My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
My Lords, I express my gratitude to all noble Lords who are to speak in our debate today. Their commitment reflects the seriousness with which this House views the issues raised in the Bill. It is a brief and straightforward measure and I shall try to be brief and straightforward in what I say. But brevity does not mean that it is insignificant in its content.
I have brought the Bill before the House because I believe that by enacting its provisions we could complete the series of reforms that have been made to the House’s conduct, investigative and disciplinary systems since the events of 2008-09, and fill two important lacunae in the sanctions available to your Lordships’ House.
Noble Lords who were Members of the House at the time of the expenses and cash-for-questions scandals will remember all too well the public opprobrium heaped upon us—upon the House, its financial support systems, those who misuse those systems, often those who simply use those systems, and on the House’s enforcement and disciplinary processes. Some will also remember the conflict and confusion with which the House was faced over the existence or extent of powers to take action in the case of wrongdoing.
I am delighted to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, in his place today; the whole House owes him a debt of gratitude for his crucial role at that time in clarifying that the House does indeed have powers to suspend Members found to be in breach of the Code of Conduct in particular circumstances, albeit for a limited period, and obviously it is that limited period with which the Bill deals.
Since those dark days, we have in fact made progress in a number of areas. The system of financial allowances has been radically overhauled and made simpler and more transparent. The Code of Conduct has been amended to make clearer the high standards of behaviour expected of Members. We have appointed an independent Commissioner for Standards to investigate cases of alleged wrongdoing. The role of the Committee for Privileges and Conduct has been clarified, and I am delighted that the chair of the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, is to speak in today’s debate. Lastly, the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 has itself made provision for the expulsion of Members who fail to attend the House for a Session or more, or who are convicted of a serious offence entailing a prison sentence of at least 12 months.
My Bill seeks to do two things that would, I contend, complete this raft of reforms. One relates to the issue of suspension. The limitation on the length of a suspension to the remainder of the Parliament in which it is in force is set out in the 2009 report of the Committee of Privileges. As I said, it was based very much on the advice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. However, although it has proved helpful that that power exists, there remain problems. The basic problem is that a completely different range of sanctions are open to the House to impose at different stages of the parliamentary calendar. Were a Member to be found to have transgressed at the beginning of a Parliament they could in effect be suspended for four years or more. Were the same Member to commit the same transgression at this stage of this Parliament the possible sanction would be limited to four months or less. That is not logical, I contend, nor is it satisfactory for either the House or the person involved.
My Bill would empower the House to make Standing Orders to enable a suspension to be imposed that would run beyond the end of a Parliament and during that time the right to receive a Writ of Summons would be suspended. The House would also be given the power to enact in Standing Orders the ability to expel a Member in circumstances other than the narrow ones set out in the House of Lords Reform Act 2014—non-attendance or being subject to a prison sentence of more than a year.
Expulsion is obviously a hugely weighty and serious step. I profoundly hope that with this Bill on the statute book and the Standing Orders in place this provision would simply lie unused and there would never be conduct that would provoke the possibility of the House being asked to agree to expel a Member. However, it would be irresponsible not to have such a provision in place when all of us can envisage circumstances—it might be repeat offences against the Code or Conduct or sentences for criminal offences that were less than nine months or were suspended—where the House would wish at least to have the opportunity to consider expulsion and to decide whether it would be the right course of action. In such circumstances, I believe that not having that opportunity would provoke significant public disquiet and criticism of the House. That is not just a belief but based on experience. All noble Lords know that the House has come into disrepute and been criticised for that lack of ability. For us simply to throw our hands in the air and say that there was no option of expulsion open to us would not be satisfactory. We have, in this Bill, at this time, the chance—if I can put it that way—to shut the stable door before the horse has bolted; not to be scrabbling around in the midst of a crisis to see what we could do that was appropriate. I hope very much that the House will take that opportunity.
My Bill is enabling, not prescriptive. It does not lay down in detail the circumstances in which these sanctions would be appropriate or specify the processes the House should adopt in its disciplinary proceedings.
