Select Committee on Ceremony of Introduction Report

26 February 1998

By the Select Committee appointed to consider the ceremony of Introduction.





  1.    All newly created peers are introduced to the House of Lords by a distinctive ceremony of introduction. Although the ceremony is open to the public, and occasionally broadcast on television, its audience is chiefly members of the House and the family and friends of the new peer. Despite its being of little general interest to anyone outside the House of Lords (Q 126), the ceremony is a major occasion in the new peer's life, and it is therefore both inevitable and understandable that many members of the House have strong views on it.

  2.     Ceremonial introduction to the House of Lords is currently necessary in the case of:

This report is about the introduction of newly created peers.

  3.    The elements of the present ceremony are-

    (1)  there is a procession into the Chamber, in which Black Rod and Garter King of Arms lead the new peer, who is accompanied by two supporters, all three wearing parliamentary robes with special hats; at the Woolsack the new peer kneels and presents his or her Writ of Summons to the Lord Chancellor, while Garter presents the new peer's Letters Patent of Creation;

    (2)  at the Table of the House the Reading Clerk reads the Patent and Writ and the new peer takes the Oath of allegiance (or makes the solemn affirmation) and signs the Test Roll;

    (3)  Garter "places" the new peer by conducting the peer, with the supporters, to the bench appropriate to their degree in the peerage; there, three times in succession, they sit, put on their hats, rise, doff their hats and bow to the Lord Chancellor; all involved then proceed out of the Chamber, the new peer shaking hands with the Lord Chancellor on the way out.

The origins of the ceremony

  4.    The ceremony of introduction of newly created peers dates in its present form from 1621. Before then peerage dignities were conferred by the sovereign in person, originally within Parliament itself and then outside Parliament. Investitures for peerages were abandoned in the early 17th century, although they continue for lesser honours such as knighthoods. The ceremony of introduction is thus a substitute for the personal investiture of a new peer by the sovereign. The reason for the change in 1621 appears to be that during the first twenty years of the 17th century James I conferred peerages at a rate which was unprecedented at that time, and the frequent repetition of the ceremony of investiture by the sovereign had become inconvenient - and perhaps embarrassing at a time when titles were available for money.[2]

  5.    Since 1621 there have been significant changes in the composition of the House of Lords. On 20 November 1621, the day on which the first peers were introduced by the new ceremony, 56 peers attended the House, out of a possible total of 120.[3] Writing in 1861, when the membership of the House was around 460, Erskine May thought that "the continual additions which have been made to the number of temporal peers, sitting in Parliament, have been so remarkable as to change the very constitution and character of the House of Lords."[4]

  6.    The Life Peerages Act 1958 brought about further changes to the composition of the House. At 1,275 the total membership of the House is larger than ever today - and ten times the membership at the time when the ceremony of introduction was devised. The House today includes 26 Life Peers created under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 and 464 under the Life Peerages Act 1958; and almost 100 members of the present-day House are women (16 of them peers by succession). The average daily attendance of the House is now well over 400, although the attendance at the introduction ceremony is usually considerably less than this.

Categories of Lords who are introduced

  7.    One of the most important Standing Orders relating to the ceremony is Standing Order 3. This was passed in 1663 following a decision by the Privileges Committee that peers who succeeded by descent should not be introduced (the actual practice having been abandoned long before).[5]

  8.    During our enquiry conflicting views were expressed as to whether the ceremony should be extended to peers by succession. The Bishop of Norwich, for example, suggested that this should be the case, pointing out that there was a parallel between Bishops and hereditary peers in that both succeeded to their office (Q 125), whilst Lord Strathclyde said that he "would not support a change that said that new peers here by succession would have to go through the same introduction process, and I think the process we have for hereditary peers is good enough"(Q 75).

  9.    Peter Riddell of The Times pointed to the "anomaly ... between the position of hereditary peers ... and that of peers of first creation and it struck me that that is a very curious ... assumption that new hereditary peers do not have to be introduced because they are all so familiar. That might have done in the House in 1910, but I wonder now when you are talking about a House of over 1,000 when I am not sure that new hereditary peers are that well known to life peers" (Q 126). He argued that "the distinction which was made between first creation and hereditary only worked when you were talking about a small number of people who all knew each other. We are not [now] talking about a small oligarchy all of whom are inter-married and inter-related and have all met each other and so on. That is not true any longer and I think that is what is different" (Q 133).

