Lords under pressure
The House of Lords is set for a political brouhaha over its ‘free speech defence’. In November last year, it defeated the Government’s attempt to curtail free speech in its Coroners and Justice Bill.
In a vote of 179 to 135, the Lords overturned the Government’s vote to remove Lord Waddington’s provision to allow a measure of free speech within the bill.
This provision had been defended by religious groups and secular comedians, among others, as it gave some protection, under the laws governing freedom of speech, to express convictions on issues such as homosexuality, while not condoning homophobic behaviour.
However, this was the fourth time the Lords blocked the Government’s vote against the provision – and each time the voting gap was narrower.
In a press release, justice minister Lord Bach questioned the Lords’ decision, stating that ‘it was time they accepted the will of the Commons’ and suggesting that the Lords was acting outside of legitimate voting behaviour. He said: ‘Members of the other place [Commons] have said emphatically that a freedom of expression saving is not required. They have now done this not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times.
‘A revising Chamber, it is perfectly legitimate for this House to ask the other place to think again. What is, I would argue, of questionable legitimacy is to ask the elected House to think again, and again, and again, and again. There must come a point where this House, with all its great virtues and its importance, gives way to the House that has been elected by the people of this country’.
Defending the Lords, Lord Dear said that the amendment proposed would allow police to ‘use a discretion and common sense that is often denied to them in contemporary society, and to allow them to deal with these situations with a light touch that so many of us, and so many of them, want to see’. According to the Lords’ report, twelve Labour peers rebelled against the Government to vote in favour of Lord Waddington’s amendment.