Wednesday 15 October 2008

How do you solve a problem like...dual mandates?

Membership of the European Parliament and a national legislature is no longer compatible. Last night the House of Lords had to deal with the knotty problem of Peers who wish to be MEPs. Peers cannot resign! Once an individual has joined the House of Lords, there is only one way out - death. The Government came forward with delegated legislation - The "European Parliament (House of Lords Disqualification) Regulations 2008" - but there are problems - and these were aird last night in a dinner break debate. Lord Trefgarne moved that "a humble address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 24 June, be annulled". It was an entertaining debate lasting 53 minutes - it can be read at http://pubs1.tso.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldhansrd/text/81014-0012.htm#08101491000001 and viewed at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/VideoPlayer.aspx?meetingId=2440&st=19:55:43

Lord Norton of Louth outlined the objections - "I therefore object to the ban—but we now have it. However, as we have heard, it creates a problem that is peculiar to this House. The Government have sought to address the problem through these regulations. However, as my noble friend has explained—and is abundantly clear from the report of the Merits Committee—they are deficient.

They are deficient in three respects. First, as we have heard, they apply only to life Peers. I looked at the Explanatory Memorandum to find a justification for confining the regulations to life Peers. The only justification appears to be in paragraph 7, which refers to life Peers and states in parenthesis, “who are unable to resign their peerage”.

The hereditary Peers sitting in the House are unable to resign their peerages. Why, then, the discrimination? It appears that the regulations may have been drafted by someone who is unaware of the provisions of the Peerage Act 1963 as they affect hereditary Peers.

Secondly, the regulations inject a subsection which appears to be superfluous. Paragraph 4(1)(a) disqualifies a life Peer who is elected as an MEP from sitting or voting in the House of Lords. Paragraph 4(1)(b) then extends the disqualification to sitting or voting in a committee of the House of Lords, or a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. Perhaps the Minister could explain how, if one is disqualified from sitting in the House of Lords, one could be considered for serving on a committee of the House.
Thirdly, as we have heard, the regulations are deficient in respect of the writ of summons. If one is elected as an MEP a year or so after the start of a new Parliament, one is already in receipt of a writ and paragraph 4(2) can only take effect two or three years later when a new Parliament is summoned.

In short, there are few parts of the regulations which are not deficient. Regulation 5 appears to raise no problems, but Regulations 3 and 4 are fundamentally flawed. I trust that the Minister will therefore withdraw the regulations and come back with one that, following consultation with the relevant authorities as recommended by the Merits Committee, is drafted in such a way as to pass muster."

Lord Bach replied for the Government. During the debate there were some interesting points of constitutional law raised. Students may enjoy some of the discussion about the status of Standing Orders and Constitutional Conventions.