Clause 1 — Expulsion and suspension of Members of the House of Lords

– in the House of Commons at 10:34 am on 6th March 2015.

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Votes in this debate

Amendment proposed (27 February): 1, page 1, line 4, leave out paragraph (a)—(Mr. Chope.)

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means 10:40 am, 6th March 2015

I remind the House that with this we are discussing 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, line 1, leave out “expel or”.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

We were discussing these amendments last Friday. There was a Division and, because the House was not quorate, under the relevant Standing Order we have, in effect, gone back to the start. That does not mean that it is necessary for me to repeat everything that I said last week, because that is on the record. However, I will repeat the point that the Bill is a very serious piece of legislation, because it provides not only for the suspension from service of Members of the other place, but for their expulsion on the basis of breaches of conduct. My amendments are designed to ensure that the code of conduct in the House of Lords is linked specifically with the Bill, so that expulsions and suspensions can take place only for breaches of the code of conduct, rather than just for conduct, as currently set out in the Bill.

The precedent for my approach is none other than the contents of the 2012 House of Lords Reform Bill, which did not make progress because the Government were unwilling to allow the Bill to proceed to a full debate and wanted to control it by a guillotine process. That Government Bill specifically linked the code of conduct in the other place and powers to suspend or expel.

Last week, in the interests of brevity, I did not address amendments 6 and 19. To freshen our proceedings, it might be worth referring to those. They amount to the same thing. How do those two amendments fit into the Bill? The Bill provides in clause 1(4) that

“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”.

That is a proviso to ensure that the legislation cannot be retrospective and is limited by clause 1(4)(b), which says:

“or

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

We had some discussion of that last week. The issue is addressed in some of the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend Sir Tony Baldry.

After the words

“occurred after the coming into force of this Act”,

my amendment 6 would add the words

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

Without the amendment the following could happen. A Member of the other House could behave in a way that people found embarrassing, although their conduct was not in breach of the relevant Standing Orders and code of conduct of the House, but the code of conduct and the Standing Orders were subsequently changed in order to cover that scenario. In other words, without the safeguards set out in amendment 6 and/or amendment 19, it would be possible for the conduct giving rise to the expulsion or suspension to be conduct which, prior to the change in Standing Orders, would not have been in breach of them.

This is a straightforward issue of whether we support the principles of prospective rather than retrospective legislation. In the 800th anniversary year of Magna Carta, I would have thought that we would be very much against introducing more scope for retrospection in our legislation. In fairness to my right hon. Friend Sir George Young, who is promoting the Bill in this place, he said, when I raised this issue in the Public Bill Committee:

“Serious issues have been raised. I will take advice on the issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch raised about the issue of retrospectivity between the time that the Act comes into force and the Standing Orders being changed. I cannot promise any amendments, but I will see whether I can get some assurances that shed some light on that.”––[Official Report, House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Public Bill Committee, 4 February 2015; c. 13.]

The amendments are designed to ensure that we have the opportunity to put into the Bill the safeguards that my right hon. Friend, in fairness, accepted were reasonable. I therefore hope that they can be put into the Bill and that he will accept, in particular, amendment 6. I look forward to hearing from him all the reasons why the amendment is technically defective or in some other way falls short of the high standards that he has brought to legislation in this place throughout his very long career. Unless or until I hear what those technical objections are, it would be much better for us to insist that the other place deals with issues relating to discipline on a prospective basis rather than a retrospective basis.

We have had similar issues in our own House. The Standards Committee, on which I have the privilege of serving, dealt with the case of one of our right hon. Friends who was being sanctioned by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on the basis of a fresh interpretation of the rule book which, prior to that, had never been thought to be fair or reasonable. The Standards Committee said that if there was to be a reinterpretation of our code of conduct, it should be prospective rather than retrospective, and that we could not start condemning people for acts that they had had no reason to believe were in breach of the code.

The issue was whether someone should make a declaration of interest to the House—to a Committee—when they did not have an interest but might be thought by somebody to have an interest. Until now, it has always been thought that that referred to other knowledgeable people sitting in the Chamber or in a Committee. The commissioner interpreted it as meaning that it could apply to anybody—the person on the Clapham omnibus—such that if they heard somebody talk about a particular subject, even though that person did not have an interest that should be declared, it might seem as though they ought to have one, and that if the other person thought they might have an interest, there was a need to declare that. That is now being incorporated into the new code of conduct, but we took the view that it should not be incorporated with retrospective effect.

