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Mrs. Browning: The answer is simple. As a Member of Parliament, I respect the views, whether religious or other, that people hold on a point of conscience based on what they believe, although I neither share nor challenge them. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not show that respect. If I may say so, I hope that his remarks are not part of a filibuster. Let me give him a Shakespeare quote:
I have absolutely no case to make against the estimable beliefs sincerely held by any group in this country. I am not challenging such beliefs; I am challenging whether the hon. Lady can possibly be correct in citing that particular passage as the basis for such belief.
The hon. Member for Hendon spoke earlier about the need to change the marriage laws in respect of the Jewish community. I am not Jewish and I do not share their faith, but I respect it. I believe that it is the duty of the House to take account of the needs of the Jewish faith. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) is not able to do the same for the Plymouth Brethren.
Mr. Gardiner: Once again, I must rebut what the hon. Lady says. My lack of respect applies not to the beliefs of the Plymouth Brethren, but to her remarks. I do not respect them because they are wrong. [Interruption.] If she will just listen before bouncing out of her seat again, I shall make my point.
The Plymouth Brethren, in the preamble to their remarks, refer to their general and widespread respect for government and cite Romans 13.1 as evidence of biblical backing for that respect. However, the hon. Lady quoted that biblical passage not when asked why the Plymouth Brethren have a general respect for the authorities ordained by God, but in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon about why they believe that they should not take out insurance policies.
The point I am making to the hon. Ladyif she will only listen, rather than bouncing up yet againis that that passage does not substantiate the belief of the Plymouth Brethren about insurance policies. If she told us what biblical foundation the Brethren have for that belief, it would be a more proper response to what was said by the hon. Member for Hendon. The fact is that she was mistaken in her biblical citation.
Mrs. Browning: I hesitate to continue this filibuster, and I am not an official advocate for the Brethren, but I think I can share my understanding of why they do not consider life insurance, and products or policies associated with it, acceptable. They render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's, and therefore they keep the law of the land. If the law of the land says that a motor vehicle must be insured, for obvious reasons, they keep that law, according to my understanding. The taking out of a life policy or an annuity, however, is not a compulsory law of the land, except as indicated in the current pensions legislation. The Brethren therefore opt not to avail themselves of that opportunity. The aim is to allow them to provide for their retirement without having to avail themselves of it.
Failing to take out an annuity is not a criminal offence. There is a clear differentiation between abiding by the rules of mammon, or of Government, and not taking advantage of that opportunity. As I have said, I am not an official advocate of the Brethren, but I understand them to believe that matters of life and death are matters not for man but for God. I respect those beliefs, because I think the Brethren hold them sincerely. That is what the House needs to understand.
Mr. Leigh: This illustrates why it is wrong to engage in this kind of debate, but we may as well get it right. I have checked with the Plymouth Brethren, and they say that the biblical reference on which they base their belief is I Corinthians chapter 6, verses 19-20. They regard any
Mr. Gardiner: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, from whom we have finally secured the proper response to the question posed by the hon. Member for Hendon. I hope the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton accepts that the quotation she gave earlier did not provide that response, and that we have now plugged the gap.
Mr. Dismore: I certainly do not claim to be a theological gentleman, but I think that this part of the debate is very important. If we are to provide a remedy for the Plymouth Brethren, we must understand the basis of their objection. We must work out their theological position if we are to find an answer. I thank the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) for giving us the correct reference: I should like to look it up for myself, but I suspect there will not be time for me to do so during this short debate.
My hon. Friend is right to explore the issue further with the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), and I am surprised that she objected so much. Only by understanding the basis of the objection can we work together to find a solution.
The reason for my concern about the amendment is plain. It introduces a vehicle to achieve a particular purpose without specifying in any wayleaving it open to subsequent regulationhow that should be effected. It says, "We want you to do something in this area that will broadly achieve this effect, but, for the life of us, we can't work out how you could possibly do it." That may be a good example of the benefits of oppositionone can simply say things without having to work out the nuts and bolts of how you get from A, one's starting point, to B, the end result that one wants. It seems to betoken great irresponsibility on the part of the Opposition if they seek to put that onus on Government without specifying in any way how it might come about.
