James Forsyth

The benefit of the Lords

The benefit of the Lords
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I disagree with Helena Kennedy on a whole host of issues, but her speech last night in the Lords debate on assisted suicide was fantastic. Here’s the opening section of it:

“Although I am a great believer in individual liberty and in the autonomy of the individual, I also believe strongly in the symbolic nature of law. The laws of a nation say a great deal about who we are and what we value. One of the ways in which cultural shifts take place in a society is by changing law. Many of us who have argued that changes in attitude follow changes in law did so particularly around issues of discrimination. We made arguments for changes in the law on racism and other discrimination such as gender, sexuality and disability. When others argued against us and said that racism was about beliefs and that the law could not bring about the changes that we sought, we countered by saying that the law sends out powerful messages. We know that in this House. The law matters and has the power of changing our society.

Before we introduce this legislation, therefore, I would like us to be sure of what the cultural implications might be. Legal changes made for benign reasons can have unforeseen and negative consequences. The consequence that concerns me, as it concerns the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, is that with this legal amendment we create a climate in which the terminally ill, the disabled and the elderly who are sick feel even more profoundly vulnerable or feel that there is an expectation that they should take steps to end their lives.”

If you have time, the whole debate in the Lords is worth a read. It is a reminder of the benefit of having a chamber which contains so much expertise.