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The Lord Privy Seal: My Lords, three Peers and a bishop.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am grateful to the Lord Privy Seal for correcting me; three Peers and a bishop. I thought a bishop was also a Peer but I may be wrong about that. In view of the queue that has built up, thanks to the extraordinarily unusual circumstances now obtaining in your Lordships' House--there are an unusual number of new creations awaiting introduction--that practice is clearly justified. However, I hope that when we return to what will perhaps be more normal conditions we shall be able to return to our previous practice. I understand that that is the Lord

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Privy Seal's intention, and I welcome it. Equally, I hope that the House will reject the idea of a production line Friday. That would be a way of cheapening the ceremony as far as concerns the introduced Peer and, I suspect also, cheapening the dignity of your Lordships' House.

With the greatest respect to the Lord Privy Seal, I do not altogether believe that the very large number of Peers now being introduced has a great deal to do with the shortage of Labour Peers. Perhaps we are conflating two arguments. I hope the Lord Privy Seal remembers that I was one of those who greatly sympathised with his dilemma and indeed admired the extraordinary work rate and effectiveness of the Labour Peers in Opposition. He also knows that I strongly felt that he always had a powerful case for increasing the number of Peers at his back, perhaps at the expense of the number of Tory Peers that were introduced. The Lord Privy Seal will remember conversations that he and I had in private on that subject. I hope he will forgive me for referring to it but I am stung into doing so by his remarks earlier this afternoon.

I have given, perhaps rather elliptically, some of my personal views on this subject, but this afternoon's debate is, above all, an opportunity for your Lordships to express your opinions. It would be wise for both Front Benches to listen to what your Lordships have to say, to see whether clear themes emerge from the debate, to refer the matter to a body which might be set up with the agreement of the usual channels and then for the matter to be brought in the form of a Motion to your Lordships' House so that your Lordships can agree or disagree with what the usual channels recommend. In that context, I greatly look forward to hearing what is said in your Lordships' House this afternoon. Certainly, from the list of speakers, it will be an interesting and informative debate.

3.53 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Motion seeks to permit further discussion of the matter. It seems to me that the only reason for rejecting the Motion would be if there were nothing to discuss and no change was in contemplation. But even if the ceremony had been unchanging over the centuries, it could change now, coming up to a new century. However, according to the paper which the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, was so good as to draw to your Lordships' attention in the Procedure Committee and which I found so interesting, the ceremony has changed. The Leader of the House mentioned changes that have occurred. I could not help noticing that there was a custom, no longer applied, of paying a fee to Garter on one's way in.

I read in that paper, too, that a number of peerages have been created where no ceremony was involved. In other words, the ceremony has evolved and could, in my view, evolve further. I was struck as well--I say this perhaps against myself--in noting from the paper that there was a time when a Barony--a mere Barony--was not regarded as an honour, not being of such high status as other forms of peerage.

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In the late years of this century there has been a change in how the peerage is regarded. Increasingly, it is coming to be regarded as a job; it is a task of work; a job to be done. I regard myself as very honoured in being in your Lordships' House but particularly honoured in being trusted with what I regard as a most important job of work. I accept that we women are, of course, something of a modern innovation, so perhaps my words are themselves untraditional. I admit that I did not have any words of criticism for the ceremony when I was introduced six years ago. I was too baffled to move on to any criticism. I am glad to note now, having taken part in ceremonies of introduction in support of colleagues, that there is rather more explanation as to what is happening during the ceremony. That is an entirely good thing.

The Leader of the House referred to the danger of public disdain for our procedures. That is what is mostly in my mind. Like the two noble Lords who have spoken, I believe that it is essential to preserve our dignity in whatever form of ceremony of introduction we end up with. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said that the ceremony had been referred to as Gilbertian. The comment that that is no one's fault but Gilbert's has an impeccable logic to it. Nevertheless, it is something we should have in our minds. We should seek to maintain dignity, or perhaps achieve a little more dignity than we are achieving at present and achieve an appropriate character for introductions to a part of the legislature in a modern legislative body.

Like the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, I believe that it is to some extent repetition that is in danger of undermining those two attributes. Like him, I agree that a production line Friday would be a bad idea. Inevitably, those are personal views. What mattered to me was coming in and taking the oath. The Letters Patent and the Writ were a necessary basis for that. Assuming that the robes are a mark of status, which is how they are regarded in the House and by those who look at us from outside--not that they are to indicate equality, as is the case with robing in other walks of life--I have to say that I rather dislike them. To those noble Lords who comment on doffing hats, I would say that it is far harder to keep a hat on one's head when bowing low, as we women Peers have to do, than it is to take it off.

