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The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he reply to a possible criticism of what he said with respect to just one word? He said that the party now in opposition enjoyed 18 years of "absolute" power. Is it not more correct that it had 18 years of "constitutional" power; otherwise does he think that his noble friends are now enjoying a power that is "absolute"?
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I hesitate to say that that is a play upon words. I am sure that the noble Earl understands what I meant by "absolute" power. The party opposite formed the government for 18 years, with big majorities that withered away at the end. Whether the right word is "absolute" or "constitutional", I do not know whether I am constitutionally absolute to comment.
The House has already heard in detail from the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, about how we came to our recommendations. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, about how diverse our views were at the start and we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Denham, another member of the committee, about his serious reservations which he so effectively expressed from his great experience in this House.
I took my seat only one-and-a-half years ago, so the ceremony is still fresh in my mind. That wonderful day and ceremony brought me through those great doors, symbolically and literally, to a new life, to a new declared commitment to serve my Sovereign and my country under God. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, I believe that the great ceremonies of life allow and mark our passage. Human beings have always needed them and where they have been destroyed, they are quickly replaced by others.
Perhaps I might refer briefly to my very first ceremony, which sticks in my mind and has many significant points in common with the ceremony that I experienced in your Lordships' House. At the age of seven I became a Brownie. I stood by my toadstool, decked out in a splendid uniform, hands up in the special salute, making my Brownie promise, before Brown Owl, who was looming huge and important, with
Members of the committee on which I was privileged to serve came together and shelved our differences to reach a set of proposals which I hope retain a dignity, tradition and sense of occasion that will achieve general support in the House--if your Lordships are minded to change the ceremony of introduction to this House. It is a serious decision in a self-governing House, which runs on traditions which seem to serve the purpose very well. We must be aware that altering one ceremony might mean that others must perforce alter as well. If it is hats off in this ceremony, where then the ceremony of Prorogation?
In the committee meetings we were reminded quite forcefully by our chairman, amply reinforced by Dr. Tudor, that it would be improper for us to discuss anything other than the introduction ceremony itself and certainly not its content. We accepted that ruling. Alas, the ground was already moving under our feet. The context was changing. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was telling the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury to remove Bishops from Parliament, seeking to diminish the episcopal presence in your Lordships' House and leading to what constitutional changes we know not. It causes me concern, but the changes before the House today, to which I am party, will be appropriate and relevant in the context of plans and proposals for Lords' reform by Her Majesty's Government as yet not revealed to your Lordships.
For today, if it be your Lordships' wish, the protection of the validity afforded by unbroken usage of over 300 years will be gone and this House will stand exposed. Sometimes to make changes in isolation is in my experience not efficient or effective. Having in my career run production units, changes to a flow system work only if everyone on the floor knows the plan and can see how their particular functions fit in. I encourage the Lord Privy Seal to urge Her Majesty's Government to share with this House as soon as possible their proposals for reform so that the House may the more enthusiastically, to quote his words,
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I shall certainly support the amendment to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, but my support would have been even greater had his amendment ended after the word "introduction" so that he opposed change altogether. With the greatest respect to my noble friend Lord Marsh and the Select Committee, who had a very difficult job to do, I do not agree with their recommendations. I share all of the reservations referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Denham, and other noble Lords who support the status quo. I cannot see that anything is to be gained by the proposed changes except a little more time for possibly nefarious government
Of the submissions received by the Select Committee, 11 were in favour of change and 11 were against. When in a Division this House divides 50-50 on an amendment, that amendment is disagreed to. To the noble Duke the Duke of Norfolk I say that, while I am horrified that Garter should be excluded from any ceremony, I cannot accept his amendment because it supports the Motion of the Lord Privy Seal.
The present ceremony has been in use for nearly 400 years. It is colourful and unique, like so many other peculiarly British ceremonies which have made the life of this country so rich and varied. There is a great deal of history concealed in the detail of ceremonial. If one begins to look into the origins of ceremonies one discovers a good deal about history that may otherwise be forgotten. The paper on the introduction ceremony by Sir Anthony Wagner and Sir John Sainty is an example of this. Much fascinating history also lies behind the detail of the ceremony of the Opening of Parliament and most of the ceremonial of public life. The history of almost every town in this country is perpetuated in its street names, where they have not been changed by councillors bent on erasing the past in order to immortalise themselves and their friends.
I am very worried at the present Government's passion for what they call modernising Britain. I am afraid that it is the beginning of a process of erosion of things that are rather fragile and precious which, once lost, can never be regained. Since this particular change was mooted, I have read in the papers and heard that the Government would like to modernise or abolish the ceremony of the Opening of Parliament. Goodness knows what else will be for the bin, all in aid of some nasty concept of what their spin doctors call "Cool Britannia", which seems to me to be a sort of grey, dreary, colourless, soulless, utilitarian place where speed and efficiency are the only gods.
