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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 January, 2004, 10:32 GMT
Lords' wait for new blood continues
By James Landale
BBC political correspondent

The House of Lords
The new peers will probably not be appointed until next month
Tony Blair has again delayed his plans to create around thirty new working peers for the House of Lords.

The latest list of peers had been expected before Christmas or at least in the New Year.

However, the BBC has learned that Downing Street has still not submitted the list of nominees for vetting by the Appointments Commission.

The Commission recently took over the job of vetting new peers from the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee.

A spokesman for the Commission said: "We have yet to receive the list. It is entirely down to the Prime Minister when he wants to introduce a new list."

The BBC understands that the new list will include five new Tory peers, eight Liberal Democrats and about twenty Labour Lords.

Vetting process

They will be the first working peers to be appointed since the general election two and a half years ago.

The delay means that the peers will almost certainly not be appointed until next month at the very earliest.

The vetting process can take many weeks while the nominees are scrutinised for their propriety. Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, the chairman of the Appointments Commission, is abroad until January 24. The Commission has not been told when to expect the new list.

Several government sources said that the creation of the new working peers was one of many decisions put on hold until after the Hutton report is published.

This rises to the top of Blair's red box, he takes one look at it and puts it straight back in at the bottom of the pile
Source close to the PM

Others said it was simply an issue that was low down on the Prime Minister's priorities. One former Cabinet minister said: "He's got a million other things to do. But it's also a job he hates. He hates having to make a choice between him and her."

A source close to the Prime Minister said: "This rises to the top of his red box, he takes one look at it and puts it straight back in at the bottom of the pile."

However, one Downing Street source said that the government had yet to decide on its own nominees. "Not all the names on the list have been finalised," he said.

Some Labour peers speculated that officials in Downing Street wanted to avoid fresh charges that they were filling the Lords with so-called "Tony's Cronies" and were looking for a busy day to release the names.

The decision to give a peerage to David Triesman, the recently ousted Labour general secretary, had prompted a fresh round of criticism before Christmas.

New blood

The further delay will not prove popular among Labour peers, who are desperate for new blood to make up the numbers in key votes.

The Labour benches have suffered heavy losses recently - in the last two months alone six Labour peers have died: Lords Islwyn, Gallacher, Dormand of Easington, Hardy of Wath, Wallace of Coslany, and Walker of Doncaster.

Labour peers said the Government chief whip, Lord Grocott, reminded the Prime Minister of these losses at last week's meeting of the PLP's parliamentary committee.

One Labour peer suggested that the delay could have been caused by Lord Grocott asking for more nominees to make up the numbers.

Tony Blair
The PM is expected to nominate 20 new Labour peers

He said: "We are desperately in need of people with all the legislation that is coming out. We need the list and we need it quickly."

Peers speculated that the Labour list might include several former Labour council leaders such as Sir Jeremy Beecham; academics like Professor Anthony Giddens; and former ministers who lost their seats such as David Lock, the former MP for Wyre Forest.

The party has a pool of about 24 former MPs who stood down at the last election but were not given peerages.

The Conservative list is expected to include three substantial party donors: Sir Stanley Kalms, Irvine Laidlaw and Leonard Steinberg. All three nominees were made by the former Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith.

People's peers

The new peers will bring Labour a step closer towards parity with the Tory numbers in the Lords. The Labour strength is expected to rise to just over 200 peers, with the Tories on about 215.

Later this year, the Government will unveil its bill to expel from the Lords the remaining 92 hereditary peers, most of whom are Conservatives.

Government business managers have failed to give any date when the bill will be introduced into the Commons.

In the meantime, the Appointments Commission is continuing its work in selecting a separate list of new independent crossbench peers, dubbed "peoples' peers" by Downing Street.

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