Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 11th April 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat 4:00 pm, 11th April 2000

My Lords, in his masterly study of the struggle between the House of Lords and Asquith's Government, my noble friend, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, recalled how, in 1886, the prospect of Irish Home Rule threw the great mass of Liberal peers into the arms of the Conservative majority and how, seven years later, Gladstone's second attempt at Irish Home Rule was defeated in this House by 419 to 41 votes. By their disregard of the authority of the elected chamber on Irish Home Rule, as well as in voting down the "people's Budget" in 1909, the House demonstrated the aptness of Lloyd George's quip that this House was not the watchdog of the constitution; it was "Mr Balfour's poodle". It was, of course, the obstinate refusal by the House of Lords to accept the supremacy of the democratically elected House that led to the Parliament Acts.

The present House is no more democratic now than it was in 1911. Despite the creation of many new Lords by new Labour, the present House remains both undemocratic and politically unbalanced. It wholly lacks democratic legitimacy. Because none of us has been elected by the people, we have no right to claim to be a legislative chamber, representative of the people or for the people of this country, whatever the letters to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, or the opinion polls may say.

This time it is not the prospect of Irish Home Rule which tempts the opponents of this Bill to obstruct its passage in the face of the wishes of the great majority of members of the other place, expressed in a free vote. What drives the opponents of this second Bill is the continuing fear and moral disapproval among the older generation, so strongly represented in this House, of consenting sexual activity between adult homosexual men.

This time the opponents of the Bill will not obstruct a Second Reading, so as to allow the Government to invoke the Parliament Acts immediately. Their tactics will be to use their temporary majority in the House to wreck the Bill slowly and then to play parliamentary ping-pong with the other place. We on these Benches will support the Government in defeating these tactics, however much parliamentary time it may take.

Equalisation of the age of the age of consent was in my party's manifesto at the last general election and our support for the Government is in accordance with the manifesto that we put before the people.