Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A Life Sentence?

Most members of legislatures have the opportunity to retire - or of being retired by their electorate. MPs have terms of (up to) 5 years; Senators 6 years and Congressmen 2 years. Save for the Bishops, members of the House of Lords serve for life.

As a result the numbers of peers entitled to sit changes - almost on a daily basis - as new Peers are created, or existing members die. The latest figures of membership are -

Conservative          193
Liberal Democrats    79                             (Government Peers = 272)
Labour                   234
Crossbenchers        181
Bishops                    25
Other                       26

TOTAL                  738

This figure excludes the

20 members who are on leave of absence
3 members who are currently suspended
15 who are disqualified as senior members of the Judiciary
1 who is disqualified as an MEP

Leave of absence - the Companion to the Standing Orders states -

1.27 Members of the House are to attend the sittings of the House. If they cannot attend, they should obtain leave of absence.

1.28 At any time during a Parliament, a member of the House may obtain leave of absence for the rest of the Parliament by applying in writing to the Clerk of the Parliaments. Before the beginning of every Parliament the Clerk of the Parliaments writes to each member who was on leave of absence at the end of the preceding Parliament to ask whether he wishes to apply for leave of absence for the new Parliament. The House grants leave to those who so apply. In addition, the Dissolution Notice sent to all members of the House at the opening of a new Parliament invites other members who wish to apply to communicate with the Clerk of the Parliaments.

1.29 Directions relating to those on leave of absence are as follows:

(a) a member of the House who has been granted leave of absence is expected not to attend sittings of the House until his leave has expired or been terminated, except to take the oath of allegiance

(b) a member of the House on leave of absence who wishes to attend during the period for which leave was granted is expected to give notice in writing to the Clerk of the Parliaments at least one month before the day on which he wishes to attend; and his leave is terminated one month from the date of this notice, or sooner if the House so directs

(c) a member of the House on leave of absence may not act as a supporter in the ceremony of introduction

(d) a member of the House on leave of absence may not vote in the election of the Lord Speaker or in by-elections for hereditary peers.

Today in the Lords Lord Strathclyde will to move that this House takes note of the Interim Report from the Leader’s Group on Members leaving the House (HL Paper 48). The interim report discusses the various issues such as voluntary and compulsory retirement; and suggestions for dealing with members after they have completed their service. The report contains some very useful statistics on age; length of service and attendance.