HL Deb 27 October 1997 vol 582 cc915-35

Debate resumed.

5.14 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I am very glad that the speakers on the Motion have seemed to be in favour of it because it is an argument which will rumble on if we do not bring it out and discuss it thoroughly.

Before I get down to the subject of the Motion, I wish to pick up one remark made by the Leader of the Opposition. He said that this Government wish to abolish the hereditary Peers. Not so, my Lords. We are not abolishing hereditary Peers. They will carry on as they have always done, healthily and happily I hope. All we are abolishing is their right to vote. But that is an argument for another day.

The opinions which I express this afternoon are my own based on 15 years in this House and, I suspect, several hundreds of introductions, most of which I seem to have attended. Given the pressure on parliamentary time, the increase in the number of introductions, and the likelihood that these trends will continue, it seems right to consider whether the current ceremony meets our present day requirements. I am grateful to the Clerk of the Parliaments for his extremely useful document, even if the Lord Privy Seal suggests that it may be improper. It has been very helpful to this debate.

There is a widely shared view that the present ceremony is too long and comic in parts, and for those of us who out of courtesy attend as many as possible, however well disposed we may be towards the participants in the ceremony, the repetition is tedious. I sympathise with Black Rod and Garter and the Clerks who have double duty since they must also attend rehearsals. Therefore they have to sit through the ceremonies twice as many times. Yet, as my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal said, we recognise that for the new Peer and his or her family and friends it is a special day and for them we must ensure that the occasion is memorable and dignified.

There have been today a number of suggestions for shortening the ceremony. They are probably all worth considering. I agree that the ceremony could be shortened by replacing the slightly absurd three bows by one bow from a Front Bench. I believe that that was the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. That would have the added advantage of allowing existing Peers to occupy the Back Benches before the ceremony and would cut down some of the scuffling that takes place afterwards.

There is a suggestion that new Peers could be introduced in groups. But that would not only detract from each individual's experience, it would also reduce the most valuable quality of the present ceremony: that of allowing the House to recognise the newcomer.

I suggest—I know that my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal does not agree with this—that the best solution would be to return to the practice of an investiture by the Sovereign. This would more than compensate the new Peer for any feeling of being part of a group. The new Peer could then attend at a later date to take the oath in the way that Peers by succession do at present. We would then have the opportunity to recognise him. It would also meet the objection of my noble friend Lord Richard to the queue which Peers must join in order to take their seats.

Finally, I do not favour the suggestion outlined in the Clerk's paper that there should be a different ceremony for the Honours list and the working list. Such a distinction would undermine the principle of equality which is one of the greatest assets of this place. In any case the attempt to distinguish between the two groups could cause confusion outside. Any observer of our activities will know that there are some Peers on the working list who do not work, and some Peers on the Honours list who work very hard indeed.

I hope that we may soon reach a decision on how to proceed. The present ceremony is outdated. It needs changing both to save time and to preserve the dignity which should attend what is still an important honour for those concerned.

5.19 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, perhaps I may start by offering an apology. I am a member of the Procedure Committee but was unable to attend the committee meeting which discussed this matter. Perhaps I may also declare what I might call a negative interest in so far as I have never participated in an Introduction ceremony. I have never been introduced myself and have never acted as a supporter because Earls have not exactly been the flavour of the decade and therefore not many have been introduced. It is a slight quirk that the Government apparently seem to wish to see vaporised those who are here by the procedures which they have in mind.

I was interested in the speech made by the noble Lord, the Lord Privy Seal. It was deeply enticing. I found it fascinating. I always like to make a speech when I have the noble Lord the Leader of the House on my side. It is rather like being back at school playing toy soldiers; you always like to have the howitzer on your side.

I am afraid that I could not agree with the noble Lord in his conclusions. To me, the ceremony is tremendous—full of colour, ritual, pageantry and symbolism. That is very important. I am glad that the noble Lord the Leader of the House agreed.

The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, made an impressive remark. He said that he was impressed by three ceremonies in which he had taken part. I have not taken part in so many as that. I was impressed with the one ceremony in which I participated; namely, the opening of Parliament. I was accorded the privilege of carrying the Cap of Maintenance. At the rehearsal which took place the day before we were all in our plain clothes. I was given a piece of rolled up paper and told, "That is the Cap of Maintenance". I looked at it, slightly surprised. Nevertheless, I carried it round, and we all walked around in what might be described as a shambolic way. However, when the actual day arrived, everyone was dressed up in uniform or in their robes, and they all had a part to play. It was not the individual who mattered; it was the person. Instead of having a rolled up piece of paper, I was given a piece of wood with a hat on top of it. That added to the pageantry, too.

Symbolism is very important. You can tear anything to pieces, rather like a tapestry, by pulling at any particular thread; you can make an absurdity out of anything. The noble Lord the Leader of the House said that part of the Introduction ceremony is ridiculous—people lifting their hats and putting them back on. I do not see that that is any more ridiculous than a Peer kneeling in front of the Lord Chancellor. Nor is it any more ridiculous than the fact that Finance Bills are passed in old-fashioned French. Of course you can make a mockery of it if you wish to, but the whole is quite important. I would not wish to see it changed in that respect.

There is an argument that the ceremony takes too long. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, made that point; and she said that part of it was tedious. I do not find it tedious. It is remarkable. And almost everyone made the point that it is valuable to those who have been made Peers and to their friends. It is a great honour. Nowadays one is told that it is not an honour; it is a job of work. But it is, in fact, a great honour to be made a Peer. It is therefore right that the ceremony should continue.

