Peers who are imprisoned for more than a year could be thrown out of the House of Lords under coalition plans to end the “no expulsion” culture in the upper house.
The existing rules have been criticised, given that several peers still sit on the house’s red benches despite having spent time in jail for criminal offences. By contrast, any MP given a sentence of more than a year is expelled from the House of Commons.
Ministers now want to clear up this discrepancy.
Under plans drawn up by Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, in the House of Lords reform draft bill, peers with criminal sentences could be expelled, while the power to suspend members would also be strengthened.
At present, the House of Lords has the power to suspend a member only for the remainder of the parliamentary term. The draft bill suggests that peers could be suspended for an indefinite period in future.
Scrutiny switched to the upper chamber of parliament after this week’s unceremonious removal of Fred Goodwin’s knighthood by a committee of mandarins on the pretext of his contribution to the financial crisis.
Among the gilded ranks of the House of Lords are a handful of peers who have served time in jail, including Lord Archer, the millionaire author who was jailed for perjury in 2001. The Tory lord served half of his four-year sentence.
Two further Tory peers, Lords Hanningfield and Taylor, were both jailed for expenses fraud but have not lost their right to sit in the upper chamber.
Conrad Black, the former press baron currently in jail for fraud, also remains a peer.
There has long been a contrast between the relative ease with which knighthoods and other honours can be removed compared with peerages.
In 1980 Lord Kagan, a textiles industrialist, was stripped of his knighthood after he was sent to prison for 10 months for stealing from his own companies – yet he retained his peerage until his death in 1995.
The last Labour government sought to tighten the rules to make it easier to expel miscreants from the Lords but the changes never came into effect.
Paul Flynn, a Labour backbencher, said that it was “crazy” to have people making laws if they had been sent to jail for breaking them.
“I think people should be removed from the Lords if they have committed a criminal offence. The rules are different between the two houses and it is clearly an anomaly.”
Matthew Hancock, a Conservative MP, said that he welcomed the proposed changes.
“I don’t see why the rules for peers should be entirely different to the rules for MPs,” he said.
Over the centuries there have been cases of members of the nobility losing their titles, for example after the Jacobite rebellion.
In 1917 legislation was passed – the Deprivation of Titles Act – for the purpose of expelling two peers who had backed Germany during the first world war. They were the Duke of Cumberland and the Duke of Albany – a grandson of Queen Victoria.
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