What we are looking for here is the acceptance of gay men and lesbian women for who they are. That means accepting their relationships on the same terms as we accept all relationships. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I refer back to a couple of points I made at Second Reading. Clearly, I will not go over all the points I made then. The arrival of civil partnerships had a profound effect on how we, as a society, look at and consider gay couples. Civil partnerships allowed us to see that gay men and lesbian women want to be together for exactly the same reasons as straight couples. I know some noble Lords usually refer to the inability of gay couples to procreate as a way of saying that there must be a difference there because there is a physical difference. However, as other noble Lords have said today and in other debates, that is not a fair distinction. There are couples of the opposite sex for whom procreation is not an option. The longer George Clooney waits to pop the question, the less likely it is that that might be an option for me. If he were ever to extend his hand in marriage to me, I would not want noble Lords to diminish my union with him on the basis that procreation was not a possibility.

We understand that gay couples take their union—I use that word in the broadest sense, rather than specifically in response to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton—as seriously as a man and a woman who want to get married. That is why we have become accepting of them and, for many of us, why we are so comfortable with the idea of gay couples marrying just like the rest of us. I know many noble Lords have said today that there is a minority—some describe it as a majority—outside this House, and indeed there are some inside this House, who do not feel so comfortable. Of course I understand that. However, the evidence shows that the majority of people are quite content for marriage to be extended to gay couples. It is worth reminding ourselves of the speech that my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth made towards the end of Second Reading, when he went through all the various evidence out there. He made the very striking point that among the younger generation there is very high support for and acceptance of gay marriage.

It is also worth reminding ourselves that we can see that gay men and women do not want to change marriage. They just want to be part of something that they, too, believe is important to our society. In terms of the current legislation and civil partnerships, if

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someone asks a gay man or a lesbian woman whether they are married, to be really accurate they have to say, “Sort of”. They are not legally married, yet they want to be able to say yes. As my noble friend Lord Black made clear, as did the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, this is very important.

5.45 pm

The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York outlined very powerfully his belief in marriage. I welcome him back to your Lordships’ House. In response to him and to all noble Lords, it is important to say that it is vital that religious faiths remain free to practise in accordance with their doctrines. If, for them, that means that marriage is between a man and a woman, that is their fundamental right and the Bill does not change that. It is vital that people can believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman and be able to say that that is what they believe. Again, the Bill allows that, but in allowing gay men and lesbian couples to be married in civil ceremonies or by those religious faiths who choose to, the Government are clear that it is not right to distinguish between their status as married from that of marriages between a man and a woman. All of these amendments would create a distinction, a different tier or a separate institution, and that is contrary to what this Bill seeks to achieve.

I turn first to Amendment 1 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and my noble friend Lord Cormack. This has been commented on by several noble Lords. It goes to the heart of the Government’s policy intention in the Bill. It amends the first word in the first line so that a new institution of “union” would be created for same-sex couples. We disagree with that on principle but I note that it has attracted limited support from around the House. Amendment 2, in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, while apparently less stark, has a similar intention of creating a subdivision of marriage by referring to “marriage (same-sex couples)” as a separate concept. My noble and learned friend argued that this distinction is necessary because until now marriage has been between a man and a woman only. My noble friend Lord Dobbs made the important point that the reason why marriage has been able to be only between a man and a woman until now is that the law has not allowed otherwise and because of the way in which we have considered gay people. I will return to my noble friend’s other amendments on the effect of terms in law because that comes a bit later.

We do not agree that extending marriage to same-sex couples requires a separate distinction or institution for them. There is only one institution of marriage. There is no middle way in this matter. We cannot bridge this divide—we can only remove it. We do not want to construct a new institution for same-sex couples, even a new institution that uses the word “marriage”. It would still be a difference for same-sex couples, and that is exactly what this Government are trying to avoid and to change through this Bill.

Lord Higgins: A curious aspect of this debate is that it is assumed that if there is a distinction between two possible definitions, one is necessarily inferior to the

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other, and that comes out very clearly. Would it meet her point if there was also an amendment which said the status of both forms of marriage is equal?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: If anybody wished to table an amendment and your Lordships wanted to debate it, I would be happy to consider that debate and respond to it. However, the short answer is that it would not be acceptable because we want only one institution of marriage. That is what we are seeking to achieve. We do not want to distinguish between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: Before my noble friend moves on from that point, am I not right that different terms are applied to same-sex and opposite-sex marriage at different points in the Bill?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I think my noble and learned friend referred to this point in an earlier intervention. I will probably cover it a little later, but I think he is referring to Clause 11(1), which states:

“In the law of England and Wales, marriage has the same effect in relation to same sex couples as it has in relation to opposite sex couples”.

