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Viscount Slim: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may raise one matter. He referred to leaving this "party", pointing at the Cross Benches. I believe that that is correct, but I am happy to be corrected. Hansard will tell us. Perhaps I may remind
Lord Hacking: My Lords, I was a Cross-Bencher in your Lordships' House for 19 years and much enjoyed my time as a member. I was never a member of a party when I was a member of the Cross Benches, nor did I say that to your Lordships a moment ago. I was referring to the fact that I have visited other places in your Lordships' House and that when I made the painful decision to leave the party led by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, I knew that I would have the pleasure of getting a much better view of him. I have that pleasure now.
The Earl of Drogheda: My Lords, I am sure that many noble Lords realise how fortunate we are to meet in this glorious Chamber. I suggest that the pageantry and uniforms which accompany our proceedings are an important ingredient and contribute an essential note of gravitas. There has been much use of phrases such as "moving with the times", "this day and age", "being accessible to the people", and so forth. Those are cliches. I dare say that your Lordships will recall how, in the 1960s, there was an expression much in vogue which was "with it". One had to be "with it". In the name of what John Betjeman called "withitry", many of our greatest cities were destroyed. We are now trying to repair that damage.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is a man of taste and discernment. His love of and eye for paintings are exceptional. Moreover, he clearly has a great feeling for the beauty of this building, a feeling to which the redecoration of his apartment bears ample witness. Why he should wish to do anything to diminish its grandeur baffles me, just as it baffles the noble Lord, Lord Denham.
A senior figure should be seen to be a senior figure and, where uniforms apply, should dress accordingly. When an admiral or a general is on parade, it is not just the other ranks who must be properly dressed. No doubt the admiral or general may be more comfortable in more casual clothes, but I am sure your Lordships will agree that that would not be right, just as I am equally sure that the troops would feel affronted were he to do so.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, it has struck me during this debate that there has been an attempt to paint the Members on this side of the Chamber as having no respect for the dignity and authority of the Lord Chancellor.
A suggestion has been made, but the amendments moved by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, seek to challenge the idea that there has been a suggestion. In the past hour there have been attempts to block any move at all. It is said that we should have change, but not now. We are faced with a reasonable request from someone who serves us well but who believes that he could serve us better if some of the impedimenta of the past were removed.
I cannot believe that people outside this House who are affected by the work of the Lord Chancellor give a tinker's cuss about the uniform or the dress. They are concerned about the quality of the law and the dignity of the Office. There is nothing that the Lord Chancellor has done in the past, nor, I suggest, will do in the future, which will diminish that. I believe that this is a measure of practical common sense and, as such, I commend it to the House.
The second point is that when I was first appointed to your Lordships' House, it was enjoined upon us at the opening of Parliament that we should wear a morning coat under our robes. Over the course of time, it became quite clear that there was no need for that whatever and now we are allowed to wear normal dress. If that can be so on a state occasion, surely we should accede to the modest request of the Lord Chancellor.
I hope that this will not be considered to be a party matter in any way. I hope that nobody will accuse me of not being extremely supportive of all the customs of this House. The recommendations of the report seem to me to be eminently sensible. They preserve the dignity of the Lord Chancellor. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, that dress is not important. It is important. But customs change and conventions alter. As the great John Henry Newman said, "To be human is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often". No pun is intended.
There are other simplifications of a different sort which I should like to ventilate in order to make our paperwork more user-friendly. Will the Chairman of Committees confirm that possible improvements to the wording of amendments would be within the terms of reference of the working group as an improvement to the procedures of the House? The wording of amendments is relevant to such procedure.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, there is a limit on how much can be said on the topics covered by the amendments to the Motion. Perhaps it is as well that not more noble Lords emulated the ingenuity of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, and I shall not say quite as much as I could say.
I sum up the underlying question as whether the proposed changes will contribute to or detract from the reputation and efficiency of the House. As my noble friend Lord Lester said, we are not a club and, in my view, both changes would be likely to contribute to our reputation and to our efficiency. Indeed, to refuse either may detract from that.
With regard to the dress of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, what is most apparent to the public, as has been mentioned this afternoon and what is most apparent to Members of this House, is the gown and the wig. I should be surprised if most people noticed the difference if the noble and learned Lord were able to adopt the discreet plain black trousers and highly polished shoes which are proposed.
