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Tuesday, November 17, 1998 Published at 04:20 GMT

UK Politics

Lords abandon fancy dress

Lord Irvine in full 17th Century costume

The House of Lords has given its blessing to let Lord Irvine strip off the ceremonial robes of Lord Chancellor while conducting everyday business in the upper house.

Earl Ferrer puts the case for pomp
Peers voted by 145 to 115 to accept the proposals of the Procedures Committee but many peers voiced serious concerns that the moves could undermine the dignity of the lord chancellor's office, which mirrors that of the Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd.

The lord chancellor will continue to wear his full ceremonial dress for state occasions.

[ image: Earl Ferrer: Would he really do his job better without a wig?]
Earl Ferrer: Would he really do his job better without a wig?
Moving his amendment to block the proposals the Tory Peer Earl Ferrers said: "I think it is important the that office of the lord chancellor should retain its stature.

"I think the lord chancellor shouldn't dress down. I think that he shouldn't dispose with his breeches, buttons and tights.

"Nor do I think should he leave his position of speaking on the woolsack and move over to join his ministerial colleagues to metamorphose into a front bench minister. As opposed to standing there with the dignity and aura of the lord chancellor."

Also speaking against the new dress code Viscount Cranborne, Tory Leader in the Lords, said that he had no opposition to the lord chancellor dressing in a business suit in principle but that now was not the time for change.

He admitted that ceremonial attire often walked a "tricky tightrope between dignified understatement and bathetic absurdity".

But referring to government plans to abolish the rights of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the Lords he added: "We are bound to be living in rather a heightened atmosphere for the next 12 months.

"Wouldn't it be sensible just to look a the question of reform first and then for the new house to look at our ceremonial in the light of its new ethos and ethics?"

[ image: Baroness Jay: Time for a change]
Baroness Jay: Time for a change
But the Labour leader of the House Baroness Jay told peers: "Personally it has never been my belief that you should avoid changing anything simply because you can't change everything."

And she rejected earlier remarks that this reform would be the thin end of the wedge as far the pomp and ceremony of the Lords goes. "I do not understand the description of this as salami slicing", she said.

Lord Irvine, who remained as Earl Ferrer put it "wearing his usual genial smile" was silent throughout the debate.

Last week he told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that he faces 13 or 14 hours at a time wearing the traditional costume during the second reading and report stages of bills.

"The wig weighs an absolute ton. It is very uncomfortable," he said.

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