That is why amendment 6 is not a mere academic exercise; it goes to the heart of what is fair and reasonable in a rules-based organisation. Before people are accused of breaking the rules, they should know what those rules are, and the rules should not be changed after the conduct takes place just so the person can be brought to book for something embarrassing. That is the brief but fundamental point.

It is clear from the discussions I have had with my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire that he has sympathy for the amendment, but he may feel inhibited in accepting it, because the Bill is not his Bill. It does not even belong to its promoter in the other place; it is, essentially, like every Bill that comes here on a Friday, a proxy Bill for the Government, who have a veto over all such Bills.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Joseph Johnson will accept that amendment 6 would be a valuable addition to the Bill, rather than detract from it. If he has not had the chance to clear it with the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, I am sure he should not feel inhibited by that and he should feel able to express his view on behalf of the Government today.

The Medical Innovation Bill is also on today’s Order Paper. It was promoted in the House of Lords by my noble friend Lord Saatchi, who was led to believe, as the Bill was going through the other place, that it had the support of the whole Government, but then we read in the Sunday papers that apparently at no stage did it have the support of the Liberal Democrats, although they were not prepared to say so openly. I assume that the Bill being steered through the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire does have the support of the Liberal Democrats and that they support the principle that we should not legislate retrospectively in relation to conduct that could give rise to expulsion or suspension from the House.

On that basis, I have talked myself into quite an optimistic frame of mind, thinking that the amendment is so compelling that it is likely to be accepted not only by my right hon. Friend, but by my hon. Friend the Minister on behalf of the Government.

Photo of George Young George Young Conservative, North West Hampshire

I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Chope for the reasonable way in which he moved his amendment. As he said, we had a one-hour discussion on this group of amendments last Friday, but we did not focus enormously on amendment 6. It is a serious amendment and I hope to be able to address his concerns. I was heartened by one thing he said last Friday, namely:

“I am sure the Bill will get on to the statute book before the end of this Parliament.”—[Hansard, 27 February 2015; Vol. 593, c. 644.]

That remains my ambition.

I hope I can allay my hon. Friend’s concerns about the scenario he outlined. First, as in the House of Lords, so in the House of Commons: Members can be judged for a breach of conduct only according to the code of conduct that was enforced at the time the alleged offence occurred. That is natural justice, so the code of conduct could not be tweaked in order to catch something that happened before the code was changed and then say that it was an offence. I agree with my hon. Friend that that would not be right. The Standing Orders and code of conduct specifically say that it has to be a breach of the code at the time the offence was committed.

I also assure my hon. Friend that the Bill does not amend the code of conduct as to what sort of behaviour is considered to be a breach. The only thing the Bill does is change the penalty that can be applied in the case of a breach. As far as I know, there are no plans immediately to review the code of conduct, although it is kept under review from time to time and brought up to date. The impact of the Bill is simply to change the penalties that apply to a breach of the existing code of conduct.

My hon. Friend is, I think, worried about the gap between the new Standing Orders coming into effect and the Bill receiving Royal Assent. Again, perhaps I can give him an assurance on that. If one looks at the Standing Orders that were activated by the last relevant Act, namely the House of Lords Reform Act 2014, one will see that they were accepted by the relevant Committees in June and adopted by the upper House in July following Royal Assent on 14 May. That gives an idea of the speed with which the Standing Orders can be changed and brought into effect without any long interval.

If one were to make an informed guess as to when the Bill might get Royal Assent, it would be that it might, at the very earliest, be next week, though that would be slightly unusual. It is more likely to be towards the end of this particular Session. It would then not come into effect until three months thereafter, which will be in June. Following our exchange in Committee, I made some inquiries. I would expect work to start on the necessary Standing Orders as soon as possible and that they would certainly be completed by the summer recess, but hopefully before that.

The window that my hon. Friend is worried about is a very narrow window indeed. Given what I said right at the beginning about not retrospectively judging people by a new code of conduct, I very much hope he will agree with that.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I understand entirely what my right hon. Friend is saying, but why is there any danger in accepting the amendment?