That does not introduce a distinction between two different kinds of marriage.

As I understood the noble Lord, Lord Dear, to say, Amendment 9 in his name is intended to define the marriage of a man and a woman as a traditional marriage, and have that marriage registered as such by the Registrar General in a separate register. Traditional marriage of the type he is putting forward could be formed only by opposite-sex couples. Therefore, this amendment would create an unwelcome distinction in the institution of marriage. As I stated at Second Reading, the introduction of same-sex marriage does not redefine any existing or future marriage of a man and a woman. It is not necessary to protect that status.

Lord Dear: Does the noble Baroness agree that what I propose is, in very simple terms, a purely permissive provision that would retain the new legal definition of marriage as introduced by the Bill? It goes very much with the Government’s line on this and does not seek to change it at all. It would simply set up within that new definition the possibility of the couple getting married declaring their marriage in a form which is acceptable to them and having that registered in a register—a side register, if you like—that the registrar can keep. As I say, the provision would work permissively within the Bill and not upset it at all, but would satisfy the 98%, shall we say, who want the comfort of staying with what they understand to be traditional marriage.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Although I understand perfectly what the noble Lord is saying, the amendment would still create that separation and distinction that somehow one group is different from another and, therefore, we have to keep them apart. That is what we are trying to avoid. That is what we do not want to do.

Amendments 33 and 34 give us an opportunity to discuss—

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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will she ask her advisers why the separate but equal doctrine that is being propounded in some parts of the House was struck down by the American Supreme Court in Brown v Board of Education as being inherently discriminatory?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I shall certainly seek advice on that, but I have a feeling that my noble friend would be able to help me answer the question he has posed. I will certainly endeavour to respond to that point while I remain on my feet.

Amendments 33 and 34 give us an opportunity to discuss Clause 11. It may be helpful if I explain briefly what Clause 11 does. It is a significant clause to ensure that existing and future legislation in England and Wales will be interpreted so that all references to marriage and related terms will be read as applying equally to same-sex married couples unless specifically provided otherwise. This is right and necessary to ensure that all married couples are treated generally in the same way. The clause also gives effect to Schedule 3, which makes further provision for the interpretation of references to marriage in both new and existing legislation in England and Wales. It also gives effect to Schedule 4, which sets out particular instances where the effect of Clause 11 would give the wrong result.

I turn to Amendment 33—

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I understand that she just wants marriage without any bells or whistles—just marriage. Will those people who are not politicians or lawyers, and who may use the phrase “same-sex marriage” or “traditional marriage”, now be exposed to the charge of committing a hate crime?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Absolutely not. I was going to come on to respond briefly to the points that my noble friend raised. However, I am happy to make clear now that I will move an amendment to make it absolutely clear that that is not the case—not that it would have been anyway, but I am happy to clarify that. Furthermore, nothing in the Bill prevents anybody using any kind of terminology they choose to use in the course of their conversations, whether in public or private. The Government seek to ensure that we do not introduce distinctive terms into this legislation which separate out different people. That is the key difference.

Amendment 33 in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay states that Clause 11 should be:

“Subject to the later provisions of this Act”.

However, as I said, Clause 11 gives effect to Schedule 4, paragraph 27(2)(a) of which makes Clause 11 subject to contrary provision made by,

“the other provisions of this Act”.

That achieves the effect that my noble and learned friend’s amendment appears to seek and so renders it unnecessary. My noble and learned friend also referred to the presumption of parenthood and to adultery and raised important points about both those matters. We shall discuss later amendments on these issues so it is probably more efficient for me to come back to those at the appropriate time.

