Monday sees the return of Peers to the chamber of the House. The recess always leaves the House feeling a bit empty even if you do see Lords there from time to time – usually dealing with correspondence, using the library or having meetings of one type or another. We will be dealing with some final bits of legislation before hearing the Queen’s speech in November.
Baroness D’Souza and Baroness Murphy make some points about the reform process in their posts below. I am in agreement with the points they make. Like Baroness Murphy I have only worn robes on the day I took my seat. Changing traditions often runs into strong opposition. I have heard visitors, especially from overseas, saying that our traditions are very colourful and important. Yet traditions about dress in the Lords make me feel uncomfortable. It does enable the media to present us in a way that questions the seriousness of our work.
Soon after I arrived in the Lords I took a visitor who was going to assist one of the charities I run to lunch in the Peer’s guest room. He was very smartly dressed but as so often nowadays he was not wearing a tie. I didn’t register this but someone did and shortly after I was quietly reminded that guests should always wear a tie. Only a cold climate nation like Britain could invent an item of clothing that in summer builds up the heat below your collar to boiling point! That is why I am a strong supporter of Baroness (Lola) Young’s campaign to promote ethnic clothing. Maybe I can’t wear a Sari but I do admire those cool and colourful outfits worn by many Indians and Africans!
Fortunately the House has been taking reform much more seriously in recent times and the changes have made a big difference. I hope we will see changes in the language used soon. Why do we have to refer to senior military officers as noble and gallant when other ranks are not referred to in that way? (I should declare an interest as an ex national serviceman!) Why do we refer to lawyers as noble and learned when I would happily pay some rather unlearned ones not to represent me?! Why do we refer to Bishops as Right Reverend Prelates? I asked a group of school children once what a prelate was and they didn’t know but they knew what a Bishop was!
I also hope we produce a version of Hansard in edited form soon. With good editing and with pictures it might sell in the shops and provide people with an alternative to the gossipy and trivial news coverage of Parliament in some of the newspapers.
So lets keep reforming – good reform creates new traditions and gives future generations an opportunity to argue their case for reform. It’s what keeps society moving and stops it getting stuck in a self perpetuating rut!