If 11 minutes is too long, what amount of time is sufficient? If it is cut down to eight minutes, is that all right? Or should it be five minutes, three minutes, one minute? I really do not think that the length of time is a factor. Perhaps the matter should be viewed in this way. The Government of the day have decided, for reasons that we all understand, that they wish to create a large number of Peers. It is commonly said that it is not an honour but a job of work. So how does the poor new Peer carry out his job of work? When he comes to this House he makes speeches. If a whole lot of new Peers are created, they all come along and make a whole lot of speeches; the debates get longer, the proceedings get longer, and the Government of the day say, "Help, we must cut this down. How shall we cut it down? We must cut down on the Introduction ceremony; that can be reduced from 11 minutes to eight minutes". That will apparently make a vast difference to the proceedings of your Lordships' House! That is not the case at all.

It seems to have escaped many of your Lordships that the greatest contribution your Lordships can often make to a debate is for your Lordships to keep your Lordships' mouths shut. That is then to the general satisfaction of the remainder of your Lordships' House, if not to the satisfaction of the person on whom the retribution has been visited.

One has to be fairly careful when these matters are altered. I know that the Government are very keen on modernising almost everything. There is nothing wrong with that, provided that the modernisation is good. Last week in Edinburgh we heard the ghastly, whacky modern rendition of the national anthem in Edinburgh. It was a total disaster for the monarchy, the National Anthem and everyone listening to it. I hope that we do not make any similar mistakes. I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will be very careful before making too many strident suggestions in this respect. He suggests that the matter should be considered by a committee. Perhaps it should. However, I hope that the committee will remember that, very often, when experimental limits of 30 miles an hour are introduced they seem to end up being there for ever. Whenever a double yellow line is laid down for an experimental period, it is there for ever. One has to be very careful when altering a ceremony such as this to make quite sure that any alteration is an improvement and not a disfigurement. Personally, I should like to see the ceremony remain as it is. It is not a waste of time at all. Nor do I think it is ridiculous. It enhances the prestige of the Peers taking part, and it enhances the prestige of this House.

5.26 p.m.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, I venture to intervene in the debate for one short, simple reason. An analogy that I can recount to your Lordships might be of some relevance. I refer to the ceremony of taking Silk, or becoming a QC. It is an enormous honour to be in the Silk list. It is a moment of great joy for one's family, who take part in the ceremony. One sees wives attending with a look of cheerful glee at the prospect—which is a total illusion—that, with the treadmill of junior work behind him, the husband can at last be at home pulling his weight occasionally.

In 1961 I took Silk. It was a vintage year, because my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman was in the list; so was the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington. In those days the Silks—there were 20 of us—were lined up on the left-hand side of the court, and went round every court in the Royal Courts of Justice. The judge who presided would utter these words to each of the successful applicants: Her Majesty having been pleased to appoint you one of Her Counsel Learned in the Law, you will take your seat within the Bar accordingly". You then walked to the front row; you stood in the middle; you bowed to the right; you bowed to the left; you turned round and bowed to the junior Bar—with some enthusiasm, because you were going to rely on them to some extent for future work—then you bowed to the court itself, and then sat down. The judge presiding then said: "Mr. Brown, do you move?", which was a request to know whether you had any application to make. You resisted saying, "with difficulty, my Lord", and silently got up and walked out. That took between two and three minutes per Silk. The variation—50 per cent.—which I timed on a small calculator on one occasion, showed that one must not be too intolerant about the variation in time taken by Silks when they get down to the real work.

That ceremony occurred in every court. It took up a great deal of time—time that was being paid for by litigants whose cases were being interrupted. Gradually the procedure has been streamlined. The appearance now takes place only before the Lord Chief Justice's court. He sits with the Master of the Rolls on his right and the President of the Family Division on his left. That has cut down the time enormously. It has in no way detracted from the importance or attractiveness of the ceremony. It has given rise to no form of criticism. On the contrary, it is an enormous relief to the judiciary, to the Silks involved and to the litigants, who would otherwise have their cases disrupted. It occurs to me that that is an analogy which might interest your Lordships.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal has given us this opportunity to express our views on Introductions, at a timely moment when we are having such an orgy of them. I am particularly grateful as I am a member of the procedure committee but, as I was abroad, missed the meeting on 15th October and the discussion which took place then. The minutes of that meeting tell us nothing of the discussion, but I think we can assume a good deal of it from the speech of the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal at the opening of the debate.

I congratulate the Clerk of the Parliaments on his interesting, comprehensive and impartial paper. It is very satisfactory to know that there is no reason why we should not change the procedure; I, for one, am strongly of the opinion that we should.

I was interested to hear the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and his firm view that we should stick to present procedure. It reminded me of the speech that he made in 1958 during the Second Reading debate on the Life Peerages Act when he was so forcefully against the introduction of women. His views are not always absolutely up to date!

I was surprised that Garter thought that most Peers do not want change and I should like to know how he came to that conclusion. Which Peers did he canvass? I was not one of them.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has indicated that the Conservative Back-Bench Peers would not support change, but I do not think the noble Viscount said that in his speech today.

The Introduction ceremony has evolved over the years and this seems a suitable moment for a further evolution. We are told that the Commons is modernising, and we ourselves have made a number of changes over the past few years in the way in which we conduct our business.

During the summer I spoke to a large number of Peers about this matter. That was before the marathon to which Peers have been subjected over the last two weeks and to which they continue to be subjected. I believe that all those to whom I spoke supported change, favouring a shorter ceremony.

I was interested to read of the debate in March 1975. The arguments for change listed in (a) to (j) in paragraph 15 of the paper by the Clerk of the Parliaments are totally convincing, with the possible exception of (f), that a shorter ceremony would encourage more Peers to attend. I question that. I shall not waste time by reading out the rest, as I am sure that noble Lords have them before them.

I find the arguments against totally unconvincing except for (e), that the ceremony is a great occasion for new Peers, their families and friends. I believe it is, but a shorter ceremony could still be a great occasion and perhaps more comfortable for those with children or grandchildren in their party who may well become bored with the present ceremony, unless they look on the whole thing as a pantomime—as in some ways it is, but that aspect should not be encouraged.

