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The sexual orientation regulations are not confined in their effect to the tendency of a personorientation means, I think, tendency. These regulations are not about outlawing a particular tendency. They do more than that. They state that people who give services, supply goods or provide facilities must not discriminate on the ground of sexual orientation. The regulations imply that if those people interact with people of that orientation, they must also be prepared to allow them, if appropriate, to use the facilities that they provide for the purpose of homosexual practice. That is quite different from the other types of discrimination. It is the practice of homosexual acts that some Christiansbut not the noble Lord who has just spokenand considerable numbers of people of other major religions believe is wrong and sinful, and they do not think that they can conscientiously do anything to promote or further it.
I shall take one illustration, that of a person who provides bed and breakfast for people in his house. In
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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, is it not the case that these regulations mirror what is already in law in relation to sexual orientation in employment and occupation, which adopts exactly the same approach, and that all that is prohibited is treating people less favourably on the ground of their sexual orientation, just like their race or their gender? Can the noble and learned Lord deal with those two points?
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, the employment regulations outlaw discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation; that is, the tendency to favour a particular mode of sexual conduct. It is a tendency, not a practice. The difference between those regulations and these regulations is that these regulations, although they come under the heading of sexual orientation regulations, would make it unlawful for a person to refuse to accept a same-sex couple into their boarding house. I am much too old to offer any such facilities and the regulations are unlikely to affect me in any way whatever; I am thinking of a person who has a religious conviction of the kind that I have just mentioned and who does not believe that it is right in conscience to accept people into their house who would use it to practise a way of life that they considered sinful. That is the essence of the problem. The regulations seek to override their conscientious objection to that behaviour in their home.
The adoption agencies are another area of difficulty. There may be a regulation that helps to exempt adoption agencies that are charitiesat least it does so on one construction of itbut there is a difficulty if an adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex couples on the ground of religious conviction. Again, that might be outlawed by the regulations. The regulations are not particularly easy to construe and I am not going to attempt to do so, because they are quite complicated, but this is the essence of the matter as I see itdifferentiating these regulations and the kind with which we are familiar.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, if the hypothetical person who runs a boarding house has such an objection to this particular sin, should they not prohibit all the other seven deadly sins while somebody is in the bedroom of their house?
Lord Eames: My Lords, perhaps I may presume to introduce one other aspect to this debate that is of great importance to the people of Northern Ireland. Shortly before my retirement on 31 December as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, I found that it was my duty to join episcopal colleagues in drawing the attention of the general public to the tremendous concern that we as bishops felt about the manner in which the process of legislating in this place and in the other place for Northern Ireland was being followed. We had to make our concerns public for the simple reason that we believed that some of the process that was being adopted by Her Majestys Government in relation to Northern Ireland was in every sense a denial of rights. This debate, while it has so far centred on doctrine and personal religious beliefs, is an example of what can happen when the Government follow a certain process through Orders in Council and regulations, as is the case this evening.
What I am speaking of has nothing to with party politics or denominations. It is something that should be of genuine concern to this House, particularly to those who do not come from Northern Ireland, but who in England and Wales will shortly, so we are informed, have to engage in a debate of this nature.
Over a wide range of subjects, not least this present one, current procedures place some of us in an impossible situation, where we agree with large sections of legislationwhere we agree with the spirit of it and recognise that it has to do with human dignity and equalitybut cannot do otherwise than challenge other parts of it. The process to which I am referring denies us the opportunity to do that. To support such proposals in total denies our rights to question or amend.
I shall illustrate this dilemma, which I and others feel tonight, with reference to some current legislation that has, or will, come before this House. The main churches in Northern Irelandthe Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist churchesreceived the consultation documentation on 29 July and a response was demanded by 25 September. Noble Lords will recognise that this was a major holiday period, when anything akin to a full response was impossible. If the views of the main churches were of interest to the Government and were genuinely sought on such an important and sensitive issue as this, which has to do with dignity, equality and justice, how were we expected to respond with integrity? Consequently, we find ourselves this evening supporting much, but unable to press our concerns on parts that are unclear and a source of deep anxiety to many Christians in Northern Ireland.
Of equal importance to this concern on the consultative process on Orders in Council are the following examples. A huge document was received for consultation by the churches on charities review. Views were invited, we were told, on 7 July and expected by 13 October. On the adoption law, views
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As noble Lords know, unlike most legislation, neither Orders in Council nor regulations can be amended and they are denied full parliamentary scrutiny as I understand it. Surely where such situations arise there is an additional legal and moral burden on the Government to be seen to provide reasonable additional consultation, in the name of good government. In Northern Ireland, where the onus is placed on this House and the other place in the absence of a local Assembly, surely that moral responsibility is even more important. I believe that the Government should have instructed civil servants along those lines.
It is also obvious that broadly similar legislation applying separately to Northern Ireland and to the rest of the United Kingdom is accorded different response times in different parts of the kingdom, to the disadvantage of the people of Northern Ireland. It prompts me to ask: what if the regulations proposed for England and Wales ultimately differ in any manner from those proposed for Northern Ireland? What will be the result for the United Kingdom as a whole? That is a very serious possibility, which I ask this House to take into consideration.