We are lucky in this House to have Members with significant and judicial experience to guide the House in the painstaking task of drawing up the appropriate Standing Orders. That in one sense is a lock: getting the Standing Orders right and those being approved by the House, and making sure that we deal fairly and appropriately with the regime. The second lock is the fact that the whole House would again have to agree to a recommendation from the disciplinary committees of the House that such an expulsion should take place.
This is not a new idea. Provisions similar to those in my Bill were included in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill of 2010 but lost in the wash-up and therefore not included in that Act, and in the Government’s own House of Lords Reform Bill of 2012, from which the provisions of my Bill are taken word for word. Equally, and as another guarantee of draftsmanship, the consequences of expulsion laid out in the Bill are taken from the 2014 Bill that was brought in by Mr Dan Byles in another place.
The view was rightly taken that these processes are for the House to lay down after careful consideration. I have no doubt that the House would behave with its customary sense of justice, its care and responsibility, both in drawing up the relevant Standing Orders and in considering any recommendation for expulsion or suspension brought before it under those orders, as it has in the past with recommendations for suspension.
I return to my original words. This is a brief Bill. It could, with good will and a little support from the Government, become law, even within the short time available in this Session. I hope that the Minister will indicate that support today, because this Bill could contribute a small piece of the jigsaw in the painful work of rebuilding trust in Parliament and its institutions.
I end with the words spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Oareford, last December when bringing in his own reforms to the Code of Conduct. He said that,
“ultimately, the reputation of this House rests in all our hands, which is why I believe that noble Lords will want to support steps to strengthen the sanctions available to us”.—[Official Report, 17/12/13; col. 1143.]
I am introducing this Bill as such a step and I commend it to the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wish to support the Bill in both its branches. I shall take the suspension provisions first, although they happen to come second in the Bill, because it is out of that consideration that the first part of the Bill arises. As the noble Baroness said, this matter arose rather prominently some years ago. I was invited by the Privileges Committee to consider the position and came to the conclusion that this House had power to regulate what happened in relation to attending the House during a Session of Parliament. However, the obligation to attend the House sprang from a Writ of Summons issued at the beginning of each Session of Parliament. That power and duty of the Crown to issue a Writ of Summons to those entitled could not be interfered with by any kind of internal action of this House. The most that could be said—there was some question whether even this could be said, as your Lordships will remember—was that the House could suspend Members of the House from attendance during the remaining part of the Session in which the matter came up for consideration. Everyone who has looked at this is aware that that is a serious defect in the balance of the action available. As the noble Baroness said, it looks funny that at the beginning of a Session you can have a long suspension, with it gradually shortening until it becomes vanishingly small as you approach the end.
I am absolutely satisfied that the only way in which this House can deal with that matter is by having statutory power to do so, and that Standing Orders, as prescribed in the Bill, are the correct way to do that. Therefore, I warmly support that part of the Bill.
In addition, we have the question of expulsion. As the noble Baroness said, that is a more serious matter in quite a number of ways, but an important matter from the point of view of how the public look on continued membership of this House. We already have provisions in the statute that my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood introduced to deal with that in some circumstances, but not all. It is very desirable that powers of expulsion should exist in the House. That obviously requires statutory power to interfere with the right of a Member to receive a Writ of Summons at the beginning of a parliamentary Session. The Bill provides that that should be dealt with by Standing Orders of the House under the statutory authority of the Bill when it becomes law. It is obvious that the grounds on which such expulsion should be possible will need to be set out. Some may think that that should be set out in the authorising statute. On the other hand, I believe that there is enough need for flexibility as our experience continues to allow for a different method, and that is what the Bill allows: that the conditions for expulsion should be settled by Standing Order.
As the noble Baroness said, expulsion is obviously a more serious matter than suspension. It may be that in considering a Standing Order on that, further thought should be given to the procedure necessary in order that such a recommendation could be put to the House. I am glad that the noble Lord who chairs the sub-committee dealing with these matters is here and look forward to hearing what he has to say. We are extremely fortunate in this House in having a very fully qualified sub-committee to deal with questions such as the Bill would raise if enacted. As the noble Baroness said, it is important that any procedures adopted are seen to be fair and just to the House, to the public and to the individual Member concerned.
I strongly support both branches of the Bill and believe that it provides the best mechanism for reaching the necessary conclusion available in the circumstances.