A ceremony of some sort is necessary for fellow Peers to see and recognise the new Peer since not all are widely known. It is an important day, even for the blasé. Equally it can be ridiculous: the clambering up to the back bench, particularly when a Peer is slightly disabled; and the three doffings, Peers sometimes forgetting whether to put their hat on their head or their breast, with watching Peers giving them marks out of 10.

I was interested that, although he did not speak in the debate in 1975, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, then Leader of the Opposition, for whom I have the greatest admiration, supported change, as did Lord Shackleton in 1971—a long time ago—when he was Leader of the Opposition, saying that the ceremony was too long.

Like my noble friend Lady Nicol I do not think that Peers on the Honours List and those on the list of working Peers should be treated differently; Peers are equal. Nor do I support mass Introductions on a Friday, for the reasons given by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I see that that would be convenient for those who organise the business, but it would not be a special day, a special occasion, for the individual Peer and the family and friends. I guess that there would be a poor attendance and the objective, that the new Peer would be made known to his fellow Peers, would be lost.

To sum up, I favour a shorter ceremony but a dignified one, which I believe the present ceremony is not. The reading of the Patent could still take place but not that of the Writ. If we retain doffing, we could have one instead of three and perhaps the front Cross-Bench or the Privy Council Bench could be used instead of having Peers clamber up to the back one.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, when a Motion identical to this was tabled in March, 1975, I tabled an amendment against it which was carried by over three-quarters of the House then present. I should therefore explain why, in default of any other noble Lord taking such a step, I have thought it right not to do so today.

On that occasion the humble Address was moved by a single government Back Bencher. When the Leader of the House moves such a Motion, however, I believe it would be a discourtesy for your Lordships not to accept it and to give the proposal the appropriate amount of scrutiny. But I should not like it to be thought that acceptance of the Motion unamended today means that the House as a whole has changed its mind.

Your Lordships will, of course, listen to everything that is said on this subject at every stage and a final decision will only be taken when the matter eventually comes back to the whole House. But I must tell your Lordships that my present view—and nothing that I have heard so far in the debate this afternoon has altered it—is the same as it was in 1975.

Even if it should come about that, by saving 10 minutes at the beginning of the day, the House might either rise 10 minutes earlier or get that amount more business done, I would still wish to preserve this ceremony for its own sake.

The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal said that he already knew most new life Peers and that that could not be said for new hereditary Peers. But he misses the point. The ceremony is not so much to introduce the Peer to the House as to introduce the House and its traditions to the Peer. Is it such a very dreadful thing to ask him to jump through a few hoops to this end at the start of his time here? It is certainly not begrudged by 19 out of 20 of the new Peers themselves, and it is appreciated by their families and friends. It is validated by 376 years. Shorten it or tamper with it in any way and it will only go back to 1997. What is accepted as a compromise by one side of the argument is almost always seen merely as a stepping-stone towards total change by the other. Just how long would the new, abbreviated, ceremony last?

It is an awful modern habit to try to do away with tradition. But this House works by tradition. Take away this most spectacular one, the first to be encountered by every new Peer, and which of the remainder will be safe? The Salisbury-Addison Convention is no more than a tradition, but how would we get on without it? It is accepted that the Leader of the House is Leader of the whole House and not just of the party in power. In the absence of a Speaker, there is acceptance of the Leader of the House as the ultimate arbiter in any dispute over order. My Lords, those are just a few of the traditions that will be at risk if this ceremony goes.

5.38 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend the Leader of the House and Lord Privy Seal for introducing this debate, it may be useful to make three points on the basis of principle and precedent and then provide some words of explanation.

First, as other noble Lords have said, this House is a working House of Parliament. We are all summoned to treat—that is, to discuss—and to give counsel—that is, to advise Her Majesty, in practice the Government of the day—on arduous and urgent affairs of state.

Secondly, when we sit in the House of Lords we are all equal. Whether we be Barons or Dukes, Bishops or Archbishops, Lords of Appeal in Ordinary or the Lord Chancellor himself, we have equal rights to speak. When we vote in the Lobbies, our votes all weigh the same.

Thirdly, there is a precedent for a very simple ceremony of Introduction. When Peers by succession take their seats for the first time they simply, without robes or supporters, take the oath, sign the Roll and shake the Lord Chancellor by the hand. I commend that procedure to the House. I am bolstered in that commendation by the support of many of my colleagues in this Chamber. I believe that this is the only occasion in my parliamentary experience—I suspect it will be the only occasion in future—when Labour colleagues on this side of the House support the hereditary position.

By way of explanation, it is worth highlighting that a distinction can be recognised between Letters Patent, which confer the honour of a peerage, and the Writ of Summons, which summons us to do our duty by discussing the affairs of state and offering advice. But we also need to recognise that ceremony is important. That is a point to which a number of previous speakers have alluded. From the papers considered by the Procedure Committee and made available to us, it appears that the present ceremony of introduction is not, strictly speaking, part of the procedure of the House. It was interesting to learn that King James I may have been too embarrassed to invest titles personally owing to the fact that he was rumoured to have sold them to his cronies. I wonder whether that is the origin of "It's in the post". There is also the hint that the Garter King of Arms devised the present ceremony to ensure that he was paid, since he received a fee for such ceremonies.

We are entitled to be curious as to why conferring a peerage, unlike other honours conferred on citizens of this land, is not done personally by Her Majesty in Buckingham Palace. In that regard I support the suggestion of my noble friend Lady Nicol that the Sovereign should confer the title and that would provide the opportunity for the ceremonial.

So far nobody has raised the question of the use of parliamentary robes. We all attend State Opening in our robes, with the Sovereign present. I argue that the use of parliamentary robes and the use of coronation robes should only be considered in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, her heirs or successors. Having considered the matter in due debate and given serious thought to whether Peers may use their parliamentary rights on some other occasion, other than when the sovereign is present, we must ask whether we run the risk of, if I may so describe it,lèse majesté. In the future, will we see a situation in which some impoverished Conservative hereditary Peer decides to go on a speaking tour of America in the glare of television lights, complete with his parliamentary robes? I do not suggest that it will happen but we need to be clear that that kind of thing would be the wrong way to proceed.

