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House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Bill [HL]

Volume 757: debated on Friday 12 December 2014


Clause 1: Expulsion and suspension of members of the House of Lords

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 15, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

“(4) A resolution passed by virtue of subsection (1) must state that, in the opinion of the House of Lords, the conduct giving rise to the resolution—

(a) occurred after the coming into force of this Act, or(b) occurred before the coming into force of this Act and was not public knowledge before that time.”

My Lords, I will speak also to Amendments 2 and 3 in my name. I hope that I will not need to detain the House for very long.

At the outset, I will record my gratitude to the Minister and his officials—and I am delighted to see the Leader of the House in her place today. There have been a number of useful conversations—certainly useful from my point of view—which I hope have allowed us to end up with drafting in the Bill that meets the need for a more robust sanctions regime for the House but which also takes into account the necessity for this to be fair and balanced.

I also reiterate what I said about the Bill at Second Reading. This is an enabling Bill. The House will have the opportunity, when drafting standing orders under the Bill, to look very carefully at the processes that it wishes to put into place, were there to be, first, an investigations, then a report, and then a Motion in the House to bring sanctions against a Member under the terms of the Bill. So there are plenty of opportunities for ensuring that we get those processes absolutely right—but the original problem remains, unless we pass this Bill.

I turn to Amendment 1. In Committee, we debated and passed an amendment that dealt with the issue of retrospectivity in a blanket way. Many noble Lords would have been concerned that we could run the risk of double jeopardy and of reopening issues of conduct that had already been through the disciplinary processes of the House and been adjudicated on. However, there was a concern that, in so doing, we should not tie the hands of the House in circumstances where, for example, wrongdoing occurred today but did not come to public notice until after the passage of this Bill. We did not want to be left in the position of having no sanctions regime available at all to the House.

I have therefore taken the wording in the 2012 House of Lords Reform Bill, which had to consider exactly the same issues of retrospectivity. In this amendment, we would put those provisions into my Bill and ensure that any conduct that gave rise to proceedings under this Bill had either to take place after the Bill’s passage or to deal with issues that preceded the Bill’s coming into force but were not in any way in the public domain. That was considered to be an appropriate approach in the Bill on major House of Lords reform that did not proceed, and I hope that it will be considered appropriate in this Bill.

The other two amendments are of a technical nature. I am particularly grateful for the conversations that I had with officials, because I am not sure that I would have got there myself in understanding, in Amendment 2, the need to ensure that the interaction between the entitlement to receive the writ of summons, which is obviously a very important issue and one that stopped the House in the past being able to suspend Members beyond the lifetime of a single Parliament, and the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 should be made clear. Amendment 2, I am reliably informed, achieves that end and ensures that there is no lacuna between my Bill and the Act.

Equally, I attempted in my drafting to ensure that the effects of ceasing to be a Member in the case of expulsion should be the same under these provisions as they would be for expulsion under the provisions of the 2014 Act. I believe that the wording that we now have in Amendment 3 achieves that.

I hope that, if the House is minded to approve the amendments, we have now got the Bill into a form that is watertight and acceptable to the House and that achieves the ends for which there was so much support. I think that the Leader of the House recognised that in the strength of the contributions made from all over the House at Second Reading and in Committee.

As I said at the beginning, this is not a House of Lords reform Bill. It is not called that and it is not that in any way. It does not deal with composition. It deals with our internal disciplinary processes and, in that sense, may seem very minor. However, as I have said before, it also deals with a situation that those among the general public who are aware of it already find unacceptable and that, were it to come into the spotlight because a case arose, even more of them would find totally unacceptable. In my view, this issue concerns the reputation of this House and of Parliament more widely. That is why I hope very much that the Bill will make rapid progress not just today but in another place. I beg to move.

My Lords, very briefly, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for taking up the standard. I hope, as I know she does, that this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will never be needed. However, if it does not become an Act of Parliament, that would be very difficult to explain to anyone outside Parliament.

I am greatly comforted by the presence of my noble friend the Leader of the House on the Front Bench. I sincerely hope that the Bill can go through its remaining stage in this House and through another place in good time for the Dissolution of this Parliament, so that it is fully operational when we come back. There is no reason why that should not happen from the point of view of parliamentary timetables. I made that point at Second Reading and again in Committee. We are enormously indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, as we are to the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. The Bill perfectly dovetails with, and in effect completes, what he and Mr Dan Byles sought to do. It has my total and complete support.

