My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the House of Lords Reform (No. 2) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
My Lords, before any of your Lordships leap up to accuse me of telling a lie in my first sentence, let me admit that this is the sixth time that I have introduced this Bill, in its various incarnations. The first time was on
Before I go into the substance of the Bill, I should like to place on record my thanks to four colleagues who have been instrumental in getting us to this stage. The first is to Mr Dan Byles, the MP for North Warwickshire, who, having won a place in Mr Speaker’s ballot for Private Members’ Bills, took this one up, and as I saw, piloted it through all its stages in the Commons, not only with great skill but with a patience I would have found it difficult to summon in the face of some very odd attempts at amendment. I note in passing that Dan Byles, like Rory Stewart in Cumbria, is one of the few Conservative MPs to be selected for their constituency by one of David Cameron’s splendid open primaries. Before he produced his Bill, his main claim to fame was that he had rowed across the Atlantic and trekked to the North Pole—not things that many Members can claim to have done.
My second thanks are to my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, who, as a political scientist, was responsible for the first draft of the original Bill six years ago and has been a source of good advice and assistance ever since.
The Bill today lacks two important provisions from the original Bill: the end to hereditary Peer by-elections and the appointment of a statutory appointments commission. However, these will reappear in the next Session in the Bill tabled by our former Lord Speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who is very sorry not to be with us today because of a long-standing school speaking engagement. Today’s measure is a much more modest and slimmed-down version of the original. By the way, we should stop calling it the Steel Bill—its proper name is now the Norton-Steel- Byles Bill.
My third and fourth thanks are to the two Leaders of our House who, behind the scenes, have encouraged the adoption of these minor but necessary reforms. Both my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Hill of Oareford were not only generous in their advice and encouragement, but had to persuade various Cabinet colleagues of the need for the reforms, some of whom—not mentioning any names—were more difficult than others. The House should be deeply grateful to them.
The Bill consists of just three provisions. First, Clause 1 introduces the right to resign membership of the House. At the moment, a Peer is a Member of the House for life once appointed, notwithstanding the current availability of permanent leave of absence. That is not really retirement, as those who have taken it will discover next year when they still receive the Writ of Summons. For the first time, the law of the land will make it possible to end membership of the House. The Bill does not specify how that should be done; it simply gives the House the statutory authority to introduce a scheme for retirement, which will have to be prepared after the Bill becomes law. The Leader of the House will, no doubt, outline how that might be done. In the end, the House itself will have to approve a scheme, but I do not want us to get unduly distracted by discussing what that scheme might include.
Contrary to the findings of the working group under the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, the Government—supported, I understand, by the other party leaders—have ruled out any financial package on retirement. We may have to return to that if we are to secure serious reductions in our numbers and if we can prove that, in so doing, there would be a saving to the House budget and therefore the taxpayer. However, there is no permanent financial provision in the Bill, nor is there any suggested age cut-off. Most members appear to agree that retired Peers should enjoy some of the facilities made available to the hereditary Peers who were removed under the 1999 Act, and that there might be some ceremony on departure, but those are all matters for another day.
I add in passing that one of the more—how can I put this politely?—exotic amendments proposed in the other place, by Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, was to encourage Peers to retire by offering Barons a viscountcy. I am sure all noble Baronesses would agree we should not go there. Nor did Mr Rees-Mogg say what would be offered to those who are already Viscounts or, for that matter, Earls, Marquesses and Dukes. The mind boggles at his ingenuity, but none of it, I hope, will appear in the scheme.
The second provision in the Bill is to remove those Peers who fail to attend our proceedings for a whole Session; there were 72 in the previous Session, most of whom had leave of absence. One amendment made in the Commons enables the House to decide to ignore that new rule in special circumstances—for example, if a Peer is forcibly detained abroad. Clause 2 would at least bring down our total numbers and save a small amount of work by not continuing to send them papers.
The third provision enables the House to come into line with the House of Commons by expelling serious wrongdoers from Parliament. Convicted offenders should not be legislators and, from the date of this Bill’s passage, any Peer convicted and sentenced to one year or more in prison will be automatically expelled. The second amendment made in the Commons, to Clause 3(9), dealt with a point that was raised in our House, about those convicted in foreign courts. In those cases, expulsion would not be automatic but only on resolution of the House. Those, then, are the three purposes of the Bill.
Clause 4 spells out the consequences of resignation. For example, it is now stipulated that hereditary Peer by-elections will continue to be held. Mr Byles fended off an ungracious amendment to the effect that any hereditary Peer retiring should be deemed to be dead, so that their heir could stand in a by-election. Peers resigning will have the right to vote restored, as well as the right to stand for the Commons. I do not, however, share the anxiety expressed by some distinguished academics that this will lead to people being nominated as Peers to train as parliamentary candidates. It is somewhat fanciful to think that any party leader would nominate in such a way.
As I said at the outset, this is a limited reform Bill, adding to the record of incremental reforms to our House passed over the years. It does not, in any way, cut across a large variety of possible future reforms. As we have little time left in this Session, we cannot play ping-pong with the Bill, so we cannot have any amendments if it is to pass into law; today’s debate really has to be the last if we want these reforms. The Bill has been supported in all quarters of the House, especially through the long-standing group chaired by Sir Patrick Cormack MP, as he was then, now my noble friend. I look forward to a short but effective debate.
One of many from the opposition Benches who has been consistently supportive is the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I am sorry that he has decided not to wait any longer for statutory retirement, but to withdraw from the service of the House, to which he has given truly outstanding service over 30 years. We all look forward to his contribution in a moment.
As we have already passed the Bill under a different title in the previous Session, I am confident in proposing that it now be read a second time.
My Lords, I am sorry to miss out on that viscountcy, but a barony gets you quite far in Paris, anyway—at least these days it is not to the guillotine.
When I was studying modern languages at King’s, Cambridge, some 58 years ago, I struggled through the plays of a 19th-century Viennese dramatist and poet called Franz Grillparzer. That is not an exercise that I would recommend to any first-year undergraduate —it is pretty painful. Recently, I came across an English translation of his rather remarkable play “King Ottokar’s Fortune and End”, which is about the founding of the house of Habsburg. I quote the king:
“This is the curse upon our noble House, to strive half-heartedly by half measures, to bring about half of what must be done”.
This House’s attempts at reform have fared rather better than that, but one has to say that Grillparzer’s anguished words are not wholly inapplicable.
However, this Friday morning we have before us a Bill that is living proof that we have not given up, despite the frustrations and reverses that have punctuated our slow but visible progress towards a reformed House. This, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, says, is a modest Bill which is limited in scope. However, it would not be before us at all but for the noble Lord’s persistence and skill, which has brought us to the point where the House of Commons could see the wisdom of incremental reforms as a means of keeping the momentum of progress alive. We are hugely in his debt and we are profoundly grateful also to Mr Dan Byles in the Commons for having picked up the torch and steered this Private Member’s Bill through its legislative stages in another place.
I pay warm tribute to two other noble Lords, around whom a body of opinion of Lords reform has coalesced into what I would call the sensible tendency. I speak of the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Norton of Louth, who founded some 12 years ago the all-party bicameral campaign for an effective second Chamber, a group at whose creation I was proud and privileged to be present. Under the guidance of these two noble Lords, the group has worked tirelessly to keep the debate on reform going along sensible and practical lines, scrutinising carefully the legislative efforts to reform this House and putting forward ideas that carry much weight in the continuing debate. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, has been a very active contributor to the work of this group, which in turn has eagerly supported his legislative initiatives.
As I said at the start, the Bill before us is a modest Bill, but it does take us forward and its Second Reading deserves our enthusiastic approval, following which this House should ensure its unqualified and unamended passage to the statute book. For me personally, its first clause—on resignation—is poignant, as it seeks to set in statute the scheme set out in the Companion to the Standing Orders, of which I am only the fourth to take advantage. I noticed in the Times that one of the four, Lord Hutchinson, is 99 today. On behalf of all of us, I send him warm birthday wishes. However, it has struck me as strange that we had to wait until the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, in 2011 to give Peers the right to retire permanently from the House. That right is now about to be enshrined in statute. If it results in a gradual reduction in the size of the House, it will be a convenience not just to Members wishing to retire, but to Parliament as a whole, on which the burden of an overpopulated second Chamber weighs ever more heavily. The right to retire will not of course reduce numbers to the level to which we must surely come over time. However, combined with the provisions of Clause 2, relating to non-attendance, it will take us slowly but surely in that direction.
Clause 3, relating to Members convicted of a serious offence, is eminently sensible, clearly drafted and just. I will comment no further on it. Clause 4, on the effect of ceasing to be a Member, clarifies what has hitherto been a rather confused and uncertain set of terms. The purpose of Clause 5, relating to the Lord Speaker’s certificate, is self-evident, but since we are mentioning the Lord Speaker’s role, might I slip in here a plea that the role of the Lord Speaker generally ought to be reviewed by this House? That is in fact overdue, since such a review after five years was called for in the legislation establishing the office of the Lord Speaker in 2005.
The need for a review happens to be one of the recommendations contained in a report to Labour Peers on the future of the House and its place in a wider constitution. A group of nine Labour Peers, which my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton and I had the honour to co-chair, has worked for over a year to produce a report enshrining 22 recommendations with full supporting arguments, which we presented to the whole body of Labour Peers this last Wednesday afternoon. It will shortly be available to the whole House.
I should begin by saying that none of the 22 recommendations flies in the face of provisions set out in the Bill before us today. To the contrary, our recommendations on retirement and non-attendance chime well with Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill, although in each case we have gone further than the Bill down the same path. We have explored in detail how to reduce the size of the House, on the principle that size must follow function, and we have carefully addressed questions of membership and methods of appointment, with a strong recommendation that this House be a House of fully participating working Peers, while recognising that that does not necessarily imply a full-time job.
We have agreed a pretty comprehensive set of recommendations, but we have not included any recommendation regarding the big issue of whether the House should be an appointed House or a fully or largely elected body. That was not because we feared to enter that divisive debate but because a consensus would not have been possible, given the divisions of opinion in our group. More importantly, we feel that a reform of such magnitude and constitutional significance can be addressed only in the context of a reform of Parliament as a whole. Reforming the composition of the Lords is only one on a list of issues on the governance of the United Kingdom that need to be addressed in the next Parliament. We believe that such big issues will never be resolved without consensus being reached away from the political ferment. That is why we are recommending the establishment of a constitutional commission to report within two years of its inception in order to make legislation possible during the next Parliament. In the mean time, we want, as this Bill does, the House to continue to reform itself through long and short-term improvements, such as those that we set out in our report to Labour Peers. Some could be implemented quite quickly; others will require legislation. Some are radical, but all are viable.