The country is not going to gain prestige in the world, in the business world or any other world by throwing out everything that makes us special. No doubt I shall be accused of being against modernisation, but I am against the wrong kind of modernisation--modernisation for modernisation's sake. That is what I believe this to be. Let us concentrate on sensible modernisation--modern communications systems, the health service, etc.--and leave our lovely colourful ceremonies alone. Most foreigners are deeply envious of them anyway.
The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, I begin with a general point. I believe that the Burkean distinction between another place and this House--the difference between the fulfilment of the electorate's wants and its needs--is important. If only on that basis it is justifiable that this House should have a ceremony of introduction
I turn to the committee's specific recommendations. I am not wedded to the existing form of ceremony. I believe that it is very much to the credit and skill of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that the recommendations of the committee are on balance measured and sensible. That said, like other noble Lords, I have substantial reservations about the proposals for Garter. As to this matter, I cannot help but agree with my noble friend the Earl Marshal. We should be mindful of the contents of the memorandum by the Clerk to the Parliaments to the Procedure Committee which echoed a similar paper produced in 1964. I am a little surprised that so few noble Lords have picked up the point made in that memorandum that changes in the ceremony of introduction should have due regard to the needs of the Sovereign, the House and the new Peer. I believe that the role of Garter is a potent symbol of the constitutional position of the Sovereign in our proceedings. On that basis I find it extremely difficult to justify the abandonment of this essential constitutional link.
I do not dispute that. It may well be that the symbolism of the ceremony owes more to the somewhat romantic associations that we make with the occasion rather than any accurate interpretations of its original intent, but that should not blind us to the potency of the symbols at an individual level. A performance of, say, "Hamlet" will evoke in each and every one of us an entirely different, even contradictory, reaction or emotion. Every time I see the current ceremony my mind is drawn to a political "rule of three" and a constitutional trinity: the people, Parliament and the Sovereign. I find this extremely valuable in focusing my attention upon the duties that attend us, but this is very much a matter of individual interpretation, taste and preference.
Further, I have sympathy with those who find the ceremony awkward. Nor do I disagree with those who have described elements of it as being Gilbert and Sullivan in character. There is something faintly ridiculous about it. But it is a sad truth that occasionally we fall into the temptation of taking ourselves too seriously. Every now and then it pays to have small elements in our rituals that seek to remind us of the need for humility and to accept our fallibility, perhaps even to dent our egos a little. These represent a personal perspective, and on that basis I do not seek to stand in the way of the committee's recommendations, apart from the issue of Garter. Viewed in the round, they are on balance a sensible approach to the issue. But it is worth noting that in his original memorandum to the Procedure Committee the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal advanced:
With the greatest of respect to the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal, I cannot help feeling that all these reasons owe as much if not more to the Government's proposals for reform of this House and constitutional change generally than they do to any overriding need to modify the ceremony. On balance, therefore, I find myself very much drawn to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree. It has about it the great virtues of pragmatism and common sense. It really does seem much more sensible that any new composition of this House should be the final arbiter--a la Welsh assembly or Scottish parliament--of how its procedures and business are conducted.
I feel slightly mischievous, so I shall conclude by failing to resist the temptation of citing a quotation-- I concede that it is out of context--from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. Only recently, the noble Lord said:
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I speak as a member of the Select Committee. I am one of 17 hereditary Peers who take the Labour Whip. Some people have said that we are an endangered species, but certainly not yet. I have never been through the ceremony, but I have watched it and therefore I can comment with a certain amount of objectivity.
I approached the task of the committee by judging the ceremony on how it is viewed from three separate perspectives: by the new Peer, by the House and by the public. It is an important ceremony to mark the appointment of a Peer to an important role in his life. The ceremony must have dignity and it must be purposeful, but it is sometimes alarming. As was said by my noble friend Lady Gould, the fear of tripping over one's robe when kneeling down or climbing up to the Barons' Benches does not make one feel comfortable. The ceremony must have dignity, and I believe that the robes bring a sense of ceremony, whereas the hats do not. However, it is a great occasion for the Peer, his family and friends.