Photo of George Young George Young Conservative, North West Hampshire

I do not think that the amendment is necessary. Some of the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch do not arise. He was worried that the code of conduct could be changed and then find someone guilty, but that cannot happen under the existing code. Moreover, when we went around this course before, the Standing Orders were changed soon afterwards. The key thing, however, is that peers already know what is right and what is wrong under the code of conduct. We are not changing the code of conduct; all we are changing is the penalties. I do not see how the scenario my hon. Friend outlined could arise, because the question of conduct is wholly unchanged by the Bill and, indeed, by his amendment. We are just giving the other House some additional sanctions, which it wants in order to deal with conduct and extend the period of suspension beyond the lifetime of a Parliament. My hon. Friend conceded that that was logical. We are also giving it the ultimate power of expulsion for behaviour that is beyond the pale. Again, that cannot be applied retrospectively under clause 4.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

My right hon. Friend seems to be glossing over the retrospective nature of the punishments, which is also covered by this group of amendments. If somebody committed murder and we brought back the death penalty, I am sure my right hon. Friend would agree that they should not face the death penalty because at the time they committed the murder the death penalty was not in place. His Bill, however, seeks retrospectively to change the punishments for breaching the code of conduct and he appears to be glossing over that.

Photo of George Young George Young Conservative, North West Hampshire

Clause 1(4) states:

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

The Bill does not allow for double jeopardy. Any previous investigation into an alleged breach would, of course, have resulted in the behaviour becoming public knowledge, as it would have been reported by the committee at the time of the original investigation. Given those assurances, I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will agree that his amendments are not necessary.

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Head of the Number 10 Policy Unit)

It is a pleasure to be here today in support of my right hon. Friend Sir George Young putting this important Bill on the statute book, particularly given that my present, inward-facing role in the policy unit does not afford me too many opportunities of this nature.

As there was a thorough debate on this group of amendments last week, I shall keep my comments brief. The amendments would strike at the heart of the Bill, which is intended to give the House of Lords the power to deal with conduct that takes place before the Bill is passed. Amendments 1 to 5 and 16 would remove all references to expulsion from the Bill, thereby completely removing the power to expel a peer. As I said, that would strike at the very heart of the Bill, which is intended to give the Lords similar powers of discipline to those we enjoy here in the House of Commons.

There is no question of peers being expelled for reasons other than misconduct, which is the concern that amendment 20 seeks to address. The Bill clearly states that any resolution to expel or suspend must relate to “conduct”. My hon. Friend Mr Chope referred, as he did last week and in Committee, to the House of Lords Reform Bill of 2012. On a point of clarification, that Bill did not make explicit reference to a code of conduct in respect of the proposed powers of expulsion and suspension. Like this Bill, it referred to

“conduct giving rise to the resolution”,

but it did not specify that that conduct had to be a breach of the code of conduct. The reason was that no code of conduct or list of offences can include every single example of behaviour for which the other place may wish or need to suspend or expel a Member. The power of this House to expel or suspend Members is not circumscribed in that way. It is surely appropriate that the two Houses of Parliament have broadly equal powers to discipline their Members.

Amendments 7, 8 and 10 to 12 address the potential retrospective provision of the Bill. The Bill allows the House of Lords to expel or suspend a Member for misconduct that took place before the Bill was passed if it was not public knowledge until after the Bill was passed. That means that the House of Lords will not be able to revisit misconduct that has already been dealt with. The Bill therefore does not allow for double jeopardy, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire made clear a minute ago.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 11:00 am, 6th March 2015

One issue that has not been resolved is what constitutes “public knowledge”. Is it something that is known widely and has perhaps appeared in the mainstream media, so people have had a good opportunity to know it? Alternatively, could it be something that is hidden away in a blog somewhere, which in theory is in the public domain, but which nobody has much of an opportunity to know about? What “public knowledge” means is a bit woolly because these days, with the internet, most things are out there somewhere.

