One of the first debates I initiated in the House of Commons was about the height of police officers. A constituent of mine had had a Norman Wisdom experience and been disqualified from joining the Metropolitan Police because he was vertically challenged. He raised the matter – if that be the right expression – with me and I raised it in the House. The tallest male MP found the response came from the tallest lady MP – six foot plus of Shirley Summerskill, a Home Office Minister at the time. The debate literally went over the heads of other MP’s as we agreed that it was time to move on – not least because the policy discriminated against Asian applicants at a time when Ministers were rightly promoting a more diverse police force.
We addressed the argument that smaller officers would be more vulnerable as they lacked stature and would be picked on in a crowd. My experience on the rugby pitch pointed in the opposite direction; the smaller the player, the more aggressive he was and the wider the berth to be given him. Together, Shirley and I made modest progress in the elimination of heightism.
I was reminded of this debate when I read of a survey by estate agents that found that St Mary Bourne was one of the most sought-after villages in England and Wales. It was the only village in Hampshire to be so highlighted.
Having rented a home in St Mary Bourne in the 1990’s, I can testify to the village’s vibrancy and camaraderie. But it has one problem, for me and Shirley if not for Norman Wisdom. Many of the houses have low ceilings, made yet lower by the presence of oak beams. In the centuries since they were first built, the average height of the houses’ occupants has increased. Faced with the choice of living in the village with a dented forehead or moving and keeping my scalp intact, the Youngs moved and bought a house elsewhere.
But last week, the problem with height and low ceilings recurred. The lampshades in our hall needed replacing and my wife went out and bought some cylindrical shaped glass ones that had doubtless won a design award. The top two thirds of the cylinder is gold tinted, but the bottom one third is transparent.
The visible two thirds is more than 6 4 above the ground, and therefore above cruising altitude. However the bottom one third is not – and is also invisible. So, in the flight path in the hall, are two obstacles leading to a dented forehead.
The wife has recognised the design flaw and has now raised the cylinder closer to the ceiling. I am looking through the House of Commons telephone directory to find the number of the shortest MP. I want a favour to be repaid, and a debate to be initiated about the problems confronting tall people.