  10.    The ceremony of the introduction of bishops to the House of Lords is considerably shorter and simpler than the present ceremony for newly-created temporal peers, and we encountered no criticism of it (QQ 23-25). We are grateful to the Bishop of Norwich (who made an oral submission to us) for consulting the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the ten most senior Bishops in the Lords, none of whom recommended any change (QQ 109-110). We make no recommendations in this report about the Bishops' ceremony.

Criticism of the ceremony

  11.    Dissatisfaction with the ceremony of introduction to the House of Lords has surfaced periodically. Criticism has largely been confined to members of the House. In the early 1960s and again in the early 1970s the ceremony gave rise to dissatisfaction. This feeling had been exacerbated by the great increase in the number of introductions at that time: the ceremony had become repetitive and some members of the House were getting bored with it. Some believed that the ceremony, or parts of it such as the doffing of hats, were ridiculous and bad for the House's image.

  12.    In 1964 fifty-three new peerages were created, about four times the annual average at that time.[6] This led some peers to ask whether the ceremony could be shortened. In 1964 the Procedure Committee considered three possibilities of shortening the ceremony-

      (1)  to dispense with the reading aloud either of the Patent of Creation or the Writ of Summons, or both;

      (2)  to dispense with the ceremony of placing the new peer and doffing of hats;

      (3)  to introduce more than one peer at a time.

The Procedure Committee in 1964 concluded that it did "not recommend any change in the ceremony for the time being".[7]

  13.    In 1970 Lord Airedale and Lord Brown suggested that if there were two introductions on the same day, both peers should be taken through the ceremony together. In 1971 the Group on the Working of the House suggested that consideration be given to the possibility of curtailing the ceremony. In 1971 the Leader of the Opposition (Lord Shackleton) suggested that there was a case for reconsidering the ceremony, which he considered took longer than was necessary.

  14.    The matter was taken up again in 1975 by Lord Raglan who tabled a motion "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 on Introduction by a select committee". An amendment to the motion was moved by Lord Denham[8] (then Opposition Deputy Chief Whip) that "this House has no desire to change the ceremony of Introduction". After a debate on 17 March 1975 the amendment was agreed to by 106 votes to 31.

  15.    The ceremony was not debated on the floor of the House again until 27 October 1997, when the House agreed to a motion "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".[9] The Queen gave her assent to this in an answer delivered to the House by the Lord Chamberlain on 17 November 1997.

The Committee

  16.    On 2 December 1997 the House agreed to appoint a Select Committee with the following terms of reference:

  17.    The Committee, whose members were appointed on 17 December, heard oral statements from the following people, who are listed in the order in which they discussed the ceremony with us:
    Lord Carter, Government Chief Whip
    The Duke of Norfolk, the Earl Marshal
    Lord Strathclyde, Opposition Chief Whip
    Mr P Ll Gwynn-Jones, Garter Principal King of Arms
    The Lord Bishop of Norwich
    Mr Peter Riddell
    Lord Weatherill, Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers
  18.    The Chairman also held informal meetings with the following people:
    Black Rod
    The Lord Camoys, Lord Chamberlain,
    and Sir Robert Fellowes, Private Secretary to HM The Queen
    The Clerk of the Parliaments
    The Lord Chancellor
In addition, the Committee issued a special report inviting individual members of the House who wished to submit their views to the enquiry to do so.[
10] The written submissions which we received are printed in a separate volume, together with the oral submissions. We are grateful to everyone who assisted with this enquiry. We held a total of seven formal meetings, three in public and a further four deliberative meeting which were held in private.

1   Erskine May's Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 22nd edition (London, 1997), p 435. Back

2   Sir Anthony Wagner and J C Sainty, The Origin of the Introduction of Peers in the House of Lords (Oxford, Society of Antiquaries, 1967), pp 132-134. Sixteen peerages were conferred between 6 October 1613 and 30 December 1620. Back

3   Lords Journals vol. 3, 20 November 1621, p 162. Back

4   Thomas Erskine May, The Constitutional History of England, vol. I (London, 1861), pp 229, 235. Back

5   Report concerning the Introduction of Peers by Descent, Lords Journals vol. 11, 27 July 1663, pp 575-576. On 8 May 1663 the Committee for Privileges had reported on "Fees upon Translation of Bishops, and Lords Descents, to be paid to the Officers of the House"; Lords Journals, p 519. Back

6   Wagner and Sainty, p 119. Back

7   First Report from the Committee on Procedure of the House, 9th December 1964, HL Paper 16. Back

8   A member of the present Committee. Back

9   HL Deb., 27 October 1997, cols. 885-896, 915-935. Back

10   HL Paper 57. Back

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