Lords Amendment No. 110

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 22nd July 2002.

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Photo of Lord Lloyd of Berwick Lord Lloyd of Berwick Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee) 5:45 pm, 22nd July 2002

My Lords, I follow very much what has just been said by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I am not so well versed in the procedure of this House as other noble Lords, certainly not with the procedure that should be followed when this House is considering amendments passed by this House but disagreed to by the other place. In the Companion, at paragraph 6.153, I read that the Commons are required to give their reasons for disagreeing with a Lords amendment. That does not surprise me in the least. I have spent my life in the law, and it is elementary that all courts, high or low, are required to give reasons for their decisions, simply so that the parties can know where they are. That duty to give reasons is part of what we understand by "a fair trial".

As has been said on many occasions, the reasons given must be proper reasons. They must be adequate and, above all, they must be intelligible. That applies not only to courts required to give reasons; it applies also to Ministers who are required to give reasons and, indeed, to all who are required either by law or by custom to give reasons for their decisions. I assume that it applies equally to the Commons when they are giving their reasons for disagreeing with our amendments.

So one looks to see what the reasons are for disagreeing with Amendments Nos. 110 and 113. But what does one find? It is said that to make "exceptions"—which are the exceptions covered by the two amendments—would be "inappropriate". That is a word that is always being used in many different contexts. It seems to me a word of very little meaning. However, whatever it means, it certainly does not import a reason for disagreeing with the Lords amendments. It is a conclusion; it is not a reason. It means, "We do not like the Lords amendments and we therefore propose to disagree with them". If one is permitted to quote Latin in this House—one is not allowed under the Woolf reforms to quote Latin in the law courts any more—I would remind noble Lords what was said, in Roman times, by Juvenal: Sic pro ratione voluntas; let my will stand in place of reasoned judgment. That appears to be the line being taken.

So one looks further, and what does one find? Why is it said that the amendments are inappropriate? The answer is: "Because we did not have time to consider them". As a reason for not agreeing to our amendments, that is simply unintelligible; it makes no sense. It is not a reason at all. It is at most an excuse. It is not a reason. How can we consider—as we are supposed to be doing on this occasion—the Commons reasons for disagreeing with our amendments unless we know what those reasons are? All we know is that they voted apparently without any consideration at all.

We are often told that this House performs a valuable function as a revising Chamber, and I believe that to be true. It is all the more important, as has also been emphasised, that we should perform that function as scrupulously as we can when we are faced every year with a new flood of criminal legislation. I cannot remember whether at the last count that amounted to 10 new criminal justice Acts in as many years. I may be out of date; there may be more.

As it happens, I am strongly in favour of the Proceeds of Crime Bill. I have made that clear from the very start. However, Part 5 contains something entirely new; that is, provisions which in my opinion are capable of causing grave injustice as well as provisions which are clearly incompatible with the Human Rights Act. It was to eradicate those injustices that I drafted and moved Amendments Nos. 110 and 113. I am afraid that I explained my reasons in four speeches in your Lordships' House, each of which was probably much too long. In the course of the Third Reading debate your Lordships ultimately decided by a majority of 149 to 132 that those reasons were sound. They have now been disagreed to by the Commons without any reasons being given, save only one reason which is wholly unintelligible. I find that profoundly unsatisfactory and not the way in which one would have thought that communication should be conducted between the two Houses.

I suggest that the proper course now is for this House to send back Amendments Nos. 110 and 113 with a request that they be reconsidered, or perhaps I should say considered for the first time, and, if rejected, or if disagreed to, that proper intelligible reasons be given which we can then consider. We cannot consider the reasons today because they are not available. We can guess what they may be—we have heard the Attorney-General on three or four occasions so we may guess them—but the reasons we want to be given are the Commons reasons.

It may be said that I ought to have put down my thoughts in the form of a Motion. I do not know whether or not I should have done so. I am afraid that I only saw the Motion late last night but the circumstances in any event are peculiar because the noble and learned Lord's Motion is itself clearly defective. It asks us not to insist on an amendment to which the Commons have disagreed for certain reasons. However, when one examines the matter, those reasons are not provided. For those reasons I shall vote against the Motion.