My Lords, we have had in the two opening speeches every justification that we might need for agreeing to this Bill. It is indeed a very short and significant Bill and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on introducing it. I will be brief because, as she says, in one sense it completes one area of change that became necessary in this House in respect of discipline. It is right that we should move in this way and the work that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has done has been incredibly helpful to the whole House. I think that is well appreciated by everyone here.
When we talk about these issues, we should not lose sight of the fact that the discipline which became necessary was because of the wrongdoings of a very few individuals. In both Houses of Parliament, the vast majority of Members are doing their job for the right reasons and in an honourable way. My noble friend the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said that she hoped that these powers would not be needed; I think that we all hope that and do not expect them to be required in the foreseeable future. The problem that we have, as politicians in both Houses, is that very significant damage has been done to the reputation of politics itself. I hope that measures of this kind can help to restore some confidence that those of us here are keen to put our House in order.
If I may say one other thing, because the Bill should have a speedy passage and we should all be brief in our comments, more can be done to restore the reputation of this House. Other items of modest legislation, in the same vein as what the noble Baroness has introduced, could make some difference. There are also procedural agreements that we could reach in the House as to how we conduct our affairs, which would enhance its reputation. I remind the House of the debate that we had on 19 June on the document A Programme for Progress. That report, as some may remember, was drawn up by a group of Labour Peers but what was significant about that debate was that the recommendations within that report had support on all sides of the House. There are measures there which could be taken by agreement or with modest amounts of legislation and would do significant good to the reputation of the House. On issues such as appointments, retirements, procedures and conventions I think there is widespread support. We should be considering those more because we could make some serious progress.
I notice that the Minister, who is in his place, is the same Minister who replied to that debate on 19 June. He may recall—if he does not, I have the Hansard reference—that he commented in col. 990 on the level of consensus across the House “on the way forward” and responded to a suggestion by saying that “informal, or perhaps … formal” conversations across the Chamber could be undertaken to try to make further progress. Despite the timescale of the next election, there are things that we could do which could move us in the right direction. I hope that the Minister will take that on board. In the mean time, I congratulate the noble Baroness on the Bill. I hope that it can have a speedy passage. I see no reason why it should not.
My Lords, I, too, thank and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on bringing forward the Bill. I am sure she will not mind my calling it a modest Bill because she herself acknowledged that. Both she and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, referred to the context within which we are having this debate, which is one of unparalleled public mistrust. There is mistrust generally but, I am afraid to say, mistrust of Westminster in particular. It is idle for us to pretend that all the mistrust relates to the other place when we are caught up in its tentacles.
If one had a jury of good and honest men and women, unrelated to Westminster, who were to consider what the Bill is doing, they would be amazed that it is not already the law. It seems blindingly obvious, I suggest, that it should already be the regime by which we are here. We are here as an extraordinary privilege; I do not think that there is any greater privilege in this land than to be a Member of this place. We are not like Members of Parliament, who scrimp, save, work and year after year commit themselves to winning a seat in Parliament. When here, we do not labour under a set of obligations to our constituents in the way that they do, because we have none. Being here is an absolute privilege, and there comes with that a commensurate duty to police and regulate ourselves with absolute rigour.
Of course it is difficult—the law says impossible—for a man to judge himself, but we have to do our best, and there is no doubt in my mind that we should pass this measure not only without any reservation but with acclamation. My concern, rather, is that we are not going far enough, but I fully understand why the Bill is limited as it is, because we want to get this through before the election.
We also have to face up to the fact that there are some who do not want us to improve our affairs because they want a stronger case for a more radical reform, including election of this place. There is no getting away from it: they do not want accretional ameliorations. So I think self-reform is vital. This is the very least that we can do and it should be the first of many such measures.
My Lords, as your Lordships now know, I have the honour of chairing the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct, which is a sub-committee of the Committee for Privileges and Conduct. In that capacity I greatly welcome the Bill and the logical and highly desirable increments to the powers of the House that it would bring with it.