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As I have just said, we believe that Amendment 34 in the name of my noble friend Lord Mawhinney is unnecessary. Although we reject any designation that would create two tiers of marriage because there is only one form of marriage, Clause 11 does nothing to prevent anybody using any terms, including “traditional marriage” or “same-sex marriage”, if they choose to do so. As I have described, the clause interprets terms related to marriage for legal purposes; it does not prevent individuals or others making reference to, or supporting, traditional marriage. It is worth referring to the powerful intervention by my noble friend Lady Noakes on difference and the fact that there is a lot of difference in marriages, as other noble Lords have said. Some married people have no children, some stay married for life and others divorce. We do not apply different labels to those kinds of marriages and that is not something that we want to do in the Bill.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I am very interested in what my noble friend said about people being able to say what they want without fearing retribution, as it were. I should like to bring to the noble Baroness’s attention the case of Adrian Smith, the housing officer who was demoted by a housing authority for expressing the view, in his own time and on his personal Facebook page, that same-sex marriage was an equality too far; and to that of Brian Ross, the police chaplain who was forced out of his job for stating his opposition to the same-sex marriage proposals. I could go on. Can my noble friend tell me where there are safeguards in the Bill to prevent that happening?

6 pm

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: There are safeguards in the Bill as the Equality Act makes it clear that it is possible for people to express their religious or other beliefs in a manner that is absolutely of their choosing as long as that is done without inciting hatred or is not expressed in the workplace in a way that might damage an employer’s reputation. However, given that we shall come to a large group of amendments on this issue, and there is quite a lot that I can say at that point which I think will reassure my noble friend, I hope she will allow me to respond to that issue in more detail on that later group of amendments. I think that would be the best thing for me to do.

The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, proposed that marriages for opposite-sex couples be classified as “matrimonial” marriages—again creating, I would argue, separate institutions for marriage of opposite-sex and same-sex couples. Others have commented on that word “matrimonial”, which does not seem to have attracted a great deal of support around the House. For us, again, as a matter of principle, that is something that we would be unable to accept. I know that the noble Lord is genuinely concerned that the current law on marriage might alter as it applies to opposite-sex couples when this Bill comes into force, but I can assure him that this is not the case.

The Government do not believe that any new legal status or subdivision for marriage is either necessary or right. There is one legal institution of marriage in

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England and Wales, which, through this Bill, all couples will be able to join by either a religious or a civil ceremony. The existence of marriage for same-sex couples does not alter the marriage of opposite-sex couples. Nothing in this Bill affects the marriage of opposite-sex couples in any way. Regrettably, these amendments would deny same-sex couples the fairness that this Bill is designed to achieve. I therefore ask the noble Lords not to press their amendments.

I repeat to noble Lords concerned about freedom of expression and freedom of speech matters that this Bill most clearly protects freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

The Archbishop of York: My Lords, first of all, I thank noble Lords for wishing me well in my recovery and on being back in the House. To answer the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, on the question of whether even in the Bill itself some distinction is drawn between same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage, I would say that a distinction clearly is made in Schedule 4, Part 3, on the divorce and annulment of marriage. It states under the heading “Divorce”:

“Only conduct between the respondent and a person of the opposite sex may constitute adultery for the purposes of this section”,

but when it comes to annulment, that does not happen, so already there is an acknowledgment of some kind of distinction between the two types of marriage. I do not think it is right to say that there is no distinction.

Furthermore, although Clause 11 says that marriage is being extended, the particular definition of marriage and the way in which the Church of England has perceived it and teaches it are also very different, so I am not so sure that you can deny that even in the Bill there are some distinctions.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The most reverend Primate referred to divorce and annulment. We are not changing the definition of “annulment” because it is an historical definition that is linked to procreation. As I said at Second Reading and again today, clearly there is a distinction between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples because procreation is not available to same-sex couples. We are not seeking to change the definition of existing marriage law and how it applies to opposite-sex couples. We think it is perfectly proper for that distinction to remain as it is and not be changed in order to apply to same-sex couples, because that would render it meaningless.

The Archbishop of York: What about adultery?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Again, amendments on adultery are coming up. I do not know whether we will get to them today. I am really looking forward to that debate. It is going to be great. I urge noble Lords to come back on it. We should be selling tickets for it. I will be able to cover that issue in detail at that time.

Baroness Berridge: Will my noble friend the Minister clarify the position on annulment? This matter appeared in a letter written to Peers. My understanding of annulment is that it is not connected to procreation. You can have an annulment of a marriage even if you get married at 65. It is not directly related to procreation.

