On Friday, and following over 9 hours of debate, Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill passed its first major hurdle, Second Reading.
In 2006, when Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill was debated it was defeated by a wrecking amendment (by 148 votes to 100). This time opponents didn’t feel confident in tabling a wrecking amendment, citing the Supreme Court’s instruction that Parliament should debate the issue.
However, it is likely, as identified by the BBC, that they also were not confident that they had votes at this stage to block the progress of the Bill.
On the day, there were over 120 speeches, with just over half speaking in favour. Even Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail’s sketch writer and vocal opponent, noted that “the mood of the House seemed very much with Lord Falconer.”
It was clear that lobbying from the public had played a major part in the debate, with correspondence from both supporters and opponents referenced, and many personal stories from letters were read out.
To become law a Bill has to pass a number of stages:
- Second Reading
- Third Reading
At the next stage, the Bill will be debated clause by clause with amendments tabled from both supporters and opponents. The Report stage is effectively a repeat of the Committee stage, and then Third Reading is often shorter – when the Bill will be voted on.
If a workable Bill (depending on the amendments accepted at Committee and Report) makes its way through this process, it is repeated in the other chamber – in this instance the House of Commons. The difference between the House of Lords and the House of Commons is that the Committee stage in the House of Lords is a Committee of the whole House where all Peers can take part, whereas in the Commons a Committee of 16 MPs is selected to scrutinise the Bill (who then feedback in the next stage to the whole of the Commons: hence called Report).
Friday’s debate was a milestone, but also the beginning of a long process.
The General Election in May 2015 will shorten the Parliamentary year, meaning there is less time for the Bill to compete the process of becoming law. To be made law in this Parliament, a Bill needs to pass through both Houses of Parliament by April 2015.
Our aim for the Bill as it makes its way through all stages in the House of Lords is to seek a consensus on the specifics of how the law should change, given that the majority believe, and the Supreme Court has indicated, that our current law is unsatisfactory.
After the General Election, this experience in the Lords would allow us to work with an MP to bring forward a new Bill that had already been tested and voted on by the House of Lords.