The scene in Parliament on Friday of serial Filibusterer Sam Gyimah talking out yet another private members bill was not new, after all he has done it so many times that I have blogged about his ‘expertise’ in this anti-democratic process on at least two other occasions. The problem with filibusters which have been employed by Governments led by Labour and Conservative alike is that they deny MPs the opportunity to vote on a given issue. Thus my MP along with all others does not get the chance to speak up or vote on our behalf. However usually the Bills that get treated in this way are ones that cut across the direction of the Government and so the motivation is clear. On this occasion things are much less clear. The Private Members Bill was one from SNP MP John Nicolson who announced his intention to bring this Bill forward in late June, so the Government had plenty of warning. The the co-sponsors of his bill are listed above and include an ex Director of Public Prosecutions, not someone who is legally naive. Referred to as the Turing Bill this was an attempt to grant pardons for those men convicted of certain crimes that are now no longer on the statute books and which most politicians now recognise were not appropriate in the past. The confusing part of all this for me is that on the Ministry of Justice website Sam Gyimah has explained his actions in a statement he published on Thursday 20th October, a mere 24 hours before he talked out the Bill.
“Thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted of now abolished sexual offences will be posthumously pardoned, Justice Minister Sam Gyimah announced. The change will see those convicted for consensual same-sex relationships before the change in the law formally pardoned. Minister Gyimah said the government would seek to implement the change through an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill.” the statement on the MOJ website goes on to say “The government will not support a separate Private Members’ Bill on the subject, brought forward by John Nicolson MP and set to be debated in Parliament on Friday 21 October 2016. Mr Nicolson’s Bill proposes a blanket pardon for the living without the need to go through the disregard process. However this could lead, in some cases, to people claiming to be cleared of offences that are still crimes – including sex with a minor and non-consensual sexual activity.”
It seems rather strange for the Government to support the intentions behind a Bill, as Sam says in another part of the statement “I understand and support the intentions behind Mr Nicolson’s Bill, however I worry that he has not fully thought through the consequences” and then for them to set about wrecking the Bill and offering an amendment to another piece of legislation to achieve the same objectives. As I understand it, for a private members Bill to become law, assuming it passes the first vote, depends on the Government offering time and assistance to get it through the various stages. It is usually at this point that any weaknesses are removed so that the Bill is honed as all Parliamentary Bills are supposed to be shaped by Parliament. It appears as though Sam Gyimah and this Government do not want laws to be introduced that they do not have complete control over. After all many of their laws are deeply flawed and sometimes it is only after a law is on the statute books and the problems emerge that the Government takes the time to correct them. Indeed the whole concept behing the Turing Law is that previous laws can now be seen by many people to have been bad laws. No one expected John Nicolsons law to pass unamended and unpolished onto the statute book. However for the Government to blow its own trumpet as if it was the first to arrive at this conclusion is deeply concerning
There are many people who disagree with the idea of a pardon, some because they disagree that historic laws can be revisited in this way, others because they believe that these men did nothing wrong and that it was the Government that was wrong and therefore a pardon for the men is the wrong process. However few people outside of the Government can surely believe that using a filibuster to ‘amend’ a law and remove ownership from an MP who has pioneered this issue, just because he is a member of the SNP is the right way of conducting politics in what some describe as the Mother of Parliaments. I for one believe Sam should be ashamed and believe his understanding of true democracy is deeply flawed.