing gifts. It might be possible to argue that the sale of knighthoods is a harmless, if unedifying, business, with a dashing historical pedigree. But it cannot be right to allow the perception to linger that seats in Parliament are for sale. The House of Lords may be a revising chamber, but it can still be decisive in the framing of the nation's law - as was underlined last week. It was widely suggested, after the unsuccessful revolt in the Commons on Tuesday, that the Identity Card Bill could fall in the upper house.

It is not a sufficient defence to say that it is only because of Labour legislation that we know so much about who has given money to the parties. Part of the point of greater openness is that it should act as a spur to higher standards of ethical conduct. Each of Mr Blair's nominations has been approved by the all-party committee that scrutinises honours. In each case, at the level of the individual, it is possible to sustain the argument for the appointment on merit and to claim that there is no direct connection with donations to the Labour Party. Viewed from a higher plane, however, the correlation between cash and peerages is too close to be comfortable.

This is not an anti-Labour point: the Liberal Democrats continue to have trouble with a recent large donation, as we report on our business pages today; and the Conservatives sometimes appear to be a party in which factions are wholly-owned subsidiaries of various rich donors.

But it is Mr Blair who seemed to promise a new, improved and cleaner politics. With these latest appointments he has proved himself an incorrigible serial offender. Which out of Gordon Brown or David Cameron will be first to say that no one who has donated more than £5,000 in a year to a political party shall be eligible for membership of the House of Lords?

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