However, those points are trivialities. What is most important is that there is a job to be done and, as has been observed, a Writ of Summons to be answered. The point made by the Leader of the House about delay in introducing those who have been appointed to take part in your Lordships' proceedings is a most important one. In a modern democracy, seeking to retain the best and improving the rest of the ceremonial is most important. I believe that the ceremony is at least worth full debate. There will be many different views as to possible changes. But, as I say, the only basis for refusing to agree to the Motion is if there is no argument at all for some change.

My views may be at one end of the spectrum. I have perhaps expressed them deliberately in a rather extreme fashion. However, there is a whole spectrum of views which deserves thorough discussion. I would urge your Lordships to support the Motion.

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3.59 p.m.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, in view of the number of your Lordships who wish to participate in this debate, I shall be very brief. I am relieved to hear that the Lord Privy Seal is not suggesting that Her Majesty should be asked to place her prerogative and interest at the disposal of this House for the abolition of the ceremony of introduction. It is, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, a very great honour to be a Member of your Lordships' House and to be introduced for the first time.

I agree with what he said about the importance of ceremonies. I can think of three ceremonies in my life which made a deep impression on me. The first was in 1946 when two of our soldiers who had defected to the enemy came back to join the regiment, claiming that they had been fighting behind the lines for us. They were drummed out of the regiment. It was a very moving ceremony and it made a great mark on everyone who witnessed it. The second was when I was brought to the other place as the Speaker Elect, Mr. Weatherill, and went away as Mr. Speaker. Within a year they had forgotten my name completely. Mr. Ian Mikardo once introduced me to his constituents as Sir Jasper More. The third occasion was on 15th July 1995 when I was introduced into your Lordships' House.

I cannot speak for the Cross Benchers and neither would I presume to do so. Nevertheless, when we heard just before the Summer Recess that this matter was likely to come before your Lordships' House, we did have a discussion about it at our Thursday meeting. That was before I had read a most interesting paper on the origins of the introduction of Peers by Sir Anthony Wagner and Mr. J.C. Sainty, who later became the Clerk of the Parliaments. I know that the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, will be drawing attention to that and I shall not trespass on it this afternoon.

I believe that there is perhaps a good case for leaving well alone, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has already said, because of the 50 new Peers who have recently, or who are about to join us. They will not be affected by the changes. Since the Lord Privy Seal has said that he is thinking of a "dribble" of new Peers into your Lordships' House rather than a flood, I believe that the matter could well be left until we come to the major matter--

Lord Richard: My Lords, I put it more elegantly than a "dribble". I said a "trickle".

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, it is much the same thing so let us call it a trickle then. I should have thought that the matter could have been left to when we come to discuss the major changes which, I understand, we are likely to have before us in the days to come.

If there is a case for speeding up the introduction, perhaps I may make three very modest suggestions. The first is that the Letters Patent and the Writ should be combined in order to save a small amount of time. Unlike the Lord Privy Seal, I am in favour of the ceremony of placing. That should be done from these Benches--actually from this Bench--rather than from

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the usual third Bench, because, as I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, if one is on the Conservative Benches one has to crick one's neck to recognise them anyway. From this Bench it would be a simple matter. I am in favour of keeping the ceremony of doffing hats, but once rather than three times. On my estimate that would save about five minutes of the ceremony.

I would also be in favour of continuing the 2.15 p.m. start. As the noble Viscount Lord Cranborne has said, that would encourage fuller attendance in the Chamber. As I have said, the ceremony of introduction is a very significant one for Peers of first creation and for their families as well.

I end on a purely personal note. Your Lordships may not be aware that my Peerage is somewhat different from others, in that it arises from a Motion on the Order Paper of the House of Commons. All Motions there are debatable and this Motion was certainly debated because there are very few occasions where Members of the other place can debate the finances of the Royal Family. I have a dozen charming letters saying in effect, "No hard feelings, mate. We've got to seize our opportunities 'ere". And they did. So my Peerage came a little later than others who were created at that time.

In my modesty I thought that someone might write to me and suggest that it would be a good idea if I came and joined your Lordships but nothing happened. Eventually, my wife prodded me in to coming to see the Clerk of the Parliaments, who asked me if my Letters Patent had been published in the London Gazette. Most of us do not read the London Gazette. I just got in, I believe, the day before the Summer Recess. I remember saying then to the Clerk of the Parliaments, going back to my days in the Army, "Is it like being in the Army?" He said, "What do you mean by that?" I said, as some noble Lords may remember, "The Sergeant Major would say, 'Come on, get fell in. Them what's keen got fell in previous'". I believe that "them what's keen" were certainly "previous".

I end by saying that I hope that this ceremony will not be greatly changed other than with those modest suggestions that I have made. I would be very much in favour of the matter being considered by a Select Committee and then perhaps through the usual channels.


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