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston: If my noble friend will forgive me, although I responded to the most reverend Primate on this topic, this topic is quite a point of detail and we will be debating it later at great length, so rather than trying to flick through my briefing folder now to find specific answers, when we have that debate I will be absolutely prepared and armed to respond to her at that time.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: On that point, in the case of a heterosexual marriage, annulment depends on consummation, not procreation. In those circumstances, since that will not apply to same-sex couples, there is no equality in this Bill.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The noble Lord has done me a great service because he reminds me that I was wrong in the connection that I made to procreation. That is why it would be much safer if we debated this matter when I have the right speaking notes in front of me. I am grateful to the noble Lord.

I can, however, respond to the question from my noble friend Lord Lester. This was a US Supreme Court case that ended the bussing of children to segregated schools in the USA. I am wary of making a direct read-across, but my noble friend makes a point that is very worthy of consideration: that separate but equal can be a cloak of inequality.

I think I have covered all the points raised in the debate, so I ask the noble Lords whose amendments we have been discussing not to press them.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am honoured and pleased that my amendment should have paved the way for such a profound, important and long-lasting debate. I think that very many of us have been doing our best to find a common ground for honourable, long-term relations between couples of whatever kind. I hope that the Government accept that point. For my part, I have come to the view that other amendments in this group, and indeed in the fourth group on the Marshalled List, point the way better than mine to the ways in which we can continue to seek improvements to the Bill both in Committee and in the later stages. I therefore beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendment 2 not moved.

Amendment 3 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendment 4

Moved by Lord Cormack

4: Clause 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert—

“(c) a priest of the Roman Catholic Church in England or Wales.”

Lord Cormack: My Lords, this is a very different, and rather more limited, amendment, but I think it has some importance. I had tabled it really as a probing amendment to try to get a clear answer from my noble friend who will be responding as to why clergy within the definition of the Bill are limited to clergy of the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Of

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course, one understands this in the case of the Church of England; it is the established church of the land. Welsh disestablishment happened a long time ago. It seems to me that there is one church in this country that deserves to be mentioned in the same clause: the Roman Catholic Church. I know very well that there are clear and honourable differences of opinion within the free churches. We heard eloquent speeches both today and on Second Reading from the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, to indicate that she, as a former president of the Methodist Conference, takes a line that is clearly at variance with the official line of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.

Baroness Richardson of Calow: Perhaps I may also remind your Lordships that it is not the line that my church is taking at the moment.

Lord Cormack: I am grateful for that clarification, although I know quite a number of free churches ministers of different denominations who would certainly line up behind the noble Baroness. However, if she or anyone else wished to table a further amendment to include the clergy of the free churches, I would raise no objection, but the Roman Catholic Church has made its position clear and unambiguous. That deserves recognition, and the priests of the Roman Catholic Church deserve the same degree of protection that is rightly being accorded to priests of the established church. It is in that spirit that I briefly commend the amendment to the Committee and hope that it will at least elicit some support. I beg to move.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the amendment is an unnecessary and potentially confusing addition, because it would, as the noble Lord said, add Roman Catholic priests to the list of persons exempt from the common-law duty to marry parishioners under Clause 1(5). As he also said, the common-law duty extends only to members of the Church of England and to Wales clergy, not the Roman Catholic Church. It is not a question of not wanting to offer protection to the Roman Catholic Church; it is just that it is not necessary to do this against challenge on the basis of any such duty.

Priests of the Roman Catholic Church are already protected in Clause 2, as are clergy of all other religious organisations that may decide whether to opt into performing same-sex marriage. Clause 2 is absolutely clear. It states:

“A person may not be compelled to … undertake an opt-in activity, or … refrain from undertaking an opt-out activity … to conduct a relevant marriage … to be present at, carry out, or otherwise participate in, a relevant marriage, or … to consent to a relevant marriage being conducted”.

The clause makes specific provisions for individuals, other than registrars, to be able to refuse to perform or participate in performing a same-sex marriage. This will allow priests, ordinaries, altar servers, organists and many others to refuse to participate in such a service, even if their governing authority has decided to opt into same-sex marriage. That is clear and the provisions in the Bill are sufficient to allow the Catholic Church to not opt into same-sex marriage with full confidence of protection under the law.

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The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack for moving the amendment. As he indicated, it is a probing amendment, and I hope that from both the response of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and what I am about to say that he will be reassured that there is good reason why clergy of the Church of England and the Church in Wales are identified separately in the Bill.

