End of Term

Baroness Murphy

This is both a new post and a follow-on to Lord Tyler’s last. Last night was an exciting evening in the Chamber. The Commons response to the Lords amendments in the Coroners and Justice bill returned to our House for consideration. The process by which a Commons amendment A (usually a re-insertion of the former Government position or a modified response) is debated alongside an amendment A1 by any peer (usually the official opposition or a Lib Dem) who wishes to hold out for the original Lords position. We then proceed to B, B1 and C, C1 and so on through the Commons amendments. In the ‘secret inquests’ question the Government had moved a considerable distance to add safeguards; the Inquiry substituted for an Inquest in these rare cases is now to be decided on by the Judiciary not by Ministers. The Majority was satisfied the Government had now largely met the anxieties expressed on all sides in previous debates and won the vote.

The next vote was sexual infidelity being removed as a partial defence to murder, at lease that was how it was perceived although many lawyers in the house pointed out that in fact sexual infidelity alone has never an ‘excuse’ for murder. This was the first vote where perceptions outside the House, particularly the campaigns of women’s groups seemed to be having a major influence.  Before I came into the chamber I’d received (and I guess then so did every crossbench peer) a badly written and ill conceived  e-mail letter from Harriet Harman (twice, from different parts of her office) exhorting us to vote for the Government.  I was so irritated by the letter I’d almost made up my mind to vote against. Then I listened to the debate, and Heavens, the loquacious  speech of the Lib Dem opposing the Government position, Lord Thomas of Gresford was enough to drive me into the Government’s arms. It seemed to me an unnecessary addition to the bill but probably won’t do any harm either.

The last big vote I stayed for (Lord Tyler won’t like this but I decided after it that I wanted to go home for dinner) was the so called ‘free speech’ clause or The Waddington Amendment. Again, before I came into the House  to listen to the debate I thought I’d probably vote against the government, but having listened to the safeguards and watched how many homophobic peers were voting for the amendment, I decided in the end I didn’t want to keep company with them and voted against. A long winded and rather bad tempered debate, at one point the incomparable Baroness Trumpington intervened

My Lords, I wonder whether I would be right in saying that 99 per cent of the Members in this Chamber have already made up their minds which way they are going to vote. Will the Minister cut the cackle and let us get on with it?

Noble Lords: Hear hear.

Yes, that’s exactly how we all felt. Lord Bach did try and speed things up with the thankfully short-winded Lord Henley for the Opposition and we eventually voted. The Government lost so it will return today for a final ping or pong. Then we will be prorogued for a break before State Opening. I’ll try not to giggle during the pantomime-like ceremony of prorogation

12 comments for “End of Term

  1. Carl Holbrough
    12/11/2009 at 12:03 pm

    Quote “I decided in the end I didn’t want to keep company with them and voted against. ”

    This appears alarming as did other parts of the Baroness`s blog. I alway`s thought the House of Lords to be the place of reason, research and experience but I am learning. 🙁

    It begins to peturb me that things are not as I thought. Betwixt the chuntering and barracking in Parliament of what appears school children and what appears competition in the Lords between LP and HP, I find I am losing faith in all but a few.

    Ahh to be that contented to not take my work seriously and have few cares.

    • Croft
      12/11/2009 at 1:09 pm

      Agreed. I’m slightly disappointed by Lady Murphy’s remarks. Surely a crossbencher more than other members, who have party whips to consider, should feel most obligated to vote on the issue alone irrespective of who is or isn’t going into the same lobby. This feels too close to the commons where I see otherwise intelligent MPs refuse to vote for a motion or clause, even those they agree with it, simply because it has been proposed by another party.

  2. B
    12/11/2009 at 3:08 pm

    I agree! I want a vote that represents principled action, not concern for who one might be associated with. This is particularly galling as free speech is squarely in the sights of the increasingly authoritarian home office and so needs staunch defenders. Seeing someone with the power to stop that power grab throwing away hard won liberties because she didn’t like the company she would have to keep is depressing beyond all measure.

