Crime and Courts Bill: Lords' consideration of Commons' amendments

26 March 2013

The Crime and Courts Bill bounced back to the House of Lords on Monday 25 March for consideration of Commons' amendments in 'ping pong'

Discussion began around Commons Amendment 1, Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Conservative), proposed the Lords accept the amendment, saying: ‘What this Bill proposes is the creation of a National Crime Agency (NCA) charged with the responsibility to lead the fight against serious, organised and complex crime. Commons Amendment 1 is concerned with enabling the Home Secretary to give effect to the outcome of a review which, by definition, had concluded that the existing arrangements in respect of counterterrorism would be enhanced by conferring relevant responsibilities in this area on the NCA.’

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour) followed, putting forward Amendment 1A, rejecting Commons Amendment 1, she said: ‘the  reason for the amendment was not the transfer of functions, which may well be appropriate at some point in the future, but because such an important and crucial decision should benefit from the appropriate scrutiny of Parliament, which cannot be provided for without primary legislation. As the Minister said, government Amendment 1 would bring back that clause. My amendment, to disagree with that amendment, would delete that provision and retain the status quo.’

Baroness Hamwee (Liberal Democrat) followed, saying: ‘What we are being asked to do this afternoon is to consider the procedure around a substantial issue, but it is the procedure. It seems quite logical that counterterrorism should be dealt with alongside and as part of dealing with serious crime and organised crime. They are often inseparable activities that fund terrorism, and I suspect they largely come within the remit of the NCA, or will do when it is in operation.’

The amendment went to a vote, with 199 voting for and 230 against.

Discussion then moved onto Amendment 11, and a group of other related amendments, Lord McNally (Liberal Democrat) said: ‘This group of amendments, together with a new clause which your Lordships' House has already added to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, implement legislative parts of the Leveson cross-party agreement... As part of that agreement, the three parties also agreed proposals and exemplary damages and costs that are designed to incentivise publishers to join the new regulatory framework.’

He continued: ‘We are, I believe, striking the right balance through these amendments, which enable the implementation of this system but which, equally, do not compromise freedom of expression. They form a crucial part of the new regime for press regulation as Lord Justice Leveson set out and which, as politicians, we have a collective duty to implement.’

Lord Soley (Labour) followed, saying: ‘What we need to remember when we discuss these issues is that there is a world of difference between an individual who might say something factually incorrect and even insulting as an individual and a very large-scale international organisation such as News International doing the same thing. That is really where this problem has come from. People reacted to Leveson from the press side by saying that it was an attack on 300 years of press freedom, but that is nonsense. Press freedom was about small individuals and small groups fighting for the right to publish their views, and that remained the case until quite late in the 19th century, when the press barons emerged and these large-scale and powerful organisations developed.’

A number of Lords proposed amendments to Amendment 11, but these were withdrawn after Lord McNally said: ‘We have a set of provisions that implements Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations, that strikes the right balance between a tough system of incentive-based self-regulation and protecting this country's cherished freedom of expression, and that draws the right line between publishers that are in the scheme and those that are out of it. I commend the Commons amendments to the House together with the three government amendments and invite the noble Lords, Lord Lucas, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Stevenson, not to press their amendments. I believe that this will be the best way forward.’

The bill was returned to the Commons for consideration of Lords changes, the next stage of ping pong has yet to be scheduled.

Consideration of amendments/ping pong explained

Once the bill has completed its passage through the House of Lords the bill returns to the Commons where they will consider any amendments made.
Both Houses need to agree to the exact wording of the bill and the bill may 'ping pong' between both houses until this happens.

When the exact wording of the bill has been agreed by both Houses the bill is ready for royal assent. Once a bill receives royal assent it becomes an Act of Parliament (proposals in the bill become law).

The bill's progress so far

About the Crime and Courts Bill

The bill was introduced in the House of Lords at its first reading stage (formal introduction) on 10 May. It aims to establish the National Crime Agency and proposes abolishing the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the National Policing Improvement Agency.

It also examines the structure, administration, proceedings and powers of courts and tribunals and addresses issues like border control and drugs and driving.

Next and final stage: Royal assent

Once a bill has completed all its parliamentary stages in both Houses, it's ready to receive royal assent and become an act of Parliament (law). Royal assent is the Queen's formal agreement to make the bill into an act.

There is no set time period between the consideration of amendments and royal assent.

When royal assent has been given, an announcement is made in both Houses by the Lord Speaker in the Lords and the Speaker in the Commons.

At prorogation (the formal end to a parliamentary session), Black Rod interrupts the proceedings of the Commons and summons MPs to the Lords chamber to hear the Lords commissioners announce royal assent for each bill.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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