My Lords, I am conscious that we have two other important Bills to deal with today and I am hopeful that we shall have a short and effective debate. The Bill contains precisely the same three provisions already approved by your Lordships in the previous Session in the Bill that we sent to the other place, where, in the words of the Leader of the House, it languished for some weeks. I hope that that will not happen again. I am reasonably assured that it will not and we therefore wish to send the Bill to the other place as soon as possible—I hope without any Committee or Report stage, given that we have discussed the provisions in detail on many occasions.
The Bill is neither in opposition to nor complementary to the government Bill that was published this week. The Government are dealing with fundamental changes to the House up to the year 2025. This Bill deals with changes to the House that are needed, and could be implemented, in this Session. That is a big difference. In any case, my view is—and I hope that I will not be misunderstood—that the least said about the other Bill during this debate the better.
This Bill has undergone some professional redrafting, including the change to the Short Title, which makes it clear that it has no ambition to be described as a reform Bill. It deals specifically with cessation of membership of the House. It introduces a fundamental change because, until now, all of us in this Chamber, whether we are here created as life Peers under the 1958 Act or as hereditary Peers under the 1999 Act, remain Members of this House for life, and there is nothing we can do about it. The Bill changes that in three important ways. Before I start describing the details, I am conscious that I am in danger of being guilty of tedious repetition, given that I have described the Bill on many occasions. However, let me briefly outline the three provisions.
First, it proposes that Members may cease to be Members of this House on a voluntary basis if they choose to retire. The Bill simply gives statutory effect to the recommendations of the all-party committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral that were published nearly two years ago. The committee recommended a voluntary retirement scheme that would reduce the numbers in this place and save the taxpayer money. There is of course no money provision in the Bill. It would be a matter for the House authorities, as recommended by the committee, to work up a scheme and, at the end of the day, for the House to approve any scheme. It would probably contain not a golden handshake, or even a silver handshake, but perhaps a bronze handshake as a token of recognition of service to the House. However, that is a matter for the House to decide in the future. What is required, as the committee told us, is a statutory authority, which is provided for in the Bill.
The second provision is for compulsory retirement for those who fail to attend in one Session. It may surprise Members to read, as I did the other day, that in the previous Session some 72 Members of the House failed to turn up; but, of course, they still receive papers and the Writ of Summons, and some of them occupy desks. Therefore, a provision that would reduce our numbers by some 10% would save money and administration, and is a sensible measure that every local authority in the land already implements.
The third provision is simply to bring us into line with the other Chamber by removing from Membership of the House those who are guilty of criminal offences and sentenced to a year or more in prison.
Those are the three provisions that we have discussed many times. I hope that we have a short debate and that the Bill will have a quick passage to the other place. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on his speech and, above all, on his determination in this matter. I may disappoint him a little in his hope that the debate will not stray on to other issues but I shall at least seek to take his broad advice on this.
It can hardly be denied that the debate on my noble friend’s Bill takes place in the shadow of the Bill introduced by the Government on Wednesday. The reaction to those government proposals was heartfelt and I am sure that Ministers took great comfort from that. Not since we introduced the community charge has a political and public response been so unequivocal.
The two Bills bring into sharp relief the different ways in which we approach Lords reform. Do we do what the Government are doing and introduce an omnibus Bill which changes the whole basis of the House of Lords, or do we follow my noble friend’s approach and make changes which enable the House of Lords to run more effectively? Frankly, I am strongly in favour of the approach of my noble friend Lord Steel.
I hear that some members of my party are writing to the Chief Whip to say that they will not be supporting the Government’s approach. I think that it would probably be more relevant to know that members of my party are writing to the Chief Whip to say that they will be supporting the Government’s approach. However, it will come as no terrible surprise to the Front Bench to hear that I am one of the many Conservatives saying to the Government that they cannot rely on my support. I say that for two reasons. First, I strongly agree with the approach, if I can call it that, of my noble friend. It is much better to carry out reform in that way rather than through the defective blunderbuss approach of the Deputy Prime Minister. Secondly, as far as I know, my party has never carried out any public consultation on this issue.
Above all, it seems to me that the debate is not about whether there should be reform but about what kind of reform there should be, and my noble friend’s Bill concentrates on some of the issues that should be tackled. In particular, I pick out that of non-attendance. The Bill meets one of the main criticisms of this House—namely, that there are too many Members. On paper, the total number is 775 but in practice the number who take an active part is considerably lower. Currently, according to the cost figures in the Government’s document, the average attendance is about 63%. There are some who, frankly, are seen as rarely as crested eagles over the Thames. They take part neither in the House nor in any of the Select Committees. However, the fault there lies not with this House but with successive Prime Ministers who have appointed the absentees without getting any kind of assurance that they will turn up to take a part in this House. There is absolutely no reason whatever why we should perpetuate that position. I strongly agree with my noble friend that if a Member does not turn up in a Session, unless there is a very good reason for that, he should cease to be a Member of this House. In fact, I will not make a point of this but I think that my noble friend Lord Steel has set the bar rather too low and that the test could be stiffer. Appointment to this House is a very great privilege and with it come opportunities and responsibilities. I would certainly expect a Member to be here at the very least for 10% of the time and obviously much more than that in order to take a full part. Therefore, I acknowledge that there are some absentees but that is an issue that we can deal with, and the House should not be judged by that minority.
The Members whom I rate are those who are here on most days and who work conscientiously on a whole range of subjects, issues and roles. Here, I come to a serious complaint about a number of the interviews given by the Deputy Prime Minister. For example, in a radio interview last Friday, which I heard, he twice in a few minutes suggested that a characteristic of the Lords is Members coming into the House for a few moments to collect their £300 a day—“immersed in sleaze” is the half-suggestion. It is like saying that all Members of Parliament are fiddling their expenses when they are not indulging themselves in Annie’s Bar. The truth, of course, is that the vast majority of MPs are utterly conscientious and work extremely hard, and I do not see why the Deputy Prime Minister cannot accept that similar considerations also apply to the Members of this House.
