Clause 2 - Maximum number of new peers

House of Lords Reform (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 am on 15th January 2014.

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Photo of Dan Byles Dan Byles Conservative, North Warwickshire 9:00 am, 15th January 2014

I beg to move amendment 5, in clause 2, page 1, line 12, leave out ‘peer who’ and insert

‘member of the House of Lords who is a peer and’.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Leader of the House of Commons

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 6, in clause 2, page 1, line 14, leave out ‘Subsection (1) applies’ and insert

‘A peer “does not attend the House of Lords during a Session”’.

Amendment 7, in clause 2, page 1, line 15, leave out

‘did not attend at any time during the Session’ and insert

‘at no time during the Session attended the House’.

Amendment 8, in clause 2, page 1, line 18, at end insert—

‘( ) Subsection (1) does not apply to a peer in respect of attendance during a Session if—

(a) the peer was disqualified from sitting or voting in the House, or suspended from its service, for the whole of the Session, or

(b) the House resolves that subsection (1) should not apply to the peer by reason of special circumstances.’.

Amendment 9, in clause 2, page 1, line 19, after ‘of’ insert ‘attendance during’.

Amendment 10, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, leave out ‘from’ and insert

‘in respect of attendance during’.

Amendment 11, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, at end insert ‘and subsequent Sessions’.

Amendment 27, in clause 5, page 3, line 3, leave out

‘, and shall not be questioned in a court of law’.

Photo of Dan Byles Dan Byles Conservative, North Warwickshire

Clause 2 makes provision for persistent non-attenders to be expelled from the House of Lords. It will apply only if the Lord Speaker certifies that the peer did not attend at any time during a specified  Session and that they did not have leave of absence during that Session. The provision will not apply if the Session is shorter than six months, and there is a general provision to allow the House to disregard disqualification on the grounds of non-attendance.

Receiving a peerage is a great privilege, and with it comes a significant responsibility to make an active and constructive contribution to the business of Parliament. Absentee Members who fail to attend are not fulfilling their duty to the House, so it is right that they should lose their membership of the House as a result. In addition, removing those who do not contribute to the work of the House will help to enhance the House’s reputation as a hard-working body.

I wanted to be sure that the provision would not punish those who faced ill health or a temporary change in circumstances. In such cases, peers will be able to apply for leave of absence, meaning that they will not fall foul of the clause. In addition, the House will have the discretion to disregard disqualification on the grounds of non-attendance to deal with situations in which peers are unable to attend or unable to apply for a leave of absence. The example given on Second Reading was that of a peer who might be taken as a prisoner of war.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee noted that the evidence it received demonstrated that there was broad support for tackling persistent non-attendance in the House. It acknowledged that there were a number of ways to deal with non-attendance, but gave its support for a similar formulation to the one the Bill proposes.

Amendment 5 specifically clarifies who is regarded as a Member of the House of Lords for the purposes of the Bill. Amendments 6, 7 and 9 to 11 clarify what constitutes attendance for the purposes of the Bill. Amendment 8 provides that if a peer is disqualified for a whole Session, such as because they are serving as a Member of the European Parliament, they will not lose their membership, given that they cannot seek leave of absence during such a temporary disqualification. It would clearly be unfair for peers in such circumstances to lose their membership owing to non-attendance.

Amendment 8 will also allow the House to disregard disqualification for non-attendance to allow for situations in which a peer is perhaps being held as a prisoner of war, or is for some other reason unable to apply for a leave of absence. That would also resolve the problem that could otherwise arise in which the House of Lords decided not to disqualify somebody who was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment by a foreign court—I shall talk about that shortly—but if that imprisonment meant that they could be disqualified for non-attendance. If it is clearly the will of the House of Lords that a Member should not be disqualified, the amendment provides for the ability to disregard. In addition, it could apply if a peer was suspended for part of a Session, but did not attend the rest of the Session. The House would be able to consider the relative lengths of the two periods when deciding whether the peer should lose their membership. It is clearly desirable that the House is given flexibility to deal with special circumstances in which it would be unfair to revoke an individual’s membership.

Amendment 27 removes an unnecessary reference to proceedings of the House being questioned in a court of law. Matters of parliamentary privilege do not need to be expressly stated in legislation not to be justiciable.  The privileges of Parliament are an integral part of our constitutional arrangements and I am committed to ensuring that the Bill does not intrude upon Parliament’s exclusive cognisance. Following careful consideration of the helpful remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) on Second Reading, I have concluded that the inclusion of a reference to certificates not being questioned in a court of law could invite examination, discussion and judgment from sources external to Parliament. The inclusion of the phrase might also cast doubt on Bills that do not include such wording. The retention or inclusion of such a provision could prompt unhelpful rulings by the courts regarding the nature or extent of privilege, or interaction with other statutes.

I have received advice from Sir Robert Rogers, the Clerk of the House, about whether the term “proceedings” should be defined in the Bill. He advised against it, as it is fraught with difficulty, as indeed he pointed out in his evidence to the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege last year.

As specifying a definition is bound to exclude some aspects of Parliament’s work, and given that it is impossible to safeguard against that, such an approach might erode the common law on parliamentary privilege. I am confident that Members will share my desire to protect Parliament’s right to regulate its own affairs and, as provided for in the Bill of Rights, not to have its proceedings questioned. I am equally confident that the way in which that can be ensured in the context of the Bill is by removing the reference to certificates not being questioned in a court of law.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform)

The Bill is designed in part to stem the rapid growth of the membership of the second Chamber. Clearly, there are only two ways in which that can be done. One is to appoint fewer peers—perhaps the Minister will take that message back to the Prime Minister—but that is outside the scope of the Bill. The second is to allow existing Members to avail themselves of an opportunity to leave the House, and the clause deals with that approach intelligently.

I congratulate the promoter of the Bill on bringing forward amendments that meet most of those concerns expressed on Second Reading and that provide, as he said, flexibility in some of the special circumstances that he outlined. On that basis, we support the amendments.

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby that the amendments are sensible. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire for taking the advice of senior colleagues and adjusting the Bill accordingly. His amendments will tighten up some of the definitions in the Bill. They provide for appropriate flexibility in the interpretation of non-attendance. Clearly, it would be unconscionable if a Member lost their membership because they were prevented from attending for very good reasons, so we support amendment 8.

We also support amendment 27, which removes the reference to proceedings not being questioned in a court of law. As my hon. Friend has proposed from the outset, the Bill makes sensible rather than revolutionary  changes, and it was not his intention to set out wording that could cause great contention. In my experience, the advice of Sir Robert Rogers is always wise, so I am delighted that my hon. Friend has followed it. The Government support the amendments.

Amendment 5 agreed to.

Amendments made: 6, in clause 2, page 1, line 14, leave out ‘Subsection (1) applies’ and insert

‘A peer “does not attend the House of Lords during a Session”’.

Amendment 7, in clause 2, page 1, line 15, leave out

‘did not attend at any time during the Session’

and insert

‘at no time during the Session attended the House’.

Amendment 8, in clause 2, page 1, line 18, at end insert—

‘( ) Subsection (1) does not apply to a peer in respect of attendance during a Session if—

(a) the peer was disqualified from sitting or voting in the House, or suspended from its service, for the whole of the Session, or

(b) the House resolves that subsection (1) should not apply to the peer by reason of special circumstances.’.

Amendment 9, in clause 2, page 1, line 19, after ‘of’ insert ‘attendance during’.

Amendment 10, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, leave out ‘from’ and insert

‘in respect of attendance during’.

Amendment 11, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, at end insert ‘and subsequent Sessions’.—(Dan Byles.)

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.