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Procedure of the House (Proposal 9)

Volume 732: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2011

Motion to Resolve

Moved By

To resolve that the House adopt the following practice in respect of appellations:

Members should address the House as a whole, and they should never use the second person when addressing other Members in debate. A Member may refer to any other Member, without specifying his or her title, as “the noble Lord”, “the noble Lady”, “the noble Duke”, “the right reverend Bishop” or “the most reverend Archbishop”. Members may also, if they so wish, use the appropriate rank—for example “the noble Earl” or “the noble Baroness”—but there is no obligation to do so. When referring to another Member by name, the correct form is “Lord W”, “Lady X”, “the Duke of Y”, “the Bishop/Archbishop of Z”. Members may also use the term “my noble friend” to refer to fellow members of a political party. When referring to a Minister of the Crown, Members may refer to “the Leader of the House”, “the Minister” or “the Secretary of State”, as appropriate.

My Lords, I did intervene on a previous occasion on this subject, and, as with the previous proposal, I have not changed my mind. I know that the proposal uses the most important word “may”, but I think it is a retrograde step to start changing an age-old custom, particularly when it comes to “noble and gallant”, “noble and learned” and “noble friends”. As I said on an earlier occasion, a right reverend Prelate shall ever be a “right reverend Prelate”.

If he does not mind, I will support what the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, has just said. The way we use titles at the moment is something that contributes to a lack of asperity in your Lordships’ House and to the dignity of the House. Just to get rid of it or to say that the correct form is now to talk about “Lord So-and-so”, “Lady So-and-so” or even “the Duke of Y”—although I think it would have to be “the Duke of M”—is a retrograde step and unnecessary. Can we not leave it as optional, without it having to be the correct form? This form of correctness will not help our image or our deliberations at all.

My Lords, I entirely agree. I very much hope that this is something that we will allow to evolve naturally. Preserving courtesy is a very important element of this House. I entirely agree that we should never use “you”, let alone the appellations recently used by Mr Berlusconi of Chancellor Merkel. Courtesy is immensely important but to formularise it merely means that people will trip over themselves and get called out all the time. That used to be the way it was in this House when I was first here—people would get terribly upset if you did not stick “gallant” where it belonged. We have got much more relaxed about that now. I find that very comforting and I do not want to go back to a formulaic system.

My Lords, should there not be an absolute prohibition on the use of the expression, “The noble Minister”—

My Lords, I am particularly happy at this moment to be able to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for the first time in this century. I think he has got it right. If “honourable Member” is good enough for the other place, why can “noble Lord” not be good enough for this place? I do not mind whether eventually this becomes evolutionary progress towards a different system, but I do not think that we have to take the decision now that this change be made. Why chip away at the courtesies of the House—which we have been addressing for a long time this afternoon and saying how important they are—on this particular issue? It is unnecessary.

My Lords, those of us who have been here quite a long time have all had to take the trouble to learn the antiquated modes of address and of referring to people. Why cannot people who have not been here for so long learn them too? Is it laziness? I do not see why we should change this. I also think that if you have to pause for a minute and think about how you refer to or address someone, it gives you a moment just to cool down in case you were thinking of being rather rude about them; rather like counting to 10 before you say anything. I do not think we should change this.

My Lords, I completely agree with the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. However, we have gone past the era when we strictly enforced the use of the customary forms. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas that it is no bad thing that the use of language should be allowed to evolve. If one sits in the House, one hears a great variety being used, both the correct form and various amendments to it, including the language in the proposal. However, those wonderful people in Hansard always correct what we say in your Lordships' House and record it in the correct form. I, for one, would like that to continue.

My Lords, although I agree in principle with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I will feel sad that the loss of the term “most reverend Primates” will allow us to forget our true origins.

My Lords, a very small step is being proposed. Therefore, I am sure that it will be rejected.

I strongly support the proposal. I felt that I had to speak today on this issue out of memory of my very good friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who was one of the most able Ministers I have ever seen in operation. I watched him when I first arrived, because you are always a bit diffident about making sure that you obey all the rules of the new institution, et cetera. I noticed early on that he never obeyed any of the details of the regulations laid out in the Companion, which frighten new Members to death. I am not normally anxious about those kinds of things, but it certainly caused me some anxiety to get the title absolutely right, to remind myself that it is only lawyers who are learned and that the rest of us are not, and that it is only field marshals who are gallant and those captains or corporals are not.