Members take on demanding and unpaid roles, not least the hereditary Peers. There are Lords Ministers in the Deputy Prime Minister’s own coalition Government who are totally unpaid. They do it because they think that it is important and that there is a contribution to be made. To give my own minor example, over the past six or seven years I have been the chairman of three Select Committees in this House. In the other place, chairmen of Select Committees are paid extra for that role; here, we are not. I make absolutely no complaint about that and I would not want to change the position. However, I think that the real situation should be recognised and that the vast amount of entirely unpaid work that takes place in this House and when the House is not sitting should be recognised.
Frankly, I would not mind if the smear tactics aimed at the Lords had been carried out by some obscure Back-Bencher desperate for attention. What is unacceptable is that they should be indulged in by the Deputy Prime Minister of this country, particularly in a coalition Government, who doubtless—I say this to my own Front Bench—expect us to hold our nose and say nothing when a Secretary of State breaks all the rules on acting independently in a quasi-judicial capacity on the BSkyB bid. That is not a very good deal so far as this side is concerned, and I say to those on my Front Bench that, if I say that, they can be sure that there are many more who feel rather more strongly.
The final irony is that, under the Government’s proposals for the new House, payment for elected Members will be on the same £300-a-day basis as the Deputy Prime Minister has been criticising. The only difference is that it will be taxed, but a kindly Government have said that “guidance on taxation” will be available, which I think refers to the earnings you can claim against tax.
I support the other measures in the Bill of my noble friend Lord Steel. I certainly believe that those convicted of an offence and sent to prison should have the opportunity, and be encouraged, to rebuild their lives, but it makes no sense to have a disqualification apply to the House of Commons but not to this House. Obviously more could be added to the Bill concerning the appointments process, but essentially I think that my noble friend’s approach to reform of the Lords is sensible. Some people will doubtless criticise the Bill on the basis that it is step-by-step reform; I simply claim that over the past 30 or 40 years step-by-step reform in Parliament has probably been the most successful. I think, for example, of industrial relations reform.
The Government’s proposals are the big-bang approach, leaving us with Members elected for 15 years and with no prospect of re-election. Whatever else that does, it certainly will not produce democratic accountability. Frankly, it will lead to a perpetual conflict between one elected House and another which no legislation will be able to eliminate.
For my final point, I return to Mr Clegg. In his outside speeches he has made much of the fact that retired politicians make up more than half of the House. He should at least get his insults right. As the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, pointed out, about one-quarter of Members are retired MPs. What Mr Clegg means is retired MPs, not retired politicians. If the Deputy Prime Minister were to lose his seat at the next election—and who can say how likely that is?—he would be a retired MP, not a retired politician. If he came to this House—and stranger things have happened—he would find that there are opportunities here for a Back-Bench politician to influence law that are not available on the Back Benches of the House of Commons. I have managed to achieve two changes to the law here—and if the then Government had listened to what I, my noble friend Lord Crickhowell and the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said on the Communications Bill in 2003, we would not be stuck in the media swamp in which we are stranded today.
I warmly support the Bill. I support the detail of it and I support the approach that my noble friend Lord Steel has adopted. The Government would be much better advised to adopt the approach of my noble friend rather than to continue on a course that will lead to conflict and division—and all to no benefit for the public.
My Lords, the political classes are once again whipping themselves into a frenzy over the Government’s comprehensive reform Bill. As the comfortably familiar arguments from all sides roll out once again, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, continues on his quiet and indefatigable quest to reform your Lordships’ House piece by piece. Here is the latest instalment.
In my view this is a practical and sensible Bill. It makes provisions for membership of your Lordships’ House that are long overdue. The only conceivable reason for opposing it is that it will soon become unnecessary when the Government’s proposals for comprehensive reform for the House of Lords are passed into law. That might—I stress “might”—be a problem for the Bill. Why should precious legislative time be spent on a Bill that will soon become redundant?
The cynical may see this as an attempt to tackle an obvious problem with the way your Lordships’ House operates in order to weaken the case for more general reform. That might dispose those who favour making the House of Lords more accountable through the election of its Members—I am such a person—to oppose the Bill. However, that would be a mistake. The mishandling by the Government of their House of Lords Reform Bill has almost certainly doomed it. I regret that. I fear that the Government’s revised proposals—this is not the time to discuss them in detail—still fail adequately to address the Bill’s two fundamental flaws. One is a failure to provide an adequate mechanism governing the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament. The second is the length of term of the elected Members of the House, and the fact that they will not have to stand for re-election. I fear that the Government have botched the legislation so severely that it is too late for the Bill to make any serious progress in either House in this Parliament.
If this gloomy analysis is correct, it follows that the House must reform itself piecemeal—while at least some of us wait for a general election and perhaps another attempt at more comprehensive reform. This Bill contains some necessary reforms. Many noble Lords have long argued that there should be provision to retire. It is absurd that a Member of the House should be forced to remain a Member if they no longer wish to be one. It is a hangover from the days when membership was entirely hereditary, and it has no place in a modern Chamber. Nor can it be acceptable for anyone to enjoy the status and privileges of membership of the House when they cannot be bothered to turn up. Again, the Bill makes sensible, proportionate provision for that.
It is also clear that there must be an ability to expel Members of the House who have been convicted of a criminal offence. The current position, which is that no matter how grave their offence, a convicted criminal can remain a Member of the House, demeans Parliament. However, I should be grateful if the noble Lord would explain in a little more detail how he decided on his criteria for expulsion. I understand from the Library that they differ from those that apply in the other place. There it remains a matter of judgment for the House whether a conviction merits expulsion. In contrast, the Bill seeks to set down objective and immutable criteria. I understand the advantages of removing subjective judgments from the process. There is always a risk that Members of either House will be more sympathetic to those they know and may have been friendly with for many years than the cold facts of the case would merit and the public would consider fair. However, there is also a risk that rigid criteria might in certain circumstances lead to expulsion in cases where such a punishment may not be justified. I find it hard to imagine what those circumstances might be, but there must be at least a possibility that they could occur.