    I can’t think of a better argument for an elected second chamber since the perceived independence that being appointed for life is supposed to confer doesn’t seem to be working.

  3. baronessmurphy
    12/11/2009 at 4:03 pm

    Carl Holbrough and Croft, I must have expressed myself in too flippant a manner and I am really sorry for that. I did not take my decision lightly. I must make it clear that I had read all the previous debates again and the ones in the Commons on the free speech agenda and I listened very carefully to both sides of the argument. The issue before us was about whether this amendment was necessary to assist or would hinder the prosecution of people engaging in homophobic hate crime with the intention to incite others to violence. Homophobic attacks by gangs have become increasingly common. There is a group of peers in the house who will always vote for the maximum freedom of expression even where it may incite others to crime and I have a good deal of sympathy with the feeling that freedom of expression is so valued in our society that we endanger it at our peril. The majority of those voting for the amendment last night were mostly of that school and I had thought to follow them. But there are also in the House a group who covertly and sometimes overtly express views which are undoubtedly motivated by a detest of homosexuality and all those who are gay. Read the speech of Lady Paisley very carefully. Lord Smith made an impassioned plea about the message that a yes vote would send which moved me sufficiently to think he may be right. I also believed Lord Bach’s assurances about the preservation of freedom of speech within the proposed law. When the division was called I sat and discussed the issue for a few minutes with colleague crossbenchers whose judgment I respect and we decided to vote with the government. I think it is reasonable to vote in a way which distances oneself from a group whose ideologies are so far removed from my own. Have I explained it better?

    • Croft
      12/11/2009 at 5:11 pm

      I think that is a little clearer. What seemed to come across in the first post was ‘I decided in the end I didn’t want to keep company with them and voted against’ Obviously if you say you made your decision on the issue first not the company in the lobby then I have no concerns. I can’t really object to your freedom of expression or thought can I!

      On the point of homophobic attacks I am rather sceptical. I find it difficult to believe it is more common now than in the 50s or 60s and can’t quickly see the figures to support it in the debate. As I understand it hate crimes are now recorded based on the ‘victim’ self classifying it as a hate crime not the police/judge/jury believing it to be so. This may make the statistics very difficult to compare over time.

  4. Carl Holbrough
    12/11/2009 at 4:29 pm

    I thank the Lady, Baroness Murphy for her prompt apology and clarification of her post. Her apology is of course accepted with gratitude.

    I will have to agree to disagree on the way voted though.

  5. Bedd Gelert
    12/11/2009 at 5:26 pm

    Baroness Murphy,

    I would be interested to know your views, at a general level, whether the fact that the Lords have more men than women leads to perverse and unwelcome decisions in legislation.

    As a man I am in favour of freedom of speech, and think that it is juries who should decide whether there has been provocation, even if we don’t have the ‘crime of passion’ defence which appears to exist in France.

    But I am prepared to admit that of course being a man will influence me inevitably in my views on such topics even if I am neither homophobic or in any way tolerant of excuses for violence to women.

    Just because some of the people sharing these views may be ‘old codgers’ does not of itself make them wrong, but maybe a greater number of women in the House of Lords might lead to more balanced decisions.

    Or is it demographics and class which are at the heart of some of the problems ?

  6. 12/11/2009 at 6:36 pm

    I’m afraid in my brief scanning of TheyWorkForYou I couldn’t see any overt homophobia in the debate, however I didn’t read it all. Can you provide a link to the specific section?

    However surely incitement to hatred should be a crime whatever the target of the incited hatred is? I’m fairly happy with the USA’s approach to free speech, “Freedom of speech isn’t freedom to shout fire in a crowded theatre”. It’s a balance between the freedom to express yourself and accept the consequences of that expression if you are slandering, inciting or otherwise engaging to harm others with your words. It shouldn’t mater if the object of that harm is gay, straight, bearded, or an Artic Monkeys fan.

