PART 2: THE COMMITTEE'S OPINION
for a formal introduction of new members
19. The ceremony performs a number of functions. It introduces the new peer to the House, allowing the House to see and recognise the new peer and acknowledge his or her right to sit and vote as a member. It introduces the House to the peer, who is accompanied by two "supporters" during the ceremony, and must swear the oath of allegiance to the sovereign or make the solemn affirmation. It marks the creation of a new peer by the sovereign, whose words are spoken during the ceremony by the Reading Clerk; and, by this reading of the new peer's Letters Patent, it allows the House to hear the terms on which a new peerage has been created and to satisfy itself that these terms are properly drawn.
20. Several witnesses reminded us that the ceremony of introduction of new members to the House of Commons is shorter and simpler. Indeed, members of the House of Commons who have been chosen at a general election are not introduced, on the grounds that they have established their claim to a seat by an election petition. Members returned upon new writs issued after the general election are introduced in the simple form agreed by the House of Commons in a resolution of 23 February 1688. This states that, "in compliance with an ancient order and custom, they are introduced to the Table between two Members, making their obeisances as they go up, that they may be the better known to the House." Whilst noting the similarities between the ceremonies in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, we also see justification for some of the differences. Members of the House of Lords are not elected, and the ceremony of introduction thus marks the creation not only of a new peerage, but of a new member of one of the two Houses of Parliament. We believe that a formal introduction marking the solemn recognition both of the achievement of the new member of the House and of his or her new duties and responsibilities as a member is justified.
21. At the outset of our enquiry the Committee's members represented a wide cross-section of strongly held views about the ceremony, ranging from opposition to any change to a preference that the ceremony be abolished. However, after considering all the views put to us and the need to present a solution which we believe could be generally accepted by the House, we agreed that a formal ceremony of introduction to the House of Lords should be retained, but some aspects of it should be modified.
22. We also considered the suggestion put to us that the House should revert to the medieval position, whereby the Sovereign might again personally confer the peerage at an Investiture. We do not support this suggestion and believe that it would have little support in the House as whole.
23. In the following paragraphs we consider each aspect of the ceremony in turn.
Wearing hats and robes
24. One aspect of the ceremony which has attracted repeated criticism in recent years is the wearing of hats, and their associated doffing (Q 8). Critics of the hats often describe them as "Gilbert and Sullivan". The peculiar style of hats worn by peers during the ceremony of introduction today clearly does not date from 1621, and was probably adopted in the 19th century. Their use was presumably adopted at a period when the wearing of hats was common practice. We agree with the Bishop of Norwich's comments, when he said (Q 112):
"I would doubt very much whether the custom of doffing the hat, whether it is a bicorn or a mortar board, with a very elaborate sweep and bow has always happened. I would guess it is a more modern custom and it seems rather to have derived from school productions of Shakespeare rather than an ancient thing."
25. The wearing of hats serves no symbolic purpose during the ceremony. Although some of the pre-seventeenth century investiture ceremonies, particularly those for dukes and marquesses, included the ceremonial conferring of a cap of honour and coronet, barons were never invested in this way.
26. We recommend that the wearing of hats during the ceremony should cease.
27. Parliamentary robes have been worn during the ceremony since 1621, and we consider that this practice should continue.
28. The current ceremony begins with a procession into the Chamber, in which two officers of the Order of the Garter (Black Rod and Garter King of Arms) lead the new peer, who is accompanied by two sponsors. We recommend that the new peer should continue to be supported by two sponsors, and that the procession should be led by Black Rod. As we recommend the abolition of the "placing" ceremony, we also recommend that Garter King of Arms should no longer take part in the ceremony of introduction.
Kneeling to the Lord Chancellor
29. During the present ceremony the new peer kneels at the Woolsack and presents his Writ of Summons to the Lord Chancellor, while Garter presents the new peer's Patent. We have been unable to establish when the practice of kneeling to the Lord Chancellor was adopted.
30. Far from being dignified, the practice of kneeling to the Lord Chancellor is particularly awkward because the new peer, wearing robes, simply kneels down on the floor with nothing to lean on for support. Also, for many members of the House the manoeuvre is impossible - so much so that Garter told us that "it has almost become optional" (Q 87). Even watching this part of the ceremony can be an uncomfortable experience as the audience empathises with the new peer.
31. We consider that it is important for the new peer to acknowledge the Lord Chancellor during the ceremony; this already happens at the end of the ceremony when the new peer shakes hands with the Lord Chancellor. We therefore see no need to retain the act of kneeling before the Lord Chancellor.
32. We recommend that the practice of kneeling before the Lord Chancellor should stop.
The Letters Patent and Writ
33. A number of those who suggested changes to the ceremony advocated omitting the reading of either the Letters Patent or the Writ of Summons, or both. Over the years the number of documents read aloud in the House has decreased, and the reading of the text of bills was dispensed with long ago. In the case of the reading of the Writ, this practice was abandoned for peers by descent several centuries ago. In considering whether the Reading Clerk might read only one or other of the two documents, the Committee bore the following points in mind.
34. First, the Patent is the document by means of which the peerage is created, and the introduction ceremony is the only occasion marking this creation.
35. Second, of the two documents in question, it is the Patent which is more individual to the new peer. Although it is in common form for most peers, it varies between degrees of the peerage, between life and hereditary peers, and for Law Lords. The Writ is in common form to peers by creation and peers by descent.
