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Lord Dormand of Easington: Subsection (3) of the new clause includes the phrase,

Some noble Lords may not be aware that there is a parliamentary humanist group. It has no fewer than 53 members of all parties and from both Houses. That gives some indication of the state of religious belief in the country as a whole.

I am opposed to the new clause. But if such a change were to be made, Parliament should recognise the reality of the situation in the country, and not limit the provision to that proposed in the new clause.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, quoted the Labour Party manifesto. The most important point he cited was that all sections of society should be included. That is the point I am making.

Lord Goodhart: I have a good deal of sympathy with the principles underlying the amendment. The argument for this amendment is markedly stronger than for the previous one. Unlike agricultural and rural affairs, it

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cannot be said that faiths other than Christianity, or Churches other than the Church of England, are over-represented in your Lordships' House. A number of individuals are members of Churches other than the Church of England and others are members of other faiths, but few of them have the standing to speak on behalf of their Churches or faiths that the bishops have. Nevertheless, for the reasons I expressed in response to the previous amendment, and for the reasons put extremely clearly on this amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, it seems inappropriate that any group of persons should be selected in a representative capacity for membership of a transitional House by the appointments commission. Therefore, with regret, we are unable to support the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My noble friend Lord Caithness has introduced an interesting amendment, and one which chimes--as it is a debate about religion that seems the correct word--with paragraphs 21 and 22 of what I think is the White Paper. It is a little confusing as to whether such documents are White Papers because although the pages are white, the covers are no longer white. I refer to the document, Modernising Parliament, Reforming the House of Lords, which was published by the Government. Paragraphs 21 and 22 address this issue. Paragraph 22 states:

    "The Government also recognises the importance of the House of Lords reflecting more accurately the multicultural nature of modern British society in which there are citizens of many faiths, and of none. We shall be looking for ways of increasing the representation in the Lords of other religious traditions. In particular, there is a case for examining the position of the Church of Scotland which is an established church but has never had representation as of right in the second chamber".

I also understand that when the Church of Scotland was offered the possibility of seats in your Lordships' House, the problem rapidly arose that the "head"--he is not, of course--the chief minister, the Moderator, holds office for only one year. Therefore, there was some difficulty in identifying who might represent the Church of Scotland in your Lordships' House. I understand that the same problem arose when a bishop or archbishop in the Roman Catholic Church was offered a peerage. On advice from the Vatican, he was unable to accept it, which is a great pity.

I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that the Government in their White Paper have gone some way towards sympathising with the amendment. I am sure that that is what we shall hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, when she replies. I recall, when we voted on whether the Church of England should allow lady priests, turning to the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of York and asking him whether when the Division was called he would like a Presbyterian vote. He indicated that he would. As the Church of Scotland has successfully had women ministers for many years, it seemed only right that I should give him that vote. Indeed, the free churches are rightly represented here by a noble Baroness who is a minister.

It is right that the Government have acknowledged that and I look forward to hearing their comments. The Minister may be interested to hear what the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which is currently

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meeting, has had to say about your Lordships' House. It is being presided over by the Queen's representative, the noble Lord, Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld. Indeed, the Church of Scotland is well represented in this House, although not by the clergy but by many elders of the Church. A noble Lord who has recently taken his place on the Government Front Bench is married to an elder of the Church. So we are represented, if not by the clergy. However, I do not believe that your Lordships are too keen to hear a moral lecture from me--perhaps from some of the other elders, but not from me.

The Church of Scotland, in its supplementary report on church and nations, published this week, said this about your Lordships' House:

    "Indeed, given the role the House of Lords has usefully played so far in revising, or 'mopping up', the actions and mistakes of the House of Commons, it could be said that it would be better to delay decisions on reform of the House of Lords until one can see more clearly the various corrective roles a reformed chamber may be able to play with regard to various parts of government". Before the noble Baroness the Leader of the House tells me that I am slightly out of order, perhaps I may say that, surely, people with such judgments thoroughly deserve a seat in your Lordships' House.

The report goes on to say that the committee wishes to argue for a strong second Chamber doing a worthwhile job. I believe that in that the position of the Bishops has been important. The Bishops have not always agreed with me; the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Oxford and Ripon in particular proved troublesome for me when I was a Minister in the Department of Social Security. I recall one day going into the Division Lobby on some other issue and seeing a Bishop--neither of those--I looked at him and said, "I have an awful feeling that one of us must be in the wrong Lobby". He assured me that we were both in the correct Lobby on that issue.

