§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard)
rose to move, That this House take note of the Report of the Select Committee on the Ceremony of Introduction (HL Paper 78).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise as Leader of the House to move that the House take note of the report produced by the Select Committee on the Ceremony of Introduction. I begin with a few words about the procedure for this afternoon's debate. There are two Motions on the Order Paper today: one to take note of the Select Committee's report and a second to give effect to the committee's recommendations. The first Motion allows a debate to take place on all the issues arising out of the report. It is normal in your Lordships' House to take note of a report of the Select Committee when it is debated. In this case, however, in order to give effect to the recommendations of the report a further, more substantive resolution of the House is required and the second Motion on the Order Paper today has that effect. That Motion is the one to which noble Lords have tabled amendments, to which I shall return in due course. I hope that there will be one substantive debate, on the first Motion, to which I imagine the House will agree without a division. The amendments to the second Motion will then be called and decided without, I hope, further debate. The second Motion will then be put and decided.
I should perhaps explain why I am moving this Motion rather than the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who chaired the Select Committee with such distinction. There are two reasons. The first, as so often in your Lordships' House, is one of precedent. There is a recent one in the history of your Lordships' House. In 1663 a similar Motion to give effect to a report from the Committee of Privileges entitled "Concerning the introduction of Peers by descent" was moved by the then Lord Privy Seal. As that was only 42 years after the creation of the ceremony over 350 years ago, it is a worthy precedent. The second reason is that it was on my Motion that on 27th October last year the House decided, after going through the usual procedures for a humble Address, to refer this matter to the Select Committee whose report is now before the House. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, will not mind my having first bite today; and I am very much looking forward to his speech.
Before I turn to the report itself, it is a pleasure to see the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, back in his place after his operation. We missed him and we are delighted that he is back.
390 Turning now to the report itself, as Leader of the House I am very grateful to the Select Committee for the efficient and speedy way in which it conducted its work. I am sure the House will join me in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who chaired with his usual aplomb this Select Committee on which all parties and the Cross-Benches were represented, and which included both life Peers and hereditary Peers. It is a great tribute to the noble Lord's skills as chairman that the report was unanimously agreed. While it is a tradition of your Lordships' House that Select Committee reports are almost always unanimously agreed by the committee, on a subject such as this where many in the House hold strong and often contradictory views such unanimity could never have been taken for granted. I am greatly looking forward to the speeches by the members of the committee, in particular that of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, whose experience as a former Chief Whip was doubtless very helpful to the committee in forming those unanimous conclusions.
The House may allow me briefly to summarise the committee's recommendations as set out in Part 3 of the report. The Select Committee proposes that a ceremony of introduction for newly created Peers should be retained but modified. Robes would continue to be worn but hats would not, thankfully in my view. The ceremony of placing of Peers would be abolished, as would the practice of kneeling before the Lord Chancellor. The Clerk would read the Letters Patent but not the Writ. Instead of the placing ceremony, the Select Committee recommends that, following the procession into the Chamber, where each member of the ceremonial party should bow on reaching the Bar, the new Peer should move directly to the table for the Reading Clerk to read the Letters Patent and for the Oath to be sworn. Led by Black Rod, the new Peer would process behind the Clerks' chairs and, stopping at the front of the Cross-Benches, the Peer and supporters would bow to the Cloth of Estate. The procession would then move along the Spiritual side of the House with the new Peer shaking hands with the Lord Chancellor on the Woolsack.
The Select Committee recommended that Garter King of Arms should no longer play a part in the ceremony as the placing of Peers is to be discontinued and as it is in this area that Garter performs his main function in the present ceremony.
The committee made three further recommendations not directly connected with the ceremony. First, the new Peer and his supporters should return, not robed, to the Chamber after the ceremony and sit for the first time in that part of the House where the new Peer intends to sit in the future. Secondly, new Peers should be given a leaflet explaining the significance of the ceremony to their future role as members of this legislature. Thirdly, no more than two Peers should be introduced on any one day, save in exceptional circumstances.
I have no hesitation in commending all of these recommendations to your Lordships today. I believe that the report of the Select Committee represents the best traditions of the House, which takes a sensible and balanced approach to reviewing both its work and its procedures. The House has always sought sensitive evolutions from existing practices. In recent years, we 391 have looked at a number of our procedures and have received and acted upon reports from Select Committees, notably the Select Committee under the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. That made substantial recommendations concerned with Committees off the Floor and other procedural reforms. I have in mind also the decision to televise proceedings in your Lordships' House, which was made a number of years before a similar change took place in another place, and which again followed consideration by the appropriate committee. Throughout, our aim as a House has been to maximise the efficiency with which we conduct our business while retaining the best of our constitutional practices and procedures.
The House might recall that when the Select Committee on the Ceremony of Introduction was being established I argued that some form of ceremonial should he retained, but that it should be modified to make it more appropriate to present times. I am delighted that the Select Committee has taken this general line in its recommendations. As paragraph 21 of the report states:after considering all the views put to us and the need to present a solution which we believe could be generally accepted by the House, we agreed that a formal ceremony of introduction to the House of Lords should he retained, but some aspects of it should be modified".The recommendations of the committee show a balance between retaining the dignity and traditional values of the ceremony and improving it, in line with the objective I expressed in October that the ceremony should not lead to,boredom in the House and disdain for our procedures".—[Official Report, 27/10/97; col. 886.]I believe that an appropriate ceremony for modern times should provide a proper introduction for new Peers to the rest of the House; should be dignified and in accordance with the traditions of the House; and should be conducted in a manner which avoids tedious repetition and avoids bringing the House into disrepute. I am delighted to say that, in my view, the recommendations from the Select Committee admirably meet all these objectives.
The Select Committee has proposed doing away with what seemed to me to be the most arcane elements of the ceremony. The doffing of hats and bowing to the Lord Chancellor, and indeed the whole of the ceremony of placing of Peers, may have their roots in some dim forgotten past, but appear quaint and irrelevant to many today. These elements no longer carry meaning in the House—placing indeed conflicts with the doctrine that all Peers are equal—and add to the impression that the ceremonial is overlong.
Perhaps I should at this point remind the House why I have not argued, and never have, for the ceremony to be abolished. This is because it is quite clear that the day on which a Peer first sits in the House is a great occasion for the Peer, and the Peer's family and friends. I believe that a ceremony of introduction is an important part of that sense of occasion and I would oppose its abolition, as I have previously made clear.
Your Lordships will see from my second Motion that I have gone a little further than the Select Committee's report in recommending that the ceremony for Bishops should also be reformed. The Select Committee heard evidence from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, who had consulted his colleagues. The Select 392 Committee noted (in paragraph 10) that the ceremony for the introduction of Bishops to the House of Lords was considerably shorter and simpler than the present ceremony for life Peers and that the Bishops themselves did not recommend any change. The Select Committee noted that there was no criticism of the Bishops' ceremony and made no recommendations on the grounds, I believe, that the Bishops' ceremony was outside its terms of reference.
In tabling the Motion for your Lordships today I considered this position most carefully and concluded, after discussion within the usual channels, that it would be anomalous not to allow the House today to have the opportunity of combining a reform to the ceremony for temporal Peers with a parallel reform for Lords Spiritual. After discussion with the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Norwich, I am happy to say that he agrees with my Motion as it stands. It is the intention that a newly introduced Bishop will, immediately after shaking hands with the Lord Chancellor, proceed, with his supporters to the Bishops' Benches. All three Bishops will be robed. Otherwise, the changes proposed by the Select Committee will be applied to the Bishops' ceremony. I look forward to the speech of the right reverend Prelate on these points.
I turn now to the recommendation from the Select Committee that Garter King of Arms should no longer play a part in the ceremony. In this regard, the Select Committee has gone further than I suggested in my speech to the House when we debated the Motion on 27th October last year. The committee made this recommendation because of its other recommendation that the placing of Peers—the part of the ceremony in which Garter has a direct and special role—should be removed. I am sure all Members of the House would wish me to say how grateful we are for the work which Garter has done and will continue to do behind the scenes. I note that the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, has tabled an amendment to reinstate Garter. I should perhaps say that I was a little surprised to see the noble Duke's amendment on the Order Paper today, in the light of the robust evidence he gave to the Select Committee, that:Anything that is historical must be updated the whole time. I was appalled when I came to your noble Lords' House to see all this kerfuffle going on when a new peer comes in. I was even more appalled when eventually I was told that the Earl Marshal and Garter were responsible.I will listen with great care to what he has to say and will listen most closely to his explanation of why he does not take this wholly sensible and consistent attitude towards the recommendation relating to Garter. I have to say that I hope the House will consider carefully before seeking to undo this element in the carefully crafted package of recommendations from the committee. However, perhaps I may emphasise that the reinstatement of Garter is a matter for the House when it votes on the noble Duke's amendment.
Two other amendments have been tabled. The first, from the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, would delay change,until this House has had the opportunity to consider Her Majesty's Government's further proposals for Lords reform".393 I look forward to the noble Lord's speech, in which I am sure he will tell the House just exactly what he has in mind. At the moment, I have no idea what he has in mind. I also look forward to the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, in which he will no doubt make the case for his amendment, the effect of which would be to accept the need for change, but to delay change until next Session.
We have the chance today to make a small but important piece of history. It is in the best spirit of the House to look initially at itself and to modify its activities when it is right to do so. We had an opportunity only this week to see the ceremony once again, so our evidence is recent. My noble friend Lord Sheppard of Liverpool took his seat on the Government Benches on Tuesday. I know that my noble friend will not object if I say that as a result of the committee's report he may be the last person to do so by means of the ceremony as it stands at present. Since it began as long ago as 1621, it is perhaps not ignoble to be the final recipient of the honour of that procedure.
I think I have said enough. I look forward to the debate ahead and to the contributions of the noble Lords who have indicated a wish to speak. For the moment, I commend the Motion to the House and I beg to move.
Moved, That this House take note of the report of the Select Committee on the Ceremony of Introduction.—(Lord Richard.)
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Harptree
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for explaining the procedure for the debate and the two Motions standing in his name on the Order Paper. My amendment is no criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, and his colleagues on the Select Committee. As the noble Lord the Leader of the House said, it is a remarkable achievement that he has managed to obtain an agreed report. Apart from the proposals regarding Garter, who I agree should not be excluded, I believe that the Select Committee has retained the essential elements of the ceremony and its dignity. We like ceremony in this country; we are good at it, none better; and life would be very drab without pageantry.
I am glad, too, that the Select Committee proposes to retain the traditional words of the Letters Patent. Such ceremonies should have phrases in them which are not in common use. The Authorised Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer have an enormous hold on the people of this country. It is partly because the language was flowering so beautifully when they were written, but it is also because they are different.
My main criticism of the Government's substantive Motion concerns timing. I invite the House to consider the question: why now? This is not a party matter. It is an important domestic issue which concerns the whole House. When the Government were first elected, they said that they would listen. That was a very welcome statement. It is disappointing that the Government did not decide to listen first to the House before tabling their substantive Motion. Had they done so, it may well be that 394 they would have avoided some of the amendments, particularly that relating to Garter, now on the Order Paper.
My second and main point has been made before on many occasions by the Liberal Democrats, from the Cross-Benches as well as by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. I suggest to the House that it really is not possible to reach an informed judgment on introductions in isolation from other reforms of your Lordships' House which the Government have not yet presented to Parliament. In major constitutional matters of this kind, I do not believe that a piecemeal approach is satisfactory. We need to see the whole picture if we are to take an informed view.
I give one example to your Lordships of the difficulties which may arise if we proceed now. We are told that the Government may propose an elected element in this House. If that were to happen, it would involve a completely new ceremony. Instead of the Monarch creating and summoning, electors would send. We should then need an introductory ceremony similar to that which exists at present in another place. Therefore, we should need another change. I do not believe that it is wise too often to make changes to venerable ceremonies of this kind.
My amendment would not postpone by one single day the Government's reform proposals. The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal is a senior Member of the Government and is also the Leader of the House. I know that he listens very carefully to views which are expressed in all parts of the House. I submit to the noble Lord that he could accept the amendment in my name without in any way harming the Government's programme. In doing so, the noble Lord would earn the gratitude of the House.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he will allow me to correct one point. I do not move the Motion on behalf of the Government. I made it very clear that I am moving it as Leader of the House on behalf of the House, the Select Committee having been set up.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for the typically genial and fair-minded way in which he introduced the Motion standing in his name. I fully understand the point which he has just made. This is essentially a House of Lords matter. He has carried out his proper duties as Leader of the House. But whatever views we may have and whatever advice we may give to our noble friends, it is for us individually to make up our minds as to what we wish to do.
There are those—and we should acknowledge this—who may think it a curious order of priorities to be discussing the ceremony of introduction today. This is a very busy parliamentary time and the House was kept until after midnight on two occasions earlier this week. With late nights and a heavy programme of legislation, 395 there are many better constitutional, political, economic and social issues with which to concern ourselves. However, I was among those who accepted the case for a fresh consideration of the ceremony when the Leader of the House proposed his Motion on 29th October last. I, too, am grateful to your Lordships' committee and especially to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, for the speed of the inquiry and the clarity of the report. I believe that it is now better to settle the matter.