For example, let us consider the case of a Member of your Lordships’ House who takes part in a political demonstration for a cause in which they and many others passionately believe—not all passion is spent in your Lordships’ House, as we see in debates for example on this issue—and is found guilty of violent disorder. The offence often results in a sentence that would, under the terms of the Bill, lead to expulsion from the House. Such a sentence could be imposed for the offence of throwing a flimsy wooden placard in the direction of the police but not hitting anybody, in the heat of the moment. Would that really merit expulsion from the House when someone convicted in a magistrates’ court of head-butting a nurse while drunk in an accident and emergency department would receive a sentence that would allow him or her to remain a Member of the House?
The answer to the noble Lord’s question lies in Clause 3(5), which states:
“The Lord Speaker shall not issue a certificate under subsection (2) in respect of a conviction … if the House of Lords resolves that subsection (1) should not apply to the conviction by means of special circumstances”.
I am grateful to the noble Lord but, with respect, the “special circumstances” do not take us much further. I would be grateful if he would say why he has not allowed the latitude that the other place allows but has set down specific requirements—for which I well understand the need—while then allowing the get-out clause that refers to “special circumstances”. I would be grateful if he would spell out what special circumstances are in his mind. I have given an example from my point of view and would be grateful if at some point—not necessarily today—he would spell that out. With that proviso—
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, did not quote correctly. This is critical. Clause 5(3) refers to a conviction “outside the United Kingdom”. The noble Lord left out those words, which meant that his response to the noble Lord, Lord Wills, was incorrect.
My Lords, at this time of Olympic trials, times and records, I shall try to emulate my noble friend Lord Steel and produce one of the shorter Second Reading speeches that will be recorded in Hansard. The speech is as follows. Many years ago, reading Aristotle, I learned that politics was the art of the possible. This view was enhanced by reading R A Butler, who chose that as the title of his memoirs. This Bill falls comfortably within the compass of the possible. We should advance it without delay because it does something that all of us want to see in place. I simply add that I hope that the Government will look very carefully at the question of whether other proposals in the pipeline fall equally comfortably within the realm of the possible.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for his sponsorship of the Bill. I, too, will speak strongly in favour of it. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to the Bill. It is a contribution to Lords reform that does not inhibit any of the more radical reforms proposed this week but means that we would not need to wait for the long drawn-out debate on the Lords Reform Bill in order to achieve sensible reforms to our practice.
I recognise that I am among the few Members of the House who are not personally affected by the Bill. As the Explanatory Notes say, rather darkly,
“provision is made elsewhere about retirement and discipline of Bishops”.
It sounds rather like a Star Chamber from somewhere or other.
I welcome the proposals in the House of Lords Reform Bill that will bring Lords Spiritual under the tax-deeming, disqualification and disciplinary proceedings of the House, but that debate is for another day.
Meanwhile, I speak as one of the few Members of the House who can and will retire, a provision that Lords Spiritual have found helpful and purposeful in renewing the contribution of this Bench—and which, incidentally, keeps us below the average age of the Members of this House.
This simple Bill provides a necessary reform. It enables those who wish to do so to retire, which must be in the interests of the whole House. It is right, too, that those who deliberately play no part in the proceedings of the House should no longer be Members of it. There may be entirely honourable reasons for this. Members may have moved on from the responsibilities that they had which enabled them to make a contribution to our debates. That is the basis of why Bishops retire. When we cease to have the responsibility for our dioceses that is the reason why we are in this House, then we cease to be Members of it. That seems both sensible and a right use of the provisions of the House.
We should all be reminded of our responsibilities. I rather regret that Clause 2 cannot apply to Bishops if they never attend the House, although I do not believe that any of my current colleagues would be caught by it.
In welcoming Clause 3, I press again the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, and ask the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to comment on why it applies only to those sentenced to imprisonment for a year or more, which is a substantial sentence. It is difficult to justify membership of this House with any period of imprisonment. I would like to see the clause toughened, particularly as there is a lack of confidence in our society in Parliament and its Members. Alongside that, like the noble Lord, Lord Wills, I would prefer to have some kind of mechanism for appeals, not only for sentences from outside the UK but for those within it, where a Peer has acted outside the law for reasons of ethical conviction.
We shall have plenty of opportunity to debate major issues around the nature of this House when we are presented with the House of Lords Reform Bill, if it ever gets here. Meanwhile, let us demonstrate our conviction that some reform is right—and maybe even achieve it—by getting behind this excellent Bill.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, I intend to be very brief. I support the Bill proposed today by my noble friend Lord Steel. This is the fifth or sixth time that he has introduced a Bill along these lines but the one before us today is, in my judgment, considerably the best of them all. I therefore hope and believe that it will go swiftly through your Lordships’ House, on to the other place and perhaps on to the statute book in due course.
My Lords, I will not be quite as brief as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, but I shall do my best to limit my speech. I anticipated the noble Lord, Lord Steel, this morning: I came in thinking that he would not want a debate on the main Bill that we all saw the other day and the phrase on my lips was from the famous Monty Python sketch, “Don’t mention the war”. However, I shall mention it once and hope that I get away with it.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, is taking the right approach to reform of the House of Lords. We will achieve far more than we would by bringing in huge Bills that, at the end of day, would cause more problems than they solve. When I have conversations with my colleagues in the Labour Party, we mention from time to time that we have promised for 100 years to either get rid of the House of Lords or reform it. When I am asked why we have not done so, I answer that you might know what you are against but, if there is a great deal of disagreement about what you are in favour of, it is very difficult to deliver it—and that has been the experience. We all remember, or at least know of, the way in which Enoch Powell and Michael Foot led their campaign, which is a classic example of not moving forward. Without mentioning the war for too long, it is a fatal approach if you do not work out clearly what you want the second Chamber to do, otherwise you will not get the rest of your questions right. If the answer to the question, “What do you want to do?”, is that you want this House to continue to scrutinise, as it does now, that would raise the questions of, “Why is it that the House of Commons cannot scrutinise better?”—I say that as an ex-MP with a great deal of knowledge of the subject—and, “Why is it that legislation reaches this place in such a terrible state anyway?”. It is an important point. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that that is the end of the war.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, is taking the right approach, although we ought to consider doing this in other ways as well. There is a lot to be said for allowing a Member to decide when he or she wants to retire. It is not a good idea in any job to allow people to drift; to come in occasionally, less and less, and act as though they are retiring slowly. It does not make sense for the individual either. When I decide to go, I would like to make a clean break and retire. That would make much more sense because you would enter another phase of your life and move on. That is important. I think some of my colleagues here feel the same and would say, “When I decide to go, I want to go”. The advantages of this have been made clear.
