The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
My Lords, before my noble friend moves her amendment, it is my duty to draw the attention of the Committee to the advice I have received from the Legislation Office and ask the Committee to endorse it. It is rare for a Leader to advise the Committee in these circumstances. Since 1999, my predecessors have done so on only four occasions, and on all but one the House has endorsed the impartial advice given.
My noble friend’s amendment is not admissible under the rules governing what is relevant to a Bill. The Public Bill Office, therefore, properly and promptly advised me of that fact. Paragraph 8.56 of the Companion to the Standing Orders states that the Leader of the House
“draws the House’s attention to the advice when the amendment is called, and asks the House to endorse the advice of the Legislation Office … the admissibility of an amendment can ultimately be decided only by the House itself, there being no authority that can in advance rule an amendment out of order.”
To ensure that the advice is clear and available to all, I have placed the Clerk’s advice and my open letter to the party and group leaders about it in the Library of the House. If I may briefly assist the Committee, I will explain further why my noble friend’s amendment is not admissible before turning to the unusual decision the Committee is being asked to take.
The amendment is not within the scope of the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill. This is because the Bill covers one narrow topic and has only one purpose: the uprating for one year of the basic and new state pension, the standard minimum element of pension credit, and survivors’ benefits in industrial death benefit. Only amendments relating to the purpose of the Bill or touching on matters closely connected with it are permitted. My noble friend may point to the title of the Bill as being broad, but I am afraid that, in this case, that is not relevant. As the Clerk’s advice says, the scope of a Bill is defined by its purposes as contained in its clauses and schedules, not the title. Bills can have what might seem to be very wide titles but be narrow in scope. The advice from the Clerk is clear and unambiguous, and I hope my noble friend will not seek to challenge it and will not move her amendment today or bring it back at a later stage.
However, the fate of the amendment is ultimately in the hands of the House, as the Companion says, so, if I may, I will end with a wider point about how we work. So far this Session, 1,144 amendments have been considered by your Lordships’ House. The fact that every amendment is debated, and every point of view considered, enhances the quality of the legislation that makes its way on to the statute book. But this works only if we all respect the rules and conventions the House has set itself. We are a self-regulating House, and we rightly take pride in that, but that does not mean there are no rules. It means Members’ good sense and restraint must be relied upon to police those rules we set ourselves in our Companion and Standing Orders.
Many Members feel incredibly strongly about particular issues that are close to their hearts but work within the rules of the House to achieve the changes they passionately believe in, because they understand the damage to the House, its reputation and standing if they do not. So I very much hope noble Lords will carefully consider their stance on this amendment. As a House, we rely on the professional and impartial advice of our clerks; we rely on the judgment of Members to abide by the few rules we have; and we rely on the House as a whole to ensure that, in the last resort, the rules are enforced.