The churches play a vital role in charities, adoption procedures, education and now equality issues. I believe that we do not have to defend the role that we have played or the voice that we have given to the population on these issues. These issues have an impact on the life of the voluntary sector and the wider community, and much of the legislation on those other areas is to be welcomed; equally, however, much of it is controversial and deserves much closer scrutiny than is possible under our present procedures.
It gives me, after my years of public service, no pleasure to make those points. But I appeal to the Government to recognise the dilemmas that the current procedure presents to many of us, including myself. Should it be the caseI say, should it be the casethat fast-tracking controversial legislation is simply a lever to force the restoration of devolved government for Northern Ireland, I would have very serious concerns. Be that as it may, a serious consequence of the current methods of making law for Northern Ireland is to leave open the way for such perceptions to prosper. In my years of experience, if I have learnt anything, it is thatI think that those noble Lords who have served in the Province would agree with meperceptions can become realities overnight. In the interests of good government, that is surely highly undesirable.
This debate illustrates the consequences of that lack of scrutiny. It poses very serious issues, irrespective of the detail of the subject matter covered
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Baroness Blood: My Lords, a number of Peers, perhaps better qualified to speak than I am, wish to contribute, so I shall be brief. I support the regulations, not because I support homosexuals and lesbians, or because I have no morals or Christian faithI hope that I have bothbut because I believe in equality. It is something that I have worked for all my life, whether in religion, colour, disability, gender or class, and I see no difference in affording the same equality in sexual orientation. There has been quite a lot of talk in Northern Irelandthe noble Lord, Lord Morrow, has referred to itabout bed and breakfast accommodation where two men or two women might share a bedroom, something that I have done numerous times. Having attended numerous conferences over the years, I have shared a bedroom with another woman, but I cannot remember ever being asked what I was going to do in the room.
There is also the suggestion that, if these regulations were passed, it would be un-Christian and all Christian people in Northern Ireland would be outraged. But I have in my hand an article written by a Christian organisation whose headline is, New legislation not to be feared by Christians. Indeed, as any of your Lordships who were watching Heaven and Earth on television last Sunday will know, this legislation was one of the topics on the programme. Viewers were asked to e-mail and text in their views. The majority of viewers who responded were in favour of the legislation. So it is wide of the mark to suggest that all right-thinking people are opposed to it.
I agree with the noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Eames, that there is a lot of uneasiness about the way that this is being done. But if you look at Northern Ireland, you think of the Equality Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Help the Aged and Age Concern, which all strongly support these regulations.
Although I can cite all these organisations that support the legislation, there is a body of people who feel deeply offended by it and I support their right to oppose it. Across Northern Ireland, even among those who support the regulations, there is deep anger and a feeling of unease at the speed with which they are being put through. As we have heard, the consultation period was short and requests from groups for extensions were denied, even though that was granted in Great Britain. So it is easy to understand the feeling in Northern Ireland that the people there are being used as guinea pigs.
Given the nature of the regulations, would not the Northern Ireland Office have been better advised to take more time over them? Indeed, could they not have been brought in at the same time as the legislation for Great Britain, which I understand is to be April 2007? This kind of consultation leaves Northern Ireland feeling insulted, not consulted.
I concede that the Government have taken on board some of the suggestionsthe noble Lord, Lord Morrow, referred to some of themthat came out of the short consultation period and that some changes have been made and some safeguards have been put in. But I ask the Minister two questions. First, why was the consultation period shorter than the one in Great Britain? Secondlyand the noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Eames, has already referred to thisif and when the regulations for Great Britain come to be debated and they are amended or indeed not passed, where would that leave the regulations for Northern Ireland? Would they be withdrawn?
Lord Moran: My Lords, we must thank my noble friend Lord Morrow for giving us an opportunity to pass judgment on these highly controversial regulations, which came into force in Northern Ireland nine days ago without any parliamentary debate or vote. They have been rushed through, after the briefest possible consultation during the summer holidaysas the noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Eames, made clear in his deeply impressive speechand have been introduced under direct rule powers so that Northern Irelands democratically elected representatives have had no opportunity to consider them. Had they done so, I should not have been surprised if Sinn Fein and the DUP had joined forces to oppose them.
The regulations include a widely drawn harassment law, which my noble friend Lord Morrow has already described. He explained its implications, which would have been very serious. Those responsible for drawing it up might have remembered that a similar harassment law covering religion was rejected in a decisive vote by this House on the Third Reading of the Equality Bill last November on an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. Moreover there is, as I understand it, already a firm criminal law which protects everyonethe Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997.
It is clear that the new regulations, while seeking quite reasonably to meet the concerns of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, may have damaging effects on Christians and Christian churches of all denominations, Christian schools, Christian adoption agencies, Christian printers and Christian conference centres. They may be asked to provide services that involve them in condoning or promoting a lifestyle that conflicts with their fundamental beliefs about marriage and family life. It has been pointed out that the regulations may be used to discriminate against those who deeply believe that homosexual activity is morally wrong.
