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Clause 3 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 33

Disclaimer of peerage

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

9.45 pm

Mr. Wills: The clause allows former Members of the House of Lords who have been removed under the provisions of clause 30, in other words by disqualification, expulsion or resignation, to disclaim their peerage. Currently, because life peers remain Members of the House for their lifetime and cannot voluntarily relinquish their seat or be removed except by an Act of Parliament, there is no provision for them to disclaim their peerage. As the Bill creates the right for both hereditary and life peers to leave the House voluntarily by resignation, it is fair that that right should be accompanied by the option to disclaim a peerage.

As the Bill creates new powers of removal by non-voluntary means through automatic disqualification and expulsion, it is logical to extend the right of disclaimer to peers in those groups, too. The mechanism for disclaimer is set out in subsections (3) to (5). A former Member is required to give notice to the Lord Chancellor, and then the disclaimer will take effect upon his or her signing a certificate of receipt of that notice. As the Keeper of the Great Seal by which letters patent are issued to individuals elevated to the peerage, it is appropriate that the function in question be conferred on the office of Lord Chancellor.

The effect of disclaimer is set out at subsections (7) and (8). Life and hereditary peers are to be divested of all interests in the peerage and the titles, offices and privileges connected to it, as well as being relieved of all
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obligations and disabilities arising from it, one of which is of course the bar on voting or standing in elections to the House of Commons. I am sure that you will agree, Sir Michael, that it is only right that Members of the House of Lords are able to disclaim their peerage if they no longer intend or are able to sit as a Member.

Mrs. Laing: The Minister has explained very well why it is necessary to have clause 33, and I do not disagree with him. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)-he has been in his place all day, and now he is not-made a distinction earlier between what he described as "volunteer peers" and those who have the peerage thrust upon them. He is well qualified to address the matter.

My right hon. and learned Friend was absolutely correct in saying that there has to be a mechanism whereby someone can choose not to be a peer. In any other walk of life we believe in choice and the freedom of the individual, so it would simply be wrong to force a particular role in life on someone, even if it might appear to be a great honour, if they did not wish to take on that honour and the responsibilities and duties that come with it. We entirely see that the clause is necessary, so we support the Government on it.

Dr. Tony Wright: If ever there were a demonstration of the need to go further than the clauses in the Bill, it is clause 33. It is sensible for someone departing from the House of Lords to renounce their title, but we all know that that is not the issue. The issue, which has dogged all discussion on this matter from the beginning of time, is the confusion of service in the second Chamber of the legislature with a title. Until we address that squarely, we are going to keep coming back to it over and over again.

The House of Lords Appointments Commission laments the fact that many of those it appoints to the House of Lords as distinguished people do not attend properly. They do not attend properly because it turns out that what they really wanted was the peerage, not to sit looking at Bills.

We know that most people want the title, so I could understand a provision that said, "Let's separate these things out. Let's remove the peerage from people who sit in the second Chamber." That would be a sensible way to proceed. Simply proceeding by saying, "Let's give people who are departing the ability to renounce their peerage too" offers a kind of choice, but not the kind that will make any difference.

Mrs. Laing: As a matter of debate, does the hon. Gentleman agree that in fact, there is an anomaly? I appreciate what he says about titles, but very many people who hold hereditary titles as peers of the realm do not take their seats in the House of Lords. Is he arguing that a person should be able to use their title only if they are an active Member of the House of Lords?

Dr. Wright: The hon. Lady got herself into some trouble on voting to continue the hereditary peerage, but this is a simple point. We have an honours system, and we have a second Chamber, but the two are confused. I am not going to argue about the honours system-it is
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perfectly possible to argue that it is an admirable system, although I do not think it is-but it is clear that by confusing it with service in the second Chamber, we have got ourselves into an awful lot of difficulty. At some point, we are going to have to resolve that. Clause 33, although useful in its own very limited way, does not do so.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 34

Supplementary provision

David Howarth: I beg to move amendment 26, page 17, line 36, leave out subsection (2).

The amendment is about bishops and archbishops. The effect of clause 34 is to exempt the archbishops and bishops who sit in the other place from the disciplinary provisions that we have just agreed. I am not a Dawkinsite and I am not against bishops on principle-some of my best friends are archbishops-but I cannot see why they are exempted from the provisions.

