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Clause 4 — Effect of ceasing to be a member

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:45 am on 28th February 2014.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset 11:45 am, 28th February 2014

I am very grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, although I will let you into a secret: one of my ambitions is to speak from the Galleries one day. I think that it was last done in the 1950s.

To return to my point, it has been established that the best way to win marginal seats is to select candidates early and have them working in the constituencies for a long time in the run-up to a general election. That presents difficulties, however, because candidates have to earn a living, need to find the resources to finance their campaign and have to put other parts of their life on hold. If they can do that from the House of Lords, that is an enormous advantage. It gives them an income of sorts and it gives them status, which they can use to intervene in constituency affairs—a local council or Government body will take a letter from a peer just as seriously as a letter from a Member of the House of Commons. There is the risk of setting up an MP and an unelected peer to fight for a constituency for five years, with the peer simply standing down before the election to put himself forward and conceivably take the seat and go back to being a Member of the House of Commons. That seems to me to be fundamentally undesirable.

Members may say that the risk is slim and that that will never happen, but we are becoming a more professional political class. There is certainly evidence that length of campaigning in constituencies helps. There is currently a very good proposal from “ConservativeHome” to provide candidates with funds to help them with that. How much easier it would be if there was a nice, cosy billet in the House of Lords from which it could be done. Admittedly, that could not be done again, because the peer would have burnt all his bridges in relation to returning to the House of Lords, but that is not too bad, because they would still have got 15 years out of the system: one Parliament as an MP, one as a peer and, if they are clever, another as an MP. It begins to look like a means of forming a political career.

If that system becomes a means of forming a political career, it also becomes—I return to what I said earlier—a means of the parties asserting more control over their lordships’ House. A key thing about being in their lordships’ House is that there really are no further baubles the Government can offer. There are very few carrots and no sticks. That encourages independence of mind. It encourages peers, once they get there, to be more rigorous in considering the merits of the issues before them and to act in the proper way of a revising Chamber. The more possible it is for Governments to encourage, coerce and persuade peers to stick tightly to the party line, the less use their lordships’ House will serve, because it will be unable to do its job as a revising Chamber effectively.

Even if the risk is relatively slim and the numbers involved will not necessarily be huge, it seems to me that some sort of stop ought to be placed on that and that people go to the Lords knowing that they have accepted it for life, as we have already discussed, and that it disbars them from the House of Commons. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that people should face the consequences of decisions they have freely made. That is where it is different from hereditary peers and disclaiming, because a hereditary peerage is not a decision freely made; it is an accident of birth. However, any life peer has received a letter from the Prime Minister saying, “Do you want to be a life peer?”, has had letters patent issued by the sovereign and has had to pay Garter King of Arms to draw up the paperwork. They have had to do something to get that noble status. They know, because they have been told, that it excludes them from the House of Commons, by their voluntary choice.

Some argue that that is against their human rights, which is an absolutely ridiculous understanding of human rights. I know that it has been argued that it is against their human rights to stop them coming back to the House of Commons, but they are the ones who chose to be ineligible for the House of Commons. Surely with rights go responsibilities, and surely people must face the consequences of their actions.

I think that the failure to include that exclusion in the Bill is a mistake. It is something that ought to be remedied, because it could lead to problems in future. It could damage the standing of the House of Lords. It could easily be misused by a powerful political party, because obviously the party in government is more able to decide who the working peers will be, and therefore to use it for its marginal seats, to the detriment of opposition parties. No party is in government for ever, so it is always worth all sides bearing those difficulties in mind. It also fundamentally takes away from someone the consequences of their actions, which I think is wrong. I think that people should bear those consequences, and once they have been elevated they should not be allowed to sink back down, at least for a period.