I believe that the Bishops have played a very important role. The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, who sits on the Cross Benches, has made some very interesting speeches on moral issues. Even if one did not agree with them, one had to agree that they were made powerfully and on a well-argued case that should be heard. My noble friend the Duke of Norfolk performs a service as a kind of unpaid Whip for the Roman Catholic Members of your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, who was recently in his place, gave us an indication of the attitude of the Moslem faith to issues such as the age of consent.

All of us can agree that such contributions strengthen your Lordships' House. Therefore, it is important that my noble friend's amendment will allow the Government, in the person of the Leader of the House, to underline their commitments made in the White Paper to ensure not only that other parts of the Christian Churches in the UK are represented here, but other faiths which play a significant part in life in many areas of our country and--I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand--those of no faith at all. It is important that your Lordships' House in future represents a broad cross-section of the British people. That includes the religious persuasions of that broad cross-section.

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4.30 p.m.

Lord Annan: Perhaps the noble Baroness could help me and some of my noble friends on these Benches who follow the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. This whole issue about appointments committees will be discussed by the Royal Commission and we are going over the ground that we shall go over after the commission has reported. This is a fine way of wasting time and I ask the noble Baroness to express her own feelings on the issue, although I do not wish her to take a lead.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I shall reply first to the noble Lord, Lord Annan. As I cannot always get the line of sight over my right shoulder, I am not sure whether he was in the Chamber when we discussed the previous amendment. I then made it clear that the Government believe that much of the substance of the points being made is legitimately in the domain of the Royal Commission, and I emphasised that in response to the previous amendment.

However, noble Lords have raised particular issues and, as I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the Government believe it is appropriate to make full replies to those points. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that underlying some of the points is a discussion that it would be more relevant to have in the future. I am happy to agree on that and I shall make the point again in my remarks.

I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, will be encouraged to hear me say that the Government entirely sympathise with the principles lying behind the amendment. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for reading out the appropriate extract from the Government's White Paper. I am only sorry that he did not appreciate or recognise the reproduction of the "racing colours" of the House of Lords on the front cover because that was designed to be attractive to your Lordships. Obviously, it has failed in that.

Turning to the role of the right reverend Prelates, their representation ex officio clearly has its roots deep in the country's history. Those roots have as much to do with economics and politics in the past as religion. But, clearly, religion and the religious aspects of their representation have become much more prominent in recent years. However, the Government sympathise with the concerns of noble Lords who have spoken to introduce the amendment that the Bishops' Bench probably no longer adequately reflects religious feeling in this country. It is perhaps surprising that no right reverend Prelate has intervened to challenge that, but there has been agreement around the Committee that we have become a multi-faith, multi-cultural society and it is important that that is represented in your Lordships' House. As several noble Lords have said, that need not be through official representation. As has been pointed out, since the legal disabilities were removed, the Roman Catholic Church has been strongly represented by lay members, although its clergy continue to be barred by their own laws from taking an active part in this type of political activity. Similarly, as has been

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mentioned, there are a number of distinguished Jewish Members of the House. There are as yet fewer Moslem or Hindu Members, but perhaps that will change in the future.

However, it is difficult to think how one might achieve the understandable desire to have more official representation, at least in the present circumstances. Many denominations rotate their senior officers, sometimes even annually. Others have no central organisation to speak for them, so it might be difficult to identify who was truly representative. Some, by their very tradition and history, find it very hard to accept the kind of formal leadership of that nature that would necessarily be involved in selecting someone to represent them in this House.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was kind enough to remind us, the Government's White Paper asked the Royal Commission to look at this matter and try to find an appropriate way forward, particularly on this difficult issue of appointing sensible and appropriate representatives. Perhaps I may take it one step further, in the light of the Royal Commission's present deliberations, and refer to the Labour Party's submission to it, not the Government's. The Labour Party's submission, which was published early this week, states:

    "The Labour Party believes that the Royal Commission should explore the options and opportunities for extending representation of the other religions and faiths which take their place in British society. The Labour Party believes that this is desirable as Britain becomes an increasingly multi-cultural and multifaithed society". I hope that that reassures the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, of the intentions of both the political party and the Government, as represented in the White Paper.

In the meantime, however, I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Annan, Lord Walton of Detchant, and Lord Goodhart, that these matters are appropriately left to the Royal Commission. I do not think that it would be sensible at this stage of the proceedings on the Bill or at this stage of the proceedings of the Royal Commission to--

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