Perhaps I may say, in advance of dealing with the main substance, which is the report of the committee, that if your Lordships are disposed to support the Motion before the House and the following resolutions, I can see no reason for postponement of the implementation of the proposals. I listened with great care to the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree. I heard what he said about making no informed judgment in advance of wider changes. But I do not regard the ceremony of introduction as a high constitutional matter. It is a matter of concern to this House, and very properly, as noble Lords have shown. But beyond that, we should not extend its importance.
For a moment, I thought that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, was hoping that his amendment might be a wrecking amendment and that, in effect, no change in the ceremony of introduction would take place. If that were the assumption, it has proved to be false. Whatever the case, I do not believe that there is any point in supporting either his amendment or that of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, to whom I shall also listen extremely carefully, if it merely means delaying for a short while the decision which your Lordships' House has made.
I am relaxed about the amendment of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. I agree with the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal that the noble Duke's evidence to the committee was robust; I enjoyed it; and perhaps that has made me softer or more sympathetic to a role for Garter. I am relaxed on that matter if the House took that view, although I can see the argument of the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal that it is better not to start unravelling the recommendations of the report before the House.
My starting point is not one which may be shared by all noble Lords. However, this is primarily a place of work in partnership with the House of Commons in constituting Parliament. We sit for 140 or so days in a year, many of them long days filled with the detailed scrutiny of legislation. Many of your Lordships are regular attenders and contribute substantially in debate and in Committee. We all acknowledge the special role of the Cross-Benches, bringing to the House, as they do, men and women with distinguished careers outside the political mainstream.
I make those obvious points because your Lordships are rightly upset when newspaper reports and especially television programmes dwell on what they seek to portray as our infirmities, eccentricities and archaisms, making us sometimes rather like a Sotheby's by the Thames. Whatever others may suggest, we know that we are not part of the heritage industry. But if we are to take our presence here seriously and uphold public respect for the role of the House, then the ceremony of introduction 396 should reflect our relevance and our practical role. At least, it should not too obviously push in the opposite direction.
I am not over-impressed by two arguments, although very sincerely held, put forward for retaining things as they are. First, there is the family and friends argument. That is simply that the ceremony of introduction provides a nice day out for a new Peer and his guests. Indeed it does and I begrudge nobody any such pleasure. I am sure that my own family and friends enjoyed the occasion. But that can hardly be a serious test of whether the ceremony is justified in its present form and at its present length. We are not joining a club or winning a race. We are starting a new stage in our careers. At least, the House will be respected if that is how the world sees it.
Then there is the argument that the present ceremony, at its present length, enables us to identify new Peers and recognise them later. I respect that point, but do not share it. I may be in a minority, but I find that the ceremony and the wearing of robes disguises as much as it identifies and I am happier spotting and getting to know my new colleagues in the Lobbies and corridors.
There is also the contrary point, made as I understood it in the report, that hereditary Peers taking their seats for the first time do so without ceremony and without robes. I acknowledge the historical basis of that, that their faces were well known to their peers before they arrived here. But that does not stand up today and does not carry sufficient weight to justify such an exemption making the rule that the present ceremony should remain unchanged.
Listening to the debate last October and reading the evidence to your Lordships' committee, I found that almost all the arguments for retaining the ceremony in its present form convinced me of the reverse. The best argument for so doing seems to me to be the simplest one, and the one put by, among others, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers: "it is part of the history of Parliament, it doesn't harm anyone, why all the fuss?"
I return to my starting point, that this is a place of work and is becoming more so. The ceremony should not take up more precious time than is necessary. It should be business-like and, as far as possible, relevant. The noble Lord, Lord Dormand, in his evidence said that the ceremony should be much the same as that for the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, while not sharing that view, described the by-election procedure in another place as: bow to the bar, march three paces, bow again, march to the Table, bow again, swear the Oath and shake hands I found that an entirely adequate ceremony nearly 40 years ago and would not have felt let down by something similar when I arrived here. I am against copying the House of Commons but not against doing something similar on merit if circumstances justify.
But a majority of noble Lords are clearly not happy with such a functional approach and at this point, I confess that I begin to waver myself. Businesslike and relevant: I have said it once, I have said it again and, yet, I hope so. But every institution has its rites of passage to help give it a sense of unity, coherence and loyalty. Where tradition does not exist it is often invented. In this House we have no need for invention. Our traditions have 397 evolved through the centuries and, like most traditions, they include the initiation ceremony that we are discussing today.
I am also prepared to believe—it may be too far fetched, it may be a form of wish fulfilment—that a ceremony taking at least a little time and trouble and embodying a degree of continuity may modestly contribute towards the more consensual approach of your Lordships' House that makes it a calmer and less rhetorical place than the other Chamber.
As we shall see during the course of debate, there are probably almost as many shades of opinion on this matter as there are active Members of your Lordships' House. What your Lordships' committee has proposed—and proposed, as the Lord Privy Seal says, unanimously—is a reasonable compromise. It is not precisely what I might have preferred, but I am very happy to commend it to my noble friends for their favourable consideration.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, I have sat in your Lordships' House for the best part of six years, so I thought that today was the day when I might come out in my true colours. I do that because I signed this report, as it were, from the radical perspective. I shall rehearse the radical argument in order that those who might not be so radically persuaded might understand that this was a very delicate and difficult consensus, reached with much labour. I pay tribute to both our clerk, Dr. Tudor, and our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, for having reached that consensus.
I should like to ask three questions. First, what is this House? Quite simply, for me it is the second Chamber of a European legislature. Unfortunately, I do not have a full experience of all European legislatures, but I have not yet met one whose rites of passage quite match this place. That is the first question.
The second question is this. We shall hear in the course of this debate much of tradition—and I shall speak for only four minutes, or try to speak within that time. Tradition only exists in the present. I would argue that for a tradition to be meaningful it has to be targeted to the future. To repeat a set of social signs in the present because they happened in the past is no longer meaningful. I see muttering historians on the other side, but I would expect that. The meaning of a tradition is in the present context.
We must ask ourselves what sense the present extended ceremony of introduction has. Speaking personally, I found it demeaning, difficult and objectionable. It was a rite of passage which I did not enjoy passing through. I am a kind of Welsh democrat, and therefore to be dressed up, cross-dressed and doing all these things was not meaningful. It is put to me, when I say these things, that because I happen to be a high Welsh Anglican—which is very high, even for your Lordships' House—I should support the notion of ceremony, but the ceremonial of the Church is designed for the participation of believers. I do not know how many true believers in this Chamber or outside see our ceremony as conveying a meaning of belief in democracy to the outside world.
398 The other issue we have to discuss is to what extent the notion of representation here is enhanced by the ceremonial. Those of us who come here come nominated through a specific process. Why do we need further induction or introduction or enhancing of our positions when we come here? Surely we are all representatives of a particular context. We represent a profession, we represent an experience of public life or, in my case, we represent a political nomination. When we come here we are all equals and, therefore, I agree with my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank.
The ideal ceremony here would be an introduction on a similar basis to the House of Commons, where unrobed, naked into the conference chamber, we become accepted equal peers—well, not quite naked—suitably dressed in proper Armani or Crombie suits we become part of this Chamber. That would give the sign that this building is not about amateur theatricals; it is part of a post-modern democracy.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for long. A good starting point for this discussion is the amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. I remind your Lordships that Garter is the person delegated by the Crown to introduce a new Peer. That is how Garter described his own functions in evidence to the committee. In his evidence to the Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, the Government Chief Whip, certainly did not suggest that the Queen's representative of all people should be excluded from the ceremony. The suggestion that Garter should no longer have a role of any sort, not necessarily in the placing of the new Peer, is so odd that I am reminded of the 13th stroke of the crazy clock which was not only erroneous in itself but cast doubt on everything that had gone before.
I do not wish in any way to be critical of those who served on this committee and the way in which they laboured. However, one is tempted to think that a committee capable of coming up with such a completely bizarre recommendation—that the most important person in the exercise apart from the new Peer himself should not be present in some capacity or other—should not expect to be taken quite as seriously as the noble Lord, the Leader of the House suggested.
The next point is the length of time for which the present ceremony has been in existence. Of course, the fact that a ceremony has lasted for nearly 400 years does not mean that it cannot be improved. That is not my argument. However, it is a very strong argument against precipitate change. If people have for hundreds of years been prepared to accept a ceremony as an appropriate way of marking someone's elevation to the peerage, there is certainly no need to rush into change. There is certainly no reason for telling those who may be created Peers during the remainder of this Session that, somehow or other, they will not be treated the same as those introduced earlier, that they are not going to be introduced in the traditional way, and that their ceremony is to be downgraded.
399 As regards the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree, I shall not rehearse the arguments which he advanced. But I shall just remind your Lordships of the wording of the Labour manifesto which talked of,a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative".We are surely entitled to know how this more democratic House is to be composed before deciding the appropriate way in which new Members should be introduced.
I now revert to my amendment, which, of course, I hope will fall on the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dean being carried. It merely provides that the new ceremony should not come into effect until the beginning of the next Session. What on earth will be lost by such a delay? Are noble Lords opposite really prepared to tell the country that, while not prepared to turn up for major debates like the one last week on the reserve forces, they begrudge spending just a few minutes listening to a new Peer being introduced into the House in the way in which new Members have been introduced for hundreds of years?
To sum up, the Government are proceeding with indecent haste. They are putting the cart before the horse when they ask us to decide on the ceremony for entering the House before telling us what sort of House it is to be; and they are asking us to endorse a fundamentally flawed report. I shall hazard one guess today: there will be very little support for the recommendation of the committee that the second most important person at the time of an introduction—namely, Garter himself—should be excluded from the Chamber.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, of course, as a member of the Select Committee I support the report and its recommendations. However, I also support the Motions tabled in the name of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal. Although the Committee did not consider the changing of the introduction ceremony for Bishops, we nevertheless invited the Bishops to give evidence and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich appeared before us. I must say that that was most helpful from many points of view. Indeed, it was from the right reverend Prelate that we learnt that the wearing of hats probably dated only to the 19th century. We also based many of our recommendations on the more simple procedure of the introduction of Bishops.
In a way, it was a strange Select Committee. When we started every member had his or her own views, ranging from the complete abolition of any ceremony at all to the suggestion that the present ceremony not only remain intact but also should be extended to Peers by succession. It is, therefore, all the more remarkable that we ended up with a unanimous report and recommendations. Here I, too, should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, for his chairing of the committee and to our Clerk, Dr. Philippa Tudor, who produced for us some most fascinating historical information.
Our first problem stemmed from the fact that there were no real expert witnesses in the usual sense of the term as used by Select Committees. What expertise there was we 400 hope we tapped into; for example, the Earl Marshal, with his experience and historic connections with the Throne and with the other ceremonies of this House generally. In a sense, he encouraged us, as his evidence has clearly already suggested to Members of this House, by indicating how other ceremonies in this Chamber have changed over the years. Garter, too, gave evidence from his role and that of his historic predecessors. As has already been said, Garter is the link between the Monarch and Peers. He was also equally informative and open minded in his evidence. Then there was the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who brought us the contrast with the introductory ceremony in the other place, which was also helpful.
All that gave us a balanced and historical context for the inquiry. But, in the end, it was a matter of judgment and consensus because, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said, there was a great deal of give and take in the committee. What we were looking for was a dignified and purposeful ceremony in keeping with the role of a hard-working and distinguished legislative Chamber at the end of the 20th century and one that would do justice to the eminence and achievements of the new Member being introduced. Moreover, we had to bear in mind that the ceremony could be witnessed not only by those present in the House at the time but possibly also by the entire world through the services of television and other media.
We had a number of considerations in mind. They included the sense of occasion for the new Peer and his or her family. Unlike the House of Commons, the new Peer would not have been through the public process of an election, nor an investiture at the Palace. So it had to be an occasion to be remembered. But we did not think that, because there is a possibility that the House will be reformed in the future, this should delay our consideration of immediate reform while the House is in its present state and probably has a lot of work to do before it is reformed.
Secondly, the new Peer was being introduced to the House and the House to the new Peer. As we were no longer concerned with a small group of families, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, indicated, who had probably known each other from birth, but with a large legislative Chamber composed of people from all walks of life who were not likely to know very many people before they came here, we decided that the ceremony should not be too short and peremptory, as, I must say, is the case with current Peers by succession.
The third point that we had in mind was the fact that the Chamber, while still of an independent mind—as has been shown to many governments by decisions of your 401 Lordships' House—is now organised on a party basis and not on the basis of a hierarchy of Peers descending from Dukes to Barons. Therefore, "placing" had to have more sense of realism. Fourthly, in keeping with the traditions of the House any changes need to be incremental.
I believe that our recommendations take account of these considerations. The procession, led by Black Rod with two sponsors, all robed, gives that sense of occasion. The procedure we recommend is simple and dignified. It retains the reading of the historic Letters Patent which are unique to the Peer being introduced. All this process will last sufficiently long to enable the new Peer to be seen by the House—and perhaps better seen if hats are not worn.
The placing appears to be one of the most controversial aspects of the report. The placing that we recommend in effect comes after the introduction, with at least one sponsor being required to conduct the new Peer to the appropriate Benches. Such placing will no longer require the presence of Garter in the House, although of course—as was recognised by the committee—he will still have the important role of preparing the title and arranging for the new Peer to be introduced. I shall be interested to hear what the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, has to say about this when we discuss his amendment.