It may help if I try briefly to summarise where presently we stand with regard to the House’s sanctioning powers. Following the Bill that was variously known as the Byles Bill and the Steel Bill but was of course the House of Lords Reform (No. 2) Bill, which was passed on 14 May this year, a Member sentenced in the United Kingdom to a term of imprisonment of more than one year—notice that it is more than one year and not, as I think was suggested, at least one year—ceases automatically to be a Member of the House. Provision was also made in that legislation for possible expulsion in the event of a foreign conviction and, again, a sentence exceeding one year’s imprisonment.
However, if a Member is sentenced to one year’s imprisonment or less or is given a suspended sentence of imprisonment, although now, by amendments that were introduced in June this year and can be found in the third and current edition of the Code of Conduct, such a person is deemed to have breached the code and is therefore subject to sanction, he cannot be expelled or suspended beyond the duration of the current Parliament. That is the position equally with regard to all other breaches of the Code of Conduct, however seriously they may be viewed. In other words—this has already been made plain in other speeches in this House—assuming that in misconduct proceedings later this month it were thought right to suspend a Member, the longest period for which that could be done would be to the end of this Parliament, now some four or five months away.
I should complete the present picture and add that in January this year the House introduced two new sanctions for breaches of the code: first, denial of financial support—that is to say, the daily allowance and any expenses—for a specified period which can extend for longer than a suspension, meaning that it can extend into the following Parliament; and, secondly, for a similar extended period, denial of access to the facilities of the House, such as dining, parking, the Library and so forth. Neither of these fresh sanctions has yet been imposed. Of course, they were not retrospective.
As your Lordships know, this Bill would enable us to provide in Standing Orders for the House to resolve to expel a Member permanently or to suspend a Member beyond the term of the current Parliament. The precise form and scope of such Standing Orders will, of course, require careful thought, and I certainly hope that our sub-committee would be involved in thinking that through.
I suggest that these clearly are powers that the House should have, and that although, like all these possible sanctions, it is greatly to be hoped that there will be very few occasions when they will need to be exercised, they should be available in order to safeguard the reputation of the House. I strongly support the Bill.
My Lords, like all noble Lords who have spoken so far, I support the main thrust of the Bill, but there is a small matter that ought to be taken into account, which was accommodated in the Bill passed earlier this year. It is the case of a noble Lord who is, for example, convicted of, say, spying in a distant country when the charge is brought quite speciously and perhaps for political reasons—or perhaps he was indeed spying, but for us. In those circumstances, there needs to be provision to ensure that he is not removed from this House unnecessarily. I hope that that can be accommodated in the Standing Orders that will be drafted when this Bill, as I hope, becomes law. Indeed, there are provisions in the 2014 Act that allow the Lord Speaker, in certain circumstances, to lift the conviction, so to speak. I hope that these matters can be taken into account, if necessary by amendments in Committee—although perhaps that will not be necessary—or when the Standing Orders are drafted.
My Lords, I add my voice to those who have supported the Bill. I do so briefly because I know that at this time on a Friday afternoon your Lordships prefer brevity to expansiveness.
This Bill carries forward what the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, acknowledged at the Second Reading of what became the House of Lords Reform Act was unfinished business in that Bill. It gives the House more flexible powers to determine the circumstances in which Peers can be suspended or expelled. I can see no reason why the Government should not support and facilitate this Bill. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that the Government will indeed support it. If they do not, I think the only reason can be that they are not willing to facilitate any further reform of the House of Lords until more expansive, more ambitious reforms can be introduced. If that is the attitude of the Government, I deplore it. If the Government wish to put a standstill on further measures of incremental reform, they should also put a standstill on making the position of this House worse by more political appointments between now and the general election.
I do not want to personalise this Bill, but the fact that it has been introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, a former Lord Speaker of the House, is a particular reason why the Government should give it significance and support it. I cannot resist saying that many of us in this House supported the right of the Leader of the House to be a full member of the Cabinet. In our debates on this matter, she said that even without that status she would support and champion the interests of the House. If there is resistance in the Cabinet to facilitating the Bill, this is an opportunity for her to fulfil that promise to the House, and I hope very much that she will do so.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, and entirely endorse what he has said. Much as I respect my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who will be responding to this brief debate, I wish that the Leader of the House were here to do so and to give her full authority to what is said from the Front Bench.