My noble friend Lord Wills made a point about the expulsion issue. I am not sure, bearing in mind recent history in this House, that we will solve this problem until we have a clear procedure on how we deal with breaches within the House that fits with the rule of law generally and the way in which the courts are likely to interpret it. It is a difficult area. Although I do not dissent from Clause 3(5), it refers only to events outside the United Kingdom. We have either to remove those two words or leave them in and address the bigger issue in the way that I have described.
I turn now to a more contentious issue. I greatly enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and I agree with his comments about Nick Clegg and other MPs of all parties who slag off the House of Lords; they find it a cheap and easy line. That, though, is a terrible mistake; as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, pointed out, it would be easy to reverse that and throw it back at them. However, we would get involved in a slanging match, and that does not make sense.
One of our problems—and this is the contentious part—is the name of this place. “The House of Lords” is increasingly seen as a very old-fashioned 17th, 18th or 19th-century name, and we have a problem with it. I remember one of my colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party, quite a few years ago, saying to me that his answer to the House of Lords was, “One Peer for every lamppost”. It is that kind of thinking that enables people to make insults about one place or the other. It also enables the general public to say, “Oh well, they are all the same”. They see a photograph in the paper—it is always the same photograph—of Peers sitting in their robes as though that is the way we are every day of the week.
At some stage we will need to address the name in order to convey to people what our job is and that we are part of the legislative system but we do not pass laws. This is one of the problems about the election issue. We advise, revise and recommend but we do not legislate. At the end of the day, we cannot force through legislation; only the House of Commons can do that. It is an important point.
If we support Bills of this nature and introduce others along the same lines, we might achieve far more reform of this place and win a great deal of public support. The Bill that the Government have brought forward will, quite frankly, confuse the debate and the war will continue.
I am so sorry. The noble Lord was a very good colleague on the Joint Committee and I should not have behaved in such a disrespectful way to his contribution. However, I am taken aback by the speed with which this matter is being dispatched. At the outset my noble friend explained that the Bill had been before your Lordships’ House on several occasions, and I think I have been present on every one. I do not really know whether to congratulate or commiserate with him today, but I take seriously the important point he made, which is that his Bill is neither in opposition nor complementary to the Government’s Bill.
Even so, I note that one or two other speakers in the debate seem to have taken a different view. I absolve entirely my noble friend from that because, after all, he has consistently advocated a 100% elected House and therefore is clearly in favour of far more radical reform than the one proposed in his Bill. Indeed, he has demonstrated that distinctly, by changing the Title of the Bill, that that is not intended to be his case. It is absolutely not a realistic alternative, and I think we should take note of that. Indeed, as a distinguished long-term beneficiary of the support of the electorate through the ballot box, it would be most peculiar if he now turned away from support of the democratic mandate that he has so often enjoyed.
My noble friend and I have been close colleagues and, indeed, close friends for more than 40 years, so I hope he will take some friendly advice from me. He might create a more favourable attitude to the progress of his Bill in the other place if he were to cease to espouse in the media some curiously ham-fisted, back-of-the-envelope alternatives to the Government’s Bill. For example, I noted in the Independent on Wednesday this week, I think, that he apparently advocated an electoral college for your Lordships’ House that would include Members of the Scottish Parliament from Scotland, Assembly Members from Wales, and Members of the Legislative Assembly from Northern Ireland—and in complete ignorance of the fact that 80% of the United Kingdom electorate live in England. I think that those of us who are there would find ourselves disenfranchised.
I have been consistent in my support of my noble friend’s Bill. I hope that not only can we give it a Second Reading today, but that we can avoid nitpicking amendments in Committee or at the Report stage, and proceed smoothly to a Third Reading.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord on bringing forward this Bill, and I want to support it. It is in the nature of these things that the legislation is seeking to tidy up some anomalies. My only concern is to ensure that we are not laying down future anomalies that successive Parliaments will have to deal with. My noble friend Lord Fowler has highlighted one that relates to the definition of non-attendance. The notion that someone might attend once during a Session and therefore be deemed to have reached the threshold might need to be looked at a little more carefully, lest we find that the 72 Members who were quoted as not having attended during the last Session may have been substantially reduced in number because they came in once in order to keep their membership alive, as it were.
The proposal on retirement is long overdue: people ought not only to be able to leave the House through retirement but to seek election to another place. The Inter-Parliamentary Union database indicated that, as of 28 May 2012 in a survey of 190 countries, the UK is the only country where Members of the second Chamber are disqualified from voting in elections to the lower Chamber. As my noble friend Lord Norton has pointed out, since the 1999 Act there has been a break in the link so that hereditary Peers who no longer sit in this House are now able to vote and, one presumes, to stand for election to the other place as well.
There are other anomalies that relate to the role of the Lords Spiritual because they are not Peers of the Realm, a point already made by the right reverend Prelate in his contribution—
What the noble Lord said just a few moments ago has already happened. My good friend Viscount Thurso, who is still a hereditary Peer, is now the Member of Parliament for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross. I think he owns most of it as well.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification. However, I shall return to the point about the Lords Spiritual. They are not deemed to be Peers of the Realm and, as a consequence, have the right to vote in general elections, although by convention they do not exercise the right. However, there have been certain instances such as in 1983 when the then Archbishop of Canterbury indicated that he had exercised his right to vote. I mention this simply because, as we are given these opportunities to clear up certain anomalies, it would be a sensible thing to do.