I believe that the other amendments that have been spoken to this afternoon have little to do with the fundamental recommendations of the committee and the fundamental thrust of the committee, which is that this is a busy, important and effective legislative Chamber and we need changes now. I believe that this simplified introduction procedure serves the traditions of the House. I hope that the report and its recommendations will be supported by the House.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ The Duke of Norfolk
My Lords, I reiterate the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, who has just said that we need changes now. As regards the two amendments of the noble Lords, Lord Dean of Harptree and Lord Waddington, respectively, I hope that your Lordships will reject them. I think that we should tackle the problem. Who knows what will happen in the future? It appears that more life Peers will be introduced. I think the time has come to update the procedure of their introduction. We should deal with that now and shorten it, as the committee has said.
I turn to my amendment. I say, with humility, that I want to take your Lordships back into history. All your Lordships know that a peerage is the greatest honour that a monarch can confer on any subject. It is a greater honour than the Order of the Garter or of the British Empire. In medieval times a monarch conferred that honour himself or herself. In the reign of James I too many Peers were created. That is a subject on which one can read all kinds of stories. It is a period before the Cromwellian revolution. It was then decided—I imagine 402 by the House—that a curb should be put on the number of peerages that were being created.
On 29th August 1621 the Earl Marshal was told to organise a ceremony to take place in this House. That was organised by the Earl Marshal with Garter, or one of the other "kings" representing him. I see the three "kings" in Black Rod's Box now listening to the debate. Black Rod has kindly allowed them to be present. It was then agreed that this ceremony should take place here. However, it is a royal ceremony. It is the Crown who confers the peerage, not the government. With the permission of the government the Crown confers the peerage. This great honour to a subject of this Kingdom takes place now in this House.
Once the Crown decides to confer a peerage, the Crown must be represented in this Chamber when it takes place. The person who represents the Crown is Garter⁁the principal King of Arms. He has already had a big hand in the creation of the peerage in question. The new Peer goes to see him. The Garter consults the records and says, for example, to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, "I can make you Lord Richard, the Lord Privy Seal, because there is no other Lord Richard. You cannot be called Lord Howard because there are 10 other Lord Howards in existence". The noble Lord cannot be called Lord Howard of Glossop, like my great-grandfather. One of the Howards in my family led the defeat of the Armada. I just mention that quietly. Garter must reach agreement with the new Peer as regards the name the latter is to adopt. Then Garter, with the Home Office, writes the Letters Patent. He produces the Letters Patent and at the introduction of a new Peer he comes to the House and gives the Letters Patent, which he has framed and written, to the new Peer who gives them to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Garter is a vital person in this ceremony. Without him the Crown would not be represented.
Black Rod is also an important person in this House. His function in this House at the moment is to represent the Lord Great Chamberlain. The Lord Great Chamberlain runs this House but not the House of Commons, which has asserted its authority to run its own House. However, the Lord Great Chamberlain still runs this House. His deputy is Black Rod. Black Rod joins the procession of a new Peer to organise the administration of the little ceremony. But the Crown is represented by Garter.
I end simply by saying that the placing of the new Peer—which will be abolished according to the excellent committee of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh—is not, as the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal said, the most important function of Garter. It is unimportant. When the House sat by seniority it was of some importance but the House no longer sits by seniority; it sits by opposition, government and so on. Garter's ceremony and function is to represent the Crown. Our constitution consists of the Crown, the Lords and the Commons. The Crown is the fount of honour.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Norwich
My Lords, before giving evidence to the Select Committee, I consulted the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the 10 most senior Bishops in the House of Lords. They appreciated the arguments for simplifying the ceremony of introduction for life Peers, but saw little need to change the ceremony for Bishops, mainly for two reasons. Our ceremony is already shorter and simpler than that for temporal Peers, since there is no reading of the Letters Patent and we conduct the ceremony ourselves without the aid of Garter King of Arms. Because we are used to taking part in ceremonies on a weekly basis, not to mention the fact that two of us were trained at Sandhurst, we believe that our ceremony is conducted with precision, and I think that on the whole people enjoy it. It is also the case that the introduction of a Bishop is a relatively infrequent occurrence. The year 1997 was a record year, without precedent in living memory; it saw the introduction of eight Bishops. The average is two or three introductions each year.
We believe that the changes proposed to the ceremony for life Peers are minor and sensible. The simplified movements that are proposed do not in our view detract from the proper dignity of the occasion. I am entirely in agreement with the argument that hats are unnecessary. (That may sound a strange thing for a Bishop to say.) They form a relatively modern feature of the ceremony. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, noted, they have been in existence for probably no more than 150 years. I also agree that we should do away with the three bows. There has been much discussion about the significance of the three bows, and speculation that they symbolise the three persons of the Trinity. That is a worthy and pious suggestion, but almost certainly has no basis in fact. It is of course always open to us to put interpretations on ceremonies, or indeed to invent new ceremonies if we wish. One of my brother Prelates suggested that we should increase the number of bows to 10 in commemoration of the Ten Commandments, which would serve as a reminder to Lords Spiritual and Temporal of their ethical priorities. It was not an entirely flippant suggestion. It would surely be approved by that high Welsh Anglican, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas.
We believe that it is also reasonable for the Clerk to read the Letters Patent only, and to omit the Writ of Summons. In the case of Bishops, the reverse would happen. Because we receive our Letters Patent before our entry into this House, we shall continue to have the Writ of Summons read.
The Lord Privy Seal has already referred to the Select Committee report, which makes this comment:The ceremony of the introduction of bishops to the House of Lords is considerably shorter and simpler than the present ceremony for newly-created temporal peers, and we encountered no criticism of it".The section ends:we make no recommendations in this report about the Bishops' ceremony".The Bishops naturally presumed that, following publication of the report, there would be no changes to the Bishops' ceremony. However, the Motion of the 404 Lord Privy Seal made clear that changes were to be proposed. I was therefore grateful for the postponement of this debate since it enabled me to consult my brother Prelates once more. As I said, we agreed in general with the proposals for the introduction of life Peers, and we appreciate the reasons why it was thought sensible to align the Bishops' ceremony with that. My brother Prelates were reasonably content with the Motion as it affects us, except in one respect.
The Select Committee proposes the abolition of "placing". The reasons why the committee did that are understandable. However, we wish to make known our conviction that the notion of placing has symbolic importance, and its total disappearance would mean the loss of something significant. In ecclesiastical ceremonies a Bishop is placed in his throne. Deans, cathedral canons, and incumbents are all "installed" in places from which they will exercise their ministry and authority. The same is true of the sovereign; and placing is important in military ceremony for similar reasons. The logic in this House would be that a Peer, temporal or spiritual, would be placed, during his or her introduction, based on the same principles. But that is more difficult here. Placing in the rear row of the Barons' Bench has become meaningless in terms of the place from which authority is exercised. That is not so in the case of the Bishops. We are the only Members of this House, apart from the sovereign and the Lord Chancellor, whose places have continued unchanged for centuries. The placing of a Bishop at his introduction, particularly in the second row rather than the rear row, would mean that the placing ceremony had very obvious meaning.
We felt that quite strongly, and a number of my brethren urged me to table an amendment to exempt the Bishops' ceremony from any change until we had had time to arrive at a common mind. Because we were in general agreement with the proposed changes, I thought this a bit cumbersome. I told them that, as their representative, I was not prepared to go to the stake about it—not least because, in their reforming zeal, the Government might use that martyrdom to reduce the number of Lords Spiritual. But then the Lord Bishop of Chichester, the Father of the House of Bishops, came to my rescue with an elegant compromise, which has allowed us to make our point and at the same time to support the Motion proposed by the Lord Privy Seal.
At the end of the ceremony for the Introduction of temporal Peers, the Select Committee recommends that the newly introduced Peer, with his supporters, after removing his robes outside the Chamber, should return immediately and sit in his normal place. It has been agreed that something similar should happen with the Bishops. Because we do not need to leave the Chamber to remove our robes, immediately after the Lord Chancellor has greeted the new Bishop, he will, with his supporters, take his place in the second row of the Bishops' Benches. This will not officially form part of the ceremony of introduction, but will follow it immediately. This little piece of variety is a positively good thing because it will serve to remind members of an ancient ceremony which used to apply to all but has been kept as a residual ceremony for the small number 405 of Lords Spiritual who are introduced each year. As a footnote, it is interesting that in the 17th century, when the introduction was reduced to its bare minimum, every bit of ceremony disappeared, except the placing of the new Peer.
A few weeks ago I was in hospital for an operation on my knee. At the same time an eminent Norfolk parishioner, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was in another London hospital for an operation on his hip. We used our bedside telephones to commiserate with each other. I assured him of my prayers. He sent me champagne. It seemed to me a model of what a good relationship between Church and state should be. We hope that he will soon be fully recovered and restored to his place in this House, fighting fit. I am glad to say that relationships between these benches and the Government Front Bench are equally cordial, though I have yet to receive champagne from them. The Lord Privy Seal has been immensely helpful to us over the question at issue, and I want to express our gratitude for his willingness to accept the compromise we have proposed.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, the committee of which I had the privilege of being a member represented in its composition the whole range of views, from making no change at all in the ceremony of introduction to its total abolition. A committee formed in this way has its disadvantages. If, for example, we had sought to address ourselves to the main question—namely, was any change necessary or even desirable?—our discussions would never have got off the ground. On the other hand, the committee was very well equipped to achieve a working compromise. If your Lordships want a change—and it is not yet clear whether the House as a whole does—I believe the package that we have suggested is the one that is most likely to achieve general support.
I had three main reservations about seeking to change the introduction procedure in this way. They are still unresolved. Perhaps my mind may be set at rest over some of them this afternoon.
The first is whether any change in procedure that we might agree to now is likely to have any adverse knock-on effect on other ceremonies and traditions of your Lordships' House and even beyond. After all, this House runs on traditions and one should change them only by deliberate intent, when it is beyond all question that it is right to do so. I tried to raise this when the committee first met but I was told by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, the chairman—and this was reinforced by Dr. Philippa Tudor, clerk to the committee—that it would not be proper for us to discuss anything other than the introduction ceremony itself. Of course I accepted that ruling without further question, but if the committee were to be debarred from considering the wider future effects of any of their recommendations, the corollary must also be true: that it would be equally wrong for anyone to cite any of them as a precedent in support of other changes that he might in the future wish to make.
406 My next concern is that it has long been my experience that political compromises are liable to be regarded by one side as a binding agreement and by the other as a stepping stone towards going the whole way. If this should happen in this case, gone will be the protection of the validity afforded by unbroken usage of over 300 years. I think therefore that the House should only accept this package if it is prepared to regard it as sacrosanct for at least a considerable number of decades and that, if noble Lords are not so prepared, we should retain the status quo.
My third concern, and I touched on this at the beginning, is whether your Lordships may not be drifting involuntarily into accepting a change that perhaps the majority do not in fact want. When this suggestion was last debated 23 years ago, the House rejected any change by a majority of over three to one. This time, your Lordships accepted the proposals for a Select Committee without a vote, out of courtesy to the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the House, which is the master of its committees and has not yet had the opportunity of expressing itself on whether it really wants this or any other change.
But whatever the solution we accept this afternoon, it must be seen to be the genuine wish of the House as a whole. In that connection, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has authorised me to say that noble Lords on these Benches have a free vote. I hope that when the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal comes to reply, he will confirm that similar freedom will be allowed to his noble friends.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Baroness Gould of Potternewton
My Lords, I rise to support the Select Committee recommendations. I believe that it has managed to arrive at a ceremony which is befitting the honour being bestowed on any individual, while removing the less dignified aspects of the ceremony which, coincidentally, are the ones that the new Peers dread the most. I think that the Members of the Select Committee have achieved their aim of arriving at a dignified, simplified and sensible procedure.
It is also important to stress that the supporters of change are not trying to throw away the inherited traditions of the House. The ceremony has a long and complex history behind it, one that should not be forgotten or treated with contempt. But it has to be in keeping with our developed role as parliamentarians. We have to acknowledge that, irrespective of whether we are hereditary Peers, Peers who came in through the honours system or mere working Peers like myself, we are legislators and a fundamental part of the enactment of legislation in this country. As the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and my noble friend Lady Lockwood said, your Lordships' House is a working House.
There are, however, arguments in favour of change that I reject. I do not believe that these proposals have anything to do with the concept of modernisation—a much over-used word. Nor do I believe that the time argument and the consequent boredom of some Peers is 407 relevant. What is relevant, however, is striking the right balance between the sense of history which surrounds your Lordships' House and the appropriate procedures for your Lordships as serious politicians.
Another common theme that has run throughout the debate has been that of dignity, which I believe is absolutely essential. It is why I make the next few comments. It is in that context that I want to consider briefly and examine the placing ceremony. I maintain that there is nothing dignified about the awkward business of climbing the steps to the rearmost Benches in unaccustomed robes, often too long or sometimes fastened with safety pins. There is nothing dignified in Members of a parliamentary legislature bobbing up and down three times—sometimes in unison, more often not. Nor is there anything dignified in the often unco-ordinated sweep of hats by male Peers. It is remarkable that a team of three Peers manages to produce such eccentric movements.
Much has been said about the origins of that part of the ceremony and clearly the placing of Barons is understood. But why do we have to doff three times? That was a question asked frequently in the Select Committee itself and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich. There are many different explanations and I appreciate that the number three has its place in history, that it is often perceived as a magic number. But in reality, as Garter told the Select Committee, on page 16, at paragraph 95 of the report, nobody knows the reason. There is no better argument for elimination of something than not knowing why we are doing it.