Two adjectives sum up my personal view of Lords reform, which I dare to put before your Lordships as I take my leave of this House. Reform is better if incremental and it must be proportionate. There is much that this House can achieve if each improving reform builds on and is consistent with that preceding it. The reforms may sometimes appear to be piecemeal, but that is acceptable provided that the pieces fit into a well thought-out mosaic. If the House is certain of its role, the best methods of fulfilling that role can be devised and agreed only on that basis. The reforms must be proportionate to the needs; the pieces must fit into the mosaic. To my mind, the pieces composing this Bill do just that.
None the less, over the years I have formulated an opinion that politicians are not very sound on proportionality. There is a tendency to take too large a hammer to too small a nail and vice versa, perhaps because proportionality can have varying definitions. At the risk of sounding too light-hearted on such a weighty matter, may I illustrate the problem with a little anecdote? At the beginning of the 20th century, the famed writer of theatrical comedies, Tristan Bernard, was walking down a street in Paris when a removals man crossed his path coming out of a building. The man was carrying a grandfather clock on his shoulder, with which he managed to knock the distinguished playwright off his feet. Bernard hauled himself out of the gutter, brushed himself off and said to the man, “Why can’t you wear a watch like everyone else?”. That is proportionality. I hope that the reformers of the House will devise reforms to fit its functions, with reforms that are neither too grandiose nor too timid, but are right for the role that this House must play in the governance of the country, recognising always the primacy of the elected House.
With the indulgence of the House, may I seize this last opportunity to thank all noble Lords, on all sides of the House, for the immense pleasure of their company during the 18 years in which I have been privileged to serve here, first as a hereditary Peer and then as a life Peer, and as a regular attender and participant in our work? I have learnt enormously from noble Lords’ wisdom and have been flattered by their friendship. I also extend my warmest thanks to the whole staff of the House—that wonderfully helpful and kindly band of men and women, of every rank, who have made my life here as a Member so agreeable and so easy to live.
Many colleagues have asked what I am going to do next, as if a quiet retirement was something still properly hidden in the mists of the future. I recall what Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher had to say when he left Lambeth Palace:
“Who knows whether in retirement I shall be tempted to the last infirmity of a mundane mind, which is to write a book”.
I assume that he fell for that temptation, but I confess that I never read those particular fruits of his far from mundane mind, so I shall ponder on his words none the less. In the mean time, I shall follow my own personal credo, which is, “Live with your memories and not on them”. I shall have myriad pleasant memories to live with, thanks to your Lordships and to this great House.
My Lords, it is a huge privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. He has had a most distinguished career, has been a most distinguished Member of the House and has left us with very wise words and great wit. I respect his decision to leave, but all of us will be very sad that we will no longer have his presence in, and contribution to, this House. He has almost disproved the first point that I want to make, which I will come to in a moment, but I repeat: his has been a most distinguished career, and we thank him for it.
I want to be brief and will make only three points. Before I do, I would like to join the many who wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Steel not only on bringing the Bill before us again but on his persistence on this issue over many years. I also pay tribute to my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Norton of Louth for all that they have done.
My first point is on the clauses on resignation and non-attendance. I was going to say, and still will say, that these particular clauses will not have much effect. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has disproved the point that I wanted to make about resignation, but the proposal on non-attendance will be easy to evade for those who wish to do so. Therefore, despite the noble Lord’s lead, I do not expect much take-up. Nevertheless, it is something on which we can all agree and salvage from the long debates that we have had on House of Lords reform. There is no question that we shall have to tackle again the issue of the size of this House. I know that it is highly controversial and that there are many views. For my own part, I believe that the only long-term solution is to have some sort of retirement date, but it would certainly not be appropriate for any of this issue to be covered in a Private Member’s Bill.
Secondly, Clause 3, on conviction of serious offences, is right in itself, but it is also a small, positive step to avoid much bigger negative publicity. We all know that, despite all the good work of this House, what attracts the headlines, very often for a brief period, is some issue of that sort, which tends to put this House in a bad light. It is very important indeed that we have now taken that power to avoid that negative possibility.
I said that I wanted to be brief, so I now turn to my third point, which has already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Steel, which relates to the matter that Meg Russell of the Constitution Unit at UCL and other academics have raised on the question of Members who leave this House being able to stand immediately for election to the House of Commons. Apart from the fact that any proposal put forward and accepted in this Bill would destroy the Bill itself, I do not see the point of the amendment that they are proposing. Such circumstances are most unlikely to happen. After all, most Peers are appointed because of their experience and expertise. It is very unlikely that an aspiring young politician who wishes to stand for election to the other place would come into that category in the first place.
There are also many other objections. The Appointments Commission would obviously be asking questions about that. As my noble friend has said, leaders of parties would certainly spot that issue. Perhaps the most important point relates to the selection process that would take place before anyone could stand for election. Someone who had joined this House for a short period, who then wished to stand for the other place and retire from this House, would have questions to answer in any selection process. In the ultimate democratic process—the election itself—I am sure that that, too, would be an issue. From long experience of the other House and this place, I simply do not believe that aspiring young politicians would see that as a route to membership of the House of Commons. Therefore, that amendment should be dismissed straightaway.
However, even if someone took that route, so what? My mind goes back to the summer of 1963, when as quite a young person I was asked to join, and agreed to join, my noble friend Lord Lawson as what I think was then called a special assistant to the Prime Minister—we were, I think, the early forerunners of special advisers. I had signed my contract to go and work for Harold Macmillan but he shortly afterwards resigned, and I found myself as one of the special assistants to Sir Alec Douglas-Home. We will all recall that he left this House to stand again—he had already been a Member of the House of Commons—for the other place. He went through the democratic process of being selected and then elected. How much we would have lost if that had not been possible. I therefore feel strongly that there is no point in the amendment being put forward by Meg Russell. It is for the electorate to decide.
I promised to be quick, so I will simply say that I hope that this Bill, unamended, will get a very speedy passage through this House.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, on my own behalf and, if they will permit me, on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches, in saying how much we regret the departure of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and how much his speech today shows why we will regret it as much as we shall.
When one is hungry and lunch approaches, one can hope for a good, three-course meal and a glass of wine; or one can hope for a slimming salad; or, if things go awry, one can get perhaps two raisins and a nut. This Bill is, I fear, rather more two raisins and a nut than the sustaining meal that one would like to have. I have nothing against two raisins and a nut but I hope that they will be followed in due course by something more substantial. I very much hope that this Bill—for which we owe a huge amount, as others have said, to the tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Steel—will be followed by a more substantive reform Bill, or Bills, over time.
I say that because after some seven and a half years in this House, I am convinced of its importance to our constitutional position as a revising Chamber able to hold the Government to account and as a House that wins respect nationally and internationally—not least in the European Union, for which respect the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, must take much credit—for the quality and objectivity of its work. That respect really matters to this House and to our constitution, and it must be retained. There must surely be a risk that if the House gets ever larger without reform, it will sooner or later topple over and the respect in which it is held will dissipate over time. That is extremely serious.
I therefore very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and others that we need a proper reform Bill to follow this one—a Bill that will reduce the size of the House, end the election of hereditary Peers, and put the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis. I no longer chair the commission and am delighted that my noble friend Lord Kakkar does so, but I have believed and still believe that a commission that appoints people to this House or approves such appointments should be accountable to this House. The only way in which such a commission can be properly accountable to this House is for it to be established on a statutory basis. I am delighted that that proposal will come forward again in the next Session, in the Bill proposed by my noble friend Lady Hayman.
Meanwhile, we have this Bill, which I support. Its three main proposals are sensible and necessary—the ability to resign but not rescind resignation; enforced resignation following absence without good reason for a whole Session; and forced resignation after a serious criminal conviction. All are, as I say, sensible and necessary as a first step towards further reform of the House.
I have one concern, mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord MacGregor and Lord Steel. It has been suggested that Clause 4(5), which explicitly permits resignation from the Lords to be followed by standing for the Commons, could lead political parties to regard the Lords as a sort of training ground for the Commons, which would jeopardise this House’s principal role as a Chamber that revises and sometimes challenges the Commons, and therefore needs to keep its distance and separation from the Commons. It has been argued, previously and today, that those concerns are exaggerated, which may indeed be right. However, if the Bill were to have such an effect, the provision would indeed be serious for the role of this House and for our constitution.
I am glad that the Constitution Committee recognises that risk. It would go a long way to reassure those who hold those concerns if the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, can say, as has been said in the Commons, that it is not their intention that the implementation of the Bill should harm the constitutional position of this House in that way, and that appropriate action would be taken if, none the less, that were to happen. My noble friend Lady Hayman, who cannot be here today, has asked me to say that she shares the hope that the Leader and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will speak in that sense. That would reassure those of us who have some concerns here, and make both the raisins and nut at least more palatable—if not, in the longer term, sustaining.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill. I will confine my remarks to Clause 1, as the other clauses were not addressed by the Leader’s
Group, which I had the honour to chair. I am delighted to see that my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath—if I may call him that—is going to sum up, because together we served on that Leader’s Group with the noble Baronesses, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, Lady Murphy and Lady Scott of Needham Market, and my noble friend Lady Sharples. I am very grateful to them because, in a way, we are at a key moment in the recommendations that we made, which were approved by this House on
However, first, I pay warm tribute to my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood for his perseverance. I remember that Walter Elliott said in The Spiritual Life: Doctrine and Practice of Christian Perfection:
“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another”.
In many ways, he is an example to us all of how to maintain a good case and eventually succeed.
I want to refer to paragraphs 32 and 48 of our report. In referring to paragraph 32, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Grenfell. I have been with him for 17 out of his 18 years, and I thank him for the steady flow of wise advice that he has directed at me. I know that I speak for many others in this place in paying tribute to him. How right he was today to talk about incremental reform and to refer us to the necessity of a carefully thought-out mosaic. This Bill fits that scenario and it is very important that we get on with it as quickly as possible.
I want to refer to paragraph 32 because I have always felt strongly that there should be a better procedure for allowing Members of this House to retire with honour and dignity. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has just done that, but I and my colleagues argued in our report that there should be a little more than just an opportunity in this debate. As the Lord Speaker knows, we feel that the Lord Speaker could play a key part in making sure that there is a ceremony—we refer to the introduction ceremony, although that is very formal—or some other way of recognising good service.
