Clause 1 — Expulsion and Suspension of members of the House of Lords

– in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 27th February 2015.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 1:30 pm, 27th February 2015

I beg to move amendment 1, page 1, line 4, leave out paragraph (a).

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 2, page 1, line 7, leave out subsection (2).

Amendment 7, page 1, line 17, at beginning insert

“in relation either to an expulsion or to a suspension”.

This is linked to the amendment below which prevents retrospective judgement of behaviour leading to a final expulsion of a member of the House of Lords.

Amendment 6, page 1, line 17, after “Act”, insert

“and any Standing Orders made under subsection (1)”.

Amendment 19, page 1, line 17, after “Act” insert

“and any Standing Orders made under this section”.

Amendment 8, page 1, line 18, leave out paragraph (b).

This removes all reference to previous conduct that was not public knowledge.

Amendment 9, page 1, line 18, at beginning insert

“in relation only to a suspension”.

This removes the power of expulsion in respect of previous conduct that was not public knowledge.

Amendment 10, page 1, line 18, leave out from “Act” to end of line 19 and insert

“but since 1 January 2015”.

This limits the application of the Bill’s sanctions to previous conduct that was not public knowledge to just the current year.

Amendment 11, page 1, line 18, leave out from “Act” to end of line 19 and insert

“but since 1 January 2000”.

This limits the application of the Bill’s sanctions to previous conduct that was not public knowledge in the past 15 years only.

Amendment 12, page 1, line 18, leave out from “Act” to end of line 19 and insert

“but since 1 January 1985”.

This limits the application of the Bill’s sanctions to previous conduct that was not public knowledge in the past 30 years only.

Amendment 13, page 1, line 19, after “knowledge”, insert “in the United Kingdom”.

This limits the scope of public knowledge of previous conduct to what was not known in this country.

Amendment 14, page 1, line 19, at end insert—

‘(4A) A resolution under subsection 4(b) may not relate to expulsion”.

This is an alternative approach to removing the power of expulsion in respect of previous conduct that was not public knowledge.

Amendment 15, page 1, line 19, at end insert—

“(4A) Standing Orders of the House of Lords set out guidance on what constitutes public knowledge under subsection 4(b)”.

This allows for some certainty as to what might constitute public knowledge of previous conduct.

Amendment 20, page 1, line 19, at end add—

‘(5) nothing in this section shall authorise the expulsion or suspension of members of the House of Lords on the grounds of age, health or length of service”

Amendment 3, in clause 2, page 2, line 2, leave out “Expulsion and”.

Amendment 4, page 2, line 4, leave out clause 3.

Amendment 5, in clause 4, page 2, line 9, leave out “Expulsion and”.

Amendment 16, in the title, line 1, leave out “expel or”.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Effectively, amendment 1 seeks to remove from the Bill any reference to the expulsion of Members of the House of Lords, which means that the Bill would relate only to their suspension. The reason why I wish to circumscribe the Bill in that way is that the main point of the Bill is to make the House of Lords’ powers relating to Members’ suspension more consistent. On that, I agree with my right hon. Friend Sir George Young. Where I disagree with him is over the use of the expulsion power.

When this Bill was originally put forward, it was said to be very minor and technical, but as one of their lordships said, the expulsion power was certainly not about routine housekeeping. The power to expel Members from the other place is a fundamental interference in the constitutional arrangements of our country; people are appointed to the other House for life, or they are elected as part of the cohort of elected peers. To expel such a person is an extreme measure.

Following the House of Lords Reform (No.2) Bill, which was introduced by my hon. Friend Dan Byles and passed into law, the House of Lords and this House effectively have the same powers of expulsion. That includes ensuring that anyone who is convicted of an offence that results in imprisonment for more than one year is expelled. In this House, we have not expelled anyone for a very long time. A number of people, following critical newspaper reports, have chosen not to stand again, or even in extremis to resign their seat, but expulsion is a draconian sanction. Introducing it in this Bill is unnecessary; it is over-egging the pudding. That is why I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire will accept my amendment. Essentially, all the amendments in the group deal with the same issue, which is the conduct that gives rise to potential expulsion from the House.

