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"In my own area, Southampton, we are fortunate to have diverse and vibrant faith organisations active in the community in a whole variety of ways. Helping provide essential services to the
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The weakness of the document, although there is much in it that I agree with, is that it overlooks the involvement of faith communities, as we call them these days-obviously, I speak with such authority as I do about the Church of England-in not only providing vital public services today but developing what were originally new public services. Think about education. Think about hospitals. Think about hospices. They became universal public services later. That is unarguable; it is what happened. To take a random list-I could have made it very long had I wanted to-of groups involved today from all sorts of different religious bases, there is the Methodist Homes for the Aged, which co-operates with the state, locally or nationally, to provide services, the Salvation Army, which works with unemployed youngsters and the victims of domestic violence, the Jewish Housing Association, Hindu services for the elderly in one or more of our big cities, work with offenders leaving prison by Christian groups, welfare-to-work projects, debt advice work, work with hospices and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, mentioned, wonderful work in overseas development. The whole fair trade movement was substantially due to churches and the involvement of Christians in its early evolution.
There is a lesson to be learnt from that. Why are faith groups so good at doing such things? It would be churlish not to acknowledge that they are very good at them. The answer is that they reach parts that lots of other groups cannot reach and they do so in a practical, demonstrable way. Friends of mine who are clergy in the Church of England, particularly in deprived areas, often say that all sorts of people are involved in helping-teachers, doctors and social workers-but all too often it is the vicar or the priest, who does not go home somewhere else at the end of the working day and who lives in the heart of the deprived, if that is the right word, community, who picks up issues as and when they arise.
The role that the church plays at times of national tragedy cannot be overlooked. When dreadful things happen in our country-the Hillsborough tragedy, for example-where do people go? Often, it is the cathedrals and churches of our country that are filled on such occasions. I guess that my noble friend Lord Harrison is also a strong supporter of the state support that goes to cathedrals and churches. It goes to them not because they are beautiful buildings, though they may be, but because they are living places where people get joy, solace, comfort and inspiration. It is a good job that they do this and continue to do so, for the reasons that I have described: these are the places to which people go at times of difficulty and stress.
Time is short, so I will simply make one final point. We often hear about the imminent divide; we assume that this is a secular society and that the church is on the way out. Christmas services in 2008 were attended by 2.6 million people-in my book, that is not something
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"To conclude, I know that there are still those who ask why Government should be interested in faith groups and vice versa. Why don't we just leave each other in peace? I think the answer is clear. Politicians are interested in shaping society for the better. Faith is one of the powerful forces which shape society. Most people of faith are concerned for the human experience today, as well as spiritual welfare in the future. It's natural and inevitable that we should be interested in each other's views and want to work together".
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I very much want to follow along the lines of what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has been saying. We are now a very secular society, but when it comes to issues such as life and death and the meaning of tragic death for a community, places of worship are very important. My wife and I stayed in Lincoln overnight driving between London and Saltaire the other month. As we got up in the morning, a captain who had been killed clearing mines in Afghanistan was being buried in the cathedral. The entire city stopped and the cathedral was full. This is still very much part of our national life; at the moment we have no alternative and it helps to pull us all together. As the right reverend Prelate said in his excellent speech, we need to remember that values are a matter for the community as well as for each individual.
I speak as a liberal. Liberalism as a tradition grew out of the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries and, on the continent, the reimposition of authoritarian rule by states closely linked to the Roman Catholic Church. Continental liberalism, as I learnt about it, was therefore strongly anti-religious and linked to the Freemasons; the revolution was as much against the Catholic Church as it was against authoritarian government. I was being briefed on liberal Judaism the other day and I was told that Napoleon opened the ghetto and thus provided the basis for liberal versions of Judaism to emerge. The Catholic Church in the 19th century set its face against modernity on the continent. The Pope not only declared himself infallible but issued papal bulls denouncing liberalism as a heresy. The Roman Catholic Church is still doing its best as a hierarchy to come to terms with a liberal and open society.
In Britain, the legacy of the Civil War left us with a rather different tradition: a broad and open established church and a large dissenting tradition that enforced a degree of toleration if we were to live together as a society. Out of that, a rather different English, British liberal tradition has grown, in which the overlap between
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At least this humanist report recognises that there are divisions in all faiths between a more liberal and a more fundamentalist or conservative approach. Liberalism as an approach, whether secular or faith-based, is something that we all need to defend. I am a liberal because as a choirboy I sat through umpteen sermons by on the whole very progressive members of the Church of England, which is how I acquired my strong political values: tolerance, respect for diversity and so on. But let us recognise that it is easier to be a liberal if you are well-to-do, secure in your identity, securely employed and within an established and secure community. Thus in the 1960s it was easy to be a liberal and easy to be a liberal Anglican. Now, in a much less secure world, fundamentalisms of all sorts-both faith-based and secular-are much stronger, just as in the 1930s the political, secular fundamentalisms of communism and fascism had a much stronger appeal. We find evangelicals within the Protestant churches and those dreadful fundamentalists in the United States, a fundamentalist tendency within the Roman Catholic Church and bitter fundamentalists within the Jewish, Hindu and Muslim communities. We need an alliance of liberals, humanists and religious liberals against fundamentalists of sorts-including, if I may say so after having been unhappy with some of the phrasing of one of these reports, against the most aggressive atheists and the most absolutist members of the National Secular Society.
I take the separation of church and state as a given. I was astonished by the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney. I thought that I remembered a text that said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's". That, for me, is one of the basic texts on the separation between church and state. Of course there is tension between public and private belief and between public and private life. I was unhappy with the way in which the report treated that tension, because it is a necessary and creative tension. Liberalism is always a set of arguments about the values on which we operate: the definition of our open society and the relationship between members of that society-the position of women, for example, on which liberalism, when it started, was pretty poor, as with everything else. We must continue to argue; that is the basis of an open and a liberal society.
The question for all of us is: how do we promote public debate on underlying values and on the moral dimensions of social life, of economic life and, for that
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There is a messy overlap between the state and society and now between the public sector and the voluntary or third sector. As public funds are cut, we will have to rely more on voluntary funds, which will make life much more difficult. I strongly agree with the report in its attack on the neo-conservative tendencies of Tony Blair in taking the American example and wanting to reintroduce a faith dimension rather aggressively into the provision of public services. We on these Benches oppose the expansion of faith schools; we want to see schools that are rooted in local communities. We recognise that a line needs to be drawn between public provision and private choice, but we also recognise that those with religious motivations do much in areas such as social care through hospices and services to old people and to street people; the Salvation Army does much for the homeless on our streets that is not otherwise provided for. Adoption is the most delicate and the most difficult area. There is also a great deal to be done in prisons and in the provision of probation. We find young men in prison without any system of values. They are completely lost and they somehow need to be helped as they come out of prison to reintegrate into society and to find a sense of purpose.
It is not entirely irrelevant to our debates that many of those who are most committed to making voluntary contributions to the community have a religious motivation. The question of motivation also comes up in the humanist report. We see much too little in our current society of the motivation to do more than look after ourselves and we should not denigrate the fact that those with faith are much more likely to think that they must also work for others.
In an open society, we live with creative tension about the boundaries separating the public and the private and the overlap between the secular and the religious. We live with a monarchy-a remarkably absurd thing in many ways, but we have it-and with an heir to the throne who says that he wishes to be a defender of all faiths. I attended service for the 50th anniversary of the Queen's coronation in Westminster Abbey, and there, under the lantern, were representatives of Britain's other faith communities: Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Zoroastrian and Baha'i. I thought that that was a splendid and wonderful thing to have. It was inclusive and it recognised that Britain is a society of many diverse communities. We want all of them to contribute to the common good. That is what we should be working towards.
Lord Bates: My Lords, I, along with everyone else, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for securing this debate. It has been fascinating, and, like
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It will come as no surprise to the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, when I mention that we on these Benches have been fairly consistent in our position on these matters and have not been able to muster sufficient Members to help the All-Party Humanist Group to get off the ground, for which I apologise. At the same time, I wish to present our case, which is this; we believe not that there is too much activity from faith groups in the public sphere but that there is too little. We believe that faith groups make a huge contribution to society at all levels, and their voices are to be celebrated and heard and their activities are to be encouraged and not discriminated against.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, listed many of the areas in which the impact of faith groups is felt by people in this society, such as in education, in which they have an outstanding track record. People go to faith-based schools not necessarily just because of their religious faith but because they deliver an outstanding education. They queue around the block to go to them. This contrasts very sharply with some of the education provision in some of our city areas in particular. They have been hugely successful in this area, as they have been in the care for prisoners when they leave prison, in the care for asylum seekers and in the care for the disabled. Mention has been made of international aid and development.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said, faith groups are also interwoven into the fabric of our society. Church is where people get married, children are baptised, and people are buried; it is a focal point for the community. Our churches and faith communities are often the first and the last in our societies to provide compassion and social care, and they are to be encouraged on that basis. Moreover, some of what has reached the history books has been extremely welcome. We argue that, in recognising the driving force of faith, we also recognise the foundations of what we enjoy in our modern liberal democracy-it is not a theocracy; no one wants to live in a theocracy-whether it is John Locke's concepts of freedom, democracy and social concern; the work of William Wilberforce to abolish slavery; the incredible work of Elizabeth Fry and the movement behind Sunday schools, which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned; or the work of old Shaftesbury, of William Booth and of Josephine Butler. The list goes on. Internationally, there is the work of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King. There is in all this an incredible, strong third dimension to their huge intellect and will: the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects that drive those people forward.
I totally endorse the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, whose contributions, I am sure, are always enjoyed by those on all sides of the House. He said something very telling about faith communities; it is not what you believe, it is what you do. That is key to how faith communities engage in the public sphere. It is not so much what they believe, it is what they do. It is the effectiveness, or the lack of effectiveness, of what they do that should be the sole arbiter, in our view, of whether they are allowed to contribute to public service.
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, referred to the fact that faith communities often contribute in a way which could be described as a public good. I think that that is true and that we should recognise that contribution. I was reminded of an interview that I watched one Sunday morning a few months ago with someone who, I suppose, would be classed as the archbishop of the humanist agenda, Professor Richard Dawkins. He was being interviewed by Adam Boulton, a very talented interviewer who often manages to get to a grain of truth, and they were talking about Darwinism. Adam Boulton asked whether Darwinism could be described simply as survival of the fittest. To that, Richard Dawkins replied, "Well, yes, it's a bit crude, but it could be described as survival of the fittest". Adam Boulton said, "Presumably, then, you must recognise that human society must be the most un-Darwinian society, because we care for the poor, we protect the weak and we ensure justice-this is profoundly un-Darwinian". To that Professor Dawkins replied-it took me slightly by surprise-"I agree, human society is profoundly counter-Darwinian and thank goodness for that". Quite who he was thanking at that point, I leave for theologians to muse over. He said, "I think it is a good thing that we live in a rather non-Darwinian society".
Who could deny such a statement, when people have seen the carnage wreaked in our world by atheist regimes, whether by the Stalinist regime in Russia, the Nazi regime in Germany, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot-so many of these regimes. Much is done to question the contribution of religion, but we also need to recognise what happens when people place themselves in the place of God and how they then treat their fellow men and women. History would say that that is something which should certainly be considered.
I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, that atheism, humanism and secularism need to be discussed in schools and in fact they are part of the national curriculum. In religious education, there is a part which refers to them. I think that that is quite right and that the national curriculum needs to be respected in faith schools-I understand that it is-and in non-faith schools. It is important that people learn tolerance and respect for all views.
Moving briefly, since time is running out, to the reports presented to us here, my noble friend Lord Patten made a very powerful speech with which I found myself in complete agreement. He asked whether we could really believe that there is such a thing as neutrality in the public sphere regarding religious faith. That point was also made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. I agree with this: it is
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"Asking democratic citizens to leave their moral and religious convictions behind when they enter the public realm may seem a way of ensuring toleration and mutual respect. In practice, however, the opposite can be true. Deciding important public questions while pretending to a neutrality that cannot be achieved is a recipe for backlash and resentment. A politics emptied of substantive moral engagement makes for an impoverished civic life. It is also an open invitation to narrow, intolerant moralisms. Fundamentalists rush in where liberals"-
That sums up our position. In the area of equality, we say that faith organisations, which are driven by a sense of faith, should be able to attract people to come and work for them who hold to that particular view. In the same way, I am sure that, should the British Humanist Association ever be seeking a new chief executive, it would want somebody who believes in what it believes in. It would seem appropriate, therefore, and perhaps just a little bit generous, that one ought to allow church organisations and religious organisations to do the same.
In essence, we are not arguing that faith communities have a monopoly on compassion; of course they do not. However, they have done an outstanding job in our society, up and down this country-people will acknowledge that. This is not about discrimination against. It is about looking at the results which are delivered, not by politically correct inputs, but by socially advancing and community encouraging outputs.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing this debate and I thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions. It has been, at times, an intense and intellectually engaged debate. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not succeed in fully reconciling the spread of views that have been expressed. I welcome also the contributions from the British Humanist Association and the Humanist Philosophers' Group, which are referred to in the Motion. These documents challenge the misconception that humanists and other non-religious people are anti-religious-a point made by my noble friend Lord Macdonald and endorsed by my noble friend Lady Turner-and although the Government might not agree with every single point, I recommend them as accessible and thoughtful contributions to public debate.
The Government welcome and support the important distinction made between a secular state and a secular society. The two are often conflated, but it is worth clarifying that the Government are in agreement with the Humanist Philosophers' Group that we are striving
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We recognise the importance of freedom of religion and belief-indeed, we have sought to guarantee it through equality legislation-and the value of having an open society with diverse religions and beliefs. To foster an open society, the Government have strengthened the legislative framework needed in a secular state to protect people from discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief or, indeed, lack of it. This includes The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 and the Equality Act 2006. The present Equality Bill is intended to declutter the existing legislation, including that relating to religion or belief, and to strengthen the law.
Among the measures contained in the Bill is a new equality duty on public bodies which will bring together the existing duties on race, disability and gender and extend them to religion or belief, sexual orientation, age and gender reassignment. As noble Lords will be aware, the Bill will have its Third Reading in this House next Tuesday.
The Government believe that it is important to ensure that members of all faiths, and those of none, enjoy the same life opportunities and feel confident in working with people who have different beliefs, but shared values, to work together towards common goals. This is a pragmatic approach that respects people's freedom within the law to express their beliefs and convictions, and our belief in active communities. Indeed, it is a key aim of the Department for Communities and Local Government to help bring about a society in which different belief systems, whether religious or otherwise, are equally understood, respected and valued.
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