The Sketch: A magnificent Lord's head on stately shoulders - how civilised

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The Independent Online

What a magnificent pre-war head Lord Ferrers has. I want a memorial statue of him carved out of British beef. How well his head goes with his hereditary manner. What ancestral certainty there is in his suit. How I envy him. He doesn't even have to think. Beside him, the Lord Chancellor looks like a bikini-waxed Brazilian in the early hours in Greek Street.

What a magnificent pre-war head Lord Ferrers has. I want a memorial statue of him carved out of British beef. How well his head goes with his hereditary manner. What ancestral certainty there is in his suit. How I envy him. He doesn't even have to think. Beside him, the Lord Chancellor looks like a bikini-waxed Brazilian in the early hours in Greek Street.

"He's a thundering fine advocate," Lord Ferrers said in a way that was old-fashioned when John Buchan was young. He continued in the most authentic way, "but the trouble with fine advocates is you don't know if it's a good case or a bad case they're putting forward."

He was too polite to say exactly what he thought but he did say he took exception to the proposed changes. He wanted to remind the House of something that he had had occasion to quote before. "But as it would be an impertinence, not to say arrogance, to think your lordships would remember anything I've ever said ... I don't mind repeating it."

Please note the difference between this and the cultural standards of the House of Commons. He went on with a quote to the effect that there was no unreasonable argument that couldn't be made to sound reasonable by reason. That seemed a very pleasant way of saying that Lord Falconer of Thoroton shouldn't be trusted with the lunch money.

The argument went against the Government; the vote went the other way. I blame the Liberal Democrats. And shall blame them even more bitterly if they didn't get a very good price for their acquiescence.

The Lords had passed an amendment wanting their ancient right to provide the nation with a lord chancellor. The Commons wants the right to fill the office of Lord Chancellor (the defender of judicial independence, upholder of the rule of law). The Lords wanted the Lord Chancellor to be both a lord and a lawyer. A complete refutation of the Government case can be made in two words. Geoff Hoon. Gossip has it that Geoff Hoon is to be the next lord chancellor. Now how do you feel about it?

Lord Elton undercut the cant about choosing the finest candidate from the combined houses - anyone can be made a peer in a trice. And Lord Kingsland emphasised that legal expertise was essential: "Often the threat to the rule of law is not obvious, and often exists in the arcane detail of criminal law." The "propensity" provision turned out to be a fundamental threat to the presumption of innocence.

The Upper House failed, I fear, to push the point. Even though they were well within their rights to delay until the case for change had been properly made (case-making had been very conspicuously absent). Failure of nerve, I fear.

Lord Ferrers' qualities are more important than you might have thought.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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