Order of Commitment Discharged
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment to be discharged.
My Lords, I hasten to assure the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who I am delighted is here today to take the Bill through to its later stages, that I do not rise to object. However, I do want to ask him whether he has had recent talks with the Government, and are they still giving him a fair wind?
I ask that because I watched the speech of Mr Harper, his honourable friend in the other place, winding up the two-day debate on Lords reform. I was rather surprised by the tone of Mr Harper. I did not see much search for consensus. I was hurt for the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that almost the final comments of Mr Harper, who of course brings great intellectual coherence to these debates, seemed to be rather critical of the Bill. It would be good to know from the noble Lord whether he has been given any encouragement.
Seeing that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is on the Front Bench, this is also a good opportunity for the Government to say where they are on reform of your Lordships’ House. Obviously, we have read with great interest that Mr Cameron is apparently proposing to Mr Clegg the bonkers idea that you elect, say, 50 people in 2015, suck it and see and then perhaps, a few years later, you elect a few more. Is not this House entitled to be told where we are going on Lords reform? I am sure that we would all gladly give the Floor to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, to tell us exactly where we are going.
My Lords, the last thing I want to do is to prevent the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, from responding to that important question but, as your Lordships will know, I had tabled an amendment for the Committee stage today. It would have withdrawn the automaticity in the Bill on exclusion of Members. It would have meant that if anyone had any criminal conviction, the House might by resolution decide to exclude them but that that would not be automatic. That would have dealt with the double problem, which is that over the past 100 to 150 years, there have been many cases when we would not have wanted to exclude someone who had been convicted—for example, for supporting conscientious objectors during the First World War, for supporting the suffragettes, or the Irish who were imprisoned under the Coercion Acts.
I will give way in a moment, because I shall be extremely brief. That would also have dealt with the anomaly that, under the Bill, even if someone had a series of convictions for up to 12 months, we would not be able to exclude them. However, it has been put to me very persuasively that if I were to pursue my amendment it might risk the Bill getting through, with its important provisions on retirement and exclusion for chronic absence. I therefore decided to withdraw my amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has generously undertaken that my point will be debated when the Bill comes before the House of Commons. As there was a real risk of losing this important Bill, I decided to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, first, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and other noble Lords who had intended to table amendments, because by having no amendments now, provided that the House agrees to the Motion, we can hope to get a Third Reading before the Summer Recess and the Bill will therefore pass to the Commons, where it might provide a lifeline in September—but that is not for me to say.
Tempted though I am by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I shall not comment on what Mr Harper said in the other place. It was not very helpful. Instead, I prefer the words of my colleague, the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, David Heath, who wound up the debate on the first day. He referred to the Bill as containing small and valuable proposals. They are small, they are valuable, but they are a start.