Ernest Hemingway said:
“Retirement is the ugliest word in the language”, but it is not if it is set in context. Honour and dignity are very persuasive words and perhaps we can build that context. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has demonstrated throughout his lifetime of service—although it is only 18 years, it perhaps feels like a lifetime of service—that, as Aristotle said:
“Dignity consists not in possessing honours but in deserving them”.
He deserves our grateful thanks for all that he has achieved. I hope that further thought will be given to a way in which we can continue to recognise substantial service to this House.
The other paragraph that I will refer to briefly is paragraph 48. My noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood said that there should be no additional money, but there must be a way of ensuring that Peers who retire get support if they ever need it. We recommended in paragraph 48 that,
“a fund, resourced entirely by voluntary contributions from members and at no cost to public funds, should be established to assist retired members who might otherwise experience financial hardship”.
As I understand it, apart from individual actions and party contributions, no steps have been taken to implement that particular recommendation. I think that we should return to it now because, with the much called-for provision for statutory retirement, we anticipate that others will wish to call time on a lifetime of service to this House, and we owe it to them to make sure that, if anything occurs at any stage in the future to make them appeal for help, that help will be forthcoming.
I say to all noble Lords that this is a very important step—but only a step—in the right direction. There must be more action in the future, and I very much look forward to hearing the Leader of the House outline those steps. Let us get on with it.
My Lords, I echo the tributes to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and others for their tenacity, their hard work and their efforts in bringing this before us. I, too, am sorry to see my noble friend Lord Grenfell go. He is of course great value as well as being good company, because in him we get two for the price of one: both a hereditary and an appointed Peer. He is also an old Etonian, so the one person who may be pleased to see him go is the right honourable Michael Gove.
I entered your Lordships’ House in 1993, when the House was dominated by hereditary Peers. They also dominated the House in 1912, when Asquith famously said that reform of the House of Lords “brooks no delay”. That reform was achieved in 1999, when most of the hereditary Peers left and more reform was promised. Since then, we have had a royal commission, four White Papers, two Bills reforming the House and reports from Select Committees and elsewhere. In addition, we have had the Steel Bill, the sixth version of which is now before your Lordships.
So what has held up this reform? It is lack of consensus, as my noble friend Lord Grenfell said. Yes, there was consensus that the hereditary Peers were an anachronism and that was reformed, but there is little agreement on the role and duties of the House. There is little agreement on the powers of the House, the membership of the House and the legitimacy of the House, and absolutely no consensus on how these reforms will be achieved while maintaining the primacy of the House of Commons. Unless there is agreement on those matters, there will be little reform. That is why we must pursue small, incremental reforms as they come along—reforms such as are in this Bill—all the while maintaining the quality and standard of our work.
During the same 20 years in which I have been a Member of this House, I have been a regular visitor to the United States. There, I have witnessed a once-powerful Congress gradually disintegrate into a kind of distrustful partisanship. Political debate there has become marginalised and, instead, last-minute deals are done on such important constitutional matters as the budget. Do I see a red light flashing? This is why I find absolutely nothing wrong with slow and careful incremental reform.
In the time that I have been in your Lordships’ House, it too has changed. Wealth and privilege have been replaced with experience and expertise. Dogmatic debate has been replaced with more reasoned argument—well, generally. As a result, the House has become more confident and more assertive, and I think that Parliament has become stronger as a whole. That is why I support this Bill in spite of some shortcomings. I am most grateful to Dr Meg Russell and the Constitution Unit for pointing them out, and I hope that the Minister and other noble Lords will agree on the importance of having independent academic commentary and research on such critical and complex matters as our constitution and the House of Lords. Their independent academic commentary is invaluable in considering this Bill. Perhaps I may add that their running commentary and observations on what we do and how we do it here are also very valuable.
Dr Russell is not the first person to point out the loopholes that were described by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor. The royal commission of 2000 recommended that Members of the second Chamber should not be eligible for election to the House of Commons for 10 years following their departure from the House of Lords. This was repeated in the 2005 report from the cross-party group of MPs. The 2007 White Paper on Lords reform dealt with this, as did the proposals published by the coalition in 2011.
Could it be that this omission is just an error? Ministerial assurances were given in the other place that the Lords would not become, as they put it, a training ground. Will the Minister repeat those assurances here, perhaps more strongly? As there is no parliamentary time for amendments, will the Government acknowledge the possibility of such a loophole and give assurances that this will be dealt with in the future, perhaps in the next Session? Of course, the real way to deal with this and other matters is for the power of the Prime Minister to create Peers through patronage to be regulated by the Appointments Commission—but, of course, this is for another day.
For today, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, told us, the Bill provides two further reforms as well as retirement. Those who do not attend will cease to be Members and those who cannot attend because they are in prison for a year or more will also cease to be Members. These long overdue, common-sense reforms are important because they add to the reputation of the House—and reputation is central to the authority of an unelected House like ours. The attendance required—unless there are exceptional circumstances—is reasonable in view of the undertakings given on accepting nomination to the House.
This is not a perfect Bill. It is not helpful that it is a Private Member’s Bill; it is not helpful that it comes before us at this very late stage. However, it is an incremental step in the reform of your Lordships’ House and, for those reasons, it should go forward as it is. I hope it is supported by undertakings from the Government on the record. For these reasons, I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
My Lords, I, too, am deeply grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Steel, Lord Cormack and Lord Norton, and other noble Lords, for bringing us to this point. I speak as a Member of your Lordships’ House not directly affected by the retirement and resignation provisions in Clauses 1 and 2 as they do not apply to Lords Spiritual. Nevertheless, as one representing the consistent and profound interest of this Bench and the Church of England in making progress in reform of your Lordships’ House, we are clear that this is a helpful, sensible, albeit modest step in the direction advocated by the Lords Spiritual for many years. I am grateful to Dan Byles for consulting church officials when the Bill was introduced in the other place and I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and others that it is vital that the Bill should pass unamended today.
Our present political landscape reveals widespread and profound reform of many of our major institutions in education, healthcare, local government and elsewhere. Our story in this House, as other noble Lords have remarked, is of a much more gradual, incremental journey of change which allows us the privilege, but also holds the responsibility, for demonstrating not only that we are serious about reform of this House but also that we are capable of delivering it. In that sense, the Bill is a small-scale test of the capacity of a self-regulating House to be an effective self-reforming House.
My service on the Joint Committee examining the coalition’s reform proposals led me to become something of a student of Lords reform history. Even the most cursory examination of that history reveals that two conditions are necessary for each step of change to be taken: first, they must be incremental, as indeed this is; and, secondly, they must respond to urgent need. This Bill fulfils that condition because of the increasing size of the House and because of the inadequacy of the House’s disciplinary proceedings following the expenses and lobbying scandals. Both these things, in different ways, undermine public trust in the parliamentary system, especially if the size of this Chamber grows to the point at which it can no longer effectively fulfil all its primary functions. Therefore, my hope is that the voluntary and compulsory retirement provisions in Clauses 1 and 2 may begin the process of cultural change that will in time create a norm of managed exit rather than an exit through natural, or what some of us might call supernatural, causes.
I mentioned that the provisions in Clauses 1 and 2 do not apply to the Lords Spiritual given the ex officio nature of our membership and the existing retirement provisions that apply to us. However, for the avoidance of doubt, your Lordships will be aware that the expulsion provisions in Clause 3 apply to the Lords Spiritual, which is as it should be, as in our response to the Government’s draft Lords reform Bill we said that we wanted to be treated equally to others in this regard.
In the event of the Bill passing, your Lordships might wish to consider in any scheme for retirement the present privileges accorded to the Lords Spiritual on retirement—which include club rights and the use of dining facilities and the Library, as well as the right to hear debates from the steps of the Throne—and to reflect on whether these might be extended to noble Lords who make use of the retirement provision. These provisions are certainly much appreciated by some on this Bench and would not lead to an overstretching of our present facilities.
The Bill will receive the support of this Bench as it addresses, as others have said, a sensible, necessary and pressing need. However, I am sure, as are others, that this cannot be the end of the reform process for another generation. Some of us on the Joint Committee on the draft Bill came to the conclusion in the alternative report, which we signed in addition to the main report, that there was merit in a constitutional convention—to which the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, referred in his moving and distinguished speech—to consider the next steps of further reform of this House and any consequential impact on the other place. We wrote in the preamble to that report:
“The Joint Committee was unable to deal with some of the broader issues concerning House of Lords reform which in our view lie at the heart of the argument about whether and how the House of Lords needs to be reformed and what needs to be done to achieve that in a way which would genuinely strengthen Parliament and the political process”.
That work still remains to be done. For today, let us pass this Bill and demonstrate that we are in earnest in preserving and developing the reputation, esteem and effectiveness of this House.
My Lords, I join with others in thanking my noble friend Lord Steel for his persistence in bringing us to this point. I shall refer briefly later to the remarkable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell.
Perhaps I may say a few words about what one of the consequences of passing this Bill might be. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, indicated that this might be for another day, but I am responding to the wishes of certain noble Lords who have urged me to speak and to say something about the issue of a dignified and honourable ceremony that might accompany a Peer’s resignation. I am encouraged by the fact that when the Leader of the House spoke to what I always call the Cormack-Norton group he indicated that he would welcome views on this because it is clearly for the authorities of the House to take this forward.
As has been said, Clause 1 provides, for the first time, a statutory right for a Peer to leave the House permanently and not to be able to rescind that decision. As the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, reminded us, there is an existing, more informal, process but, as he said, with some confused implications. For instance, I have never been quite clear whether the process that the noble Lord is now following means that there will no longer be a reason for sending him a Writ of Summons. This Bill would make it absolutely clear that a Peer who takes advantage of the provision in Clause 1 and retires from the House would no longer be entitled to receive a Writ of Summons. That is a necessary and very important step.
The clause would establish the right to retire, but we need to recognise that something more than that will be necessary. I am thinking about a ceremony of some sort by which a retirement might be recognised by the House. When the Government responded to the report of the Select Committee in another place, they made it clear that it was very much a matter for this House to consider, and indeed a number of things could be done in this Chamber that would not require further legislation. Perhaps I may draw attention briefly to some of the suggestions that have been made and which my noble friend the Leader of the House might like to consider.
My starting point is what I shall refer to as the Hunt report, the report of the Leader’s Group on Members Leaving the House, chaired by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral. It reported over three years ago, so quite a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, but as he said,
“an honourable and dignified means of retirement would be desirable”.
