|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, the Government believe that unemployed people have both rights and responsibilities. We are offering a wide range of quality help to people to find work. But it is a long-standing principle that benefit sanctions are imposed if people unreasonably cause or prolong their own unemployment. We are evaluating the jobseeker's allowance, including people's experience and perception of benefit sanctions, and we shall keep all the benefit rules under active consideration as we develop our Welfare to Work plans.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. She referred to people unreasonably prolonging their own unemployment. Perhaps I may direct her attention to some cases in the NACAB report, Benefit and Work. People left jobs, for example, in a wine bar where a woman had been three times assaulted; driving a heavy goods vehicle which was unsafe; a man suffering from angina who left heavy work which was giving him heart attacks; and a pregnant woman leaving a job where she was regularly lifting heavy boxes. These examples carry disqualification from benefit up to 26 weeks. Does the Minister believe that those people were unreasonably prolonging their unemployment?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I cannot comment on those individual cases. On the face of it, I should have thought that they were not unreasonably prolonging their unemployment. As the noble Earl is aware, there is a procedure for appeal involving an adjudicator. Those sound like cases where that procedure ought to have been used.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that I certainly accept her strictures as to the tightening up of disciplinary procedures? There was widespread agreement that they possibly needed tightening. According to the report mentioned by the noble Earl, which I have read, in practice citizens advice bureaux and other voluntary organisations have plenty of evidence to suggest that benefit officials take a tough line and are unwilling, unless pressed by independent advisers, to apply the concessions allowed by the rules.
The report gives ample evidence and a number of examples. I am particularly concerned about the rules that cater for unemployed people with health problems or disabilities. Such people are allowed to place restrictions on their availability for work--for example, on the number of hours that they can work or the types of work that they are able to do. It does not matter that the effect of the restrictions is that a person is extremely unlikely to find a suitable job, provided that the restrictions are reasonable in the light of a person's physical or mental condition. Yet the report is full of examples of people who have been rejected although they fulfil the conditions. Will the noble Baroness give an assurance that the Government will take account in their review of the examples in the reports issued by the citizens advice bureaux and return with reasonable suggestions and proposals that would be more acceptable to people in those unfortunate circumstances?
Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords. It is extremely important that the Government take seriously a report of this kind and examine the examples that it provides. The Government are undertaking an evaluation of JSA and of the sanctions regime established under the Act. A piece of research is being undertaken by the Centre for Research and Social Policy based at Loughborough University. The post-JSA element of that study is starting this autumn and the report should be published some time next summer.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the Government, when in Opposition, were never supportive of sanctions and penalties for people who were prolonging their own unemployment. Therefore we welcome the Government's present policy in this area. How many young people up to the age of 25 are now out of work? Secondly, do the Government have any plans for changing the way in which they count those people as unemployed?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome that the noble Baroness gives to the Government's policy in this area. However, her question on the numbers of unemployed young people is rather wide of the Question on the Order Paper. I will write to the noble Baroness and give her the precise, up-to-date figure. It changes every day of the week and I do not have it before me.
The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is widespread concern that jobcentres are not doing their job or are doing it in a heavy-handed fashion? What action will her department take to ensure that the inspectors monitor the work of those employed in jobcentres?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am not in fact aware that jobcentres are not doing their job. They have an extremely important responsibility. To my knowledge, those who work in jobcentres carry out their difficult task to the best of their ability and with great commitment. It is always important to monitor and
Earl Russell: My Lords, in reply to my first supplementary question the Minister invoked the right of appeal. Is she aware that under the Jobseekers Act no benefit is paid pending an appeal? Does she agree with the view expressed by her noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham in the previous Parliament that that denial is fundamentally unjust?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am perfectly aware that until an adjudicator has examined the issues, no benefit is paid. However, the important point is that there should be no delay in adjudicators undertaking this work. Again, the Government are committed to ensuring that that will not happen.
Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient time after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on economic and monetary union. I should like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement following the end of the Minister's initial reply to the Opposition spokesmen should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification. There is a mandatory limit of 20 minutes from the end of the Minister's initial reply to the Opposition spokesmen.
Lord Richard: rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying Her Majesty that she will be graciously pleased to place her prerogative and interest so far as they may be concerned at the disposal of the House of Lords for the purpose of the consideration of alterations in the ceremony of introduction.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is with a certain degree of anticipation that I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I feel a little unsure of what to expect from the List of Speakers in this debate but I do know one thing: that this House takes it traditions and procedures very seriously indeed. I am therefore prepared for nothing less than a full and thorough debate. I hope that this Motion will provide the House with an opportunity for all those interested to make their views known on this important, if arcane, subject.
I should like to begin with a few words about the Motion before the House today. It is not a Motion to change the procedure for the ceremony of introduction; it is a technical Motion asking Her Majesty to allow the consideration of changes. As the ceremony of introduction is principally a matter for the Sovereign and not for the House--a topic to which I shall return later--technically the House needs to agree the Motion and receive Her Majesty's reply before we can even begin to consider options for change. However, perhaps I should say that that does not preclude a full debate this afternoon.
I am sure that the House will expect me to give some indication of the changes I have in mind to propose in due course if this Motion is agreed and I shall not disappoint your Lordships in that. It is, however, my clear understanding, on advice, that our procedures cater for this: although the House cannot formally consider changes to the ceremony until Her Majesty has given her permission, that does not preclude individuals from expressing their opinions and exploring ideas today. Indeed, we could hardly debate whether an humble Address was needed without discussing the reasons why.
I should also add that I am aware that some might question--indeed some have questioned--the propriety of the procedure committee having produced the report that the House has just accepted in advance of the House's agreeing to my Motion today. It would have been possible for me to have just tabled this Motion after discussion with the usual channels, but I considered it important to obtain the blessing of the
Perhaps I may make one further procedural point before coming to the substance of the Motion. If the Motion is agreed to and Her Majesty gives her consent, there are a number of procedures which could then be followed to take forward the will of the House. The procedure committee could, for example, consider the ceremony itself, or perhaps a special Select Committee could be appointed. No discussions have yet taken place within the usual channels on this question, but I hope that noble Lords who have views on how we might proceed if the Motion is accepted will make them known during the debate.
I should now like to look at the ceremony itself. In this context I should say at the outset that I am not in favour of the most radical change of all: doing away with the ceremony entirely and requiring life Peers to go through no greater formality than is now observed by the hereditary occupants of our Benches when they succeed to their seats--namely, taking the oath and signing the roll. I am not in favour of what I call that most radical option because I recognise that, for those Peers for whom their new title is an honour personally bestowed, the day on which they first sit in your Lordships' House is a great occasion, for the Peer, their family and friends. A ceremonial introduction is a part of that sense of occasion and is a moment of significance for the House. I accordingly believe that an appropriate ceremony should be retained.
I suggest, however, that the present ceremony is no longer entirely appropriate. Some of its components no longer carry any meaning in the House and make even less sense to the public. It is also too long. It seems to me that an appropriate ceremony should meet three aims: first, it should provide a proper and public introduction of a new Peer to the rest of the House; secondly, it should be dignified and in accordance with the traditions of the House; and, thirdly, it should be conducted in a manner which does not lead to boredom in the House and disdain for our procedures. I do not believe that the present ceremony meets those aims.
There can be no doubt that the ceremony does provide a public introduction for a new Peer and for that reason I am in favour of retaining a ceremonial that takes place in the Chamber of the House rather than behind some beautifully gilded but firmly closed doors.
In one sense one could argue that the ceremony is in accordance with the traditions of the House, since it has been largely unaltered since 1621; but I suggest that longevity is not an entirely convincing justification. All traditions begin somewhere and the present ceremony was imposed upon the House by James I. He regularly created new Peers without ceremony. Indeed, he created peerages at an unprecedented rate in return for the large sums of money that he could secure for a peerage.
