Saturday, 31 May 2014

House of Lords Reform Act 2014

Legislative activity continues apace with 24 "Public General" Acts so far this year and some 1340 Statutory Instruments.  There are numerous bills before Parliament, some of which will eventually emerge as law.

One new Act, of which little seems to have been said, is the House of Lords Reform Act 2014.  It is a short Act of a mere 7 sections and NO schedules.  Introduced into Parliament by Mr Dan Byles MP, It is an example of a private member's bill becoming law.  In the Lords, the Bill was sponsored by Lord Steel of Aikwood.  The Bill received both government and opposition support.

Section 1 - Resignation  - provides that
' a member of the House of Lords who is a peer may retire or otherwise resign as a member of the House of Lords by giving notice in writing to the Clerk of the Parliaments.'

Section 2 - Non-attendance - deals with those peers who simply do not attend the House.  'A member of the House of Lords who is a peer and does not attend the House of Lords during a Session ceases to be a member of the House at the beginning of the following Session.'

Section 3 - Conviction of serious offence - is concerned with those 'members of the House of Lords' who are convicted of a criminal offence and, as a result, are 'sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned or detained indefinitely or for more than one year.'  Such individuals will cease to be members of the House of Lords though a certificate from the Lord Speaker that the individual is within section 3 is required.

Section 3 is not retrospective in effect - see 3(4) - and, perhaps somewhat generously, the new rule will not apply where a sentence is suspended - section 3(5).

The phrase  'sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned or detained indefinitely or for more than one year.' is hardly the clearest example of draftsmanship.  My problem with it is the third use of the word 'or'.   This seems to make the words 'for more than one year' only apply to detention.  This does not seem to have been the intention of the legislature.  In March 2014, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution published a document relating to the Bill and this indicates at paragraph 8 that the understanding was that membership could only be terminated if a sentence of imprisonment was for more than one year.

The same understanding appears in the House of Commons when the Bill was in committee stage (see Hansard January 2014).   Dan Byles MP (who introduced the Bill) said - ' Clause 3 provides for Members who are convicted of a serious offence to lose their membership. In many ways, this is the clause in the Bill that has attracted the most interest. The provision will apply only if the Lord Speaker certifies that the Member has been convicted of an offence and sentenced to imprisonment or detention of more than one year and the order is not suspended. If the person successfully appeals against their conviction or sentence, the Lord Speaker is to revoke the first certificate by issuing another. The Lord Speaker exercises no discretion or judgment in that. That is an important point, which was discussed on Second Reading. It is not the Lord Speaker making the decision to do that; he is simply the mechanism through which it is done, as a certificate relates to matters of fact.'

Some articles on the Act also indicate that any imprisonment must be for more than one year - for example, Conservative Companion

Section 4 deals with the effects of ceasing to be a member.  Section 5 permits the Lord Speaker to issue certificates on his or her own initiative and such certificates are conclusive for all purposes.  Section 6 deals with some points of interpretation and section 7 deals with commencement.  Sections 1 and 2 of the Act come into force at the end of the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed - i.e. 3 months from 14th May 2014.  The remainder of the Act came into force as soon as it was enacted.

After the collapse in 2012 of the much more extensive House of Lords Reform Bill, these provisions appear to be a sensible and welcome development.  The Act appears to ensure that the House of Lords and the Lord Speaker retain control over the various processes.  It is unlikely that the Act will trouble the ordinary law courts because (a) certificates of the Lord Speaker are conclusive for all purposes and (b) the Bill of Rights 1688 Article 9 provides that - `freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament'.

Explanatory Notes to the Act are available


  1. I think reform is good for the legal system,it will add to some of the shortcomings in the constitution thereby filling the vacuum created by those shortcomings.It will also enhance the activities of the Judiciary.

  2. After resignation or expulsion is a former member entitled to be designated a Lord?

    1. As far as I can see, the peerage itself is NOT affected - merely the right to be a member of the House of Lords. My understanding is that a peerage may only be removed by Act of Parliament. Removal of Honours (including removal posthumously) might be a worthy reform for the future but I don't detect much appetite for it.