Equally, while there was a logical reason for the placing of Peers in order to distinguish their rank, that is no longer the case, for two reasons. First, the Barons' Benches as such no longer exist. In 1954 the House abandoned its seating arrangements as laid down in the Act of Henry VIII. Secondly, it is often said that one of the great assets of your Lordships' House is that we are all equal, although of different rank. So not only is that part of the ceremony open to ridicule, lacking in dignity, it has also ceased to be relevant. But as the noble Duke the Duke of Norfolk said, that does not necessarily mean that there is not a role for Garter King of Arms as the Queen's representative. We should give that further consideration.
Now to the positive, my Lords. I believe that the Select Committee is right to retain the wearing of robes. I believe that they add to the dignity of the ceremony and, importantly to my mind, they distinguish us from the other Chamber. Equally, they add to the sense of occasion and pride, not only for the new Peer but also for family and friends. I am, however, glad to see that it is proposed that hats be no longer worn. I can only speak from a woman's perspective. I have always been in constant dread that my hat will fall off, to my consequent embarrassment. If a ceremony is to be truly dignified, there should be no part of it that can be potentially embarrassing to its participants.
I do not believe that so far the role of sponsors has been raised in the debate. I have always felt great pride in being asked to act as a sponsor. In my evidence to 408 the Select Committee, I made the point that for the Peers being introduced, having sponsors whom they have personally chosen gives them an immediate sense of belonging and also gives them someone to whom they can turn for advice and support. I also said in my evidence that an important part of the sponsor's duty should be to accompany the new Peer back into the Chamber after the ceremony to their appropriate seat. I am pleased that the Select Committee supported that view.
I wish to make one further point before my conclusion. It relates to the taking of the Oath. The taking of the Oath and the signing of the Scroll are crucial and rightly retain their place as the core of the ceremony. But also of great significance is the need for your Lordships' House to acknowledge the Peer's right to sit and vote as a newly created Member of your Lordships' House by the reading of the Letters Patent. I believe, although I note from the Select Committee Report that not everyone agreed, that they should be in their original language.
As has been said, it is the document by which the peerage is created. It is only received once and is distinctive to the individual Member. That does distinguish it from the Writ of Summons which is in common form to Peers by creation and by descent and which is issued before each Parliament. However, the Writ is a vital document in the peer-making process and while it is not necessary for it to be read out, there should be within the procedure some means for it to be handed to the Lord Chancellor.
In conclusion, I do not believe that there has been any logic in the argument put in favour of delay. If it is felt that the introduction procedures warrant change, why should we delay? It is important that we act instantly.
The proposals before us satisfy the criteria identified in the documents issued to the procedure committee last October. They have due regard to the needs of the sovereign, the House and the new Peer. They improve on the dignity of the occasion; they retain the sense of ceremony and are befitting for a working parliamentary legislative Chamber. I therefore have pleasure in supporting the Select Committee report.
§ 4.50 p.m.
My Lords, though I listened with admiration to the Members of the Select Committee who spoke in support of their recommendations, and in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, unlike everyone else who has so far spoken, I am unhappy with the recommendations with which the committee has come forward. I have always made it perfectly plain that I do not see a need for a change in the introduction ceremony at this time.
I should make it clear at the start of my remarks that I very much support the view of my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree. I agree with his main argument: why change now? The Government have said, time without number, that it is their intention to reform this House. If that is indeed the case, the time to look at all these matters is at the moment of reform.
409 What it means—my noble friend Lord Denham put it far more eloquently than I can—is that we are seeing a kind of death by a thousand cuts: "First get rid of one thing and then we shall get rid of another". Put inelegantly, it is a kind of constitutional "dumbing down". I see no advantage in doing this at this particular time.
The only real reason adduced by the report for the suggestion that we need a change is that we have had exceptional circumstances—59 new Peers being introduced in the past year. But, in my experience of public life, legislation introduced because of exceptional circumstances is usually bad legislation and one comes to regret it. I am bound to say that the analogy which the Leader of the House—I am sorry he is not in his place at this time—made with the changes recommended by the Jellicoe Committee are not exact. We were there talking about the administrative procedures of the House, which is quite different.
On the detail, I should like to say this. Of course we can all make jokes about ceremonies. There is not a single ceremony, whether it is in the Church, the state, the services or anywhere else, which one cannot regard as funny and therefore mimic. Many people have done that very well. I was particularly entertained by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I feel that he should be put into a glass case and kept as something special!
Everybody referred to the question of hats. As someone who spent a large part of her life in the academic world, I can say that one only needs to attend a degree ceremony to see how often hats are doffed. There can be few, if any, Members of your Lordships's House who have not experienced such a ceremony—many on more than one occasion—particularly if they have received an honorary degree, and who therefore know how often hats are doffed. We can laugh at that too. Academics above all love dressing up in robes—the most magnificent of robes; often far more magnificent than those worn in your Lordships' House.
If one asks oneself the simple question, "Why does all this happen?", the answer is because, in universities, it is felt to be a serious matter. It is a serious matter to obtain a degree. It is a great honour to receive an honorary degree and I do not see why, if we accept ceremony under those circumstances, one should think it funny here. It is only funny if one is trying to downgrade the House of Lords, and that is what I suspect is behind this. The Leader of the House may believe me to be quite wrong. However, I suspect that there is a hidden agenda about which we do not know.
The other point I should like to make is that I was very moved by the remarks of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. Like my noble friend Lord Waddington, I find the suggestion not only bizarre but, more than that, offensive that the Garter should not be included in the ceremony. I find it incredibly offensive that, as a House of Parliament, we should be prepared to agree to a report in which that conclusion is reached. I was glad to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, that she believed it was something which should be looked at 410 again should the report be carried, and I hope that that will be the case. However, I do not believe it is right for a Select Committee of this House to dismiss somebody who has had a role in this specific ceremony for hundreds of years on the say-so of a few weeks' consideration. It is offensive and I cannot possibly accept it.
I believe that at this time we should not change these procedures. I stand by what I said. It will lead to a gradual taking away of parts of your Lordships' House which have existed for hundreds of years. It in no way detracts from the House as a working Chamber. It is because the House is a working Chamber and is of significance in the constitution—it is now recognised outside Your Lordships' House by the British people as being one of the few parts of the constitution where issues are discussed properly and effectively—that we should keep its procedures to indicate how important it is as a House.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, your Lordships will be happy to know that I will be briefer than I intended because almost everything I wanted to say has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. However, perhaps I can begin, as I have on previous occasions in your Lordships' House, with a text which I regard as being almost sacred in these contexts; that is, a comment made many years ago by the Viscount of Falkland, an ancestor of the noble Viscount who sits in the House today. The quotation may be familiar to many Members of your Lordships' House. He said,When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change".I believe that that is the position with which we are now faced. I have heard nothing either from the members of the Select Committee or from the Lord Privy Seal to persuade me that change now is necessary. It may be a good idea for the further modernisation of our society, of our habits and our ceremonies. But is it necessary? The answer clearly is that it is not. I therefore follow the Viscount of Falkland in saying that it is necessary not to do anything about it at all.
However, if we are going to do something about it, I hope that better arguments can be adduced than those put forward by the Select Committee. The Lord Privy Seal spoke about a ceremony appropriate to the present time. We do not necessarily need ceremonies appropriate to the present time. We have traditions which have stood us well in this country, not just for decades, but for centuries. Why do we want something that is appropriate to the present time? I should not have thought that the present time was all that admirable.
In that context, the Lord Privy Seal went on to speak of the ceremony—I am not sure whether he was referring to the ceremony or other aspects of this House-as "quaint" and "irrelevant". There are many things that could be characterised as quaint and irrelevant. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, that is usually the language of people who want to downgrade, ridicule and undermine something. I believe that is what is being done with the change to the ceremony in this House.
411 The Lord Privy Seal went on to say something which also appears in the report of the Select Committee and with which I wholeheartedly agree; that is, that the ceremony of the introduction of a Peer is a great day for the Peer, for his friends and for his family. For me, when I first came into this House and was introduced by the present ceremony well over 30 years ago, it was a great day. What was great about it was the sense of history that I felt coursing through me as I came into the Chamber with my supporters and went through the ceremony. It is a sense of history which I still get when I walk into this House every day, and I think it would be a great shame if we were to do anything to remove that sense which I think most of us have when we sit in your Lordships' House.
If I may, I will briefly refer to the question of Garter, because I share the views that have already been expressed. It is shameful—I use that word advisedly—that we should be recommending the removal of the Garter King of Arms from the introduction ceremony. I think it is especially ironic that this document, The Origin of the Introduction of Peers in the House of Lords, is written partly, indeed largely, by Sir Anthony Wagner, who was the Garter King of Arms when I was introduced into this House. It does seem strange that the man who has produced the definitive history of the origin of the introduction of Peers should now be on the verge of being "sacked" because he should no longer be part of this quaint and irrelevant ceremony.
My real point is again one that has already been made, and it is this: if we ask is any change necessary, my answer is no. But I would refer specifically to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree. Why is it necessary now? What is there so magic about this time that requires us suddenly to be fiddling around with the ceremonial of this House? I would like to know, as many other noble Lords would, I think, what the big picture is in the minds of the Government. I do them the honour of accepting that there is a big picture in their minds and that they must know—somebody must know—what sort of House this is going to be in the future. What they have in mind I do not know. We know from the manifesto of one project which they have in mind—a project which we are moving quietly towards—but I should like to know what they think this House will look like when they have finished its reform.
It may be of course a House in which ceremonial of any kind is totally quaint and irrelevant so that later on we can do away with it altogether; but I do not know what kind of House this will be and, quite frankly, I do not believe that they do either. Therefore I would strongly resent and oppose any form of piecemeal change in which single measures are brought forward without anybody knowing what is going to follow. I shall not sit idly by—and I think many of my noble colleagues will share my view—while stage one is first dealt with and then in due course and in good time we will move on to stage two. It is for that reason that I support wholeheartedly the view of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, in saying that until we know what kind of a House this is going to be—and none of 412 us knows that at the moment—we should not start tinkering around with ceremonial or with procedures unless we know what the end result of it all will be.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, this ceremony affirms affinity with the Sovereign, as described by my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. It also acknowledges allegiance and it replaces personal investiture. I do not share the concept of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that your Lordships' House is just a second chamber of a European Parliament. I stand wholly behind what has been said by my noble friends Lord Harptree and Lord Denham, by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and just now by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who asked what kind of a House it will be.
The argument I deploy is that, notwithstanding broad approval of the recommendations, subject to the retention of the attendance of Garter always, implementation should be delayed until the substance of the proposals of Lords reform has been considered by your Lordships. Such is the purpose of this speech. And why so?—because nobody has any idea as to the nature or the purpose of the proposed modernisation, reform and reconstitution of your Lordships' House, save as regards this stage one abolition of the hereditary entitlement.
It is accepted that stage one, as such, would not render implementation inappropriate. But what about stage two? Is there ever going to be a stage two? This could well involve some new constitutional settlement for consideration of both Houses. What sort of a House are we to become? —a repository of patronage for political placemen? Is our ethos and independence to be slighted as guardians of the constitution and as a curb on Executive power? Shall we, for all one knows, become a subservient mirror image of another place to nurture some form of unicameral government? We simply do not know. And, if so, the spirit of affinity with the Sovereign would evaporate. The purpose of the symbolism would no longer subsist and the retention of this ceremony would not be appropriate.
Implementation as proposed in the Motion is no mere matter of domestic concern relating to changes in our procedures, as is the opinion, with respect, of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. With respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, it was not within the remit of the terms of reference for the Select Committee to consider whether proposed reform of your Lordships' House could render implementation of the recommendations wholly inapposite. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, referred to an initial conversation at the Select Committee, and I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, when he comes to speak, could clarify not only that this was not within the terms of reference but that the Committee did not and could not have taken this aspect of implementation into account, that being wholly a matter for the business of your Lordships' House.
There is grave and justified anxiety as to the nature and purpose of the proposed reform. This Motion to implement forthwith raises untold problems of 413 pre-emption. If we had known that such a Motion, as distinct from the "take note" Motion, would have been tabled when setting up this Select Committee was before your Lordships' House, perhaps arguments along the lines to which I have referred, and support, would have been advanced. However, would it not have been reasonable to assume that the House would merely have a "take note" Motion and that thereafter implementation could be considered in the light of such debate?
It is all very well. But on 20th April the noble Lord, Lord Richard, informed your Lordships that the substance of proposed reform would not be known when the stage one abolition Bill came before your Lordships' House; that there would be no better informed debate; and there would be no option paper on alternatives for reform. Without knowledge—
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, this is rather more important than the ceremony of introduction. I have never said that there would be no options paper before the stage one Bill was considered by this House. I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, whether I would produce an options paper now, and I said no.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I must not argue a point of understanding or misunderstanding. All I can tell the House is that I transcribed these notes from Hansard—I gave the noble Lord notice, as it so happens, because he is a friend of mine in another sort of way—and this is by my lights an honest representation of what he said. It certainly represents what I understood him to say.
Against what the noble Lord has said, however one interprets it, without the knowledge of the substance, how can we implement the trappings? My noble friend Lord Denham has put it so clearly. If it is to be a short-term exercise, if the recommendations are to have mere interim effect, why not retain, as my noble friend Lord Denham put it, the status quo?