I hope that what will be said from the Front Bench is that the Bill will be supported. It meets all the criteria that the Government have laid down. House of Lords reform should come about as a result of consensus. Well, there is a real consensus. This Bill, like that introduced by my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood, came about as a result of a group of us who have now been meeting for 12 years, the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, convened by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth. We founded it together all those years ago, and I have the honour of chairing it. We have discussed this matter many times, and there has been no disagreement on it among Members from all political parties and the Cross Benches, just as there was no disagreement over the measure that my noble friend Lord Steel introduced and Dan Byles took on last year. It is incremental and modest reform, designed to ensure that this House goes in for proper “housekeeping measures”, as my noble friend Lord Steel called them. It in no way prevents a future Government doing other things with this House. I hope that the House will remain appointed, but whether that is its ultimate destiny or not, there is no argument against the modest proposals made so forcefully and eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.
As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said a few moments ago, the fact that the Bill is being introduced with the enthusiastic support of the first Lord Speaker of this House ought of itself to commend it to all parts of the House. I was delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, spoke as she did. She introduced that debate in June and, again, there was an enormous degree of consensus, even though that report had been drawn up by Labour Peers.
We have only four or five months left of this Parliament. There is not time to get through sweeping measures, but there is ample time to get this measure through. There is no reason at all why it should not go through with acclamation this afternoon, without amendment in Committee, and be in another place well before Christmas. I hope that that will happen. If it does, we will collectively be giving all those who care for our constitution and our Parliament a good Christmas present.
My Lords, I, too, support the Bill. As others have said, in the two debates earlier this year—that on the report of the Labour Peers working group, referred to my by noble friend Lady Taylor, and that on the Steel Bill—many people referred to the fact that House of Lords reform would do better to proceed in small steps. The two Bills which tried to deal with the whole of House of Lords reform were both withdrawn because of the absence of consensus.
There are many things on which we can agree, and by taking them one at a time we may be able to achieve reform by accretional amelioration, as only the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, could put it. This Bill is one such step. As the noble Baroness explained, the Bill deals with the expulsion or suspension of Members of this House who have knowingly broken our rules or fallen below the standards that we have set ourselves.
I think that all of us would agree that a strong state demands high standards in public life. Without it, the capacity of Parliament to govern, and our reputation, diminish. Part of upholding those standards is the ability in any circumstances, irrespective of the parliamentary calendar, for this House to remove or suspend Members who have fallen below these standards. I feel that it is more applicable to us than most, because we are an unelected House and privileged, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, put it. It would be best if the Bill became law, because if it does not, we will be accused in the press and in the blogosphere of simply looking after our own—and there might be an element of truth in that. Some say that this is really a housekeeping matter. I do not agree. It is serious enough to be put on the statute book.
I finish by thanking the noble Baroness for the Bill. It takes a lot of work to put a Private Member’s Bill through this House; it is time consuming and often frustrating. The workload is also carried by the support staff—my thanks to them. I urge your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.
My Lords, I support the Bill for many reasons, most of which have already been ably and eloquently put, so I will not repeat them. However, I will spend a minute referring to a wider reason why I support the noble Baroness’s excellent Bill.
There are storms on the horizon; constitutionally we have entered a period of extreme turbulence. Since the referendum in Scotland the cry has gone up that we must have change—new ideas, more forms of government, with more powers. Those who began this paperchase have undoubtedly been considering their arguments carefully over many years before bringing them forward. On the other hand, there seems to be a sudden scarcity of cigarette packets. In these circumstances we need to look ever more carefully at what we do.
It is fair to say that we seek to improve rather than to impede legislation; we advise rather than oppose; we do detail rather than demagoguery; and I hope that we more often look to the wider public interest rather than search for narrow party advantage. Surely those qualities will become increasingly relevant, as all these new constitutional proposals and new powers inevitably threaten confusion and unintended consequences. In those circumstances it would be ever more important to find a means of smoothing rough edges. That means that what will be needed more than ever in this devolved new world that awaits us is this House of Lords—or something so like it as to be indistinguishable.