As my noble friend indicated, the amendment would make plain that no duty of the Roman Catholic clergy to marry couples is extended by the Bill to same-sex couples. I am grateful for the opportunity to explain the position. In respect of this amendment, whatever his duties in the Catholic Church or under Roman Catholic canon law are, a priest of the Roman Catholic Church is under no legal duty according to English law to marry anyone. If a couple of some other faith, or who are for example simply not members of his congregation, come to him, he does not have to marry them.

However, there is a common-law duty to marry parishioners, which applies to the clergy of the Church of England and the Church in Wales. That duty arose because of the establishment of the Church of England and the previous establishment of the Church in Wales. The purpose of Clause 1(4) and (5) is to ensure that this duty does not extend to the marriage of same-sex couples.

However, given that no other religions are or have been established in England and Wales, no common-law duty arose in respect of the clergy of other religious organisations. It is therefore not necessary to have a provision in the Bill ensuring that such a duty is not extended to the marriage of same-sex couples. All other religious organisations are entirely free to decide whom they wish to marry according to their rites.

Therefore, Roman Catholic clergy, along with ministers of other religious organisations, are fully protected under Clause 2. The amendment would therefore achieve no change in the law but could produce confusion and doubt as to whether the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church might be under a legal duty to marry opposite-sex couples when, in fact, they are not.

I hope that that straightforward and simple explanation satisfies my noble friend. However, it has been important and worth while for him to have moved the amendment to provide an opportunity for that explanation to be given.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. I have a number of Roman Catholic friends who have been somewhat concerned, and I am grateful that all this is now on the record. I am only too glad to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.

6.15 pm

Amendment 5

Moved by Lord Mackay of Clashfern

5: Clause 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert—

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“(6) No person to whom subsection (7) applies may deprive another person of an office or appointment for holding or having publicly expressed the belief that marriage is, or should be, the exclusive union for life of one man and one woman, nor may such a circumstance applying to a candidate for such an office be taken into account as a factor against appointment.

(7) This subsection applies to those making appointments to any public office as defined in section 50(2) of the Equality Act 2010 or any appointment made by a person who is specified in Schedule 19 to that Act or any person exercising a function that is a function of a public nature for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998.

(8) A breach of subsection (6) may confer a cause of action at private or public law.”

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, we heard earlier a number of instances, which I shall not repeat, in which expressing views in relation to same-sex marriage has led to sanctions against people in various walks of life. The amendment is, in effect, intended to avoid any risk of that sort of thing happening in connection with a public office. I beg to move.

Lord Alli: My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendments 5, 7, 8 and 19, government Amendment 53 and Amendment 54. This group of amendments seeks to put into the Bill a series of protections for those who believe that same-sex marriage is wrong, who want to make clear that they believe it is wrong, and who are employed by public authorities or subject to the Equality Act.

Robust provisions in the Bill and that Act already give such protections. Indeed, the Minister made this clear at Second Reading and, if she does not mind, I shall repeat her words. She said:

“It is lawful to express a belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and it is lawful to do that whether at work or outside work. That is a belief that is protected under the religion or belief provisions of the Equality Act 2010, and penalising someone because of such a belief would be unlawful discrimination under that Act”.—[Official Report, 4/6/13; col. 1104.]

The Minister and the law cannot have been any clearer. In addition, as promised, the Government have brought forward—unnecessarily in my view—reassuring language in Amendment 53 regarding freedom of speech. As regards Amendment 37, which was tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, and Amendment 56 of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, the Government are, in Amendment 53, giving the noble Lords all that they ask for but in more inclusive language. I hope that the right reverend Prelate, who is not in his place, will accept that and move on.

Given that the law is clear and the Government have strengthened the language on free speech, what are Amendments 37 and 56 for? I have a sneaking suspicion that their impact, like many others tabled throughout the Bill, will not be helpful but raise alarm with the public and insert inflammatory language to fix a mischief that never really existed. I accept that that is probably not intended by those who tabled those amendments. However, I call it the “Section 28” effect. What do I mean by that? The last time that such an impact was felt was after the introduction of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. The inflammatory text damaged the reputations of the party opposite and this House. We have come a long way since then. I ask the Committee and the Government that where

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there is no mischief that they can identify please do not seek to remedy it, as is the case with these amendments dealing with public authority employees expressing their opinions on marriage. Please be wary of those offering helpful solutions, as some of us have had to live with the terrible consequences of those tactics as a result of Section 28.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, first, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and others on the other side of the House. My hearing aid, or my hearing, or both, gave way last time and I could not hear a word that was said. I was very fortunate to have a prompter near me. I do not think that anything I say now will provoke a large number of interventions but if that happens, I am now in better shape to deal with them.