My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary has made it clear that the Opposition amendment is not only technically at fault. I have no doubt that if the amendment were substantive the Government could avail themselves of draftsmen who could remedy those deficiencies, but it is not a substantive amendment. It is an amendment that has a hole at its heart. It is a Henry VIII clause that would leave the Government to fill in the regulations at a later date. For that reason, I cannot accept it.
Mr. Dismore: I also have a few comments on this group of amendments. I am sorry that Opposition Members took objection to my question, which was simply an attempt to try to understand the basis of the Christian Brethren's objection. Only if we examine the basis of the objection in detail and its origin can we start to think about providing a remedy. If I may draw a contrast between their reaction and the approach adopted in relation to the previous Bill, we researched in great detail the background to why there was a problem with Jewish law and what could be done to deal practically with that problem. That was what we achieved in the previous Bill which, I am pleased to say, passed through the House earlier. The difficulty here is that until we get to the bottom of the problem from the Christian Brethren's point of view, it is difficult to start trying to find a measure that can specifically plug that gap.
One can approach this problem in two different ways. One can pursue a dialogue, as my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary suggested, to try to find a way to meet the requirements and tenets of the faith, yet at the same time satisfy the Inland Revenue, which has its own tenets thatI am afraid to sayare sometimes more obscure than those of the Plymouth Brethren. In the end, however, we must try to satisfy their requirements. For example, one can have a specific conscientious objection clause for the Plymouth Brethren, as the previous Bill had a specific reference to the Jewish faith. Alternatively, one can try to devise a general rule that will sort out the particular problem but will not lead to wider abuses.
To continue the classical themes of the previous debate, I am worried that if we are not careful we could end up creating a Trojan horse. We can introduce an amendment to provide for the 12,000 or so members of the Plymouth Brethren, for whom I have great sympathy and whose problem I would want to address, but how do we create a remedy that does not at the same time create a loopholea Trojan horsethat will allow many other people for whom the reform is not intended to take advantage of it? That is the dichotomy facing my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary and the Treasury in trying to accommodate the Plymouth Brethren.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) opened his remarks by saying that there was the potential to create a great proselytising army on behalf of the Plymouth Brethren, and there is force in that argument. I am afraid that, sometimes, rich people adopt all sorts of strange practices to try to avoid their obligations to the Inland Revenue. We know about the loophole of living overseas, and a miraculous conversion to the Plymouth Brethren may not be out of the question for some people if they saw that they might gain financial benefit from it, thus abusing the very real faith and tenet of the Christian Brethren.
We cannot get round this problem simply by having a conscientious objection clause in the way that the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Bill contained a specific application for the Jewish community. The alternative is to try to develop a rule of general applicability that would solve the problem of the Plymouth Brethren without leading to all the other ills that my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned in introducing the debate.
I am not an expert in annuities, although I know a little more about the subject now than I did before Second Reading, but I understand why it is so difficult to resolve this problem. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), who is no longer in his place, talked about conscientious objection. If we were to allow conscientious objection to paying taxes, several million people might subscribe to it and the whole country would grind to a halt.
Although we must develop a rule of general applicability for the reasons that I have outlined, it is difficult to see how to go about it. I am not surprised that discussions have been taking place for the past four years, trying to find a solution that satisfies everybody. I sympathise with the position of my hon. Friend the Minister in trying to satisfy the Plymouth Brethren in this respect. The problem dates back to before 1830. My hon. Friend was quoting from a later version of the Bible, whereas I was quoting from the St. James version, which is the one on which the Plymouth Brethren base their objection to insurance. In the previous debate on the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Bill, we solved a problem that had lasted for 2,000 years. We did so relatively easily in the end but only after considerable debate, which had continued for several years before the Family Law Act 1996 was passed. Sometimes it takes an awfully long time to find a solution to these difficult and knotty problems of faith.
I am grateful that the Minister has indicated her willingness to maintain the dialogue with the Plymouth Brethren, but to try to foist a solution on them, as the amendments seek to do, is the wrong way to achieve that objective.