The Bill will help establish our continuing relevance. However, we need more; we need to be fitter, leaner and more transparent, and we need to bring our numbers down quite drastically. That would involve a painful process of self-denial, not only for political leaders, but most of all for ourselves here. One fundamental principle must guide everything we do: every one of us, individually, no matter how long we have perched here, whatever our plumage or pedigree, is here to serve this House. This House does not exist for our benefit, but we for it. The Bill helps to reinforce that fundamental principle. I wholeheartedly support it and congratulate the noble Baroness on her work in bringing it forward.
My Lords, I support the Bill and will try to be very brief, because it is a very brief Bill and my support for it is very strong—not least because it is very brief. We all owed the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, thanks for her services to this House before the Bill; we now owe a bit more to her in the light of it.
It is a manifest absurdity that the maximum penalty that can be imposed on somebody who breaks the rules of this place varies in inverse proportion to the length of the Parliament. It is absurd—the scale of the penalty should reflect the scale of the offence, not the remaining period of the Parliament. It is Alice in Wonderland.
I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. His speech was important, because I feared before this debate that we would hear that this was not the only reform that needed to be undertaken and that we would get into the trap of letting the best become the enemy of the good. I, too, believe that we need to have more reforms of this place, but that should not be an excuse for delaying this self-evident correction of a self-evident absurdity.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, for warning against letting the best become the enemy of the good. I hope that what has been expressed from the Liberal Democrat Benches will also be expressed from the Government Front Bench. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is absolutely right to say that there is no reason at all why this very sensible, long-overdue, necessary little reform should not be on the statute book before the end of this Parliament.
I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who raised a point that I believe he has raised before, but in terms that indicated that he realised that it did not require an amendment to this enabling Bill and could be dealt with perfectly well in the Standing Orders that would follow.
I am going to deliver on my promise of brevity. I hope that the discussions in this House will be equally brief and that we will bring this Bill to a successful conclusion before the end of this Parliament.
My Lords, I, too, add my support to the Bill. On the last occasion on which I was the last Back-Bench speaker in a Second Reading debate, I used the opportunity to respond to opponents of the Bill. My role today is clearly different in that I am here to add my support to everyone who has spoken.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made clear, the provisions of this Bill are based on previous measures. In the last Parliament, I served on the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, which became the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The provisions for expulsion were lost in the wash-up. In this Parliament, I served on the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill. The Labour Government supported the former Bill and the present coalition Government supported the latter Bill—in other words, all three main parties have signed up to the provisions embodied in this Bill. The drafting of this Bill follows that of the previous Bills, especially the House of Lords Reform Bill, so no party with any merit can claim that the Bill deviates from the provisions that they have previously supported.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, the Bill extends our current limited powers and brings us into line with the other place. There is clearly a powerful case for bringing us into line with the House of Commons. The two Houses do not necessarily have to march in step but, if there is a difference, there is a more powerful case for this House to have the power of expulsion. After all, MPs do not enjoy security of tenure; they can be removed by their constituents. They may be removed in between elections in exceptional circumstances, if the Recall of MPs Bill before the House of Commons is enacted.
As my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury said, membership of this House is a privilege, but it is also a responsibility. We have to maintain high standards. We have the code of conduct; that is necessary but it is not sufficient. We lack the powers necessary to enforce it in the event of a major transgression. We can suspend Members, but only for limited periods, as we have heard. That is useful and we have made use of it, but we need the ability in exceptional circumstances to suspend for a greater period than is presently possible or even to expel. It is not difficult to envisage circumstances in which a Member brings the House into serious disrepute without breaking the law.
The provisions of this Bill give us the powers that we need. It is up to the House to provide due process for the consideration of cases. The report of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, echoing previous committee recommendations, detailed the minimum requirements for fairness in such cases. These should be embodied in Standing Orders and not in the detail of the Bill—otherwise there is the danger of the provisions coming within the purview of the courts. The Bill in my view gets the balance right. It is a modest Bill, at least in length, but it is a necessary one for the reasons that noble Lords have advanced. Like my noble friend Lord Cormack, I see no reason at all why it should not be permitted to proceed to the statute book and do so swiftly.
My Lords, in introducing her Bill, my noble friend Lady Hayman was most persuasive and we on the opposition Benches are very happy to support it and to wish it godspeed through this House and the other place. The Bill’s provisions are very much reinforced by the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, who gave a very helpful explanation of the sanctions currently available and what is missing from the way in which we deal with these matters. My noble friend Lady Hayman was right to say that expulsion from a Chamber of Parliament is, indeed, a significant and major step. I agree with her that, although we hope they may never have to be used, it is good to have an armoury and the ability to do so if the circumstances should arise.