Nor should we lose sight of the fact that this ceremonial is not strictly part of our procedures at all, nor were the procedures used before the arrival of the present ceremony in 1621. Strictly speaking, introduction ceremonies have never been part of the proceedings of this House.
Hence in saying that I agree with the need to keep in touch with tradition, I stress that we need always to be aware of what our traditions mean. Furthermore, there is another perspective on such matters, one looking to the future rather than to the past. The lifetime of this Parliament will extend into the 21st century and, however those in some parts of the House feel about it, change is in the air. I ask the whole House to consider carefully whether a ceremonial of this kind fits as it stands with the kind of efficient and businesslike working second Chamber that we aim for or indeed with the well known dictum of many, particularly on the other side of the House, that the House of Lords "works". It may work, but does it not sometimes also creak under the weight of unquestioned tradition and accumulated precedent? I also believe that the dignity of an occasion such as an introduction is bound to suffer if repeated at length and ad nauseam.
As far back as the 1960s, when options for reform of the ceremony were discussed, there was a feeling that the ceremony had become repetitive and that the House was becoming bored with it. The fact that the House is never full for introductions also indicates to me that Peers in general may not be particularly keen on this ceremony and that the wishes of the House as a whole should be considered--the wishes of those who do not come to see it as well as those who do. There are certain elements of the ceremony which may seem somewhat ridiculous to the general public and are indeed awkward for many of those who have to undergo it.
If I may set out my own personal stall for a moment, I believe that a public ceremony, in accordance with tradition but appropriate for the present, would include supporters, robes to give a sense of dignity, the reading of either the Patent or the Writ and the handshake with the Lord Chancellor to the acclamation of the whole House. I might add that Peers by descent receive a similar Writ which is not read, but I do not consider that
Indeed, the placing could be argued to be divisive and out of accord with the spirit of the House that all Peers are equal. It also reflects a time in your Lordships' House, long since gone, when Peers were arranged geographically in the Chamber in ermined ranks according to their degrees of peerage. Only a few vestiges of that practice remain. Accordingly, I believe that the placing of Peers on introduction should now be omitted from the introduction ceremony.
The doffing of hats too seems to be somewhat unnecessary. Its purpose was, perhaps, to reveal a Peer's face. Yet, for most of the ceremony now, Peers are hatless--male Peers are hatless anyway--and wholly visible. On a purely practical note, the corner of the Chamber in which the new Peer is placed is not exactly in easy sight of everyone present. If I may digress for a moment, that is yet another area where the procedures for hereditary Peers have become less onerous than those established for Life Peers. In the 16th century, Garter regularly "placed" all new Peers, whether by succession or on creation. The hereditary Peers have long since escaped that particular tradition.
I understand that many years ago Garter used to receive a fee for the placing of Peers, whether by succession or on creation. In that respect, I am very grateful to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, for drawing my attention to a monograph on the introduction of Peers in the House of Lords written by Sir Anthony Wagner in 1967. As I am sure the House will know, the powers, duties, advantages and fees payable to Garter were set out in a tract of the late 14th century or early 15th century, which survives in a number of copies, entitled: Jura debita et largitates appertinentes de antiqua consuetudine Armorum Officialibus secundum morem et consuetudinem Angliae. Your Lordships may feel that that needs translation into a more modern language. In Norman French it reads: Ces sont les Droiz et largesces appartenant et d'aunciennete accoustumez aux Roys d'Armes selon l'usance du Angleterre.
Why did it change? I fear that I have to tell your Lordships that, yet again, money seems to have played a part. Again, I am grateful to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and the monograph in question. It seems that when the new ceremony was devised, Garter, the Clerk of Parliaments and possibly other officers were accorded specific fees in connection with it on condition that they abandoned the fees that they had previously received on the first entry of Peers coming in by descent.
So there is nothing particularly moral or indeed particularly honourable about the fact that doffing of hats takes place on the introduction only of Life Peers. It would seem that in 1621 it was felt that repetition of the ceremony would clearly be so great after the number of Peers that James I had created that better and more proper arrangements for the payment of the Heralds were necessary; and so it took place.
