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Lord Morgan: My Lords, the Minister has cited the opinion of parliamentary counsel, saying that if one put "children" in this part of the Bill it would have to be written in elsewhere. Why can it not be done more generally? I do not see the obstacle, intellectually.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Morgan will know from earlier stages of the Bill, one thing I am keen to avoid is ending up with our having to ensure that we have covered every single group covered by the commission in every aspect of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, made it clear that the job of the commission is to work to protect effectively some of the most vulnerable groups in society. I am always
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anxious to avoid giving an impression in legislation that, because we have not written everybody else in, they are somehow not covered.
I was searching, working hard with very committed officials, for somewhere in the Bill where I could make the point without running the risk that I have just outlined. I cannot find it. These amendments do not work technically. I have made my commitments and believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will be comfortable with them because they are as strong as any commitment one will ever get from the Government. They are genuine commitments and I hope, on that basis, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, my ambition in life is to satisfy parliamentary counsel in the drafting of an amendment. I have not yet succeeded. However, I am most grateful to the Minister for her reply and for the support for the amendment from around the House. How strongly the House feels about this issue is clear from the views expressed. I am grateful for the Minister's reassurances. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and I will be happy to take up her suggestion of meeting her colleague, Meg Munn. I accept what she said about the deficiencies of the amendment. The statements that she made are some of the strongest that we might have expected from a Minister on a subject such as this. We will certainly look for a review at some stage of how the commission is working for children, and the Minister has just promised us one. She will accept that it is our experience that if children have not been specifically mentioned, resources and attention have not always followed. Therefore, her invitation to review how well the commission is working on children will certainly be taken up by the children's mafia in your Lordships' House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 3, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 4, 10, 41, and 45. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that I have satisfied her ambition before she has, because parliamentary counsel are very happy with my amendments.
I am sure that noble Lords will recall that on Report on 19 October, I moved an amendment asking the Government to look again at the possibility of extending the protections proposed for religious groups against discrimination in goods, facilities and services to the lesbian and gay community. I was truly grateful for the support I received, not just from those who spoke but from colleagues on these Benches. The Government have always maintained that it would be impossible to do the necessary consultations and
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establish the need for those protections during the passage of the Bill. This amendment, which is supported by my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, allows the Secretary of State to make a regulation to correct this mischief on the face of the Bill while giving sufficient time for consultation.
I do not intend to make a long speech. The Government have been most generous, and I hope that we have found a way to satisfy them as well as thousands of gay men and lesbians who will benefit from these provisions when they are eventually enacted. In anticipation of a favourable response from the Front Bench, like a Hollywood actor at one of those Hollywood ceremonies, I would like to say a few thank yous, and I may possibly shed a tear. I would like to thank my agent, Stonewall, for all its help in drafting and moving this amendment. I would definitely like to thank noble Lords on the Back Benches for their continued strong support for gay and lesbian rights. I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury who, less than half an hour after he delivered his maiden speech, stood up to speak in support of these amendments. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who has seen this through with diligence and patience. My noble friend Lady Turner of Camden has always been in her place, not only during these debates, but during every piece of equality legislation that I have witnessed in this House. Of course, I will save the final thank you for my colleagues on the Front Bench until I have heard what they have to say.
Lord Smith of Finsbury: My Lords, first, I support my noble friend Lord Alli in proposing his amendments. In the 21st century it cannot be right for people to be discriminated against in going about their lives, in buying or making use of goods and services, simply on the ground of their sexual orientation. Worse than facing that discrimination is the existence of discrimination in the law which gives a green light to those who seek to act out their discrimination in rather more violent ways, as sadly we have witnessed in the past few weeks. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that the law does not discriminate and that practice is not allowed to discriminate. These amendments will secure that objective and I strongly endorse and support them.
Secondly, as I do not have my noble friend's ability to speak after the Minister, I want to thank, in anticipation, my noble friends on the Front Bench and their right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the very constructive way in which they have sought to accommodate the principles and the feeling on these Benches and across the House.
Thirdly, in drawing up the regulations that we hope will arise if these amendments are passed, I ask that Ministers will be expeditious, that they will ensure that the consultation takes place, as is only right and proper, and that as soon as that consultation has taken place they will seize an early opportunity to put the
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regulations in place. Those ambitions have too long been unfulfilled. I look forward to the day when, with the help of my noble friends on the Front Bench, they will indeed be fulfilled.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Alli, will also feel able to thank me. I have every sympathy with the objectives that the noble Lord seeks to achieve with these amendments. I am certain that there should be no discrimination or harassment against anyone on any ground whatever, including sexual orientation. I also believe that the noble Lord will agree with me that respect has to be given to the susceptibilities of others on genuineI stressed the word "genuine"and deeply held religious beliefs. I am sure he will agree with me as his Amendment No. 41 states in subsection (3)(e):
I very much hope that the noble Baroness will take reasonable and long-held religious views into account when drafting the regulations. While Amendment No. 41 says, in reference to regulations, that the Secretary of State "may" make regulations about discrimination or harassment on grounds of sexual orientation, there is clearly no compulsion. I hope that the noble Baroness is able to do that.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am very privileged to find myself supporting the noble Lords, Lord Alli and Lord Smith of Finsbury, on these amendments. With the benefit of foresight, rather than hindsight, it was clearly a mistake for the Government to introduce religious discrimination without introducing sexual orientation discrimination at the same time. That is water under the bridge. The great virtue of these amendments is that both kinds of unfair discriminatory treatment will be covered in legislation. I hope that the Minister will be able not only to accept the amendments but also to tell the House about the Government's timetable and the consultation so that we can have some idea whether this will happen sooner or later, without committing the Government to any particular dates.
Finally, I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, in the best tradition of this House, spreading flattery and adulation across the House. I remind him and the House of what happened in the 19th century. There were two great constitutional historians; one called Freeman, and the other called Stubbs. They kept writing reviews of a flattering kind about each other's books. One day a wag wrote:
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