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Lord Denham: My Lords, I do not believe that it was the Prime Minister, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe that he was quoting Lord Geddes as regards German reparations. If the noble Lord does not like the quotation I used, that particular Chancellor of the Exchequer also referred to "making them howl". Those were his own words.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, perhaps I may return your Lordships to the rather conciliatory note of the whole debate against the unfortunate background of the recent comments of the noble Lord, Lord Denham. Perhaps I may begin by saying that if I do not mention "wigs", that is to return to the opening comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, who said,
I come to this debate as a traditionalist. I regard it as a House of Lords matter and not a party political matter at all. Perhaps I may comment on the report as a whole to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. The report is written as though there is never to be a female Lord Chancellor. It is written as though the Woolsack is always going to be occupied by a male Member of your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lady Kennedy of the Shaws, who intended to speak in this debate, would no doubt have wanted to say that, but unfortunately she is absent.
I shall deal with two issues in the amendment. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred to the fact that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor wants to wear different dress to that which he wears at the moment and wants to occupy the Front Bench when he speaks as a government Minister. I openly admit that I am old fashioned and that I am unashamedly, unashamedly, unashamedly--I say that three times so that the record gets it right--old Labour. I have always taken the view that those who choose to forget their past will search in vain for a future.
However, that being said, I am in favour of the proposals, not because they are modest, but because of the march of time. The noble Earl who moved the amendment is a hereditary Peer. I use the term reluctantly because I am conscious that we are slipping into the routine of using that description as though it were something to be ashamed of. I am not using the term in that manner at all. I wish only to make the point that the noble Earl is a hereditary Peer and the title was created in 1711. The noble Earl does not come to your Lordships' House wearing the garb of his predecessor
My final point concerns the question of moving to the Front Bench when the Lord Chancellor speaks as a government Minister. In my early days in your Lordships' House I was heart sorry for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who was the Lord Chancellor in the Conservative government. I had to watch him get up and move to the left in John Major's government in order to make a speech. My voice falls silent about the present position. I shall not go into great detail about that. The Lord Chancellor is a member of the Cabinet and when he is speaking on behalf of the Government it makes sense for him to speak from the Government Front Bench. My guess is that at this advanced stage of the debate the House has come to its own conclusion and that the request of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor should be acceded to.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I support the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, as a humble colleague of his on the Procedure Committee. I wish to make two very brief points. First, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor knew what uniform he would be expected to wear when he took the job. Secondly, I believe that the manner in which people dress influences the way in which they conduct themselves. I believe that any regimental sergeant-major would agree with that. They have always insisted on correct and immaculate uniforms because they know that appearance affects the conduct and morale of the troops. I leave those two brief thoughts with your Lordships.
Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees for the way in which he introduced the report of the Select Committee of which I am also a member. I was unable to attend the last meeting because I was in bed with flu. I very much regret that I am unable to support it for the reasons alluded to so elegantly by my noble friend Lord Ferrers and other noble Lords. I shall not go over the same points again.
As a member of the panel of Deputy Chairmen, I am concerned with the smooth running of your Lordships' House. As a panel we number 31. If one excludes the Front Bench members, our number is 24. Of these, two or three are frequently overseas. There are committees of your Lordships' House which have to be manned in the Moses Room and so our numbers are even more reduced. Until now every Lord Chancellor has conducted his business from the Woolsack, apart from
I know that my noble friend has our numbers in mind. I also know that in the past it has been difficult to find Peers who are prepared to commit time to the group because of outside interests, personal commitments and engagements. The job is voluntary and unpaid, but to my mind, it is a job well worth doing.
One other big problem looms. I am glad to see the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in her place. If the Government go ahead with the proposal to abolish hereditary Peers, they will lose over half the panel at a stroke. It will be very hard to find 12 Members of your Lordships' House to fill the gap at short notice. I hope that that has been considered; if not, the Government must find an answer.
Baroness Goudie: My Lords, we live in an age of rapid developments. The pace of technology, changes and social progress is so fast and all-embracing that the world in which we live is very different from that into which we were born. The 21st century is but 14 months away, yet the Lord Chancellor is required to dress as for a 17th century court, to the bafflement of the British public. It is not a cherished tradition but an absurd anachronism. No one in this day and age, even when appearing before the Sovereign, wears anything but a day suit, except on ceremonial occasions. It is time that this House acknowledged that when the world moves on we should move with it.