Amendments 2, 7, 6, 19, 8, 9 and the others are worth considering because they tighten up the Bill and bring it more into line with what would be regarded as fair and reasonable. Given the time, rather than spending a lot of time going through them, I would prefer to see whether we can persuade my right hon. Friend, the promoter of this Bill, to drop the expulsion power. As was said on Second Reading and Report in the other place, this is a power that the Lords hope that they will never have to use, but the danger is that if it is available and can be used in relation to a wide range of conduct, people might be expelled from the Lords in circumstances in which they would not be expelled from this House.

Let us consider the interaction between this Bill and the recall Bill. The recall Bill gives electors the power to vote when a Member’s conduct falls short of what is expected but would not give rise to a sentence of imprisonment of more than one year. If we are to link in with that, it would be best to do away with the expulsion provisions and rely on the suspension provisions instead. Under the suspension powers in this Bill, the other place would be able to suspend Members for five years or more. If a Member was suspended for that length of time and felt that justice had been done, they might well choose to resign. That is a different issue, but given the constitutional implications, it would be a step too far to give the other House the power to override our constitution by expelling somebody who has been appointed a peer of the realm for life, or an elected hereditary peer. If we want to go down that route, we should not do so on a Friday through a private Member’s Bill.

As with so many powers that have been taken, people say that they will never have to use these powers. We were told, when certain legislation was originally introduced, that it would be used only to proceed against terrorists, but as the years went by, we found that the rules became rather different. People forget the basis on which the law was introduced. The lack of safeguards in this Bill about the conduct that would give rise to expulsion mean that it would be much cleaner to remove references to expulsion from it. Some of my amendments would therefore ensure that the Bill was called not the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Bill, but the House of Lords (Suspension) Bill.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry The Second Church Estates Commissioner

I have a number of amendments in this group, but before I come to them, as they deal mostly with suspension, may I comment on the observations made by my hon. Friend Mr Chope about expulsion? There is the question of consistency. The House has already agreed, through the previous group of amendments, that so far as is possible the House of Lords should have cognisance of its own matters. In other words, the House of Lords should control what happens in it. Unless there are compelling public policy reasons for doing so, it is difficult to argue, now that the House of Lords has agreed that it requires a power of expulsion, that this House should seek to frustrate the House of Lords’ having that power. As will have been clear to those of us who read the report of the Second Reading debate in Lords

Hansard

, there is cross-party support in that House for a power of expulsion.

Of course, it has always been possible to expel Members of the House of Lords; it is just that sometimes it has been done in slightly curious ways. I am a great supporter of some of the things done by Thomas Cromwell. I have always felt that what Ministers require is grip, and he certainly demonstrated grip. Poor Thomas Cromwell was arrested in June 1540, and a Bill of attainder passed in the House of Lords provided for his punishment without judicial trial. As we know, he was eventually put to death.

Lord Lovat, whom I mentioned earlier, was impeached for high treason in this House and found guilty by the House of Lords. Indeed, he suffered the ignominy of being hung, drawn and quartered—no one is suggesting, of course, that any Member of the House of Lords who might be expelled in future should suffer such a fate. In his judgment against Lord Lovat, the Lord High Steward said:

The Commons found your Lordship to be one of the principal Conspirators, who contrived and carried on the late detestable Rebellion, to destroy our Religion and Liberties, and to subvert that Legal Settlement of the Crown in His Majesty, and His Royal Family, under which alone we can live Free and Happy.”

Other ways have been found of removing Members of the House of Lords. Impeachment was a procedure used by both Houses, under which all peers could be prosecuted and tried by the two Houses for any crime whatsoever. The House of Commons determined when an impeachment should be instituted. It related largely to high treason, but it could relate to other crimes and misdemeanours. There was a whole process involving the two Houses that could lead to the expulsion of a Member of the House of Lords.