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Head of the Number 10 Policy Unit)

The application of the power is wisely, in the Government’s opinion, left to the judgment and discretion of the House of Lords. Amendments 13 and 15 would require “public knowledge” to be further defined. The Government consider that that would be likely to lead to more difficulties than leaving it in broad terms. The Bill allows for

“the opinion of the House of Lords” to be given so that each case may be taken on its own merits, rather than attempting to fix the phrase “public knowledge” as a legal concept.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

There is just one point that I am trying to grasp. If somebody committed misconduct in the past, but it was not in the public realm, the sanction against them under the Bill—that is, the possibility of expulsion—would be different from the sanction they would have faced if the conduct had been known about at the time. That does seem to be retrospective.

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Head of the Number 10 Policy Unit)

There is a limited ground there.

Without primary legislation, the House of Lords cannot override the right of individual peers to receive a writ of summons. That would encroach on the Lords position as a self-regulating Chamber and could have other unintended consequences for parliamentary privilege, in that the courts could be asked to judge on the exercise of the powers.

To answer the question from my hon. Friend Mr Bone, the Government support the retrospective application of both the Bill’s sanctions because the House of Lords already has the power to sanction a Member who is found guilty of misconduct as part of its inherent power to preserve honour and decency. Therefore, a peer who engaged in misconduct before the Bill came into force would have known that their actions had consequences. Although the power currently extends only to the ability to suspend a peer, it would seem extremely odd if the Bill allowed more serious past conduct to go unpunished or to be sanctioned less severely than it could be under the Bill. The public will expect misconduct that comes to light after the Bill comes into force to be dealt with, particularly the most serious misconduct.

On the final point that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch raised, given that there is considerable support for the Bill in the House of Lords, it can be expected that the Standing Orders that will give effect to the provisions will be passed swiftly after the Act comes into force. It therefore makes little practical difference whether the powers are dated from the coming into force of the Act or the coming into force of the Standing Orders. The Government therefore do not support any of the amendments in the group.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

I will be even briefer than the Minister.

The Opposition have supported the Bill throughout its passage. I agree with the Minister that the overall impact of the amendments would be to weaken the Bill and, thereby, damage its limited but important purpose.

Mr Chope spoke about amendment 6 in a moderate and plausible way. He always speaks in a moderate and plausible way. Sometimes—and I thought this might be the case today—what he says is actually moderate and plausible. However, I then listened to the even more emollient words of the Bill’s promoter, Sir George Young, and, like the Minister, I am persuaded that the amendment is not necessary. It is right to raise the possibility of retrospection but, as has been explained, the Bill is not pregnant with that danger.

We are therefore happy not only to support the Bill, but to oppose the amendments.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

What a short but fascinating debate this has been. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister had a chance to stand at the Dispatch Box and participate. During the latter part of his comments, I became more concerned because he made the case for retrospection in relation to misconduct that would give rise to expulsion. That is exactly the concern that I have.

We heard last week from my right hon. Friend Sir George Young that one course of conduct that their lordships are keen to ensure results in expulsion is repeated breaches of offences. That means that if one was guilty of repeated misdemeanours, there would be the possibility of expulsion. There is therefore all the more reason why none of this should be retrospective. If repeat offences are to give rise to expulsion, rather than just a reprimand, that should only be prospective and not retrospective.

If the House had accepted the amendments in the first group, which we debated last Friday, I do not think that I would be so concerned, because those amendments would have linked the code of conduct much more closely to the provisions of the Bill. However, those amendments were not accepted. I remind the House what Lord Wallace of Saltaire said:

“I read the latest Code of Conduct again this morning, thinking that we need to be sure what we are on about. One of the issues that perhaps we need to discuss informally off the Floor is how far this measure is intended to refer only to conduct that is mentioned in the Code of Conduct or to egregious conduct of other sorts conducted by Members of this House. However, that is a question that we need not have in the Bill itself, but it is certainly a question that the Committee for Privileges and Conduct and others will need to consider at a later stage.”—[

Official Report, House of Lords,

21 November 2014; Vol. 757, c. 650-651.]

When I read out that quote last week, I did not get any assurance from my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire that conduct would be confined to what is in the current code of conduct or in any changed code of conduct. As I have said, the code of conduct is not specifically linked to the Bill. What is in the Bill is “conduct”. Unless we have that safeguard, the Standing Orders of the other place could be amended to impact on conduct that took place prior to the amendment of those Standing Orders, but subsequent to the enactment of the Bill. In my view that represents a danger of retrospection, and I cannot understand why the Government are against this measure. They may say that it is unnecessary in the light of assurances that have been given, but it would not be the first piece of Government legislation that was duplication and unnecessary, so that in itself cannot be a convincing and decisive argument against it. Because of the obiter dicta of people such as Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who seems to have a rather different agenda from that discussed by my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire, we should make a final attempt to get one safeguard against retrospection into the Bill.

