Sir: A neat solution to the levels of inactivity of some members of the House of Lords (‘Peer pressure’, 1 August) might be annual self-assessment against national minimum standards: record of attendance (including duration), contributions to debates, questions asked, involvement in legislative procedure, notable achievements, charitable works. Any peer falling short should be shown the ornate door, as should any caught popping in just to claim their £300.
Norton sub Hamdon, Somerset
Matrix of success
Sir: It is agreed that the purpose of the Upper House is to employ its wisdom and experience to improve draft bills emanating from the Commons. The present occupants of the Lords hardly represent a font of all wisdom. There is wisdom there — but not enough. My suggestion is to create a matrix of seats each to be occupied on an ex officio basis. The matrix would be made up of the recently retired heads of a range of organisations such as selected FTSE 100 companies; armed forces and police; along with presidents of professional bodies, former PMs and chancellors of the Exchequer, and so on. Each member would have already earned his or her place by success in their chosen field. They would serve for a set term and then be replaced.
The whole structure would need careful design and management, but the prize would be an extraordinary concentration of wisdom and experience with control of numbers and natural regeneration.
Sir: Please forgive me for the vanity of writing about my own article (‘Seeing red’, 25 July) but I must sadly report that I was prevented from entering the donor centre where I had planned to give blood on Monday. A corporate functionary from the Blood Service’s headquarters had, to my surprise, discovered what I thought were the private details of my appointment and emailed me to say that they would be ‘unable’ to take my donation. By this of course he meant ‘unwilling’, as nothing physical prevented the donation from taking place. I wrote back offering to find a compromise, but without success. He then appeared outside the door of the centre and insisted that I could not enter. After that the centre’s staff ceased to process me and the appointment went to waste. As I fear that the muzzle diktat may be permanent, this quite possibly means that after 50 years, I may now be an ex-donor.
People will say I should get over it, but I regard the wearing of these garments as a form of compelled speech. They plainly proclaim public acquiescence to a policy I despise. I was brought up not to do that sort of thing, by parents who had actually suffered in a war to defend freedom.
Anointing the dying
Sir: Mary Wakefield laments the decision of the Catholic church to ‘abandon the dying’ in the light of Covid-19 by not taking the sacraments into hospitals (‘The Catholic church’s cowardly betrayal’, 1 August).
I can’t speak for the whole country, but I can speak for Nottingham. Here there is a team of priests who are authorised by the NHS Trust to be in the chaplaincy team. We have been providing the sacraments to those in hospital (both Covid and non-Covid patients) throughout the lockdown. As one of those on the hospital list, I have lost count of the number of Catholics I have gone in to anoint during this period. It may be that the Nottingham NHS Trust (or Nottingham Diocese) is uniquely enlightened, and a shining beacon among the darkness of the church ‘abandoning the dying’. I very much doubt it, however.
Fr David Palmer
Restore playing fields
Sir: Grateful though I am for the Prime Minister’s £50 bung to fix my bike (Rod Liddle, ‘Fat-shaming didn’t do me any harm’, 1 August), he would do a better job of slimming down the nation by restoring school playing fields auctioned off by his predecessors. Where to find the money? Easy — put HS2 on hold, preferably permanently. The benefits of sports facilities for school kids would far outweigh the advantage of a 20-minute saving on the journey time from London to Birmingham.
Hunt for fame
Sir: Charles Moore asks who, besides the Queen, is alive who was famous in the 1930s, now that Olivia de Havilland is dead (Notes, 1 August). De Havilland’s friend and fellow actress Marsha Hunt, who is 102, might not be a household name now, but she was well-known in the days of Old Hollywood. With Zeppo Marx as her agent, she signed her first contract in 1935 at the age of 17 and starred in many pictures, including Born to the West (1937) alongside John Wayne. Indeed, she was originally cast as Melanie in Gone with the Wind ‘for about a weekend’ until an executive changed his mind and gave the role to de Havilland instead.
Dull, Perth and Kinross
Sir: Congratulations to Ian Rankin for his winning parody of Inspector Salvo Montalbano (Competition, 25 July). There was something Rebus-like in the Italian detective’s dyspepsia. Ian Rankin follows in the illustrious footsteps of Graham Greene who, in 1949, won second prize in the New Statesman for a parody of his own writing style. The opening paragraph of Greene’s last novel, The Captain and the Enemy (1988), is a reworking of a Spectator competition entry he submitted in April 1980 (under the name of Colin Bates). It was not among the five published; first prize was won by his brother, Sir Hugh Greene.
Harold’s Cross, Dublin
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