Of course the expulsion of a Member of Parliament can never be undertaken lightly, so it is important that proper safeguards are in place. My noble friend has reassured me on this point. As she said, the House remains in control. It would have to approve the Standing Orders and have to agree to the expulsion of the Member—the two locks, as she described them. I believe that those are sufficient safeguards. I was much reassured on that by the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. This Bill could become law with government support and we look to the Minister for a positive response.
My noble friend Lady Taylor referred to other matters that could be agreed by your Lordships’ House.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but he has just indicated that, if the Bill is to go through, it is essential that it be given government time. I think it is the first time that that point has been made in the debate.
My colleagues with experience of the House of Commons will recall that it is extremely difficult to get a Private Member’s Bill through the Commons procedures. As one who has killed off more Private Members’ Bills than most noble Lords who sit in this Chamber, I know that what we need to hear from the Minister is how we can get the Bill through before the general election, if that is what we want. We seem to be totally unanimous on that. The Government support the Bill and we hope that it goes through. However, that is the language of the long grass. The only way that this Bill will go through is if the Minister tells us not only that the Government support it but, more importantly, that government time will be given in another place to get it through.
My Lords, that was an extremely helpful intervention, at least for Members of your Lordships’ House. I suspect that there has never been a more elegant assassin of Private Members’ Bills than the noble Lord. He certainly speaks from great experience, and I hope that we will receive a positive response. It is absolutely clear that we need the Government to fully support the Bill and make sure that there is time in the other place for it to go through. I also hope that the noble Lord will take note of my noble friend’s comments. The report that she produced, which was debated in your Lordships’ House, contained a number of very useful suggestions for modest improvements.
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, said about retirements and the number of Members of this House. We have to start to make progress in relation to that. I very much support the Bill. I hope that the Minister will respond positively. It will be disappointing if the Government do not say that they will support the Bill.
My Lords, the Government do, of course, remain committed to a broader scheme of Lords reform, as I trust do the Labour Opposition in their turn. There is a consensus on that, at least officially. The Government have no settled view on the Bill at present. All I can promise, and I do promise, is that I will take back the speeches that have been given around the House and the strong arguments that these are essentially housekeeping measures—although I am not sure that expulsion is entirely a matter of housekeeping. Powerful speeches have been made, and then we will have to see what can be done with the House of Commons between now and the election. Time is very short—
The noble Lord says that the Government have no settled view. That is disappointing but it could be taken as a positive response if it actually meant that the Government generally would be prepared to discuss, maybe through the usual channels, with the noble Baroness whether they are prepared to support the Bill. Can he say that the door is at least open to that?
My Lords, I am trying to be as positive as I can be but the noble Lord knows as well as I do, having been in government, that getting consensus inside the Government, even in a single party, is not always entirely simple and straightforward. You have to get Ministers to concentrate on the matter in hand. When it is a matter of Lords housekeeping it is not entirely easy. I will do my best. I will take this back very firmly and we will have to look at the House of Commons dimension, and we might be able to make at least very considerable progress on the Bill. I take everything that has been said, although I repeat that the Government remain committed to a broader scheme of reform.
I am listening with great care to what the noble Lord is saying and we all know the pressure that we are under towards the end of this Parliament. Will he bear in mind the fact that in the wash-up at the end of the Parliament it is very often easy to get agreement on measures that are as clear-cut as this one?
I also take that point and will take it back. We had rather hoped that with a fixed-term Parliament there would be much less wash-up than before, but I suspect that when it comes we will discover that a number of things have been slid in at the last minute that we nevertheless have not quite managed to agree in either House.
I entirely understood. Unfortunately, some rather larger dishes may yet be introduced, which the Government may wish to try to push through.
We all hope that these powers would not be needed. We all recognise that we will need to look before the Bill is completed at the sort of things that will need to be in Standing Orders, because this Bill is quite a substantial extension to the power of the House, in spite of the wonderful phrase that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, used—that it is intended to be merely an “amelioration”. However, I am very happy to talk further with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and certainly take this back to the Cabinet Office to see what is possible.
