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I agree that we need to avoid and reject the bigotry of fundamentalism. I recall the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, who rightly reflected that, at times, equality, human rights and freedom have become in themselves a religion or a philosophical belief. Ignoring older, established religions and preventing them from teaching their principles will in the end serve only to produce a generation that cannot see the point of equality, freedom and human rights as a religion, especially when it resembles a juggernaut crushing all other religions before it and ends up setting up a hierarchy of rights where traditional religious ethics are at the bottom. Individuals with their human rights become hermetically sealed and atomised from community belonging and responsibility, for ever echoing the playground diplomacy, "It is not fair. It is my human right to trump yours". We need to encourage a society where people are allowed to be different. Equality means celebrating diversity, and religious tradition and belief must be allowed to be part of this growing diversity.

We need to be wary of creating laws which serve no one but those working in the legal profession. As the Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, commented recently:

"There are times when human rights become human wrongs".

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He said that rights must not,

He said that when these rights become a political ideology that tramples down everything in its path, we know we have gone too far.

As the late Lord Denning once observed, the severance of law from morality and religion from law has gone much too far. Although religion, law and morals can be separated, they are nevertheless still very much dependent on one another. He said:

"Without religion, there can be no morality, there can be no law".

Our commitment from these Benches to establishing a solid and workable piece of equality legislation demonstrates that crucial interconnectedness.

As we pray in this your Lordships' House before every sitting, we say:

"Almighty God .... do most humbly beseech thee to send down thy Heavenly Wisdom from above, to direct and guide us in all our consultations; and grant that, we having thy fear always before our eyes, and laying aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections, the result of all our counsels may be to the glory of thy blessed Name, the maintenance of true Religion and Justice, the safety, honour, and happiness of the Queen, the publick wealth, peace and tranquillity of the Realm, and the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same".

As your Lordships will know, in previous debates concern was expressed about some parts of the Bill. I believe that the high level of debate and scrutiny with which this was undertaken by noble Lords enabled significant improvements to be made to those parts which seemed, in the view from these Benches and those opposite, not to be in the spirit of preserving the status quo, as seemed to be implied in the Bill.

What I and my fellow Lords Spiritual have called for is not a special role for religion in this legislation. What we want to see is freedom and equality for all, including those with religious beliefs. We must maintain the intermingling of religion, morals and law-balancing the rule of law, freedom and conscience, as this country always has done.

We have come a long way with this Bill. Earlier, in Her Majesty's Government's attempt to harmonise all existing laws on equality, I felt we had a situation such as the one Morecambe and Wise experienced with André Previn. Previn became exasperated and told Morecambe he was playing "all the wrong notes". Eric stood up, seized Previn by the lapels and menacingly informed him:

"I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order".

I believe that what we have now in the Bill is approaching the right order. This is becoming a stronger piece of legislation by the day, thanks to the discussions we have had and continue to have. I look forward to the day the Equality Bill makes it onto the statute book, and for that reason I hope that noble Lords will join me in backing this Bill at Third Reading, so that it may be sent to another place for enactment.

To err is human; to forgive is divine. I am grateful to all of those who have listened, been patient and who have actually produced the legislation that I am proud to have been part of.

Amendment 3 agreed.

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Clause 202 : Civil partnerships on religious premises

Amendment 4

Moved by Lord Alli

4: Clause 202, page 125, line 25, at end insert-

"(2B) Provision by virtue of subsection (2)(b) may, in particular, provide that applications for approval of premises may only be made with the consent (whether general or specific) of a person specified, or a person of a description specified, in the provision.

(2C) The power conferred by section 258(2), in its application to the power conferred by this section, includes in particular-

(a) power to make provision in relation to religious premises that differs from provision in relation to other premises;

(b) power to make different provision for different kinds of religious premises."

Lord Alli: My Lords, I feel like I have arrived at a party when everyone has gone home. In moving the amendment, I shall speak to Amendments 5, 6 and 9, tabled in my name and in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger, Lady Noakes and Lady Campbell of Surbiton.

