|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, your Lordships are obviously taken by surprise by that. Robust views were expressed in the committee both by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor arguing in favour of his proposals and by other members of the committee arguing that there should be no change. As the report notes, there was strong opposition to both proposals. While, on the one hand, the proposed changes
On the matter of the recommendations, I believe that the report reflects accurately the summing up which I made in the committee after a very full and forthright debate there which lasted almost two hours. While no Division took place, I felt that a majority of the committee--perhaps not a large majority, perhaps a bare majority but a majority nevertheless--endorsed the proposed changes and recommended them to the House, as the report makes clear. Those who were present at the committee and who saw the report in draft certainly agreed that this was the case.
The summing up was not challenged in the committee. At the same time it was recognised by all those who took part in the committee's deliberations that the final decisions on these matters would necessarily have to be taken by the House.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving the first amendment which stands in my name on the Order Paper, it may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I speak to the second one at the same time. For the sake of simplicity, one might describe the first amendment as "dress" and the second as "moving about".
I had the privilege of being a member of the Procedure Committee. I admired the dexterity with which the Chairman of Committees summed up the proceedings of the Procedure Committee. It was not easy. He has summed up again today with fairness.
If I may, I shall deal with dress first. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor wishes to do away with his breeches, tights and buckled shoes other than on ceremonial occasions. He wishes to wear black trousers and ordinary shoes instead--although he has graciously assured us that the shoes will be well polished. I think that this would be a retrograde step--not the well-polished shoes but the removal of the breeches, tights and buckled shoes.
The office of Lord Chancellor is one of the highest in the land. The ceremonial which goes with that office, and the uniform which attaches to that office, are very important. They are a reminder to all of us--your Lordships, Members of another place and the general public--of the stature, dignity and, indeed, the awe with which the office of Lord Chancellor is held. With the greatest of respect to the noble and learned Lord, it is not, after all, Lord Irvine of Lairg at whom we are looking but at the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain and all that goes with that. In my view, any attempt to "dress down" is wrong.
Nor do I think that it is incumbent on whoever happens to be the holder at any one time of this most prestigious office to say "I do not really like this uniform". One can just imagine what would happen if guardsmen at the trooping of the colour said that they wanted to do away with silly old bearskins, that they are out of date. Whether it is bearskins or the uniform of the Lord Chancellor, they are both uniforms which symbolise what has gone before and upon which the present is built. Would it not be absurd, too, if Black Rod and the Yeoman Usher were to keep their breeches, tights and buckled shoes but the Lord Chancellor did not? They would, as it were, out-Peter Peter--and that does not seem to be the right pecking order. With just trousers and shoes, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would be wearing a very similar dress to the Clerk at the Table. The Clerks are fine fellows and they look resplendent in their uniforms.
Indeed, if I may respectfully suggest it, it would seem curious for one who is so punctilious in ensuring that the Lord Chancellor's apartments correctly reflect history not to apply the same critical analysis to the Lord Chancellor's dress as well. When, in 1889, Queen Victoria made Kaiser Bill an Admiral of the Fleet, he exclaimed "Fancy wearing the uniform of Nelson. It is enough to make one feel quite giddy". One might have hoped that a similar flicker of excitement and engaging humility might be forthcoming from whoever happens at any one time to hold the office of Lord Chancellor. I think that for the Lord Chancellor to give up his uniform--and so to set the precedent for his successors to follow--is wrong.
So much for dress. Now for "moving about". The proposal is that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor should be entitled to vacate the Woolsack and sit on the Front Bench with his ministerial colleagues--without, of course, his wig and gown--at
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor holds the curious role of being a Cabinet Minister, of being head of the judiciary and of being Speaker of your Lordships' House. If I may be slightly vulgar for a moment, part of the salary which is paid to the Lord Chancellor of the day is by virtue of his position as Speaker of the House of Lords.
The late Lord Gardiner--who was of course a Labour Lord Chancellor of distinction--when he occupied the position of Lord Chancellor, was so assiduous in his responsibilities that he was on the Woolsack almost the whole time. His stamina was unbelievable. He felt that it was his duty to the House--and it was a courtesy to the House--for him to be there as much as possible. I do not think that the noble and learned Lord should leave the Woolsack and then pass to others the responsibilities of fulfilling his role as Speaker.
