Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill — Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:37 pm on 3rd June 2013.

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Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 9:37 pm, 3rd June 2013

My Lords, seven years ago, this House considered the late Lord Joffe’s Bill on assisted dying for the terminally ill. I had been here only a couple of years and found it quite hard to make up my mind. I could see that the key was whether the safeguards were sufficient or whether, in the urge to be copper-bottomed, they had become too complex. I looked forward to Second Reading, because I expected the arguments for and against, and the merits and inadequacies of the various safeguards to be brought out fully. I was shocked when this House refused a Second Reading. It seemed to me that we had refused to do our job. That is how I feel about the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, as he knows; he was kind enough to tell me in advance of his intent, and I told him that I could not support it.

As this debate has very eloquently shown, the Bill arouses strong feelings on all sides of this House, as did the assisted dying Bill. I believe that there is a majority in this country in favour of this Bill, though a much smaller majority than was in favour of the assisted dying Bill. I believe that on assisted dying, the majority is now greater than it then was. I hope that when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, presents his Bill, we will not make the mistake we made seven years ago.

However, there is a big difference between the two Bills. This is a government Bill that has passed through the House of Commons. In his eloquent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Dear, made four arguments to support his thesis that the procedures so far have been undemocratic. First, he said that the Bill had been in nobody’s manifesto and was not in the coalition agreement. What new doctrine is this? Would we have abolished capital punishment if it had been a requirement that it should first be in somebody’s manifesto? Would Lord Jenkins, in his remarkable tenure at the Home Office, have introduced the society-changing reforms—wholly to the benefit of society, in my view—if they had first to be in the Labour manifesto? They were not in the Labour Party’s manifesto. I do not think absence of a reference in a manifesto proves that this is undemocratic and I would be surprised if students of Burke were to think that.

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Dear, argued that the Public Bill Committee was skewed in its membership and that its discussions were curtailed. Possibly—I do not know—but it seems a very odd reaction to such a criticism to say that we should be denied any Committee stage. If the Committee stage was too short in the Commons, let us put that right in this place. Thirdly, he argued that the public consultation was inadequate or in some way defective. I do not know about that but let us explore that in our detailed discussions on this Bill. Fourthly, he said that Members of Parliament were under pressure from the party hierarchies and therefore it was not truly a free vote, to which I can say only that Members of Parliament, like Members of this House, are grown-ups. They make up their own minds.

Let us remember that in the other place they face the electorate back in their constituencies and if they are thought to have got it wrong they may pay for that and realising that may affect how they vote. It comes pretty oddly from this place, where we are not exactly paragons of democratic accountability, to accuse the other place of an undemocratic procedure in this case. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, will withdraw his amendment or, if he does not, that the House will not support it.