1 FEBRUARY 1992, Page 8


A son of the massage parlour highlights the shortcomings of democracy


Ihave heard many arguments for the reform of the House of Lords, but had not previously thought of the one advanced by the Independent on Sunday this week. Its leading article CA Daniel come to train for the Lords' den') pointed out that Daniel, the fourth Lord Moynihan, at present aged 10 months, is the son of a 26-year-old Filipino massage-parlour owner, the fifth wife of the third baron, who was involved in 'drug-running, pimping and money-laun- dering' and was half-brother of the Parlia- mentary Under-Secretary at the Depart- ment of Energy, the Hon. Colin.

The gist of the article was that anyone from such a background was not fit to be a British legislator, but the author of the piece obviously realised halfway through that his attitude laid his Politically Correct paper open to charges of racism and snob- bery, and so inserted rather desperately the sentence: 'Many of our noble lords have far worse skeletons in their ancestral closet than massage parlours — if, that is, mas- sage parlours are to be considered dubious at all.' Well, are they or aren't they? The article does not say, but if they aren't, it is hard to see how little Lord Moynihan's eventual presence in the Upper House will discredit that institution; and even if they are, only someone who believes that the sins of the fathers should be visited upon the children, which the Independent on Sun- day declaredly does not, would see this as a problem for the second chamber.

As a matter of fact, unbeknownst to the Independent on Sunday, it seems that the third Baron has created a problem. Accord- ing to the News of the World of the same day, the 10-month-old Daniel is not heir to the title at all, because his father faked the death certificate of his elder son, Andrew, by his fourth marriage, preferring that Daniel should have the title. Andrew is the Filipino equivalent of a warming-pan baby. But perhaps all this is irrelevant from the Independent's point of view, since Andrew is also the son of what the News of the World calls a 'massage parlour madam in Manila', and so whoever gets the barony will bring a comparable shame upon the House of Lords.

Not knowing quite what to do with Daniel by its fourth column, the Indepen- dent trots out, under the guise of what the young peer 'may conclude', its own view that 'the House of Lords epitomises a soci- ety that, far from offering equality of

opportunity, still trains a governing class drawn from an astonishingly narrow range of family backgrounds, schools and occupa- tions', that it has 'ancient and undemocratic privileges' and that 'if he were to take his seat in an unreformed Lords, for no better reason than that his great-grandfather was a distinguished surgeon and the first to wear rubber gloves, Britain will seem, from the massage parlours of Manila, and from elsewhere, to be a very strange place indeed'.

Now if this were only one opinion in one Sunday paper, it would not be worth atten- tion, but it is also the opinion of other papers, such as the Sunday Times, and the policy of the two opposition parties, although for them the Moynihan succession is not the clinching argument. Labour, for example, is committed to creating 'a new elected Second Chamber in place of the anachronism of the House of Lords'. Even Mr Major, one hears, is not happy with the present arrangements and would like to think of something more classless.

At this moment of danger, we should be grateful to the Independent on Sunday for raising Lord Moynihan, because his exam- ple proves the opposite of the case it is making. It is surely a wonderful thing that the child of a Manila massage parlour can come in due time to make the laws of Britain. It would be extremely unlikely to happen under a democratic system: under an hereditary system, it is as easy as any- thing — you just have to find one out of the present 763 hereditary peers who is pre- pared to go and marry the appropriate masseuse. The same applies to the occupa- tions of peers. Far from being representa- tive of the whole country, Members of Par- liament are estate agents and bankers on one side and local government bureaucrats and polytechnic lecturers on the other. The Lords are more random. The present Countess of Mar used to be a British Tele- com saleswoman, the Earl of Lincoln a safety officer in a gold mine, the Earl of Dunmore a postmaster in Tasmania, Lord Teviot a bus driver, and so on.

It is easy to show that reform of the House of Lords would do nothing to check the power of the executive and protect our liberties. The new chamber would be devised by politicians in the House of Com- mons, and so would not be granted any powers which seriously inconvenienced them. The power of government patronage would only hold greater sway if the heredi- tary (and therefore uncontrollable) ele- ment were done away with. But there is no need to get into these arguments. The point is that the hereditary principle, far from being anachronistic, is natural to human beings in a way that democracy is not.

Politicians unwittingly acknowledge this whenever they make grand speeches. We must do what we must do, they say, for the sake of our children. That is the chief rea- son why people do things, a stronger reason even than the desire to get rich oneself, and stronger by far than the desire for everyone to be equal or free. Everyone accepts the hereditary principle in relation to them- selves. They accept bequests, and expect to leave things to others in their wills. Even feminists who refuse to bear their hus- band's name happily spend their lives with a surname for no better reason than that it was the name of one of their remote male ancestors, a far looser connection than Lord Moynihan's great-grandfather and his rubber gloves. Nobody is outraged by a butcher or a baker or a candlestick-maker called Someone & Son, although no abstract principle of commerce would sug- gest heredity as best for business.

Even the firmest state socialists believe they have rights and duties in relation to their children which go far beyond their rights and duties in relation to anyone else. The rights of citizenship, far more impor- tant than the right to sit on the red benches in the House of Lords, derive chiefly from the hereditary principle. Mr Ian Jack, the editor of the Independent on Sunday, is a British citizen because (so far as I know) his parents were British citizens, and it is that hereditary fact alone (so far as I know) which entitles him to live in Britain. This is just as odd, according to rigidly democratic ideas, as the fact that a Filipino masseuse can get her son into the House of Lords, yet everyone sensible accepts it without question. It is democracy, not heredity, which is artificial and strange. The House of Commons, when you come to think about it, is a much odder institution than the House of Lords. Are we more sensible in accepting the ministrations of the Hon. Colin Moynihan at the Department of Energy because he has courted the voters of Lewisham East since 1983 than we shall be if we welcome his half-nephew from the back streets of Manila to a seat in the House of Lords?