There are plenty of Deputy Chairmen who help out and sit on the Woolsack when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is not in the Chamber, but it is a very different thing for the noble and learned Lord to be in the Chamber and to decide to metamorphose into a Front Bench Minister, and then leave it to someone else to look after his responsibilities on the Woolsack.
We are all, in different ways, the beneficiaries of tradition; and we are all, in different ways, the custodians of tradition. I do not think that the noble and learned Lord should lightly toss his responsibilities on one side and give them over to others.
I do not like being horrible to the noble and learned Lord in opposing what he would like to do but my fear is that these proposals are yet another example of the present Government quietly chipping away at the traditions and standards of public life for no valid reason other than for what might loosely be called modernisation. And modernisation, my Lords, carries no virtue without there being a reason for it. I am bound to say that, over this, I can see no reason for it and I can see no virtue in it either. I beg to move.
Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Lord Chairman of Committees for explaining the recommendations of the report and I have listened with great interest to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, when explaining his amendments. I have the greatest respect for the noble Earl. In fact, he and I have known each other for a very long time. I often agree with what he says but I am afraid I cannot do so this afternoon.
I do not think that these modest proposals would detract from the dignity of the high office, as the noble Earl supposed, nor from the dignity of the House. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has said that he believes he could act more efficiently if he did not have to act as Speaker at the same time as he deals with legislation. As a Deputy Chairman, I have observed, while in attendance, how difficult this must be, switching the roles instantly, moving to the left to speak and back again to put the Question--a continual minuet when you are trying also to concentrate on a Bill and also wearing a heavy, full-bottomed wig, even in the summer. I would not like to have to do it.
If the Lord Chancellor were able to deal with all stages of a Bill from the Dispatch Box, instead of only at the Committee stage, it would be easier for him and he would also--this is very important--be able to communicate with the other Ministers dealing with the same Bill instead of being separated from them on the Woolsack.
My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor would be able to divest himself of his wig and gown while on the Front Bench for all stages of a Bill but he would continue to wear his wig and gown on the Woolsack. The fact that the Lord Chancellor would be wearing black trousers and black shoes under the gown instead of breeches and tights and buckled shoes should surely not make very much difference. On all formal occasions my noble and learned friend proposes, I understand, to wear the full regalia.
I realise that these modest proposals are a small break with tradition but the advantages surely outweigh the disadvantages. Surely, my Lords, we have to move with the times in this more informal age. At the beginning of this century noble Lords wore frock coats and top hats. One has only to look at the paintings outside the Chamber of the proceedings on the Home Rule Bill of 1893 to see the difference. The only dress that has not changed has been that of Lord Herschell, the Lord Chancellor at the time.
I suggest that we need also to move with the times in this respect. We all dress much more informally now and noble Baronesses, who I am glad to see are present, sometimes wear trouser suits. If it comes to a vote, I shall oppose the noble Earl's amendments.
This Motion and the amendments of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, require us to decide whether the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor's dignified parts--his full-bottomed wig, gown, breeches, tights and buckled shoes--so excite and preserve the reverence of the population beyond and within this House that he should continue to be compelled to wear the full uniform not only on all ceremonial occasions but also on ordinary sitting days.
It is a Motion conspicuous for its moderation. It does not propose that the Lord Chancellor should be able, if he wishes, to dispense with the full-bottomed wig, the gown and the buckled shoes on ordinary sitting days, but merely that he should be able to wear trousers instead of breeches and tights on those days.
I hope that I shall not be regarded as lacking in respect for tradition, dignity and ceremony when I express regret that the present Motion will still not permit the Lord Chancellor, like other noble Lords, to wear ordinary dress on ordinary sitting days when the efficient parts are working, dispensing with the full-bottomed wig and the buckled shoes. The Select Committee on Procedure has wisely had second thoughts about the decision to forbid noble Lords from speaking with their hands in their pockets, on the ground that it is not appropriate to regulate the conduct of noble Lords in such detail. In the same way, it is surely inappropriate to require the Lord Chancellor to wear buckled shoes instead of ordinary shoes, and to be weighed down with a heavy full-bottomed wig.
