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26 Jan 2010 : Column 754

Without clause 31, the House of Lords is unable to expel one of its Members, regardless of any crime or misconduct that they may have committed. I am sure that you will agree, Sir Michael, that that is an invidious and untenable situation, and that the clause is necessary. I therefore ask that it stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Heath: I have two quick questions for the Minister. One is about offences that are committed outside the UK and for which sentences are given and served outside the UK. I understand why the relevant provision is in the Bill and do not argue with it, and I note the capacity in schedule 4 for a resolution to be passed effectively to annul the results of a finding of guilt in a foreign jurisdiction. However, I hope that the Minister will consider whether there should be some notion of dual criminality so that, to be covered, the action must be an offence in the UK as well as in the other jurisdiction. It seems surprising that a person found guilty of some supposed offence in another jurisdiction that is not an offence in the UK could come back here to find that their membership of the House of Lords had been forfeited as a result, and that they had to wait for a resolution of the House to have their position vindicated or otherwise. That is a slightly long-winded way of dealing with something that ought to be clear-cut.

My other question-I hope that the Minister is listening, despite his conversation with you, Sir Michael. It is rather pointless my standing up and making comments on clause stand part if the Minister is not listening to what I am saying. I hope that he is.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): I am not sure that it was totally clear what the hon. Gentleman was saying. Could he possibly say it again quite briefly for the Minister?

Mr. Heath: I hoped that I had made myself clear, but just in case the Minister did not get the full purport of what I was saying, it was about the question of dual criminality. I was asking whether a so-called offence committed outside the UK that is not an offence here should be dealt with by automatic forfeiture of membership of the House of Lords and then have to be overturned by a resolution, or whether the Bill should simply state that to qualify it must be an offence both in the UK and in the foreign jurisdiction. That is what we often state in legislation dealing with overseas jurisdictions.

The second question that I wish to put to the Minister is about clause 31(8), which I do not believe he mentioned specifically. It states:

What is that "other provision" that the Minister envisages? If Standing Orders of the other place are to be made on the basis of the Bill, the Lords will want to know what that might entail. I would have thought that a simple suspension or expulsion resolution would be appropriate, and that it would not be appropriate to add other things that Members of another place might think appropriate punishments for whatever the perceived crime might be. From my experience of another place, they might be remarkably inventive in finding appropriate punishments to add to the charge list in a resolution. Will the Minister therefore explain what that subsection means?

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Mr. Hogg: I shall speak to clause 31. I have two points to make about it, and I am looking at the Minister and hoping that he will be able to concentrate on the points that I make. I mean no discourtesy in saying that, because I know that he was taking advice earlier, as I often had to do when I was in his position.

The expulsion and suspension resolutions are set out in clause 31(2)(a) and (3)(a) respectively. There are two elements involved in them: first, that the peer in question must have acted in a disreputable manner, and secondly and differently, that the disreputable conduct of that person must have brought the House of Lords into disrepute. Both elements have to be satisfied before a resolution can be made.

One need only examine that proposition to see that it may be expressed somewhat unsatisfactorily. I can well contemplate circumstances in which a Member of the other House has behaved in a disreputable way, but that conduct is very much personal to him or herself and cannot sensibly be said to bring the House into disrepute. They are separate things. They may be linked, and disreputable conduct may bring the House into disrepute, but it does not necessarily do so. Under the current phraseology, unless both elements are satisfied, the suspension or expulsion resolution cannot be made. I wonder whether that is right, and I therefore suggest that the Minister look again at the phraseology that defines the criteria giving rise to the resolution. I suggest that he question whether the two things should be disjoined so that disreputable conduct that does not bring the House into disrepute would be grounds for a suspension or expulsion. There can be a legitimate debate about that, but that the issue arises seems clear, and it should be addressed.

Secondly and rather differently, I should like to say something about the circumstances in which the resolution can be made. The Minister will know that I tabled an amendment-amendment 45-which for good reason was not selected for debate. Under that proposal, one third of those qualified to vote would be required to vote in favour of a resolution before it could become effective; in other words, there would be a weighted vote. As I understand it, the amendment was not selected because that is a matter for the Standing Orders of the other place, and it would be improper for the Committee so to regulate, which I am happy to accept.

However, the point that troubles me is this: we must consider concepts of natural justice, and there is a possibility that a party with a majority in the other place, or in this place for that matter, could act in an arbitrary manner. After all, a suspension or expulsion resolution would bear very heavily on the reputation of the individual concerned-moreover, it might affect that person's livelihood in a fairly dramatic fashion-and it is therefore right that that power should have some constraints. It is worth reminding ourselves that, for example, criminal cases, generally speaking, require a unanimous verdict; even when they do not, they require the verdict of 10 jurors.

