With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out ‘retirement or’.
Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, leave out ‘Retirement or resignation’ and insert ‘Resignation’.
New clause 1—Interpretation—
‘(1) For the purposes of this Act a person is a member of the House of Lords if the person is entitled to receive writs of summons to attend that House.
(2) In determining whether a person is so entitled, ignore—
(a) section 2 of the Forfeiture Act 1870 (disqualification on conviction of treason);
(b) sections 426A and 427 of the Insolvency Act 1986 (disqualification on insolvency);
(c) regulation 4 of the European Parliament (House of Lords Disqualification) Regulations 2008 (S.I. 2008/1647) (disqualification where MEP).
(3) In this Act “peer” includes a person upon whom a dignity has been conferred by virtue of appointment as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary.’.
Amendment 28, in title, line 1, leave out ‘retirement’ and insert ‘resignation’.
It is an honour and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea.
The clause, as amended, would provide peers with an honourable and dignified resignation and retirement mechanism if they no longer felt able to serve the House. Serving in the House of Lords is a duty, but it should never feel like a life sentence. Members might have legitimate reasons for wishing to resign their post, such as if they were suffering from a serious long-term illness, so provision must be made for them to be able to do so. As the Leader’s Group on Members Leaving the House observed in 2011:
“For a conscientious member who has played a full role in Parliament, and takes his or her commitment to the House seriously, an honourable release from obligation could be welcome.”
Although there is a voluntary retirement mechanism, as of July 2013, only three Members had taken advantage of it, two of whom had not attended the House for some years. The broad consensus in the written evidence received by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee as part of its inquiry into reform of the Lords was that the voluntary retirement scheme had not been effective and had had no notable impact. In addition, while a leave of absence was introduced in 1958 to address concerns of low and non-attendance, it has not met its objective.
The clause as a whole will, for the first time, provide a formal statutory mechanism for peers to retire or otherwise resign if they no longer feel able to serve the House. Amendment 1 and new clause 1 are simply technical measures to clarify who is regarded as a Member of the House of Lords for the purpose of the Bill. They make it clear that those who are temporarily disqualified, such as because they are serving as Members of the European Parliament, are also included in the definition. They also set out that the Bill applies to Law Lords, which is essential, because their exact status under the 19th century Act that created them is vague.
Amendments 2 to 4 and 28 are drafting amendments that aim to simplify the wording of the Bill. The legal definition of “resignation” includes retirement, so there is no need to include references to “retirement” separately throughout the Bill. It is appropriate in terms of terminology, however, for peers to be aware that they may either retire or resign, which is why the reference is retained in clause 1(1).
I shall endeavour to match the admirable brevity of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. I reinforce what he said about it being a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the Bill and its success in achieving its Second Reading and getting into Committee. I reaffirm the support of the official Opposition for this private Member’s Bill.
Let me take this opportunity to reinforce what my hon. Friend the shadow Attorney-General said on Second Reading: we regard the Bill as sensible—in a sense, it is a housekeeping Bill—and modest, but nevertheless important. I put on record that we reaffirm our commitment to more far-reaching, democratic reform of the second Chamber, but I absolutely accept that the Bill does not prejudge that and that that is an issue for another day.
The clause is sensible and necessary. Without it, there would be a real risk that we would be heading towards an upper House with as many as 1,000 Members, which would be utterly indefensible. I therefore reaffirm our support for the clause and the sensible amendments proposed by the hon. Gentleman.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire on the drafting of the Bill and on bringing it to this stage of its proceedings. A degree of consensus is already breaking out in the room, as befits the Bill. It contains a set of modest proposals for sensible changes that I think will command the support of people not only in both Houses of Parliament, but throughout the country. I am conscious that some of the changes have been debated in the House of Lords, and I know that one of the sponsors of a predecessor Bill, Lord Steel, is in attendance at our proceedings today—it is good to see him in the Gallery.
As the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby said, the amendments make a sensible clarification. It is always good in Committee to simplify still further what is quite a simple Bill, and since the concept of retirement is included a resignation, it makes sense to simplify the Bill in such a way. The proposals have the support of the Government.