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Mr. Speaker: I would not want to make comments on these matters.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (Telford): Further to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Penrith and

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The Border (Mr. Maclean), Mr. Speaker, do you share my concern that on a simple issue such as that of who speaks from the Government Front Bench it appears that many Opposition Members, including senior figures such as the right hon. Gentleman, are not aware of the simple rule that this is not a matter for the Chair but for the respective Government and Opposition? Could you arrange for a crash course in procedure for Members who do not understand that?

Mr. Speaker: I am always willing to give guidance on procedure, but perhaps on another occasion as I am quite busy these days.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you come to give that guidance, perhaps you could advise the Prime Minister's parliamentary private secretary that we do not expect to be lectured by No. 10 Downing street through the Back Benches of the Chamber.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. I hope that this is definitely a point of order.

Mr. Bercow: It most assuredly is a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm, with the full authority of your office, that public support for this institution is dependent upon an understanding of its procedures? Is it not the case that right across the country, large numbers of people of all political persuasions and of none fail to understand the sudden afflictions of shyness and reticence that occur when Secretaries of State are called upon to answer Opposition-day debates?

Mr. Speaker: There is one thing for sure--the hon. Gentleman is not shy, so I would not worry about that.

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Employment (Religious Beliefs)

5.2 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I beg to move,

It is, I am sure, a matter of agreement among all Members of the House that we have a very fine tradition of tolerance in our society. Indeed, it could be argued that long before the American melting pot was consolidated or even dreamt of, we were creating our own melting pot among the English, the Scots and the Welsh. Sadly, our record with the Irish was not so successful. Therefore, during the 19th century, we came to the conclusion that above all we had to be tolerant towards all religious organisations. We recognised that they should be allowed to conduct their affairs in their centres of worship and schools in their own way. That is the system of tolerance that we have built up so successfully in our nation over the past 100 years.

People may ask how all that is relevant to a European Union employment directive. It is very relevant. None of us can argue with the sentiments of the EU directive to ban intolerance on the grounds of race, sexual orientation or religious belief. That is absolutely fine and none of us disagrees with any of it. The problem arises--this is where that happy phrase about the road to hell being paved with good intentions comes in--when we set the overall western secular ethic against the ethic of particular religious organisations. They may have their own ethics and beliefs; they may want to do things in their own way.

If Members were honest with themselves, they would recognise that there are many aspects of some religions--perhaps all religions--and perhaps even of their own with which they fundamentally disagree. Some westerners may have difficulties with the Hindu caste system or with Muslim dietary laws. However, surely we have the sense to accept that other religions should run their religious schools, organisations and bodies in the way they want. My Bill is very simple indeed, as it tells the Government that they should step in and exempt religious bodies from the EU employment directive. To give them credit, the Government have been negotiating those points in Europe, and the Irish Government have worked hard on such matters.

There is now a view that we can take into account the ethos of religious organisations. So far, so good, but does it go far enough? I think we have solved a problem that arose in Holland, where somebody who applied to a theological college for a position was turned down on the basis that he was an atheist and immediately appealed to the courts on the grounds that he had been discriminated against. I think we have dealt with that. Nobody now doubts that Jewish organisations should be able to insist that a Jew should be appointed as a rabbi, or that bishops should believe in God--[Interruption]--in any event, if that is the wish of the Church in question--[Hon. Members: "What about the Church of England?"] Steady!

We have made some progress in these matters but problems arise with other jobs. We have solved the problem in Church schools to the extent that a Church school can insist that a teacher of religion should subscribe to that religion, but what about the other

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teachers, who are not engaged in teaching religious studies? What about the people employed in a Church social organisation? Surely the very raison d'etre of many religious organisations--what drives them and gives them impetus--is that they are made up of believers. Their belief may not be our belief--nor are we talking just about an abstract belief or a vision of God, since some people--and it may seem a quaint idea--beleive that one should not only subscribe to a point of view but should live one's life according to it. Living in such a way can be difficult. All the great religions of the world make severe demands on their followers. None of us can follow all the demands of our religion--we would be saints or gurus if we did. Surely, religious organisations have the right to insist that people behave in a certain way, even if that goes to the heart of their private life, runs contrary to our general secular ethic in the west and attacks the position of certain people and minorities.

Yesterday, we elected as Speaker a man whose faith, for four centuries, meant that he would not have been allowed to pass through the door, let alone take the high office that he now occupies. We have done away with that kind of uniformity, and the House no longer insists on a uniformity of belief or religion. However, are we not in danger of allowing one minority to start attacking and persecuting another and allowing some people to set their conscience, will and view of society over others?

I am not asking anyone in the House to accept the point of view of any religious organisation or the sorts of demands that they make on their members in the conduct of their lives. All that I ask is that the House respect the position of religious organisations, which should be allowed to insist that their members conduct their lives in a certain way, if that is their wish. The Labour party insists that those who work for it are card-carrying Labour members. That is its right and is fair enough. However, if the Labour party can insist that only card-carrying members work for it, cannot a Church school, a Catholic social club, an Anglican youth organisation or a Muslim organisation insist that people who work for them subscribe to all their beliefs?

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), is giggling.

Mr. Leigh: I believe that my point is fair.

One of my first speeches was based on Franklin Roosevelt's four freedoms, which include freedom from want and fear, freedom to engage in one's own form of expression, as well as freedom from religious persecution. Nobody is suggesting that anyone in Europe wants to persecute others--that is not my argument. There has, however, been a flood of correspondence on the subject, and much debate in the Council of Ministers. The Government should make the position clear and get it right by introducing a Bill similar to this Bill to exempt religious organisations. That would allow us to proclaim Franklin Roosevelt's freedom and allow people to conduct their religion and their religious organisations in the way they want. That is all that my Bill seeks to do.