These are technical amendments to give effect to the new clauses passed with the overwhelming support of the House on 2 March. I thank the parliamentary Bill team and parliamentary counsel for their recent help in drafting these amendments and making new Clause 202 effective. New Clause 202 sets out to permit civil partnership ceremonies to take place in religious premises where religious organisations wish to do so.

Amendment 4 seeks to clarify aspects of new Clause 202. I very much hope that these amendments will give comfort to faith communities which have suggested that they will soon be forced to perform civil partnerships against their will, despite the wording in Clause 202. These amendments make crystal clear that this change in the law is entirely permissive in its approach.

Amendment 5 adds a definition of civil marriage to the Equality Bill, in line with existing legislation, and a definition of religious premises. Amendment 6 to Clause 216 brings the new measures into line with the rest of the Bill in terms of commencement date. Finally, Amendment 9 makes necessary additions to the repeals schedule, as recommended.

These amendments are straightforward and, I hope, non-contentious. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Chichester: My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alli, that he is not alone at the party-we have not all gone home. Having spoken with some caution to his earlier amendment in Committee, I feel I ought to say briefly why I welcome these consequential amendments. This is not the moment for going back over the arguments that have been very comprehensively rehearsed both in your Lordships' House and elsewhere, but perhaps I need to point out one or two things.

Many people, Christians and others, will continue to resist any blurring of the distinction between marriage and civil partnership and will want to watch very carefully the ensuing regulations as they appear. A proper concern has been expressed, to which we may

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need to be alert in the future as well, about proposals to change the law on such a matter coming before Parliament without the proper consultation with major churches and faith communities beforehand. Also, it remains rather puzzling to many of us that there should continue to be a prohibition on the use of any religious service while a registrar is officiating at the signing of a civil partnership document, even though the signing might take place on religious premises. It does not do much to allay suspicions of a hidden agenda. But we are where we are, a lot of people have worked very hard to bring us to this point, and it is good to be able to meet where we have.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, for being willing to build on the declaratory provision in his earlier amendment concerning religious freedom. It has been clear throughout the discussions that the House has been motivated by a concern for equality, freedom and non-discrimination in all sorts of ways, and with seeing these in a cohesive single picture. However, the discussions have also highlighted how complex it is to balance out those three things together and what happens when different rights appear to come into conflict with each other. The present amendments ought to serve the bringing together of human freedom, equality and non-discrimination in a much better way, and therefore serve the original aim of the Bill.

In a multicultural and pluralist society, it is right to recognise the rights of different religious and other groups to approach this matter in different ways in accordance with their own convictions. In my last intervention I said that I hoped a way might be found to enable Quakers, liberal Jews, Unitarians and others the freedom to host civil partnership registrations if they wish, but not inadvertently to create an obligation on those-the majority-for whom this would be impossible. From the rather particular situation of the established Church, it would be important that any parochial or diocesan action should be consequential on church-wide policy.

Finally, we welcome the amendment which means that this clause, like most of the rest of the Bill, will be brought into force by a commencement order rather than immediately on Royal Assent. There will clearly need to be new regulations prepared to amend or replace the present Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005. Extensive consultation will be needed at this time with churches and other faiths about the drafting of the regulations. I am very grateful to the Minister for the constructive discussions between church officials and the Government Equalities Office over recent weeks. Clearly, there will now need to be very widespread consultation in order to get the regulations right.

We expect that it will be open to the Church of England and other religious communities to determine what are their own relevant decision-making bodies with authority to notify a public authority-presumably the Registrar General-if they wish to opt in to the approved premises arrangements for civil partnerships. Local applications for particular premises could only be considered when such opting-in had occurred, and would then be handled in the perfectly normal way. It

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would be very helpful if the Minister could confirm that this is also her understanding of what is likely to happen. In anticipation of such assurance I am content to support the consequential amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alli.

4.15 pm

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I will say just a couple of things. First, I cannot imagine anyone except the noble Lord, Lord Alli, achieving what he has. He is one of the most indefatigable lobbyists in this House-I mean lobbyist in the good, unpaid sense-that I have ever known.

Secondly, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester was right in everything that he said. When we introduced the Civil Partnership Bill, we used civil marriage as the analogue to create civil partnership. What we are doing here is allowing a religious aspect to civil partnership, because there cannot be a religious marriage. In the longer term, one may need to look at the consequences for civil marriage in relation to religion. However, that is far beyond the scope of the amendment. The way in which this has been done, and the compromise that has been reached, is in all respects admirable.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, as I understand it, the structure of the amendment makes the change applicable only to England and Wales, because it is an amendment to Section 6 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004. Although equality and anti-discrimination issues are generally reserved to this Parliament under Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act, will the Leader of the House confirm that the subject matter of the amendment is such that it would be within the competence of the Scottish Parliament to make parallel changes in Scotland if that Parliament wished to follow the example set by this House?

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alli, the amendment seeks to resolve some of the uncertainties remaining from the amendment that was accepted on Report in your Lordships' House. As we said on Report, we are very supportive of civil partnerships, and so were not without sympathy for the intentions behind his original amendment. However, we felt that this was not an appropriate time in the parliamentary calendar to open up complex issues that merited proper attention and scrutiny. We thought that such a change needed to be carefully thought out, consulted on and debated fully. The amendments in this group go some way towards answering our concerns, by making it clear that the right to register a civil partnership in religious premises is purely permissive, and that denominations should be able to opt in to the system as they choose. We welcome the clarity here.

However, some areas of concern remain. Those representing independent churches are worried that they still risk being left open to litigation. They are concerned that there is scope for the anti-discrimination provisions to make it difficult-or appear to make it difficult-for individual churches not to opt in to hosting the civil partnership ceremony. I understand

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that the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and of the Government, is that the amendment should be purely permissive. It would be most helpful if the Leader of the House could offer reassurance to independent churches.

Another concern that has been raised is that churches should not be judged for what they choose to do. Will the noble Baroness reassure church groups that not only will there be legal protection for their decision on whether or not to conduct civil partnerships, but that their decision will be perfectly permissible under religious freedom? Will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be further consultation on this issue? I ask because a number of questions have been put to us. As I understand it, the legally binding part of the civil partnership ceremony will still have to be carried out with no religious language. This creates an odd situation if the ceremony is taking place in a church. Has any more thought been given to how this might work? Will it mean that the couple have a ceremony in church with readings and hymns, but then have the civil partnership commitment using no religious language at all? If this is the case, will the minister-I mean the religious minister, not the political Minister-be empowered to perform the civil partnership, but be banned from using any religious reference at this point of the ceremony? Or will a civil registrar have to take that part of the ceremony, without having played any part in the religious sections? Are we in danger of discriminating against heterosexual couples, who must have either a religious marriage or a civil one, but who cannot combine the two?

By seeking answers to these questions, and wishing to ensure that they are addressed fully, we are in no way being negative. We welcome the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and the further clarity they bring to the amendment which was accepted on Report.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Thornton, and their very effective Bill team for their tireless work as this Bill has made its passage through your Lordships' House. Some areas are still subject to differences of opinion, but we have always made it clear that we wish to see the Bill on the statute book. The hard work and dedication of all noble Lords and everyone involved has meant that rigorous scrutiny has taken place and good changes have been made. We now commend them to the judgment of another place.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and other noble Lords who have added their names, on tabling this final series of amendments. We all owe him a huge debt, not least for putting these controversial issues to a vote, which was carried in his favour, at a previous stage of the Bill. I also thank the Bill team. There have been so many helpful, behind-the-scenes discussions on other issues which, perhaps because of time, have not been aired on the Floor of the House. Everyone who has taken part in those discussions is very grateful to the Leader of the House, to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and to the team which spent many hours on this. I particularly want to commend the work of the noble

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Lord, Lord Alli. As he says, this will definitely be-we look forward to having it confirmed-a permissive aspect and all these important areas of equality and non-discrimination will be set out clearly in the future. I support the amendment.

