Parliament & Politics: The Sketch - Earl delivers double whammy on hereditaries' demise

AS HISTORICAL tableaux go the Secretary of State for Scotland's last appearance at the despatch box before the Scottish elections lacked a certain oomph - not very surprising really given that one of the more important dramatis personae, Alex Salmond, was nowhere to be seen. "Whairs yoor leaderrrr?" shouted Labour backbenchers at the lonely John Swinney, the sole member of the Scots Nats who could be spared from shoring up the party's collapsing election hopes. But Mr Dewar himself took a kindly line on his isolation: "In case anyone says something nasty about that from my side," he said, "I think we should have some consideration for those who might lose their seats." Mr Swinney grinned bravely - sympathy is one of the vilest substances you can have poured on you by an opponent higher in the opinion polls, and he had just taken a tubful.

Mr Dewar was in a pretty chipper mood all round - buoyed up, perhaps, by the exciting refrain that rang through ministerial replies: "From 1 July 1999 this will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament" - and though there weren't many opportunities for his dry wit he did his best. After his very last question as Secretary of State, a drably informative reply to Teddy Taylor, he apologised for the lack of entertainment: "I'm not sure that's the most exciting answer I've given but I hope, as it's likely to be my last, that it will have helped the Honourable Member." Mr Taylor muttered something sceptical about the prospect of ever seeing some Scottish members again. But Mr Dewar had reassurance: "He and I have been shouting abuse at each other for some 30 years - I'm sure he'll want that admirable level of co-operation to continue".

The porridge of the Commons will lose some of its salt without Mr Dewar. And the Lords will undoubtedly have less savour without the hereditaries too - as they proved with a brief flurry of straw-clutching during the second day of debate on the committee stage of the House of Lords Bill. The Conservatives had detected what they claimed to be an error in the drafting of the Bill. Hereditaries did not sit by virtue of their peerages, they argued, as the current wording implies, but by virtue of a writ of summons from the Queen. The Government viewed this bit of constitutional pettifogging with considerable suspicion, despite repeated protestations from the Opposition benches that they only had the Government's peace of mind at heart. If the Bill passed in its current form then who knows what legal challenges could follow? Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish memorably tried to clarify matters with a sporting metaphor. Imagine that we were trying to ban cricket, he said, and had failed to be specific about ball games in the legislation: "Supposing we did not specify a hard leather ball, and we just meant balls?" He looked the picture of innocence as peers sniggered but I had a feeling he knew exactly what he was doing. And in that respect, of course, although entertaining, he doesn't deliver the unique flavour that only the hereditaries can supply. Calculated nonsense is within the grasp of a life peer. But for the wild flare of instinctive tosh you need members of more venerable pedigree. Earl Ferrers supplied a good example yesterday, first insisting that he and his colleagues sought nothing but to protect the Government from its own folly, and then going on to point up the deep irony that Tony Blair should be fighting ethnic cleansers in Yugoslavia and pursuing "hereditary cleansing" in London. As I imagined a poignant straggle of refugees making its way across St James's Park, I realised that Earl Ferrers had pulled off a double. He supplied incontrovertible evidence of why the hereditaries should be dispatched and a reason for regretting that they soon will.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL DBA (2005/2008/2012, projects, storage requirements)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried