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I hardly need say that subsection (4) of the new clause could not possibly bar a remedy under the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act and Clauses 19 and 29 of the Bill would be invoked and the incumbent prepared to register marriages but not to register civil partnerships would be accused of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of services and pressure would be brought to bear on him to pocket his principles and do what he believed to be wrong. I do not call that religious freedom. Without doubt there would be the risk of costly litigation, and even if an action based on the Human Rights Act and the sections of the Equality Act banning indirect discrimination did not succeed, it would not be long before Stonewall was back, demanding repeal of this permissive provision and for a clear duty to be placed on churches to register civil partnerships. Is that not the way Stonewall has always worked? And was not Mr Ben Summerskill of Stonewall hinting just that when recently he said that right now faiths should not be forced to hold civil partnerships although in 10 or 20 years' time things may change?

Finally, it is no light matter to suggest that because a Christian church is used for the solemnisation of marriage, it is perfectly proper to use it for an entirely different purpose. In spite of the support it has received from some clergymen, many Christians in this country would be deeply unhappy if this proposed new clause were to be carried into law.

Baroness Neuberger: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment and I speak as president of Liberal Judaism, one of the three faith groupings which have been cited as supporters of it. First, very briefly because we are late, I want to say something to some of the

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people who have spoken this evening. There is an old joke that says, "Two Jews, three opinions". Tonight we are hearing, "Two Christians, three opinions". We have to recognise that within each of our religious groupings there is difference of opinion about whether or not this is proper. That is why it is important to stress that this is a permissive amendment. Nobody is saying that those who do not want to do this on their religious premises should be forced to do so. I am probably the only person in this Chamber tonight who has officiated at blessings after a civil partnership but it seems to me that the important point here is that those who wish to do this should be allowed to do so, should the particular religious authorities agree to allow it.

This is not only about religious freedom but about the personal happiness of a lot of people. I wholly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. This is about what we in this Chamber can do to ensure the happiness not only of the couples involved but also, as I said in Committee and I speak as a Jewish mother, of the parents involved. It will make a lot of difference to them. We should not underestimate this. This does not weaken marriage. It is not about marriage. It is about civil partnership between people who are religiously faithful and wish to recognise that religious faith after a civil partnership. In my view, we would be morally wrong to block this permissive amendment and I very much hope that everyone around this House will support it.

10.30 pm

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, in Committee I congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Alli, on the sensitive way in which he introduced his amendment and I do so again tonight. I acknowledge the trouble that he and those who support him have taken to make sure that it says:

"Nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnerships if they do not wish to do so".

I also understand only too well the desire for someone of faith to have that faith at the centre of a ceremony when they make a commitment to someone they love.

However, this is a complex issue, even though its permissive nature seems to make it simple, and it requires much careful thought and consideration. I wonder whether it is appropriate to address it so late in the passage of this Bill and so late in the evening, although I know that the noble Lord had no say in the timing of this coming up tonight.

In legal terms, civil partnerships are equivalent to civil marriages: neither ceremony can take place on religious premises or involve religion in the service. The corollary of this corresponding status is that if any changes were to be made to the civil partnership ceremony, it would automatically lead to increased pressure to change the civil marriage ceremony. The scope of the amendment, therefore, is even wider than is apparent at first glance. Its effect would be to start unpicking the settlement reached between civil partnerships and civil marriages when the former were introduced. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford said, if the law remains as it is, there is still no prohibition on a gay person of faith having a civil

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partnership ceremony and, either beforehand or afterwards, going to religious premises to have whatever religious service or blessing they would wish in accordance with their faith. The nub of the issue is that they cannot mix the two together, as is the case with civil marriages. I wonder, therefore, whether there is not a case for some research into the extent of demand for the removal of the prohibition altogether, but we cannot go into that tonight.

Neither of these factors means that the issue is not worth looking at. We are very much in support of civil partnerships and so have some sympathy with the intentions behind the amendment. Nevertheless, we do not think it auspicious to usher in such a change as the midnight oil is burning and at the tail-end of a very long and complex Bill which we all hope to see on the statute book.

Amendment 53 raises some very complicated questions that merit proper attention and sufficient scrutiny to ensure that, if any changes are to be made, they are made well. One issue, for example, is that there can still be no religious content within the civil partnership document as it is being signed, which raises the important questions referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford regarding the registrar and registration.

Although we would not rule out changes in the future, we do not think that this is the appropriate time to delve into the myriad complexities that this issue would throw up and that deserve to be addressed. However, I can assure my noble friend Lady Noakes that, should the noble Lord, Lord Alli, press the amendment to a vote, we on these Benches will have a free vote.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords-

Lord Lea of Crondall: I do not know whether this is a Front Bench situation, but I have been waiting to make my contribution. I have one simple point to make, which has been made in one respect by the right reverend Prelate-namely that we are a legislative Chamber and we have to make decisions according to the words on the paper. I am a member of the Church of England and want to be absolutely clear that the Church of England is still in charge of its own liturgy. The Synod has been supported as a democratic organisation in some sense or other. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, has made that clear, so I have no problem with the amendment-although it should be on the record that there is something of an unholy alliance among the people moving it.

Some people think that the amendment somehow puts pressure on mosques and Hindu temples et cetera to do something that they would not otherwise want to do. I think that the amendment will go through this evening precisely because it has a very clear negation provision in subsection (4) stating that there is no obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnerships.

On that basis, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, said, the amendment is not what some people think it is. It is permissive to religious organisations. We have spoken nearly all the time about Christianity. However,

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I can well imagine that if a mosque got into difficulty with legislation because it was in any way compulsory, the balloon would go up and it would be very difficult to prosecute. The same would go for a Hindu temple-we are talking not just about Christianity.

I am happy with the amendment. I take in good faith the words on the paper, which is what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, with whom I very rarely agree, told us to do. We should therefore be clear about what we are voting for if the amendment goes to a vote.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I wish to make a brief contribution. I have not spoken on this Bill before but I listened to the debate when the amendment was discussed in Committee. It sparked my interest, and I wish to explain to your Lordships why. Some 34 years ago, when I approached my local vicar about getting married, he was very sympathetic, but he turned me down. It was not, surprisingly, because my fiancée was a Roman Catholic, but because she was a divorcee.

Since then, times have changed, and so has the church, and weddings to someone who has been divorced are now allowed. I think that that is a good thing. This amendment resonated with me because of that, because it allows those who want their proceedings to take place in a church, as I did then, to do so if the church agrees. That is the important point: they do not have to be turned down. This amendment is permissive; it is not prescriptive. It does not force, but it allows. It is based on freedom of choice, and the freedom of choice for the church is to decide.

In Committee, the Minister offered a review. I am not sure whether that was sitting on the fence, or kicking the amendment into the long grass. I am afraid that I suspect the latter. If so, we shall probably hear the next line of defence-that the amendment has unknown legal implications. I have to say to the Minister and to your Lordships' House that we have all heard that before. I have been here too long. I know that parliamentary draftsmen can always redraft a clause for Third Reading without delaying the Bill if it is required.

I am a Conservative. I believe in freedom of choice. It is an important principle that my party supports. Finally, there is nothing in this amendment that can happen unless regulations are then brought back to your Lordships' House, and Parliament as a whole, in order to enact anything before it can happen. I therefore support the amendment.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, has made a very important point. He makes the parallel with the cases of some churches which would marry divorcees in church, and some which would not. The church of which I am a member and an elder, the Church of Scotland, has permitted the marriage of divorcees in church for some considerable time. That is a decision that that church has taken, and which it has been free to take. It is a parallel that is well drawn. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, indicated that if this comes to a Division, the Conservative Peers will have a free vote. This will also be the case on these Benches. Therefore, what I state is my personal view, although I

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know that it is shared by my colleague on the Front Bench dealing with the Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover.

The first point of response to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, is that the House seems remarkably full, however late at night it is. We have made some decisions on this Bill with far fewer people present. It is also wrong to say that this is something that has suddenly been sprung on us. I recall that this issue was raised at Second Reading. In Committee, it was thoroughly addressed. It is not an issue that has suddenly emerged out of the woodwork. It is an issue which has been given some considerable thought.

It is right to emphasise, as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, did when introducing his amendment, and as was echoed by my noble friend Lady Neuberger, that this is permissive. It does not oblige any church that does not want to do it to go down this particular road. Nevertheless, we have heard that there are religious organisations which do wish to have the ability and the legal authority to allow civil partnerships on religious premises. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford indicated that the majority of the larger churches would probably be against it. That is fair enough. If they are against it, then that is a decision that they can take. He indicated that there would be debates in synods and councils. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, indicated, there is not much point having the debate unless there is something to debate. That is the appropriate place for these discussions to take place. This Bill allows these discussions to take place.

I conclude by reflecting that I have sat through many of the debates at Second Reading, Committee stage, and indeed this evening, on Report. There has been much discussion about legalities, detriment, proportionality, and reasonableness. Today, with this amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, indicated in moving the amendment, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, indicated in his contribution, and as my noble friend Lady Neuberger also indicated, we are dealing with people and with relationships. We are talking about people who want to celebrate a lifelong commitment in the company of their friends and their congregation. As my noble friend Lady Neuberger indicated, it is important to parents and family. When we talk about legalities, we should remember that people are important. This is a very people-centred amendment. If the noble Lord chooses to test the opinion of the House, I will support him.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alli, on producing this amendment, which is a real achievement, as is the backing that he has got from all sides of the House. As has been said, it is permissive, fair and proportionate in what it is proposing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, it allows freedom to have a civil partnership in premises which will allow these ceremonies, as well as the freedom not to allow. Above everything else, we should vote on this and I hope that we will, because it needs affirmation.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, it is necessary that the advocates of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, should answer the arguments put

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forward by my noble friend Lord Waddington. They concern the manner in which, before long, if this amendment is accepted, human rights law would begin to be used in order to compel churches which do not wish to allow civil partnerships to be celebrated within them to do so on the basis that if they do not, they will be discriminating against those people in civil partnerships on the grounds of their sexual orientation. I think that that is a powerful argument.

By nature, as a Conservative, of course I believe in personal liberty, but I do not believe in personal licence. This amendment has a purpose, which is to equate civil partnership with marriage. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, shakes his head, but that is what it would do. Those entering into civil marriages would not have the right to force themselves upon churches. I say "force themselves" because it would be forced and enforced as my noble friend Lord Waddington has explained. We should be utterly, completely and absolutely clear that a civil partnership is not a marriage, cannot be a marriage, never will be a marriage and should be treated entirely separately from marriage.

Marriage is celebrated within a church. That is absolutely clear. Other forms of union between two persons are not celebrated within a church and I do not think that they should be. If we make it a permissive option, sooner or later, the legal proceedings will start to enforce it upon churches against the will of many ministers in those churches. I believe that this amendment is therefore fundamentally ill-founded and should be rejected.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the Human Rights Act being used to oblige religious organisations to hold such ceremonies when they did not want to. Which section of the Human Rights Act would be contravened?

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, those which prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

10.45 pm

Lord Fowler: My Lords, if one former chairman of the Conservative Party may disagree with another-

Lord Tebbit: That is not unusual.

Lord Fowler: It is rather usual with us. I have one or two brief comments.

I cannot see how a civil partnership is a threat to marriage. It respects the strong wishes and feelings of many of our citizens who happen to be gay or lesbian. That seems to be the point. As a policy aim, we should seek in this country to encourage stable relationships as much as we possibly can, for the reasons that have been set out. That surely is the whole aim of what we are and should be about. This is an issue of religious freedom and justice for some very devoted people. We should respect that.

As for this simply being a step to it all becoming mandatory, I have probably listened to Stonewall, when I was doing HIV/AIDS work in the Department of Health and later, more than many Members of this

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House. Sometimes I agree with Stonewall and sometimes I do not. However, I have never understood the idea that Stonewall has somehow become the arbiter of what this House and the nation are going to do. The decision rests with us. It is absurd to say that, simply because Stonewall says something, tomorrow the whole thing will become mandatory, particularly as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, has put down such a limiting clause, making it absolutely clear for the avoidance of all doubt that nothing in this Bill places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnerships if they do not wish to. Nothing could be clearer than that and I believe that the noble Lord's amendment is worthy of this House's support.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Alli and the noble Baronesses for bringing the important issues dealt with by Amendment 53 back before this House for further consideration. The intention is to remove the express prohibition on civil partnerships taking place in religious premises. This is an important issue and merits serious and careful consideration.

As many noble Lords have rightly stated, civil partnerships, like civil marriages, are entirely secular. These ceremonies cannot take place in religious premises or contain any religious language. The secular nature of these unions clearly separates them from religious unions. Representatives of three different denominations -Quakers, Unitarians and liberal Jews-have raised with us their wish to carry out civil partnership ceremonies in their meeting houses or places of worship. In Committee, a number of noble Lords put forward strong arguments supporting the faith groups that wish to be allowed to perform these ceremonies. The broad debate in Committee also exposed the wide range of views from across faith groups and others on the issue-not least from the chairman of the Conservative Party. In addition, it illustrated the considerable range of issues that would be caused by changing the way in which civil partnerships are registered.

I understand what my noble friend and the noble Baronesses are seeking to achieve. Like many noble Lords, I have great sympathy with their aims and fully recognise that civil partnerships are about commitment and loving relationships. However, while my heart supports the intentions of my noble friend, my head knows that the amendment raises a number of problems. I fear that it would not work in practice. It breaks the important link that we have always maintained between civil partnership and civil marriage. It blurs the line between what is a civil partnership and something that has elements of a religious partnership. It introduces ambiguity into the role of registrars and it is unclear what, if any, religious language would be able to be used during any civil partnership ceremony conducted in religious premises.

There are also significant practical problems with the amendment. For example, it leaves in place Section 2(5) of the Civil Partnership Act, which prohibits the use of any religious service while the civil partnership registrar is officiating at the signing of the civil partnership document. This would mean that, while the amendment might permit civil partnerships to take place in religious premises, those conducting them would not be able to

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use any type of religious service, which could include religious language, prayers or readings. My noble friend's amendment would also preclude any changes to the current approved premises regulations for civil partnerships that do not mirror the position for civil marriages in any way, other than to allow for religious venues. That means that the current condition would remain that neither civil partnerships nor civil marriage proceedings can be led by a minister of religion or religious leader.

While I am certain that the religious groups seeking this amendment would wish to celebrate these unions with religious services, that would not be achieved. As there is still a requirement for a registrar to carry out civil partnerships, this amendment could mean that the civil registrar would need to wait outside until all religious aspects of the ceremony were completed, to be brought back in to officiate for the signing of the register, or that the clergy wait outside the church until the civil aspects of the partnership were concluded. That highlights some of the practical issues that we need to deal with.

Further, the amendment would break the carefully established and maintained link between civil partnerships and civil marriages-the foundation of the civil partnership regime. That would lead to the anomalous position where civil partnerships could take place in religious premises but civil marriages could not. This could leave some heterosexual couples feeling at a disadvantage if they wanted their civil union to be held in a church, synagogue or other religious building.

My noble friend made it clear in his introduction that he is intending for this to be a permissive provision. I am also aware that faith organisations would want to be clear from the outset that they could decide whether to allow civil partnership ceremonies on their religious premises or not. However, nothing included in the amended Section 6A would allow the regulations to provide for a denominational opt-in or permit any other way of dealing with differing positions for different religions. It is not clear how we could deal, for example, with a situation where a particular religious organisation does not wish to allow civil partnerships on its premises when their local priest or rabbi, who controls the relevant premises, does.

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