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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:40 am on 6th March 2015.

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Photo of George Young George Young Conservative, North West Hampshire 10:40 am, 6th March 2015

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.