I will therefore withdraw amendment 1, on which we tried to vote last week, and instead I will test the will of the House on amendment 6. I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment 1.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 6, page 1, line 17, after “Act”, insert “and any Standing Orders made under subsection (1)”—(Mr Chope.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 2, Noes 44.

Division number 170 Littlewoods and Telegraph Pension Funds — Clause 1 — Expulsion and suspension of Members of the House of Lords

Aye: 2 MPs

No: 44 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly negatived.

Third Reading

Photo of George Young George Young Conservative, North West Hampshire 11:22 am, 6th March 2015

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I express my gratitude to all those who recently took part in the Division, ensuring that the Bill reaches this important and final stage. I am grateful to a number of people who have assisted me in the preparation of the Bill. The Leader of the House of Lords and her staff have been enormously helpful. Baroness Hayman has also briefed me on it. They managed to get it through the House of Lords with more ease than I have managed to get it through the Commons, which is a tribute to their skill, and an acknowledgement of the relative lack of skill when the Bill reached my hands here.

I am grateful to the three Cabinet Office Ministers who have taken part in our proceedings—my hon. Friend the Minister for the Constitution did the Public Bill Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister for Civil Society was here last Friday, and the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Joseph Johnson graces the Front Bench today. I am grateful to the Cabinet Office for the support that it and its Ministers have given to the Bill. Likewise, the Opposition have had a number of different players on the stage—Stephen Pound was on the Public Bill Committee, Sadiq Khan was here last Friday, and Mr Slaughter is on the Opposition Front Bench today.

The Bill was not controversial when it went through the upper House, which is the House to which it applies. Peers’ conduct in the course of the parliamentary duties is governed by a code of conduct. That is binding upon Members. Breaches of the code are investigated by an independent House of Lords Commissioner for Standards, who reports his findings and any recommended sanctions to the Committee for Privileges and Conduct, which hears any appeal. It then goes to the House.

The problem is that sanctions are currently limited in two key ways: a peer cannot be expelled except when he or she has been sentenced or imprisoned for more than a year; and a peer cannot be suspended beyond the end of a Parliament, no matter how brief that period might be. There was no dissent on the second barrel of the gun in the legislation.

The debate has been on the power of expulsion. The House of Commons has the power of expulsion. We use it rarely, but it is there. We can also be expelled by the electorate.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Will my right hon. Friend remind the House when the power was last used?

Photo of George Young George Young Conservative, North West Hampshire

It was last used in December 1954—Captain Peter Baker. I speak from memory and stand to be corrected, but the power is there. I hope the

House of Lords does not have to use its power, but it is there as a possible sanction and an expression of the powers it is prepared to use if behaviour becomes wholly unacceptable.

The Bill is drafted to ensure that the powers apply only in respect of conduct that comes to light after the Bill’s passing. There is no power to impose an additional sanction on misbehaviour that has already been considered and sanctioned under the current regime.

As I have said, the Bill was universally supported in the Lords. Peers from all parties and groups expressed their strong hope that the Bill would pass the Commons during this Parliament—it received an unopposed Second Reading on 23 January in the Commons. It has been extensively considered on the Floor of the House and upstairs. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Chope for ensuring that all aspects of the Bill were properly considered. I hope I have given him the assurances he has sought. I am sorry that I did not do that on the last occasion, when we had a Division.

The Bill is an important piece of legislation and I very much hope it reaches the statute book without too much further delay.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 11:26 am, 6th March 2015

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Sir George Young, who, with typical modesty, suggests that he has been unable to handle the Bill effectively in the Commons. He has handled it highly effectively, as one would expect from somebody with such distinguished service in the House and such an expert knowledge of the procedures. In the discussion on the Bill, we have shown that we need to ask questions of private Member’s Bills, and particularly constitutional ones. He has been eager to answer those questions.

