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Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, I trust that the noble Earl will forgive me for interrupting his speech and delaying the House. However, is the noble Earl giving an absolute guarantee at the Dispatch Box that he will co-operate with the Government in the legislation for the abolition of hereditary Peers?
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, perhaps I may, first, tell the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, that I am deeply grateful to him for the promotion. Secondly, the noble Lord knows the answer to that question as well as I do. I shall advise my noble friends to treat such a Bill in exactly the same way as they treat every other Bill; namely, to exercise their judgment in trying to improve it as it passes through your Lordships' House.
I have spoken far longer than I should have done. I deeply apologise to the House. However, I was provoked by my former colleague in another place as, indeed, I remember he used to do regularly in Standing Committee. The answer is perfectly clear. We are bound to be living in a rather heightened atmosphere during the next 12 months. Therefore, would it not be sensible just to look at the question of reform first and then the new House could look at its ceremonial in the light of its new ethos and ethics? I believe that that would certainly be the right time to do so, rather than this evening.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I hesitate to speak because I am well aware that the House would like to proceed with the matter and with other important business. However, having heard the whole debate and the contribution of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, I crave the indulgence of your Lordships to make two very brief points. I have no intention of seeking to contribute to what he rightly described as the possible perception of this being an absurd discussion. However, there are two practical points that I should like to draw to the attention of noble Lords.
First, the noble Viscount referred to the text of the committee's report. I, too, was at the meeting of the Procedure Committee at which all of these matters were discussed. I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his support for my proposal that a working group should be set up to look at what I believe he rightly described as the everyday practices of your Lordships' House. However, I must tell the noble Viscount, and other noble Lords who have raised the matter, that I was satisfied that the report which emerged from the Procedure Committee was accurate. But I shall leave it to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees to deal with any points of detail on the matter when he concludes the debate.
Secondly, the noble Viscount in his eloquent peroration, and other noble Lords, have questioned why the House should be asked to approve these changes when there are other more fundamental reforms in the air. It has never been my belief that you should avoid changing anything simply because you cannot change everything. I do not understand the description of this as "salami slicing". The House has shown itself able to evolve its own procedures. That is important. I believe that the reform of the Ceremony of Introduction has proved in practice to be successful and has in no way led to a reduction in the dignity or the appropriate ceremonial for the introduction of new Members of your Lordships' House. It is in that spirit that the Procedure Committee produced its report. I support the committee's report.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, after a debate such as this I hope that your Lordships will feel that I should not attempt to give a prolonged summing up. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I do not mention every speaker by name, much as they all deserve that. I shall not rehearse all of the arguments which have been mentioned about the two what I might call principal proposals, or those which at any rate have attracted greatest attention in the report of the Procedure Committee, as that has already been done thoroughly in the course of this debate. I hope that is acceptable. I shall discuss some of the factual and one or two of the substantive matters which have been raised.
First, I shall discuss the points which have just been made about the report by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition. I thank the noble Viscount for the way in which he referred to the text of the report. If the noble Viscount wishes to adhere to his interpretation of what is in the report, he and I must differ. I say--I hope more persuasively and more substantially--that there is not really anything between us on this matter. As I indicated--I hope clearly--when moving the Motion, without taking a head count of the arguments adduced in the committee I thought there was a small majority in favour of the proposal for the procedural changes of moving to the Dispatch Box and a still smaller majority in favour of the proposals on dress. There was no request for a Division. I would have acceded to a Division instantly had one been requested. That is what I ventured to say to your Lordships in moving the Motion this afternoon. I am reassured and comforted by the smile on the noble Viscount's face. I hope he will agree that there is not much, if anything, between us on that point.
I shall now discuss some of the other matters which have been raised. If your Lordships adopt the proposal that the Lord Chancellor should move to the Government Front Bench for the purposes specified in the report, I shall bring forward at an early stage for your Lordships' consideration proposed amendments to the standing orders. Clearly that will occur in the new Session, not this one. Without addressing the arguments again, I have one point to make to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I thank him for saying that he thought I
The working group was mentioned by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan. I cannot tell him precisely at the moment who will be the members of the working group, but I am assured that the usual channels, to whom this matter was left by the Procedure Committee, have these proposals well in hand. I shall ensure that the noble Lord and your Lordships are informed as soon as the names emerge. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, also mentioned the working group. The points which he suggested are not wide-ranging--therefore that overcomes the problem which the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition mentioned--and I see no reason to doubt that those matters which the noble and learned Lord has mentioned as possibly appropriate and within the terms of reference of the working group could be considered by the working group.
I and your Lordships' Procedure Committee were grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for their proposals for altering the system of Questions for Written Answer. We have received representations to the effect that the system of printing Questions for Written Answer only once is causing great inconvenience and worry to a number of your Lordships. It was for that reason that we decided to adopt these two proposals as a means of overcoming that. That would still result in a substantial saving of money.
The noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, mentioned the Deputy Speakers and Deputy Chairmen. He made a valid point. However, I can reassure your Lordships that those of us in your Lordships' House, including the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, who serve as Deputy Speakers and Deputy Chairmen--the others are voluntary, but I am in the fortunate position of not being voluntary and therefore I speak on behalf of the others--will accept any burden that your Lordships place upon us. It may be a little more difficult than it was in the past but we shall fulfil those duties to the best of our ability.
I believe those are the main points which your Lordships may feel I need to take into account in this brief summing-up. As regards the point that the noble Viscount made about the report, I accept full responsibility for the text and terms of the report before your Lordships. This debate has gone on long enough. On behalf of the Procedure Committee it is my duty to invite your Lordships to adopt its report without alteration.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord the Lord Chairman says that the debate has gone on long enough. However, it has not gone on quite long enough. I hope I may be permitted to express a few brief thoughts. I am grateful to your Lordships for having taken part. I believe the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said she thought it was an absurd debate.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I must correct that false impression. I was simply picking up the words of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition who said he feared it might be perceived as absurd.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am most grateful for those comments which mean that I shall not have to apologise to your Lordships for having been absurd or for having introduced a debate which might be considered absurd.
Perhaps I may thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for having the courtesy to sit through the debate, on the Woolsack, with his usual genial smile, bearing all the arrows that have flown backwards and forwards. I hope that he will not take this as a personal affront. I am all for the dignity of the Lord Chancellor; and I am all for enhancing and elevating his office so that he is even higher than he is already. I am on his side.
I hardly dare mention that the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, did say that he thought it an absurd debate. He asked what he could say to people, when asked what we had been discussing all afternoon, other than "The Lord Chancellor's dress." Having thought that it was an absurd debate, he promptly joined in. That does not say a great deal for consistency.
We would not have had the debate in the first place had it not been for the Lord Chancellor wishing to make alterations. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said that what matters is the way in which the noble and learned Lord does his job. We all agree with that--and that he does his job very well--but that does not mean that he has to change his attire.
It was frightening to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, an eminent QC, and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who is neither a Law Lord nor an eminent QC, but who is a very eminent Member of your Lordships' House, say that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would do his job better if he did not have to wear a wig. Do your Lordships think that the noble and learned Lord cannot do his job properly wearing a wig? Do your Lordships really think that all previous Lords Chancellor did not do their jobs properly because they were wearing a wig?
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