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John Bercow: I appreciate that clause 44(3)(b) might be incompatible with the coronation oath. I am not certain about that, as I am not a lawyerI say that with some pridebut if it were, may I suggest to my hon. Friend that a constructive way forward would be for him to join me in a campaign for the disestablishment of the Church of England?
Clauses 46 and 47 deal with premises, and I would like the Minister to explain the difference in principle between taking a lodger and running a bed and breakfast. My reading of the provisions and the exemptions is that those who take in lodgers would be exempt from the provisions of the Billthat is, they could discriminate on the ground of religionwhile those who run bed-and-breakfast establishments would not be exempt. That might not be the case; these provisions are certainly ambiguous. Religious organisations have made representations to me on that basis, however, complaining that they would not want Satanists in their bed-and-breakfast establishments. For my own part, I should have thought that taking an adherent of another religion into one's house would present an opportunity for evangelisation. That would now be entirely appropriate given that the Minister has said that the provisions on harassment are not to be reintroduced in the Bill, which is most welcome.
Why is it that, prior to that date, membership of a religious charity can be confined lawfully on the basis of adherence to a particular religion, whereas that is not the case thereafter? What is the Minister saying about religious charities? Why should no such charities be able to discriminate in respect of their membership on the ground of religion in the future, if they were able to do so in the past?
We are already aware of the politically correct march towards an increasingly barmy Britain. Every day we see in the papers examples of organisations refusing to use the term "BC", or "before Christ", and substituting "BP", meaning "before the present". We see examples of Christmas lights having to be called "celebrity lights", of councils wanting to refer to Christmas as "the workers' winter festival", and of libraries refusing to advertise the local nativity play. The most worrying example relates to social partnerships. We hear of religious organisations that undertake a social function and are paid accordingly to provide services such as a hostel or a soup run, being bullied with regard to the religious
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aspects of their organisations. We have the absurdity of an organisation providing a hostel being told that if it continues to say grace before meals, its public funding will be withdrawn. The perfectly proper concern of those of us who are worried about such developments is that part 2 of the Bill, in designating such organisations as public bodies, will provide an increasingly whip hand to the zealots who wish to see these developments march forward, or indeed just to the timid in local authorities who want to avoid litigation of any kind. My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) was right when he said earlier in our proceedings that there is a very great danger that we will become free from religion rather than free to practise religion.
Sir Patrick Cormack: The absurd examples quoted by my hon. Friend are already happening. Could we not express the hope that during the Bill's passage the Minister will make it plain that she thinks that they are absurd, and that if the commission should be so stupid as to seek to endorse such bizarre practices, it would be acting unconstitutionally? I hope that by raising these matters and giving the Minister the opportunity to say how silly they are, we might have a rather better state of things in the future than we have at the moment.
Mr. Swayne: My hon. Friend is quite right. One of the advantages of Pepper v. Hart is that the Minister will be able to reassure the Committee on any number of such issues, and I hope that she will take the opportunity to do so. I notice that the Government sought to amend the harassment provisions that were originally in the Bill and achieved an amendment that prevented religious symbols from being taken out of hospitals and other such institutions. That was a positive development, albeit that it was obviated by the removal of the entire clause.
Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): We seem to have strayed again into the territory of political correctness. Labour Members are interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman has a definition of political correctness, which the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) was unable to give us earlier.
Part 3 of the Bill is completely unacceptable, although I accept entirely the thrust of its intention. I do not believe that people should be discriminated against at all in the provision of goods and services in respect of their sexual orientation. But to achieve that by an order-making power is quite unacceptable. There are some 36 clauses dealing with and constraining that power with respect to religious discrimination. To provide one clause and say that the Minister shall have power by regulation to make all those measures available on the basis of sexual orientation is for us, as a self-respecting legislature, simply to abandon our proper responsibility for the legislative process.
This will be a controversial issue, not least because, for so many religions, sexual orientation itself provides some difficulty. It is therefore nonsense simply to hand over the power to the Minister to make the law, without
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parliamentary scrutiny, the importance of which we have seen in regard to religious matters. It is also nonsense because the Minister quite rightly came to the Dispatch Box and explained why she would not seek to return the Bill to the status quo ante in respect of religious harassment. She properly set out the reasons for which it was judged to be too sensitive to proceed, explaining that more consultation was required. All those arguments apply to harassment and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Yet, owing to a single phrase in clause 80with all its implications for sexual orientationthe issue will be dealt with entirely by the Secretary of State, without the benefit of parliamentary scrutiny. That is unacceptable in any institution that continues to call itself a Parliament.
Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): I take a slightly different view from the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). He is right to say that it is unfortunate that protection against discrimination in terms of goods and services was introduced as an enabling power rather than being set out fully, as is religious and faith discrimination in part 2. Part 3 should have been equally comprehensive. Nevertheless, it is better to have a provision to deal with discrimination in regard to goods and services on grounds of sexual orientation than to have no such provision, which is what was on offer.
I congratulate the Government on having listened to what was said in the House of Lords, which is where the Bill started out with no reference to discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. In an equality Bill, that was a grave omission, and I am very glad that that vital correction has been made. It will be appreciated by thousands of my constituents, and it represents almost the last step taken over the past eight years towards fulfilling the political agenda of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communitythe removal of elements of discrimination from our law. That began with the repeal of section 28an example of pure homophobia left to us by the last Governmentand continued with equalisation of the age of consent, access to the armed forces for gays and lesbians and the Civil Partnership Act 2004. Now the Government have dealt with goods and services, the one outstanding area of discrimination and prejudice.
One issue is still to be dealt with, but the Bill is not the right vehicle. We need to deal with homophobia, and incitement to hatred on the basis of sexual orientation. I am glad that we are not faced with that complication, because it is difficult enough for us to deal with incitement to religious hatred. We need to get that straight before we approach the subject of homophobia.
Let me return to what was said by the hon. Member for New Forest, West. I agree with him that we must be careful to avoid an internal inequality. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that the orders for which part 3 provides will be no less rigorous than part 3 itself, and that they will be implemented at the same time as part 2. Otherwise, there would be discrimination. It worries me slightly that the Bill contains no commencement date, and I hope that the Minister will give us some idea of the Government's thinking. The Bill is, after all, an interim measure
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pending a single equalities Bill that will have all the bells and whistles and will represent legislative perfection. Until that Bill is before us, we need protection on the statute book, and we need it as quickly as possible.
Having listened to the hon. Member for New Forest, West, I am sure that there will be a desire for many exceptions in some quarters, especially faith-based organisations. That is to be expected. I agree with Stonewall, however, that there is no case for any exemptions under part 3.
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