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Viscount Cranborne: 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.
Viscount Cranborne: 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
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.
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.
Viscount Cranborne: 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
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?
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?
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.
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