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,
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.)