There is an argument that archbishops and bishops are subject to Church discipline, but other members of the House of Lords are subject to discipline in their professions and parties. There is an argument that the Church should not be subject to state power, but it is an established Church and therefore subject to state power in a lot of different ways. There is an argument that it is not right to cast aspersions on bishops and to say that they are the kind of people who might break rules and act in a way that lands them in jail for a year and gets them expelled from the Lords, but the same applies to hundreds of peers who, to be blunt, have acted honourably in the past decade-they do not deserve to have aspersions cast on them, unlike those who have not acted well.

Mr. Leigh: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

David Howarth: No, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, because I want the Minister to have time to reply.

If bishops do not want to be part of politics, that would be fine. My party has supported disestablishment for a long time, and we think that it would be better for the Church to distance itself from the ordinary institutions of government. However, if the bishops want to be in politics, they must accept that they are in on the same terms as everyone else.

Mr. Wills: The hon. Gentleman asks why the bishops should be treated differently. The reason is simple: they are in a completely different position to every other member of the other place. Unlike every other member of the House of Lords, Church of England archbishops and bishops may already be permanently removed from the Chamber under a statutory framework for dealing with misconduct. They are in a different position from the members of all the other professions that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. They are also the only Members who may resign from the House.

The Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 provides that a bishop who commits misconduct may have his conduct investigated and referred for a hearing and determination at the court of the Vicar General. The court may direct the removal of the bishop from the House of Lords. If a bishop has been convicted of a criminal offence and
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receives a sentence of imprisonment, he may be removed from his office at the discretion of the archbishop, without that procedure being engaged. A bishop may also resign by giving up his diocese, which would again lead to the automatic loss of his seat in the House of Lords. So we do not need to provide for bishops in the way proposed, and nor would it be appropriate to do so.

The bishops are members of the House of Lords by virtue of their position within the Church of England, because of the unique place the Church has in our constitution. I know that the hon. Gentleman and his party do not want it to have that place, but it does have it. As members of the Church of England, bishops are, first and foremost, subject to the disciplinary sanctions provided by the Church. It is possible for the Church to remove such members under its misconduct provisions quickly and easily.

The provisions on removal of members of the House of Lords in part 3 of this Bill are primarily concerned with supporting the House in the disciplining of its members, by providing sanctions for misconduct. The provisions also address the needs of those peers who wish to resign from the House. These are valuable and welcome provisions-I am sure that the public will agree-but we have no need to extend them to cover the conduct of the bishops. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman and that he will seek to withdraw this amendment.

David Howarth: That was a fascinating defence, but I am not sure that I was convinced by it. The essence of the argument seems to be that there is a link between the bishops' professional discipline and their place in the Lords, so I suppose that that does provide a difference between their position and that of other professions. Nevertheless, the Minister is right that to my party the place of the bishops in the Lords is an unacceptable anomaly.

Mr. Grieve: It may be an anomaly, but the Church of England remains established. If the Church became disestablished, the bishops would leave anyway, and at that point the hon. Gentleman's arguments might have more force. It is a circular argument, and I think that the Minister is right. If the matter were to be pressed to a Division, we would support the Government.

David Howarth: I accept that point, but there is a logical connection between our position on this issue and our position on disestablishment. That is not part of this Bill-more is the pity, although perhaps it covers enough issues already. In any case, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Wills: This clause deals with supplementary matters relating to this part of the Bill. Clause 34(1) has the effect that a life or hereditary peer in the House of Lords who sits in and votes on its proceedings despite meeting the conditions required for disqualification or after being expelled or suspended shall not cause the proceedings to be brought into question. The provision also applies to those who have resigned. It is primarily intended to address the types of circumstances in which
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a Member might more easily conceal actions that would lead to their removal under the discipline provisions of the Bill. That could be a risk if a serious offence and subsequent sentence and conviction occur abroad.

Some might argue, of course, that if a person who is not considered fit and proper to sit causes legislation to reach the statute book in a different form from what it would otherwise have been, it should require correction. However, by the same logic, we would have to call into question legislation passed, during consideration of which, for example, a peer had sat and voted who at the time had committed a serious criminal offence, but who had not yet been found guilty and therefore disqualified or expelled from the House.

It is highly undesirable, of course, that a Member who is not entitled to sit and vote-

10 pm

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Chairman put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83D), That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman left the Chair to report progress and ask leave to sit again ( Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again tomorrow.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Constitutional Law

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),


Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Dairy Market Situation

Question agreed to.

Business of the House

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object

Business of the House


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