It is not surprising that eminent churchmenboth Catholics and Anglicans, including leaders of black churcheshave spoken out strongly against the regulations. The Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham has said:
The regulations will certainly have an adverse effect on freedom of speech. A Christian teacher would, it appears, risk prosecution if he or she were to teach
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Noble Lords will be aware that in addition to the judicial review that has now been decided, some Christian lawyers have made a plea to the Queen, and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has also put a number of questions to the Government and will be meeting to discuss the regulations on 24 January.
I have for some time thought that a substantial proportion of the laws that we in this House are asked to pass result from pressure from the homosexual lobby, while other minorities are ignored. For example, nine years ago, the Government commissioned a study of salmon and freshwater fisheries. An excellent report resulted that was welcomed by everyone, including the Government. The recommendations for actions by fishery organisations were quickly followed up. The Government promised to introduce primary legislation to deal with the rest when parliamentary time permitted. That was six years ago and nothing has happened, but year after year the Government reaffirmed their commitment to legislate. A rather sad letter that Defra sent to all the organisations concerned just a year ago states:
Although we have bid for a Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Bill in most years since the review ... we have never been successful in getting a slot for it. For the current session, it made the reserve list (albeit at No. 47) but was eventually dropped because of pressure of other government business.
A year later, there is still no sign of the Bill. Now, too, we see that the marine Billsomething of the greatest importance to this countrydid not as expected make it into the Queens Speech. Perhaps it, too, will suffer prolonged delay.
Three and a half million anglers and uncounted environmentalists are given short shrift by this Government, but things are very different when the Government deal with the gay lobby. I asked the Library how many major statutes impacting on gay rights have passed since 1997. It gave me a list of eight. Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals have indeed been handsomely treated at the cost of other interests. There have been so many of these Bills that the Government seem now to have decided to take major steps to increase gay rights by avoiding primary legislation and using regulations like those now before us as a quicker and less difficult alternative.
Not only do Ministers such as Mr Hain push on this agenda; even civil servants are drawn into the campaign. A recent report says that proposals by officials in the Home Officewhere else?recommends that schools that lack enthusiasm for rooting out homophobic prejudice should be reported to the police, that there should be hate crime co-ordinators and that gay lobby groups should set up third-party reporting centres, seemingly a resurrection of the Coopers snoopers we heard of during the war.
One is bound to ask oneself why this Government are apparently so obsessed with extending the rights and privileges of gays. People may begin to wonder if they are planning to make homosexuality compulsory. This never-ending stream of measures for a particular lobby is surely likely to produce a backlash and make life for gays worse rather than better.
I have no doubt that we should support the Prayer so that the Northern Ireland regulations can be suspended and, one hopes, amended drastically or perhaps tidied away and best forgotten, while similar action is taken on the regulations proposed for Great Britain next April.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I begin by saying something that may give comfort or cause concern to the noble Lord, Lord Smith. I must tell him that, should he come one dark and stormy evening knocking at the door of my house seeking shelter, he would be most welcome. He would be most civilly invited in and I hope that we would enjoy each other's company, because this is not quite as he would have us believe. He put the proposition that we should think about this legislation substituting the word black for homosexual. Of course, that sounds an interesting proposition, but I have to point out that black is about being. Sexual orientation is also about being. We would not wish to discriminate against people for being black or on grounds of their sexual orientation. The concerns being expressed this evening are primarily about sodomy rather than about sexual orientationthat is, doing not being.
As an old politician who likes to think he had reasonable experience in government, I cannot think of a single word to add from the point of view of good government to what has been said by the noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Eames. He said it in a way which should be a lesson to all of us who practise, have practised or will in future practise the arts of government.
Some things about this legislation give me concern. First, there is the question of those exemptions which are granted. In shorthand, one could say that to qualify for these exemptions one would need to establish that one had, or belonged to a group which had, a profound religious objection to some of these matters. What has happened to liberal values? Why is a thoughtful agnostic or atheist to be compelled to do that to which these regulations would give thoughtful deists a waiver? Is that not itself a prime example of discrimination?
Perhaps we should have some legislation to protect those who are not deists in the way protection is being given to those who are of a religious frame of mind. Is it not possible for such a person to hold the view that it is wrong for the state to compel him to refrain from arguing that sodomy is a social ill or to conscript him or his children into aiding and abetting itif that is the right expression? Is it not possible for a person without religious beliefs to reasonably hold the view that it is wrong for the state to compel him to refrain from making arguments which he could make were he a member of a religious group?
I have other questions. I take it that it will be the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who gets the short straw again tonight in answering the debate. Would, let us say, a woman patient in a hospital who declined to be treated or examined by an openly lesbian doctor be guilty of harassment? Could she be sued for such a thing, particularly if she had no religious beliefs about it, merely personal ones?
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