My Lords, until now we have had a regime that partly dealt with the problems that this Bill deals with. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, explained, the statutory framework under which this House has worked hitherto did not enable us to exercise the full powers that the House would have wished to exercise in some circumstances because of the need to curtail any sentence of suspension to the period of the next issue of writs of summons. I do not think that anybody thought that was an entirely satisfactory system. On the other hand, I thought—and I think this was generally agreed—that it was the best that we could achieve without statutory intervention.

Now we have the opportunity to introduce statutory intervention. It is extremely important that from now on we should have a system that completely replaces what was in place before without the impediment involved in the previous arrangements. This Bill does exactly that, covering in full the situation where someone, unfortunately, transgresses the Code of Conduct of the House, and allows it to be properly dealt with.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for taking this on. I am also grateful for the progress that has been made in the consideration of the Bill, which has made it, in my view, as perfect a statutory framework as we can have, while leaving the detail of what should happen to the decisions of this House through the making of Standing Orders, as the noble Baroness said. That has the important advantage that, if the initial Standing Orders prove to be somewhat in need of improvement, that improvement can be made. That is an important feature of the Bill in bringing in a completely new regime to replace the regime, with its unsatisfactory features, we hitherto have used. I hope that the Government feel—I imagine that they do—that this would be an improvement, and I hope that the Bill will speedily pass into law.

My Lords, I should like to say a few words from a selfish point of view. The last time we had three expulsions, all three, unfortunately, were Asian. The amount of backlash one received was enormous. People said, “What have you done? You have done nothing; these people have done this and that, and you do nothing to them”. If they were working for some company they would not be there any more. This approach is long overdue and I am really grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for bringing it forward. It is hard to say, “Look, there are people in this House who do not follow the rules they should follow”. They are not honourable and should not be in this House.

My Lords, I should like to put on record my support. I had the honour to serve as the chairman of the Conduct Sub-Committee of the Privileges and Conduct Committee. At Second Reading, I gave strong and firm support to, and welcomed, the Bill. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has made plain, it would fill the present, most concerning lacuna in our sanctioning powers. Again, I echo the hope that it will never be necessary to exercise these increased powers.

I welcome all the amendments. The first meets the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, in Committee. In its original form, this provision was too narrow and confined only to what is now in proposed paragraph (a) of the amendment. As the noble Lord pointed out, it would fail, for example, to deal with someone who committed perjury in a libel case and it took four years for that perjury to be revealed. That problem is now cured by the amendment. I strongly welcome it and the other two amendments, too.

My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, that this is timely and long overdue. We support all three amendments. How good it is to know that something survives from the 2012 House of Lords Reform Bill and goes forward in this Bill. We support it.

My Lords, the important thing is to get all stages of the Bill through the House in good order. We entirely accept that the Bill is about Lords’ conduct and therefore their reputation. As such, it is a useful addition to the procedures available to the House, although—to repeat what has been said—we all hope that the powers will rarely, if ever, be needed.

The question of what happens in another place will, of course, have to be discussed. I have assurances that the Leader will be discussing that matter with others but, meanwhile, we welcome the clarity of these amendments. The Bill is now in good order and we should accept this as the Report stage.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to everyone who has spoken for their support for the amendments, which I believe have now struck the right balance, particularly on the issue of retrospectivity. I am very grateful to the Minister. He said that the important thing is to get the Bill through this House. That is an important thing. I think that the most important thing is now to get the Bill through another House. I know that the Government have made very clear that they will not stand in the way of the Bill. I hope that in willing the ends they may be able to move towards willing the means as well. I know that there has been real good faith from the Government Front Bench on this issue. I hope that we will see the fruits of that in the new year and that this small but important measure will become law before the general election.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

“Entitlement to receive writs of summons to attend House of Lords

In section 6 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 (interpretation), after subsection (2)(c) insert—“(d) section 1(3) of the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015.””

Amendment 2 agreed.

Clause 2: Effect of ceasing to be a member

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: Clause 2, leave out Clause 2 and insert the following new Clause—

“Effect of ceasing to be a member

A person expelled in accordance with section 1 is to be treated as if that person had ceased to be a member in accordance with the House of Lords Reform Act 2014, for the purposes of section 4(2) to (8) of that Act.”

Amendment 3 agreed.

House adjourned at 3.05 pm.