Select Committee on Privileges First Report


APPENDIX 4(2)

Explanatory Notes to the House of Lords Bill as brought from the Commons on 17 March 1999 (HL Bill 38-EN)

INTRODUCTION

  1.  These explanatory notes relate to the House of Lords Bill as brought from the House of Commons on 17 March 1999. They have been prepared by the Cabinet Office in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to help inform debate on it. They do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed by Parliament.

  2.  The notes need to be read in conjunction with the Bill. They are not, and are not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require any explanation or comment, none is given.

BACKGROUND

  3.  The House of Lords Bill is the first part of the Government's step-by-step approach to full-scale reform of the House of Lords. A Royal Commission has been set up to consider further, comprehensive reform of the House. For the transitional House, a new, more independent system for nominating peers will be introduced. The Government's detailed proposals are set out in a White Paper Modernising Parliament Reforming the House of Lords (Cm 4183, January 1999).

THE BILL

  4.  The Bill's main purpose is to end membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage. It also removes the existing disqualifications of a hereditary peer to vote in elections to the House of Commons and to stand as a candidate for or be a member of the House of Commons.

COMMENTARY ON CLAUSES

Clause 1: Exclusion of hereditary peers

  5.  The main provision of the Bill ends membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage. Once the Bill is enacted, no present holders of a hereditary peerage in the peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain or the United Kingdom, or their heirs, will have the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords by virtue of that peerage, or to sit and vote in committees of the House, or to speak in the House, or to receive a writ of summons.

  6.  The exclusion from membership applies to all those who are members of the House by virtue of a hereditary peerage, including:

    —  members of the Royal Family who have the right to sit and vote in the House (the Prince of Wales[3], the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of York, the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent);

    —  first holders of a hereditary peerage (of whom there are currently nine);

    —  any holder of a peerage by virtue of acceleration, being the eldest son of a hereditary peer who is sitting by virtue of one of his father's peerages while the father is still alive (of whom there is currently only one in the House of Lords, Lord Cranborne); and

    —  any holder of a hereditary peerage by virtue of the termination of a peerage in abeyance (where only female co-heirs survive to inherit the peerage and one is preferred by the Crown against another for the peerage).

  7.  The Bill deprives hereditary peers of all the privileges of membership of the House of Lords, including the privileges they enjoy as members of Parliament. Parliamentary privileges cover various matters, many of which relate to the House of Lords as a whole (such as punishing improper conduct within the House itself), but include some that are personal to individual peers. One of the most important personal privileges is that no action can be taken against a peer for what he or she may say in Parliament. Hereditary peers will also lose the right to be paid allowances and to use the facilities of the House that are available to members, such as its library, research and restaurant facilities. The removal of these rights does not prevent the House from deciding to grant some rights to use the facilities of the House to a hereditary peer under the exercise of its own authority.

  8.  Holders of a hereditary peerage will cease to be excusable as of right from jury service on implementation of the Bill. (They will no longer fall within Part III of Schedule 1 to the Juries Act 1974, or Part III of Schedule 1 to the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1980, or Schedule 3 to the Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.)

  9.  The Bill does not affect the rights of holders of a hereditary peerage to keep all the other titles, rights, offices, privileges and precedents attaching to the peerage which are unconnected with membership of the House of Lords.

  10.  At 4 January 1999, the House of Lords was composed of 759 hereditary peers, 510 life peers and 26 Archbishops and Bishops. The Bill does not affect the position of members of the House of Lords who do not sit by virtue of a hereditary peerage: the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England; retired and existing Law Lords (who are created life peers under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876) and life peers created under the Life Peerages Act 1958.

  11.  The Bill does not affect the position of The Queen, who is not a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage.

Clause 2: Removal of disqualifications in relation to the House of Commons

  12.  Under common law (see in particular the case of Re Parliamentary Election for Bristol South East [1964] 2QB 257), peers are prevented from voting in elections to the House of Commons and from standing as a candidate for or being a member of the House of Commons. Clause 2 abolishes these disqualifications in relation to hereditary peers.

Clause 3: Repeals

  13.  As a result of ending membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage, it is necessary to make certain consequential repeals, and clause 3 gives effect to the Schedule to the Bill which contains these repeals.

Clause 4: Commencement and transitional provision

  14.  The Bill, apart from clause 4(3) and (4), will come into force at the end of the Session of Parliament in which it is passed. The end of the Session is the time when the Parliament is prorogued (or, if there is a dissolution and no prorogation, dissolved). Clause 4(3) and (4) will come into force on Royal Assent.

  15.  Those who are members of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage will cease to be members of the House of Lords at the end of the Session in which the Bill is passed.

  16.  Commencing the Bill at the end of the Session will ensure the validity of all legislation passed during that Session, including any passed on the final day by the House of Lords.

  17.  Clause 4(2) overturns any presumption that a hereditary peer might have a right or obligation to sit and vote in the House of Lords for the rest of the current Parliament by virtue of having already received a writ of summons for this Parliament. A writ of summons is a document issued by the Crown under the Royal Prerogative calling the person addressed to attend Parliament. On commencement of the Bill, no hereditary peer who has received a writ of summons for the current Parliament will have any right or obligation to sit or vote in the House for the remainder of the Parliament.

