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Lord Avebury: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord was under a misapprehension. I did not intend to refer to his speech but I shall do so now that he has invited me to elaborate on his remarks. He said that trade unions or Churches may decide who to admit to their communities and that faith communities should not be dictated to by any state. We are not concerned here
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I asked the noble Lord a simple question. Is the noble Lord prepared to accept that other members of the European Unionfor example, Ireland or Germanyhave accepted the amendments to the directive. I do not want him to comment on my speech, which was minor and neither here nor there. I just want him to answer my question. What is the rest of the European Union doing?
However, as soon as I saw these words I wrote to Mr David Tredinnick, the chairman of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, pointing out that they were outside the scope of the directive and asking whether Standing Order 151 in the Commons and Standing Order 74 in your Lordships' House, where they deal with the vires of a statutory instrument, should make specific reference to orders which go beyond the scope of their parent European directives. Mr Tredinnick replied that standing orders did not need alteration because these powers were already contained in the existing wording. Indeed, I am sure that they are, but the debate in your Lordships' House today emphasises the importance of putting this on the face of the standing orders.
As my noble friend said, the Select Committee has now reported that there is doubt as to whether Regulation 7(3) is intra vires. It draws these regulations to the special attention of both Houses in very strong and, I think, unprecedented language. I am open to correction, but I do not think that the Select Committee has ever had occasion to use this power before. It also criticises the Government for consulting on Regulation 7(3) with only a small number of representatives of Churches and not with representatives of any body which is likely to be affected by the changes.
When these orders were considered by the Joint Select Committee on 3rd June, it had to make do with photocopies because the printed versions had not yet been published. The Select Committee has done very well to get its report out quickly, but it was available on the web only late on Friday afternoon. That has not given your Lordships time to consult with the representatives of those who may be affected in the light of the committee's strictures.
As with much of the business of the House these days, the Government's idea seems to be to pile it on with the minimum time for consideration, hoping that shock and awe will eliminate legitimate objections. I
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, although we on these Benches are not a party and are not whipped, your Lordships will understand that it is with some hesitation that anyone speaks against the very strong representation of not only the Archbishops' Council of my own church but also the leadership of many other denominations and faith communities.
The words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn undoubtedly reflect what the Government have heard from our Church. I suspect that they reflect the views of perhaps the overwhelming majority of bishops, and I am sure that the House will weigh them in that light. In speaking at this point, therefore, I do not seek to give to my words and arguments the kind of weight of support that he rightly would claim as his. However, I hope that the House will understand that there are occasions on which it is quite important to place on the record of a debate such as this the view of a minority, of whom I am glad to be one. I take the view that the representations made on behalf of my own Church are not proportionate to the problem with which they seek to deal. I shall support the noble Lord's Motion.
There are in the Church and in religious communities two debates of very great significance. First, there is the debate about sexual ethics. That debate needs to be conducted with respect and coolness, particularly in view of the nature of the subject. I do not for one moment attribute prejudice or bigotry to those who disagree with me in that debate. There are significant arguments with which it is important for the mind of the Church to engage. We are doing so, and we are seeking every opportunity to enable others to consider their positions on this topic. I want that process to continue.
Secondly, there is another less prominent debate that I suspect may be more important in the long term; namely, the debate in religious communities about the human rights tradition. I believe that that is a very important development in modern society. I also believe that it is frequently pursued to the neglect of the rights of communities in society and with an interest only in the rights of individuals. To that extent, I have much sympathy with those who say that, as a balancing factor, it is important to attend to the rights of religious communities to maintain their own characters and their own lives.
However, there are two reasons why at the end of the day I still find myself regretting the form in which this particular regulation has been brought before the House and supportive of the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. First, there is the phrase about the beliefs of a significant number of the followers of a religion. I have said, and I repeat, that I do not hold in disrespect those who out of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh or Hindu conviction believe that the conduct of sexual life has to be within marriage, or by abstinence. However, I find unacceptable the use of
I have to say to your Lordships that it is not only in religious communities that such campaigns can be mounted. In Worcester, I have watched the British National Party clothe itself in religion, precisely for the purpose of undertaking campaigns of that kind. Therefore, I find it extremely difficult to accept that we should be advancing, with the support of religious communities, a regulation that includes such an open-ended licence for people to advance things that are not the doctrines of the Church and may not be the doctrines of any religion. Frankly, they are their own gut reactions, which they clothe in those doctrines because they believe that it will advance their cause. That concerns me very greatly indeed.
My second difficulty is that I do not believe that the rights of religious communities are unlimited in relation to the civil law of society. A balance must be struck, time and time again as a matter of fact, about whether religious communities may preserve their distinctive character or whether that distinctive character goes too far outside what the public good has come to see as right. I frankly believe that on many issues those matters will be very controversial. For example, we have seen the controversy about the rights of animals in relation to techniques of slaughter that have substantial religious support and tradition behind them. We shall not avoid what is a serious debate in all areas of society, all our Churches and all our faith communities. Certainly, we shall not be able to avoid it in this House.
My concern is that a regulation has been presented to us today that cuts through that debate as though the issue was completely clear. I do not believe that it is, and I do not believe that the language is clear. I am not worried so much about litigation and long deliberations in courts of law. What worries me much more is what might happen on the streets, when people wind up communities. I do not believe that we have yet explored nearly far enough the possibility of creating language in a regulation that is sufficiently limiting and proportionate to defend those things that are undoubtedly necessary for a character of a religious community but also require that community to live within the insights of society as a whole. That is why I have taken it on myself to voice a minority judgment and to express my support for the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Lester.
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