Trimming the ermine
Sir: I am a new boy in the House of Lords compared with Viscount Astor — though I did hear Manny Shinwell speak — but he is right that it is bursting at the seams, and something needs to be done about it (‘Peer review’, 22 August). I detect signs of a consensus that the right number of peers is about 450. It is 782 at the moment.
In the 16 divisions since the election,
the largest number of peers voting was 459. The Lords values its crossbenchers and if their number were set at one fifth of the total, that would yield 90 on this figuring. The remaining 360 could then be proportioned out according to strength in the Commons, with each political grouping being given the freedom to decide how it got from here to there.
If the government took the lead, it could, after proper consultations, have a White Paper next year with legislation towards the end of the parliament, to be enacted immediately after the next general election, when the Commons is scheduled to come down to 600. Simple? No. But worth thinking about.
House of Lords, London SW1
Sir: Roger Scruton’s views and the duty of MPs to resist online pressure (‘Flashmob rule’, 15 August) were interesting — but might I suggest their validity is quite firmly based on the concept of broad-minded, well-grounded MPs with plenty of life experience? In the increasingly obvious absence of these qualities in each succeeding intake, how are we to trust the MPs’ judgment?
Sir: Tony Sewell is absolutely right that black Caribbean boys are being held back in school by a fear of betraying their background (‘Don’t act white, act immigrant’, 22 August). This is exactly what David Starkey — widely condemned at the time as a racist — was trying to say after the 2011 London riots, when he cited the use of ‘Jamaican patois’ rather than standard English as a contributory factor in alienating black youth from mainstream society. He contrasted this with success achieved by the ‘white-sounding’ Tottenham MP and London mayoral contender, David Lammy. Perhaps now that a respected black academic like Dr Sewell has brought this problem to our attention, people will start to take his comments more seriously.
A double-edged valediction
Sir: Tom Fletcher’s valedictory blog as ambassador to Lebanon (Matthew Parris, 22 August) is actually a distinctly double-edged compliment to the Lebanese. Being more honest than respectful, it tells them they are marginal to British diplomacy, so the risk of offending them can be safely run. Try to imagine our man in Riyadh saying something similar about the Saudis, or any other country that is really important to us, to see that this kind of public diplomacy has rather limited application.
David Frost (former ambassador)
In defence of New Delhi
Sir: In his review of Yasmin Khan’s Raj at War (Books, 25 July), William Dalrymple devotes his first two paragraphs to misquotes attributed to my grandfather, Sir Edwin Lutyens. His thesis is ill-conceived, inaccurate and, moreover, has nothing to do with the book he is reviewing. Lutyens did not write or say any of the quotes attributed to him — they were variously by Lord Stamfordham conveying the King’s sentiments to Lord Crewe (then Secretary of State for India) and by Sir Herbert Baker. All are well documented. The quote attributed to Robert Byron was taken out of context and anyway reflects the latter’s views rather than those of Lutyens. Even the conceit that the Delhi Order with its stone bells was a nod to imperialism is fundamentally misunderstood.
At a time when the very future of New Delhi as conceived by Lutyens is under threat following the withdrawal by the Modi government of its application for Unesco World Heritage status, it is unhelpful that Mr Dalrymple chooses to pursue his own agenda by indulging in an unwarranted smear on our country’s greatest architect since Wren. Let us leave politics to the politicians but rejoice in the legacy and the beauty of New Delhi.
Chips for health
Sir: At the moment the minister was hand-wringing about health tourism on the Today programme (Leading article, 15 August), my wife, who is French but has lived and worked in the UK for nearly 30 years, was at the doctor’s in France. On presentation of her UK card, the doctor commented that all other countries in the scheme (apart from the Swiss) have a chip in the card and that payment is made directly. As the UK card does not, my wife would have to pay and claim back in the UK. Perhaps the inclusion of a chip could not only save paperwork, but verify eligibility.
Send for the Romanians
Sir: Dennis Hetherington (Letters, 8 August) recalls his supplanting RAF air transport as a commercial ‘freight dog.’ When I worked in the Ministry of Defence in the early years of the Afghanistan campaign, the RAF would not risk sending their new Boeing C17 transport aircraft into Kabul. We chartered a Russian-made Antonov piloted by Romanians in order to resupply our troops. I recall we even lent them night-vision goggles so they could land in the dark.
Castle Cary, Somerset