Members of the House of Lords could also be expelled by a specific Act of Parliament. The last such Act was the Titles Deprivation Act 1917, which deprived enemy peers and princes of their British dignities and titles. Section 1(1) states:

“His Majesty may appoint a committee of His Privy Council, of which two members at least shall be members of the Judicial Committee, to enquire into and report the names of any persons enjoying any dignity or title as a peer or British prince who have, during the present war, borne arms against His Majesty or His Allies, or who have adhered to His Majesty’s enemies.”

No fewer than five members of the House of Lords were expelled under that Act, including three Royal Highnesses—His Royal Highness Leopold Charles, Duke of Albany; His Royal Highness Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland; and His Royal Highness Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick—and Viscount Taaffe of Corren. Therefore, on numerous occasions in the past it has been perfectly possible to expel Members of the House of Lords when that has been found necessary. We in this House have that power, and it seems perfectly sensible that the House of Lords should have it too.

My amendments relate to the slightly different matter of suspension and the question of when conduct becomes relevant. Most Members of the House of Lords are sent there as life peers, which means they will have had lives previously. This is an issue on which the other place spent some time in Committee. The question was from when conduct became relevant. My amendments consider whether conduct should be taken into account if it was not public knowledge. Amendment 10 would limit to the current year the application of the Bill’s sanctions to previous conduct that was not public knowledge. Amendment 11 would limit the application of the Bill’s sanctions to previous conduct that was not public knowledge in the past 15 years.

The point that I seek to make in this group of amendments is: when does the clock start running in respect of such conduct? Does it relate to conduct committed by a Member of the House of Lords only after they joined the House of Lords, or if it was discovered that prior to becoming a Member of the House of Lords, they had engaged in conduct that would merit suspension or expulsion, would time run from that point? Would it run in relation to any conduct that was discovered in respect of any Member of the House of Lords before the enactment of this Bill? Will the provisions in respect of suspension and expulsion start from the date of Royal Assent? Does that mean that any conduct prior to Royal Assent would be subject to the current rules, whereby suspension runs only until the end of a Parliament?

We need to be clear from when the provisions run, so that there is no ambiguity. The principal purpose of the legislation is to enhance public confidence. To achieve that, there needs to be clarity about the provisions and about the sort of conduct that will result in suspension. Comments made on Second Reading in the House of Lords suggested that some conduct outside the House of Lords might give rise to suspension, but I do not believe that is what the Bill intends. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend Sir George Young, who is the Member in charge of the Bill, and the Minister could address these points and the amendments, so that we are clear about when the clock starts to run in relation to conduct meriting suspension or expulsion under the terms of the Bill.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 1:45 pm, 27th February 2015

I shall be characteristically brief in my comments on this group of amendments. There is a great deal of merit in the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Mr Chope and my right hon. Friend Sir Tony Baldry in this group and they deserve closer scrutiny.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch proposed amendment 1, and I have a great deal of sympathy for the points he made about expulsion. His amendment is made even more persuasive by the fact that his new clause 3 was defeated in the Division earlier. If the new clause had been accepted in the previous group of amendments, amendment 1 may not have been necessary. In the circumstances, I think it is necessary.

My hon. Friend has said that the punishment is draconian, which, of course, it is; it does not get much more draconian than expulsion from a House. I share his concern that the definitions of conduct that will lead to expulsion are not sufficiently tightly drawn. This is about whether we think that expulsion is an appropriate sanction and about the democratic accountability and legitimacy of Members of the House of Lords to make such decisions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury touched on that issue when he moved new clause 1 and it is also addressed by amendment 1.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has rightly said, the decisions about who is made a life peer are not made by Members of the House of Lords, because life peers are appointed. Given the circumstances, it should not necessarily be for the House of Lords to determine whether someone should continue to be a life peer. There may be some merit in asking the person who appointed them in the first place whether they would have appointed them had they known everything they know now and whether the appointment was justified at the time. I am not entirely sure that the House of Lords is the appropriate body to second-guess what the person who appointed them had in mind when making the appointment in the first place.