Before we depart, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that I look forward to her next proposals on accretion or amelioration. I am happy that I hear around the Corridors a number of noble Lords on all Benches discussing the possibility of retirement at the end of this Parliament. That is another useful way forward. We should encourage it. However, perhaps the noble Baroness will, at the beginning of the next Parliament, produce a Bill that will suggest a retirement age by consensus. I look forward to giving her my support, from wherever I am at that point, on that next stage in amelioration.
My Lords, the noble Lord’s tone is encouraging but slightly light-hearted. I regard this as a very important Bill. It may be short but if it is carried by acclamation in this House, as it should be, it will be very odd if the Government do not find government time for it in the other place.
My Lords, we appreciate that this is a serious matter. We all understand the question of the House’s reputation and of the public reputation of Westminster as a whole. I have previously said in responding to questions that that is one of the strongest lessons of the Scottish referendum and of the disillusionment of opinion across England with Westminster as such. We all understand that. I will take that away. I happen to be a strong believer in a reduction in numbers by accepting that we should all retire at a certain age. That is part of where we are now moving and it is part of our general responsibilities. I strongly believe that to be a Member of this House is a privilege, not a right.
I hope I have said enough to reassure the House. Conversations will continue off the Floor, as they so often do. We will see what we can do.
My Lords, I am enormously grateful for the support that I have received from all Benches of your Lordships’ House and for the seriousness with which Members have addressed the Bill. I was slightly worried on several grounds when the Minister wound up: at one stage I thought that he was inviting me to retire by the end of the Parliament. I do not think I am minded to do that with so much unfinished business before us, not least in this area.
I must congratulate the noble Baroness. She talked about completing a stage of House of Lords reform. What a wonderful phrase—the thought that we might ever complete a substantial phase of House of Lords reform. I suspect I will retire before we have done that.
It is the never-ending story of British politics. However, I turn briefly to two points made by noble Lords. One was made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. I quite understand his desire that we should not create rules so inflexible that injustices take place. That is less of a difficulty with a Bill that enables the House to make Standing Orders, which can themselves give the degree of flexibility referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. We then have the next lock of the House itself needing to make a resolution in individual cases. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will not feel that it is necessary to try to amend the Bill, but that he will be engaged in the process that several noble Lords have mentioned of drawing up the Standing Orders, the procedures and the processes that would be necessary after enactment, which we all recognise should be taken very seriously.
Several noble Lords referred to the need for other measures of reform. It is well known that I share a desire to reform this House substantially. That does not mean I support an elected House—I do not—but I believe that there is a lot that we can do. I considered bringing the remains of the Steel Bill: an individual Bill on a statutory appointments commission, a cap on the size of the House, and even—dare I say it with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, present—an end to hereditary Peer by-elections. I did not do any of those things because I believed that I should, in these circumstances, bring forward something that was deliverable and that could, in the terms of a Private Member’s Bill, become law and make a contribution.
The Minister said that it might be difficult to get people to focus on Lords housekeeping. I, too, take issue with that designation of the Bill. He might find it easier if he put it to colleagues that it was a Bill dealing with the reputation of Parliament, because that is what I believe it is and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, and others made that perfectly clear.
I am slightly surprised that the Government have “no settled view”, to use the Minister’s phrase. They had a settled view when they drew up these proposals and put them in the Bill in 2012. Of course, I am willing to consider and discuss what might be in the Standing Orders but I assume that that work has already been done in government: if it is necessary then it would have been done as the back-up to these proposals when they were put forward in the 2012 Bill.
The advice that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, gave us was absolutely central. Although the Minister seemed to be willing the ends in a very generalised way, willing the means was not so specific. I shall certainly take up his offer of conversations—he did not say that the door was closed. I hope—and today’s debate has given me encouragement for this because I do not think that anyone expressed any doubt about the importance and necessity of the Bill—that we can deliver it up in good time for it to become law if the Government give it time in another place. That is the simple demand that, with the authority of those who have spoken today, I shall be taking into those discussions. I hope that, in a short period of time, the Government will reach the conclusion that it is in all our interests so to do.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 3.21 pm.