Last updated: November 19, 2010 11:04 pm

PM accused of packing Lords with ‘cronies’

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Labour accused David Cameron of packing the House of Lords with “cronies” to help force through his political agenda as the government unveiled 42 new Tory and Liberal Democrat peers.

Chris Bryant, shadow minister for constitutional reform, said the prime minister had made a “bizarre” decision to expand numbers in the unelected upper chamber by 54, including Labour members and others, while seeking to save costs by cutting the number of elected MPs by 50 to 600.

“Of course this is cronyism, but it comes at a dangerous time. The government has a virtual majority in both chambers when they are putting through important constitutional re­form,” said Mr Bryant. “He is trying to steamroller his agenda through parliament so he needs more bums on red seats.”

Labour picked up 10 new peers, including Sir Gulam Noon, one of Britain’s biggest Asian food producers.

Key allies of Mr Cameron appointed on Friday include Alistair Cooke, the Conservative party historian who gave Mr Cameron his first job; party treasurer and donor Stanley Fink; and Andrew Feldman, a friend of Mr Cameron from university who is now Tory co-chairman and fundraiser.

Despite the additions to Tory ranks, Labour remains the biggest single party in the Lords, with 244 members, or 30 per cent of the house. But the new additions will see the coalition benches swell to 316 members, or 39 per cent. This takes membership of the Lords to 794, at a time when Lord Strathclyde, leader of the house, is examining ways to cut numbers.

The new intake could also cost the taxpayer up to £2.5m a year, since each peer can claim up to £300 for every day they attend, amounting to a maximum £43,500 annually if the house sits for 145 days.

Michael Grade, the former executive chairman of ITV, Fiona Shackleton, the lawyer who represented the Prince of Wales in his divorce, and the Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes are also among 27 new Conservative peers.

George Magan, the financier, is another big City name on the roster, as is Sir Michael Bishop, former BMI chairman, and Robert Edmiston, head of the IM Group. Also raised to the peerage is Patience Wheatcroft, who will step down as editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal Europe.

Jonathan Kestenbaum, chief executive of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, is among 10 new Labour peers. Also on the list are Stewart Wood, an Oxford don and former adviser to Gordon Brown; Ray Collins, Labour’s general secretary; and the broadcaster Joan Bakewell.

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