There is nothing disrespectful in modern garb. For example, your Lordships have not argued for dress-down Fridays which are now quite common in offices in the City of London. As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, noted, women Members of this House now quite frequently wear trousers. There would be a riot if there were an attempt to prevent us from doing so.
I recall on the occasion of my own introduction to this House, when I was in danger of walking straight out after the series of bows, the previous Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, extended an extremely elegantly clad leg which made sure that I did not walk straight past the
I have said that in refusing these proposals we could be detracting from the reputation of this House. The publicity around the refusal to moderate what one might almost call a minimum change--I agree with other noble Lords who made that point--could indicate to the world at large that the House is more concerned with the peripheral, almost the irrelevant, rather than the substance of the House's important work. This afternoon has had its moments, but I am not sure that I care for being living material for the sketch writers. I have rarely seen the Press Gallery as full as it was at the beginning of the debate and, though it is difficult to see from down here, I do not believe that many of them are constitutional historians.
One comment that I have already seen in the press--this matter has been covered fully--is that the wig which the Lord Chancellor customarily wears is rather like a dead sheep wrapped around a bollard and the bollard comes off worst, but I do not compare the noble and learned Lord to a bollard. More seriously, I understand the heightened sensitivity to these matters because of the currency of the debate relating to reform. We have heard the "right time" argument; the argument that we should await reform; the salami-slicing argument. I can see that when the right time comes--in other words, when we have a degree of reform--we may hear the opposite argument; that is, that we have already done away with enough traditions and should change no more.
I feel as strongly about the working arrangements as I feel about the question of dress. From these Benches we can clearly see the difficulties faced by the Lord Chancellor in dealing with material when he is speaking on a major piece of legislation and does not have the convenience of the Dispatch Box nor the ability easily to communicate with colleagues. We are a working Chamber and have every reason to accede to a reasonable request.
I am sorry to disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who said that the Lord Chancellor's place is on the Woolsack other than when the House is in Committee. Why is that so? He called the second amendment the "moving about" amendment. I suggest that it is the speaking and working amendment.
During the course of the debate reference was made to the custom of the Lord Chancellor to walk backwards down the steps of the Throne on the occasion of the State Opening. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, corrected that point, but I understand from the Lord Chancellor--I have had the benefit of sitting nearest to him during the course of the debate--that the suggestion for change came from Her Majesty herself and that the Lord Chancellor's response was to thank her for her consideration.
Yesterday I mentioned this debate to a relative who is the widow of a senior Army officer. She expressed some surprise at this being prime business for today. However, she also said that officers never wore dress
I conclude by thanking the noble and learned Lord for his courtesy in bringing these matters to the House, in particular with regard to dress. I have been somewhat flippant--I recognise that--but there are serious points to be made. I understand that it was not necessary for him to bring the matter to the House. He has shown the House a great courtesy in doing so. I support the modest and reasonable changes proposed.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, before I ask your Lordships to turn their attention during the course of my remarks to what is clearly the burning political question of the hour--the matter of the noble and learned Lord's dress--perhaps I can briefly refer to a couple of other matters set out in the report.
I want to underline what a number of noble Lords--notably the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, for whose charming reference to myself I am grateful--referred to as the desirability of recommendation number 2 headed, "Questions for Written Answer". All those who have been members of governments know that the only mechanism open to anybody to hold governments continuously to account is Parliament. The fact that, according to the sheet headed "Questions for Written Answer" dated 13th November, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, has had a Question outstanding since 12th March, underlines the extraordinary value of that recommendation. I am sure your Lordships will agree with me that we may be able to agree with that as a recommendation without further debate.
I welcome the suggestion of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in relation to establishing a working group on procedure in the Chamber. The noble Baroness gave us every assurance that we were not going to talk about great matters affecting the powers of this House or how they are applied. My understanding from the noble Baroness--I am grateful to her for remaining so long; I know that she has a number of other important engagements later this evening--is that that working group would look at the minutiae of procedure in your Lordships' House. I greatly welcome it. It is already difficult to keep up with everyday practices in this House. I have been here for five or six years, admittedly not as long as many other noble Lords. With so many of our number being newly introduced, the little politesses which enable us to do without a conventional Speaker are more important than many of us realised when we first came here. A reminder of that would be helpful also when looking at whether any of the small matters need attention and change because, as we know, nothing is perfect.
