Alex Massie

Three Cheers for the House of Lords

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Everyone, and not without reason, holds the House of Commons in some degree of contempt. This has provoked any number of proposals for reforming the lower house. One simple, if admittedly difficult and controversial, measure, however would be to grant the House of Lords more power, relative to the Commons, than it currently enjoys. It is hard to see what harm this could do, not least since frustrating the Commons ought to be an objective, not a tactic.

And then there's the splendid nature of the Lords, even now that they've been denuded of backwoods hereditary peers. Consider this exchange at this week's edition of Transport Questions. The matter under discussion was electric cars and the benefits and, it must be said, potential problems of their future, presumed, popularity:

Lord Ashley of Stoke: Does my noble friend agree that this is a no-win situation, whichever way the Government turn? We cannot advocate noisy vehicles because of the environment and yet blind people and deaf people really are vulnerable to silent vehicles. The only realistic solution is to raise the awareness of the public and drivers.

Lord Adonis [for the government]: My Lords, as a Minister now for four and a half years, I am used to being in no-win situations. My perpetual quest is for the happy medium.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former member of the council of Guide Dogs for the Blind. I think that the Question could go a little wider. Cyclists are completely inaudible and frequently ride on pavements. Whether one is visually handicapped or not, they constitute a real peril to pedestrians. I think, if I may say so, that something ought to be done.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, cyclists should obey the law, like everyone else.

Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there might be a simpler solution? When I purchased one of these cars a few years ago, my wife, being very practical, said that the answer would be to put on the front of the car a small Swiss cowbell.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I think this is England. Whether such Swiss innovations would go down well here is a matter for conjecture. We have nine months for a wide-scale public debate. I shall ensure that the noble Lord’s suggestion features prominently in that debate.

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, has suggested that a cowbell may be the answer. Does the Minister agree that, from the position from which I am speaking, maybe a man with a red flag walking in front of the car would be better?

Lord Adonis: Your Lordships are full of such useful suggestions this afternoon. I believe it was Herbert Morrison who lifted the speed limit above 20 miles per hour, which it was until the 1920s in this country. That is where it had got to after people had ceased to be required to carry red flags before cars. I do not believe, though, that the future always lies in reinventing the past.

[Hat-tip: Paul Waugh]

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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