Perhaps I may remind the House what was said about that:
“We also recommend that the departure of a retiring member after distinguished service should be marked by the House in some suitable way, perhaps analogous to the ceremony of introduction by which the beginning of a member’s Parliamentary career is marked”.
That is certainly one suggestion that should be followed up. As noble Lords have said, I know that it has attracted a good deal of support, but without the detail of how it might be done and what the process would actually involve, it is a little difficult to form a judgment. However, it is a proposal that should be carried forward.
Other suggestions have been made since then. They followed the evidence given to the Select Committee in the other place, and I should like to quote what was said at paragraph 50 of the committee’s report by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, who has just left the Chamber:
“the lack of take-up of the voluntary scheme is partly due to the fact that ‘if people depart they would like some recognition of what they have done for the House. It does not necessarily have to be financial, but some sort of acknowledgement of services rendered might be worth exploring.’ He suggested creating a ‘decommissioning ceremony’ and argued that ‘people would like rites of passage’”.
It is very much a British characteristic that we like things to be done formally and visibly as evidence of the underlying decisions that are being taken. This might well be included in my noble friend’s study.
Further suggestions have since been put forward, one of which is that a retiring Member should have the opportunity to make a speech in the Chamber to mark, as it were, the end of his parliamentary career in this House. I have to say that few of us would be able to match the eloquence, wit and profundity of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, which we all enjoyed, but perhaps there might be an opportunity to do that. In another place it is managed by the Speaker calling a Member who has indicated that he no longer intends to stand at the next general election. He is given the opportunity to make a speech. I do not think it happened when I left that House, but I am told that it certainly does happen now.
Another suggestion is for some sort of tribute to be paid to the retiring Peer in the Chamber. On this I should like to make two points. First, there can be no first and second-class Peers retiring. It has to be the same for everyone, and I think that this would be widely supported in the Chamber. The second one is that it might be quite embarrassing for the Peer himself to be present when that happens. For instance, when tributes are paid to a retiring Clerk of the Parliaments, he is not in the Chamber to hear them. That, too, ought to be considered.
A further suggestion I have heard recently is that, instead of an oral tribute, it could become customary, when a Peer has retired or is about to retire, for there to be some sort of written tribute in the House magazine. This happens when a Peer dies, but of course only if particular circumstances make it relevant. It should happen for retired Peers. The provision of the necessary short paragraph or two that might form part of an article could possibly be a role for the Information Office of the House.
There are other things that may be done to mark the recognition of past service. Could not Peers who have retired be granted the same sort of facilities that were granted to hereditary Peers who left the House in 1999: the availability of a pass, access to the refreshment facilities and use of the Library? This was agreed after that Bill became law, and so far as I am aware, it has created no difficulties for the management of the House in any way. That, too, would perhaps help to attract more Peers to the notion of retirement. The right reverend Prelate—I almost called him “my noble friend” because he is—drew attention to what happens to bishops when they retire. Many of us will know how much that is appreciated by bishops when they are no longer able to sit as Members of this House, and I have to say that it is greatly appreciated by the rest of us because we can continue to enjoy their friendship in the premises here. That is of considerable importance. It already exists in two cases that I have mentioned, and why should it not happen for people who retire?
Another suggestion has been made to which I do not think my noble friend Lord Hunt referred. It is that there should be some enabling role for the Leaders of the parties and the Convenor of the Cross Benches to encourage Members who might be contemplating retirement and help them to take the steps that would be necessary to do so. There is merit in this proposal. However, the report of my noble friend Lord Hunt went on to point out that party leaders may not wish to encourage their supporters to retire because that would upset the balance of the House. This is a harsh political reality of which one has to take notice. There is no firm expectation, of course, that anyone who retires from this House could anticipate a new appointment from the same party to fill the vacancy. Indeed, part of the objective of the exercise is to help to reduce our number. Paragraph 36 of the report states that,
“the party leaders and the Convenor should develop a new understanding … about the proportion of seats in the current House on which it would be appropriate for each party or group to rely”.
That takes me into very deep water indeed and I am not sure how it could be approached. It is no different today, three years after the publication of the report, and, with a general election looming, I do not think that it is likely to be a possibility for the moment; but no doubt my noble friend the Leader of the House will want to consider it.
In the absence of further primary legislation, this Bill is not going to lead to a large reduction in the size of the Chamber, but as many other noble Lords have said, it is a very important incremental step along a road that we must take in the interests of the reputation of this House. I therefore warmly support the Bill.
My Lords, I add my own congratulations to those that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has already, rightly, received. We have a very important Bill, which we hope will pass on its way today, enshrining three principles which are desperately needed here. One is the need for provision for retirement, the second is the need for a provision to deal with those who never turn up and the third is the need for a provision to exclude those who have abused their membership of the House or conducted themselves in such a way as to diminish its reputation and, indeed, the reputation of our democracy. This not only represents a remarkable exhibition of parliamentary skill on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, but a remarkable display of persistence—a perhaps often undervalued human quality, which is essential for human achievement in any field.
I will make three points. Two relate to unfinished business on which I believe we should continue to focus once we have sent the Bill on its way and one relates to a profound reservation that I have about the Bill we are passing in its present form. The first unfinished business is about numbers. I totally agree with the views that have been expressed by so many noble Lords that we need to address this issue. Our numbers are already too great and are quite absurd. I think we are becoming the largest legislature in the world and there is no natural limit to it, as we must be one of the very few legislatures in the world which does not have a constitutionally set number. We need to do something about that. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, including the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, I do not feel that merely having the facility for retirement or the opportunity to expel people who do not turn up is going to make a very big dent in the numbers in itself. We probably need to add to the right to retire some incentives and also some constraints: either a retirement age or, if that takes us into conflict with the age discrimination rules and laws, some maximum term of service or something of that kind. We need to come back to that. We should also come back to the imaginative, interesting and, I think, largely very attractive suggestions that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has just made to the same purpose and the same end.
The second area where I think there is substantial unfinished business is in respect of a strengthened statutory appointments commission. In an earlier Bill brought forward by the noble Lord—I cannot remember whether it was the fourth or fifth—there was provision for that, as the House will recall, in some detail. I think it is absolutely essential. The idea was that there would be an independent commission—the noble Lord suggested its members would be appointed by the Lord Speaker and the Speaker of the House of Commons—which would not only vet all nominations coming from anybody for independent Peers or from party leaders for members of party groups but would have the responsibility of making a nomination to the Queen. That is enormously important. The provisions in the noble Lord’s original draft would have gone as far as it would be humanly possible to go to ensure that we had people with the right degree of integrity and personality, who could really stand up to pressures from party leaders, Prime Ministers or anywhere else if there was any suggestion of abuse. Of course there are and have been abuses, which I will come on to in a moment.
There is also a potential for abuse, which concerns a number of people in the country, in that if we provide for retirement from this place, it could become just a feeder for the House of Commons, with party leaders putting forward people who they want to promote as parliamentary candidates. That would be an abuse and only a statutory commission could give the public confidence that it was not happening. Of course, if from time to time, a Member of this House genuinely feels a vocation to stand for election to the elected House, that is not something that one would wish to inhibit in any way. It is rather unusual in other countries to go from, for example, the Senate to the House of Representatives or from the Sénat to the Assemblée nationale but it does happen. There is no reason why it should not happen, although it more usually happens the other way round. In any event, that is a concern which would be addressed by a proper, strengthened, statutory appointments commission of the kind the noble Lord, Lord Steel, himself envisaged.
An even more important role for such a commission would be to address what I think is a major national scandal, all the more shameful and squalid precisely because people do not want to talk about it. People do not want to talk about it because it affects all the three main parties. In this place it is still possible—even now, in the 21st century—to buy your way in by signing a large cheque to one of the political parties. We should not shy away from that. Some may be shocked by my even mentioning the unmentionable, but it needs to be mentioned and needs to be addressed. It is a big problem. All of us in this place are inclined to be a bit complacent about our democracy in this country. If we heard that in some other democracy somewhere you could buy your way into the local legislature, we would all say, “Well that is obviously a system that is corrupt, a country that is corrupt. The least that can be said is that it is not an exemplary democracy”. We do not like to face that when it happens here. It needs to be addressed here and I think it will be effectively addressed only when the appointments are taken out of the hands of the Prime Minister or party leaders and put in the hands of a statutory appointments commission which can withhold its consent and approval for nomination. If it does so, it will become public if the Prime Minister or party leader concerned persists in pushing forward that particular candidate. That is what would need to happen. It is badly needed and badly required.
My third point is about the area where, I am afraid, I disagree with the Bill as drafted. That will not be news to noble Lords who have taken part in our previous debates. On the last occasion I put forward an amendment on this matter but was prevailed on not to put it to a vote because I did not want at that time to hold the whole Bill up. I certainly do not want to hold the whole Bill up now. It would be appalling if we risked losing getting those three essential principles that I talked about on to the statute the book and nobody would want to throw out the baby with the bathwater by arguing the toss on something that, while important, would be secondary in relation to those broad principles. However, my concern is with the provision that anybody who is convicted for a prison term of more than one year is automatically excluded from the House. That is clearly arbitrary and is both too little and too much. It is quite wrong. There has been conduct in this House, even in the few years since I have been here, which resulted on several occasions in prison sentences of less than a year, or in no prison sentence at all, which should have resulted in exclusion from the House. Such conduct was quite incompatible with being a Member of a legislature and we should have recognised that. It was a great pity we did not have the power of exclusion at that time. Under the present system, the same problem would arise—we would not be able to exclude.
Equally, one year can be far too much. Imprisonment can, in some cases, involve no moral turpitude at all. Even within the lifetime of noble Lords in this Chamber there have been appalling scandals in this country of people being sent to jail for consensual male homosexual acts. I think all of us would agree that that does not reflect in any way badly on the individuals concerned—it was an appalling injustice that they were faced with jail. Under no circumstances should just the fact of being sent to jail exclude you either from nomination for this place or for the right to continue to sit here if one is already a Member. If one goes back within a hundred years, one can think of those people who were sent to jail in the First World War, either because they were pacifists or because they spoke or wrote, as it was put at the time, in a way that might be damaging to recruitment. If you go back to the late 19th century, within 150 years, we had two of the finest parliamentarians who ever sat in the House of Commons—Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond—both sent to jail under the Coercion Acts that were passed by this House, and of course the other place, in the late 19th century. Just the fact of going to jail should not itself necessarily be an excluding factor, whether for one year or less than one year.
