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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.
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.
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.
Viscount Cranborne: 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
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.
Viscount Cranborne: 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
Viscount Cranborne: 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 regime 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
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
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