There is an opportunity in the other place for people to leave the House of Commons by assuming the office of the Chiltern Hundreds. Doing so disqualifies them from membership of that House and thus frees them up. It is like a Trivial Pursuit question: which office has been held by the noble Lords, Lord Bannside and Lord Mandelson, Boris Johnson and Gerry Adams? The answer is, of course, the office of the Chiltern Hundreds, followed by stewardship of the Manor of Northstead, although I am sure it would be a mercy if they did not all assume those offices at the same time. The point is that there is a mechanism for people to leave the other place, but there is no equivalent for Members to leave this House. It is therefore absolutely right that there should be one.
We have mentioned the anomaly of hereditary Peers, but another one relates to service in the European Parliament. By virtue of the law when it was changed in 2008, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, is no longer allowed to sit or vote in this Chamber while she serves in the European Parliament. There are mechanisms that disqualify certain people and extend certain rights to others. Given that, during the progress of this Bill we ought to look at ways of tidying up these anomalies while we wait for the greater reforms to come. However, in a broad sense I strongly support the Bill as a step in the right direction.
My Lords, this is a timely Bill which has been brought forward by a parliamentarian and colleague for whom we all have the highest regard. I think I am right in saying that the noble Lord has served in three legislatures, over one of which he has presided. On a memorable occasion he sought election to a fourth, the European Parliament. He has enormous experience and, most important, he is a man of great wisdom, integrity and, if I may say so, of humanity. I therefore come to any Bill drafted and presented by him with the greatest respect. But I hope he will forgive me for saying that, though I certainly hope the Bill makes rapid progress, I do not share the noble Lord’s hope that it will go through without any amendment and therefore without the need for a Committee or Report stage.
I will take the clauses of the Bill in turn. I entirely agree with Clause 1 on retirement. That is a necessary measure to introduce—no doubt it should have been brought in years ago—and I have no difficulty in supporting it. I also agree with Clause 2 on non-attendance. I take it that the reference there to our Standing Orders fully provides for the possibility that someone might need to take absence on medical grounds for a year or more but would then be able to come back and resume his or her responsibilities. On that basis, I am extremely happy with Clause 2.
My problems arise under Clause 3. Let me explain: first, I am mystified by the reference to “one year” as being the defining point beyond which a sentence of imprisonment would result in the automatic exclusion or expulsion of a Member. I heard a rumour or suggestion—I do not believe that it is true—that the reason the noble Lord had thought of one year was because it would have caught one individual and excluded another who he had in mind. I cannot believe that that is correct because that would of course be an ad hominem form of legislation. The law should be based on universal principles universally applied. The attempt to simply target one individual rather than another would amount to a Motion of impeachment, or non-declared impeachment. We would not even be able to consider the merits of an individual case or look at the evidence. That would involve the breach of a whole range of the rules of natural justice. I am sure that the noble Lord had not got that in mind. It may be the case, though I am not aware of it, that in sentencing people convicted of criminal offences courts distinguish very specially between sentences of, say, 12 and 15 months and there is generally regarded to be a great qualitative step between those two points. But I have never heard that to be the case and I do not know that it is. If it were, there would not be any assurance that it would remain so, so that would not be good grounds for making that distinction.
I am very worried about the 12 months. I would like to know the rationale for it. I totally understand that the noble Lord wanted to distinguish between a criminal offence and a serious criminal offence. After all, to drive at 65 miles an hour in a 60 mile-an-hour zone is a criminal offence. Even if you did not notice that there was a sign saying that the speed limit was going down from 70 to 60, it is still a criminal offence if you are driving at 65. If traffic violations of that kind were grounds for automatic expulsion, I think quite a lot of us might have an individual problem. So I quite see the need to find some particular criterion but this is not a very satisfactory approach, for the reasons I have mentioned. There is a better way, which I will come on to in a second.
My second problem is much more serious. I do not believe in the idea of automatic expulsion. Here I totally agree with my noble friend Lord Wills, who made exactly the point that I had in mind to make. He said that he could not think of any particular examples but that there could well be some anomalies and injustices involved in having an automatic mechanism of that kind. I can think of some notable examples, not going back to the Middle Ages or the 16th or 17th centuries but to the last 100 or 150 years, when parliamentarians—Members of the House of Commons, at least—have been sentenced to prison. Fortunately, they were not as a result excluded from Parliament or from standing again. Had they been so, in retrospect all of us would have regarded that as a national scandal.
Let me mention a few names that will be familiar to noble Lords. Jimmy Maxton was imprisoned for a speech he made in Glasgow in the middle of the First World War. Arthur Jenkins was imprisoned at the beginning of the 1920s for aiding and abetting an illegal strike. George Lansbury—I put it to noble Lords that there has been no finer human being or man of greater integrity in British politics over the centuries—went to jail in 1913, just before the First World War, for a speech in which he supported the suffragette movement. Look at the large number—I think dozens in all—of members of the Irish Parliamentary Party who went to jail under the Coercion Acts that we passed here in the 19th century, including Parnell and Redmond who are two enormous figures of Irish history. Indeed, Parnell is a dominating giant of Irish history. They were also two very great parliamentarians. I think there have been no greater in Westminster and the House of Commons than Parnell and Redmond—fine men who dominated that Chamber for decades. They went to jail under the Coercion Acts and would automatically have been excluded from Parliament for all time if we had had the automatic mechanism contained in the Bill, so I do not believe that it is the right way forward.
What is the right way forward? I think it is the one that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has resorted to in Clause 3(5). There he has reserved it for Members of the House of Lords who might be convicted in a foreign court with a sentence of more than one year. Of course, I totally see the logic of his making that particular provision in the light of the other provisions of his Bill. Clearly, in some foreign courts, it would be an offence, perhaps imprisonable for 12 months or more, just to criticise the current dictator or the ruling party in a one-party state. It is quite natural that he has decided to make provision for that eventuality in Clause 3(5). By doing so, he has recognised that there might be circumstances in which we need to consider the merits of an individual case. If we can consider those merits when someone has been imprisoned for a criminal offence—or supposed criminal offence—in a foreign court, why can we not consider them when he or she might have been convicted and sentenced to prison in a court in the United Kingdom? The noble Lord has admitted the principle of this alternative approach. I put it to him that he has solved the two problems that I have set out. That particular approach would be the right one to adopt in all circumstances. We should use the opportunity of the Committee stage of the Bill to remove the automatic mechanism and replace it with one along the lines of that he anticipates in Clause 3(5).
