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Parliamentary Passes: Rules Of Issue

Volume 413: debated on Friday 24 October 1980

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask the Leader of the House why Palace of Westminster photo identity passes can be issued to the wives of Members of Parliament but not to the wives of Peers.

My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will permit me to reply on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House. This is primarily a matter for the Administration Committee to consider, and I would not think it correct for my noble friend the Leader of the House to pre-empt any decision to which that Committee might come. I would suggest to my noble friend Lord Inglewood that the right course would be for him, first, to raise this question with the Administration Committee and to seek their considered view. If, having received that, he is not satisfied, then he may of course wish to have recourse to a further Question on the Floor of the House. I would prefer, therefore, to go no further than that at the moment.

My Lords, in the light of that not very satisfactory reply, I should like to ask my noble friend whether he does not agree with me that, at a time when we are trying to get rid of class distinctions, the maintenance of this distinction on the paper is really absurd? Further, can he confirm that, not so long ago when one of these photo identity cards was issued to the wife of a noble and learned Lord—a former Lord Chancellor—and the authorities of the House asked her to give it back, he had only to have known that it would have been a complete defence to say that she was his secretary as well as his wife, because then she would have been allowed to retain it? Can the Committee not look at this matter again without my making any further and formal representations?

My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend does not think that I gave a very helpful Answer—I thought that it was a very helpful Answer and that is what it was supposed to be. I am bound to say that I did not realise that there was any class distinction here. I thought that it was rather the reverse, in so far as most wives of Peers who come here are given the privilege of not having a pass because, on the whole, they are known by all the staff. If they are not known, then they are not, so to speak, allowed in. But I did not know the history of the wife of a former Lord Chancellor and my noble friend gave me a fascinating piece of information. When he asked whether the committee should not take the matter a little further, the answer is that I am sure, without having consulted the Administration Committee, that it would be delighted to do so if my noble friend Lord Inglewood were to draw the matter to its attention.

My Lords, I should like to raise a point of information. If the wives of Peers do not require passes because they are known to the servants of the House, why do we have them?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and I must have an affinity of mind because that is precisely the question which I asked. Indeed I shall give the noble Lord the answer if he can contain himself for a moment. I think that the answer is that noble Lords must have a pass because it is part of their duty of coming into the Houses of Parliament. On the other hand, Peers' wives—because of the situation which exists in this House—are known and, therefore, do not have to have passes. They are permitted to go to the Peers' Gallery of their own right.

My Lords, the noble Earl said that noble Lords must have passes. However, is he aware that I have resolutely declined to do so and that no one has compelled me to do so?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, if I may say so, is always a maverick and I am interested to hear what he has done about the matter.

My Lords, would the noble Earl agree that possibly the reason why Peers are asked to have passes is that they come in different entrances, whereas their wives always come in the same way and are therefore known?

My Lords, I think that that is really all part of the security arrangements of the Palace of Westminster. I really think that, from the views which have been expressed, there is a considerable amount to be said for my noble friend Lord Inglewood putting this matter to the Administration Committee where it can be thrashed out properly and an answer can be reached.

My Lords, to raise a practical matter, is my noble friend aware that, if the wife of a Peer comes by Tube the chances are 10 to one that she will not be known by the policeman at that entrance, and if it is raining she will have to walk right round in the wet? That would be a practical occasion on which a pass would be very helpful to a Peer's wife.

My Lords, that is an excellent point to put before the Administration Committee.

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that some Peers' wives, confronted with being asked to have a pass, may be very "uppity" and suspicious about it all?

My Lords, they may do, but one of the curious features, I believe, is that wives of Members of Parliament have passes; but then, of course, the population in the House of Commons tends to turn over a little quicker, certainly on the male side, than it does in the House of Lords.