I have said much about tradition and the need for change but I have not yet said anything about the question of time. There can be no doubt that introduction ceremonies absorb the prime time of the House at the start of the day, when Peers are looking to get on with important business. The House has recently given careful consideration to a number of aspects of its procedures, with a view to improving time management. But this ancient ceremony has remained unscrutinised. That is another reason why I hope that the House will agree to this Motion today: so that those questions of timing can be examined. I am also conscious that our procedures allow Peers to take their seats only slowly, spread over a number of weeks after announcement. A number of those who have been summoned by Her Majesty to be "personally present" to give counsel "waiving all excuses" are still unable to do so because they are in a queue to take their seats. I assume that that is acceptable as an excuse that cannot be waived; if so, it seems to be a little extreme. I do not believe that the present lengthy wait is appropriate or in accordance with the dignity that a peerage confers.
Let me deal with one argument that I have heard; namely, that this is all a put-up job and a ploy by the incoming Labour Administration, so that it can flood the House with Labour Peers. The present composition of this House is that on these Benches there are approximately, even with all the newcomers, 148 or 149 Labour Peers. The composition on the other side is that there are now no fewer than 498 or maybe 499 Peers, life and hereditary, to take the Conservative Whip. Flood, my Lords? It would need a deluge--and all I am looking for is a trickle. But even leaving aside that kind of watery simile for a moment, it seems to me that a situation in which somebody is made a Peer and then has to queue up because of the details of the ceremonial is frankly absurd and we ought to examine it. While I accept the need for the House to spend some time on the introduction of each new Peer, I do not consider that the current delay before introduction is right or makes sense.
Therefore, I believe that the time has come for the ceremony to be considered. We need a dignified ceremony with real meaning, which combines the strength of tradition with the needs of a modern legislature. But all I seek today is the agreement of the House that the process of consideration should begin. Passing this Motion today will not commit the House to change--I wish that it would do so, but it does not--but merely provides the first of the formal mechanisms required. If the Motion is agreed, the House will have
Moved, That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying Her Majesty that she will be graciously pleased to place her prerogative and interest so far as they may be concerned at the disposal of the House of Lords for the purpose of the consideration of alterations in the ceremony of introduction.--(Lord Richard.)
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, it is my entire good fortune that by sheer happenstance I have this very day taken part as one of the supporters of a new Peer. That circumstance has enabled me to have experienced in the laboratory of reality the nature of the ceremony which I myself underwent only some six years ago.
One of the emotions that assailed me when I followed Garter and Black Rod in all their glory into your Lordships' House was the feeling that man is clearly not a rational beast. Your Lordships will perhaps be more aware than most of the justice of that observation. It seems that man still has a need for ceremony, just as he always has. Before any noble Baronesses in the House rise in protest, let me say that I use the word "man" in the sense of mankind.
I must observe also that even the most revolutionary promoters of man as a rational being recognised that underlying emotional need. One only needs witness what in all conscience one can only call the absurd rituals invented by the holders of the most extreme opinions of the first French Revolution, or, indeed, occasionally the Soviet regime at its most dreary and depressing, to realise that regimes which were supposed to be based entirely on the rationality of man saw that there was a gap which their rational opinions could not fill. I have to observe that, in general, self-consciously modern--dare I say "new"--regimes are at least as vulnerable to the temptation to invent new and modern ceremonies (as I am told the Scots found this week), as are anciens regimes of the most dyed in the wool kind.
Most ceremonials, unlike the ceremonials of the French Revolution, grow up through happenstance, through muddle and, as the Lord Privy Seal pointed out this afternoon, even through the idleness of kings. As he said, our own introduction ceremony is one such, since it in part originates from the reluctance of James I and VI to confront directly the consequences of his mass sale of peerages to fund his personal extravagances.
