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The BBC's Robin Oakley
"A controversial figure"
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Lord Strathclyde
"Every single treasurer of the Conservative Party has ended up in the House of Lords"
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Former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath:
"The whole of this situation is deplorable"
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Friday, 31 March, 2000, 21:02 GMT 22:02 UK
Peerage row stokes reform calls

Michael Ashcroft has been generous to the Tory party
The government is being urged to end the link between honours and a seat in the House of Lords, in the ongoing row over the peerage for Tory treasurer Michael Ashcroft.

Mr Ashcroft, the Conservatives' main donor, is becoming a lord on condition that he returns from Belize to the UK to live.

Labour MP Tony Wright, a member of the constitutional and parliamentary affairs committee, said the row demonstrated the need for reform of the House of Lords.

Tony Wright MP
Tony Wright: Honours systems is being "sullied"
Mr Wright said the current situation meant the honours system was being "sullied" for ordinary people receiving lesser awards.

Mr Ashcroft, a millionaire business tycoon who spends most of his time in Belize, was nominated by Tory leader William Hague and is included in a list of new working peers.

He has given what Downing Street said was a "clear and unequivocal assurance" that he would will take up permanent residence in the UK - a condition described as "unprecedented" by former Tory leader in the upper house, Lord Cranborne.

Ashcroft file
14th on Sunday Times 'rich list'
Tory treasurer since 1998
Donated 2m over two years to party
Dual British-Belizean nationality
Maidenhead voter, lives abroad
Times libel case settled December 1999
He said the decision to make Mr Ashcroft a peer was "an affront to the dignity and the standing of the party".

The former Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, has also condemned the decision as "deplorable".

He told BBC Radio 4's Any Questions programme: "It has lowered the whole standing of our political institutions throughout the world."

Sir Edward also attacked the principle of attaching conditions to a peerage.

"If you extend that through public institutions, where are you going to end, promising people if they do this or do that they can become members of the House of Lords.

Sir Ted Heath
Sir Edward Heath: Peerage is "deplorable"
"That is absolutely disgraceful as well."

Sir Edward said Mr Ashcroft's 3m donation to the Conservative Party must have been for some purpose, "and now we see what the purpose was".

Mr Ashcroft said he was "thrilled and honoured to have become a working peer".

He said: "As a businessman, as a campaigner against crime and drugs, and as a political party fundraiser, there are a number of subjects in which I have both great interest and some experience. I hope to put these to work."

Stepped down

The Conservative Party said that Mr Ashcroft had also stepped down from his post as Belize's Ambassador to the United Nations in preparation for taking his place in the Lords.

Sebastian Coe is to enter the Lords
The Tory leader in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, said that in addition to Mr Ashcroft's party donations and role within the Tories, he was also "an international businessman, a substantial employer in this country and he gives to charity".

Lord Strathclyde said Labour was attacking the decision in an attempt to divert attention from Prime Minister Tony Blair's "stuffing" of the Lords with his own supporters.

Mr Ashcroft's name was on a list of 33 working peers - 20 Labour, four Conservative and nine Liberal Democrats published on Friday.

Their arrival will bring the number of Labour peers up to 202, alongside 236 Conservatives, 63 Liberal Democrats, 161 crossbenchers and 26 Bishops and Archbishops.

Former Olympic gold medallist and now private secretary to William Hague Sebastian Coe was also among those Tories given life peerages.

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See also:

30 Mar 00 | UK Politics
The list of new working peers
31 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Leaders under fire over new peers
30 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Fistful of peers to break log jam
18 Dec 99 | UK Politics
Ashcroft's millions boost Tories
30 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Anger over Ashcroft peerage
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