I fear that people who are appointed for good reason may find themselves on the wrong end of a decision, not because the person who appointed them or Members of this House, who have democratic legitimacy, think they should be expelled, but simply because their actions did not meet the taste of Members of the House of Lords at a particular moment in time.

I have always been a strong supporter of the House of Lords, as shown by my votes in this House. I have always shown myself to be a strong supporter of the status quo; as a Conservative, I rather like the status quo and enjoy voting for it. I have to accept that I shall never be subject to any of the decisions under discussion—there is no self-interest at play here. I am surrounded by people who are much more likely than me to be affected by future decisions in the House of Lords. However, my support for the House of Lords, and the good sense I always thought it previously exercised, has been tested somewhat by some of its recent decisions. I no longer have the same faith that Members of the other place will continue to make wise decisions.

One reason for that is that, instead of being composed of people of great experience and expertise, the other place seems to have become a haven for failed parliamentary candidates who could not get elected and have therefore been shoved into the other place. That has undermined not only its legitimacy but my confidence in its being able to make sensible decisions about the basis on which peers should be suspended or expelled. Therefore, it would be sensible to have as much rigour as possible so that peers cannot make decisions that we would find completely unacceptable. The Bill as drafted does not make the case that the House of Lords should have the power to expel a peer who was appointed by somebody else and without allowing anybody else to have any input into the decision. That is a dangerous game to play and I do not think that the House of Lords has the democratic legitimacy to be entrusted with that decision. That is why I think that amendment 1 is very sensible.

Largely for reasons of time, I do not intend to speak to all the amendments in this group, because that would be time-consuming, but I want briefly to touch on a few that have a great deal of merit. They are amendments 8, 14 and 15, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, who spoke in some detail about whether the behaviour that may lead to expulsion or suspension happened before or after the person involved became a Member of the House of Lords.

Clause 1(4)(b) introduces retrospective legislation—we should always be wary of doing so, although it may well be justified—and that demands at least that there should be a debate and that somebody should make the case for it. The clause states that people can be expelled or suspended if the action in question

“occurred before the coming into force of this Act and was not public knowledge before that time.”

I know, or I think I know, what my right hon. Friend has in mind. I guess that some people would call it the Jimmy Savile issue, although he was obviously not a Member of the House of Lords. He has in mind actions committed by someone before they got a title and that were not known at the time; once that person has a title and those actions become public knowledge, they are deemed so outrageous that the only possible course of action is for the person to be expelled. I suspect that that is what my right hon. Friend has in mind, and many people in the country would support that on the basis of such an extreme example.

My concern is that the provision is not limited simply to such extreme actions. There are shades of grey in all such areas, and I fear that its retrospective nature may come back to penalise people who did something that was not unlawful at the time. Clearly, the actions of Jimmy Savile were not only completely unacceptable but unlawful, but my concern is that the provision may be used against people who have done something that was not unlawful and may not even have been unacceptable at the time, but has become unacceptable with the passage of time. We all know that what the public will tolerate moves on over time: things that were seen as perfectly reasonable 100 years ago are now quite rightly seen as completely unacceptable. As things move on with time, it may well be that people get caught out by actions that were once seen as reasonable but are no longer seen as such.

Allowing the House of Lords to expel people on that basis is very dangerous territory to enter. In effect, it would lead not to the rule of law, which my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch quite rightly advocated, but to the law of the lynch mob. The Bill might give rise to the application of the law of the lynch mob in such circumstances.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury is quite right to seek to leave out any reference to conduct that happened before the Act comes into force and was not public knowledge before that time in relation to expulsion: people could not be expelled for such actions, although they could be suspended for them. That is probably a very happy compromise. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said that it would be draconian to expel somebody. I think it would be draconian to do so on the basis of actions that are no longer acceptable but were acceptable when they took place.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

We have yet to hear my right hon. Friend Sir George Young respond to the debate, but my amendment 20 provides that

“nothing in this section shall authorise the expulsion or suspension of members of the House of Lords on the grounds of age, health or length of service”.