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I rise after these speeches as somewhat of an anomaly in that I am in favour of the recommendations made by the Select Committee. They are sensible. A dignified ceremony has been proposed. It is one which would give pleasure both to the recipient of the peerage and to his kinsmen or family and it would also enable the House to have a look at him. The only possible problem is the one raised by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, who, as Earl Marshal of England, I was so pleased to see in support of the main proposals of the committee. The only question that he raised was the status of Garter.
When I was made a Peer I wrote to Sir Anthony Wagner, at whose father's school I was when I was aged seven, and asked whether he could help me. He said. "I am very sorry. I cannot do anything to help you because you are, by Scottish descent, a matter for Lyon King of Arms to attend to". I got in touch with Lord Lyon and he said to me, "What do you intend to call yourself?". I said that I hoped to be able to call myself Lord Annan, as to the best of my belief there 414 was no other Lord Annan. He said, "Who's the head of your family?". I said that I did not know. He said, "You can't call yourself Lord Annan unless you are Annan of that Ilk". At this point I became terrified. He said, "You must change your name at once". So I consulted and looked at the map of Annandale and I found a small tributary called the River Ae, which flows into the River Annan. I asked Lord Lyon whether I could then become Lord Annan of Aeside and would have to sign my name in that way. He said, "That would be so".
At this point my family intervened. My 13 year-old daughter said, "Do you realise that pop records on the gramophone have an A side and a B side and that I shall call you Lord Annan of B side if you accept this?". So I went back to Lord Lyon and said that my family was very unhappy. He said, "Your family is a very foolish lot". However, when I pressed the point it appeared that there was no problem at all. I did not have to change my name, though I had the great honour of being allowed to be Lord Annan, of the Royal Burgh of Annan. But that did not mean that I had to sign my name in a different way.
I say this because there is an element of something ludicrous in our procedures as they have been until this date. There is something ludicrous in the idea that you become a different person, a different class in society, someone superior to the hoi polloi in the rest of the country. That is what I do not like and that is what I think the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, dislikes, although he has been ridiculed for holding these views.
The problem we are facing is one of how to make a dignified second Chamber slightly less absurd. I say that because I know it is difficult for noble Lords to accept that this may be true. We know how hard the people in this House—the working Peers (not people like myself)—work, the hours they keep and the little recompense they get for it. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, talked about how the rest of the country regard this House as a splendid place and as one of the few bulwarks of liberty left since the decline of the other place. That is a view which I understand many of your Lordships will hold but it is not a view which is held in the country at large. In the country at large we are still a slightly absurd body because of these eccentric customs. That is why I think this modest move to make our introductions less eccentric but still dignified is a move in the right direction.
The noble Lords, Lord Dean of Harptree and Lord Waddington, asked why we should do it now. On that small point, whether or not we should do it this Session or next Session, it seems to me absurd to have the debate today and then go over the whole thing again in a few months' time. Why delay the matter, which is not essential to any part of the business of the House, and then consider it again? On the question of whether we should do it today or tomorrow, I think it is clear that it should be today.
Then we come to the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that we should never change anything until we know everything that could possibly be said about 415 changing the House of Lords. That is a splendid argument: never change anything until you know what you are going to do for the whole of the rest of time; not merely in this century, but in the next. I know that is a well-known device for delaying any kind of decision about the membership of this House until the Greek Kalends. That argument has been put forward again and again by those who want to delay any major discussion of the powers and the membership of the House. I hope that we will not allow these considerations to deflect us from coming to a sensible conclusion on this matter today.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, he misunderstood those of us who are speaking along the same lines. We are saying that it is not a question of today or tomorrow: not that we must know every little thing, but the substance of the reform, and that it ought to be debated in both Houses. Surely that is not an unreasonable suggestion.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I agree that the reform is bound to be debated in both Houses, but the matter which we were discussing is not a matter of substance. If I may use the medieval scholastic term about Transubstantiation, this Motion concerns mere accidents and not the essence or substance of the House of Lords.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Platt of Writtle
My Lords, rather like many other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, I would not have instigated this change. However, there are some good recommendations in the report. I particularly agree with the Select Committee's opinion on page 8 that affirms its belief,that a formal introduction marking the solemn recognition both of the achievement of the new member of the House and of his or her new duties and responsibilities as a member is justified".There is no doubt that that is greatly appreciated both by the new Member and the watching friends and family, as emphasised by the Lord Privy Seal this afternoon.
As many other noble Lords have said, this is a hard working House. It is also important that new Peers appreciate the fact that they are taking on duties and responsibilities. It is not at all obvious from the reports of our work in the media. That is why I particularly want the Writ of Summons to be read out, as it will continue to be done for the introduction of Bishops. I would be happy if it were read only once if two Peers are to be introduced. The words,considering the difficulty of the said affairs and dangers impending, (waiving all excuses)","we shall attend and speak", certainly emphasise for me, together with solemnly taking the oath, the historic nature of the ceremony and therefore my future duty for playing a responsible part in the work of this House.
Each new Peer will continue to receive the Writ and Standing Orders. I am glad that in future they will also receive a leaflet explaining the significance of the ceremony to their future role as Members of a legislature. New Members also now receive an induction seminar which is very helpful. In another 416 place the Speaker keeps order. In our House it is each Member's personal responsibility to help preserve order in the House, which in my view makes a very important contribution to the whole philosophy of this House and the regard each Member has for each other's point of view. It contributes to a greater sense of tolerance across parties, and Cross-Benchers are a very important part of our House, too, not present in the Commons.
I am glad that robes will continue to be worn, but I do not mind particularly about hats or their doffing or kneeling to the Lord Chancellor on what are often well-worn knees. As all new Peers go to the College of Heralds to agree with Garter their title, and possibly their coat of arms, I feel deeply that Garter should take part in the ceremony particularly, as has been said by noble Lords, he is the present representative of the Crown. I agree with the amendment of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk which I support wholeheartedly. I hope that it will be agreed by the whole House.
The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, wishes to delay the new ceremony until the House has had the opportunity to consider Her Majesty's Government's further proposals for Lords' reform. The more I hear suggestions for possible root and branch reform in place of the hereditary peerage, the more I believe that this matter should receive much deeper, further consideration than has been accorded so far before any action is taken. These suggestions include a fully elected House, fewer Bishops, a fully-paid House—and there will be many others.
These possible alterations will affect in a complex way many other long-accepted traditions of our country. They might—and almost certainly will—cost a great deal more and would certainly affect fundamentally the balance of power between the two Houses. I believe that a commission should be set up consisting of Members of both Houses, of all parties or none, to consider all the full implications of change before any change is made in the composition of our House. I would therefore prefer the amendment of my noble friend Lord Waddington so as not to delay this change in the introduction ceremony too long, as my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk said earlier, but at the same time giving much fuller consideration to the whole question of the composition and powers of the two Houses. That is bound to take a much longer period of time and must not be carried out in stages. I believe that that is vital before any further decisions are made for change.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Chesham
My Lords, much of what I had intended to say has already been said and I will therefore not repeat it. However, I did note that the Government Chief Whip, as the sole Government representative to address the Select Committee, stated,I would like to put the discussion in the context of the desire to modernise Parliament".The report is not, therefore, to be considered as a stand-alone situation, as has been argued. It should be part and parcel of a review of all the existing customs, practice and fabric of Parliament and should be 417 considered in the reform of Parliament en globo, not piecemeal. I therefore wholeheartedly support my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree.
In the context of reform being considered—and this ceremony is part of that consideration—I fully support my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. In his evidence to the Select Committee, Garter stated that the first aspect of the ceremony was that it is the ceremony of introduction, not the ceremony of taking the seat or of taking the oath. It is therefore a Crown matter. The Crown has created a new peerage and Garter is delegated by the Crown to introduce that new Peer into the House. That should obviously continue.
Incidentally, in sifting through the evidence given to the Select Committee I can find no suggestion that Garter should be totally excluded from the ceremony. I therefore wonder why the Committee has included that in its recommendations. It was certainly not apparent from any evidence given to it. None of us should forget that the horse designed by a committee ended up a camel.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, here is one camel who is not going to take the hump. It has been a good humoured debate and a very serious one. Divisions have occurred because there are those who feel that after 350 years there is no need to change the ceremony of initiation to this much respected, much valued and much treasured second Chamber.
Many of us are members of clubs, institutions and associations. I cannot believe that they have not taken part at least in looking at ways in which the process of initiation can be changed or improved. That is what we are doing now. When the noble Lord, Lord Richard, the Leader of the House, said last year that he felt it was time to look at our procedures, the noble Lord, Lord Denham, was quite right in that, out of respect to the Leader, the Motion was not interfered with. The committee was set up and comprised noble Lords from the various Benches and it was ensured that among its members there were those with long experience and those with less. I believe that it has done a very good job. It has certainly unearthed a lot of facts and background which I appreciate very much.
Like everyone in this House, I would not have missed the introduction ceremony for the world—as it was then. I valued it, as did my family and friends. However, that is not to say that I did not feel that, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, we need a procedure which is dignified but less eccentric.
We all know that the process by which this House was peopled heavily—in fact, peopled solely—with hereditary Peers is a medieval anachronism. It is less than 50 years since Harold Macmillan brought about a tremendous change in the composition of this House by recognising the need for life Peers. I sense that noble Lords opposite are uneasy about the speed or undue haste of any proposed changes.
I happened to go though my papers the other day and I came across a marvellous card, which is a facsimile of a poster. It shows the House of Lords, with its doors 418 being beaten down by a group of working men. It says, "Labour clears the way". It is a Labour Party poster of 1910, challenging the rejection by the House of Lords the year previously of Lloyd George's "People's Budget". After 90 years, we have not made much progress in terms of change. Indeed, there are noble Lords opposite—they are entitled to their view—who would not seek any change in the composition and powers of, or method of introduction to, your Lordships' House.
My predecessor as Labour Chief Whip was right. This change may not stand alone. It may or may not be part of a grand plan. However, we must consider exactly what we are being asked to do. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, summed it up very well. There are those who would proceed to do nothing until they have everything. We know that that is a ploy. It is a device that we have all used. If the first stage cannot proceed until the details of the second stage are known, once those second-stage details have been produced, the argument, "Is there any more?" is raised.
What did Labour's manifesto say? The noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, argued passionately that both Houses should be involved in change. Labour's manifesto said:A committee of both Houses will be appointed to undertake a wide-ranging review of possible further changes and then to bring forward proposals for reform. We have no plans to replace the monarchy".Those words are in our manifesto. It is all very well for noble Lords opposite to argue about this point, but they had 18 years in power, absolute power, to bring forward changes—any change—but they brought forward nothing. So, it is all very well to say to the Labour Government, these Benches and others that we are acting in haste, but experience tells us that if a government have a strong point of view, now is the time for them to act.
It has been argued that we have no right to make changes to what I have referred to as a medieval anachronism in terms of our composition. I believe that we are entitled to put that change not only before this House and the other place, but also before the people of this country. That is what we did on 1st May. If there is any value in the doctrine of the manifesto commitment, there it is. I believe that all noble Lords recognise that there are times for change and, as has been said, this is a modest change.
I was very impressed by the speech of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. Reference was made earlier to the emotion in his speech. That is absolutely right. There is no disagreement about that.
When answering a question about the relevance of Garter, my noble friend Lord Carter said:I think it is a part of the ceremony which I do not see any particular advantage in dropping. It provides the link with the creation of the title which we know we have to agree with Garter and so forth. He is colourful and it gives that sense of occasion. I would not see any particular reason, so long as Garter himself thought that it was the right thing to do, unless he had overwhelming objections, but I would have thought, as I have said, to retain the present ceremonial file with Garter, with Black Rod and the three peers, it does give it a sense of occasion".419 I hope that those Members of your Lordships' House who feel that too much is being attempted too quickly will remember 1621, that no substantial changes have been made since then in the method of introduction and that what has been proposed is modest. I support my noble friend Lord Carter in saying that the link between this House and the Crown is something that we should not abandon lightly. There is merit in that argument. The report merits the support of this House. I believe that there are times when change is right and I believe that the time for these changes is now.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he reply to a possible criticism of what he said with respect to just one word? He said that the party now in opposition enjoyed 18 years of "absolute" power. Is it not more correct that it had 18 years of "constitutional" power; otherwise does he think that his noble friends are now enjoying a power that is "absolute"?
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I hesitate to say that that is a play upon words. I am sure that the noble Earl understands what I meant by "absolute" power. The party opposite formed the government for 18 years, with big majorities that withered away at the end. Whether the right word is "absolute" or "constitutional", I do not know whether I am constitutionally absolute to comment.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Baroness Wilcox
My Lords, I am privileged to have been appointed a member of the Select Committee, under the masterly chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh,to consider alterations in the ceremony of Introduction, and to make representations".The House has already heard in detail from the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, about how we came to our recommendations. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, about how diverse our views were at the start and we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Denham, another member of the committee, about his serious reservations which he so effectively expressed from his great experience in this House.
I took my seat only one-and-a-half years ago, so the ceremony is still fresh in my mind. That wonderful day and ceremony brought me through those great doors, symbolically and literally, to a new life, to a new declared commitment to serve my Sovereign and my country under God. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, I believe that the great ceremonies of life allow and mark our passage. Human beings have always needed them and where they have been destroyed, they are quickly replaced by others.