The antiquity of the Lord Chancellor's costume does not equal the antiquity of his great Office of State. In the history of men's clothing and fashion, the wig and knee breeches had a comparatively short life. Wigs were introduced in polite society in the reign of King Charles II; and, until the 17th century, lawyers wore their natural hair, or no hair. One can still see judicial portraits which were painted before the 1680s showing judges without wigs. As for knee breeches, they date only from the late 18th century. Those noble Lords with a scholarly disposition will find information about this given by Professor J.H. Baker of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge, in An Outline History of the Legal Robes Now Worn In England and Wales, which is in a consultation paper of some years ago.
I do not know when noble Lords other than the Lord Chancellor dispensed with wigs and knee breeches or, for that matter, when they dispensed with the top hats and frock coats that we see in the paintings outside the Chamber marking the defeat of Gladstone's Irish Home Rule Bill by the third Marquess of Salisbury and his party. But I suggest that to allow the Lord Chancellor to dispense with all of the dignified parts of his ceremonial uniform on ordinary sitting days would in no way diminish the dignity and authority of this House.
Upon those occasions when I have had the privilege of appearing before the Law Lords in the Appellate Committee, I have never heard anyone suggest that their dignity and authority are lessened in any way because, except for ceremonial occasions, the Law Lords, unlike barristers and other judges, do not wear wigs, gowns, wing collars and bands. I have never heard anyone suggest that the Law Lords should wear ceremonial costume when they deliver their judgments in the full Chamber.
As a barrister of 35 years' standing, like many of my learned friends, I wish that the Lord Chancellor would liberate me and my colleagues from the outmoded obligation to wear such uncomfortable, unhygienic, unhealthy and outmoded dress in our daily work in court.
The ceremonial costume of the Lord Chancellor certainly adds to the richness and colour of the House's ceremonial and procedure. It also provides good material for entertainment and mockery in political cartoons and parliamentary sketches, and in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera, "Iolanthe". If this Motion is passed, it will continue to do so, because the costume, in its full glory, will continue to be worn on ceremonial occasions. And on ordinary sitting days, the Lord Chancellor will be obliged to appear in a curious new-fangled hybrid of 18th and 20th century garb.
The Select Committee's recommendation that the Lord Chancellor should be able to speak from the Government Front Bench when the House is sitting as a House rather than in Committee is surely plain common sense. It enhances the efficient parts, without any sacrifice of the dignified parts, of the procedures of the House. It recognises that he is participating in his capacity as the Minister of Justice rather than in his ornamental and symbolic role. It is surely sensible for our procedures to reflect the reality of the Lord Chancellor's role as a senior and powerful Member of the Government. It is, I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, a much altered role from the rather minor role played by the Lord Chancellor in the days of that great Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, 34 years ago.
I hesitate to state the obvious but we are not an exclusive social club, regulating our internal procedures for our own pleasure and personal gratification. This is not the Garrick Club, Buck's or White's. The public at large will respect the House more rather than less if we conduct our debates and regulate our procedures with the much-needed recognition that the way in which we use our parliamentary time is in the public interest and not in the interest of our own personal whims. We shall win much more public respect if we agree to this very modest and sensible reform. Otherwise, I dare say that we are at risk of looking ridiculous.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, it is the full-bottomed wig which is identified specifically in the Select Committee's report as causing the Lord Chancellor both restriction and tedium when he has to carry a Bill through this House.
Fellow feeling makes us wondrous wise. Some 30 years ago, Silks (QCs) appearing before your Lordships' Appellate Committee also had to wear full-bottomed wigs. In my capacity then as Chairman of the Bar Council, I approached the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, at whose feet I had sat when he was chairman and explained to him that the effort of filtering through horsehair some of their Lordships' more incomprehensible questions when acting as an advocate imposed a quite unnecessary strain. The result of that supplication is that QCs no longer wear full-bottomed wigs when appearing before the Appellate Committee; they wear them only when taking a judgment or in the first fortnight of October, when the Appellate Committee still sits in this Chamber because Parliament has not yet fully returned.