Does my hon. Friend agree that that safeguard should be the bare minimum?

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 2:00 pm, 27th February 2015

My hon. Friend is right. He anticipates my remarks, because amendment 20 is one I want to comment on, but I have not quite got to it yet. If he will show his customary patience, I will comment on it, but he is absolutely right.

I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury for amendment 15, which seeks to remove some of the uncertainty that will be introduced by the Bill. He is forensic when he looks through Bills and he has hit upon a good point. What constitutes public knowledge in relation to the Bill? All sorts of things are out there in the public domain somewhere, particularly in this day and age, with the internet and all the things one can find on Google. However, what is out there on some obscure blog or website might not be widespread knowledge.

When does something become public knowledge? Is it when it is out there somewhere and someone can point to a blog that was published somewhere or other? Could somebody use that as a defence and say, “Well, actually, it was public knowledge. It was on an obscure blog, which barely anybody reads, 25 years ago”? Alternatively, does it become public knowledge when it is much more widespread than that—perhaps when it is in the mainstream media? How can anybody be expected to know everything about everybody that may be out there in the public domain? Amendment 15 would be helpful because it would remove some of that uncertainty.

I do not know whether this is the intention of my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire, but I suspect that the phrase

“was not public knowledge before that time” might well be used by people as an escape route. The purpose might be to deal with what might be called the Jimmy Savile issue, but people like Jimmy Savile might not even be captured by the Bill, because it could be argued that accusations and revelations were out there and were public knowledge beforehand, even though they might not have been acted on. It is therefore not entirely clear whether the Bill, as currently framed, will even catch out the people it seeks to catch out.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My hon. Friend refers to the Jimmy Savile precedent. Of course, if Jimmy Savile had been alive when the allegations came to light, he would undoubtedly have been prosecuted and sentenced to a period of imprisonment in excess of one year. I am therefore not sure that thinking about Jimmy Savile is as appropriate as thinking about people who, historically, have committed much less serious forms of what might be regarded as bad behaviour.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

My hon. Friend is right. He shows why the Bill is unnecessary and perhaps dangerous. He returns me to my initial fear, which is that people will be expelled for doing things that do not warrant expulsion, just because the tide of public opinion has gone in a different direction.

In an intervention, I mentioned tax avoidance. Somebody might have taken part in activities that were perfectly legal at the time and, in fact, seen as acceptable behaviour. Their actions might not have attracted any controversy at all at the time but, as public opinion changes, they might subsequently be seen as unacceptable. The person will be judged on that basis and may well be suspended or expelled from the House of Lords not because they did anything illegal or anything that was seen as unacceptable at the time, but because they did something that had become unacceptable. I worry that that is the dangerous route we are going down with the Bill. I predict that we will be in that situation at some point if the Bill is passed in its current form, so amendments 8, 14 and 15 are important safeguards that I hope my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire will consider.

I promised to touch on amendment 20, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, and I do not intend to break that promise. Because he was being even more brief than normal, he did not expand on it in any detail. It states that “nothing in this section”—clause 1—

“shall authorise the expulsion or suspension of members of the House of Lords on the grounds of age, health or length of service”.

I would like to think that all Members agree with my hon. Friend’s sentiment that people should not be expelled or suspended on that basis. He is right to be alert to the fact that if we do not tightly define the rules under which people can be expelled or suspended, we will open up the possibility, whether or not it is intended or likely, of people using the Bill as a Trojan horse to pursue a different agenda from the one that Members currently envisage.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire is a very reasonable man, and I am sure that he would not countenance anybody being expelled or suspended on the grounds of age, health or length of service. I am absolutely sure that that is nowhere near his mind. However, the point is not what is in somebody’s mind now, even the mind of the promoter of the Bill; it is how the Bill could be used at some future date if we do not define the rules tightly.