It is such a small change. Lord McIntosh of Haringey—my late noble friend—completely disregarded the rules from the start. If it was Lord Campbell-Savours, he would say “Lord Campbell-Savours”; he would not say “the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours”. Nothing happened. No lightning struck and everyone knew perfectly well what was taking place. Ditto with the proposal that we have just passed—I was amazed that it got through; Members must have been going for tea, or something. I refer to the one that states that we should no longer refer to the House of Commons as the other place. Just to confuse everyone, we have to call it the other place. What other place? It is the House of Commons, so why not say “the House of Commons”. We have already made that revolutionary decision, so all I am suggesting to the House is that we carry on in that revolutionary spirit.

I am grateful to the noble and irreverent Lord, but we have not in fact agreed to any such thing. All we have said is that we may refer to it as the House of Commons. He, of course, will; some of us will not.

Well, I am relaxed about what people do individually. All I am saying is that I really think that it would be helpful if we gave a clear indication to new Members, other Members and the public, who find some of the appellations completely bewildering, that it is perfectly in order to do so. Nothing untoward happens; it does not affect the courtesy of debate in the slightest. We are still referring to people in the third person—which is absolutely right; it is essential that we preserve that—but we can simply say “Lord Campbell-Savours” instead of “the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.”. That has no effect whatever on his nobility. We should cease to use the endless different gradations of rank and of title, which mean nothing to anyone outside. I infinitely prefer to refer to “the Bishop of Leicester” than to “the right reverend Prelate”. I like to know where he comes from; I like to know what his title is. I am a regular, practising attender of the Church of England, but I was only vaguely aware of what a prelate was until I came here. However, I know what a bishop is.

Perhaps the noble Lord will give way. There is nothing to stop him from referring to “the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester”.

It is “noble Lady”. Well, whatever. It is a matter of supreme irrelevance as long as we can be reasonably courteous to each other. As far as I can recall, only moments ago she was arguing for brevity. Now I have to say “the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester”. I prefer “the Bishop of Leicester”.

All I am saying to the House is, for goodness’ sake, we could shorten the Companion if we did not have all these requirements. I shall be very tempted to put down amendments to extend the use of the word “gallant” to everyone who has shown courage on the battlefield, not simply to someone who has become a field marshal.

I know I am pushing water uphill. This is far too revolutionary a proposal for the House to accept, but none the less the opinion of the House should probably be tested on it.

My Lords, it may surprise people who have heard me speak on one or two other things to know that I am a complete reactionary on this, but for a reason that may also surprise them. The Order Paper says:

“Members may also use the term ‘my noble friend’ to refer to fellow members of a political party”.

Where does this leave me with my Liberal Democrat friends?

My Lords, I like to keep the traditions of the House going, but I must say that “the noble and learned Lord” really is a bit odd, is it not? We had two Nobel prize winners in this House at one time, but they were not “noble and learned”, they were just “noble”. That illustrates the futility of this whole business. Of course, “learned in the law” is what it says, but we do not say that.

I am reminded of perhaps one of the best put-downs I ever heard in your Lordships’ House. Lord Hailsham of Marylebone was on the Woolsack, and Lord Mishcon had spoken from the then opposition Front Bench. Lord Hailsham stood up afterwards and said, “I have listened with great interest to the speech of the noble and learned—oh, I do beg his pardon—the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon”. He might as well have walked across the Chamber and slapped him in the face.

I do not know how many people heard, or whether it will be recorded in Hansard tomorrow, what the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said. I beg the noble Lord’s pardon; he is trying to get up and I think I should give way.

My Lords, I was so anxious just now to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, that I cut myself off in mid-sentence, so perhaps I may be allowed to complete it. Could we have an absolute prohibition on the use of the expression “the noble Minister”—

In view of the admiration that my noble friend Lord Grocott has expressed for the late Lord McIntosh, who advertised his disdain for many of the matters of procedure when he arrived here, can he reassure me that I will not be diminished in his affections when I tell him that I have not the slightest intention of observing most of the nonsenses that have been agreed this afternoon?

My Lords, perhaps if we accept this proposal it will ease the problem of the government Front Bench, which seems to think that all females are called “Lady”. It seems to have an awful lot of problems in remembering that I am a countess.

I wonder whether the House thinks that we might now come to a conclusion on proposal 9. Before begging to move that, I must say that I have had a very interesting afternoon, as I am sure we all have. The House has conducted itself extremely well. I beg to move that proposal 9 on appellations be agreed.

My Lords, there being an equality of votes, in accordance with Standing Order No. 56, which,

“provides that the Question before the House shall be resolved in the negative unless there is a majority in its favour”,

I declare the Motion disagreed to.

Motion 9 disagreed.