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Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am sorry to intervene. Is the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees saying that, if there is to be a designated Gallery, my noble friend's suggestion that we could remove the right to sit on the Steps of the Throne is acceptable?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am afraid that I am not going so far as that. I am going only so far as the indication I have just given; namely, that if there was any difficulty about an unspecified Gallery, we could always give further consideration to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd.
Lord Shepherd: My Lords, what I was trying to establish was a Gallery to which Members who have been removed from this House could go as a matter of right. They would not have to apply to Black Rod or to one of the attendants and say, "Where do I sit?" My suggestion to the House was that those Members should have a designated Gallery similar to the one we have, as Members of this House, in the Commons. I believe that that is what those Members are entitled to, and to come here on pain of behaviour is unacceptable.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, also questioned the use of the term "experimental basis." As was indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, those words were included as a means of reassuring the House. It also goes to the point that I made at the start of our debate--other noble Lords have referred to this--that if there is any difficulty, immediate steps will be taken by the Offices Committee to look at the matter. I shall invite the committee to address it immediately. Indeed, to move a little further than that, I would not hesitate to suggest to the Offices Committee that, if there were any real inconvenience to noble Lords, the privilege should be suspended pending immediate review. That course would always be open to us to recommend. I hope that that provides some reassurance.
I turn now to the point made about dinners in the absence of the sponsoring departed Peer. That simply would not be allowed. As your Lordships know, our staff always act with great discretion and appropriate steps would be taken to ensure that anyone without an accompanied, authorised host or hostess, would not, in those circumstances, be admitted. Our staff act with discretion and I believe that we can rely on their common sense.
I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for his remarks in support of the recommendations of the committee. Common sense and discretion also apply to any difficulty that might arise with visiting departed Peers and as far as concerns the use of our lavatories, I am sure that that matter would not inconvenience your Lordships too much.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to the question of looking backwards. I fully understand the noble Lord's point and I believe that there were one or two murmurings of support around the Chamber when he spoke. However, I do not think that he should be disconcerted on that matter. In the discussions and debates that took place in your Lordships' House, it was perfectly well forecast and clearly understood that this House would return to these matters in the new Session of Parliament. I would suggest therefore that it is not a matter of looking backwards, but rather of dealing with something which was foreseen. Indeed, we were looking forward in the previous Session of Parliament to the possibility of considering these matters.
The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, raised a practical point about possible difficulties for some of the more frail visitors gaining access to the Gallery. I shall look into that, but I am sure that a way will be found to deal satisfactorily with that point, again in accordance with the exercise of discretion. I can assure the noble Baroness that we will not overlook the point.
Again, the same considerations, although on a different matter, apply in relation to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, about the timings. It will be made clear to departed Peers that what we are thinking of on days when the House is sitting is making
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby raised the question of the Crypt Chapel. I am grateful to him for forewarning me that he proposed to raise that point. I am sure noble Lords will appreciate that this is not a matter that arises from the report before us. Furthermore, it is not a matter within the responsibilities of your Lordships' House, but rather concerns in part another place. There are also other considerations. It is one of those places in which a Royal peculiar applies--if that is the right term. I shall let the right reverend Prelate know in greater detail, as necessary. about any further considerations on the matter, I hope that that will provide him with some reassurance.
I believe that I have probably dealt with the specific points but I wish to say a few words on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. A good deal of consideration has been given this afternoon to this matter. First, I would remind noble Lords of the two categories of Peer who are granted this privilege, and have been for very many years: retired Bishops and Bishops who in due course will become Members of this House; and also Irish Peers, as has been mentioned by more than one noble Lord. I do not think that it is right--this was in the mind of the Offices Committee and the usual channels--to create more anomalies than are necessary. If the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, were to be agreed to, it would create a further anomaly.
The other side of the question which the Offices Committee considered was whether, if the committee did not recommend that departed Peers should have the right to sit on the Steps of the Throne, we should also abandon the anomaly of the right of the Irish Peers and retired Bishops to do so. It considered whether, in the circumstances, that would be a very harsh course to take. It was not a matter that was overlooked. It was carefully considered and the Offices Committee, with the assistance of others whom I have mentioned to noble Lords, came forward with this proposal.
As has been indicated, we can always return to any of these matters at any time if difficulties are found. My recommendation on behalf of the Offices Committee to your Lordships is simply this: we have before us a complete set of proposals. Why not see how it works out? My feeling is that it will not cause us bother. If it does, we shall deal with it.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am not going to withdraw. The noble Lord the Chairman of Committees says that he is against anomalies. I should have thought that paragraph 2(b) introduces another anomaly. I am not arguing about the rights of sons or grandsons of Peers, or of Irish Peers or retiring
The noble Lord the Chairman of Committees said that the proposal is experimental. That, of course, is what William Pitt said about income tax. Imagine how, having granted this privilege and there is then inconvenience to the House, the Offices Committee meets and says, "We are now taking it away. You must surrender your passes--your second-class citizen passes--and you cannot come and sit on the already crowded Steps of the Throne". That is it; summary dismissal.
We are dealing with one of the great Houses of Parliament. This is not just a frivolous discussion about club rights. I believe that my noble friend Lord Shepherd made a serious point--that those who can sit on the Steps of the Throne, whoever they are, will mingle with Members of this House. I have heard all the arguments. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for his support. It was unexpected but nevertheless welcome. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.