The resolution that we are contemplating would be made simply on a bare majority, but is that in itself right? I am far from certain that it is, which gives rise to the question whether the other place should, if it comes to consider the way in which it operates, consider questions of natural justice and set out in Standing Orders either the degree of notice that should be given to the House,
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so that the Government or whoever cannot act arbitrarily, or that there should be a weighted vote, so that a very substantial number of those entitled to vote do so. Otherwise, we are exposing people to the risk of arbitrary action that bears very heavily upon them.

8.30 pm

Mrs. Laing: The Conservatives are very much in favour of the Government's proposals in clauses 30 and 31, and schedule 4, because democracy depends on accountability, which in turn requires sanctions. It is astounding that it is only at this stage in the development of our democracy that such sanctions are being introduced. I cannot blame the current Government for that, because that development has been going on for centuries, but I am pleased that we have such measures before us now. They are right not just because of the examples that we have seen in recent months, but because, as a matter of principle, it is right that such sanctions are in place. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Leader of the Opposition, has made it clear on many occasions in recent months that he thoroughly supports the Government's proposals. He has also made it clear that if they did not take action, any future Conservative Government would do so. I am therefore pleased that they are taking action today.

I share the concerns of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). For the sake of brevity, I shall not repeat what they said-the Minister is already preparing to answer the questions they put to him. I was concerned about convictions outwith the United Kingdom, but I am reasonably satisfied that schedule 4(9) takes those matters into consideration. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome has ensured that the Minister is considering the matter and I am sure that the latter will give us a clear answer in a few minutes.

Sufficient safeguards should be in place so that all the circumstances surrounding whatever accusations a Member of the House of Lords faces are considered. Evidence should be taken and the matter should be fully examined by the House. Otherwise, we will not have an open, fair and just system. I remind the Minister-although I am sure he needs no reminding-and the Committee that in circumstances such as those we are discussing, justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done. I hope that the question of justice being seen to be done also encompasses the concerns expressed during this short debate, and I am sure that the Minister will be able to address them.

I entirely agree with the Minister on retrospectivity; it is vital that we do not introduce rules that are retrospective and therefore unfair. I am sure that the Minister is about to address the few concerns that have been expressed. I hope that he will convince the Committee that the provisions should be added to the Bill and we will in that case support them.

Mr. Wills: There is a broad measure of agreement on these provisions, but I shall briefly address the points that have been raised.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) raised specific concerns about dual criminality. As he will be aware, the provisions essentially reflect those that are already in place for this Chamber. He made the
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helpful suggestion that we should include only acts that are offences in the United Kingdom, but that would not catch a disproportionality in sentencing. It would include the category of offence, but in many jurisdictions offences are treated very differently. That is why it is important that the other place should have discretion in that area.

Mr. Heath: I appreciate that disproportionality of sentence would not be caught, and it is right that the House of Lords should address that by resolution, but it seems inappropriate that there should be any question of forfeiture for something that is not a crime in the United Kingdom. I was asking only that the Minister consider that point and whether an amendment could be tabled to deal with that circumstance.

Mr. Wills: Our view is that that is for the other place to decide. I am sure that Members there will read the report of our proceedings and will take that point into account. I found the hon. Gentleman's points eminently reasonable and I am sure that the other place will take the same view of them.

The hon. Gentleman asked specifically what the words "other provision" in clause 31(8) might mean. Simply put, that would enable the House to include further matters in the resolution, such as a description of the peer's offence.

The right hon. and learned Member for Grantham-

Mr. Hogg: That is Quentin Davis!

Mr. Wills: I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon. He raised two important points, one of which I hope I have already dealt with. He made an important distinction between personally disreputable behaviour and behaviour that brings the House into disrepute. Again, it is a matter for the other place to judge on a case-by-case basis. I am sure that it will take note of what he has said, because there is an important distinction. I think that the clause catches that and allows the other place appropriate discretion, and I hope that that reassures him. We are happy to listen to further representations on the point and, if necessary, we will make adjustments.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman then raised a fundamental point about natural justice in the operation of the procedure. It is important to be reminded of that. I think that both Houses have behaved properly at all times and there has been no evidence-that I can think of-of such behaviour taking place. However, he is right to alert us to the risk of its taking place at some point in future. I hope that I can offer him some reassurance in the fact that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has considered this and felt that it was compatible with natural justice and the principles of common law. However, for reasons to which he alluded, it is not appropriate for this House to stipulate such things. In any event, his point is well made and I am sure that the other place will take account of it.

