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The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. His comment a moment or two ago about the Lord Chancellor making a petition is wholly inaccurate.
I listened attentively to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. I believe that this is just the beginning, not the end, and if we accede to this request we merely add fuel to the flames and encourage more and more requests for modernisation. I see the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, nods in assent. Therefore, I support my noble friend's first amendment as a warning shot, as it were, over the bows of the Government and the Lord Chancellor. I believe that this modernisation has gone far enough.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down perhaps I may comment on the Lord Chancellor's tights. I have taken steps to find out that gentlemen's tights are available from Ede & Ravenscroft.
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I rise to speak in this debate with considerably more trepidation than I did some weeks ago when I spoke in your Lordships' House for the first time. The opportunities for revealing the depths of my ignorance about the history and traditions of your Lordships' House are legion. However, I am consoled by the fact that I shall certainly leave here today better informed and more enlightened than when I arrived.
I believe it possible, even probable, that people outside your Lordships' House will not understand, and may even find bizarre, the fact that we have taken up to two hours from a busy legislative schedule to discuss articles of the Lord Chancellor's clothing. Therefore, it is important for all of us, as well as for my noble and learned friend, that the House reaches a sensible conclusion at the end of this debate. In the current climate where grand issues of constitutional reform fill the air, to spend time debating more or less intimate apparel and wigs seems quite surreal. We must agree to this modest request from the Lord Chancellor. I urge noble Lords to oppose the amendments proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers.
I find odd the argument that costumes lend dignity to the office. In my short time here I have already observed that the respect which this House accords to the Lord Chancellor--indeed, to everyone--in no way depends on what he or she may be wearing at any given moment. Thus, unless we believe that we have the primary role of entertaining tourists there can be no compelling reason for maintaining the Lord Chancellor's evident discomforture. I am surprised that he has not yet
There may be a point in insisting that the Lord Chancellor does something that he plainly does not want to do for the sake of maintaining an important tradition that somehow serves a larger purpose. If so, what is that purpose? Is our legislation improved by it? None of the arguments that I have heard so far convinces me that that is the case. In any event, it is not as if this proposal involves the permanent abandonment of the robes in question. For those who truly thirst for a glimpse of our history, it will still be on offer on ceremonial and important state occasions.
Before my introduction into your Lordships' House, like many of my new colleagues I attended various briefing sessions conducted by the officials of the House and of my own party. That is what happens to new Peers these days. Nowhere in any of those briefings was I alerted to the fact that joining your Lordships' House would bring me into contact with so many men in tights! Men in tights seem to be rather numerous here, and I feel that I should have been warned. So far I have counted four. I suspect that at least one of the four relishes his costume and is happy to wear it on all possible occasions, but I am not so sure that that is the view of the majority. Certainly there is one--the Lord Chancellor--who wishes to consign his tights to the appropriate place: ceremonial occasions. I for one, as a wearer of tights of many years' experience, feel that that is an entirely reasonable request. If the next Lord Chancellor wishes to resurrect the practice, equally I would have no objection. If the next Lord Chancellor is a woman, everybody will be happy for many different reasons.
In preparing this speech I began to think about where different traditions had come from. I have consulted one or two books about the history of your Lordships' House. We have many traditions here. Some have a sensible basis in history, some are just silly and the reason for others has been lost. It became clear to me in my researches that many so-called traditions were mere accidents of history. If the historical accident in which the present Lord Chancellor is encased had happened a little later or a little earlier, we might today be arguing about whether the Lord Chancellor should be allowed to shed a short tunic, a mail shirt, an embroidered frock coat, with beribboned high heels, a powdered face and a beauty patch. I suppose that for these small mercies we should be grateful.
Lord Henderson of Brompton: My Lords, I first point out to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that my recollection of the source of the abandonment of the requirement for the Lord Chancellor to walk backwards down the steps of the Throne was the Queen. She was the one who ordered it. Therefore, the Queen should be excluded from his censure of those who initiated the change. The noble Lord shakes his head. The noble Lord
I shall be very brief because so much has been said very wisely. As for me, I should like to recall the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Strabolgi and Lord Lester of Herne Hill, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. Those three speeches, one after the other, made a complementary but unanswerable case for what the Lord Chancellor proposes to do in relation to both his dress and his movements about the House.
I do not think that we wish to hear many more speeches. My speech will be very short indeed. I support the Lord Chancellor's proposals for the reasons made abundantly plain in preceding speeches. I detected some note of hysteria both in the committee whose report we are considering and to a certain extent in the House today. I do not believe that this new Government, or anything that they propose to do, will change the face of the House completely.
When the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, spoke I could not fail to recollect a speech he made in the House 30 or 40 years ago, before women became Members of the House. The skies were going to fall when women became Members. Perhaps the noble Earl remembers. He does indeed, so my recollection is right: the skies were going to fall if women were made Members of the House.