36. Third, unlike the Writ of Summons, a peer receives the Letters Patent only once. (New writs are issued before the meeting of each Parliament to all Lords spiritual and temporal who have established their right to them. Writs in a different form are also issued to all peers who are newly created or who, having succeeded to a peerage, establish their right to one during the course of a Parliament). Furthermore, each time a Lord takes the Oath or makes the solemn affirmation he or she brings their Writ of Summons to the Table of the House, which provides a reminder of the rights and obligations which the Writ makes explicit.
37. The chief argument in favour of reading the Writ of Summons is that it is an essential part of a new peer's credentials and the indispensable "ticket of admission" to the House, although it should be pointed out that this argument applies equally to peers by descent but their Writs are not read out. The Writ is also shorter than the Letters Patent (although many of those who expressed their views on the ceremony to us, even those favouring reform, stressed that saving time was not their main concern (QQ 20, 130)).
38. Having considered all these arguments, we recommend that the Reading Clerk should continue to read the Letters Patent, but not the Writ of Summons.
"Placing" the new peer
39. The tradition of "placing" a new peer in his or her nominal place stems from the period when peers sat according to their rank. In earlier centuries the order of precedence of a new peer was a matter of some practical concern, as on a number of occasions it was necessary for a peer to know his exact precedence, for example for trials of peers. These considerations clearly no longer exist.
40. Most newly-created peers are currently placed at the back of the Barons' benches, on the opposition side of the House. Apart from any other consideration, this location has the problem of limited visibility for many of those watching the ceremony - a considerable disadvantage given that one of the reasons for the ceremony is to give the House an opportunity to see and recognise the new peer.
41. Furthermore, Lord Carter, the Government Chief Whip, said that "the placing is now not only outdated, but it is just wrong. We do not place peers, as they used to, in their ranks in the House rather than their parties or whatever" (Q 8).
42. We recommend the abolition of the "placing" ceremony. In its stead, we suggest the following ceremony of introduction of a new peer:
(1) following the procession into the Chamber, where each member of the party should bow once on reaching the bar, the new member should proceed directly to the Table of the House, where the Reading Clerk would read the Letters Patent and the new member would take the oath or make the solemn affirmation and sign the Test Roll;
(2) led by Black Rod and accompanied by his supporters, the new member would process behind the Clerks' chairs. Stopping at the cross-benches the peer and his supporters would bow their heads to the Cloth of Estate. The new member would not be seated;
(3) the procession would then proceed along the spiritual side of the House. On reaching the Woolsack, the new peer would shake hands with the Lord Chancellor before proceeding out with his supporters.
43. Although not part of the ceremony, we further recommend that the new peer and the two supporters, none of them wearing robes, should return to the Chamber, where he or she should sit for the first time on the side of the House where the new peer intends to sit in future.
Information about the ceremony
44. Lord Strathclyde, the Opposition Chief Whip, suggested that new peers should be issued with a note explaining the ceremony (Q 83). New peers are given a copy of the Information Office's leaflet on the ceremony, but this was written with members of the public in mind, and concentrates on the historical significance of the ceremony. It does not explain the reasons why the constituent parts of the ceremony are relevant to new members of the House of Lords at the end of the 20th century.
45. We recommend that peers who are to be introduced should be provided with a leaflet explaining the significance of the ceremony to their future role as members of a legislature.
Limiting the number of Introductions
46. Finally, we considered the question of limiting the numbers of new peers introduced on any one day. Introductions are usually confined to Tuesdays and Wednesdays and limited to two a day. The limit of two introductions, which does not apply to introductions taking place during the swearing-in period of a new Parliament, can be found in successive editions of the Companion to the Standing Orders since 1955. It has been endorsed by the Procedure Committee in successive publications since 1964.
47. In the past introductions have been held on other days of the week; and as many as six and seven introductions have been held on one day (in 1958, following the Life Peerages Act; these took place at special sittings of the House, for the specific purpose of introductions, like swearing-in days in a new Parliament). In 1911, 1919, and 1945 there were four introductions on one day. However, the conduct of multiple introductions at times when attendance may otherwise be low lacks some of the dignity which the ceremony is intended to provide. It also negates part of the reason for the ceremony, which is to introduce a large number of members of the House to the new peer, and the peer to the House.
48. Fifty-nine new peers were introduced between October and December 1997, and the usual channels agreed that the normal restrictions should not apply. As the Opposition Chief Whip put it, "there was the real risk that we were trying people's patience and ... the attendance during introductions was getting less and less" (Q 73). A second problem was that when three peers were introduced on the same day, the need to seat their guests in a number of different galleries meant that not all guests could see all the ceremony.
49. Even with the modifications to the ceremony which we have proposed, the ceremony will still take up some of the House's time at the start of the day's business - a point made by the Government Chief Whip (Q 22). We recommend that, save in exceptional circumstances, no more than two peers should be introduced on any one day.
11 Erskine May, 22nd edition (1997), pp 308-9. Back
12 Mortar boards are currently worn by Lords Spiritual, and their supporters, when they are introduced. Back
13 Wagner and Sainty, Origin of the Introduction of Peers, pp 124-5. Back
14 Except on a demise of the Crown, when new writs are not issued. Back
15 Including members of the public. Back