5.10 pm

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) for setting out so lucidly the reason why he believes the Bill is necessary.

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The hon. Gentleman discussed the fact that the European directive does not give sufficient exemption. He and the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), whom I am pleased to see in her place, will know that many hon. Members feel that exemptions in the European directive already go too far in allowing discrimination against groups of people by religious organisations. It is important to recognise, as I hope the hon. Gentleman accepts, that a balance can be achieved. The right to religious freedom should extend only to the point at which the rights of other people are not infringed. We do not allow the religious freedom to carry out fatwas against inhabitants of this country because, to put it mildly, that would damage the rights and interests of other people.

I want to explain why the Bill and its approach must be opposed. I do not oppose the Bill because it represents an attack on religion--in fact, one of its welcome features is that it would provide some protection for individuals with a religious belief from discrimination in employment. However, a balance has to be struck between the rights of religious organisations to express or act on their views and the rights of other people not to have their rights curtailed.

It is important to clarify the definitions used in this debate. The hon. Gentleman said that the Bill would protect people from being discriminated against on the grounds of sex, but that is not the case. The equal treatment directive already does that. Interestingly, he omitted the right that the directive will give of protection against being discriminated against at work on the grounds of sexual orientation, although he said that he supported all the rights that the directive conferred. I am delighted that he applauds the introduction of the right, which does not presently exist in this country, not to be dismissed or discriminated against at work on the basis of sexual orientation. When the legislation is implemented, it will have that effect.

There is concern that too wide an exemption for religious bodies to discriminate on the basis of religious ethos or views would mean that anyone employed, regardless of his or her role, by a private religious organisation or a public organisation with a religious input is likely to be discriminated against--not employed or sacked--because of private sexual behaviour. The hon. Gentleman said that we should expect people's private religious beliefs to be respected. He said that we should not expect people to be able to carry out in their private lives all of the wishes of religion, but we should respect what they are able to do. Many people who are employed by a religious organisation but who do not comply with its rather narrow view of what is right in terms of sexual orientation would be fearful if religious organisations were able to discriminate in that way.

The hon. Gentleman discussed the salutary example of this House. For many years, ours has been a Christian country, and many people still describe it in that way. That does not mean that we should limit membership of the House, which represents that so-called Christian country, to members of the Christian faith. The hon. Gentleman would, I am sure, be among the first to deplore that if it were proposed. Similarly, there is no reason why

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a religious charity or a public organisation with a religious impetus should insist that all its employees should be active believers of that faith.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the interesting subject of religious schools, suggesting that the schools belonged to the relevant religion. We must recognise, however, that Church schools, for example, belong not to the Church but to the nation--they are maintained schools. Fifteen per cent. of capital funding and 15 per cent. of running costs comes from the relevant Church, and 85 per cent. comes from the taxpayer and the state. There is no reason why those schools should be seen as entirely religious entities that have full control over their staffing.

I am prepared to concede some of the hon. Gentleman's examples. A rabbi--he or she--needs to be Jewish to be employed as a rabbi. A religious education teacher in a school of a particular religious ethos is required to be a believer in name and practice, although that is a controversial view. Some people argue that what matters is whether one can teach religious education according to that ethos, not whether one goes to church 49 or 30 Sundays out of 52. I am also prepared to accept that if the Labour party decides that membership is necessary to carry out a political function in that party, it is also a genuine occupational qualification. I suspect that, in terms of one's beliefs, in today's Labour party the requirement goes further than merely carrying a card, but that is as may be.

What I am not prepared to accept--and I urge the House not to accept--is that caretakers in so-called Roman Catholic schools need to be Catholic to do their job, and the same is true for Church of England schools. I am also not prepared to accept that nurses in palliative care centres need to be Catholics if those centres are partly or totally funded by that Church.

We are talking about a genuine occupational qualification. If the exemption goes any further we will give carte blanche for the infringement of other people's rights--the rights of Protestants to work as maths teachers in Catholic schools, of Roman Catholics to work as geography teachers in Jewish schools, and of Catholics to work as French teachers in Church of England schools.

There are 100,000 teachers in so-called religious schools, which provide 15 per cent. in terms of funding. That is a lot of people whose rights might be threatened--and that is just the teaching staff--by the introduction of too wide an exemption. On the basis of too wide an exemption, a range of members of staff of organisations that are partly funded or entirely owned by religious organisations could be sacked or might not be employed.

Nothing that I have said is intended to decry the huge amount of wonderful work that religious organisations do in the charitable, voluntary and educational fields. The message to those organisations must be that the state welcomes that involvement and the practice of those beliefs and, within reason, their promulgation, but not to the point of infringing other people's rights to employment and its benefits, unless a genuine occupational qualification is required, such as that for vicars, rabbis and RE teachers.

On that basis, in the spirit of tolerance that the hon. Gentleman cited in his opening remarks, I urge the House to reject the Bill and the idea behind it, although I will not press it to a vote.

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Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Edward Leigh, Mr. Peter Lilley, Mr. Donald Anderson, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. Bowen Wells, Mr. Stephen Pound, Mr. Colin Breed, Rev. Martin Smyth, Mr. Andrew Rowe, Mr. Gerald Howarth, Mr. Christopher Chope and Mr. Nigel Waterson.

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