Finally, I wish to draw the Committee's attention to the fact that schedule 4 contains various supplementary provisions that set out the consequences of removing hereditary and life peers on the number of accepted hereditary peers remaining in the House; in relation to the right of life peers to vote and stand in elections to the Commons; and the eligibility of both hereditary and life peers for membership of the House of Lords. None of those provisions has any retrospective effect.

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I hope that those remarks have reassured Members and that the Committee will feel able to agree the provisions.

Peter Bottomley: May I add a word, Sir Michael? It might be useful if the other place could consider adding the words "the disreputable" between "that" and "conduct" in clause 31(2)(b), which would allow paragraph (a) to be left out completely. In effect, the condition would be: "that the disreputable conduct warrants the loss of the person's entitlement". That would get rid of any unnecessary excuses from any Member of the other place who might be involved.

The last suggestion that I want to put in the Minister's mind, although it does not particularly follow from today's debate, is that it would seem to be a double penalty on a Member of the other place were a judge to say that an ordinary person, having been convicted of an offence, should be sentenced to nine months in jail, but that a Member of the other place be sentenced to 15 months. One needs to be aware of that possibility.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Second Deputy Chairman: On reflection, it has been thought that amendment 94 should join the next group of amendments.

Clause 32

Resignation from the House of Lords

Mr. Hogg: I beg to move amendment 60, page 16, line 39, leave out 'resign' and insert

The Second Deputy Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 61, page 16, line 40, leave out 'resigns' and insert 'obtains such leave'.

Amendment 62, page 16, line 40, leave out 'of the peer's resignation'.

Amendment 63, page 16, line 42, leave out 'resigning peer' and insert 'peer seeking permanent leave'.

Amendment 64, page 17, line 3, leave out 'resigning'.

Amendment 65, page 17, line 3, at end insert

'confirming the grant of permanent leave of absence.'.

Amendment 66, page 17, line 4, leave out 'resignation' and insert 'permanent leave'.

Amendment 94, page 17, line 4, at end insert-

'(6) A person who has resigned from the House of Lords under this section may not be nominated for election to the House of Commons for a period of five years after the certificate takes effect.'.

Mr. Hogg: Amendments 60 to 66 originally stood in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), who unhappily is in Northern Ireland today, for which he wishes to express his apologies to the Committee. However, I was pleased to add my name to the amendments, because I had in fact put down one similar to Liberal Democrat amendment 94. I therefore had no difficulty in supporting my hon. Friend.

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Amendments 60 to 66 would prevent a Member from resigning from the other place so as to be eligible to stand for election to the House of Commons. By taking leave of absence, a peer would remain a peer, albeit one not able to attend the other place for the period of the leave of absence. My hon. Friend and I had the following broad motivations: first, I observe generally that one should encourage peers who feel that they are getting old to take a leave of absence, because there are far too many peers of a certain age in the other place, which is now very heavily populated. As has been said, there are too many peers of the realm, and a leave of absence would diminish their number.

Secondly, I want to address the question whether it is right for a peer to cease to be an effective peer for the purposes of standing as a Member in this House. On that, I share the view of the Liberal Democrats; I do not think that it is right. Or at least it might be desirable to have a gap of five years in the circumstances set out in amendment 94, which I shall support if it is put to a Division.

Mr. Heath: The right hon. and learned Gentleman may like to know that in the cross-party discussions on the future of the House of Lords, all parties agreed that it is undesirable for people to move from a reconstituted House of Lords to the House of Commons without an intermediate break.

Mr. Hogg: Indeed, that is why I originally tabled my own amendment, why I am happy to support the Liberal Democrat amendment and why I feel comfortable with amendments 60 to 66.

One could advance several arguments in support of what the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) has just said. First, one would not be doing an injustice to any peer, because under the current composition of the other place, everyone sitting there is a volunteer: they are either hereditary peers who have chosen to stay on as one of the 90, or they have accepted a life peerage. So they are all volunteers. That is different from the situation before-I think-the Peerage Act 1963, when Anthony Wedgwood Benn, and, for that matter, my father, were obliged to go to the House of Lords. Therefore a nobility was created to be disclaimed, thus enabling them to come back here, but they were not volunteers; they were protesters who did not want to be in the House of Lords, so there is a difference in kind. Every Member of the House of Lords now is a volunteer.

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