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The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, before the House begins the Third Reading of the Equality Bill, it may be helpful to say a few words about the Third Reading amendments. In line with the procedure agreed by the House, the Public Bill Office yesterday advised the usual channels that Amendment 7 on the Marshalled List falls outside the guidance in the Companion on Third Reading amendments. On the basis of the advice of the Public Bill Office, the usual channels are recommending to the House that Amendment 7, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, should not be moved. As ever, this is ultimately a matter for the House as a whole to decide. I beg to move.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I am puzzled that this amendment was rejected on the ground that it had been heard before. It is true that we voted to protect the churches, but an amendment relating specifically to Catholic orphanages has not yet been discussed. I would like the noble Baroness to explain this act to me.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I have had the privilege of being present throughout our deliberations on the Equality Bill and I can assure the noble Lord that the issue has been dealt with. We have debated this issue twice and we have specifically addressed Catholic orphanages.
Baroness Warsi: My Lords, in Committee in your Lordships' House we had a debate that centred around exactly what was included by the protected characteristic "religion or belief". Given that this clause specifies the
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We have heard time and again that part of the purpose of this Bill is to simplify and codify existing equality legislation so that it is clear and easily understandable. It was therefore appropriate to have a discussion to elicit clarification from the Minister as to exactly what would be included in the definition. We were informed by the Minister that European legal obligations do not define specifically what the terms mean but that case law has determined that,
Moreover, in Committee in another place, the honourable Mr John Mason tabled an amendment to what is now Clause 19, which has the heading "Indirect discrimination". His purpose was to put in the Bill a provision under which making a person act contrary to the doctrinal or ethical teachings of a religion or belief was also indirect discrimination. This would be in addition to the fact that religion was already included as a protected characteristic. When this amendment was debated, the honourable Dr Evan Harris spoke in opposition to it, warning that such an amendment would include beliefs such as Scientology and religious sects and cults. In response, the Solicitor-General agreed that such an amendment would muddy the waters because it would then be unclear if something should be regarded as indirectly discriminatory if it contravened beliefs that are not doctrinally or ethically linked to a religion but are nevertheless commonly held. The honourable Mr Mason withdrew his amendment on that basis.
Parliamentary debate shows clearly therefore that a reference to religious or philosophical beliefs should not include cults or other similar belief systems. It therefore seems sensible and in line with the debates in another place and in your Lordships' House that a spokesman from the Government Equalities Office attempted to distance himself from the draft code of practice published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for consultation. The draft guidance clearly states:
We on these Benches felt that debates in another place and in your Lordships' House had shown clearly that, while there was no specific definition, the weight of case law meant that only serious and important beliefs would be included as a religious or philosophical belief for the purposes of the law. On seeing the draft code of practice, we felt therefore that debates in Parliament had come to one conclusion but that the codes of practice had carried on in another. Surely the nature of religious and philosophical belief systems to be represented by this protected characteristic was clear from these debates; to include cults and other lifestyle choices such as veganism and vegetarianism is to make something of a farce of the debates that we had.
"The Equality Bill does not change the existing definition of religion or belief and the Government does not think that views or opinions based on scientific-or indeed on political-theories can be considered to be akin to religious beliefs or philosophical beliefs. Nor was it the intention in introducing the legislation that such beliefs should be covered".
Nevertheless, we have since discovered that the Government Equalities Office, far from disagreeing with the conclusions here, had signed off the codes of practice. The inclusion of cults and vegans comes, rather surprisingly, with the endorsement of the Government, but I think that I am right in saying that Jediism does not.
I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify precisely the Government's position. While the position in parliamentary debates seems to have been one thing, is she concerned that it may cause confusion that the Government have publicly distanced themselves from the position taken in the guidance but have officially signed off that draft guidance? I am rather confused by this. I look to the Minister for clarity.
We feel that, on this issue, the Government have drifted away from what Parliament decided. If this is the case in this instance, can the Minister assure us that the guidance in other areas reflects more closely the debates in your Lordships' House and in the other place? Furthermore, if the Government intend cults to be included, can the Minister inform the House whether further guidance will be required? Does she concede that this will complicate matters further? What exactly will be included in the definition of a cult? How organised and established would a cult have to be in order to be included and to have to count? At what point would a group that has coalesced because of a common interest be defined as a cult? What about the many people who may not consider themselves to be a cult but are formed out of an objection to another group of people? How exactly is this going to work?
We were initially rather shocked at the length of the codes of practice. I am informed that these are the draft guidance for the courts, not for everyday use. We certainly would not wish the codes to become even longer, but it is certain that more clarity is needed and I hope that the Minister can provide it today. I beg to move.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will not think me discourteous in saying that I think that her amendment is an oxymoron.
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That is especially true of words such as "religion", "belief" and "philosophical belief", derived from international and European human rights instruments and our own constitutional and legal heritage. When those words are used in legislation, they have to be read and given effect in accordance with their proper meaning and effect and they have to be read compatibly with European law. It is for the courts and not politicians to interpret and apply them. Parliament could, of course, attempt to define their meaning, but it would have to do so in a way that did not violate the fundamental human right to freedom of religion and belief. That would be a hazardous undertaking, fraught with difficulty.
Every established traditional religion was once regarded pejoratively as a cult by its opponents from other religions when it was struggling for recognition and acceptance for its beliefs and practices, whether the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, or non-theistic religions, such as Buddhism. Every organisation, religious as well as non-religious, may abuse its powers and tolerate or conceal evil and criminal practices, as recognised by Pope Benedict XVI's pastoral letter of apology to the Catholics of Ireland about the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by priests and others.
One person's religion and belief may be another's blasphemy or evil cult. According to medieval Roman Catholic doctrine, those who did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, or who contradicted Catholic dogma, or had not been baptised, were "infidels", put to death during the Crusades and the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. There is still much intolerance within and across religions of all types.
Those of us who are fortunate to live in modern democratic societies, whatever our faith or lack of it, are committed to a generous view of equality and personal liberty. The Strasbourg court explained in the case Kokkinakis v Greece:
"Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a democratic society within the meaning of the Convention. It is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has clearly been won over the centuries, depends on it".
In another case with an unpronounceable name, Leela Förderkreis EV v Germany, the Strasbourg court decided that the conception of the world of the Osho movement, formerly known as the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh movement, founded by the Indian mystic Rajneesh Chandra Mohan, based on the idea of achieving transcendence, fell within the ambit of Article 9 of the convention, even though the group was commonly referred to as a sect. Of course, that did not mean that the group had absolute rights. The court upheld the German Government's right to verify whether a movement or association carries on, ostensibly in pursuit of
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Concepts such as-I say this humbly in the presence of the Lords spiritual-"religion" and "philosophical belief" are not capable of precise definition and the differences between them are not clear-cut. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines as the first meaning of "cult",
I have acted for the Church of Scientology, which is recognised as a religion in some European countries, such as Spain and Portugal, and some Commonwealth countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, and rejected by others. In this country it is treated at present, as a result of the decision of the Court of Appeal in Segerdal in 1970, not as a religion but as a system of philosophical belief.
The word "cult" is not in the Bill. If the reference to "cult" in the amendment is meant to make it clear that the Bill does not protect organisations and their followers who engage in criminal or anti-social misconduct, that goes without saying, whether the organisation is Jewish or Muslim, the Catholic Church or, I dare say, the Church of Scientology. Using the word "cult" merely raises the question whether those who follow a particular creed or share a common belief are entitled to be protected from discriminatory treatment because they share a common religion or philosophical belief. That involves questions of fact to be decided not by politicians or Parliament but by courts in particular cases.
For all those reasons, the amendment would not achieve the aim of its proposers, although I understand them. Whether one agrees with what is in the code is not what I am on about; I am concerned to establish that, were the amendment to be enacted, it would be a source of great uncertainty and would not fulfil the aim of its proposers. We would therefore be opposed to it.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has said. This is a personal opinion, but I regard the so-called Church of
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The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, in line with what the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, has said, I think that these words are so slippery that trying to add other words simply makes the whole thing even more slippery. The way in which the words are used means that this is one of those irregular verbs: "I have a faith, you have a religion, he or she is in a cult". One person's use of a particular term may be pejorative, flattering or whatever.
I regard the original clauses as extremely odd. A reference to "religion" includes a reference to a lack of religion, "belief" means any belief and a reference to "belief" includes a reference to a lack of belief. When I studied philosophy, if you started saying that "P equals not P", you had to go back to the drawing board and begin again. If we want to regulate some religions/cults or others, this sort of Bill is not the way to do it. By adding extra words here and there, as yet undefined whether in Europe or elsewhere, we will merely make confusion worse confounded.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Thornton): My Lords, this amendment relates to the definition of religion or belief in Clause 10-I have just received a note which I hope will enlighten me about Scientology-and seeks to make clear that protection because of religion or belief does not extend-
Baroness Thornton: That indeed was my next sentence. I appreciate the spirit in which this amendment has been tabled. It is not our intention that religion or belief provisions of the Bill should extend-
Baroness Thornton: The House authorities and the usual channels have admitted this amendment because it raises new business and has not been discussed before. I shall answer the amendment on that basis.
It is not our intention that the religion or belief provisions of the Bill should extend protection against discrimination to any inappropriate groups whose activities would give cause for concern. The noble Baroness is perfectly correct that there is no legal definition of what constitutes a cult, and there is unlikely to be any consensus of opinion on what one is. Nor is there a single, simple, non-legal definition of cult. Indeed, some dictionary definitions of cult could be held to apply equally to widely held systems of religious or philosophical beliefs. Therefore, in cases in doubt, the appropriate body to determine whether something is a protected religion or belief is the relevant tribunal or court. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester, whose remarks I think amply illustrate why this is the case.
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