Clause 4 — Effect of ceasing to be a member

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:32 pm on 28th February 2014.

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Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 12:32 pm, 28th February 2014

I echo the plaudits that are no doubt ringing in the ears of my hon. Friend Dan Byles for the way in which he has successfully—I hope, although it is subject to the will of the House—piloted his Bill through its stages. I commend him on his bravery in taking forward—as my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg said—an important constitutional Bill as a private Member’s Bill. It is a brave Member of Parliament who, when he comes high up in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, chooses House of Lords reform. It is not the most obvious choice, but my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire made it and has piloted his Bill in an exemplary manner.

Part of my hon. Friend’s achievement is to have worked tirelessly to consult and listen to respected voices, many of whom have spoken in the debate today, so that both the formulation of his propositions, and the amendments to them, have been able to establish a degree of support on both sides of the House. I hope that that will also be the case in the House of Lords.

I also wish to put on record my thanks to the Members who participated in Committee on 15 January, considering a large number of amendments that were made without any Divisions. The Bill is not the last word on reform, and there will doubtless be more debate to come. I echo the words of other hon. Members in paying tribute to the officials and the Clerks who guided my hon. Friend in the drafting of the Bill and dealing with some of the questions that arose. It is a tribute to their wisdom and advice that we have been able to make the progress that we have.

I hope that the other place will accept the strong and positive endorsement of the House for the Bill. While discussions on the wider membership and structure of the Lords will continue, the Bill is useful. The three elements that it will introduce—a statutory resignation process, a disqualification mechanism on conviction of a serious offence and removal for those who persistently fail to attend the House without reasonable excuse or leave of absence—are steps in the right direction. It is right that a conscientious peer who has played a full and active role in the House of Lords, but feels in all conscience that they can no longer maintain that level of commitment, should be entitled to an honourable release from that commitment. The Bill, very sensibly, will provide for that.

I also think it consistent with the enormous privilege that comes with a peerage—to which my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset has repeatedly drawn attention—to provide for those who do not attend the House of Lords or take their duty to it seriously to be permanently removed from their seats. I think that allowing persistent non-attenders who do not play a role in the work of the House to keep their seats damages the reputation of those who are diligent, and who contribute their time, effort, energy and learning to the debates that take place there.

It is vital for all Members of the legislature to uphold the highest standards of integrity. Allowing peers who commit serious criminal offences to keep their seats in the House of Lords can only harm its reputation and undermine its important work, and it is right for Members who fall foul of the rules to be permanently removed. Indeed, our colleagues on the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee who considered the Bill noted that every witness who had given evidence during its inquiry into House of Lords reform had supported a provision to remove Members who committed serious criminal offences.

For those reasons, the Government fully support the important and reasonable measures that the Bill seeks to implement. We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire for giving the House an opportunity to consider them, and for the way in which he allowed the debate to be conducted. Following careful and detailed consideration, not just today but in Committee and on Second Reading, the House of Commons has given the Bill full and good consideration, and I think that we are sending it to the House of Lords in a good state. I hope that it will be possible to build on the work of Lord Steel—who, similarly, took great pains to ensure that his own Bill received a degree of scrutiny and support—and that the union between that heritage and my hon. Friend’s Bill will enable it to make good progress in the other place. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.