CHAPTER 8: CEREMONIAL ASPECTS OF PARLIAMENT
105. Not surprisingly, the Committee received
contradictory submissions on the ceremonial aspects of Parliament
and in particular the State Opening of Parliament. As with parliamentary
language, a number of people said that the ceremonies in the Chamber
were a barrier to them understanding the work of the House of
"The House of Lords has a lot of interesting
conventions which have historical significance but can often be
a barrier to some people seeing and understanding the place the
House of Lords has to play in today's society."
106. Not everyone shared this view, however,
and a number of people used the Committee's web forum to say that
the Parliament should retain its ceremonies:
"I think Parliament's language and ceremony
are marvellous and should be retained."
"The pomp and pageantry of this nation
is one that I admire greatly and one that the world envies us
for. No other country does it quite like us Brits and watching
the processions on days such as the state opening gives me even
more of a sense of national identity. This also applies to other
Parliamentary traditions and in my opinion all should be maintained
"I think ceremonies and the pageantry
every so often is a brilliant spectacle
the pageantry and
ceremony won't harm [the House]
they are a bit of fun that
reminds us just how much history our parliament has."
107. Whatever sense of spectacle the ceremonies
create, the Committee heard that they lead to an image problem
for the House of Lords. Dr Meg Russell, Reader in British
and Comparative Politics at University College London's Constitution
Unit, pointed out that it is was difficult to find a picture accompanying
a House of Lords story, in the print or broadcast media or online,
which did not show peers in ermine-trimmed robes gathered for
the Queen's speech. "This remains the ubiquitous and enduring
image of the Lords, but it portrays an event which happens only
once a year." Dr Russell argued that this image perpetuated
the impression of "an ancient institution, out of step with
modern times." The House of Lords had "an 'ermine clad'
image" which was "an obstacle to communicating its role
as a modern, functioning institution." She concluded that
until this image was "consigned to history," the House
would "struggle to convince the wider world of the important
work that it does." Indeed it would be "impossible"
for the House to move on from this image "unless the reality
of peers gathered in their robes actually ends" (pp 160-63;
see also QQ 229, 298). Her analysis was shared by a contributor
to our web forum:
"Perhaps the lords needs to do more to
review these ceremonial traditions
Lords sat on benches
in red furry capes is not an image that many people would think
sits comfortably with the idea of a modern democracy."
108. Dr Russell did suggest a solution to
this problem: members of the Lords (like MPs) should "start
wearing everyday clothing for the Queen's speech" (p 162).
She stressed that this "small change need have no implications
for any other aspect of the ceremony." She thought that this
change would be "symbolically extremely important" and
considered that "there could be disproportionate, and essential,
benefit from making this small symbolic change" (p 163).
Lord Lipsey agreed: "we should abolish ermine. While we wear
it, editors and broadcasters will choose pictures of us in it
as if it was our daily garb. This makes us look pompous and ridiculous"
(p 141). However, Journalists we spoke to questioned what
the impact would be of this change (QQ 206-08). An alternative
solution we considered was whether it would be possible for the
State Opening of Parliament to take place in Westminster Hall
(with or without robes), in order to separate the symbolic ceremonial
event of the Queen in Parliament from the work that members do
in the House of Lords Chamber.
109. Parliament's ceremonies raise a number
of issues which are complicated, contentious and go well beyond
the remit of this Committee. Furthermore, any recommendation on
State Opening in this report could detract from our other recommendations,
which are practical and should lead to changes which make the
House of Lords more open and transparent. We decided therefore
that our Chairman should, after our report has been considered
by the House, seek to initiate a separate debate in the Chamber
on the impact of the ceremonial aspects of the House on public
understanding of its work.