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The matter is important and controversial because it concerns the sentence of murder. It concerns the number of years that a convicted person shall serve in prison. It concerns the openness of the judicial proceedings, the judicial process which has some effect on the term that the convicted man shall spend in prison: shall that be open or shall it, in the words of the Lord Chief Justice, be secretive?
This House passed by a substantial majority an amendment that will fall for discussion very shortly. Only yesterday the Government's supporters in another place were whipped to reverse the decision of this House. So there is an additional issue that is controversial and important; namely, the standing of this House in the legislative process. I shall not deal with the merit of the amendment to which I referred. That will be dealt with by my noble and learned friend Lord Ackner shortly. That amendment was carried against government opposition. The Contents for the amendment were 142 and the Not-Contents were 126. Those 126 included what is called the payroll vote. So it was an amazingly substantial majority for this House. That can come about only if a substantial number of Conservative supporters vote for the amendment against the Government, as they did in this case, and an even more substantial number abstain, as they did in this case, and if the Cross-Benchers vote overwhelmingly for the amendment, as they did. Why was an issue so important intrinsically in relation to your Lordships' role in the constitution put down in this extraordinary way in the dinner hour?
What has happened does not stand alone. Noble Lords will remember that during the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill an amendment was carried that was proposed by a former Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, resisted by the Government, carried by a fair majority, but immediately reversed by the same office that was so assiduous last night. My general question is: why was so controversial and important an issue put down for discussion in this way in the dinner hour?
However, I also have two specific questions to ask. The first relates to my noble and learned friend Lord Ackner. It was his amendment, after all, that was carried. Why was he not told of the Government's intention to reverse the decision last night? Why was he not asked for his views as to the taking of this business in the dinner hour? Why indeed was he not consulted at all? Why was he not thereby given an opportunity to summon those who had been alertedthose who had voted for the amendment at Report stage? One would have thought that that was elementary fairness in the parliamentary process.
My second specific question relates to what are called the usual channels. I assumed that they must have been consulted about the business being taken now. Why were they not told about the Government's intention last night? On Friday evening they were in complete
The last matter to which I wanted to refer is an article that appeared in the newspaper a couple of years ago or thereabouts. It stated that senior Tories were urging the Government to change the business management in your Lordships' House in view of a series of humiliating amendments carried against the Government. There were two very curious things about that article. The first was the word "Tories". Is it not odd that senior Tories should feel that a single chamber government, a single chamber legislation where that single chamber is subject to government whipping vigorously, is sufficient for the legislative process? Is it not curious that senior Tories, as they were described, should reject your Lordships' place in the legislation?
Subsequently, I asked the present Leader of the House about that matter. I asked him whether he regarded it as humiliating that amendments were carried against government Bills in your Lordships' House or whether he regarded that as a perfectly normal legislative process and part of your Lordships' legislative function. First, he replied that that question was rather like being asked, "When did you stop beating your wife?", but of course it was not like that at all. He finally came round to accepting that it is indeed part of your Lordships' function, prerogative and responsibility to carry amendments to government Bills when they seem to your Lordships to be justified. That is very much in question this evening.
Except in passing, I have not touched on the substance of the amendment, important though it is, because of far more importance is your Lordships' role in the legislative process: whether your Lordships will accept constant marginalisation in the constitution and accept being subordinated at every turn to the apparent need to carry government legislation through at all costs.
I have asked one general question and two specific ones. I am sorry that neither the Leader of the House nor the Chief Whip is present but we are well content to have those questions answered by the noble Baroness.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in honour I ought to respond before the Minister closes this short debate. I feel that I should say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that the proposal was put to me that the consideration of Commons reasons should be taken today in the dinner hour and I agreed to it. To that extent I acted on behalf of my noble friend Lord Graham as the "usual channels". If that involved lack of consultation with anybody elsewhether it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, or indeed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, who, as it turns out, is the leading player in the substantive debateI apologise to them in so far as I was concerned.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, my Lords, but I was informed of that by letter from the Home Secretarya copy of the letter to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Acknersubsequent to my agreement. I do not know whether that is a substantive consideration, but, in so far as I had a role in this matter, I apologise to those who had not been consulted.
However, I defend the judgment that I made. It is not for any lack of support for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, or for the amendment which was carried in the House, which, as he knows, we supported wholeheartedly with a very substantial body of troops. Nor was it because I feel that the issue is not important. Even though it applies to a relatively small number of people, it is an important addition to the Bill and ought not to have been overturned in the other place.
I made that judgment and accepted the proposal put to me by the Government Whips' Office because I do feel that the second consideration of an issue by the other place ought to be final. I am very much opposed to continued resistance by this House after that.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, I am sorry again to interrupt the noble Lord. Surely that was not a second consideration. It was the first consideration. The matter had not been before the other place before last night.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I accept that the noble and learned Lord is literally correct. But, in the end, the other place is the elected Chamber. It had an opportunity to consider the issue. It was debated last night and it was rejected. That may be called by emotional words such as "subordination" but I believe that the elected Chamber is primary and that there would have to be exceptional circumstances for us to overturn the judgment of an elected Chamber.
I speak for myself. Some of my noble friends may disagree with me on occasiongood luck to them. On this occasion, I apologise for any discourtesy in which I have been involved, but I do not regret the judgment that I made in accepting the suggestion that was put to me.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he accepted the dinner hour faute de mieux and, in particular, was he offered prime time at all for this debate?
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