The House of Lords: debate and carpeting

A recent search engine question about the carpet in the House of Lords brought some poor soul to Notes recently, and since it raised an important question that I’d never written –or thought–about, I did some digging.

Yes, my friends, I’m here to research the things you have too much sense to bother with.

And just so you don’t think the question was a one-time thing, a couple of weeks later another one came along: “carpet colours in house of lords and rules on where you can talk.” I’ll do rules and traditions another time. This is long enough already, and surely the carpet’s more important.

Let’s start with what the carpet looks like. I won’t steal a copyrighted photo, so you’ll have to click a link. Is it worth bothering? Probably not. But in case you need help finding the topic of the conversation, it’s the stuff on the floor.

Irrelevant photo: This is not the carpet in the House of Lords, it’s a windflower.

What else is there to know about the carpet? Oh, lots. Let’s look at a couple of freedom of information requests on the subject that Lord Google led me to.

Yes, folks. Someone somewhere thought the carpet mattered enough that they used the Freedom of Information law to pry this sensitive information out of a reluctant government. In response to a 2018 request, here’s what someone or other wrote:

The House of Lords and House of Commons are separate organisations and also separate public authorities for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The carpet in the House of Lords chamber is a Wilton Brussels weave carpet (supplied by Wilton Carpets Manufacturing Ltd). We do not hold information relating to the House of Commons.” 

Well, when someone in politics evades a question that obviously, you have to figure it’s important. So I kept going. A separate (I think) request, also from 2018, unearthed the following:

“Information about the carpet used in the House of Commons Chamber is held, and is as follows: the carpet is in a Wilton weave style and is supplied by Wilton Carpets Manufacturing Ltd. It has two colours of Scott Mottle, green and brown. The pattern has been copied ever since its first installation, in October 1950.”

Oh, they make it sound so innocuous, but let’s turn to a 1966 debate. I was going to cut it back, because they go on and on. Also round and about and in all directions that aren’t necessarily forward. But the puffery and nonsense tells you a lot about the House of Lords, not to mention how important they consider the carpet.

I copied it from Hansards, which records Parliamentary debates on all the important topics of the day. It came with its own links embedded. If you’re relentlessly interested, you’re welcome to follow them. Me? I can’t even be bothered taking them out. 

A bit of background, since this is about two red stripes in the carpet. I did my humble best to find an authoritative source to explain what the hell these are about. The best I can do is tell you that the Commons has two red stripes that are two swords’ widths apart and MPs aren’t allowed to cross them. If someone wanted to spill blood, surely they’d step over them, but they don’t. Because they’re not allowed.

And, of course, they have pink ribbons in the cloakroom to hang their swords on so they don’t bring them into the chamber.

So let’s assume the red stripes in the House of Lords has something to do with all that.

LORD AMULREE My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. [The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty’s Government why they have put a red stripe down the carpet on each side of the House.]

LORD SHEPHERD My Lords, I recognise that the noble Lord has raised a matter of great importance to the business of the House. I hope the House will accept the view that a question of this type might perhaps in future be more suitably addressed to the Chairman of Committees, who is Chairman of the Administration Committee which is responsible for the area in which the House of Lords conducts its business.

I understand that there are two very clear precedents for this stripe. If we refer to the portraits which can be found in your Lordships’ House, there is, for instance, in the West Front Corridor a picture by Mr. F. Sargent bearing the date 1880. From that it can be seen that there is a stripe running the full length of your Lordships’ Chamber. Furthermore, I believe that in the Bishops’ Corridor there is a portrait of your Lordships’ House sitting during the Home Rule debate, and although the stripe is not as distinct as the one in the picture hanging in the West Front Corridor, it is quite clearly there.