I have one final point. I am not clear that the Bill as currently justified would not contain an element of retrospectivity. I am sure that it would not be the noble Lord’s intent that it could be retrospectively applied but it does not explicitly say that it should not be. I see from the gestures of the noble Lord that he totally agrees with me on that. It would therefore be desirable to introduce a new clause or provision into the Bill in the course of the Committee discussions making it absolutely clear that there is no retrospectivity. There may be many of us on both sides of the House—I put that in the subjunctive for obvious reasons—who regret that we did not have in place a provision for expulsion when one or two egregious breaches of the criminal law, and what we might all think of as rules of personal honour and morality, were breached by Members of this House recently. Yet we did not have that mechanism in place at the time and we cannot retrospectively apply a penalty that did not exist at the time that those actions were committed. Therefore, we must make it absolutely clear that we stand by that fundamental principle that the law must not be retrospective.
With those few comments and suggestions, and looking forward to the future stages of the Bill—which I hope will proceed as rapidly as possible—I congratulate the noble Lord on the initiative that he has taken. The whole House will be grateful for it.
Is the noble Lord aware that the purpose of Clause 3 is simply to bring this House into line with the House of Commons in terms of the triggering mechanism for expulsion? While I am on my feet I will just mention that the wording of subsection (5) is taken from the previous Government’s drafting of the original Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in 2010.
When we consider legislation, we really must consider it on its merits and look at the general principles to which we in this House are attached and which we believe should guide and inspire legislation. It is not a good excuse—if I may say so—for bringing in bad or inadequate legislation or legislation that conflicts with those general principles that one was at some point in the past a member of a Government who in one particular, peculiar situation may have done something that creates a precedent for the bad proposal that is before us. I stick by the comments I made just now, and I do not believe that, whatever may be the case in relation to precedent that the noble Lord cites, we should do other than look at the merits of the case.
My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome the Bill and I hope that we can agree to send it to the other place as soon as possible after due scrutiny. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on explaining to the House in his introductory remarks that his Bill is neutral concerning the Government’s Bill in the sense that it is neither complementary nor competitive. It should be treated on its merits as a stand-alone piece of legislation. I very much support that.
As for the three provisions, it seems very sensible to allow voluntary retirement. It builds on the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral. We had some very interesting comments from my noble friend Lord Soley and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds about the benefit of retirement. Given that the average age of your Lordships’ House is 69, I am not sure that the precedent of bishops retiring at 70 is one that we altogether warm to. I certainly agree that there may come a time when some noble Lords may feel it is time to move on to other places. I do not think it should be forced on Members of your Lordships’ House, but it should be an option.
On non-attendance, it seems absolutely right that unless there are sound reasons, due perhaps to illness, for a Member not attending for a whole Session, he or she ought no longer to be a Member of your Lordships’ House. I very much take the point raised by a number of noble Lords that some Members have been appointed who have hardly come here at all. It raises the issue of what conversations take place between the Prime Minister, Downing Street and some noble Lords about the commitment that they were asked to give.
I know we are not really meant to talk about—as my noble friend Lord Soley said—the war, but the Government seem to have got themselves rather mixed up about whether they actually want noble Lords or Members of the House in future to attend. Any noble Lord who has carefully gone through the calculation on the cost of the proposed new second Chamber will note that, remarkably, the Government seem now to want Members of the reformed House to be part-time Members. Indeed, in the calculations that they have made, they are calculating that elected Members would attend only 75% of the time. This goes along with the other remarkable suggestion from the Government that elected Members of this House would not seek to represent their constituents. Seeing that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is here today to answer this point, I would like him to comment on the Government’s expectation for attendance, either in your Lordships’ House now or in an elected House in the future.
There is general agreement in relation to the forcible retirement of those convicted of serious offences, but my noble friends Lord Davies and Lord Wills have raised some important points. Will the noble Lord, Lord Steel, agree to meet my noble friends between Second Reading and Committee so that these matters may be satisfactorily resolved?
On retrospection, the wording of the noble Lord’s Bill follows the terminology in relation to the Commons. I understand what he is saying, but it would be helpful if the noble Lord, either in winding up today or in discussions after the Committee stage, could clear up that point to make it absolutely clear that retrospection is not to be applied.
I come to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and my noble friend Lord Wills about whether we prefer omnibus change or incremental change. Your Lordships’ House has not been very good at omnibus change since it has never been able to achieve it. Certainly, there is a persuasive case that if substantive reform is unlikely, then sensible incremental change ought to be made. No one sitting here today could say with certainty that the Government are going to get their Bill through or in what form they are going to get it through. Even the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that champion of democracy in your Lordships’ House, has been heard to say in recent weeks that he thinks the Government have only a 50% chance of getting the Bill through.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I seem to remember the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, standing manfully at the Dispatch Box week after week calling for consensus and, looking around the House, it seems to me that he has achieved it. It is just not the consensus that he wanted.
My Lords, having sat in the place where the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is now sitting on many debates on House of Lords reform when my party was in government, the only compensation I ever got from defending our position was looking at the faces of the colleagues of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.
The argument that incremental change is important and should take place in this context is persuasive. None of us knows what the outcome of the Government’s proposals will be. The proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, are entirely sensible and I hope that we can give them support.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, raised Mr Clegg’s rather pejorative remarks about your Lordships’ House. Well, we are grown up, and I think we can take them. I saw the video clip of him speaking to a group of young people in which we were being condemned for our age, if not for other sins. I wonder why Mr Clegg does it. What is it that he hopes to achieve? Whatever one’s views on whether the second Chamber should be elected, surely no one could doubt the integrity of your Lordships’ House in the effective scrutiny of legislation. I hope that, whatever our views on Lords reform, we will hold our heads up high about the quality of the work that we do.