Finally, I have argued a principled point of view, but I appreciate that we may wish to move in stages. On that basis, I hope that if the reading of a document at the introduction of a Peer to this House is deemed necessary, it is the Writ of Summons that is read. That will be a salutory reminder to the new Peer and all those present of the reasons why we sit here in Parliament.

5.44 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, King James VI made 47 new Peers in 18 years. The Government have created over 60 new Peers in a few months and we are now sitting at 2.15 p.m. on three days a week so that nine or more Peers a week can be introduced. At that rate they will all be through comfortably before Christmas.

Now we are gathered together here to decide whether to request of Her Majesty that she should graciously permit us to tinker with the Introduction ceremony so that new Peers can be processed more quickly than has hitherto been possible without reducing the time available for other parliamentary business.

First, it may be pertinent to ask why there is such a hurry to process new Peers. I accept the undeniable fact that numbers on the Labour Benches have in past years made it difficult, owing to the age and infirmity of many of their number, to man the Front Bench. But a glance at the Government Front Bench now makes it quite clear that that is no longer the case. The Leader of the Opposition has assured the House that, so far as he and his colleagues are concerned, the Salisbury convention will be observed. Therefore, the Government are in no danger of this House failing to pass important legislation for which they have a mandate from the electorate, even without all the new Peers that they have announced. Therefore, I cannot help wondering whether the reason is that the Government are not prepared to tolerate what all governments hitherto have had to tolerate; namely, losing any Divisions on amendments to Bills, however sensible and desirable those amendments may be. If that is the case, democracy is flying out of the window and dictatorship is coming in at the door. Under those circumstances, there is no point in this House existing. It would be more honest, as my father often said, to abolish it, so that no one in this country was in any doubt that there was single chamber government.

Next, one might ask whether we are so short of parliamentary time at present in this House that 11 minutes per new Peer cannot be spared from the day's business. I do not think that we are. If the object is to make time for more legislation, we must ask ourselves whether more legislation is desirable.

I shall comment on some of the suggestions made for curtailing the ceremony. It has been suggested that the reading of either Letters Patent or the Writ or both should be omitted. Both are of importance. The Letters Patent make the individual concerned eligible to receive a Writ and the Writ is what makes him eligible to sit in this House. If one were to be omitted, I should prefer it to be the Writ since that is always the same except for the name of the Peer. But I do not believe that either should be omitted. The time saved—about 2½ minutes in each case—is very little.

It has been suggested that the "placing" of the Peer be omitted. The doffing of hats has been described by some as "very comic", "absurd" and "Gilbertian"; and we have been told that some Peers taking part feel ridiculous. I suggest that it is possible to poke fun at almost any ceremony—and very enjoyable too—but that does not mean that the ceremony is pointless or that it should be altered or abolished, particularly when it is of great antiquity and part of the traditional ceremonial of the Mother of Parliaments, which is the envy of the world. There is nothing undignified in it so long as it is carried out in a dignified manner, as is usually the case. Not long ago, when hats were normal streetwear for men, it was the custom to remove them. No doubt that was because when greeting people with a how one had to remove one's hat first so that it did not fall off. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and her colleagues should buy some hat pins. I hope that, if wearing hats by men becomes fashionable again—as assuredly it will one day—that custom will he revived.

If it comes to that, one could quite well poke fun at the custom of shaking hands. That is no less ridiculous than bowing and taking off one's hat and it can be quite painful. As for the plea of feeling ridiculous, those who do might think a little less of themselves and their image and a little more about the significance of the ceremony in which they are taking part. I wonder whether it does anyone any harm to feel ridiculous occasionally. It may even be quite good for those—very few, but there are a few—who come to this Chamber puffed up with a sense of their own importance.

As initiation ceremonies go, it is very innocuous. After all, candidates are not expected to be smeared with some filthy substance or eat or drink some disgusting concoction. But be all that as it may, there are probably as many new Peers who enjoy their introduction as not. Why should they and their families be deprived of their great day in order to accommodate the prejudices of a few individuals who have come here ready to reform us before they have even arrived.

Those who have read the paper on the The origin of Peers in the House of Lords, as probably most who are taking part in the debate will have done—it was mentioned by the Lord Privy Seal and the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill—will be aware that page 124, footnote 2, reads: The question why three bows and neither more nor less figure both in the old and the modem ceremony is often asked. The answer probably is that three has been a sacred number in widely separated times and places, both non-Christian and Christian, and that this is merely one example among very many. A good collection of references to three as a sacred number will be found in the article Numbers in James Hastings, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics [volume 9] where it is suggested that though their currency is by no means confined to these, three and nine as sacred numbers are especially characteristic of the Indo-European peoples from Vedic and Iranian religions through Greek and Roman, to Teutonic and Celtic down to Christian. Among many examples the following of thrice repeated ritual actions may be worth mentioning: the Greek funeral pyre was circumambulated three times; in the offering to Mars and Sylvanus for the welfare of cattle the offerings were three portions each of spelt and wine; Varro records that a formula against gout was repeated 27 times; Celtic mythology is full of triads, and in particular the deiseal or ceremonial circumambulation was performed three times; Adam of Bremen describes a spring festival held every nine years at Uppsala at which nine of each male kind were offered". In Christianity we have the Trinity and a whole echelon of supernatural beings ranging from seraphim down to angels, nine different varieties.

Your Lordships will all have different views as to the significance or otherwise of numbers. It will not have escaped notice that nine bows are made in the Introduction ceremony. The significance of numbers is part of ancient wisdom which is not understood today and at which it is fashionable to scoff. I wonder whether that is wise. For my part, I should not like to dispense with a part of the ceremony, the reasons for which are of far greater antiquity than the ceremony itself and have religious and mystical connotations which I do not suppose many of us understand. I certainly do not.