    My worry about having special categories for incitement is the stifling of debate in those specific categories. It implies I can say anything I like about for example Microsoft Windows users but if I mention their pink shirts I’ve crossed the line into homophobia.

    • Croft
      13/11/2009 at 2:40 pm

      Alex: Welcome to the UK law I’m afraid. Special classes of offence rather than general principles is sadly becoming the norm.

      Interestingly looking at the voting a number of peers (I haven’t looked for the LotB) appear to have voted for the earlier religious ‘free speech’ clause and against the sexual orientation ‘free speech’ clause or vice versa. As both clauses sought to achieve the same thing in the essentially identical way this is at best puzzling logic!

      PS – I hope you won’t change your posting style Lady Murphy – I’d rather the occasional misunderstanding than a dull account of events


  7. tory boy
    12/11/2009 at 11:10 pm

    Baroness Murphy, Baroness Trumpington was as ever right on the money!! I am a huge fan of Baroness Trumpington and always eagerly await her contributions to debates/questions.

  8. Carl Holbrough
    13/11/2009 at 9:57 am

    Quote “But there are also in the House a group who covertly and sometimes overtly express views which are undoubtedly motivated by a detest of homosexuality and all those who are gay.”

    Obviously they are not that covert, and I take “undoubtedly” to be a presumption on your part ?

    “A detest of Homosexuality” ? Could that be a personal preference ? Is it any less or more than a detest of prostitution, or sado-masochism, or oral sex ?

    We have to think very carefully before we start criminalising language, it is often not what is said but how and reproducing that exactly for a Court will be difficult. Think how many ways there are to say ” I love you “, it can even be said in an offensive fashion. How would you take that to Court ?

    People given the right frame of mind will just opportunistically take advantage if given the chance. Given that some people appear to be more sensitive I think you may have voted wrongly.

    Mum taught me ” Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”.

    Words may anger, frustrate, infuriate me but I still watch Parliament and The Lords. 😉

    We will alway`s have groups and people will always find disparaging remarks to say about other groups you cannot legislate for it. I`m sure the Life Peers and Hereditary Peers have names for each other that COULD be taken offensively by someone of ridiculous sensivity.

    I am a “Gooner” an Arsenal supporter. The name gooner was a detrimental term ( a play on goon) used by Spurs supporters supposed to offend us, it is a play on Gunner. Names can only affect you if you want them to or let them.

  9. baronessmurphy
    13/11/2009 at 4:07 pm

    Croft, I would share your concerns that we don’t really know the statistics on homophobic crime now compared with the 50s and 60s and indeed overall I think society is a lot more tolerant and it is unusual now to hear ‘gay-bashing’ in a way that was formerly considered OK. However I am told but there are more incidents of deliberate seeking out of gay men by violent gangs intent on harming them. I rather share Alex Bennee’s anxieties about the danger of stifling the debate and that was why the decision was such a difficult one

    Bedd Gelert, I have often wondered if the ‘old codger’ factor influences our voting but overall the Lords takes a more liberal stance on many issues than the Commons. There are by the way a few old female codgers too. I think there is no doubt we would vote differently if there were more women and if the age range was a little less skewed to the over 60s but whether it would be better or not is another matter.

    I do agree with you about the causes of ‘loss of control’ in murder which now replaces ‘provocation’ as a possible partial defence to murder. I could see no good reason for singling out sexual infidelity as one cause to be excluded. As you say a jury will decide on the full evidence and is bound to take a partner’s sexual behaviour into account if it obviously contributed to loss of control. I would have been content to leave it to the jury to decide but here was such strength of feeling amongst women’s groups that a signal should be sent that no man could rely on such a defence alone. A woman should not be held responsible for her own murder. Lord Pannick told me he did not think it would make a great deal of difference in the courts in practice so he was content to let the government amendment stand. I decided in the end tat was the right thing for me to do too.

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