THE widow of late Labour leader John Smith has been appointed to the party's Front Bench in the House of Lords for the first time.

Elizabeth Smith - now Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill - becomes a Labour spokeswoman for tourism within the National Heritage team.

However, Labour peer Lord Ewing, who clashed with the leadership over its handling of devolution plans for Scotland, has left the Front Bench ``by mutual agreement''. He has been replaced by Lord Sewel who will be involved in drawing up the legislation for a Scottish parliament.

Meanwhile, senior Labour peers are confident that, in spite of recent reports to the contrary, party leader Tony Blair will press ahead with plans to scrap the speaking and voting rights of hereditary peers in the House of Lords early in the life of a Labour government.

They admit privately that, although no order of priorities has yet been set in concrete, it is likely to be much easier to push the key devolution Bills through the House of Lords once the hereditary peers' powers have been scrapped.

Baroness Smith's appointment may surprise some colleagues.

Since her husband's death two-and-half-years ago, she has kept a low profile, resisting any swift move into any official position within the party after her peerage.

However, she is highly respected within the party and her appointment is likely to be popular among colleagues.

Lord Ewing - better known as former Falkirk MP Harry Ewing - was an early casualty of the row in June over Mr Blair's decision to hold a referendum on Scottish devolution.

He quit then as joint chairman of the Scottish Constitutional Convention which, before Mr Blair's intervention, had thrashed out broadly backed plans for devolution which did not include a referendum.

Lord Ewing claimed that the decision was ``a complete let-down which put a Scottish parliament beyond reach''.

However, he remained as a Front Bench spokesman on Scotland until yesterday.

Meanwhile, there are hints that Labour Front Benchers in the Lords might be considering recommending to Mr Blair that, in the event of a Labour victory, he should first introduce Bills to establish referendums in Scotland and Wales then bring in legislation to scrap hereditary peers' voting rights.

That would mean that hereditary peers' would not be able to block the more substantial devolution Bills which would be necessary once referendum verdicts were delivered.

Reports at the weekend that Mr Blair was considering allowing hereditary peers to keep their present rights in the Lords have been widely dismissed by the leadership. One source emphasised yesterday that the task of pushing through devolution would be much easier once those peers' votes were removed from the equation.