It may well be that because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said, the size of the House of Lords has become completely ridiculous, people will look for an easy way to reduce the numbers. Of course, one of the easiest ways of reducing the numbers at a stroke would be to say, “Anybody above a certain age—you’re out. We’re going to take a particular point in time, draw a line, and if you’re on the wrong side of it, you’re out. If necessary, we’ll use these powers we’ve now got to enforce that new rule, because the public mood is that the House of Lords has got too big, and we’ve got to do something about it. This is the easiest way.” I really do fear that that could well happen. I am not saying that it will happen in the short term, but I can certainly see it happening in the medium term. People may pooh-pooh my hon. Friend’s amendment at the moment, scoff and say, “It’s absolutely ridiculous—that would never happen.” Well, let’s see.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. I suppose it could also be argued that if society moved forward and thought that legislatures had to have an equal balance of men and women, there could be a cull of male peers.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he highlights potential unintended consequences of the Bill—it could be a useful vehicle for people to use in future for purposes that were never envisaged. People can scoff and pooh-pooh the points that are being made, but who knows what decisions people might want to come to in the future and how they might use the Bill as a Trojan horse to pursue that agenda?

Amendment 20, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, is certainly worth considering, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire will examine it and see that there is a legitimate fear about how the Bill could be used in future. Nobody is trying to scupper the Bill; people are trying to improve it and make it what we all intend it to be. I would like to think that my right hon. Friend will see that we are trying to deliver what he envisages the Bill doing. I have not heard him disagree with any of the points that have been made; he just seems to think that the things being described will not happen. That is where we might have a slight disagreement.

Photo of Steve Rotheram Steve Rotheram Labour, Liverpool, Walton

At the start of his contribution, the hon. Gentleman said that he would be brief. Is he now straying into the uncertain waters of misleading the House?

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

Looking at the clock, I have been speaking for 21 minutes, which, as a regular attender on a Friday, Mr Deputy Speaker, you will agree is brief—to be honest, I contend that that is more than brief, but we all have our own standards. I will not say too many nice things about Steve Rotheram as it might not go down well in Liverpool—

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs

I think I can help. We need to get back to the amendment, not discuss the time as that is not a worry. I want to hear more about the amendment.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

As ever you are right, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am sorry that I was led astray by the hon. Gentleman. It will not happen again.

The amendments deliver what we all want the Bill to do—that is how I view them—and I think they are useful in ensuring that we stick to what we think the Bill delivers, rather than go beyond that. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire will agree to them. The amendments are good, and should the opportunity arise I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will consider dividing the House on amendment 1. I would support him in that.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I thank my hon. Friend Philip Davies for being so brief.

The Government oppose the amendments, but I will speak briefly because I want to give my right hon. Friend Sir George Young the opportunity to push the Bill through today. Amendments 1 to 5 and 16 remove all references to expulsion in the Bill, thereby removing from the entire Bill the power to expel a peer. The Government do not support removing the power to expel. That power would allow peers to deal with particularly serious misconduct and would bring the disciplinary powers of the House of Lords more in line with those of the House of Commons.

We expect the House of Lords to need to use such powers rarely, as has been the case in the House of Commons, which has not exercised its powers to expel since 1954. Nevertheless, we think it appropriate for both Houses to have such a power in order to deal effectively with those who bring the House into disrepute.

Photo of George Young George Young Conservative, North West Hampshire

I have listened carefully to the points made by my hon. Friends in this debate, and particularly to my hon. Friend Mr Chope, who in Committee made it clear that he had reservations about expulsion. I have gone back to the sponsors of the Bill and had discussions with the upper House. If anything, the power to expel is almost more important to them than the power to carry on suspension beyond a Parliament, and it would strike at the very heart of the Bill if that provision were removed.

