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UK: Inquiry holds up announcement of new peers

December 27, 2005 18:28 IST

The awarding of life peerage to 28 persons, including non resident Indian entrepreneurs Sir Gulam Noon, Chai Patel and Sandip Verma has been held up following an inquiry into allegations of "honours for cash" by the official honours watchdog.

The unprecedented decision of the House of Lords appointments commission to insist on lengthy scrutiny of the list is being seen as an embarrassment for Prime Minister Tony Blair and other leaders who made the nominations, a media report claimed Tuesday.

The leaked list of working peers includes Sir Gulam Noon, founder and chairman, Noon Products; Chai Patel, chief executive officer, Priority Celebrity Rehabilitation Clinic, (both Labour) and Sandip Verma, Leicester businesswoman and Mohamed Sheikh, solicitor from Croydon (both Conservatives).

The list had been due in November, but has been delayed until the New Year following an authoritative leak in October of all 28 nominations, which provoked fresh allegations of honours for cash.

As a result, the commission is making further checks on the suitability of the nominees to counter allegations of political cronyism and the suggestion that generous donations can secure a peerage, The Daily Telegraph said.

The commission is headed by Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, the chairman of the publishing firm Pearson and a cross-bench peer.

It has representatives nominated by the political parties, including Lord Hurd, a former Tory foreign secretary, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde (Labour), a former union leader and Lord Dholakia (Liberal Democrat).

Besides the NRI entrepreneurs, the list includes Sir David Garrard, a property developer, who gave more than 200,000 pounds to Labour.

Sir David gave 70,000 pounds to the Tories when William Hague was leader.

A recent survey showed that nearly one in 10 of the 292 life peers Blair has created since becoming prime minister were people who had contributed an estimated 25 million pounds to Labour.

The injection of nearly 30 more life peers, with 15 to 20 independent peers expected to be nominated in 2006, will take membership of the Lords close to 800, its highest level since Labour abolished most hereditaries in 1999.

If the nominations eventually go through, Labour will become the largest party, with 221 peers compared with 216 Tories and 79 Liberal Democrats. But the presence of 192 cross-bench peers means that it will not have an overall majority and could still face defeat on contentious issues, the report said.

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