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8.45 pm

The second point is this. If we allow swapping of the kind that we are talking about, it will diminish the dignity and standing of the other place. As I want the dignity and standing of the other place to be enhanced whenever I have the opportunity to enhance it, I am happy to move amendment 60. Allowing such swapping would also, I suspect, diminish independence. One of the most important things is that Members of the other place have jolly little to gain prospectively, unless they hope to be Ministers.

Incidentally, I agree with the points made in a previous debate by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome. There is a powerful argument for saying that Members
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of the other place should not be Ministers, but that is a broader argument, which I suspect you do not want me to pursue now, Sir Michael. However, the point is that one does not wish to create in the other place any circumstances that could diminish the independence of mind of those who sit there. If their lordships think that by resigning they can come back to this place and perhaps occupy a prominent part in the affairs of this House, they may achieve great things, but that would diminish their independence, and I am very much against that.

I heard the Minister say earlier that there is nothing in clause 32 that is designed to benefit a particular person. I think that I know who that person is-Lord Mandelson, for whom in many ways, particularly because of his political skills, I have a great deal of admiration. However, he is a good case in point, because he has chosen to go to the House of Lords. It is not clear to me that we are doing him an injustice by preventing him from coming back here-and goodness knows, we do not want to create any further incentive, lest he should lose his remaining sense of independence. Although it is just possible that the clause was not crafted with Lord Mandelson in mind, if it is possible that it was, he is a good example of why we should not pass it.

My final point is that I think that either the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome or the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) is minded to press amendment 94 to a Division, which would be dependent on my not pressing amendment 60 to a Division. If I had the leave of the Committee to do so, I would be happy not to press the amendment standing in my name; and if you were minded to call amendment 94, Sir Michael, standing in the name of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, I would personally be happy to support it.

David Howarth: To deal with the final point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), I should like to seek the opportunity to press amendment 94 to the vote, if the occasion so arises. I also gratefully adopt his arguments for that amendment.

I would be surprised if the Government were to resist a five-year moratorium between resigning from the Lords and coming-or perhaps coming back-to this place. In the 2007 White Paper "The House of Lords: Reform", the Government said that the Wakeham commission and the Public Administration Committee had both recommended a 10-year waiting period, while the "Breaking the Deadlock" paper, which Members might remember, went for a five-year moratorium. The Government commented on those proposals and said that they were minded to agree with the five-year period. In the 2009 White Paper "An Elected Second Chamber", the Government also suggested a cooling-off period of five years, and seemed to accept the arguments in favour of that proposal that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just laid out.

In particular, the Government said that the House of Lords should not be used as a political base for a House of Commons career. The reasons for that are twofold. The first, as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham has said, is a matter of the dignity of the other place and of how it is regarded. The second is that relations between the two Houses
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would be enhanced if Members of the House of Lords were to go there in the knowledge that it was to be their political job for the foreseeable future to sit in the revising Chamber, to stick to their job, and not to harbour hopes of coming back to this House for a different role.

I, too, cannot speculate as to why the Government appear to have changed their mind about this matter. Perhaps it does involve the noble Lord Mandelson, or perhaps the House of Lords is teeming with potential Prime Ministers or potential Chancellors of the Exchequer-the convention being that those two offices may be held only in this House.

This leads us to another version of the first reason for a moratorium. That is that we do not want the House of Lords, whether appointed or elected, to be full of young men in a hurry-

Mr. Hogg: Your sort of age, David.

David Howarth: Well, "young" is a relative term. The average age in the House of Lords is 68.

We do not want the House of Lords to be full of people who have an eye to a future political career at very high level. It is a virtue of the present House of Lords, which I wish to preserve in any future reforms, that it consists of people of moderate, rather than overwhelming, political ambition-

Mr. Hogg: Stuffed full of Liberal Democrats.

David Howarth: That, of course, is another reason why the House of Lords is a splendid place, and its virtues should be preserved in any reform.

For all those reasons, I urge the Government to re-adopt this policy. I shall be fascinated to hear whether they have indeed done a U-turn on this matter, and to discover the reasons for that. With that, I shall conclude my remarks, but I repeat my request that, if possible, we vote on amendment 94.

Peter Bottomley: I suppose that I ought to declare that my wife sits in the House of Lords, although my remarks are not directed at her.

There might be a convention that the Prime Minister does not sit in the House of Lords, but-in answer to an obscure pub quiz question-it is less than 60 years since a Prime Minister did sit in the upper House.

I wonder whether we ought to have the same provision as that proposed in amendment 94 for ourselves. Perhaps we should say that no one may be appointed to the House of Lords for five years after ceasing to be a Member of Parliament. That would result in a convention, of which I would approve, that, were a Speaker to resign the speakership during a Parliament, they could continue to serve their constituents until the next election and become eligible to go to the House of Lords thereafter. However, that is slightly beside the point that we are considering at the moment.