I am not superstitious about many things but I am about indulging in the kind of hubris which rejects anything that it does not understand on the grounds that it is just an old superstition and nowadays we know better. I hope your Lordships will reject any suggestion that the Introduction ceremony should be abolished or curtailed. If we once lose it we will never get it back again, and it will no doubt be the catalyst which will trigger the abolition of more of our lovely, colourful ceremonies which makes this House unique among second chambers.

5.53 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, a remark of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, which struck me was when he said that the Introduction procedure is inherently part of the procedure of the House as it exists at the moment, and for that reason a delay until the Labour Party decides what it will do with us should take place. It occurred to me then and when my noble friend Lord Ferrers spoke—if the Lord Privy Seal and his party are to abolish hereditary Peers—that there was talk of appointing some hereditary Peers as life Peers. If my noble friend Lord Ferrers and I were to be so appointed, it would be nice if I could be a supporter of my noble friend and he a supporter of mine; then we too could join in the ceremony from which to date we have been excluded.

If one is to reform anything, one needs to know what one is reforming. I am one of many on the Procedure Committee who is grateful to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, for drawing our attention to the paper on the Introduction of Peers in the House of Lords. That goes some way to answering the remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who said that our procedures are held in some disdain by some members of the public. In fact, it is a lack of understanding of our procedures which leads to such a view, if such a view exists—I do not believe it does.

Some people may say our procedures are antiquated and that there is a great deal of history to them, and others will knock them; but when one reads how they came into being one is in a better position to argue with those who want change. Change is always in the interests of the business managers; it is in their vested interest to have a shorter introductory ceremony. I confess to sitting on the Front Bench opposite at times wishing the Introduction ceremony were shorter so that I could get on with what I saw as an important piece of legislation. That was a personal view and not the view of the House. The view of the House is that the Introduction ceremony is a good ceremony and, if there is to be change, it should be considered carefully by all.

I seldom disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, but I disagreed on one point this afternoon. The noble Baroness said that the ceremony was boring for children. I know of at least one child today who was enthralled by all three ceremonies and would happily come again to watch more, despite the length of time they took. The argument on the length of time the ceremony takes put forward by the Lord Privy Seal smacks of an argument of the lowest common denominator. There can be nothing substantial in it. As my noble friend Lord Denham said: "What are we shortening it for?" I hope that the argument is disregarded.

There is justification for looking at the ceremony, to its dignity and whether it fits the procedure of the House; but the argument based on time is a complete fallacy. At the end of the day if we save six or eight minutes it will make no difference to this Chamber. Similarly with the doffing of hats and the bowing, as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said. It is a mystical and inherent part of the procedure and I would hate to see it change.

5.57 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, it may be thought presumptuous that I should seek to make a contribution to the debate, having been introduced only two weeks ago, against a background where many contributors to the debate have had long experience of speaking in this House. But I do so because my memory of the ceremony of the Introduction may be more graphic than most because of its recent occasion.

I can report that against a background where my work in politics has always been at the radical end of my party and where my family also support a great number of causes of a radical kind, that all my family of two generations—both my generation and the next, which so often defines myself as being in a somewhat fuddy-duddy role—agreed that they enjoyed the experience and felt that it had been a highly significant day. That was certainly my impression.

While there are good arguments, as my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal indicated, for reducing the time involved in the Introduction ceremony, there is at least one aspect which we ought to bring within a modern framework. Of course we are talking about tradition. But this House is a house which has existed on the basis of adaptation of tradition to modern realities, otherwise it would long since have been swept away.

What is the basis of newly arriving Members of the House being introduced and doffing their hats to the Lord Chancellor from the Opposition Benches? I waited for 18 years to form part of the governing party in this country and was introduced to this Chamber from the Opposition Benches. That cannot make sense. It is to deny the significance of party. I can quite understand why King James I was none too interested in party. He certainly wanted no faction that challenged his power. But we are in a different age. Everyone knows that party is the reality of politics.

We all know that we take our places in the House on the basis of party or that those without a party who wish to represent themselves here from a more neutral stance sit on the Cross-Benches. We sit because of our designation. Surely therefore the ceremony should take into account that basic fact. If we are relating any part of the ceremony to the actual taking of one's seat, it should be the other way round from the position at present. The Member should not be introduced from the Opposition Benches but he or she should be conducted to the Bench on which he or she proposes to sit. That is the basis on which we are all here.

On this occasion I disagree with my noble friend Lady Nicol, who suggested that the solution might be investiture elsewhere. It is important that we are introduced to the House. What was said earlier is right. The purpose of the ceremony is so that the new arrival can be recognised by the House to which he or she has been introduced. However, I certainly think there is a good case for speeding up the ceremony. We should look again at the old tradition which denied the concept of party or from whence one came and bring that into the modern era.

6.1 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. I salute him in that, unlike me, he arrived in the House on merit. I was delighted to hear that his family spent an enjoyable afternoon watching his Introduction into the House. I would not wish to deprive them of that enjoyment. But perhaps he might like to ask them this question. Would they like to see three times a day the ceremony we have when we introduce every life Peer, be they temporal or spiritual? The ceremony takes 11 minutes. We will have spent 200 minutes debating whether we should have the ceremony. We could have introduced 20 Peers during that time. However, I think it well worth debating the issue.

I thank the Lord Privy Seal for giving us the opportunity to debate this point. I also thank that distinguished servant of the House, the Clerk of the Parliaments, Mr. Michael Davies, for his six-page memorandum. It is lucid, concise and impartial. We thank him for it. In it he mentions everything. There is, in a sense, nothing more to say. However, because we are Members of the House, we have a right and a duty to pronounce.

I declare an interest and I shall try not to grind an axe. I entered your Lordships' House in July of last year. I regard it as a privilege and an honour, and not as a job. I have a job elsewhere. I personally do not mind if the 800 or so hereditary Peers are removed from the House. I hope that I shall go with dignity and grace. But I point out to the Lord Privy Seal that there is indeed a better way of entering the House; and I did it.