Lord Henderson of Brompton: My Lords, if the noble Earl was so agitated 30 or 40 years ago about the presence of women in this House, one must take that into account when considering his agitation today about the dress of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. But there we are. I do not think that the devil has changed in that respect. He has always been consistently retrograde in his views about change, and this is one example.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I must declare an interest in speaking in this debate. I am one of the jeans and T-shirt generation referred to earlier. When I first came to the House over 10 years ago I found the idea of wearing a suit every day slightly unusual. I found seeing the officials walking around in their attire utterly terrifying. I do not think that that has changed for a large part of the population.
Noble Lords in this House have gained a good reputation over the past few years. For some strange reason we became fashionable. We were listened to; we sounded better than the Commons. It was not because we wore knee breeches, ties or anything else; it was what we said.
When the Lord Chancellor formally moved the Motion, I noted that one cannot see the knee breeches or the buckles on the shoes from these Benches. As someone who speaks from these Benches, I would rather
We are dealing with a minor issue which we are wrapping up in great reams of self-produced red tape. What matters is what is said and done in the Chamber. We have ceremony enough to spare. We are the best show in town when the Queen's Speech is presented. We do not need to have little extra bits. I suggest that we conclude the debate as quickly as possible--I have already spoken too long--and, it is to be hoped, make changes, and then deal with real issues. This matter really is playing around at the edges.
Lord Denham: My Lords, I wonder whether noble Lords opposite have ever noticed that for something over 50 years their party's periods in office have averaged out at one-and-a-half parliamentary terms as against two-and-a-half, and more, for my right honourable and honourable friends, and asked themselves why this should be.
Let me enlighten them. It is what I always think of as the "Gotcha" factor. Throughout the general election process they are sweetly reasonable, all things to all men, then the mask slips allowing politics of hate and spite to emerge. "We are the masters now", for example, or "I'm going to make the pips squeak." And this is indicative of a state of mind that successive electorates have never found very endearing.
It has been most apparent, in this Parliament, in its urge to modernise the constitution, not so much with regard to the changes themselves, as to the way in which they are being carried out, without any sort of consultation and with its insistence on the result being precisely as Her Majesty's Government ordain.
First, it was devolution and the Government's use of public money to campaign for one side of the argument, holding those for Scotland and for Wales on separate days so as further to influence the result and even dictating from Westminster who can and cannot stand as Welsh First Minister.
Now it is the turn of your Lordships' House and, here again, it is the method that is at fault, picking away at established traditions and practices bit by bit. It started earlier this session with the Government's insistence on curtailing the Introduction Ceremony, even though by that time some major but as yet unspecified reform was already scheduled for some as yet unspecified time later in the Parliament. Then, after much speculation, came the announcement that Her Majesty's Government were to stick to their plan for a short sharp Bill to eliminate the hereditary Peers and only then to set up the Royal Commission. This despite the fact that all the evidence and 90 per cent. of informed opinion indicate that it
And now there is the matter of the Lord Chancellor's new clothes. It has an awful ring of Hans Andersen about it. Surely this could have waited at least until next Session's phase one Bill had reached the statute book. But no; it has to be done now, this minute. Go on, let these few really rather modest little changes through, or show yourselves up for the fusty old reactionaries you are!
I hold the heretical view that it is no bad thing to let a little bit of pageantry and colour into our daily lives. It is an innate part of our British national character, eccentric perhaps and one that other countries affect to laugh at, but secretly admire and even covet.
When Barry the architect and more especially Pugin the designer, of whom the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is rightly one of the foremost present day champions, conceived their new Palace of Westminster, they did not just design a lot of empty rooms. They had regard to the function of each and to the people who would participate in it. It is a matter of record that, with one day of the year in mind--that of the State Opening of Parliament--they spent more time and trouble over this suite of rooms (the Queen's Robing Room, the Royal Gallery and your Lordships' Chamber) than on any other part of the building as a setting fit for the Sovereign, crowned, robed and accompanied by her great Officers of State, to meet the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons in Parliament assembled.
For the other 364 days, the Robing Room and the Royal Gallery revert to just a room and a passage. Your Lordships' House, on the other hand, is forthwith transformed into its other capacity, that of the most magnificent legislative Chamber in the world. The centre of interest moves forward from the Cloth of Estate and the Throne to the Woolsack, designed no doubt by Pugin himself as was every other piece of furniture in the Palace, every wall, every floor, every ceiling, down to the minutest detail, there to be seated the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, Speaker of your Lordships' House, head of the Judiciary, the Mace, his purse and his tricorne hat behind him, dressed in full-bottomed wig, black silk gown and train, over court dress of linen bands, coat, waistcoat, knee breeches, black silk stockings and buckled shoes, as the last 33 of his predecessors have been proud to do.
But what of Pugin now? Could he but have foreseen all those years ago, that this, the focal point of his entire vision would from this day forward be occupied by an everyday figure in plain black shoes, short socks and striped trousers, what would he have done then? He just would not have bothered.
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