We already have powers to expel if someone is sentenced to more than a year’s imprisonment, but during debates in the upper House it was made clear that many breaches of the code of conduct would not be a criminal offence but are of sufficient severity to justify a Member of the House being expelled. The House of Lords wants the powers that we have to expel a Member if their conduct is unacceptable. Expulsion is different to suspension, and it is important that the upper House should have the power to expel because its Members cannot be expelled by constituents in the way that we can be. We should therefore think hard before we deny the House of Lords a power that it wants and sees as essential in restoring confidence to the institution—a power that the House of Commons already has.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Can my right hon. Friend give some examples of where a power of expulsion is needed?

Photo of George Young George Young Conservative, North West Hampshire

My hon. Friend raised that point in Committee and I gave some examples that were used in the upper House such as repeated offences, for example, or a criminal sentence of less than a year. Members may take the view that that activity is unacceptable and that the Member should be expelled. Expulsion must be related to conduct, which is specifically mentioned in the Bill. Fears that someone might be expelled because they are a man or a woman simply do not arise because it must be related to their conduct.

My hon. Friend Philip Davies said that he was unhappy with some of the decisions made by the upper House. I understand that, but wonder whether his criticism applies to the decisions it has made when it has come to censoring or suspending its Members. My view is that that has been done fairly and impartially. His suggestion that a life peer might be removed by the leader of their party who appointed them would strike at the heart of the independence of the upper House—I wonder whether, on reflection, he wishes to pursue that line of argument.

As for the arguments on public knowledge, the key phrase is in line 15:

“in the opinion of the House of Lords”.

There are real difficulties in defining public knowledge, and it makes sense to leave to the opinion of the House of Lords whether the conduct was public knowledge before. At the moment there is no time limit. In other words, anything that happened before the coming into force of the Bill is potentially within its scope. This is part of the process of rebuilding confidence. If a horrendous offence came to light that had happened before the commencement of the Act, is it right that the House of Lords should not be able to take any action? Far from bringing it into repute, it would bring it into disrepute.

On the issue of conduct, the Joint Committee that undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft House of Lords Reform Bill looked at this particular provision. This was their recommendation:

“We recommend that Clause 56 should be restricted to providing that the House of Lords has power to expel or suspend its members. We are confident that the House will use that power responsibly and make appropriate provision itself.”

The Committee did not suggest that it should go down the route proposed by some of the amendments that the measure should be more explicit on what sort of conduct should be within the scope of the Bill.

Against that background, I hope the amendments will not be pressed to a Division. It is important that we get this piece of legislation on to the statute book before the end of this Parliament.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 2:15 pm, 27th February 2015

I am sure the Bill will get on to the statute book before the end of this Parliament. In answer to Steve Rotheram, who was saying that my hon. Friend Philip Davies had been speaking for 20 minutes or so, it is worth putting on record that the Bill has got to this stage only because a number of us took the view that because it had been discussed properly in the other place it should be given Second Reading “on the nod”, as we say. The other side of that coin was that the Bill would be subject to proper scrutiny. This debate is part of that process of scrutiny.

It will not surprise my right hon. Friend Sir George Young to hear I am disappointed with his response. I do not think he has addressed the specifics of the concerns that have been raised. It is all very well to say, “Let’s leave it to the discretion of their lordships”, but if the past is a guide to the future, when we leave people with power and enormous discretion quite often that power is abused. That is why it is very important to try to put proper safeguards in the Bill.

In a sense, my point was made for me very ably by my hon. Friend the Minister in his incredibly short response. It is notable that we have not had any response from the Opposition on either of the two groups of amendments. I do not know whether that means they do not have a view, or that they will be making up their policy later. The Minister said in his peroration that we must allow the Lords to take action against those who bring their House into disrepute. That expression is so easy to interpret in a very broad brush way. That is why I have been trying, so far in vain, to put something more specific in the Bill. In the circumstances, I hope we will be able to test the opinion of the House on amendment 1.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 1, Noes 32.

Division number 167 Child Sexual Exploitation (Rotherham) — Clause 1 — Expulsion and Suspension of members of the House of Lords

Aye: 1 MP

No: 32 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided because fewer than 40 Members had taken part in the Division, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of th

e House (Standing Order No. 41)

.