I needed to produce four documents: my birth certificate, my predecessor's—in my case my father's—death certificate; and my parents' marriage certificate. I had to get them in the right order. I also had to produce a letter signed by a relation, who was a Member of your Lordships' House, who had in fact, and by luck, been in my parents' house probably on the day that I was conceived. He had to state that I was more than likely the son of my father. I did that. I then produced those documents to the Crown Office. I salute it for its hard work. Then there was a gap of 10 to 14 days while the Lord Chancellor—the predecessor of the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack—and other legal experts perused the documents. I sympathise with Peers who have to wait a number of weeks to be introduced. I found 14 days to be frustrating as I wished soon afterwards to vote against one of the more ludicrous Bills then being introduced by the gentlemen on my left.

I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will consider putting before the Procedure Committee not only how we might change the system for introducing Life Peers but whether we can speed up the process of introducing hereditary Peers into the House. We all have the same rights once we are here. I am always suspicious of those who bring in historical tradition when they want to avoid a change. In my opinion, this ceremony of 340 years or so is a modern one. Let us not forget that this House is a thousand years old. If you want an example of how our predecessors entered the House on introduction, you have only to look at Pugin's statues around the Palace. They did not have robes. They came in working dress—what all of us are wearing now. We are wearing our working clothes.

Noble Lords will recall that once the Patent and the Writ of Summons are read out at the Dispatch Box noble Lords have the opportunity or option to take an oath or affirm. Why could not the Procedure Committee consider the option for life Peers who have earned their honours to have either the à la carte menu or to be introduced, as I would wish if I were a Life Peer, in working dress? Why should we not be more flexible? We are indeed a flexible Chamber.

I was delighted to hear the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. I can confirm that my ancestor, the first Earl, went to receive his Patent from the sovereign. As a former serviceman I can tell the House that if I had been deserving of an honour I would have gone to Buckingham Palace to receive that honour from the sovereign. I would regard that as the greatest day of my life, not a rather modern ceremony that we observe here far too often.

I hope that the committee will consider the options that I have put forward. I welcome the Lord Privy Seal's earnest and genuine desire to reform the House. I hope that he will not let us down.

6.9 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I much welcome the Motion of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal as I certainly believe that the ceremony of Introduction should be changed. I well understand my noble friend's wish to achieve a consensus on a compromise position, but I also believe, as he does, that it is important that a variety of views are put on record about this matter today.

I shall be brief. I do not really consider that this subject requires lengthy discussion. There certainly ought to be more important matters of state and, indeed, of society, on which to spend our time and energy than this. It seems to me to be a remarkably simple and straightforward issue. We are a bicameral Parliament and our methods of introducing Members to it should be the same in both Chambers. Another place has a perfectly adequate and dignified method of introducing a new Member to the existing Parliament. Apart from the two sponsors it is akin to the method used in this House for hereditary Peers. We should have the same.

My noble friend Lady Nicol made a very interesting suggestion about an investiture. What happens in this House should be the same as in another place. I note from the excellent memorandum prepared by the Clerk of the Parliaments that one argument against change in 1975 was, Although parts of the ceremony were absurd so too were many other parliamentary ceremonies. I find the conclusion that because there are other absurdities we should keep this one rather than change them all, rather quaint, if not downright bizarre. I am sorry to say that the words which I have quoted describe a great deal of the discussions which go on about this particular topic. It is simple. I know that I do not speak for myself alone when I say that we should harmonise our procedures of Introduction with those of another place and let us, for all our sakes, try to come into the 20th century, at least before we find ourselves in the 21st century.

6.12 p.m.

The Duke of Norfolk

My Lords, this debate has gone on for a very long time and many points have been covered. I do not want to go over them again. Perhaps I may make one or two observations. The first is to the noble Lord, Lord Davies. The reason the new life Peers are introduced to the Barons' Benches is that the House is divided geographically. If an Earl is introduced he will be introduced on the Earls' Benches and a Duke to the Dukes' Benches. Bishops go to the Bishops' Benches. The House is divided geographically, in addition to being divided as we now speak.

Secondly, we certainly need some ceremony of Introduction and there is no question about that. The life Peers enjoy it, as do their families. It is no mean achievement to get to this House, as has already been said. We should also take note that tradition is often much better if it is updated.

I take the point of the three bows. I am told that that comes from the religious significance of the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. That sort of thing now seems to be slightly out of date and perhaps one bow will do. I would like to say how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who suggested that the Introductions should be made from the back of the Cross Benches. The new Peers would then be seen; it is a central position and it is a much more appropriate place than the Back Benches where I am standing.

The point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, as regards Silks being created was excellent. That is an example of updating of great sense. It obviously made the ceremony shorter, but just as significant. I end by saying that I also believe that the Letters Patent and the Writ of Summons, which are so similar, being read twice seems too much.

James I got himself into an appalling muddle by selling peerages and eventually solved the matter by ordering Garter and the Earl Marshal to produce a more standard method of introduction in public in the Chamber of the House of Lords. That was promulgated on 29th August 1621 by the Earl Marshal and Garter. I would like to see an update promulgated after your Lordships have debated the matter in great depth and the Queen has agreed to it. She can then order the present Earl Marshal and Garter to produce an updated version for the introduction of Peers.

Finally, the updating of tradition is vital. I am in charge, by the great luck of tradition, of the opening of Parliament. I first did it in 1975 when my cousin died. The ceremony has been changed enormously. We just update it. Her Majesty makes recommendations. She always has to approve everything because it is her ceremony, her Parliament and her day. We should update and make ourselves more modern. It will then be much more pleasing for the new Peers and for the public.

6.16 p.m.

Lord Evans of Parkside

My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. It was certainly interesting to hear what he had to say. I am sure that many Members of this House will be pleased at the proposition he put forward about the necessity to update and modernise our procedures.