The amendment deals with discrimination against someone because he expresses the view that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. I want to take this opportunity to mention something which has been very much on my mind. This sort of discrimination may become prevalent because it has got about the place that even before the Bill has become law, it is plain wrong to express support for traditional marriage. I hope others were as concerned as I was to read how the Law Society and the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre cancelled conferences to be held on their premises by Christian Concern to make the case for traditional marriage, with a very distinguished body of speakers. Each of those bodies had the nerve to say in its notification of cancellation that the nature of the event was,

“contrary to our diversity policy, espousing as it does an ethos which is opposed to same-sex marriage”.

It never seems to have occurred to the writers of those letters that they were quite deliberately interfering with the right of free speech in a country where free speech is greatly treasured as the hallmark of a free society. I hope that a clear message goes out from the Government today that the behaviour of those bodies was clearly unacceptable. We must safeguard free speech, whatever we do tonight.

Baroness Berridge: My Lords, I wish to speak briefly to Amendment 54, which is in my name, and, obviously, to government Amendment 53. Much has been said in your Lordships’ House of the need to preserve free speech but, as I outlined in my Second Reading speech, the role of the state goes beyond that. To ensure free speech, there has to be an encouragement and a protection of dissent in the public space. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for bringing forward Amendment 53, which was promised in the other place on Report, and was a concern outlined in the recent report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights that was published last Friday. I am a member of that committee, and there were very divergent opinions on the principle of the Bill, but we managed to come up with a report of the whole committee about the concerns that remain about the Bill.

I am grateful that the Government have brought forward this amendment to deal with some of the concerns around free speech. It is particularly important when on our statute book there are crimes that can be committed, with the force of criminal law being brought

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to bear on them, when there is hate speech with a particular mens rea of intending to stir up hatred against, for instance, somebody on the grounds of sexual orientation. I draw attention to what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, outlined: this is a necessary safeguard when we look at what people on the ground are actually doing. Members of the other place have already referred to an incident a few weeks ago, when the police were called to a heated exchange around the matters that we are considering. We have to bear in mind that the effect of this legislation, and the potential effect on free speech, has to be policed on our streets by ordinary police constables. Amendment 53 ensures that they have clear guidance around what is and is not a criminal offence. It specifically states the caveat that it is not just about stating your belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. It is allowing that criticism to take place and thereby not breaching criminal law once the criticism is made. That dissent in the public space is to be welcomed.

In my speech at Second Reading I drew attention to the exchanges that took place between David Lammy MP and David Burrowes MP on these issues. One of the things that are becoming very difficult in speaking on this issue is the analogy, which was the cause of the dispute in the other place, around sexual orientation, same-sex marriage and racism. I am surprised to see the nature of the exchanges we are having today. If that is what ends up taking place in this debating Chamber, what will be happening on our streets when passions get inflamed around this issue? I welcome the Government’s amendment and believe that it brings in an important safeguard.

Lord Dear: I shall speak to Amendments 7 and 8, which stand in my name in this grouping. I ask noble Lords to consider the words which case law has held to be paramount in this, that beliefs must be,

“worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity”.

They are words protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, and they cover both religious and philosophical beliefs. There are a clutch of cases which I could quote here, but I will refer briefly to only two of them.

The first is Grainger plc & Others v Nicholson in 2009. The court held that strong philosophical belief about climate change, for example, affected how the claimant lived. It went beyond mere opinion. It was setting out that opinion is one thing, which is not protected by the law, but that serious beliefs which stand above that should be so protected. That case really became the bedrock of this particular set of cases. In a 2005 case in the House of Lords, Regina v Secretary of State for Education and Employment and others ex parte Williamson, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, said that:

“A free and plural society must expect to tolerate all sorts of views which many, even most, find completely unacceptable”.