The solution is that we should retain the statutory right to exclude which the noble Lord is about to give us if we pass this Bill—it is absolutely right and very urgent that we should have that—but we need to use our own discretion to decide whether an offence merits exclusion or not. Indeed, we implicitly accept that principle in that under the Bill we would have to use our discretion in relation to prison sentences imposed by a foreign court. The idea of using our discretion in a case such as that is not therefore something which the House, or indeed the noble Lord who is promoting the Bill, is inherently against.
When I raised this matter previously, there was only one substantive argument raised against me, which was that the House of Commons had a similar system to the one that we were trying to introduce here. That is a very bad argument. We should not repeat the mistakes of other people. If it is a mistake, we should change it. If we think we can do better than the Commons—and that goes for any legislative context—we should do better as we see it. That is our responsibility before the British public. The Commons may or may not conclude that we were right and they were wrong, and move to align themselves with our system; that is not a matter for us. We should do what we think is right.
There is no way that I intend to take this matter forward in the course of this Bill, as I have already explained. I do not want to hold up what is a very important Bill and I would be the last person to wish to do so. But we shall have to come back to all these matters, particularly the latter one, in due time, when there is another opportunity to do so. I just hope that there is not some horrible scandal over the next few years that makes us feel that we really did need the power to exclude, even though a court had not sentenced someone to more than a year—even though perhaps a court had sentenced someone twice, but to two terms of less than a year—but we had no opportunity to exclude at all even though the behaviour concerned was really blatant and egregious. That is my profound hope. Once again, I greatly support the essential principles in the Bill and pay tribute to the very distinguished parliamentarian to whom we owe it.
My Lords, I will make only a modest contribution to this debate. As far as House of Lords reform generally is concerned, my view happens to be that we should move to a largely if not wholly elected Chamber. I accept that that is on the whole a minority view, certainly on this side of the House, but that is my view and long has been. I also believe that if we were to have such a Chamber it should have powers not dissimilar to those of the other place, and I can well see that there would be objections to that coming from there. Be that as it may, House of Lords reform generally is back on the agenda, it would seem.
As the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, reminded us—and I share the dismay that he will be leaving us so soon—the Labour Party has apparently published a new policy on this matter. It comes from the pen of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and his colleagues, I understand, but I presume that to be Labour Party policy, or the bones of Labour Party policy, when we get to the next election. I express one dismay about that: yet again the Labour Party seems to be disconnecting itself from the views and wishes of the people. A few weeks ago, Labour Peers assisted in the failure to pass the European Union (Referendum) Bill, which would have allowed the people to express a view on that matter. Now apparently they are proposing a Chamber of largely appointed Peers, which, again, does not seem to represent the essential Labour principles to which we had assumed they were attached.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord but I should correct him on one point. This is a report from a group of Labour Peers to their fellow Peers; it does not mean that it is Labour Party policy. It is the views expressed by a group of Labour Peers of what we think might be, and would like to see as, Labour policy. The other point is that we are certainly not recommending an appointed House. We deliberately avoided trying to find an answer to the knotty of question of whether there should be an elected or appointed House. That has to wait, in our view, for a constitutional commission.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification. I am particularly grateful because, referring to one sentence in the report—I assume this likewise to be in error—the Daily Telegraph says:
“All hereditary peerages would be abolished and no more should be created”.
Apparently that is not the view of the noble Lord’s committee and I am happy to hear it.
Turning to the Bill, I broadly support what is proposed. At one of the earlier stages—I forget which one—I referred to the problem of overseas convictions of Members of your Lordships’ House. That matter has been dealt with and I am grateful for that. Therefore, I, likewise, hope that the Bill will proceed to the statute book fairly swiftly.
Finally, I would like to refer to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral. I am so sorry he is not in his place. He described at some length his wish for some financial arrangements. I think he was saying that they should perhaps not come from public funds but from some other source. I am obliged to remind your Lordships that in 1999, 600 or so hereditary Peers left without so much as a penny. I say to my noble friend the Leader: if support for departing Peers is to come from public funds, I should be very much opposed to that, or if it is to happen it will have to be backdated to include the 600 or so hereditary Peers of 1999, which I dare say will create problems in the Treasury, even more than there are at present. But it would not be just to provide Peers who are allowed to depart now on a voluntary basis, or even on a compulsory basis, with financial recompense when in 1999 not so much as one penny was provided. Of course, I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was proposing, which I think was a private fund of some sort, and that would be a different matter. But I hope that departing hereditary Peers from 1999 might likewise be considered for support from that measure.
I, too, share the hope that the Bill will shortly reach the statute book and will do nothing to prevent that happening.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome the Bill that we are considering today. It is an important step forward in the ongoing process of House of Lords reform.
My particular interest is in Clause 1, which permits a Peer to resign as a Member of the House by giving notice in writing to the Clerk of the Parliaments. It is an important step forward, and it will be interesting to see how many Peers make use of the option and whether it will reduce the number of Peers who rarely, if ever, visit the Chamber.
As for the 92 elected hereditary Peers who were exempted from Section 1 of the House of Lords Act 1999, of which I am lucky enough to be one, the situation up to now has been that a resignation by one of the 92 would reduce the size of the portfolio by one unless it was the result of the death of a Member, in which case the gap would be filled by a by-election to retain the 92 total. I am pleased to see that Clause 4(7) confirms that a by-election must be held to replace one of the 92 Members not only in the event of death but in the event of a formal resignation.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for his efforts on this subject and I wish him every success in the months to come.
My Lords, every little counts. I add my applause for Mr Dan Byles and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for this further small increment of Lords reform. It is good that the Bill will authorise the House to make arrangements for retirement and will disqualify people from non-attendance. On balance, it is also right that we should have the same provision as the House of Commons to exclude from membership of this House those who are found guilty of a serious criminal offence. In mentioning retirement, let me also say how much I personally shall miss the wisdom and companionship of my noble friend Lord Grenfell.
I regret that practical political circumstances have made it impossible for the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to include further measures in the Bill. I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Davies of Stamford that we should have a power to suspend and expel people who disgrace themselves and the House. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, that it is important that the Appointments Commission should be placed on a statutory basis as soon as possible. I say this with sadness but in the 21st century we really do need to proceed to abolish the principle of hereditary membership of the legislature.
All history and experience teach us that constitutional reform is best when it is incremental and, indeed, that there is very little chance of reform unless it is incremental. There is some talk again of a constitutional commission or convention, and I agree that we have to think systematically. There are great issues before this country; for example, the integrity of the United Kingdom. Whatever the result of the referendum in Scotland, it will have constitutional implications. The imbalance of wealth and power between London and the regions seems to be becoming a constitutional issue, and of course there is the anguished constitutional issue of our relationship with Europe. The future of the House of Lords must depend on the views that are taken and the reforms that may be introduced in relation to all those issues and, no doubt, others.
Reform of the House of Lords seems to exemplify Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the tortoise. The tortoise starts off slowly on incremental reform, and Achilles, who is the great athlete, flexes his muscles, preens himself and dashes off with a grand scheme of redesign. However, Achilles never overtakes the tortoise. He stumbles and falls, and we have seen an instance of that within this Parliament.
I am therefore wary of grand designs, and I am wary of constitutional conventions that will almost inevitably come up with grand designs for constitutional reform. These radical programmes of change, especially if they are based on rather shallow thought and the arrogant assumption that the Government for the time being have a right to do what they will with our constitution, nearly always fall flat on their face and generate a lot of trouble in the process. Organic reform therefore seems preferable. I applaud not only the noble Lord, Lord Steel, but the Front Benches of the parties, who at long last seem also to agree that incremental change is the right process and the right way to go. Noble Lords want reform. I do not think that I know any Member of your Lordships’ House who is entirely satisfied with the status quo. It has been frustrating to us that the Front Benches have hitherto not allowed us to proceed as we wish to incremental reform.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester that the way to reform is incrementally and that the time to reform is when there is demonstrable need, but I also recognise that the call for radical reform is unlikely to go away. One can imagine a certain conjunction of political forces in which a coalition Government would again get the bit between their teeth and feel that they were entitled to legislate for radical constitutional change.
I therefore hope that, if the parties are considering what they may put in their manifestos, they will give consideration to a system of indirect election, a system whereby seats in your Lordships’ House would be allocated to the parties in accordance with the percentage of the vote they obtained at the latest election, leading to composition of the second Chamber which would be proportional to the landscape of political opinion in this country. We could do that with a House of 450, as was recommended by the Joint Committee which scrutinised the draft House of Lords Reform Bill earlier in this Parliament. If the Bishops and the Cross-Benchers were to form 20% of the membership of such a House, I think that we could be confident that no one party would have an overall majority in the House. If they were to form 30% of the composition of the House, I think that we could be confident that no coalition of parties would have an overall majority.
Your Lordships, I think, agree that our House is at its best when Ministers, in order to prevail, have to win the argument and cannot get their way by mobilising the party machines by way of the Whip. When Ministers have to win the argument, the House of Lords is best placed to fulfil its role of advising the House of Commons by way of proposed amendments to legislation.
Under such a system, we would continue with an unpaid and part-time House. Noble Lords would be Members of the House for 15 years, a third of them retiring every five years. A transition to that system could be achieved over three general elections. This is a scheme not unlike what was in the House of Lords Reform Bill, but it substitutes indirect election for direct election. Dr Alexander Reid, who gave evidence to the Joint Committee, has written a paper which demonstrates the feasibility of arriving at such a state of affairs.
If radical reform is to be sought by any of the political parties and in a future Parliament, and if there is truly to be a search for consensus—the phrase that we so often hear—I believe that a scheme of indirect election could be a compromise that sufficiently satisfied the proponents of election and the proponents of an appointed House. It would retain the primacy of the House of Commons, because there would be no direct elections and no geographical constituencies; it would retain the virtues of an appointed House, its independence and the experience and expertise of its Members. However, noble Lords will be pleased to hear that it is not my plan to amend this Bill to that effect, and I suspect that agreement on any scheme of radical reform remains a pipedream. We will therefore proceed incrementally and this measure is a very useful step in that process of increment.
My Lords, I pay my tribute to my noble friend Steel for his persistence in this measure, but what will history say of the once-leader of the Liberal Party who vowed to change the House of Lords out of all recognition from what we now know but has his name to a Bill that in Scotland would be described in accolade as peely-wally?
I do not like quite a lot of what is in this Bill, as your Lordships know because I have spoken on it many times before, and I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, said about Clause 3. I thought he made a very good case for us looking at that measure again. I see no justification for the 12 months as a cut-off date solely because it follows the House of Commons. It is one of the sadnesses of this House that we are increasingly following the House of Commons, which is not a wise route in which I think we should travel.