I say at the outset that I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate as a Member who took my seat only in June and whose memories of that occasion are quite vivid. It is a very great pleasure and privilege to serve in this House. One of the things that I have been strongly influenced by since I was elevated to this House is the number of friends, relatives and people whom I did not even know but who knew me in my former constituency and who have all said that it was an honour that had been given to me which was well earned. I am very grateful for those comments.

When considering the ceremony I recognise that it is historic and that most of it is dignified, although when I witnessed the hereditary Peers coming into the Chamber, saying a few words at the Dispatch Box and then walking down to shake hands with the Lord Chancellor, I wondered why on earth I could not do that instead of having to go through the procedure that I had to follow. I had a very large group present when I was introduced. My wife, my sons, my daughter, in-laws and sisters all enjoyed the occasion immensely. They sat in the Gallery and told me later how very proud they had been to see me come in and to watch the ceremony that followed until the doffing of the hats. I thought that my eight year-old grand-daughter summed it up when we assembled on the Terrace to have tea after the event. She said to me, "Grand-dad, you didn't half look stupid in that long red dress, standing up and sitting down and putting on and taking off that silly black hat." Not half as stupid as I felt, I thought, when performing that particular act.

We also received a video of the ceremony and on three occasions we have had groups of friends round to watch the ceremony. All were very impressed with the significance of the ceremony, except for the doffing of the hats. On each occasion they almost fell off their seats with laughter. One of my friends said, "If Hollywood had made a film about the House of Lords and shown that procedure, I would have said that Hollywood had gone too far on this occasion."

When I came into the House a large group of my colleagues from the other place came to see the ceremony. Very few Members of the other place watch the ceremony of induction into this House. They were absolutely dumbfounded at the doffing of the hats, but they loved the rest of the ceremony.

I am grateful to my noble friend the Leader of the House for explaining to us the procedure of the doffing of the hats. Apparently, it has gone on since 1621. Having been introduced into your Lordships' House and participated in the ceremony, I asked one of my long-serving noble friends about the raison d'être for the doffing of the hats. His answer was, "I don't really know, but I presume that it has something to do with the Holy Trinity". The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, mentioned that, as did the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, who spoke from the Cross Benches. That explanation may be correct, but having watched the ceremony of the doffing of the hats from these Benches, the only thing that I can say about it is that it is awful. It rates from bad to dreadful. I have no doubt that when I performed I was absolutely dreadful. I certainly felt greatly embarrassed.

I should say at this point that I do not support the proposition that the ceremony should take place in the presence of Her Majesty, presumably at Buckingham Palace. The ceremony should remain in this House and I believe that the new procedures which the Leader of the House has outlined are to be welcomed.

Last Thursday my noble friend Lady Amos was introduced and was supported by my noble friends Lady Blackstone and Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde. To me and, I hope, to other Members of your Lordships' House, it was a distinguished and dignified occasion because noble Baronesses do not have to doff their hats; they simply bow to the Lord Chancellor. I was impressed by the dignity of that ceremony but, unfortunately, the next introduction featured noble Lords so back we went to the awful spectacle of putting the hats on and taking them off. I strongly support the proposition that that aspect of the ceremony should be removed. It would undoubtedly shorten the procedure but, in my view, the strongest argument in favour of change is that leaving out only that element would increase and enhance the dignity of the House.

I should like to comment also on the ceremony of kneeling to the Lord Chancellor when one hands over the Writ. I have nothing against kneeling to the Lord Chancellor but when we become Members of this House many of us are getting on in years and our knees and hips are not as sound as they used to be. You sometimes wonder if you will manage to get up again. If we follow the suggestions made by the Lord Privy Seal, perhaps the Lord Chancellor will be able to dispense with his hat. I say no more about the Lord Chancellor's hat. Perhaps, however, he could stand up and there could be a dignified handshake at the Woolsack.

I am sure that all of us want to maintain the dignity of this House, and I am sure that people outside, particularly when they have a loved one being introduced into this House, would like some ceremony retained. I believe that it would be a great improvement if we were simply to omit the doffing of the hats.

6.23 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, I am glad that this debate refers to the "ceremony" of Introduction. The word "ceremony" must never be forgotten and I am glad that most noble Lords have supported it this afternoon. Introduction to this House is one of the most important days in the life of any new Peer and his or her family. I have watched the total concentration and pleasure on the faces of those families and have realised what it means to them. Any Peer who is bored or finds the ceremony awkward need not attend. The majority of us, however, remember our own Introductions and in our minds remember those awesome words of our Writ of Summons: Considering the difficulties of the said affairs and dangers impending, waiving all excuses", that we should attend and speak.

Sadly, our work is no longer widely reported in the media, but it must never be forgotten that this is a working House. When we are introduced we enter a lifelong duty to the work of this House. We are individually responsible for order in debates. This is one of the most daunting places in which to speak as so many experts are present and our contributions must therefore be well prepared. A new Peer needs to be aware of those duties from the start. There should certainly be no difference in sense of duty between honoured peerages, working peerages or, in my mind, hereditary peerages—and certainly not between men and women. We all have an equal duty to this House. Our present ceremony underlines that fact and it has stood the test of time, as is shown by the regularity of attendance and the high standard of debate and order in our House.

Reading the suggestions that have been made for changes, it is clear that the Oath must remain. The Letters Patent must be read and I believe that the Writ must also remain. When three new Peers are introduced on any one day, if all new Peers were present together, the Writ could be read only once, but that does not happen so the Writ must be read each time. The only possible change which might be acceptable is that the part of the ceremony which is described as "placing" could be shortened by sitting and doffing once only. If that were to happen, as the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, suggested, between the Bar and the Table, the whole House would be better able to see and one group of Peers would not be disturbed from their seats. I believe that the ceremony should be of an individual nature, in front of the whole House, on a normal day, and should continue to be marked by the wearing of the robes. There may be future occasions when large numbers of new Peers have to be introduced, as is the case this Session, but I do not believe that that should make for a substantial alteration.