Agreeing with that judgment, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Walker, in accepting pacifism, vegetarianism, and teetotalism as beliefs, went on to say that they are not just religious beliefs,

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“but equally … may be based on ethical convictions which are not religious but humanist”.

I galloped through that just to say that the words,

“worthy of respect in a democratic society”,

have a solid bedrock in both European law and the law of this country.

The reason for tabling these two amendments is to focus on the fact that the Government have repeatedly insisted that this legislation before us will not penalise those who believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, has already said, the obvious case to cite at that juncture is that of Adrian Smith and the housing trust. That has been mentioned several times in previous debates on this subject. I will not go into it again but that case, and others, indicate the fragility of the position of those who seek to express a firmly held view, without any intent of causing any disruption beyond—

Baroness Barker: I wonder if the noble Lord, Lord Dear, would care to acknowledge that Adrian Smith actually won his case. The reason why he did not win substantial damages was because he did not take the case within the time limit. But he did win his case.

Lord Dear: Adrian Smith won his case under contract law. He was awarded only £98 for loss of earnings. I understand that he was advised by his lawyers that he would not have succeeded on a religious or belief discrimination claim.

Having mentioned the Adrian Smith case and the fragility which I think most would accept is there at present, my Amendments 7 and 8 are paving amendments, as much as anything, for Amendments 10, 12 and 14, which also stand in my name. They are put forward to your Lordships for consideration as alternatives, to put the Government’s assurances on a statutory footing. The amendments expressly state that,

“marriage was the union of one man and one woman”,

as a belief, and here I quote again,

“worthy of respect in a democratic society”.

As I say, that is the key test used by the European Court of Human Rights. The amendments go on to say “that no person” holding that belief “should suffer any detriment”, and ensure an ongoing recognition that there are different views on the issue and that the many who hold to a long-standing definition of marriage should not be disadvantaged.

Briefly, Amendment 7 requires that:

“Any person, in exercising functions under or in consequence of this Act”,

should have regard to the principle of not causing detriment to those who believe in “traditional marriage”. That would put, as an example, the Secretary of State under an obligation to have regard to this principle when making orders under the Act. It would apply to anyone involved in the registration of marriages, including staff handling applications from churches.

Amendment 8, as an alternative, tightens the focus down to:

“A public authority, or any person exercising a public function”,

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having regard to the same principle. That would apply to public sector employers, including housing trusts, which might treat employees unfairly because of their beliefs about marriage. The amendment would also extend to all that is done, for example, by Ministers of the Crown, the National Health Service, local authorities, schools, police forces and so on. Individuals in all walks of life would be protected, from doctors to road sweepers, from nurses to government advisers, and from teachers to police officers.

6.30 pm

Baroness Thornton: Is the noble Lord aware that the Equality Act 2010 does all of this? I recommend that he reads the guidance that accompanies that Act. The legislation received cross-party support in this House. It is a carefully balanced Act that already offers all the protections that the noble Lord mentioned.

Lord Dear: The point I would make is that the Equality Act is shot through—I am sorry, I shall retract that. The Equality Act attracts a mass of legislation in which actions are taken against individuals who are said to be in breach of the Act. These amendments will put into statutory form the words,

“worthy of respect in a democratic society”.

I suggest that they will cap off a large number of those actions. Putting it in simple terms, the Equality Act is not proving to be as watertight as it was first imagined to be.

Lord Elton: My Lords, am I not right in thinking that the case that was brought to the attention of the Committee a few moments ago by my noble friend Lady Cumberlege should have been protected by the Equality Act? However, that Act failed to provide any protection.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, perhaps I may say a word about Amendment 8 because I have some doubts about it. The first line of the proposed new clause states:

“A public authority, or any person exercising a public function, shall have regard to the following”.

That is followed by a list to which he should have regard. What does “shall have regard” mean? Does he have any enforcement powers? For example, could he so construct his activities that he was, in fact, forcing on people who did not want to receive it the belief in subsections (1)(b) and (1)(c), which state,

“that belief in traditional marriage is a belief worthy of respect”,


“that no person should suffer any detriment because of their belief”?

As far as I am concerned, people can believe what they like. What I object to is an intention to impose those beliefs on people who do not accept them. I certainly would not be happy to accept that, because in subsection (1)(a) there is a provision about marriage being,

“the union of one man and one woman … to the exclusion of all others (‘traditional marriage’)”.