I do not believe that permanent leave is desirable. I can think of one Member of the House of Lords who decided that he should not go on serving there and who took leave. Most of those in the House of Lords would like to have him back, however, and such people ought to be able to change their minds.

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On a separate issue, what would happen to Members of the House of Lords who ceased to be Members of the House of Lords, because their position had come to an end? That used to happen in the case of Law Lords and, certainly, of most bishops, unless they were appointed to the House of Lords as a life peer. Would a retired Law Lord be eligible to be elected to the House of Commons? Would a retired bishop who had had the seniority to get into the House of Lords be eligible to be elected to this House? That might be set down in statute, but I do not know the answer. We should perhaps consider these questions as though they applied to Members of the House of Commons going to the House of Lords as well as vice versa. There is a proper convention that we refer to the House of Lords as "the upper House" as well as "the other place". It is the upper House, but we ought not to think of this as one-way traffic. I believe that a five-year gap would be better than a 10-year gap, and if the Liberal amendment were pressed to a vote, I would support it.

Mr. Grieve: It has been a central feature of membership of the House of Lords in recent years that it carries with it a greater sign of independence from the constraints or pressures of Government or party. Generally, such a person may have had a distinguished career in this place first, but once they have gone to the other place, the implications are clear that their aspirations to the highest ministerial office disappear. I think that there has been a general view around the Chamber that that is a good thing.

I do not wish to take up too much of the Committee's time on the generality of the clause, because we will have a separate stand part debate, but may I say simply that the principle that a person may resign from the House of Lords and subsequently, according to choice, disclaim their peerage-it is a matter for them-is a novelty, irrespective of whether safeguards are introduced to prevent somebody using the House of Lords as an antechamber to entering this place. That has given me some anxiety, which is substantially curable if the amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), or the Liberal Democrat amendment, is accepted. On that basis, if the Liberal Democrats press amendment 94 to a vote, we will support them. It is essential to have a mechanism to ensure that a person cannot use an appointment to the House of Lords as an antechamber to a political career in this place.

The issue goes further than that. I would be grateful if the Minister corrected me if I have got it wrong, but it seems to me that nothing in the system of resignation under clause 32 would prevent such events happening on a multiplicity of occasions. The Prime Minister could promote a person to the House of Lords as a Minister-the current Prime Minister has appointed 11 since he came to office; they are the ones known mainly as GOATs-and if the Bill were passed on the last day of this Parliament, one could envisage them deciding to resign their peerage, standing for election to the House, and if elected, having a career. The Prime Minister could then say on a whim, "Actually you would be much more useful to me in the House of Lords at the moment. I am going to make you a peer." As the Minister knows, under the current untrammelled patronage enjoyed by the Prime Minister, that would happen automatically. They could go back to the House of Lords, and perhaps take on a
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new peerage title. In the case of the noble Lord Mandelson of Foy in the county of Herefordshire and Hartlepool in the county of Durham, he might have to find a couple of other places where he has placed his seat at various times-

David Howarth: Brussels.

Mr. Grieve: That is a possibility. Queen Anne's Gate also springs to mind. I am afraid that I cannot remember the place where he bought the flat under mortgage, but I think it was somewhere in Notting Hill, so that could creep into his title too. After another period in the House of Lords, he could decide to resign under the provisions, because multiple resignations are not prohibited. Not prohibiting multiple resignations is a lacuna in the Bill, to which the other place might have to return.

Having listened to the debate, which has latched on to the key issues, I am minded to urge my colleagues to support amendment 94. If amendment 94 fails to get the necessary support, my judgment is that we should oppose clause stand part. If the choice is between prohibiting resignation altogether, and a situation in which permitting resignation would allow the practices that I have outlined, I much prefer to stick to the current rules, which make resignation impossible. It is, after all, currently regarded as a life sentence and, apart from misbehaviour, I cannot think of a particularly good reason why that should not continue. However, I recognise that there has been an argument put forward in favour of resignation as it would enable those who feel that their useful time in the House of Lords has come to an end to go, thereby freeing up a place that might be taken more sensibly by somebody younger. That is the only argument that seems to me to have any validity.

9 pm

Mr. Hogg: That of course can be dealt with by taking leave of absence.

Mr. Grieve: Indeed it can, which is why my right hon. and learned Friend's amendment would be adequate. For exactly the same reasons as he has given, the Liberal Democrat amendment puts the Government on the spot, partly because it strikes me as being so reasonable. One could argue for 10 years without any great difficulty. We have to make absolutely sure that the sort of prime ministerial patronage that can allow somebody to maintain their career by bouncing down the Corridor from one end to the other is undesirable and should be stopped. If at the end of the day the price to be paid for achieving that is to get rid of clause 32 entirely, at present we would do that. If amendment No. 94 is not carried, we will certainly seek to delete the clause in its entirety.