Baroness Paisley of St George's: My Lords, any partnership between two people of the same sex is not a marriage and cannot be called a marriage because God's word does not allow that. It is in total contravention of the marriage which God ordained when he made mankind and put mankind into the world. It is totally wrong and I do not believe that any Christian church which is founded on the word of God can possibly be forced to carry out such partnerships in its places of worship. Although we are told that they will not be forced to, I fear that pressure will be put on churches to do so against their consciences, otherwise there will be a cry of discrimination. I do not believe in discrimination because of a person's orientation, whether sexual, religious or anything else, but it is wrong and dangerous to overthrow certain limits.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, Amendments 4, 5, 6 and 9 relate to Clause 202 and to civil partnerships in religious premises. These amendments make technical improvements to the provision brought forward by my noble friend Lord Alli on Report, ensuring that the provision delivers the intention debated at that time. I made it clear during the debate on Report that, while the Government were sympathetic to my noble friend's intentions, the amendment he had tabled did not entirely achieve what he had hoped for. The amendments we are considering here are welcome additions to the provision, addressing many of the concerns I raised.

It may be helpful to take a moment to clarify what these amendments would achieve. As noble Lords will be aware, it is not possible to register civil partnerships on premises which have not been approved for that purpose. My noble friend's original amendment would remove the current prohibition on religious premises being so approved. Under the current regime, it is the trustee or proprietor of premises who applies for approval. In the case of religious premises, that would leave the decision whether or not to apply entirely in the hands of those with control over individual premises. For those denominations that wish to maintain a consistent line across all their premises, that might cause problems.

Accordingly, Amendment 4 adds a new subsection (2)(b) to Section 6A of the Civil Partnership Act, which would enable the regulations setting out the approved premises regime to provide for applications for approval in relation to religious premises to be made only with the consent of specified people, but that regime would not have to apply to all denominations. As new subsection (2)(c) makes clear, the regulations would be able to make different provision for different kinds of premises, so would allow those faiths or denominations that want to have a consent mechanism to have one, and those that do not could leave it up to those in charge of individual places of worship. So the right reverend Prelate is absolutely correct about the process and about the fact that the new regime would

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allow denominations that do not wish to host civil partnership registrations to exercise control over the use of their places of worship. I hope that will reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Paisley.

I also assure the right reverend Prelate that there would be extensive consultation before these powers are used. We want to engage all interested parties, including people of all faiths and denominations, to make sure that the regime that is put into place reflects the position that each one wants to take. As my noble friend has said, his intention is to create an entirely voluntary regime, and these amendments would allow the Government to tailor it to the requirements of different denominations with different organisational structures and different views, as we have heard today, on whether they would wish to take advantage of it.

I make it clear to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that there is no question of the proprietor of religious premises, or a religious organisation or anyone else, being liable for discrimination for deciding not to host civil partnership registrations on their religious premises. It is unlawful to conduct civil partnership registrations on premises that are not approved for that purpose. It is not possible to bring a claim for discrimination for failing to do something which is unlawful. There is no obligation on the controllers of religious premises to get them approved, and since seeking approval is neither the provision of a service nor a public function, for the purposes of the Equality Bill, there is no scope for a claim for discrimination being brought for failing to do so. With this in mind, I can be very clear that no amendment is required to cover this possibility. Indeed, to introduce such an amendment would be counterproductive in that it would imply that the Bill's provisions cover this and other matters to which they do not currently extend.

The noble Baroness asked about religious language and about how things would work. My Lords, it would work very much like it does for marriage, where a couple go to a side room, such as the vestry, to sign the register. A civil partnership registrar will still be required to officiate the signing of the register, and it is correct that there can be no religious service during the civil partnership registration.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: I am most grateful to the Leader of the House. This is about the exchange of vows, and maybe it is just too technical. Maybe this is the sort of thing that will be covered in the consultation.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I think it is too technical, and it is precisely the sort of thing that will be discussed during the consultation. The noble Baroness mentioned the possibility of heterosexual couples who are not currently allowed to wed in a church being discriminated against. It is up to the churches themselves whether or not to allow heterosexual couples to get married. For example, some individual churches within the body of a Church do not wish to marry couples who have been divorced, but that is entirely a matter for the churches themselves.

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