  18.  The disqualifications explained above in paragraph 12 will also be removed at the end of the Session in which the Bill is passed. However, the qualifying date (10 October) for entitlement to vote in Parliamentary elections might have been passed before that time, depending on when the Session ends. Those entitled to vote on the qualifying date are included in the electoral register which operates from the following February. If the Session ends after 10 October 1999, existing hereditary peers will not be entitled to vote on that date and will therefore not be able to vote in elections until February 2001. If necessary, it is intended to make an order under the transitional provision in clause 4(3) of the Bill to enable hereditary peers to vote in elections from February 2000. Such an order would cover all hereditary peers, whether resident in the United Kingdom or overseas. The order can also ensure that all existing hereditary peers will be able to use their entitlement under the transitional provision to vote in European Parliamentary elections.

Schedule: Repeals

  19.  The Peerage Act 1963 allows peers on succeeding to a hereditary peerage to disclaim the peerage for life. A person may disclaim within twelve months of succeeding to a peerage, or if he succeeds before the age of twenty-one, within twelve months of attaining that age. If he applies for a writ of summons to the House of Lords then he loses the right to disclaim. Section 2 of the 1963 Act makes special provision in relation to a person who is a member of the House of Commons or a Parliamentary candidate when he succeeds to the peerage.

  20.  The Bill does not remove the right to disclaim, but it repeals the references to writs of summons. A hereditary peer will no longer by virtue of being a hereditary peer be entitled to receive a writ of summons, and the repeal in section 1(2) of the 1963 Act reflects this. Having removed the restriction on disclaiming when in receipt of a writ of summons, the exemption from this requirement in cases prior to the commencement of the 1963 Act becomes redundant and therefore section 1(3)(b) can also be repealed.

  21.  As a hereditary peer will, following the Bill, be able to stand as a candidate for, or be a member of, the House of Commons, there is no need for a special procedure for him to disclaim if he is a member of the House of Commons, as provided for in section 2 of the 1963 Act, and therefore section 2 can be repealed.

  22.  Section 3 of the 1963 Act sets out the effects of disclaimer of a peerage, one of which is that a person is not disqualified from membership of, or voting in elections to, the House of Commons. Since clause 2 of the Bill removes these disqualifications for all hereditary peers, this will no longer be one of the effects of disclaimer and therefore the repeal in section 3(1)(b) removes the reference to membership of, and elections to, the House of Commons.

  23.  One of the effects of section 3(2) of the 1963 Act is to prohibit the issue of a writ in acceleration to the successor to a disclaimed hereditary peerage. This provision can be repealed because in future writs in acceleration, which are a form of writ of summons, will not be issued.

  24.  Section 4 of the 1963 Act allows all Scottish hereditary peers to receive a writ of summons to attend the House of Lords and to sit and vote in the House on the same basis as a UK hereditary peer. As no peer will by virtue of a hereditary peerage be entitled to membership of the House of Lords, section 4 can be repealed.

  25.  Section 5 covers the same ground as clause 2 of the Bill, but only in removing the disqualification of Irish hereditary peers from voting in elections to and standing as candidates for the House of Commons. Section 5 therefore becomes redundant and can be repealed.

  26.  The Bill also repeals section 6 of the 1963 Act. Prior to section 6 a hereditary peeress was unable to attend or sit and vote in the House of Lords (see Viscountess of Rhondda's Claim [1922] 2AC 339). Section 6 removed this disability and also placed a hereditary peeress in the same position as peers regarding disability from voting in elections to, standing as a candidate for, or being a member of, the House of Commons. As the Bill ends membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage and removes disabilities regarding the House of Commons, section 6 can be repealed.

FINANCIAL EFFECTS OF THE BILL

  27.  These will be negligible. The Bill will reduce the size of the House of Lords, but since many of those who will be removed attend very rarely, there will not be any significant savings on Peers' expenses and daily allowances.

EFFECTS OF THE BILL ON PUBLIC SERVICE MANPOWER

  28.  The Bill will have no effect on public service manpower.

REGULATORY IMPACT ASSESSMENT

  29.  This is a constitutional measure which has no direct effect on businesses, charities and other voluntary sector bodies.

COMMENCEMENT

  30.  The Bill will come into effect at the end of the Session in which it is passed, except for clause 4(3) and (4) which will come into force on Royal Assent.

EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

  31.  Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires the Minister in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament to make a statement, before second reading, about the compatibility of the provisions of the Bill with the Convention rights (as defined by section 1 of that Act). On 18th January 1999 Margaret Beckett, President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, made the following statement:

    In my view the provisions of the House of Lords Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.

  Baroness Jay of Paddington, Leader of the House of Lords, made the same statement on 17 March 1999.


3   Clause 5(1) makes it clear that "hereditary peerage" includes the principality of Wales and the earldom of Chester. Back


 
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