That brings me to the matter of the noble and learned Lord's attire. During the course of what has proved to be an extremely lengthy afternoon, a number of noble Lords referred to the absurdity of spending so much of
I hope that I will not be more than usually long in prolonging this debate but I wish to record that I am sorry that my memory was clearly defective in relation to the proceedings of our committee. I thought that we had agreed that the noble and learned Lord should move to the Dispatch Box as recommended in the report though, as the Chairman of Committees indicated, there were a number of dissenting voices, notably from my noble friend Lord Ferrers. However, I had remembered--and clearly I had misremembered it--that there was very far from overwhelming agreement in the committee as to the second matter of the dress of the noble and learned Lord. I had recalled that we thought that the sensible thing to do was to refer the matter to the House as a whole without a recommendation. Nevertheless, I stand to be corrected in that respect.
In that context, perhaps I should also emphasise that I speak here purely as an individual Member of your Lordships' House. There is no intention whatever for this Front Bench to influence any of its normal supporters. Indeed, even if I had wanted to, I am sure that I would have been unable to do so on this matter, above all others. Speaking personally, I have absolutely no quarrel with the idea of the noble and learned Lord "moving about", as my noble friend Lord Ferrers put it, in the way recommended here. I have no quarrel for exactly the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, during the course of his intervention. I shall not attempt to repeat them now because the noble Lord did so much more eloquently than I could have done.
However, we should think carefully about the second recommendation. I say that for one specific reason to which I shall now turn. There is a feeling among the more traditional and perhaps deeply entrenched Members of your Lordships' House that members of the Government dislike much of the ceremonial associated with this House. We have heard a number of passionate dementis given to that assertion this afternoon. Of course, I accept them without any argument. Nevertheless, it is a feeling which is very much abroad. I believe that it has been encouraged by the equally embarrassing debate in your Lordships' House in prime time over the change proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to the Introduction ceremony, and what has been described by a number of my noble friends as a process of salami slicing which also appears to be taking place in the matter.
I have absolutely no quarrel with the desire to review our ceremonial in principle. After all, it seems to me that all ceremonial treads rather a tricky tightrope between what one might think of as undignified understatement and, on the other side, bathetic absurdity. That is particularly so in an age which no longer values so much, as once did this country, outward and visible signs of dignity. That is perhaps increasingly reflected in the lack of self-confidence on the part of people who form part of the Government to take some pride in the authority of government by the way they dress and process.
Therefore, it would seem to me to be sensible in the normal course of events to review our ceremonial practices from time to time in an attempt to remain on that tightrope. However, as a number of noble Lords on both sides of the House have asked, the question is, when? We all know--we are getting rather bored, at least I am, with the question; indeed, I seem to talk of little else these days--that we are facing a change in the composition of your Lordships' House.
After all, the basis upon which much of the ceremonial in this House is predicated--indeed, I venture to suggest pretty well all of it--is the dominating ethos of this Chamber; in other words, the ethos that surrounds the idea of a hereditary peerage as an order, even though I suspect that hereditary Peers day to day barely form 50 per cent., perhaps even a regular minority of the number of your Lordships who actually take part in our proceedings.
The fact that the prospect of reform or change in our composition is now so dominant a part--so dominant a leitmotif--of everything that happens in your Lordships' House, and will continue to be so until that change happens, is bound in some way to distort any debate on any matter affecting your Lordships' procedures and ceremonial, however trivial it may seem. That debate and that feeling are emphasised above all by the fear that a number of your Lordships unquestionably have of what might happen to them some time next year.
It seems to me that the new House will be very different in character after we hereditaries have gone. As my noble friend Lady Young said earlier, and in view of the remarks that I have just made, would that not be the time to look at our ceremonial as a whole? The noble Lord, Lord Annan, who, of course, is one of our most distinguished Cambridge academics, is more familiar than I am with that splendid little booklet, Microcosmographica Academica, in which I understand a most eloquent definition was posited of the theory of unripe time. If my memory serves me right, it is put forward in that small volume as the ultimate argument, along, as the noble Lord rightly pointed out, with the theory of the thin end of the wedge of the reactionary.
I believe that I can counter the noble Lord's argument very simply by saying that the reactionary is implying that the time will never be ripe. That is not my argument to your Lordships this afternoon. The time, some of us may think rather sadly, will be ripe very shortly. I submit to your Lordships that that time will be when we hereditaries have come and gone and have been duly thanked most charmingly, if I may say so, by the noble