The Lord Chancellor has said that he is interested in these changes in order to do his job more efficiently. I am all in favour of the Lord Chancellor doing his job more efficiently. It may well be that it is the horsehair that is inhibiting his hearing the oft-repeated question: "Why are you going back on so much that you said when in Opposition?".
Under this heading, I refer finally to the Lord Chancellor's fervent support of the separation of powers--not to be found in a very strange document, a consultative paper, entitled, The Way Ahead. I thus hope that the abolition of the requirement to wear the full-bottomed wig will redound favourably in regard to the matters I have mentioned.
As regards trousers replacing the breeches, I do not think that that would in any way reduce the dignity of the office of the Lord Chancellor. I wish to provide an analogy. The proper attire of Silks from the waist upwards consists of a tailed coat with distinctive sleeves, silk buttons and frogging, which can be seen poking through the gaps in the gown. In addition to the tailed coat there is a waistcoat which follows the same sort of decoration, with special pockets. Those of us who used to travel around the Far Eastern circuit to Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia found the wearing of those two garments oppressive. They were not suited to the climate. Legal ingenuity invented a new garb. It looks rather like a porter's jacket. The waistcoat is a true copy of the waistcoat previously worn by Silks and is, I believe, currently worn by the Lord Chancellor. That is visible because the gown is open. But tacked on to the waistcoat are the sleeves, which are appropriate to the heavy tailed coat. However, that is not apparent, because all one sees through the gown is the sleeves and the front of the waistcoat. So there is one simple garment; it is quite cool, and is able to be used not only in the Far East but in this country, where it is currently worn not only by QCs but by judges in the Court of Appeal, who wear the QC's outfit when sitting.
That has not in any way detracted from the dignity of the office of an Appeal Court judge; nor has it detracted from the dignity of the QC. It is an example of how one has ensured that dress which follows tradition should not make it more difficult to carry out one's job. I therefore support the Lord Chancellor on the "efficiency" approach to his garb, and I look forward to impressive results if his proposal is carried.
If, as we are given to understand, there is to be a Bill providing for major reform of your Lordships' House, surely that will be the occasion on which to look at all these matters. I believe that at that time we should have a change and that the noble and learned the Lord Chancellor should determine how he would appear in the House. The Bishops, too, could presumably look at the question of their dress at the same time. My impression is that a number of clergymen dress down these days in a way which is surprising to older members of the Church. I am not sure that that has benefited everyone; perhaps they think it has.
The arguments made by the noble Lords, Lord Strabolgi and Lord Lester, comparing this matter with dress in your Lordships' House in the 19th century and the dress of judges in court, do not address the point so clearly made by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, which is that the Lord Chancellor occupies one of the highest offices of state and presides over one of the Houses of Parliament. I do not think that the dress worn by judges or by Peers in the 19th century is a comparable matter. We are talking about something quite different.
Nor should we be put off by debating this matter. One of the difficulties about debating something such as "what is in a change of dress?", as speakers have said in various amusing and witty ways, is that this is a good example of salami-slicing. We have this today; what will it be tomorrow? We have already had an alteration to the Ceremony of Introduction. What will come next? If we want to be really modern, why not wear T-shirt and jeans, which, after all, seem to be a national uniform? People would be surprised if one went that far, but it is an argument. There is no stopping the process. There is no comparison between the matter we are discussing and the changed dress of others who have been referred to.
I believe that many professionals have not helped the dignity of their office and their public standing by dressing down. I think particularly of nurses, who have not helped themselves by adopting uniforms which are nothing like as recognisable and as fine as they were previously. I do not think that clergymen have helped themselves by dressing down. People look to the dignity of the office, which is shown by the uniform of the office-holder. The uniform signifies the importance of the office which the current bearer has taken on from previous holders of the office and which will be carried on for the future. I strongly support my noble friend Lord Ferrers.