The Bill would have taken a slightly different form if there had been more flexibility on the Government’s part, and if they were willing to accept amendments. That is the nature of the problems we have at the moment, with a Government of two parts. The Liberal Democrats seem to have a veto on everything and are rarely represented in the Chamber on a Friday, and they often say one thing to one group of people while doing something completely different. I am sure they will be here to defend themselves when the House is no longer sitting.

One good thing about the Bill is that it will enable a period of suspension to go beyond the end of one Parliament. I made it clear at the outset that that is a good idea. In answer to my intervention, my right hon. Friend said that 1954 was the last time we expelled anybody from the Commons. I hope that it will be 60 or 70 years before the other place has to expel anybody.

The other place has not been able to sort itself out in terms of numbers, largely because of the patronage of the party leaders. I am concerned that the numbers are so large that they will try to find any excuse to reduce them. I fear that the Bill could be a Trojan horse for reducing the numbers, whereas a much better way forward would be to adopt, for example, the House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill, which is on the Order Paper for later today, but which I am sure will be blocked by the Government, as it has been on so many previous occasions. Let us hope that the Bill will make the House of Lords concentrate on how it can possibly limit its numbers, not by expulsions or suspensions, but by genuinely recognising that we cannot have the second Chamber of this country being the second largest legislature in the world, after that of the People’s Republic of China.

If we had a House of Lords that was reformed in terms of numbers, many of the problems would be solved, but I know that some people, who would like a complete change in the other place, see the lack of ability to suspend Members as a reason to attack it. I think that we should leave it as it is at the moment, as an appointed Chamber. We should reduce the number of peers, but we should not interfere in a part of our democracy that seems to be working well. I am assured by many of my noble Friends that the Bill will give more power to the elbow of those who want to maintain the status quo in the other place. If the Bill will deliver that, it deserves a Third Reading.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice) 11:31 am, 6th March 2015

As I said earlier, I have supported the Bill at every stage so I can add my congratulations to those who have enabled its passage through to the statute book, including Baroness Hayman and Sir George Young, who—with his customary modesty—is not taking credit for it, although he should. I do not know where it stands in his legion of achievements in his many years in the House—that is a matter for historians to judge. As I have noted recently, he has been an excellent MP for North West Hampshire because of the excellent grounding that he got as an MP in Acton. He is one of the best things to have come out of Acton and we can perhaps therefore say that the Bill is, indirectly, another good thing that has come out of Acton.

We welcome the Bill. It is relatively modest in its ambition, but it is important, and those tend to be the two criteria that get private Member’s Bills on to the statute book. It is important that proper measures are in place to deal with suspension and expulsion in the other place, although of course the Bill is no substitute for the bigger and wider reforms—to which the Labour party remains committed and which we hope to see in the next Parliament—of hereditary peers and, as Mr Chope mentioned, the size of the other place. Some 116 coalition peers have been created since May 2010 at a cost of some £15 million a year. I am not sure that I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that this Bill is a Trojan horse for mass defenestration of peers as a way of reducing their number: we will have to find another way to do that, and to introduce some democracy into the other place. I remind the House that substantial steps were taken by the last Labour Government, including reducing the number of hereditary peers to 92; people’s peers; the first elected Speaker; the creation of the Supreme Court, which separated off the judiciary; and the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission. We are, however, still looking for the essential formula for a democratically elected second Chamber, and I hope that we will adopt our proposal for a senate of the nations and regions. That is for the future. For the moment, I repeat our view that this is a good Bill and it is good that it will become law.

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Head of the Number 10 Policy Unit) 11:33 am, 6th March 2015

As one of the three Cabinet Office Ministers to have supported the Bill in its passage to this advanced stage, I congratulate my right hon. Friend Sir George Young on successfully piloting it to Third Reading. As others have said, it is clearly important that the House of Lords has the right powers to ensure that it can deal adequately with serious misconduct, which is why the Bill received overwhelming support in the other place.

The Government support the Bill and are pleased that it will receive a Third Reading and provide a fitting legislative finale to the parliamentary career of my right hon. Friend—at least in this House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.