April 27th, 2011

pointless, repression

The Case of the Virgin Birth

I usually spend about ten seconds every morning looking at Wikipedia's death notices, on the basis that roughly once a year I find out from there that someone I knew, or knew of, has passed away. This morning, however, I discovered the story of the 4th Baron Ampthill, who owed his seat in the House of Lords to his mother successfully arguing (the House of Lords overruling a jury verdict against her on a technicality) that she had had a ten-month pregnancy while still a virgin. (The Daily Telegraph, inevitably, has even more juicy details.)

On the one hand, one has to feel sorry for the young Geoffrey Russell, who was best known for most of his life - particularly his childhood - because of the very public dispute between his supposed parents about the circumstances of his conception. This was quite literally the kind of case for which privacy laws were written. Whatever one may think of the current fuss about superinjunctions (and to be honest, I can't really maintain a lot of excitement about Andrew Marr's private life, or see how the public interest is in any way served by reporting it), it's surely fairly obvious that it is right to restrict reporting of the gory details of divorce cases where there are young children involved. My impression, though I don't know for sure, is that in Belgium things are a bit calmer because of the right to privacy enshrined in article 22 of the Constitution. (Though we still get ludicrously obsessive coverage of murder trials and the like.)

On the other hand, it's completely indefensible and utterly absurd that, purely because his supposed father was unable to disprove his mother's story of a virgin ten-month pregnancy, Mr Russell was able to sit in the parliament of the United Kingdom as the legislator Lord Ampthill from 1973 until he died a few days ago. I'm sure he was a terribly nice chap and all that, but there are a lot of terribly nice chaps and chapesses out there who would have done at least as good a job. I'm a sceptic on some of the current ideas for House of Lords reform, but cannot see any argument for retaining any hereditary element at all.