Secondly, the House must have time to identify, recognise and welcome the new Peer. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich noted the difference between Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal in the matter of placing. Perhaps I might remind him that at paragraph 43 the committee recommends that the temporal Peer should come back into the Chamber with his supporters and take his place on the Benches where he intends to sit in the future. The only difference is that
The House is also concerned with the time factor. Last year I occasionally timed the ceremonies. On occasions, three introductions took 33 minutes, which is 11 minutes each. My noble friend the Chief Whip reckoned that each took nine minutes. However, half an hour is taken for three introductions. That may be all very well at half-past two in the afternoon, but by midnight, when half-an-hour has been added to the day, it is not much fun for noble Lords staying until then. This is a working House.
Thirdly, I turn to the public perception. The committee took evidence from Peter Riddell of The Times. I do not know whether colleagues believe that he represents the public--perhaps not--but he produced interesting evidence complimenting your Lordships' House on the quality of its debates. He expressed concern about the ceremony, stating:
Other noble Lords mentioned Gilbert and Sullivan, of whom I am a great fan. It is important that occasionally we laugh at ourselves, as was said by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, but we should not retain elements which cause others to laugh at us. There is a great difference between the two.
I turn briefly to the role of Garter. His role in representing the Crown through the Earl Marshal is well known. He has an essential role in finding suitable titles for new Peers. However, I have heard a number of concerns from Members on all sides of the House about his role in providing the services of the College of Arms for the production of coats of arms. Occasionally I am subject to a sales pitch asking whether I would like a coat of arms. I say, "No thanks, I have several, or my ancestors have, and I am not really interested". I sought information on that from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. He wrote to me on 13th April stating:
It is good to see the three Kings of Arms in Black Rod's Box, but I note that they have divided up the territory as Clarenceux south of the River Trent, Norroy and Ulster north of the River Trent, Northern Ireland and Scotland Lord Lyon. Under exiting competition law, that might not be seen to be quite right. Perhaps I might quote from Schedule 4 to the Competition Bill. They have not been excluded from the Competition Bill under professional services. It lists patent agents and engineers. My noble friend Lord Howie often speaks of engineers being excluded. I suggest that it may be possible to obtain three quotes on a competitive basis. I have no strong feeling about whether Garter takes part in the ceremony, provided it can be fitted in with the new Line of Route. However, I hope that he can separate that duty from the commercial aspect of acquiring coats of arms. Several of our colleagues have expressed concern about feeling that they must spend several thousand pounds before they can enter your Lordships' House. That is a great shame.
It is easy to say about the ceremony, "Do nothing until the final role, responsibility and membership of this House are decided". But that could take several years. In the meantime, we have work to do at an ever-increasing rate. We have spent three hours debating this fascinating subject today and time is precious. The work of this House is well respected outside. Let us keep that respect and modernise sensibly to make it a ceremony not taken from "Iolanthe" but appropriate to the present day as seen by the new Member and his family, the House and the public. I strongly support both Motions standing in the name of the Lord Privy Seal.
Lord Harding of Petherton: My Lords, I support the change in the ceremony of introduction recommended by the Select Committee and will vote accordingly. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that the changes are modest but necessary. I congratulate the Select Committee on suggesting a ceremony simpler than the present ceremony but which preserves the necessary dignity.
My noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree--and I count him as a real friend, I hope, and not just as a political one--is very persuasive, both publicly and privately. I talked to him at some length the day before yesterday about this subject and he almost changed my mind as to the force of his amendment. However, having reflected upon the matter, I have decided that I cannot agree with him.
I do not believe that a change to the composition of the House need necessarily be connected with the ceremony of introduction. Even if there were no question of a change to the composition of the House and it remained as it is at present, I should still be in favour of the proposals which the Select Committee recommended. I agree with those who have said that the present ceremony has grave drawbacks. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, expressed that aspect very well indeed.
Also, I cannot agree with the amendment in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. I should not have dared to disagree with him some years ago when I was a major serving with my regiment in Germany and he was my divisional commander. However, I recognise the arguments that he has propounded so well this afternoon. I hope that the office of Earl Marshal, which he holds with great distinction, will not be reformed. His family and that position are far older than the ceremony of introduction to your Lordships' House.
One point which I do not believe has been mentioned is what the media comment would be should this modest reform be thrown out. There might not be a big headline on the subject but the media would certainly portray this House as an historic relic of little value. That would be a great pity. In conclusion, I support the recommendations of the Select Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Denham, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and other noble Lords raised the issue as to whether the committee report was a sighting shot for other reforms to come. If I had at any point thought that that were the case, I would have resigned from the committee. On the other hand, it did not cross my mind because, while I obviously treasure this report, it has not been a childhood ambition realised. I have had to discipline myself not to become passionately interested in the origins of medieval ceremonies. However, we probably exaggerate the report's influence and importance if we believe that the Government--with a majority in excess of 200, with four years to run and with the ability to guillotine Bills in the House of Commons--are dependent on it to push through their proposals; and, so that there should be no misunderstanding, proposals with which I profoundly disagree. But that is not the issue facing us in this debate.