It has been mentioned that Dr Russell has put forward a suggestion that the House of Lords could be used as a stepping stone to the House of Commons. I think that she has a point, but a limited point. It is interesting that the House of Lords Reform Bill of 2012 said that there should be a four-year and one-month period before a former Member of the House of Lords was able to stand for election in the House of Commons. My caveat to that is that it should work both ways: a Member from the House of Commons should not be allowed to come here for four years and one month. We welcome some of the ex MPs, but we are hugely distorted by them. After the next election, there will be another influx of MPs. We have had quite enough from former Prime Ministers Blair and Brown and I am sad to say that I must include Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg in that. That has distorted the numbers in this House. We are all concerned with numbers in this House, and it is hoped that resignation and banning the non-attendees will help that number to decline. It will not. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Jay, who said that one day the House is going to topple over. I agree with him. The numbers will ratchet up. The age profile changes in this House. As one becomes older one is less able to attend, and Governments seem intent on winning Divisions so they just appoint more Peers. It does not matter which Government; they are all at fault, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said.
There has been talk of retirement. My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding said that there should be some sort of recognition of that. I immediately became concerned. I thought that this was perhaps a bad route. If we are going to have some sort of recognition of the service of somebody who has had the privilege of sitting in the Chamber of this House, I am not in support of that. Perhaps that is the difference between a life Peer and an hereditary Peer. I quite see that they might be allowed access to the Palace as a whole, but there should be no great ceremony in the Chamber of this House when we have been given the huge privilege—for whatever reason—of sitting in this Chamber. I agree that the introduction is right, but one can either go gracefully and peacefully in one’s sleep, or in other ways, or one can retire, but there should be no great fuss in the Chamber about it.
The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, who I am glad to see back in his place, made his usual rant about the hereditary Peers. Let us look at the statistics. Who are the people who attend the most, who serve on the committees the most, who go into Divisions the most? It is the hereditary Peers. They are the very people that the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said in his report that the Labour Party was looking for: people who perhaps had jobs outside but who attended on a regular basis. May the life Peers take note.
My Lords, inevitably, we are towards the end of a debate—perhaps the end of a process as far as this Parliament is concerned. I just want to thank the two people who have been most involved in this Bill: Dan Byles, a new Member in the House of Commons and, of course, and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who I suppose we would have to say is probably now in the middle phase of his parliamentary career. They have combined so effectively to give us the Bill that we have today. It is a Bill which is sensible, straightforward and focused. I am therefore quite surprised that it is highly likely to find its way onto the statute book.
I repeat my congratulations to my noble and very good friend Lord Grenfell. He has added an additional service today, because, as well as the value of his speech, he has answered a number of the points made about the process that we should adopt when someone leaves this House, because there I rest my case. We do not need any elaborate procedure. We simply need a mechanism which started in the Commons prior to the 2010 election, when Chris Mullin adopted the practice of a valedictory speech just prior to retirement.
It worked very well there. It has been copied, although it does not have to be. We simply will not improve on that as a mechanism. I suggest to the House that we do not want anything more elaborate than that.
I remember that when I left the other Chamber in 1979 there was no mechanism to recognise my departure other than cheering in the crowds at the count in my constituency from my political opponents, who did not seem too distraught at my departure from the Commons. I think we should leave it at that point.
As there is little more that I want to say about the Bill, which I support, and as we are not too far from the end of this Parliament and this will almost certainly be the last House of Lords reform Bill in this Parliament, I would like to use my few moments to consider what we have learnt about the process of Lords reform and what lessons it might offer for the future.
It can be called simply a tale of two Bills. We had the Government’s Bill, which was introduced soon after the start of this Parliament, and we have the Bill before us today. The contrast could not be greater on a whole range of bases. The first was a government Bill. It had all the massive advantages of being a government Bill. Numerous documents were associated with it, no doubt expensively produced. I have them all in my file on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill. It had the Government’s publicity machine behind it. It was supported by the leaders of all three parties—which always makes you wonder whether we should look at something a bit more carefully. Also, predictably, it was led—I will try to keep this as neutral as I can—evangelically by Mr Nick Clegg, who, as I recall, pointed out at the beginning of this Parliament that this was to be a Parliament which, in terms of constitutional reform, would be on a par with the 1832 constitutionally reforming Parliament of the early part of the last but one century.
For all that, we know exactly what happened to the Bill, whereas the Bill we are considering now was introduced by a private Member—a new Member, as I mentioned. He was not even number one in the ballot but number five. There was very restricted time to get the Bill through. We all know what has happened to the two Bills—I hope that I am not being premature in saying this. One Bill, utterly predictably, as warned time and again by many people who are here in the House today, ran into the sand and ended in ignominy. The other is soon, I hope, to become an established part—albeit a small one—of the constitutional arrangements of this country.
As I suggested, there are some very simple lessons that need to be learnt from that experience. The overwhelming one, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Grenfell earlier, is that the lesson from the past 100 years could not be clearer: if you want to reform the second Chamber, you need to focus on a narrow problem to which you provide the solution, and you need clear parliamentary support. The 1911 Bill was about stopping the Lords from writing the Budget—simple, common-sense, straightforward and now part of the constitution. There was the 1958 Bill introducing life Peers—not uncontroversial but with a pretty simple, straightforward objective. There was the 1999 Bill largely to remove the hereditary principle from our legislature—again simple, straightforward, and with a parliamentary majority to back it up. That is the model for constitutional reform, and one that I hope we have all learnt, because what we need for the future is clear Commons support and a simple, straightforward objective.
I will conclude by doing something which I have found to be an almost entirely fruitless activity in the past, which is to give advice to party leaders. It is advice in connection with the manifestos which will shortly be being drafted by large brains in all three parties. It is simply this. If you are to approach constitutional reform in the way of House of Lords reform, as my noble friend Lord Howarth said, please do not try for a Bill that is a grandiose, all-singing, all-dancing solution to all problems. It will not work. Should anyone do that—I do not care which party it is, or which combination of parties—I can speak only for myself, but I look round and think that there may be quite a few others who will create considerable problems. Please do not look in the crystal ball when you can read the history books. Those kinds of proposal do not work. They allow people to grandstand but they achieve nothing.
I end with this plea, not just to the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, but also to my noble friend Lord Hunt, who will be winding up from our Front Bench. I do not expect them to stand up now and say that a great Lords reform Bill is not going to happen, but I appeal to them to undertake in their winding-up speeches to pass on to their leaders, or whoever draws up their party manifesto, that the settled view of the majority of people in this House, without self-interest at stake—if it takes five or six or seven years, we will all be here, so it is ridiculous to say that it is all about self-interest—on the basis of experience, not least of the experience in this Parliament, is that you can approach it by all means, but approach it on the basis of a clearly defined problem that you are trying to solve. Keep it narrow, make sure you have parliamentary support and you may get something in your manifesto that is not just a wish list but a practical solution to a constitutional challenge.
My Lords, not for the first time I follow the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and endorse everything that he said in his concluding words. We do not want the grandiose, grandstanding scheme that came to such grief. I am proud to be wearing the tie which was produced by the Conservative rebels in another place to celebrate the demise of the Clegg Bill. They presented me with it as an honorary member of their group and I indeed wear it with pride. Of course, if the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, had his way I would not be making this speech until June of this year at the earliest. However, as that would have prevented many colleagues in both parts of the House from contributing to this debate, perhaps the noble Earl will indulge me, too.
This debate has been made memorable by one particular speech: that of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who was wise, measured, judicious, balanced and, above all, witty. He has brought to our deliberations immense experience, and a depth and breadth of knowledge. He is one of the most civilised men in this House and we shall all be the poorer for his going. But he has chosen the moment and doubtless has had in his mind the strictures that some of us had in the other place when we decided to step down: go when they say, “Please don’t”, not when they say, “When the hell is he going?”. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, will be much missed but I hope that we shall see him often sitting on the steps of the Throne, having lunch at the long table and maintaining the friendships which we deeply cherish.
I am also glad to add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Steel, who has indeed been dogged and persistent. He has been prepared to accept compromise rather than total defeat because the Bill that he first introduced—for various reasons, which we do not need to rehearse now—was not considered acceptable by the powers that be or even by some Members of your Lordships’ House. So my noble friend Lord Steel truncated the Bill to get it through this House, but we owe another person an enormous debt for using his good fortune in the ballot and taking this up. I refer to my former constituent Mr Dan Byles, who I had the pleasure of knowing before he entered the other House. Indeed, he even spent a week or so shadowing me in my office in the Commons so that he could be familiar with at least some of the arcane procedures in another place. If I remember rightly, one thing he did was to come to one of the meetings of the group to which a number of your Lordships have referred: the one which I have the honour of chairing and which my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth convenes most efficiently, almost on a weekly basis. Of course the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, was a founder member of this group, as he said in his speech, and he has hardly missed a meeting over the last 12 years.
This is a modest but necessary measure. It is very good that every one of your Lordships who has spoken in this debate has indicated, whatever their reservations—I think of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness—that they do not intend to stand in the way of the Bill’s progress to the statute book. It is a small step: a modest measure but a necessary measure. It will provide a provision on which we can build for retirement.
Here, I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott—I call him my noble friend—as I do not believe that there is no place for some form of recognition of retirement. Someone who has given long service in this House deserves to have some recognition. We had a meeting of the group with which my noble friend Lord Norton and I are associated earlier this week at which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, who has spoken so eloquently today, put forward some of his proposals. There were others and there are many that can be considered. However, I warmly commend some of those proposals to my noble friend the Leader of the House, to whom again we owe a great debt for his realistic and quiet persistence, and his help in this matter. I will not repeat the proposals but I hope that he will consider some of those which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, advanced in his speech and which others have touched upon.
Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a very notable parliamentarian. I happened to sit next to the noble Baroness, Lady Healy of Primrose Hill, who is in her place today. She said to me that she would not be speaking today but that she thought it would be rather nice to have somewhere where portraits of Members could be kept. She was not meaning great oil paintings but photographic portraits, so that there would be some visible memory of those who had taken part in proceedings here. I said that I would mention that, with attribution, and I do. It is just one of a whole range of things that can and perhaps should be considered.
I touch on one other matter, as Dr Meg Russell has been mentioned several times during this debate. She came to see me earlier this week and we had a long and extremely helpful conversation. She has much to contribute in the future on the issue of constitutional reform, just as she has in the past, as one of our most distinguished academics. However, I believe that the fear to which she has referred is to some degree misplaced. My noble friend Lord Norton cannot be with us today as he is delivering a lecture in, I think, Scotland. He has sent me a note which he said he would be glad if I could quote, and I willingly do so. He says:
“It is not clear why peers would wish to leave the second chamber in the way that Meg Russell envisages. The only ones for whom it is likely to appeal would be those who are serious candidates for the premiership”.
