Jack O'Sullivan profiles Catholic peers as the Lords is televised for the first time.
TELEVISION'S ANSWER do Gilbert and Sullivan's lolanthe begins a possible recordbreaking run on Wednesday with the first screening of events in that most exclusive of clubs the House of Lords.
The prospect is feared by some peers. It makes all the more nightmarish the old story of an aging Lord who dreamed he was making a speech in the House and woke up to find that he was.
But many of the peers are happy that the public has been offered the opportunity, on a six month trial basis, to view Parliament's second chamber and its varied membership of aristocrats, elder statesmen and eccentrics. There is a fair share of all three among the Catholic peers.
The most conspicuous Catholic peer is probably Lord Longford, sire of one of the most talented and prolific families in Britain. Sharing Michael Foot's lack of interest in sartorial elegance, Lord Longford was leader of the House of Lords during the Wilson era, from 1964 to 1968.
He is a tireless campaigner for penal reform and against pornography. When he goes for breakfast at a local cafe, near his Chelsea home, the proprietor turns the eyecatching ladies of the Pirrclli calendar to the wall. But the achnowledged "Catholic whip" in the Lords is the Duke of Norfolk, President of the Catholic Union. Like his distinguished late grand uncle, Viscount Fitzalan of Derwent, the Duke is a committed defender of Catholic education.
There are a number of highly respected Catholic women in the Lords. They are "much less longwinded than the men", one of their number, Baroness Masham of lion, commented recently. Both Lady Masham and Baroness Darcy de Knayth are confined to wheelchairs and speak on matters concerning the handicapped, Baroness Ryder and Baronness Phillips, Lord Lieutenant of London supplement this contingent, making a more impressive female lobby than is sometimes appreciated.
Among the political heavyweights to keep an eye out for in the Lords is Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, AttorneyGericial in the Heath Government. Lord Chitnis, Liberal peer and veteran observer of elections in Zimbabwe, El Salvador and more recently in Nicaragua, is a seasoned parliamentarian. Lord Mowbray, easily identified by his eyepatch, is often in attendance.
There is indeed a plethora of Conservatives among Catholic peers, particularly those with an hereditary title. Lord Fitt, formerly leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party is an exception. Holding an anomalous rank for an Irish nationalist, Lord Fitt remains a frequent critic of the Government's Northern Ireland policy.
A feW Catholic peers will almost certainly be out of sight on Wednesday when the debate over the Government's economic policy is expected to be lively. Lord Petre probably will not be there. lie is believed by his family never to have said more than: "Could somebody open a window please, it's very hot in here".
Nor can we hope to sec the 9th Earl, Nelson, descendant of the hero of Trafalgar. Unfortunately Detective Sergeant Nelson will be on duty in Hertfordshire. As Gilbert and Sullivan would say: "A policeman's life is not an 'appy one".