Perhaps I might refer briefly to my very first ceremony, which sticks in my mind and has many significant points in common with the ceremony that I experienced in your Lordships' House. At the age of seven I became a Brownie. I stood by my toadstool, decked out in a splendid uniform, hands up in the special salute, making my Brownie promise, before Brown Owl, who was looming huge and important, with 420 my parents and family proudly standing by. Special ceremonies, moments marked and recorded mean a life for ever changed.
Members of the committee on which I was privileged to serve came together and shelved our differences to reach a set of proposals which I hope retain a dignity, tradition and sense of occasion that will achieve general support in the House—if your Lordships are minded to change the ceremony of introduction to this House. It is a serious decision in a self-governing House, which runs on traditions which seem to serve the purpose very well. We must be aware that altering one ceremony might mean that others must perforce alter as well. If it is hats off in this ceremony, where then the ceremony of Prorogation?
In the committee meetings we were reminded quite forcefully by our chairman, amply reinforced by Dr. Tudor, that it would be improper for us to discuss anything other than the introduction ceremony itself and certainly not its content. We accepted that ruling. Alas, the ground was already moving under our feet. The context was changing. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was telling the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury to remove Bishops from Parliament, seeking to diminish the episcopal presence in your Lordships' House and leading to what constitutional changes we know not. It causes me concern, but the changes before the House today, to which I am party, will be appropriate and relevant in the context of plans and proposals for Lords' reform by Her Majesty's Government as yet not revealed to your Lordships.
For today, if it be your Lordships' wish, the protection of the validity afforded by unbroken usage of over 300 years will be gone and this House will stand exposed. Sometimes to make changes in isolation is in my experience not efficient or effective. Having in my career run production units, changes to a flow system work only if everyone on the floor knows the plan and can see how their particular functions fit in. I encourage the Lord Privy Seal to urge Her Majesty's Government to share with this House as soon as possible their proposals for reform so that the House may the more enthusiastically, to quote his words,look at itself and modify its activities",confident in the knowledge that those changes will stand the test of time as well as those that they are to replace.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, I shall certainly support the amendment to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, but my support would have been even greater had his amendment ended after the word "introduction" so that he opposed change altogether. With the greatest respect to my noble friend Lord Marsh and the Select Committee, who had a very difficult job to do, I do not agree with their recommendations. I share all of the reservations referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Denham, and other noble Lords who support the status quo. I cannot see that anything is to be gained by the proposed changes except a little more time for possibly nefarious government 421 business, of which there is always too much whatever government is in power. The other reasons for changing the ceremony appear to me at best invalid or at worst frivolous, as I said in the debate on 27th October last.
Of the submissions received by the Select Committee, 11 were in favour of change and 11 were against. When in a Division this House divides 50–50 on an amendment, that amendment is disagreed to. To the noble Duke the Duke of Norfolk I say that, while I am horrified that Garter should be excluded from any ceremony, I cannot accept his amendment because it supports the Motion of the Lord Privy Seal.
The present ceremony has been in use for nearly 400 years. It is colourful and unique, like so many other peculiarly British ceremonies which have made the life of this country so rich and varied. There is a great deal of history concealed in the detail of ceremonial. If one begins to look into the origins of ceremonies one discovers a good deal about history that may otherwise be forgotten. The paper on the introduction ceremony by Sir Anthony Wagner and Sir John Sainty is an example of this. Much fascinating history also lies behind the detail of the ceremony of the Opening of Parliament and most of the ceremonial of public life. The history of almost every town in this country is perpetuated in its street names, where they have not been changed by councillors bent on erasing the past in order to immortalise themselves and their friends.
I am very worried at the present Government's passion for what they call modernising Britain. I am afraid that it is the beginning of a process of erosion of things that are rather fragile and precious which, once lost, can never be regained. Since this particular change was mooted, I have read in the papers and heard that the Government would like to modernise or abolish the ceremony of the Opening of Parliament. Goodness knows what else will be for the bin, all in aid of some nasty concept of what their spin doctors call "Cool Britannia", which seems to me to be a sort of grey, dreary, colourless, soulless, utilitarian place where speed and efficiency are the only gods.
The country is not going to gain prestige in the world, in the business world or any other world by throwing out everything that makes us special. No doubt I shall be accused of being against modernisation, but I am against the wrong kind of modernization—modernisation for modernisation's sake. That is what I believe this to be. Let us concentrate on sensible modernization—modern communications systems, the health service, etc.—and leave our lovely colourful ceremonies alone. Most foreigners are deeply envious of them anyway.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ The Earl of Northesk
My Lords, I begin with a general point. I believe that the Burkean distinction between another place and this House—the difference between the fulfilment of the electorate's wants and its needs—is important. If only on that basis it is justifiable that this House should have a ceremony of introduction 422 that is quite distinct from another place. The committee's acknowledgment of this in paragraph 50 of the report is welcome.
I turn to the committee's specific recommendations. I am not wedded to the existing form of ceremony. I believe that it is very much to the credit and skill of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that the recommendations of the committee are on balance measured and sensible. That said, like other noble Lords, I have substantial reservations about the proposals for Garter. As to this matter, I cannot help but agree with my noble friend the Earl Marshal. We should be mindful of the contents of the memorandum by the Clerk to the Parliaments to the Procedure Committee which echoed a similar paper produced in 1964. I am a little surprised that so few noble Lords have picked up the point made in that memorandum that changes in the ceremony of introduction should have due regard to the needs of the Sovereign, the House and the new Peer. I believe that the role of Garter is a potent symbol of the constitutional position of the Sovereign in our proceedings. On that basis I find it extremely difficult to justify the abandonment of this essential constitutional link.
I should like to make a few personal observations. In evidence Garter commented:The Earl Marshal has told us that the three bows are to do with the Trinity. I think that is a nonsense, nobody knows".I do not dispute that. It may well be that the symbolism of the ceremony owes more to the somewhat romantic associations that we make with the occasion rather than any accurate interpretations of its original intent, but that should not blind us to the potency of the symbols at an individual level. A performance of, say, "Hamlet" will evoke in each and every one of us an entirely different, even contradictory, reaction or emotion. Every time I see the current ceremony my mind is drawn to a political "rule of three" and a constitutional trinity: the people, Parliament and the Sovereign. I find this extremely valuable in focusing my attention upon the duties that attend us, but this is very much a matter of individual interpretation, taste and preference.
Further, I have sympathy with those who find the ceremony awkward. Nor do I disagree with those who have described elements of it as being Gilbert and Sullivan in character. There is something faintly ridiculous about it. But it is a sad truth that occasionally we fall into the temptation of taking ourselves too seriously. Every now and then it pays to have small elements in our rituals that seek to remind us of the need for humility and to accept our fallibility, perhaps even to dent our egos a little. These represent a personal perspective, and on that basis I do not seek to stand in the way of the committee's recommendations, apart from the issue of Garter. Viewed in the round, they are on balance a sensible approach to the issue. But it is worth noting that in his original memorandum to the Procedure Committee the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal advanced:several good reasons why the introduction ceremony needs looking at".These included such matters as the ceremony being,out of tune with perceptions of how Parliament should operate at the end of the 20th century";423 its repetitive nature impacting upon the dignity of the occasion; the "unprecedented number of new Peers"; and the length of time it takes.
With the greatest of respect to the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal, I cannot help feeling that all these reasons owe as much if not more to the Government's proposals for reform of this House and constitutional change generally than they do to any overriding need to modify the ceremony. On balance, therefore, I find myself very much drawn to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree. It has about it the great virtues of pragmatism and common sense. It really does seem much more sensible that any new composition of this House should be the final arbiter—a la Welsh assembly or Scottish parliament—of how its procedures and business are conducted.
I feel slightly mischievous, so I shall conclude by failing to resist the temptation of citing a quotation—I concede that it is out of context—from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. Only recently, the noble Lord said:it would mean effectively abandoning a reputation built up over more than 300 years. It would mean an irrevocable break with the past. The risk that I see is that such a change would send the wrong signals".—[Official Report, 23/3/98; col. 965.]My Lords, there is some food for thought!
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Lord Berkeley
My Lords, I speak as a member of the Select Committee. I am one of 17 hereditary Peers who take the Labour Whip. Some people have said that we are an endangered species, but certainly not yet. I have never been through the ceremony, but I have watched it and therefore I can comment with a certain amount of objectivity.
First, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, for his excellent chairmanship of the committee. It contributed to our producing a unanimous report. I also pay tribute to the Clerk, Dr. Tudor.
I approached the task of the committee by judging the ceremony on how it is viewed from three separate perspectives: by the new Peer, by the House and by the public. It is an important ceremony to mark the appointment of a Peer to an important role in his life. The ceremony must have dignity and it must be purposeful, but it is sometimes alarming. As was said by my noble friend Lady Gould, the fear of tripping over one's robe when kneeling down or climbing up to the Barons' Benches does not make one feel comfortable. The ceremony must have dignity, and I believe that the robes bring a sense of ceremony, whereas the hats do not. However, it is a great occasion for the Peer, his family and friends.
Secondly, the House must have time to identify, recognise and welcome the new Peer. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich noted the difference between Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal in the matter of placing. Perhaps I might remind him that at paragraph 43 the committee recommends that the temporal Peer should come back into the Chamber with his supporters and take his place on the Benches where he intends to sit in the future. The only difference is that 424 he will not be wearing his robes. Therefore, there is a sense of placing after he has shaken the hand of the Lord Chancellor and taken off his robes outside.
The House is also concerned with the time factor. Last year I occasionally timed the ceremonies. On occasions, three introductions took 33 minutes, which is 11 minutes each. My noble friend the Chief Whip reckoned that each took nine minutes. However, half an hour is taken for three introductions. That may be all very well at half-past two in the afternoon, but by midnight, when half-an-hour has been added to the day, it is not much fun for noble Lords staying until then. This is a working House.
Thirdly, I turn to the public perception. The committee took evidence from Peter Riddell of The Times. I do not know whether colleagues believe that he represents the public—perhaps not—but he produced interesting evidence complimenting your Lordships' House on the quality of its debates. He expressed concern about the ceremony, stating:I felt we were in danger of getting into the territory of The Magic Flute and Masonic ritual with that".Other noble Lords mentioned Gilbert and Sullivan, of whom I am a great fan. It is important that occasionally we laugh at ourselves, as was said by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, but we should not retain elements which cause others to laugh at us. There is a great difference between the two.
I turn briefly to the role of Garter. His role in representing the Crown through the Earl Marshal is well known. He has an essential role in finding suitable titles for new Peers. However, I have heard a number of concerns from Members on all sides of the House about his role in providing the services of the College of Arms for the production of coats of arms. Occasionally I am subject to a sales pitch asking whether I would like a coat of arms. I say, "No thanks, I have several, or my ancestors have, and I am not really interested". I sought information on that from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. He wrote to me on 13th April stating:It is entirely for each individual Peer whether or not to seek a grant of Arms upon elevation to the Peerage or thereafter".It is good to see the three Kings of Arms in Black Rod's Box, but I note that they have divided up the territory as Clarenceux south of the River Trent, Norroy and Ulster north of the River Trent, Northern Ireland and Scotland Lord Lyon. Under exiting competition law, that might not be seen to be quite right. Perhaps I might quote from Schedule 4 to the Competition Bill. They have not been excluded from the Competition Bill under professional services. It lists patent agents and engineers. My noble friend Lord Howie often speaks of engineers being excluded. I suggest that it may be possible to obtain three quotes on a competitive basis. I have no strong feeling about whether Garter takes part in the ceremony, provided it can be fitted in with the new Line of Route. However, I hope that he can separate that duty from the commercial aspect of acquiring coats of arms. Several of our colleagues have expressed concern about feeling that they must spend several thousand pounds before they can enter your Lordships' House. That is a great shame.
425 It is easy to say about the ceremony, "Do nothing until the final role, responsibility and membership of this House are decided". But that could take several years. In the meantime, we have work to do at an ever-increasing rate. We have spent three hours debating this fascinating subject today and time is precious. The work of this House is well respected outside. Let us keep that respect and modernise sensibly to make it a ceremony not taken from "Iolanthe" but appropriate to the present day as seen by the new Member and his family, the House and the public. I strongly support both Motions standing in the name of the Lord Privy Seal.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lord Harding of Petherton
My Lords, I support the change in the ceremony of introduction recommended by the Select Committee and will vote accordingly. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that the changes are modest but necessary. I congratulate the Select Committee on suggesting a ceremony simpler than the present ceremony but which preserves the necessary dignity.
My noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree—and I count him as a real friend, I hope, and not just as a political one—is very persuasive, both publicly and privately. I talked to him at some length the day before yesterday about this subject and he almost changed my mind as to the force of his amendment. However, having reflected upon the matter, I have decided that I cannot agree with him.
I do not believe that a change to the composition of the House need necessarily be connected with the ceremony of introduction. Even if there were no question of a change to the composition of the House and it remained as it is at present, I should still be in favour of the proposals which the Select Committee recommended. I agree with those who have said that the present ceremony has grave drawbacks. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, expressed that aspect very well indeed.
Also, I cannot agree with the amendment in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. I should not have dared to disagree with him some years ago when I was a major serving with my regiment in Germany and he was my divisional commander. However, I recognise the arguments that he has propounded so well this afternoon. I hope that the office of Earl Marshal, which he holds with great distinction, will not be reformed. His family and that position are far older than the ceremony of introduction to your Lordships' House.
One point which I do not believe has been mentioned is what the media comment would be should this modest reform be thrown out. There might not be a big headline on the subject but the media would certainly portray this House as an historic relic of little value. That would be a great pity. In conclusion, I support the recommendations of the Select Committee.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Lord Marsh
My Lords, perhaps I might say what an incredible pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, 426 Lord Harding. I thought that his comments were to the point, highly intelligent and extremely welcome. They were a great morale booster and certainly at the end of this debate perhaps he might care to pass by the Bishops' Bar, where I shall be found, because one should keep one's promises.
The noble Lord, Lord Denham, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and other noble Lords raised the issue as to whether the committee report was a sighting shot for other reforms to come. If I had at any point thought that that were the case, I would have resigned from the committee. On the other hand, it did not cross my mind because, while I obviously treasure this report, it has not been a childhood ambition realised. I have had to discipline myself not to become passionately interested in the origins of medieval ceremonies. However, we probably exaggerate the report's influence and importance if we believe that the Government—with a majority in excess of 200, with four years to run and with the ability to guillotine Bills in the House of Commons—are dependent on it to push through their proposals; and, so that there should be no misunderstanding, proposals with which I profoundly disagree. But that is not the issue facing us in this debate.
Perhaps I might say a few words about Garter, who is a very distinguished and able occupant of his office. The recommendation which we should have outlined more carefully—and it is my fault—was no reflection on him at all. It is a question of logistics. Garter's job in the ceremony is, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, said, an infinitesimal part of his normal work and duties. Once that moment in the placing ceremony has gone, he actually has no role in the ensuing ceremony. He is not garbed in his working clothes in a way which makes him unnoticeable. It is simply that we did not believe that that fitted in with the ceremony, because the situation is that at one point Garter and Black Rod have to change ends. That is untidy and not particularly dignified. Moreover, it must be borne in mind that Black Rod is also an officer representing the Order of the Garter.
As regards the whole issue of Garter, I have now been a Member of the Privy Council for in excess of 30 years. I hope that I am fairly sensitive to the matters which would cause embarrassment arising from this House. I have no idea whatever—and for obvious reasons it would be impertinent of me to ask—of the advice which Her Majesty's advisers gave her. But it is a matter of public record, since it is listed in the evidence, that I had conversations with both her Private Secretary and with the Lord Chamberlain and they were aware of the recommendations. I do not know what views they formed on any of those matters. I simply state that as a fact.
The matter of Garter is not a major issue, any more than the recommendations as a whole are a major issue. Just as we believe that the recommendations make the ceremony tidier and more attractive to more people, in Garter's case it is simply a question of whether it fits in aesthetically with the changes. That is a matter for your Lordships to determine. It involves some quick footwork, but I am sure that they are perfectly capable of adapting to that if that is your Lordships' wish. That is not a matter for me.
427 At our first meeting I raised two issues with my colleagues. First, I made the mistake of asking them to do a quick Second Reading description of where they stood. I was horrified by the result. Literally, we ranged from Roundheads to Cavaliers on a rather bad day after a few drinks. Nobody came to fisticuffs in the course of the meetings but that was simply because the table was between us.
However, initially the matter was raised as to whether the time taken by the ceremony should be any part of our considerations. We had a brief discussion and agreed immediately that it was irrelevant to the issue. Saving two minutes, three minutes or four minutes is not a serious issue when dealing with such a ceremony. At no time was the ceremony timed by the committee, nor did we discuss that. Therefore, I put that out of the way.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and other noble Lords asked whether we had any right to consider the question of whether the proposed changes and reforms of this House should be taken into account. It was in fact the second issue which we discussed. We concluded that it should not be taken into account, not just because of the terms of reference but because re-organisation is a feature of modern life in every aspect. The last time I took part in serious discussion about the removal of hereditary Peers was just over 30 years ago when it was part of the Labour Party's manifesto at that time and it was prepared to put it through. If every time there was a proposed re-organisation you ceased to look forward, the Ministry of Defence, the National Health Service, local government and much of British industry would come to a total standstill. Therefore, we reached the conclusion that that was not relevant to our discussions. But I shall return later to the broader point.
There was then the question of whether any member of the committee believed that the ceremony should be abolished. Since a wider discussion revealed that there was also a strongly held view that it should not be touched at all, we decided that the sensible thing was to move on to our first witness. All the views which have been put forward in this House were expressed by members of the committee, and I say this seriously and literally. The only differences is that tonight we may not get a unanimous outcome.
At this stage I should like to pay tribute to the members of the committee. I repeat that the views on this subject—and it is difficult for people outside to understand this—are held very strongly by the people who hold them. They were argued passionately in committee, to a point at which it became increasingly clear that its seven members, representative of the three political parties, the Cross Benches and, for the first time I believe, the Welsh Nationalists with a different hat on, ranged in their views on this subject from one extreme to the other. But if they, representative of your Lordships' House, were to announce after two months of consideration that they could not reach agreement on whether the hat doffing ceremony should remain, that really would not enhance our reputation. I start from the proposition that it will not enhance the reputation of this House either, and I shall come on to that in a moment.
428 That is particularly true in the light of the overwhelming desire for change demonstrated by the evidence. That is the big difference with the past. On past occasions, in 1970, 1971, 1974 and before that 1964, when this matter was discussed, it was never allowed to get to this point. But now the proverbial cat is out of the bag. The evidence is published showing what people think of the ceremony in this House and, indeed, outside it. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, in evidence—and this is on the record—said:First of all about the wearing of hats and the doffing of hats. It seems to me that there is no reference to this before the 19th Century, there is no written reference. I have tried to read as much as I can about it. It does seem, therefore, perhaps to be a relatively modern introduction. I would doubt very much whether the custom of doffing the hat, whether it is a bicorn or a mortar board, with a very elaborate sweep and bow has always happened. I would guess it is a more modern custom and it seems rather to have derived from school productions of Shakespeare rather than an ancient thing. I rather wonder about the necessity perhaps. I cannot really see any justification for it".The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, has always had very trenchant views of this subject and has more knowledge of ceremonial in this country than any other person. He said:The present system is as old as 1621. To my mind it is totally out of date and wants cutting like hell. If I might now, having given those preliminary remarks, go on to what you have said here. 'Do you think any change to the present ceremony of introduction for temporal Peers is desirable?'. Yes, most certainly, I have never seen a greater waste of time going on in your Lordships' House than that ceremony of introduction".That is the Earl Marshal of England.
Mr. Peter Riddell, Parliamentary Correspondent of The Times, said:When a very old friend was introduced, I felt that the placing and the hat-wearing were faintly ridiculous in the context. They did not have any relationship at all to what the people would do otherwise, whilst the reading of the Letters Patent and the Writ were fine. That was, I thought, rather elegant, the historical, traditional aspect of it, but I remember discussing with the Peer concerned about the sponsors wearing a hat and that the particular sponsor concerned did not wear a hat, so you can perhaps work out which of your colleagues that was. That did appear to the people concerned a slight embarrassment as to whether they would get that bit right but it is not like, say, the State Opening or something like that. It is just something which is faintly embarrassing for those concerned which there is not in other parts of the ceremony, so yes, it did change my perception and I thought that there is a danger of that part of your Lordships' work being part of the heritage industry rather than perhaps what it should be".These are people's comments which are now on the public record. These are not wild rabble-rousing revolutionaries—well, not most of them, with the possible exception of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, a distinguished former Speaker said this when one more question was put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Denham:You would not think it was the end of the world if this Committee, I do not say it will, were to decide that there should be no change in the ceremony?".He replied:I would deeply regret it".
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would just mention what the noble Lord, 429 Lord Weatherill, said about keeping every bit of ceremonial there was in the House of Commons but being prepared to waive all our ceremonial here.
§ Lord Marsh
My Lords, I shall not go into the detail of who and where, but some of the evidence we took, which happens when you have an unscripted exchange of views and they are taken down verbatim, did not follow, as they say, seriatim in the logic of the argument. But I have to say that if anyone wishes to criticise and make fun of this House, these will be the references they choose, not the others.
A very short letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, stated:I think we should definitely cut out the doffing of the hats three times on cue from Garter. It wastes time and is too Gilbert and Sullivan".The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, stated:If one starts from the premise that the latter (even if for only one introduction) is unduly prolonged and, to be honest, faintly ridiculous, one must surely also conclude that the former is unduly brisk and informal".Similar sentiments were expressed on each of the earlier occasions, but there is one fundamental difference—and now I come to the amendment. On each of the other occasions it was not allowed to get onto the record. I was told it was out of courtesy to the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I am bound to say that I have known him a long time and it never occurred to me to do anything that I did not want to do out of courtesy to him, particularly on this occasion—one would be taken apart very quickly. But there was a debate in this House. There were 16 speakers. The matter was then brought back to this House, and it was announced that the usual channels, those strange creatures who lurk in the dark, had unanimously agreed to recommend a Select Committee; and your Lordships agreed with that. Your Lordships then decided to choose the people to sit on the Select Committee. The Select Committee then met.
I made a quick calculation. It spent something in excess of 400 man-hours interviewing 34 witnesses, with a not inexpensive and highly able Clerk to assist us, plus a team of verbatim recorders of the entire process. We then sat down and produced the report. Nobody came up to me and said, "Marsh, one chap to another, you're wasting your time". We were allowed to go through the whole of that. Now it is said that suddenly the Labour Party is contemplating changing the status of this House. But that was known from the very beginning. Of course it was known.
It would have been sensible to have intervened. Noble Lords who felt that way could have stopped the proceedings at any point along the line, but they did not. As they did not, either they are irresponsible in coming up with this now or, alternatively, this is just part of a Westminster jolly jape in some cases. If that is the case, I find it deeply offensive. None of us was looking for a job that involved this sort of activity.
If we decide in a Division in these circumstances, with this sort of evidence on the record, "On second thoughts we, the Second Chamber of the British 430 Parliament, cannot make up our minds on a simple series of small propositions", I believe that we shall make this House a matter of fun and absurdity. This House is worth a great deal more than that. I beg noble Lords to think this through carefully before they vote.
§ Lord Weatherill
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he, in the interests of accuracy, invite his noble friend Lord Denham to re-read my evidence to the committee? I believe that he slightly misinterpreted what I said.
§ Lord Marsh
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. However, in his own interests, I beg the noble Lord not to get involved in arguments with members of this committee on the subject.
§ 6.20 p.m.
My Lords, it was predictable that a subject as fundamentally important as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, made this subject out to be should attract such a very remarkable number of your Lordships to attend, late on a Thursday afternoon, before a Bank Holiday weekend. I am sure that more minor matters—like, for example, the future of European monetary union—would, quite rightly, not attract the attention of noble Lords in quite the same way.
However, the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, addressed your Lordships with—dare I say it?—even more than his customary passion. If I may say so, there is nothing like a young political hack watching an old political expert teach us all a thing or two about the art of leading a House of Parliament down the path that he would like it to go. In view of the more passionate final remarks with which he favoured your Lordships during the course of his peroration, I shall simply say to the noble Lord that it is open to both Houses of Parliament—and noble Lords who have more experience of the other place than I have will tell me if I am wrong, as I was only there for two Parliaments—to consider the reports of Select Committees and to decide whether or not they agree with them. No one is suggesting that parliamentary government is in any way an efficient or particularly economical process. All we know is that we would prefer to be governed by parliamentary government than any other; and we are prepared to put up with a certain amount of wasted time and money, even as regards the ablest people, so that the proper procedures of parliamentary government can be followed.
I have the greatest sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, with whom I find myself substantially in agreement more often than perhaps a former Member of a Labour Cabinet would like. However, I hope that he, in turn, will agree with me that, despite the time and energy spent by very able people like him, the members of his committee and indeed the Clerk who so ably supported the labours of that committee, it is so often their lot to find that their labours may have been wasted. That is the price we pay for parliamentary government. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I would suggest to him that that is something we would do well 431 to remember, seduced though we may have been—and I believe we all were—by the passion with which he put his final arguments. I give way to the noble Lord.
§ Lord Marsh
I am grateful to the noble Viscount. The point I was making is that, of course, this House has the right to do whatever it will—and, indeed, will do whatever it wishes—with a report of a Select Committee. I was simply suggesting that on at least four previous occasions this Chamber decided to stop the process because it had made up its mind in advance, before it went through this particular process. My concern is not about the amount of time involved as regards members of the committee, but the use which will be made of the report by people who are not at all friendly to this House.
My Lords, with the permission of the House, I shall deal with the matter of ridicule in a moment. I agree with the noble Lord. However, although I do not want to prolong this personal exchange more than is absolutely necessary, it is equally possible to argue that it is only with the benefit of the evidence that has been set before us with such clarity by the noble Lord and his committee that we are able to take a balanced view. Of course, that balanced view must be influenced by the committee's conclusions. But, with the greatest respect and gratitude to members of the committee for all their work and the expense that they have incurred for the taxpayer, it is open to the rest of the House respectfully to disagree.
As I shall make clear fairly shortly, I do not wholly disagree with what the committee has said. Therefore, if noble Lords feel that my opening remarks suggest that conclusion, I have perhaps misled them. However, with the permission of the House, I should like to deal later with that aspect. Like the noble Lord the Leader of the House I am hugely grateful to the committee and to the noble Lord. Lord Marsh. I found reading the evidence as set out in the publication not only instructive but also, in many cases, extraordinarily diverting, especially as regards the evidence of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. If I may, I shall turn to the somewhat regrettable tendencies of the House of Howard a little later in my remarks.