My noble friend Lord MacGregor referred in his contribution to the late Sir Alec Douglas-Home, formerly the Earl of Home and later Lord Home, who did precisely that. My noble friend Lord Norton continues:
“Otherwise, all the advantages lie with remaining in this chamber. The position would be different in the event of two elected chambers, but we are, fortunately, not in that situation. Dr Russell does not address the ‘so what?’ question and the situations she envisages could be addressed without recourse to legislation. It could be brought within the remit of the Appointments Commission, in examining every nominee of a party leader. The committee could solicit assurances from nominees in terms of their future intentions and commitment to the House”.
I am glad to put my noble friend Lord Norton’s wise words on the record.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, referred to his role as chairman of the Appointments Commission. He did a very distinguished job there and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, will prove to be an eminently worthy successor. I would like us to move towards a statutory Appointments Commission. We are in fact dealing today with unfinished business. I so agree with all those who have talked about incremental reform—one step at a time. I suggest that the two steps we have to look at in the next Parliament are, first, the reconstitution on a statutory basis of the Appointments Commission. Secondly, we have to address, with great sensitivity and enormous appreciation for the contributions that colleagues have made, the question of whether it is right to move towards a retirement age; whether or not new peerages should carry the title for life but, perhaps, the right to sit in this Chamber for a period of 20 or 25 years or until a certain age—whichever comes the sooner. Those are the sorts of things that we have to look at. We are all concerned with the standing and the reputation of this House. The numbers here do not invalidate that reputation, but we have to be a little careful as we move into the next Parliament and beyond, and as we recognise the ever-present need to refresh with new talent and new experience those who sit on these Benches.
With those words, again, I warmly thank and commend my noble friend Lord Steel and my honourable friend Mr Dan Byles. I hope that their joint endeavours will be crowned with success and that the Bill will now proceed rapidly on to the statute book.
My Lords, like all other noble Lords, I express my admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I think he is getting a bit tired of all this admiration, but never mind—he may not get it very often, so I urge him to enjoy it today, because he deserves it.
I come from Maidenhead, and there are a number of places named “Grenfell”: Grenfell Road, Grenfell Park, Grenfell this and that. I was very sad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, that that he has no connection with Maidenhead and that those names have nothing to do with him. Would it not have been wonderful for me if they had? I wish him a very happy retirement.
I will make a few general points. On resignations and doing something special for the Peer who is resigning, we can decide that; it does not need to be enshrined in legislation. It is up to this House to decide what most of us feel about that and how to do it. We are quite good at those sorts of things, and I am sure that we will agree on the right way of saying goodbye to Peers who have served well and for a long time. Therefore we do not need to spend a long time discussing that.
I have no comment to make on non-attendance, but I have many comments to make on convictions for offences. I believe that that has been taken from House of Commons procedure, but it is not sufficient. As many noble Lords have said, we have to think about public perception and our reputation. People who have cheated on their expenses will still come and sit here, and that is an offence to all of us. Our reputation has been affected. When a number of Peers were found to have cheated on their expenses it got around the public, who started saying, “Look at those Peers. They do nothing, they don’t stand for election, and they’re taking public money”. That is an awful thing, because everything bad reflects on all of us. That is particularly true of a House such as ours, because we are all part of a whole. We are not individuals elected from different places, who represent different groups of people; we are part of a whole whether we are from this or that party. In people’s eyes we are a single group.
To go to prison for one year or over will be very rare. It will happen in occasional cases, but it is disgraceful even to go to prison for a week, or for three weeks, as happened to one Peer. Those Peers should not be here. If someone was in the job market and had a job, and did the things that some Peers have done here, would you still employ them in your firm? Would you just say, “It’s okay, you can stay on”? You would not. This is a public body, and we have higher standards than a person in employment. If we do not, we should have; we should have higher expectations of Members of this House. We should expect them to behave in a far better way than ordinary mortals; we are ordinary mortals, but as Members of this House we should not behave badly.
When I first came here, this House had a great reputation and great respect outside. People used to say, “I’m a Member of the House of Lords”. We almost never say that now. I never say it, or only if it is necessary and fits the occasion. The situation has changed a lot in my time. One of the difficulties was that when I first came, changes were not happening. The House had been stratified for a number of years, for various reasons, which is a very bad thing. The British way of doing things is evolutionary, not revolutionary. We have taken only the first step towards this evolution of changing some of the things which we need to change. We need to change more things; the suggestion that we should be given 25 years or an age limit has to happen. We cannot have people sitting here until something very drastic happens and they cannot be here. That is very important, and should be mentioned when the person is appointed, so that there is no surprise—“Oh! My time has come”. The House is far too big and there are far too many of us here.
A noble Lord mentioned the reform of the House of Commons. I believe it was Bagehot, a constitutional lawyer, who said that the second Chamber should be complementary to the first Chamber. We do not know whether we are complementary to the first Chamber. They would like to see us go completely, because they get irritated when we stop their amendments. However, it is very important that both Houses should be considered in such a way that they benefit from each other and benefit each other; otherwise, it will never get any better.
Let us therefore move on with this and be thankful that we have something before us. I just hope that sooner rather than later we will lower the bar for people being removed from this House. I do not want to sit with people who have cheated with their expenses because I feel that I am tainted by their presence.
My Lords, I fully support the Bill from my noble friend and I add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords. There is very little for me to say; I said most of what I wanted to say 14 years ago, in the royal commission report. It is interesting to note how many suggestions that came up around the Chamber today we had put into our report 14 years ago. The conclusion that was drawn in that report was also drawn by other Members of the House, which was that incremental reform is the only way we will do it. We quite deliberately put forward proposals that were a compromise. I do not believe that any one of us on the royal commission would have agreed with everything we said; instead we worked out something that we thought could be lived with by people who wanted elected Peers, those who did not want them, and so on. The compromise was not acceptable, so incremental reform is the only way for this House, and the Bill is a very good example of what needs to be done.
I will make only one point, on the question of whether a Member who leaves this House should be able to stand for the House of Commons. We discussed that in great detail, and my noble friend hit on that very important part in our report. We said that that should happen in a reformed House—with elected Members in this Chamber as well as in the other. That was the important point. As far as I was concerned, at the time in our deliberations, I wanted to make it for life. The lawyer said that that was impossible, as the Human Rights Act would make sure that that would be overturned anyway. I then tried to get 25 years and that was not acceptable. We ended up in our report with 10 years, and Nick Clegg put four years in his Bill. I have no worries whatsoever about the issue of Peers leaving this House under the unreformed arrangements now, although I would have worries if there were a substantial body of elected Peers in this House.
I wish the Bill all success; I need add nothing more.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Bill and the debate. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, whose report has undoubtedly stood the test of time. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for bringing a version of his Bill back at the sixth time of asking. Given that I stood at the Dispatch Box opposite at least a couple of times, when I led a rather less than enthusiastic response to his earlier efforts, I should put that right today by saying that the Opposition support the noble Lord’s Bill without hesitation.
I pay tribute also to my noble friend Lord Grenfell, who is a wonderful colleague, an outstanding parliamentarian and a superb internationalist. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that there should be an appropriate ceremony for departing Members of your Lordships’ House. As my noble friend Lord Grocott said, could there be any more magnificent way of leaving your Lordships’ House than the contribution made by my noble friend this morning?
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, who chaired the working party that brought proposals short of legislation for encouraging the retirement of noble Lords. At a stroke, he has increased our success rate by 33?%—from three to four. Nonetheless, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was unduly modest about his Bill in permitting resignations and dealing with convicted offenders. Rather, I see it as a critical foundation for further reform.
The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, asked whether the Labour Party has retreated from its belief in substantive reform. The answer is no—but that should not be at the expense of sensible, interim, incremental reform. As ever, my noble friend Lord Grocott spoke with great wisdom. When I was appointed to your Lordships’ House in 1997, I confidently told my wife that I would be here for no more than three or four years, because by then we would have an elected second Chamber. I have dabbled enough in Lords reform since to know that forecasting when substantive reform of your Lordships’ House will be achieved is a mug’s game. That is why I have come round to the view that we should support small steps taking place on a frequent basis. That would not interfere with or prohibit substantive change if that were to be proposed in due course.
Because I believe that incremental change has much to commend it, I would also commend the report of the working group of Labour Peers, which was chaired by my noble friends Lord Grenfell and Lady Taylor. The report is published today and is a very valuable contribution to the debate. It makes wide-ranging recommendations for a reduction in the numbers of noble Lords to 450 over time and retirement through both an age and minimum attendance record. It deserves to be widely discussed. It has to be seen in contrast to the Government’s apparent determination to increase the size of your Lordships’ House to a really ludicrous extent.
We are privileged that the noble Lord, Lord Hill, will be winding up for the Government. I would like him to confirm that another list is imminent and that, indeed, the coalition’s political majority will grow ever larger.
Noble Lords will know that the scale of government defeats in this Parliament is much less than in the previous Parliament. Does the noble Lord, Lord Hill, agree that this House is nothing unless it is a revising Chamber? Does he also agree that the major encouragement to the House in its role as a revising Chamber is the prospect of the Government being defeated? If the Government do not fear defeat, they are less likely to make the kind of concessions that your Lordships look for. As my noble friend Lord Howarth said, the House of Lords is at its best when a Minister has to win the argument.
I find it rather ironic that the contrast with the Government’s desire further to increase the size of the House is that actually we are going to sit for less and less time during the year. Where will it end? Will there be 1,000 Members, perhaps, sitting for less than half a year? The Leader of the House should come clean on that.
On the point that Meg Russell makes and the question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, I understand the point that is being raised. However, I do not share the concern that the House of Lords might become a training ground for aspirant MPs; if only. The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, put that very well indeed. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, I am certainly not aware of any intention by the Opposition to use your Lordships’ House in that way. I echo my noble friend Lord Haskel’s words of appreciation of Meg Russell and the Constitution Unit. We may disagree with her on this point, but no one can underestimate the extraordinarily valuable work that she and the Constitution Unit have done over the years: long may that continue.
I also thought that my noble friend Lord Davies of Stamford had a very interesting point to make with his concerns about the potential ill-use of Clause 3 in the circumstances that he raised. He does not seek to amend the Bill, but at some future point the issues he raised ought to be further discussed.