This Government were elected on a radical manifesto to take this country beyond the millennium. An integral part of that manifesto is to reform the Palace of Westminster, including this House. Such reform is long overdue. And it is not about re-writing our history or throwing away our traditions; it is about making Parliament a better place to work, more accessible to the people and more relevant to the needs of a modern nation.
The Procedure Committee has proposed reforms which are eminently sensible. The Lord Chancellor should not be expected to wear ceremonial dress every day. And the Lord Chancellor should be allowed the convenience of speaking as a Minister and addressing the House from the Government Front Bench. If this House resists these minor modernisations the British public will have their suspicions confirmed; that the
Lord Carter: My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Baroness is asking a brief question for clarification, but as she has not put her name on the speakers' list, perhaps we should get on with the debate.
Lord Rowallan: My Lords, perhaps I may take the Lord Chairman at his word and move the debate on to another recommendation. As regards the third recommendation, may we know more about the proposed membership of the working group of Back-Benchers considering the procedures in the Chamber? Remembering that at present all Peers are equal in your Lordships' House--whether they be Dukes, Barons, Ladies, Baronesses, life Peers, hereditary Peers, temporal or spiritual--I hope that we shall see a true composition of Back-Benchers.
As regards the Lord Chancellor's dress, we must be careful not to start massive changes down to the lowest common denominator. The Lord Chancellor's Procession might be seen as faintly ridiculous, but many people come to the Palace to see it, as they do the Speaker's Procession. If the recommendations are agreed they will see the Purse Bearer and the Train Bearer still wearing full ceremonial dress, but the Lord Chancellor not in ceremonial dress. In the procession we will see informal and formal dress and I wonder whether that might look slightly ridiculous.
I strongly believe that the Lord Chancellor should be allowed to move to the Front Bench if he wishes. Most government speeches are made from the Front Bench and I see nothing wrong with that recommendation.
Part of the Lord Chancellor's salary is related to the fact that he is the Speaker in your Lordships' House. He receives a dress allowance for that. I presume that we shall not be so silly as to change the salary.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that perhaps this is not the time to be discussing such changes. During the course of next year we shall have a big debate on the role and composition of this House within Parliament. Perhaps rather than dealing with this small issue now we should do so when we undertake that debate.
Lord Hacking: My Lords, some of our debates are curious occasions. Your Lordships are considering the 4th Report of the Select Committee, which has made five recommendations. One is of great importance upon Questions for Written Answer concerning, as it does, the accountability of government to Parliament. However, except for two brief mentions by two noble Lords, the entire debate has been about the first recommendation.
The recommendations on the Lord Chancellor's dress are thoroughly sensible. They represent a movement of the times and no more than that. Therefore, it is curious that we have had a debate of such length. While I entirely support these recommendations, I would add a caveat. It is referred to in the committee's penultimate paragraph and relates to the suggestion that the Lord Chancellor need only move to the Government Front Benches when he "wishes" to do so.
I understand the problem when the Lord Chancellor is dealing with a detailed Bill and is having to act as Speaker at the same time as talking to amendments on behalf of the Government. However, as I remember when I was a Cross-Bencher, the noble and learned Lord sits in a particularly advantageous position in your Lordships' House; we can see him and he can see us. Indeed, when I saw the Chief Whip of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, to break the painful news that I had decided to leave his party to join this party, I was minded to give another reason for my decision. I could see him better! Now I am sitting on this side of the House I can, indeed, fully see members of the former government which used to lead me.
I ask the noble and learned Lord to consider that caveat. He should feel free to remain in his position on the Woolsack, in particular during such debates as on the Queen's Speech, so that we can have the advantage of seeing him and he can have the advantage of seeing us. He should move to the Government Benches only when he needs to do so during the detailed passage of a Bill.
As regards the other recommendations about which there has been no debate or discussion today, I commend in particular the second and third. Adherence to procedures of the House has deteriorated. There has been a great deal of takeover by some Back-Benchers during Question Time. There is a great deal of unfortunate shouting when noble Lords do not give way to one another, particularly during Question Time. I believe that the proposed committee should be set up.
I make no comment on the fourth recommendation, which is a small matter. The fifth recommendation is useful and concerns the use of e-mails. Perhaps we can consider the Fourth Report in its entirety and agree to the sensible proposals. They do not slap tradition in its face or have anything to do with chipping away at standards in public life, as suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. The recommendations are sensible and perhaps we may accept them without more ado.
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