Parliament: Lords go out, not with a bang or a whimper, but with a mumble

The Sketch

AT LAST it had come. After months of legal argument and abstruse appeals the condemned men were to be led to the place of execution. Would they blubber for clemency at this final hour or would they walk ramrod straight to the scaffold, a stoical smile on their lips?

Before we could find out, there was time for one last legal argument. Lord Stanley of Alderley begged to move that the Prime Minister be required to make sure that at least half of the House of Lords would consist of peers "who have experience of, and expertise in, fields other than (or in addition to) politics". Several peers backed him up - it was the only way to prevent a Tony Crony house, they said. But Lord Strathclyde, speaking for the Conservatives, respectfully concluded that it was time to let go of the bedstead jammed across the cell door. "How many times do you have to flog a dead horse before it rings hollow?" he asked. About as many times as you have to mix a metaphor before it bites the turtle, I suppose.

Easy for him to be courageous, since he'd just been given a reprieve as one of the elected hereditaries. But, to be fair, he spoke for most of the condemned as well - inured to their fate and anxious it should pass off with dignity. Lord Stanley bowed to the mood and withdrew his amendment; he had only been anxious, he explained, that the last words on this matter should not be a history lesson but a reminder that vigilance would be needed in the future.

The condemned men's last words were some way off though - and, contrary to the hopes on both sides of the House, could probably best be summed up as: "What the hell's going on?" True, Baroness Jay of Paddington ended, like a prison chaplain, with bland philosophy. "Change is always a difficult process for those most closely involved," she murmured. Never truer, of course, than when it involves a change from living to dead. And Lord Strathclyde also wanted to strike a note of valedictory pomp. "This House has inflicted no evil," he said proudly, before defying its executioners to rest in their "embarrassment and shame".

But my defining memory will not be of those constrained attempts to rise to the historic occasion but the entirely unforced way in which the House fell beneath it - voting themselves out of existence with a farcical muddle that mixed courtesy, irascibility and incomprehension in equal measure.

It started with Lord Clifford, who rose, he believed, to speak on Amendment Four. Lord Clifford has never been one of the chamber's more popular speakers and a collective groan went up. But the House was only on Amendment Two and Lord Clifford - to everyone's immense relief - was ruled out of order. He sat down, wounded.

The votes passed without division, Lord Boston of Faversham tactfully ignoring the rebellious cries of "Not content!" from Tory hereditaries who had no desire to troop out into the lobbies, but couldn't quite bring themselves to go without a murmur.

Then, in an act of chivalry, Earl Ferrers rose to insist on Lord Clifford's right to speak. This was genuinely noble, and, as in one of those scenes where an ugly mob is touched on its conscience by a lone voice, the House bowed to his mood. They soon regretted their charity - even Earl Ferrers, who barked "Get on with it!" as Lord Clifford mumbled into action.

Soon nobody knew what was going on - not Earl Ferrers, not the Chief Whip, and not the Woolsack either - and those peers that weren't getting cross started to get the giggles. Some may feel this an ignoble epitaph to hundreds of years of tradition, but it struck me as perfectly fitting - the House at its best and its worst, all at the same time.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

**Primary Teachers Needed Urgently in Southport**

£80 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Due to an increase in dema...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London