There is nothing more to say. On this side of the House we welcome the Bill and wish it a very speedy passage.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may seek clarification. I referred in my remarks to the report from the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. That has apparently been approved by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the shadow Justice Secretary, Mr Sadiq Khan, so presumably it is jolly far down the way of becoming Labour Party policy. Can he also comment on whether the account of those proposals in the paper today is accurate?
My Lords, the account was in the DailyTelegraph, so noble Lords will have to make their own judgment as to how accurate they think the DailyTelegraph is. As my noble friend Lord Grenfell has already made clear, this is a report by Labour Peers. It received a great deal of support at the meeting of Labour Peers on Wednesday. It is a contribution to the debate. I speak as deputy leader of our party in the House of Lords and I very much welcome the report and the recommendations that it makes. I believe that they are very sensible. They provide a solution to the interim problems that we face. In my view, they do not conflict with more substantive reform, when that comes.
My Lords, as we have heard, it is the sixth time that my noble friend Lord Steel has launched a Bill on House of Lords reform upon the waters. On previous occasions the winds have blown and the seas have been stormy; various pieces of ballast have had to be thrown overboard. Finally, we have the chance today to help my noble friend steer his Bill safely to harbour. The clear mood of this House is that we want to do so. We are all grateful to him for his perseverance. This time last year a very similar Bill fell in the other place. Having spoken to my noble friend after that, I am pretty sure that he was ready to throw in the towel.
One year on, the Government’s position on the need for more fundamental House of Lords reform has not changed; that is, in support of a largely elected House. I was not altogether clear from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, whether he was beginning a stately retreat from the opposition party’s position on the need for a reformed House. But we will see that in the fullness of time.
I cannot resist the temptation. I have made it absolutely clear that we are committed to substantive reform, but that should not be at the expense of sensible, moderate change, which is why we support the Bill.
We will see what happens in due course. However, I think that a number of the proposals sketched out in the DailyTelegraph, to which noble Lords have alluded, would not constitute in most people’s minds moderate reforms of the sort proposed by my noble friend Lord Steel, which, after much difficulty, we can now support. I think we are agreed that his proposals are modest and consensual.
Therefore, the only logical conclusion of what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has said, is that, should the party opposite gain office, it would bring forward a stream of legislation on House of Lords reform. That legislation would, first, seek to limit the size of the House, then propose a retirement scheme, before moving in short order to propose an elected House. We can all look forward to the possibility of a constant stream of constitutional reform from the party opposite.
However, so far as this Bill is concerned, which is what we are here to talk about today, I am extremely glad that the Government’s position on these provisions has changed and that I can support the Bill. I thank my noble friend and especially Mr Dan Byles, as we all have, who have helped us to get to this point. I also thank Mr Dan Byles for standing through our debate this morning.
As we have heard, this is a modest Bill, perhaps more modest than those on both wings of the debate might like. Nevertheless, it is a sensible Bill. I would like to say a few words about the three main provisions covering criminal convictions, non-attendance and retirement. The first provides for the expulsion from the House of Members convicted of a serious criminal offence and jailed for more than a year. This will not cover many Members, I hope, but it closes a loophole and is also of a piece with other steps that I have been keen to take, which help reinforce our commitment to the highest possible standards, and our determination to police ourselves effectively. I think that speaks to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather.
These steps have already included tightening up the Code of Conduct with the introduction of a new sanction which would enable the House to deny access to financial support and facilities to those whose behaviour falls below the standards we demand. I am extremely proud of the work of this House and the behaviour of noble Lords, but I am clear that we need to have a range of measures at our disposal so that we can take action against those who fall short. I shall continue to explore in the Privileges Committee, among other places, all options short of legislation which will help in this task. I agree with those who have said that the reputation of the many needs to be defended against the behaviour of the few. In that context, the measure in the Bill on criminal convictions is a welcome addition to the measures we have in our armoury.
The Bill’s second provision deals with Peers who do not attend the House. Of course, membership of our House is not full time, and nor should it be. One of our strengths is that Peers can bring up-to-date experience to bear from other walks of life. However, we support the intention of the Bill that Peers who never attend and have not sought leave of absence from this House should be permanently excluded.
The third provision concerns retirement. Under the Bill, retirement will be legally binding and irreversible. This seems to me a sensible step forward from the current voluntary scheme, of which the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, is to be only the fourth, and, I suspect, the last Member to take advantage. The warmth of the tributes we have heard today are the surest and most eloquent sign of the highest regard in which the noble Lord has been held throughout his 18 years in our House. I cannot add and improve on what has been said. However, the noble Lord hinted that he might pick up his pen yet again and add to the list of his novels which some noble Lords may have read—I think that one is entitled
Margot and another
The Gaz e l le
—which I am sure are available through Amazon at the same price as my own book, which is 1p. However, you do have to pay for postage. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, will clearly be sorely missed. It is impossible to mistake the genuine affection in all the comments made about him today.
If the Bill is passed, the next question is how we can encourage more noble Lords to take advantage of the retirement scheme. I should say straightaway that, as noble Lords know, I do not believe that any kind of financial incentive would be justifiable. As I have said before, I know that the group leaders and the Convenor strongly support this view. However, as many noble Lords have said in the course of our debate, I believe that we could do more to mark the permanent retirement of a Peer. We have heard several proposals this morning, including the introduction of a retirement ceremony in the Chamber, the farewell speech suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, tributes and various other suggestions. The Bill rightly leaves these matters for the House to decide. However, I strongly encourage noble Lords to let me have suggestions which we can look at in more detail. Then, with the help of the Clerk of the Parliaments and in consultation with the Lord Speaker, we could see what range of measures could be considered.
There has been a fair bit of discussion about the absence of a cooling-off period in the Bill. I probably do not need to add too much to what has been said, not least most recently by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. I think we are all clear that we do not expect this to be a practical problem. Our own Constitution Committee was very clear on that point and concluded that the Bill raised,
“no problems of constitutional concern”.
We do not accept that, without a mandatory minimum interval, this House would become a training ground for MPs. I do not believe that party leaders would be tempted by such a scheme, but, even more so, it seems to me unlikely that a Peer would want to resign from this place when the Bill makes it absolutely clear that they would never be able to come back, so it could not be a two-way journey between the two Houses. That said, I understand the concerns raised about it. Therefore, like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, I put on the record that, were that to become a problem in the future, we would want to review the situation. There is always an option to legislate to sort it out, should that be necessary.
My noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral raised the question of a fund for Peers who were no longer able to attend the House and who fell into hardship. There is absolutely nothing to stop noble Lords contributing to a pot of money for that purpose. I would not support taxpayers’ money being used for that on the same basis that I would not support it being used for some other kind of financial incentive. As regards where that idea has got to, my understanding is that as the fund could not be a charity, because the only beneficiaries would be Members of this House and because of other practical issues, the idea has slightly run into the sand. However, I would be very happy to discuss that further with my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, as I always am, if he would like to do so.
At the outset, my noble friend Lord Steel asked me to set out what the next practical steps would be in terms of setting up a scheme, if we pass the Bill, as I believe, and hope, that we will. There does not need to be a scheme as such; we would just need to take a number of relatively small practical steps of a housekeeping nature. For instance, in terms of retirement, we would need to consider abolishing the existing voluntary scheme in order to avoid any confusion. That is something we would take through the Procedure Committee. If we needed to bring in a procedure to allow incapacitated Peers to take retirement, that, again, would be a matter for the Procedure Committee. As regards the question around the retirement ceremony or other formal ways of marking the occasion, once we have worked up ideas, that, again, would be a matter for the Procedure Committee. As regards access to rights or privileges in the House—for example, being able to sit on the Steps of the Throne and the use of dining facilities—that would be a matter for the House Committee. However, I obviously undertake to discuss that with my noble friend Lord Steel to make sure that he knows the way in which we are taking it forward, and, with the help of the Clerk of the Parliaments, make sure that those things are done as speedily as is necessary once the Bill receives Royal Assent.
In a spirit of pragmatism, of which we have heard a lot this morning, I am delighted to support the Bill. I speak for the Government and, I believe, the whole House, in saying that we should seize the opportunity presented to us today and help my noble friend Lord Steel and his Bill finally reach dry land.
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I can be very brief because I am relieved to note that not a single speech was made against the Bill and not a single speech envisaged any amendments to the Bill—which would, of course, have the effect of killing it off. I am therefore absolutely delighted.
I was right, at the beginning, to anticipate the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who has delighted us all with his closing speech to the House. However, if I may pick up one point that he made, I look forward to being able to read the Labour Party report when it is available to the public, other than through the Daily Telegraph. He said that his report recommended that the Labour Party should adopt as its policy the appointment of a commission on the constitution. I have made exactly the same point to my own party, to people dealing with the referendum, and I would hope that we can get agreement on that. I am concerned not just about this House but about what is happening north of the border. I think that, post the referendum there in September, it really is important that we all turn our attention to the fact that we have developed constitutional arrangements higgledy-piggledy over the years, and we really ought to take a grip on this. This upper House could have a major role to play in the future, more quasi-federal constitution for the country as a whole. I very much welcome what he had to say.
A number of noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Davies, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather—said that the section on expulsion is too restrictive, and I have a lot of sympathy with what they said. I would just make the point that, as my noble friend Lord Cormack said, this is unfinished business. What we are doing here is introducing for the first time the capacity of the House to expel anybody. It is a first step, and if, in fact, in due course it is felt that it is not enough, we should look at this in both Houses to ensure that we can remove those who transgress the rules of the House or the law of the land.
My last point is to refer to the several Peers who expressed some concern about the memorandum from Dr Meg Russell. I have talked to her as well. I have a huge respect for the work that she has done—and, I hope, will continue to do—on Lords reform. However, I think that her concern on this matter of Peers standing for the House of Commons is misplaced. She refers to what happened in Canada. I can tell the House that it is true that at the last election in Canada, in 2011, two Senators did resign their seats in the Senate and stood for election to the House of Commons. Both failed to get elected and were reappointed to the Senate. However, as the Leader has pointed out, that is not possible here because Clause 4(8) makes it quite clear that once you leave this House, that is it: you cannot come back. I therefore hope that Members who were concerned about this matter can feel that the Canadian example is not one that will ever be followed here.
I am delighted, for the first time—well, for the sixth time, but on this occasion knowing that there is a good chance that we will see this Bill come into law—to beg to move.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
My Lords, the Leader has just reminded me that a couple of raisins and a nut should be available in the Bishops’ Bar. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn.