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I have spent most of my life working in social care, a good deal of it worrying about the protection of children. In adoption, there is one principle and one principle only: the needs of the child are paramount. Whatever the family, whatever their colour, creed or sexual orientation, they have no right to the child. The child has the right to the home. Any good adoption agency will spend its time making that assessment. However, an adoption agency may decide that it will not place some children because it does not like the placement that it has found. For example, I know two male nurses in Scotland who are both gay. They were working with a youngster in a wheelchair who is extraordinarily disabled and extraordinarily difficult. Had they not given that child a home, he would have spent his life in an institution. That is true of many of the children to whom gay couples give homes. These are not easy children. We are not talking about handing babies to a couple of gay mennot that I think that there is anything wrong with that. I know gay male couples who have given extraordinarily good homes to children. But any adoption agency is likely to place a child with a family where there is a mother and a father. If there is not such a family and there is a good homosexual couple available who can give the child a homethe alternative being an institutionI would hope that the agency would place the child with them.
For many years, I was the chief executive of Childline. During the time of Section 28, not because I had any interest in it, I looked at some of the issues around bullying. We talked to teachers about homophobic bullying. Since the removal of Section 28, I have found no problems of schools being told that they have to give education about gay rights. My experience was of teachers terrified of intervening on behalf of children who were being seriously bullied for being gay, because they thought that Section 28 meant that they would be in deep trouble. The converse is true: removing these kinds of statutes helps children. I do not for a moment think that governorsnever mind the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and his departmentwill allow the curriculum to be changed in order to accommodate issues that most are very careful about. I am talking about the whole spectrum of sexual education, which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, knows so well.
As a Christian, I am deeply concerned. Christ told the story of the good Samaritan, who was an outcast; many gay people feel outcast. Returning to the beginning of my speechwhich, I suppose, is not a speechI say that this issue is about believing that homosexual people are equal. They are not remote sinners doing something that you may find difficult to face, but real people, who are prepared to contribute to society, to give good homes to children, to teach in our school and to live, on the whole, discreetly and kindly, and who deserve access to goods and services. Of course, children are not goods, but we are talking, in legislation, about access to services. Gay people deserve that as much as any of us, just as Wilberforce said that every black person deserved equal treatment. I commend the regulations to the House.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, we have heard a most impressive speech from the noble Baroness. I will not follow her down those lines because I realise that she feels very strongly about this, as do we all. My concern about these regulations comes from a slightly different point of view. When the Minister said that we have come to the final chapter of having a fair society and have got the balance right, I thought to myself, What is the balance?. It is 20 pages of regulations that need lawyers to make you understand what is right and what is not right, and what you are entitled to do and what you are not entitled to do. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York that these matters are deeply sensitive and ought to be dealt with in primary legislation, where they can be argued, teased out and considered. They should not be put in 20 pages of regulations, which cannot be amended and to which we have to say either yes or no.
I find it extraordinary that ministers of religion and vicars cannot say in the pulpit certain things, which their beliefs entitle them to say, for fear of being prosecuted. The noble Baroness may say that this is unlikely to happen, but can she give an undertaking that it will not happen and that they will not be prosecuted? The trouble is that if that is possibleand, certainly, the regulations raise that concernpeople will believe that they had better not say something, for fear of being prosecuted. In other words, freedom of speech and freedom of thought will be curtailed by these regulations. That is quite unacceptable.
My other concern is with the way in which these regulations have gone through Parliament, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lady OCathain. The regulations were withdrawn and relaid three times in a week. The delegated legislation committee of another place sat one morning from 8.55 for an hour and a half. Apart from the three Front-Bench spokesmen, only one Back-Bencher participated. When the regulations were taken on the Floor of the House, there was no debate at all; they were just voted on. I simply do not believe that that is the right way in which to put through detailed, sensitive legislation that deals with peoples rights, thoughts and religion.
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But that brings in another funny problem. A week ago, we discussed how the Government thought that the House of Lords ought to be reformed. Yet these regulations could not be reformed or even discussed in the House of Commons. If we are to reform Chambers of Parliament, one really wonders whether we should not start down the other end.
It would be odd if your Lordships were to reject these regulations, which have not been considered or voted on in another place. But, for all that, they ought to be rejected in order to give the Government time to think again. That is not being obstinate, because there is real difficulty and anxiety on this issue. These problems must be resolved and at least discussed.
Lord Smith of Finsbury: My Lords, I support the regulations and oppose the noble Baronesss amendment. This debate and the debate outside this House have, I fear, been subject to considerable misconception. In a very telling point in her speech, the noble Baroness said that the regulations would force religious believers to change their beliefs. That point is echoed in the briefing that we all received from the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, which is deeply inaccurate in a number of respects. That briefing states:
That is untrue. No one is trying to stop anyone believing or living according to their beliefs. But where a service is offered to the public, especially where that service is sold to the public, where something is offered to be used or purchased by all, or where something is offered that is funded on behalf of the public by the Government, these regulations say, You shall not discriminate. That is all that these regulations are saying. It seems to me that it is a very sensible set of regulations.
I make four brief points. First, discrimination is discrimination irrespective of the supposed reason or belief that lies behind it. I am puzzled by the argument that goes something along the following lines: Because I deeply believe that I should discriminate against someone, because it is part of my religious faith, I should be allowed to exercise discrimination. I still believe that that is discrimination. It is an argument that is perhaps most elegantly put by those who say that people of faith should be ableas they put itto manifest their belief in the actions that they take. I do not have any problem with people believing something. I do not have any problem with people expressing that belief. However, I have a problem when they put that belief into action in a way that harms or discriminates against other people in society.
I have enormous respect for the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. I worked with him in his previous inner-city incarnation on many
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Secondly, some people listening to the discussion tonight might be forgiven for thinking that the point of view expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady OCathain, is the point of view of all people of faith and all people who take Jesus Christ as their Lord. That is not true, either. For me and many Christians, the Christ whom we look to is someone who talked about love and inclusion, who accepted and drew in the people who did not fit into the mainstream of society and did not seek to exclude them.
Thirdly, in the debate about the adoption of childrenthis has been well said by several speakers tonightwhat should be paramount are not the needs of the organisation, but the needs of the child. If the needs of the child mean that that child is best placed in a same-sex household, then that is where the child should go.
Fourthly, there is a real issue of actual discrimination and detriment to people who happen to be lesbian or gay; such discrimination happens here and now, in our society. These regulations seek to tackle that. Gay partners are turned away from bed-and-breakfast accommodation and they are deeply humiliated if that happens. People are struck off GP lists because they are lesbian or gay. Pupils face bullying in schools either because of their own sexuality or because of the sexuality of their parents. People are too often refused equal treatment. That, to me, is wrong. Tonight, we have a chance, quite simply, to put it right.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I think I can claim with justification and with pride that in every issue that has come before your Lordships House before, I have consistently supported the position of the gay community in the face of quite a lot of opposition from people like the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who based their opposition on the totally honest belief that homosexuality was wrong and was contrary to religious teaching. I respected their views on that, but it did not seem to be right that they should prevail, because I did not believe it was for the criminal law to impose the morality of the majority on the minority. That has been my consistent point throughout debates on this topic.
While I am convinced that there is much in the regulations that, if this were primary legislation, we would wish to see preservedseveral points have been made about bullying and so on, which undoubtedly should not happenthere is no doubt that in them there is much that seeks to impose the morality and views of those who disapprove of any form of discrimination against gays on people who hold genuine views the other waynamely, that they cannot forward an adoption by two men living in an
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I urge your Lordships House to see that this now shows the wrong side of the coin and that the argument and the beliefs that led us to repeal Section 28 and to remove discrimination and lower the age of consent and so on is now against much of the content of the regulations.
Lord Alli: My Lords, I intend to speak only briefly tonight; after all, we have been here before. I argued passionately for these regulations during the passage of the Equality Bill two years ago, and I say to the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, that it does not feel like the regulations are coming in in haste for those of us who argued for them at Second Reading on 15 June 2005, or in Committee, for which the amendments were tabled on 13 July 2005, or in the discussion that we had on Report on the Equality Bill on 19 October 2005, or at Third Reading of the Equality Bill on 9 November 2005, or in the consideration of the Northern Ireland regulations on 9 January 2007. They were extensive, full and detailed discussions about the provisions that we are debating now. The arguments remain the same. The regulations are essential and long overdue. We have heard many examples in this Chamber that support their introduction. My noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury outlined some of the needs and put the case better than I could.
Regrettably, the need for the regulations has been overshadowed again by far-fetched claims made in part by the noble Baroness, by some of her supporters and by someI repeat somein the Catholic church. The regulations are fair and balanced, and they are the same regulations that religious organisations argued that they needed for themselves. It is slightly hypocritical of some organisations to say that measures that are good for them are not good for the rest of us. I concur with my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury, who said that to start your argument by saying that you support anti-discrimination and then to spend the balance of your time arguing for discrimination seems slightly hypocritical.
I will say one thing about children: the sight, at lunchtime today, of six, seven and eight year-old children holding homophobic placards outside your Lordships House seemed to me to be the best argument for the regulations. The regulations only
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I pay tribute to the Government for bringing the regulations forward and to the Minister for her eloquent explanation of them at the beginning of the debate. There has been more than ample consultation on this provision. The noble Baroness, Lady OCathain, suggested that the Government had not listened. I think that the noble Baroness is confusing not listening with not agreeing. The Government have listened, but they disagree with the noble Baronesss argument. They also disagree with some of the arguments put forward by Cardinal Murphy-OConnor, some of which were plain inconsistent. He remarked that the Catholic adoption agencies were prepared to allow adoption to single gay men and lesbians but not prepared to adopt to gay couples. That cannot be a principled position; it is irrational, ill thought-through and highly prejudicial.
Let me take on the argument of our religious colleagues and friends. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said, they say, If I believe it strongly enough, you should allow me to keep that belief and exempt me from provisions and laws that discriminate against me. I rarely talk about my religious upbringing, but my father is a Muslim. When I read the Koran, it tells me in some passages that I must kill Jews. If I believe strongly enough that I must kill Jews, does that mean that I have the right to say, Exempt me from legislation because I believe it strongly enough. Let me discriminate against Jews, at least, because I believe it strongly enough and it is written in the Koran? That is not an acceptable argument. The decency, honesty and goodness in people must be the basis of arguments for the way we legislate, not dogmathat would be clearly wrong.
On several similar occasions, I have urged the noble Baroness not to move her Motion against this important equality legislation. I make that plea to her again tonight. I remind the House of the enormous difference which the regulations will make to peoples lives. I do not accuse her of this, but the noble Baroness is in danger of her actions being perceived as a personal crusade against the gay and lesbian community. If the noble Baroness chooses to press ahead with her Motionagain, I hope that she will notI ask the House to do what it has done on a number of occasions, which is to vote against it. Fundamentally, it is wrong. This House has built its reputation on fairness, justice and, more recently, equality.
The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, before turning to the question of education, about which there is more to be said this evening, I want to make four brief observations. Noble Lords must forgive my voice; there is a cold around. First, it is important that the House notes what the noble Lord, Lord
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Secondly, it has been said once or twice in the debate that what X or Y has said could not be said if it were being said to somebody who was black or of a particular gender. It may be helpful for me to remind those who say that that there are a number of us, not only from within the faiths and including to my knowledge a number of gay peopleI know because I have read their workwho would be quick to say that sexual orientation was not an absolute characteristic in the same way that ethnicity and gender are.
Thirdly, it is not for me to speak for my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, but at the heart of the Roman Catholic Churchs position is something that it would put alongside the question of the welfare of children. It should not be asked or, indeed, forced to collude with what it, I and many others perceive as the Governments programme to equate other relations with marriage. That may be the answer to what the noble Lord, Lord Alli, in his impressive speech, said about an inconsistency in the cardinals position.
Fourthly, the equally impressive speech by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, had a set of echoing theses, but I want to put another echoing thesis alongside them. It is that discrimination is discrimination, against whomsoever it is directed. Part of the difficulty that many of us have with the regulationsnot with their main thrust, but with the particular form of certain parts of themis that the Government seem to have fallen away from the necessity to work with the tension between competing rights.
I turn to education, because there is more to be said. I warmly welcome, as others do on these Benches and, I anticipate, in all parts of the House, Regulation 7(1)(a) and (b), as there must be no discrimination in admissions, whether of gay young people or those parented by gay people. Still more important, there must be no bullying of people in that position, and there is manifestly the same duty of care for the welfare of every pupil. However, the four subdivisions of Regulation 7(1)(c) urgently require the kind of line-by-line scrutiny to establish their range of meaning, intended or not, that a Bill receives in your Lordships' House. As they stand, the scope of their application appears very wide. That is especially so when the Government have explicitly refusedI have seen the correspondence and submissions asking them to consider their inclusionto include any reference at all in the regulations to the legal position and responsibilities of faith schools, let alone the kind of exemption that appears in Part 2 of the Equality
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The Joint Committee on Human Rights report of 28 February has been referred to. Some of its authors are in their places this evening, I am glad to say. Its paragraphs 65 and 67 explicitly and, in my mind, illiberally advise that the regulations should be firmly applied to the curriculum in every kind of school, and that there should be no teaching of a,
So what are Her Majesty's GovernmentI use the language advisedlysaying and doing through the regulations to a Church of England school, to a teacher who is a member of the Church of England teaching at any kind of school, or to one of the many Church of England clergy, bishops among them, who are regularly in the schools? We should remember that the House of Bishops of the Church of Englands 1999 paper, Marriage: A Teaching Documentsimply restating, as has been noted this evening, the teaching of every Christian churchsaid on page 8:
The Government could have found ways and in my view the JCHR would have been wise to advise them to find ways of respecting the human rights of all concerned. Respecting the human rights of gay people is critical, as is the importance of seeking to respect the human rights of others and to find ways in which, I am advised by distinguished lawyers, it could have been possible to hold these rights in tension. I greatly regret the fact that the Government chose not to do so, but, rather, chose to legislate to coerce the churches and others to accept as the norm for this societythe regulations ask us to accept this and to collude in the Governments promotionalternative patterns of living and of family life that many people conscientiously believe are less than the best, less than the most healthy, and less than Gods will for humankind.
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