On the question that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, raised about conflict between two elected Houses, I know that we are not really talking about the substantive Bill, but I think I should put it to the Minister that the claim has come from the Deputy Prime Minister that the primacy of the Commons is not affected by the Bill. I refer him to the new Clause 2, which is actually worse than the old Clause 2 because it removes the preamble to the 1911 Act. The significance of the preamble is that it recognises that the Parliament Act was developed to govern the relationship between an elected Chamber and an unelected Chamber. The preamble also states that when an elected Chamber arose, the powers of the second Chamber would essentially have to be codified and restricted. In taking away the preamble, the Government are saying that an elected second Chamber would have all the legitimacy to be as assertive as possible within the constraints of the Parliament Act. Therefore, it could reject every piece of legislation that was brought here. It could take huge chunks out of legislation that was brought here. It could veto every piece of secondary legislation. Given that and given that the reformed House would be elected by proportional representation, how long would it be before the conventions died and the claim came from elected Members that the second Chamber had more legitimacy than the Commons because it more neatly matched the votes cast at a general election? As someone who has supported reform and an elected House, I think the Government owe it to this House and to the nation to set out exactly how their proposals will not eventually challenge the primacy of the House of Commons.
Finally, does the noble Lord not concede that his Government’s proposals are a substantial constitutional change to this nation? Given that, what are they so frightened of that they refuse to call a referendum? Surely, in the end, the people should decide. In the mean time, we wish the noble Lord’s Bill godspeed.
My Lords, this is the sixth sitting day since Easter for us to enjoy being able to discuss aspects of Lords reform. It is a pleasure to hear a number of positive speeches about some degree of Lords reform being made around the House. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, opened up the wonderful prospect of a whole series of extremely modest Bills carrying on for several years, slowly and gently putting through little bits of Lords reform. I am not sure whether that would take more or less time than one comprehensive Bill but it is at least an interesting prospect.
The right reverend Prelate is a very brave man to raise the question of age limits and whether one’s relevant and current expertise and responsibilities should be taken into account when considering continuing membership of the House. I have sometimes wondered whether, if the possibility of retirement were put to a vote, the proposal that 95 should be the age limit would pass the House. No one has yet tried; perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Soley, will try it with a Private Member’s Bill in the next Session if it is needed at that stage.
I intend to take to heart the opening comment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that the less said about the other Bill in this context the better. We are discussing a Private Member’s Bill and this is an extremely modest proposal. I will simply answer a few of the questions that have been raised, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.
The Government’s response to the Joint Committee does indeed say in paragraph 53:
“The Government agrees with the Joint Committee that allowing individuals to maintain relevant professional expertise and attracting individuals who would not want to commit to a full-time role would strengthen the reformed House, as it does the present House. The Government therefore accepts that it is desirable that appointed members should not necessarily be expected to attend every sitting day of the reformed House”.
I do not have to hand the figures for how many Members of the House of Commons attend every day. Of course, Members of the House of Commons often argue that constituency work is more important than attendance at the House every day.
My Lords, the Government have also said that they do not expect elected Members of your Lordships’ House to dabble in constituency work. The whole purpose of these elected Members is to be here in Parliament. The calculations do not show 75% attendance by the 20% of appointed Members; they show 75% attendance by Members of the reformed House. It is quite remarkable that the expectation is that elected Members will attend your Lordships’ House 75% of the time when their sole purpose will be to be here to scrutinise legislation.
My Lords, that is precisely the point that the Government’s response deals with. We have a House that consists of a large number of Members who continue to have other aspects to their lives outside. The point has frequently been made on the Labour Benches that the last thing that we want is for Members of a second Chamber to spend a great deal of their time on constituency work. This response deals with that area. However, at present, I do not wish to be drawn further into discussion of a different Bill from the one before us. I merely draw attention to the excellent article by a Conservative—
I thank the Minister for giving way. In view of his recent comments, will he make it clear that it is the Government’s intention that people will be paid around £50,000 a year not only not to do constituency work but not to turn up here? Is it not clear from the logic of what he is saying that the public are being asked to accept that a part-time elected Member should be paid a salary of the order of £50,000?
My Lords, that is not the case. We do not need to get into a detailed discussion at this point. Members will be paid for the number of occasions on which they come to work in this House. Some, as now, will be here every single day; others will have a mixture of Lords and other responsibilities.
I think the Minister misses the point. Is he being quite clear in saying that, by his estimate, the amount of money that will be paid will be for someone who will come here not full-time but part time—75% of the time, or whatever? Therefore, the figures that have been put in the public domain are what the elected Senators—or people with no name, as we must now call them—will be paid for attending, on average, three-quarters of the time.
My Lords, will the Minister clarify the point that he made? I understood him to say, “not a lot of constituency work”. I understand that the intention behind the Bill that was produced this week is that Members of this Chamber, whatever they are called, will not do constituency work. I have yet to meet anyone who, faced with a problem, does not go to the person who they think is most likely to take up their case and fight it. However, I understand that the Bill is predicated on Members not having constituency work.
That understanding is entirely correct. The common understanding is that many of us here do a number of activities outside the House that might be considered constituency work. It is not constituency casework, although since becoming a Member of this House I have often received letters and e-mails that would be regarded as constituency casework, to which I have, by and large, said, “Not me”. However, in Bradford, York and Leeds, I frequently see Labour Members of this House, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, at meetings to discuss regional issues. Many of us will rightly continue to discuss regional issues. I meet the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and others who come from my part of the world. I wish there were more Members of this House who, like the noble Baroness, come from outside the south-east of England and naturally spend their weekends going around areas other than the south-east of England, picking up what is going on and feeding back what they have learnt—as part of their relevant and continuing expertise—into the House. If that is regarded as constituency work, it is perhaps something that we will naturally continue to do. However, constituency casework does not seem to us to be a necessary part of this House.
I wonder whether the Minister would take the opportunity of answering the point by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, that whatever one’s view of reform, it is not helpful to the discussion for there to be disparagement of current Members of the House of Lords, not just by the Deputy Prime Minister but by Simon Hughes, Tim Farron and, I regret to say, also by a Member of this House, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. Can he give us an assurance that he will make his best effort to make sure that this kind of slurring of current Members of this House ceases forthwith?