I often speak to different groups of people about the work of the House of Lords. They are always interested and are surprised at the amount of work that is entailed, its voluntary nature and the fact that we wear our robes only on Introduction and at the State Opening. I should like to see more media publicity being given to the important modern work of this House in its detailed amendments to Bills and the work of its Select Committees. However, I believe that the ceremony of Introduction should retain its historic, solemn and special nature and should not be substantially modified.

6.27 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I said at the beginning of the debate that I was looking forward to it with a great deal of anticipation, and I have not been disappointed. It has been a fascinating afternoon. Various Peers have spoken in favour of preserving the existing ceremony. Some have spoken in favour of its total abolition. My noble friend Lady Nicol would like the ceremony to be removed totally from the Palace of Westminster and sent back to the monarchy, and presumably to Buckingham Palace. If I may say so, the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, spoke with his usual bluff common sense and expressed some of the views which I hold and which I hope that I expressed earlier.

I cannot help observing in passing that those on the other side of the House who have spoken in favour of retaining the existing ceremony have all been hereditary Peers, except for the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, who has just spoken. None of them has had to go through the ceremony. It seems to me that the ceremony should be more than a mere spectator sport. Those who have spoken in favour of preserving the existing ceremony have expressed that view because of what they have observed, not because of what they have experienced personally or because of their personal appreciation of the significance of the ceremony.

Some of the arguments in favour of the existing ceremony have been mystical; some have been based on tradition; some have been historical and some have been "inertial" in the sense that the ceremony is there, so we should not change it. What we have not heard a great deal of have been utilitarian arguments in favour of maintaining the ceremony. I believe that only the noble Lord, Lord Denham, advanced such an argument. I see that the noble Lord and the other of the two cavaliers, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, are both in their places this evening—I am delighted about that—but I am not sure which is the howitzer which the noble Earl thought was on his side at the beginning of his speech.

The noble Lord, Lord Denham, said that the ceremony is important not only because it introduces a Peer to the House, but because it introduces the House to the Peer. The noble Lord nods his head in agreement. If that is true for life Peers why is it not true for Peers by succession? Why should not Peers by succession be similarly introduced to the House? Why should not the House similarly be introduced to those Peers? Is it believed that because they are Peers by succession somehow genetically or osmotically in the course of their upbringing they have accumulated such an innate knowledge of the virtues, proceedings and happenings in this House that they do not need what life Peers need? I shall give way to the noble Lord in one moment when I have finished my complaint. It seems to me that that was the only utilitarian argument that was put. If that is a valid argument then it should apply to all, but it does not.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I believe that hereditary Peers who are here by descent and who have inherited from fairly close relations will have learnt from them and by sitting on the steps of the Throne, as many of us do before we come here, the traditions of this House. They have been indoctrinated in those traditions. If I had been given the opportunity to go through the ceremony I would have leapt at it.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I hope that the Procedure Committee takes account of what the noble Lord has just said. Perhaps we can have two or three days of induction for all the hereditary Peers who are here so that they can go through the ceremony and thereby plant the imprint of total credibility upon their presence. I hear what the noble Lord has said. To say that somehow in the course of the upbringing of a Peer by succession he has acquired that which it is necessary for a life Peer to acquire by sitting on the Back Bench and doffing his hat three times does not strike me as a very convincing argument.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. It is not the doffing of the hat that is important but the bowing. The hat must be doffed so that it does not fall off when the Peer bows.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am floored by the noble Lady's remarks. I listened to the noble Lady's speech, in which she was almost totally in favour of preserving the existing ceremony. She now suggests that we can remove the hats. If we removed the hats to bow that would be an improvement. As my noble friend Lord Evans pointed out, at least we would not have to go through the strange ritual of removing the hat and putting it back on again. It is a hat that I had never seen before coming into the House. I know of no one who wears it. The only time that it is produced is on ceremonial occasions.

I do not want to venture into another area, but I inform the House that the most difficult ceremony of which I have experience is that which takes place at the proroguing of Parliament. A group of five or six of us sit there and do nothing except take our hats off seven times. We file in; we sit down; we take the hat off seven times and then turn round and go out. I find it difficult to convince myself, let alone any of my friends, relations or the country outside, that anything is added to the prorogation ceremony of Parliament by my sitting there and taking off a strange article of headwear.

If it is now proposed that we should abolish the hats but preserve that part of the ceremony without the hats it is at least a step forward. It is only a millimetre but I recognise it for what it is.

I do not propose to go into all of the details that have emerged in the course of this debate. I shall read them with very great interest. I merely observe that no one has said that the House should not pass the Motion standing in my name. I was most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, for what he said about that. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, I went through the old Silk ceremony. My anitiquity is not as great as his. I remember spending a day moving from court to court and bench to bench. It is true that one bowed to both sides, to the rear and then to the judge. Mr. Richard was asked if he moved. I got up, bowed and then walked to the next court and did it all over again.

I am very glad that the inevitability of gradualness, at least as far as concerns the law, has produced a more sensible approach to that ceremony—I have no complaints about having a ceremony—than we appear to have had so far in this House. I hope that I made it clear at the outset that I was in favour of a dignified ceremony. I also hope that I made it clear that I was in favour of a ceremony which was consonant with the traditions of this House. But, with respect, it is not good enough for noble Lords to say that this ceremony has withstood the test of time. For centuries the ceremony did not have to withstand the test of time. It was only with the introduction of life Peers to this House in 1958 that the repetition of the ceremony became apparent. Before that the only time that the ceremony was used was when a new hereditary peerage was created. Then, on the first occasion that the holder of that peerage came to this House he (as it was in those days) went through that particular ceremony. With the advent of the Life Peerages Act the door has opened. It is not true to say that the ceremony has withstood the test of centuries. It has been in existence for some 40 years. With great respect, far from standing the test of time it is audibly creaking. I believe that the time has come when we should take a serious look at it. I commend this Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.