Clause 4 — Effect of ceasing to be a member

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 pm on 28th February 2014.

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Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 12:00 pm, 28th February 2014

I am disappointed that the House has lost the opportunity today to hear the unmistakable and authoritative tones of my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg coming from the Gallery. It could only have lent even greater authority to his declarations. We shall look forward to it happening at another time, with your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The issue has had a good airing in this short debate. I fully understand my hon. Friend’s concern that we should not risk losing the very important role that their lordships play in being a source of dispassionate expertise and advice to this place, and we all admire their robust independence and scrutiny, even if, on occasion, Ministers find themselves on the wrong end of it. That is their role and they discharge it very well.

We do not want to see the House of Lords become a nursery for the Commons where young hopefuls start their careers before being transplanted to this Chamber at some point. However, as Stephen Twigg and my hon. Friend Dr Coffey have said, this is a balanced argument. My hon. Friend Dan Byles has sought always to gather those measures of reform that command the greatest possible consensus. This is not the last word on House of Lords reform and some of the principles that even this short debate has thrown up are very serious and have consequence, such as whether it is right to restrict someone who is not a Member of Parliament from standing for Parliament. That debate of some constitutional consequence needs to be approached carefully and to happen in the context of other debates that will no doubt take place in the years ahead about further reform of the House of Lords.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset was gracious enough to acknowledge, the Bill is different from the one first introduced, so it cannot be subject to ping-pong in the way that would have been permitted for the original Bill. We have given a great deal of thought to this matter and those covered in previous discussions. When Lord Steel promoted his Bill in the other place, it made progress and was accepted by their lordships, who were content for it to proceed without what might be called the cooling-off period. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire has been influenced by, and has consciously modelled his Bill on, proposals that have already attracted a degree of support and consensus, following considerable scrutiny in the other place. To depart from the established consensus in the other place might be perilous for a private Member’s Bill on such a subject.

I agree with the comment that preventing someone from running for elected office is a serious sanction. Given the safeguards made to avoid ping-pong between the Houses, it is not necessary for the Bill to forbid someone from doing so. I concede that this House and the other place may want to come back to the matter and, provided that the Bill is fortunate enough to receive

Royal Assent, perhaps to make a judgment based on the experience of how it works in practice. I am sure that there will be other opportunities to discuss it in the years ahead.

Let me just mention amendment 21, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset. As has been said, it would clarify that any peer who resigns or is disqualified retains his or her peerage. It may help if I repeat from the Dispatch Box what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire. The Government’s view is that that is already implicit in the Bill, which states that a peerage cannot be lost in such a way. I am happy to confirm that to provide clarity and certainty.

Given the reasons that I have set out, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset is inclined not to press his amendments.