My Lords, I am tempted to say that I would like to give the House an absolute assurance that I will speak severely to the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, immediately after the end of this debate. It would give me immense pleasure so to do. I will make sure that in his next speech he refers to the immense experience and expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.
If I understand what the Minister said, under the Government’s proposals Members of this House will be paid according to attendance. He has also said that they will not have to do constituency work. Does not this fall into exactly the phrase that the Deputy Prime Minister used as a criticism—that people are being paid just for turning up?
My Lords, again, we do not wish to go too far into the other Bill. We are all conscious, if we are critical, that of those of us who turn up regularly, many of us work extremely hard but not all of us work as hard as the others. That will very likely be the same in an elected House, but we hope that the level of hard work will be even broader than now.
I apologise to my noble friend for intervening, but since I seem to have uncharacteristically ruffled the feathers of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, I suppose that I ought to put matters on the record. I do not insult the work done by Members of this House. The work that noble Lords do is partial, since it is a revising Chamber, but noble Lords do it exceedingly well. I wish that noble Lords also had the power to hold the Executive to account more effectively, since the place at the other end does not do so. That we do not do so effectively—that is not noble Lords’ fault but the fault of the institution. I do not in any way cast any aspersions on the integrity or hard work of Members of this House. What I cast aspersions on is the way in which we get here.
I am very glad that I let the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, speak first, because I am very pleased to hear his admission that this is a revising Chamber and not one that makes the law, as the Deputy Prime Minister has tried to claim.
Will the Minister address the point again about constituency work? What is there to stop elected Members of this House choosing to do constituency work? The fact that the Government would rather they did not do it is neither here nor there. When they are elected, it will be up to them to decide whether or not they do that work. It is very unlikely that I would ever be one, but if I were ever to be an elected Member of this House, I would be tempted to cherry pick the constituency work to choose those high-profile cases that might have a real impact, thereby undermining the position of the constituency MP. The Minister looks puzzled, but I assure him that this subject was discussed over and over again on the Joint Committee of both Houses when we looked at the Bill. It is a matter of real worry to colleagues at the other end of this building, and I would be very grateful if he could answer. What is to stop elected Members of this House doing constituency work?
My Lords, there is nothing to stop Members of this existing House taking up individual cases, and they do so. I really do not see what the difference is. There will be no funds for those Members to take up constituency work, but it would be entirely appropriate for Members of a revising Chamber, whatever it may come to be called, to take up particular issues of civil liberties and people in prison, for example. My noble friend Lord Avebury might perhaps be accused of taking up many constituency cases across the country, as might the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. That is, perhaps, what we do already.
My Lords, I know that we have recently been exhorted not to intervene on Ministers’ speeches too often, so I apologise for transgressing that rule, but will the Minister look at what happened in the Scottish Parliament? There are two sets of elections—one direct and one top-up. When it was envisaged, it was said that the top-up Members would receive a lower salary than those directly elected because they would not do constituency work. That did not last long; as soon as they got their feet under the table, they changed the rules. As my noble friend just said, the list Members constantly interfered, cherry picked cases that got the headlines and undermined the directly elected Members. It follows as surely as day follows night.
I have given way a great many times, and I think that I ought to draw what I hoped would be my brief remarks to a close. The Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is an extremely modest and incremental proposal. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, has already given notice that he intends to table amendments in Committee, but I trust that the Bill will pass relatively quickly through this House and will be perhaps an indication that there are at least some ways in which this House is willing to move on reform. On that basis, I hand back the wind-up to the noble Lord, Lord Steel.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all those who have taken part in this debate. I particularly liked the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, at the beginning to not mentioning the war. It was inevitable, of course, that the two Front-Benchers, when winding up on my Bill, would talk of nothing else except the war. As for my noble friend Lord Fowler, he did not just mention the war—he positively conducted it single-handedly. I cannot possibly associate myself with his remarks of support. In the brief moment that he referred to my Bill, he made one point to which I would like to respond. He thought that I had been too generous in the drafting in saying that non-attendance should apply to a whole Session. I remind the House that I rather agree with that and, in the original Bill, the time of non-attendance was six months. But I was giving way to the feeling in the Committee stage on that Bill, which is why it ended up as a whole Session. So I do not think that we can keep going back and revisiting this issue; we discussed it at great length under the previous Bill, which is why we are where we are now. I hope that my noble friend accepts that.
In relation to the general war, let me say that this Bill is required even if the Bill as drafted by the Government were to sail through both Houses and come into full effect in 2025. We would still need this measure up till then. So regardless of any views that Members may have on the Government’s proposals, I think that this Bill should be proceeded with as soon as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Wills, the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, all made reference to there being no appeal procedure for those expelled for reasons of criminal conviction. Initially the intention of my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth and me was to bring the rule in this House entirely into line with that in the House of Commons. If in the course of the redrafting we have somehow lost that, I will certainly look at it very carefully before Committee, in the light of the comments that noble Lords have made, and be in touch with them about it in the hope of trying to avoid amendments—but we may have to have amendments in Committee. It is a reasonable point. I assure Members that the intention was to make the rule in this House exactly the same as in the House of Commons.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, about retrospection, I assure noble Lords that I took very careful account of this, because I was concerned that it should not be retrospective. All the legal advice that I had was that it is not retrospective. In fact, no law is retrospective, unless it says so otherwise. So I was advised that it was not necessary to put a provision in saying that it was not retrospective because it manifestly is not. That is what I have been told and, therefore, Members can be assured that it is not retrospective in any shape or form.
My noble friend Lord Tyler was kind enough to refer to my excellent article in the Independent last week. That is not so much mentioning the war as, certainly, mentioning guerrilla tactics, so to speak. We certainly should not be trying to debate that now, but I disagree with his comments on my excellent article because the suggestions that I put forward for an elected House avoided a lot of the dangers which are present in the government legislation. However, that would be taking me away from the purpose of the Bill which, as my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire said, is a modest, effective measure. I hope that it will proceed.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.