I believe that I should also point out that, during the course of my remarks, I shall be speaking purely for myself. We on this side of the House feel that this is a matter for the House as a whole, as I believe the noble Lord the Leader of the House made entirely clear. Indeed, I associate myself with the remarks that he made and with the correction that he put in a little later in the debate. Of course, we are not whipped either to appear or to vote in a certain way, as I believe was made clear by the remarks of my noble friend Lord Harding. In fact, even if we had whipped him, I am sure that my noble friend would have voted the same way as he always does; namely, in the way that he believes. As with so 432 many of the people sitting behind me, it is not always easy: we can get them to turn up, but we cannot always make them vote the way that we want them to—
Well, noble Lords may be amused by that, but I shall merely refer them to the number of times Members on our side of the House supported Labour amendments during the last Parliament. Therefore, let us not quibble about such matters.
In view of the signs of approval for what I have just said on the face of the noble Lord the Leader of the House, I assume that the supporters of the Government have been treated in exactly the same way in the matter of whipping and that not only has there been no assumption that they have to appear, but also they will not be induced to vote in the way that the Government would like.
I shall not attempt to repeat, because it would be more than usually tedious, all the arguments that have been put forward. However, I am extraordinarily glad, like the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal that the committee recognised the importance of ceremony. The right reverend Prelate, quite rightly as a Churchman, gave us to understand, far better than I could, not only by what he said but by the extraordinarily considered nature of his remarks, the importance of ceremony in all affairs, notably Church affairs. I should like to associate myself with what he said. It does, indeed, emphasise the dignity of an institution. I have noticed that revolutionary regimes have always recognised that their initial reaction, which is to abolish ceremonial, leaves a void in the daily life of the institutions which have replaced the ones that they have thrown out.
I well remember reading with some amusement about what the French revolutionaries put in the stead of the ancien régime in the 1790s; indeed, they introduced all sorts of ill-considered ceremonials, which were eventually laughed out of court. So new ceremonials are at least as open to charges of absurdity as old ones. Funnily enough, my memory of the other great revolutionary regime of relatively modern times—the Soviet regime—is that those involved were rather better at it, especially the military ceremonial. Perhaps that reflected above all the extraordinary sacrifice that the Soviets suffered as a result of what I believe they came to call "the great patriotic war". That is perhaps why the ceremonial that those of us who have been to Moscow and elsewhere witnessed in front of Lenin's Tomb and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has become something of a serious ceremony.
For all those reasons—however revolutionary the regime the Government may introduce—I am delighted that we are not thinking of abolishing ceremonial altogether. Noble Lords have rightly said that to have a dignified ceremonial is not only important for the dignity of this House, but that the families of new Peers also find it an important occasion. It has also been said that hereditary Peers do not enjoy that ceremony. It has been suggested—although perhaps not quite in these terms—that the reason the hereditary Peers do not have 433 that ceremony is that they have known each other since childhood, and no doubt the playing fields of Eton and the bar at White's is enough for them! There is at least some reason for any changed ceremony to take into account the position of hereditary Peers if they are to enjoy for much longer the privilege of being Members of this House. I shall return to that point in a moment.
I believe that the main burden of those who have supported the recommendations of this report is one which we ought to take extraordinarily seriously; namely, that the present ceremonial of introduction is no longer dignified but absurd. I set aside any unworthy thought about the ability of any supporter or member of a government to judge such matters when one considers the bouncy castle they have erected in Horse Guards Parade! One wonders whether such people have a sufficiently established record of judgment in matters of dignity for us to take such judgment seriously. However, that is an unworthy thought which I set aside as soon as it occurs to me.
However, I believe it is perfectly clear that many noble Lords feel that there is something Gilbertian and faintly ridiculous—I use the expression used on a previous occasion by the noble Lord the Leader of the House—about the ceremony of introduction, perhaps particularly as regards the doffing of hats. However, I believe it is also clear that a large number of noble Lords do not take the same view. Just because someone takes one view and not another, it is curiously totalitarian to assume that the view one takes is necessarily the one that everyone else should be morally obliged to take. That is my main difficulty with the report. This House is equally divided on whether it accepts or rejects the report. We do not have a House which is unanimous in its view about the dignity of our introduction ceremony.
I said that I would discuss my personal views. Speaking for myself, I am about to say something which will confirm what a Member of your Lordships' House once said to me. In view of the content of his remarks it is important that I should not mention his name. He said to me, "I am very sorry to see Cranborne that you are exhibiting some of the regrettable radical tendencies of your family". He said that in a slightly different context from that of our debate this evening.
I have considerable sympathy with the idea that we could with advantage change the ceremony of introduction and that we should allow it to evolve. The, I suspect, determined chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, has produced the extraordinarily skilful compromise that we have before us this evening that is about as close to being accepted in this House as anything one could possibly suggest. I have some difficulty with only one part of it, which—I am sorry to say—happens to be the same difficulty as was so ably expressed by my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. I believe he used the phrase, "cut it off". I do not know why he used that phrase. In our private conversations he spends most of his time accusing me of being the descendant of a family which cut off the heads of some of his ancestors. I can only assume that this has entered his soul so deeply that that phrase rises to the surface of 434 his discourse at every possible opportunity, particularly when I have anything to do with the subject in question. In spite of that rather regrettable historic sortie into the not always harmonious relations between the families of Cecil and Howard, I am delighted to say that in this instance at least I firmly agree with my noble friend.
§ The Duke of Norfolk
My Lords, I say only that when I go to Tower Hill I shudder at what the Cecils have done to us.
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend speaks for his family and not for the nation! Were this House to remain unreformed, I would feel much happier about supporting the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. However, as many of your Lordships have already observed, I note that the Government lose no opportunity to advise us not only that they intend to change the composition of this House at some time in the future but also that they intend to introduce a Bill in the very next Session of Parliament; in other words, this autumn. It is not a case of introducing it at some stage down the road in the indefinite future, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, suggested.
My Lords, I was happy to hear from the noble Lord the Leader of the House that an options paper on possible reforms of your Lordships' House may be forthcoming. If the noble Lord is kind enough to allow this House an opportunity to discuss its future before the end of the summer Recess, perhaps there will be an options paper which could act as a text for our debates. I hope that the noble Lord will refer to that matter when he replies to the debate.
I an conscious that I have spoken for far longer than I should have done. I apologise to the House for that. However, whatever one may think about the present ceremony, I cannot help but consider that despite its absurdities it substantially reflects the ethos of the present composition of the House. That was evident from the speech of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. Therefore it seems to me natural that a reformed Chamber would want to examine the ceremonial of this House to enable it to reflect the new governing ethos, whatever that may turn out to be. However, the Government do not appear to be entirely clear how they wish this House to be reformed. That has been revealed in a number of the speeches this evening. I hope that the Government will respond to that point. Bearing in mind the apparent imminence of reform, it is a little odd that the Government seem so keen to change these matters. That seems to be a case of putting the cart before the horse. If the House is radically reformed, its Members will no doubt want to dispense with most of the paraphernalia of the hereditary peerage—for example, the robes and other such matters. I understand that it is highly unlikely that I shall be a Member of a reformed House. However, from the outside I would 435 cheer any reform which got rid of such paraphernalia because the reformed House will not reflect the hereditary Chamber that governs our ethos at the moment.
If we impose changes now, we do so in the knowledge that a reformed House will have to return to the matter. If we impose changes now, we shall also leave the House as at present composed as divided on this matter as it was before we accepted the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, however extravagantly we may have been in favour of them or against them. It therefore seems to me perfectly clear that the sensible thing to do is to follow the advice of my noble friend Lord Dean. Let us wait for a reformed Chamber to reform its own ceremonies. If, by some extraordinary miracle, the House were not to be reformed—and that is not necessarily a course that I advocate—then certainly I should take a different view from the one that I have ventured to take in this debate.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I listened with great attention to the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. There is sometimes a predictability about the noble Viscount. I do not understand, although I have tried, why it is that the hereditary peerage in this House is so obsessed with preserving the minutiae of a ceremony in which they do not take part. If they were abolished, those Peers remaining in this House would be the only people who were concerned with it.
My Lords, I apologise. Your Lordships have heard far too much of me this evening. However, I must point out to the noble Lord that the only reason we do not take part in the ceremony is that not many people seem to be creating hereditary Peers any more.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, with great respect to the noble Viscount, the only reason we are considering this proposal is that during the past 50 years life peerages have been created. Of course the country and this House could live with this somewhat arcane ceremony for 300 years—it was rarely used. Looking at the list of hereditary Peers on the Benches opposite, those peerages were created once. In the past 50 years, how many life peerages have been created? Without looking up the figures, I venture to suggest that there have been more life peerages created in the past 50 years than there were hereditary peerages created in the previous 300 years. Of course the ceremony was appropriate. People did not use it; people did not have to go through it. I say again: why 436 the hereditary Peers who do not go through the ceremony are so fascinated with the minutiae of a ceremony which, after dissolution—after reform—
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, might I ask the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal to do hereditary Peers the courtesy of not assuming that we intend to vote as a block against his Motion.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, that is a very fair comment and one that I am delighted to receive. However, I return to my point that many of the speeches today, and much of the argumentation from the other side, is based on what the Leader of the Opposition was reduced to describing as the "ethos" of the present composition of the House. According to him, that ethos demands that new life Peers have to go through a ceremony which involves putting on a bicorn hat, sitting on the Back-Bench, taking the hat off and waving it at the Lord Chancellor three times. If that is the ethos of the present composition of the House, then it only underlines my determination to change that composition.
I wish to make two or three other points. We have had a fascinating debate, though rather a disappointing one. The noble Lord, Lord Dean, said that I did not listen to anyone on this issue. A full debate was held on the matter. It went to the Procedure Committee. It came back from the Procedure Committee to this House. This House decided that the way to deal with the issue was to set up a Select Committee. A Select Committee was set up. It deliberated. It took evidence. It reported. It certainly did not have anything to do with me. I did not give evidence to the committee. I did not try to influence it in any shape or form. The report has come back to this House to be debated. For it to be suggested in those circumstances that I have somehow behaved in a totalitarian or undemocratic way is, frankly, beyond me.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, in a fascinating speech, likened the ceremony of introduction in this House to the ceremony in which she took part when she was seven when she was introduced into the Brownies and went round the bonfire. That is her comparison, not necessarily mine. I am bound to say that the thought occurred to me: did she have to bow three times to Akela as she went round?
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I apologise. I am always prepared to take a factual correction.
The other point that occurs to me is this. If the noble Baroness had had to bow three times to Brown Owl, does she really think that the ceremony would have been less moving and less significant to her had she not had to bow three times? Really! What are we suggesting?
§ Baroness Wilcox
My Lords, the noble Lord gives me the occasion to be able to stand up and again declare 437 how delighted I was to take part in the ceremony of becoming a Brownie. My point was that the ceremony has stayed with me all this time. It was an inclusive ceremony. The fact that I am able to remember it as well as I do means that it is an important ceremony.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, of course it is an important ceremony. I am not decrying it. I should not dream of taking away the rights, or indeed the duty, of Brownies to be presented to Brown Owl at a suitable bonfire. I am in favour of bonfires, Brownies and Brown Owls. All I am pointing out is that it was the ceremony that was important, not the minutiae of the ceremony. Provided that a ceremony is maintained in this House for the introduction of life Peers which is dignified, is sufficiently important for the person being introduced and his or her family and friends, which means something, and during which the House sees the new Peer—that is absolutely right. That is what we are trying to achieve. In my respectful submission that is precisely what the Select Committee has sought to achieve.
I am bound to say that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, gave us a sermon on the virtues of inertia. Its message was: do not change unless you can prove that you have to change. I think that is a fair description. With respect, that is a recipe for total inaction: the necessity has to be proved and the matter still has to be considered. It takes away your Lordships' right of initiative. It seems to me, looking at this ceremony sensibly, that things ought to be done to it to bring it more up-to-date.
The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, talked about the effect that it could have outside this House if we do not do something about the ceremony. I am bound to say, not as a party politician but as Leader of the House, that your Lordships will look slightly foolish if the House of Lords is seen tonight to reject a basic proposition that during the introduction of a Peer the doffing of hats should be abolished. That is what this debate is supposed to be about. It is not about the Labour Party's proposals to reform the House of Lords. It is not about any great constitutional argument. It is very simply about whether or not the ceremony of introduction should be reformed.
Perhaps I may say a word about the amendment of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. I have heard strong speeches today in defence of Garter King's role. I emphasise again that the noble Duke's amendment is a matter for the House. In that connection, I reassure the noble Viscount that there is of course a free vote on this side of the House. This is an issue for the House, not a party-political matter. But I wonder whether the House might feel able to decide the matter of Garter King's role by collecting the voices. If the House felt that it could decide the matter in that way, I personally should not shout, "Not-Content", when the Question is put on the noble Duke's amendment.
Finally, I say only this. This seems to be a modest, sensible proposal for producing a more up-to-date ceremony than the one that we have. The House would be extraordinarily foolish if it were to reject this Motion. I commend the proposal to the House.
On Question, Motion agreed to.