Perhaps I might say a few words about Garter, who is a very distinguished and able occupant of his office. The recommendation which we should have outlined more carefully--and it is my fault--was no reflection on him at all. It is a question of logistics. Garter's job in the ceremony is, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, said, an infinitesimal part of his normal work and duties. Once that moment in the placing ceremony has gone, he actually has no role in the ensuing ceremony. He is not garbed in his working clothes in a way which makes him unnoticeable. It is simply that we did not believe that that fitted in with the ceremony, because the situation is that at one point Garter and Black Rod have to change ends. That is untidy and not particularly dignified. Moreover, it must be borne in mind that Black Rod is also an officer representing the Order of the Garter.
As regards the whole issue of Garter, I have now been a Member of the Privy Council for in excess of 30 years. I hope that I am fairly sensitive to the matters which would cause embarrassment arising from this House. I have no idea whatever--and for obvious reasons it would be impertinent of me to ask--of the advice which Her Majesty's advisers gave her. But it is a matter of public record, since it is listed in the evidence, that I had conversations with both her Private Secretary and with the Lord Chamberlain and they were aware of the recommendations. I do not know what views they formed on any of those matters. I simply state that as a fact.
The matter of Garter is not a major issue, any more than the recommendations as a whole are a major issue. Just as we believe that the recommendations make the ceremony tidier and more attractive to more people, in Garter's case it is simply a question of whether it fits in aesthetically with the changes. That is a matter for your Lordships to determine. It involves some quick footwork, but I am sure that they are perfectly capable of adapting to that if that is your Lordships' wish. That is not a matter for me.
At our first meeting I raised two issues with my colleagues. First, I made the mistake of asking them to do a quick Second Reading description of where they stood. I was horrified by the result. Literally, we ranged from Roundheads to Cavaliers on a rather bad day after a few drinks. Nobody came to fisticuffs in the course of the meetings but that was simply because the table was between us.
However, initially the matter was raised as to whether the time taken by the ceremony should be any part of our considerations. We had a brief discussion and agreed immediately that it was irrelevant to the issue. Saving two minutes, three minutes or four minutes is not a serious issue when dealing with such a ceremony. At no time was the ceremony timed by the committee, nor did we discuss that. Therefore, I put that out of the way.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and other noble Lords asked whether we had any right to consider the question of whether the proposed changes and reforms of this House should be taken into account. It was in fact the second issue which we discussed. We concluded that it should not be taken into account, not just because of the terms of reference but because re-organisation is a feature of modern life in every aspect. The last time I took part in serious discussion about the removal of hereditary Peers was just over 30 years ago when it was part of the Labour Party's manifesto at that time and it was prepared to put it through. If every time there was a proposed re-organisation you ceased to look forward, the Ministry of Defence, the National Health Service, local government and much of British industry would come to a total standstill. Therefore, we reached the conclusion that that was not relevant to our discussions. But I shall return later to the broader point.
There was then the question of whether any member of the committee believed that the ceremony should be abolished. Since a wider discussion revealed that there was also a strongly held view that it should not be touched at all, we decided that the sensible thing was to move on to our first witness. All the views which have been put forward in this House were expressed by members of the committee, and I say this seriously and literally. The only differences is that tonight we may not get a unanimous outcome.
At this stage I should like to pay tribute to the members of the committee. I repeat that the views on this subject--and it is difficult for people outside to understand this--are held very strongly by the people who hold them. They were argued passionately in committee, to a point at which it became increasingly clear that its seven members, representative of the three political parties, the Cross Benches and, for the first time I believe, the Welsh Nationalists with a different hat on, ranged in their views on this subject from one extreme to the other. But if they, representative of your Lordships' House, were to announce after two months of consideration that they could not reach agreement on whether the hat doffing ceremony should remain, that really would not enhance our reputation. I start from the proposition that it will not enhance the reputation of this House either, and I shall come on to that in a moment.
That is particularly true in the light of the overwhelming desire for change demonstrated by the evidence. That is the big difference with the past. On past occasions, in 1970, 1971, 1974 and before that 1964, when this matter was discussed, it was never allowed to get to this point. But now the proverbial cat is out of the bag. The evidence is published showing what people think of the ceremony in this House and, indeed, outside it. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, in evidence--and this is on the record--said:
These are people's comments which are now on the public record. These are not wild rabble-rousing revolutionaries--well, not most of them, with the possible exception of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, a distinguished former Speaker said this when one more question was put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Denham:
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