I do not feel quite so strongly with regard to my noble friend's second Motion. I remember very well Lord Gardiner, a predecessor of the noble and learned Lord. I recall particularly two all-night sittings in which I took part, when Lord Gardiner was on the Woolsack throughout the debate, arguing a case very impressively and with tremendous wit and humour until the early
Lord Haskel: My Lords, when I go home this evening and am asked what important legislation we debated today, I shall have to say, "the Lord Chancellor's clothes". I shall have to tell my family and friends that there was a debate over which shoes and trousers the Lord Chancellor should wear.
I do not wish to be cynical, but what does that say about the values and culture of your Lordships' House? Those who think that we are irrelevant will have their prejudices confirmed. Those who think that we bring experience, expertise and balance to the nation's affairs will be disappointed. Some may agree with my noble friend Lord Hattersley, writing in today's Guardian, that this debate is appropriately trivial. What everyone will think is that this is yet another symbol of our inability to reform and to modernise ourselves.
I say to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that the dignity and respect in which we and the public hold the great office of the Lord Chancellor does not come from the way that he dresses. Surely it comes from the manner in which he carries out his responsibilities, the way in which he runs his great office, his work and the decisions that he makes?
Of course, there is a place for uniform, pageantry and tradition, but they must not stand in the way of progress and reform. If we do allow pageantry and tradition to stand in the way, I repeat what I said in the debate on the reform of your Lordships' House on 15th October: we shall be perceived as part of "theme park Britain" instead of part of Parliament. Theme parks are wonderful for their purpose, but their purpose is different. Do we really want to be perceived in the same way as the Tower of London is perceived? Of course not. Yet how we are perceived by the public is important, because they are the people whom we serve. We do not serve each other in your Lordships' House. That is why we have to modernise to reflect the more informal values of those whom we serve. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that, if we do not modernise, we shall lose people's confidence and become irrelevant.
I am saddened to have to speak against a Motion moved by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I have long admired his wit, his sense of fun and his usually progressive views. But in this case he is wrong. He is being too conservative.
Reform and modernisation are all around us. We are reforming our constitution, our society, our economy and our politics. Even the Conservative Party is reforming itself. If your Lordships' House as presently composed cannot even allow the Lord Chancellor to change his trousers, there is every justification for
I urge your Lordships to oppose the Motion moved by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. The noble Lord the Chairman of Committees and others have put the arguments, and they are entirely reasonable. The noble Lord the Chairman of Committees deserves our support.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, in order to try to assist the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I did a little reading to see whether there were any historical precedents which might be prayed in his aid. I came across one precedent involving Lord Chancellor Northington. I am a little reluctant to mention that particular Lord Chancellor because he presided over the trial of the seventh Earl Ferrers and condemned him to death! When he became Lord Chancellor he applied to King George III for leave of absence from court on Wednesday and Friday afternoons so that he could finish his bottle of port at leisure, and the King granted his request. It is not difficult to understand why the King did that. Indeed, he gave as his reason the fact that he thought that it might be a positive advantage to his subjects if the Lord Chancellor did not sit on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, having drunk his port.
While one can see the advantage to the subjects of King George III in the granting of that application in the present case there can be no advantage whatever to the subjects of the Queen if the Lord Chancellor removes his tights. Not only is there no obvious advantage to be gained by the public in the proposed change, but I am at a loss to understand what particular advantage will accrue to the Lord Chancellor. He may say that the wearing of tights is very uncomfortable. If that be the case, he has done a great deal to mitigate his suffering by sitting rather less than previous Lord Chancellors. Therefore, that is not the strongest argument that he can possibly advance.
I refer to only one other Lord Chancellor. Lord Eldon, who was known I understand as "Old Bags", used to open his correspondence when the Bishop commenced Prayers, but that is beside the point. Lord Eldon petitioned King George III that he should not be required to wear his wig. The King rejected that request. That brings us very close to home. I very strongly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, who gave the show away. We are not talking simply about an application to change the dress of the Lord Chancellor in a very modest way but about a course of conduct. The Lord Chancellor petitioned that he should no longer be required to walk backwards down the steps of the Throne, having delivered the Speech to the Queen. The other day one read in the press--
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page