The noble Lord may remember that before the recent renovations in this House there was sisal matting throughout, which contained strips of carpet with an edging of colour. The view then taken was that this represented the old stripe which was evident in those portraits. It was decided by the Administration Committee on February 8—and the noble Lord himself is a very distinguished member of that Committee—that when the new carpet was laid the stripe should be included. The House may be interested to know that there is no reference in our Standing Orders to this particular stripe. Therefore, the noble Lords who sit on the Cross-Benches will not be inhibited in addresing [nope, the misspelling isn’t mine, it’s theirs] us from their place. If I may give a personal view, I think it is a very considerable improvement.

LORD AMULREE My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for that very long and detailed reply. I will certainly bear in mind what he said about where such questions should in future be addressed. But may I draw his attention to the painting in the Cholmondeley Room, which bears no date but which shows no stripe; and at the same time to the painting in the Bishops’ Corridor which again I think does not show the stripe. Is it not possible that some mistake occurred in the painting in the Ministers’ Corridor? Furthermore, is it not a fact that such a stripe is not needed in this House, where the presence of the Lords Spiritual [those are the bishops who sit in the Lords] is probably enough to curb the exuberance of the Lords Temporal [those are the non-bishops]?

LORD SHEPHERD My Lords, I should not wish to reduce the precedents which I have quoted, but the noble Lord will be aware that there is such a thing as artist’s licence, which may have applied in the recent portrait of your Lordships’ House. In regard to the Bishops, well, we know that our present Bishops are well behaved, but history records that that has not always been the case.

LORD CHORLEY My Lords, is the noble Lord satisfied that the increasing use of green in the carpets and elsewhere in this House does not mark an insidious infiltration from another place? [That’s a reference to the House of Commons, which is color coded green.]

LORD SHEPHERD My Lords, I gather that in the past the carpets were green. I am not sure whether I am colour blind, but I have been informed that this colour is blue. However, I think that the pink breaks up the blueness—there may be no political significance in this—and makes it a little more palatable—shall I say?—to noble Lords on this side of the House.

End of excerpt. We’re talking among our own ignoble selves now.

A 2017 discussion, also in Hansards, was about why the carpet in the Cholmondeley Room had been removed and whether it would be replaced–and when (although no one was so gauche as to use a dash). The answer was about the Cholmondeley Terrace. It said the carpet in the Cholmondeley Room hadn’t been altered.

Sounds like a coverup to me.

So what can we learn from all this? That precedent matters. Why? Because the U.K. has an unwritten constitution. That means no one knows what the hell is in it. It includes the Magna Carta, law, precendent, and the entire library of scripts from The Archers.

The Archers? The world’s longest-running radio soap opera. 

Or maybe it only feels like the longest-running soap opera. *

Where were we? Ah. Precedent. Precedent is part of the unwritten constitution, so if precendent says there’s a red stripe, then that’s part of the constitution. You don’t want to get this wrong. Consult the portrait gallery. Go through the trash. This matters.

And you thought Brexit was difficult.

We can also learn that you could spend a lifetime writing about Parliament and never run out of material. And that the Lords sound every bit as pompous as you’d expect.

And that you couldn’t possibly make it up.

 

  • The Archers really is the longest running radio soap opera. And it feels like it is.

76 thoughts on “The House of Lords: debate and carpeting

  1. So many issues here to discuss. I am still up thinking if us Thursday night. I am really back up since I could not sleep. Sinus congestion. I took some pills and am weighting for them to work, Atlanta May be the worst place in the world for sinus problems. Allergy doctors fo will here. Enough of that.

    First the color of the carpet. I argued with my family growing up over colors. I always saw blue while they saw green. Now my wife is the same insisting things are green when they are blue or brown. They grew UPS trucks that seem to be everywhere here sheer the company is based. The trucks are green but everyone keeps insisting they are brown. They talk about the brown trucks. At first I was just bewildered. Then it dawned on me. A cold green dawn. Forget gray dawns. I tell you they are green. Do I have symphony with the lords in their discussions over the past colors of the carpet. Green, brown, blue or even gray. Who is to say.

    Then the strips. Red ones. Either they were there or not. And why are they still there. I say if it can’t be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that they were there and also still needed, get rid of them. Red strips spoil a perfectly good blue carpet.