Mr. Wills: We have had an interesting debate and it will not surprise hon. Members to hear me say that we will ask the Committee not to support the amendments. We ask for the amendment to be withdrawn, although I do not suppose that it will be.

I want to deal with the various points that have been made and then deal with a point of principle as to why we are objecting. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said that,
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unless the amendments were accepted, the status of the second Chamber would be diminished. His colleague, the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley), made the opposite point; he did not see why the movement of a Member from this place to the other place diminished the position of this place. He is absolutely right. A Member of the other place wanting to come here does not diminish the status of the second Chamber-it has a discrete and different function-any more than a Member of this place moving to the other place, as many have done over the years, diminishes the status of this place. Those individuals are at a different stage of their life and are seeking fulfilment in public service in a different way. That is the function of the two different Chambers.

Peter Bottomley: The Minister is taking my argument in a direction that I had not intended; he is right to do so. People cannot stay here for more than five years as their term expires. Parliaments expire; I stop being an MP when they expire. People who go to the other place can stay there for life. That is a difference.

Mr. Wills: It is a difference and I am grateful for the elucidation, but I do not accept that it diminishes the status of the second Chamber.

More generally, almost every Member who has spoken in favour of the amendments has made broadly the same point, which has then been amplified into a great frolicking fantasy by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) about Members switching endlessly between the two Houses. This is a serious point; we certainly do not want to see the sort of situation to which he referred, in which one House is used as an antechamber for the other. These two Houses have discrete and important functions and should be treated with equal dignity and respect. He is right to draw attention to any such risk but I simply do not believe that that will happen.

Most Members come to the appointed and partially hereditary Chamber at the end of a long and distinguished career in public service. I believe that the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) suggested in an intervention that the average age for someone's doing so is the late 60s. That is the position so, with all due respect, I must say that it is fanciful to think that there will be many, if any, Members of the other place who will use these provisions to resign and stand for election in this place. The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe he said that the debate has latched on absolutely to the main issues. To a large extent that is true, but he has missed out the most fundamental issue and the most fundamental guarantee. [Interruption.] I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who has suddenly turned up to hear-

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Your peroration.

Mr. Wills: Most grateful I am too. The fundamental guarantee is the British electorate. [Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. and learned Gentleman is laughing at his voters. That is not necessarily wise in view of an imminent general election, so I suggest that he just listens to this point. If somebody resigns from the other place to take advantage of these provisions and stand for election to this place, they will be judged by the electors. I have no doubt that if, as he fears,
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people were shamelessly to use the other place as an antechamber-those were his words-for this place, they would be judged harshly by the voters in the constituency for which they are standing.

Mr. Grieve: That guarantee does not seem to amount to very much. Does the Minister not see that the Bill contains no provision to prevent multiple resignations? If he wished to stop that practice, one mechanism that he could use-even without resort to amendment 94-would be to say that someone can resign from the House of Lords only once. Even that is not in this Bill, so someone can resign from the Lords as many times as they have been appointed to it. The Prime Minister's powers of patronage are infinite, so why not do something about it to provide reassurance?

Mr. Wills: I was coming to just that point. I have heard no good reason why Members of the other place should be treated differently from every other politician in public life, and indeed everyone else in public life. They are all entitled to resign without being subject to the cooling-off periods being proposed in these amendments. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman is so derisive of the voice of the electorate in this matter. I have no doubt that if the sort of scenario-he might wish to listen to this-that he has been conjuring up were to arise, the voters of the constituency for which that individual was standing would judge that individual harshly. The vote is the single most important guarantor of our liberties and our constitutional freedoms yet devised, and I am sorry that he takes it so lightly.

Mr. Heath: I would like the Minister to explain one simple fact. The argument that he is putting forward is the diametric opposite of what the Lord Chancellor put forward as an argument in the all-party talks on the future of the House of Lords. In those talks, we had a consensus on the merit of having a period when a person who had resigned from the House of Lords was not able to stand for election to this House. Why is the Minister putting forward the opposite argument to that advanced by his Secretary of State?

Mr. Wills: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, although I will not be standing for election again and in a few months' time I will never again be seen at this Dispatch Box, my comments reflect the current views of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Grieve: In France, it is rather normal to go from the National Assembly to the Senate and back again; it is done as a matter of routine. Once one starts corrupting the electorate's expectations so that they accept something as the norm, one gets away with it. As we do not think that such actions should happen, why do we not legislate to make sure that they do not?

Mr. Wills: I have been a Front Bencher for some considerable time, and I have heard the hon. and learned Gentleman level all manner of accusations at the Government, but he has never yet accused us of trying to replicate the French model of government. There is a first time for everything. May I just assure him that we are not seeking to replicate such a system?

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