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Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I welcome what the Chairman of Committees said. I acknowledge also the thought and the work put into the report. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, spoke about clarity and the importance of having a designated Gallery so that one knows where one is going. Irrespective of whether the right of access to the Steps of the Throne is to be excluded now or at a later date, can some thought be given to guidance not only for excluded hereditaries who are wheelchair users--in a sense they are easier to see--but for those who are just too frail to get to the Gallery?
Lord Elton: My Lords, anyone would think that we were dealing with some sacred matter such as access to the steps to the sanctuary of a cathedral. We are talking about whether a number of people who used to work here should be allowed to sit in the Gallery and perhaps on the Steps of the Throne as well. That is the extent of the matter. It is not a great act of symbolism. In so far as it is, it does not show the grandeur of the history of the House; it shows our good manners towards those who used to work here.
Another matter on which your Lordships should perhaps reflect is that not all of those who have been dismissed from this House are particularly well off. Many of them live more than £100-worth of railway miles away from the House. They will not be paid to cover that ground because they will not be performing any public service by coming here. That will diminish the numbers coming to the House. I recognise too the acute sense of nostalgia and frustration they would feel were they to be sitting mute on those Steps on the edge of a debate they passionately wished to join. I do not think they would leap over the railings, as the noble Lord suggested. They might mutter. If so, they would be courteously removed by the attendant. We are straining after a gnat. This is a good report and it should be adopted.
Lord Randall of St Budeaux: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Elton. The first point is that I believe the committee has been very generous in putting the case. The second point is that I believe the comments of the Lord Privy Seal during Third Reading, recognising the contribution that the Peers had made, were right. Thirdly, as regards being patronising, that is a matter for the Peers who wish to attend to decide for themselves. Let us leave that matter to them. Fourthly, we do not want any elitist stances here. Everyone should be treated equally. That is what the word "peer" means. Finally, I shall be voting for the committee today.
Lord Monson: My Lords, I believe I am in order in changing the subject slightly and putting a practical question to the Chairman of Committees about paragraph 2(c) since there will be no other opportunity to do so. I know that I am not alone in being delighted that our excluded friends will be able to continue using the Library for research purposes. After all, many of them have served this House for several decades. I have one practical concern. If the phrase,
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I was very disturbed to hear on at least two occasions in this short debate that there should be differences between the treatment of the elder sons of life Peers and hereditary Peers. All Peers in this House are equal and should remain so. I would be extremely sorry if the right of elder sons of life Peers to sit on the Steps of the Throne was curtailed or done away with and it existed only for the elder sons of hereditary Peers. In my view, that would be quite wrong and utterly disgraceful.
I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. It is very odd that the few Peers who are no longer in this House and who have served it well should not be allowed to sit on the Steps of the Throne whereas Irish Peers, who have not even had the right, in recent generations, to sit in this House, would still have the right to sit on the Steps of the Throne.
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, concern has been expressed about continued use of the Crypt Chapel by the excluded hereditary Peers. If I am not out of order, will the Chairman of Committees be able to clarify the position?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I shall be very brief. I say at the outset that I wholly support the committee's report. I was a member of the committee and I endorse entirely the words of the Chairman of Committees.
As the House knows, we had an enormous amount of discussion on this matter during the passage of the Bill. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House quite rightly said at that time that it would be better for the issue to be dealt with by a committee of the new House, and that has been done. In that context, I thank and congratulate members of the Government Front Bench who were members of the committee for their very constructive and positive approach to this matter. That is one of the reasons why we have this report before us.
Many suggestions were made to the committee. Many wanted a far more generous package than is proposed and others wanted some restrictions. We have a very useful compromise. I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that the measure should be taken in a spirit of compromise.
As regards the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, put three points. First, he said that the provision was inappropriate because too many people might wish to arrive at the same time. One of the effects of the House of Lords Act 1999 is that it has removed entirely the right of over 600 heirs to sit on the Steps of the Throne. When they had that right very few of them used it. I believe that the noble Lord would find, as my noble friend Lord Elton said, that very few Peers would take up the new right. If too many of them did so they would go to the Gallery that would be pointed out to them by the attendants.
I believe that paragraph 2(b) was extremely well drafted. It says that the measure is on an experimental basis only and that if any inconvenience is caused to the House the provision would be reviewed immediately. It also states that in any event the matter will be reviewed before the end of the current Session. The provision is not so much an act of generosity but one of courtesy.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, my noble and rebellious friend Lord McNally very fairly pointed out that he was expressing his own opinion. I believe he made it clear to the House that it was not the view adopted by representatives from these Benches who served on the committee. Perhaps I should simply restate that view and say that those of us who supported the proposal then support it now.
Those of us who look back on the long debates on the Bill in Committee remember that there were those who believed that the departing Peers should have unlimited club rights and others who thought that they should have no access whatsoever. I believe that we have reached a fair and reasonable compromise, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has said.
There is another matter. There are seven recommendations of substance. Recommendations (g) and (h) simply facilitate the others. Four of the recommendations are very clearly time-limited. As regards the remaining three, including the matter which has raised controversy today and the right to sit on the Throne, the position will be reviewed at the end of the current Session.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I ask noble Lords to forgive me. I do not believe that anyone aspires to that and I certainly do not myself. In those circumstances we can look at these matters again.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I call that a dyslectic mistake! There is an argument for saying that the sons of Peers should not sit on the Steps of the Throne. That is a reasonable argument. Were that the proposition before the House today I would find myself very tempted to support it. But that is not so. The proposition is a simple one that on an experimental basis there should be the right to sit on the Steps of the Throne. It is a reasonably fair
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, for the sake of brevity I hope that your Lordships agree that it is not necessary for me to reply to every contribution in this debate. Indeed, some of them do not call for a reply and speak for themselves.
Perhaps I may first thank noble Lords who have supported the committee's proposals, including the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and others in the House. Perhaps I may reply as briefly as possible to some of the specific points. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for informing me beforehand that he was going to raise the question of a designated Gallery. That was considered by the committee. It was clarified when this proposal was decided on. It was indicated through the usual channels and the Convenor that the nature of the proposal was not for a designated Gallery. It was felt that it was better to put the matter in the way in which it appears in the report. However, I believe that I can offer a suggestion to noble Lords in response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. If we find that there is any difficulty in administering the proposals--Black Rod has assured me that he should not have any difficulty in applying them--we can always look at the matter again and consider whether a designated Gallery would be a more appropriate course. If we were to leave the matter open in that way, we could, of course, feel free to return to it.
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