    The last matter is the constitution, or lack of one. I almost distinctly remember lessening in grade school that while we, the US have a Constitution, the British fo not, but rely on precedent. Making ya vastly superior since we, of course, have the good sense to have a constitution. Now I hear rumblings about a British constitution. I don’t believe you can say you have something that does not exist. That disturbs my faith in my early childhood teaching. Plus it does not seem logical. Rigger there exists s constitution or you rely on precedent. At this point in my life, I believe it is better to not have a constitution but rely on precedent. Childhood teaching is not infallible and opinions can be changed.

    Do take a vote on the color of the new carpets and whether or not to have stripes and be done with it. There. And if the Commons have green, then the Lords should have blue, with no stripes.

    It is after three. The pills are starting to work. I may try again to sleep.

    My hour year old granddaughter had a graduation from pre-school early in the morning. Her mom, my daughter was crying about it yesterday. A big step forward not yo return. Although the I did suggest she have another child. They suggestion was not well met.

    Herd us yo tradition and precedent and most of all to change.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sorry for all the typos. I had to correct almost every word but still missed a bunch. I claim because I am dizzy from the sinus congestion and am finally getting sleepy.

      Liked by 2 people

      • When I stopped trying to translate the typos into something you might have intended, it became a very, very funny comment. Especially when I got to the point where your hour-old grandchild graduation preschool. Talk about a precocious kid!

        Liked by 1 person

    • The unwritten constitution is partly precendent and partly written documents such as the Magna Carta. So what they taught you was partially right. Clearly, though, they didn’t teach you your colors.

      Oops. Did I say that? Sorry. It just slipped out. Didn’t mean to be rude.

      Liked by 1 person

    • …and what would happen to them if they did. It’s not as dramatic (and therefore nowhere near as much fun) as running off with the mace, but surely someone’s looked at it and wondered if it was worth it.

      Liked by 2 people

    • It can get very, very strange over here. Witness the Brexit meltdown. Everyone agrees that something has to happen, but they can’t get a majority for anything. I don’t think they could find a majority for a cheese sandwich right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of your replies reminded me that my grandmother made a rug by sewing together a bunch of carpet samples. It did look pretty good. If Brexit ever runs its course, it may be the worlds longest running soap opera.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Now I understand that thing in the Brexit debate about controlling our own laws. Damned if I want Brussels bureaucrats telling me what colour my carpet should be or whether or not it ought to have stripes! Of course, if we have to go by WTO rules maybe we will have to spell colour without the u.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh gawd what a palaver! Totally tongue in cheek Hansard contributers. Must say when I visited many, many moons ago, I was most impressed with the blue carpet and silver stars, very plush and swish, didn’t notice the red stripes. More recently I had the joy of possibly breaking an unwritten Constitutional rule about not singing or dancing in entrance hall. I was rather tipsy from a fantastic meal in the Stranger’s Bar and as I was leaving (having grown up doing Musicals and Music Hall) I thought, meh why not I am now an Australian Citizen, what can they really do? So I sang ‘Boiled Beef and Carrots” (old cockney song circa at least 150 yrs old) at the top of my lungs as I danced towards to exit. Hilarious watching the confused police and guards, some frowning, some smiling, trying to ascertain if I was a national threat or not. The romantic devil in me would have loved to have been charged and getting off because “No me Lud, I was not a National Threat, if I had a terrible voice and couldn’t dance then that would be a different matter but I have perfect pitch,was a trained dancer, so no one suffered any harm, except my poor nephew who works there (very embarrassed and nervy) and my head the next morning.

    Sorry about the Brexit debacle and my feeling rather smug that I left for Australia 30 years ago (yes I am ignoring our own ever changing back stabbing Prime Ministers).

    Liked by 3 people

    • Tongue may be in cheek or not. I can’t say, since mercifully I’m not inside the aforesaid mouth to verify its position. The tone, however, speaks volumes about the place.

      Like

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