Some ceremonies have been refined or even re-invented in modern times, often to their and our advantage. I am told by those who know more of this than I that much of our admired present day ceremonial was invented by King Edward VII. We have certainly become better at it in the 20th century, as anyone who has read accounts of the coronation of George IV and Queen Victoria can testify.
But well performed or ill, rational or irrational, symbolically clear or muddled by the accretions of time, we have a need for ceremonial to mark occasions of significance. It is for that reason that the House is right to hold a ceremony of introduction for a new peerage;
To that extent I agree with the Lord Privy Seal. The question therefore is not whether we should have an introduction ceremony at all--it is clear from what the Lord Privy Seal said that we should--rather, it is whether the present ceremony is dignified or appropriate. The Lord Privy Seal feels that it is not. I know that that view is expressed both inside and outside your Lordships' House; I have even heard the adjective "Gilbertian" applied to some of our proceedings. It is because there are differing views and because those views are being expressed on both sides increasingly forcefully--perhaps as a result of the prevailing atmosphere of change to which the Lord Privy Seal referred--that we should be grateful to him for proposing the Motion we are now discussing.
I confess that I have a greater affection for ceremony than our almost aggressively casual age will allow, at least in our national life. I also enjoy, perhaps rather more than the Lord Privy Seal, the quirks that usage and forgotten symbolism insert into some of our national ceremonies. I note that affection for ceremonial is often a matter of fashion and, as anybody who has children will know, fashion is a pendulum which can swing unpredictably to and fro.
I note also that the present Government wish to abolish the hereditary peerage. It is the hereditary peerage whose existence justifies a large part of the ceremonial that affects not just this House of Parliament, but on occasion both Houses. A new utilitarian quango which would be the House that would emerge after phase one of the proposed government reforms would look even more ridiculous in socialists' eyes if it retained all of what they feel is the flummery of a hereditary peerage.
It is a little curious, therefore, that changing our existing ceremonies should assume such a high priority over changing our composition. In that context, I hope that the Government will not feel that I am being unduly impertinent if I make an entirely constructive suggestion. If the Government feel that the existing ceremony is absurd, then clearly they have an interest in preserving it in full in order to point out all the better, perhaps at the margins of their argument, that we are a ridiculous House and that that is a good example of our absurdity.
For both those reasons--one perhaps more serious than the other--I feel that the timing of this initiative is a little premature. It may be better to consider the ceremonial attaching to this House after the abolition of the hereditary peerage than before. Nevertheless, I am happy to recommend to the House that we should accept
I am happy, if the House agrees, to leave the nature of the body which is to consider these matters to the usual channels. No doubt your Lordships will want to express views on the nature of the body concerned and I can undertake that the usual channels on this side of the House will listen carefully to the views expressed. Indeed, your Lordships may feel that a Select Committee rather than the Procedure Committee or a sub-committee of the Procedure Committee may be a suitable vehicle for such an inquiry. However, the usual channels will be wise to be guided by your Lordships' views.
There will be much temptation in the public prints tomorrow to poke fun at your Lordships' activities this afternoon. Nevertheless, this is a matter of importance to your Lordships' House, and, as the Lord Privy Seal said, to the public's view of this House. It is also a matter of importance to new Peers, their families and friends, for whom the day of introduction is a great day, often the culmination of a long and distinguished career.
In that context I say, with the greatest respect to the Lord Privy Seal, that I hope that any Select Committee--if that is the body that emerges to examine this question--will not worry too much about the length of the ceremony. There is a via media in all these matters. I am told that the average amount of time the present ceremony takes is around 12 minutes, and that perhaps is not such a long time during the daily proceedings of your Lordships' House--in normal times as opposed to the queue mentioned by the Lord Privy Seal during the course of his remarks this afternoon. It is a solemn and important occasion and certainly, sub specie aeternitatis, it seems to me that this is not something which need detain us too much, so long as we do not lengthen the ceremony.
With your Lordships' permission I should like to make just one or two further points. I want to refer to the 2.15 p.m. start and our practice since we reassembled after the summer to introduce three, and I believe on one occasion four, Peers on the same day.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page