As I said before on the previous amendment we discussed, what about the position of people who divorce? A lot of people in this country get married, go through a divorce and then, perhaps, marry again. Is their second

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marriage traditional or not traditional? There are a number of questions raised by the wording here which make the proposed clause quite unacceptable, particularly to those who hold a fairly secular view so far as marriage is concerned. The wording is not really acceptable because, in my view, it could lead to the position where those who hold these beliefs could, in their capacity as public officials, seek to impose them on people who do not hold them at all.

Lord Dear: Perhaps I may respond to that. I refer the noble Baroness to the judgment in the case of Williamson. I shall quote rather more extensively from what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, said:

“Many would believe it to be wrong even if it was proven to work. Both are essentially moral beliefs, although they may be underpinned with other beliefs about what works best in bringing up children. Both are entitled to respect. A free and plural society must expect to tolerate all sorts of views which many, even most, find completely unacceptable”.

I rest my case.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend a specific question, which has already been referred to by my noble friend Lady Cumberlege. A number of us received a letter from a clergyman of the Church of Scotland who, not in his official duties as a chaplain to the police but in, I believe, his blog, referred to his own personal belief in marriage as being the union of a man and a woman. He was subsequently dismissed from his post as a chaplain. What I want to know is this: are the provisions that the Government are putting forward in this Bill sufficient to prevent that sort of unseemly episode happening in the future?

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, when we are looking at a Bill which has the intention of increasing respect for and giving rights to a minority, it is equally important to look at another minority who will be unable, from their personal conviction, to accept the validity of the consequences of this Bill. The Equality Act has its defects. I strongly supported it, particularly all those elements in relation to gay rights, and I would do that again here. I would take that right to the stake because while I do not agree with marriage, I certainly agree with equal rights.

What I am concerned about—I expressed the same concern during the passage of the Equality Bill—is the right of other people who are in minorities to express a view that is unpopular with many other people, particularly with other minorities. We are now in a new dimension in that we are going to have same-sex marriage. Whatever it is called, it will be marriage. However, there will be people out there who cannot take it. This Bill should recognise that situation, and however great the Labour Opposition think their Equality Act is, it does not necessarily cover every aspect of what we are concerned with today; that is, those who cannot tolerate marriage for same-sex couples. Even if it may be partially covered by the Equality Act, it would be highly wise to have something in this Bill that covers this issue.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, that these amendments may not offer the right wording,

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but we are in Committee. Surely we could produce, by Report, something that provides some degree of support for other minority groups.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Thornton speaking from the Front Bench and my noble friend Lord Alli have argued, no doubt persuasively in their view, that the current protections are adequate: the Equality Act is in place. However, in my judgment that contention is belied, first, by the fact that a number of leading counsel take a contrary view and say that the protections are not adequate, and, secondly, by the fact of some of the cases, some of which have already been cited. We will come to the registrar later, as well as the chaplain to the police and other such cases. It would be helpful if we could have a response from the Minister that these cases would in fact have received protection under government Amendment 53 and any other protections which the Government may seek to provide.

My own starting point is clear: as a House, we should seek to protect minorities from what is, sometimes, the tyranny of the majority. We can refer to the wonderful literature on this, such as by Mill and de Tocqueville. I would recommend all colleagues to read and re-read what they say about the tyranny of the majority. Surely, part of our duty is to ensure—so far as we are able—that minorities are protected. In this case, we seek to protect and to give dignity and equal rights to a minority in our country. I would hope that those in this minority would also see the importance of giving protection to another minority—those who think highly of traditional marriage as defined.

Lord Alli: My Lords, I know something about minority. However, I am a little confused because, in this amendment, the noble Lord claims to be in the minority; in the previous amendment he claimed to be in the majority. You cannot have it both ways.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My noble friend is playing on words somewhat. At Second Reading there was much contention as to what the majority opinion in this country was. In my judgment, the Government carried out a fairly spurious, bogus consultation where they chose to ignore a petition containing a very large majority which, had it been added, would have shown a majority against the Bill. One chooses one’s public opinion poll. My noble friend may choose one particular poll; I may choose another, both of which bolster our respective opinions. The point I am making is that my view of traditional marriage—which is not just Christian marriage, but that of a number of other confessions—is something worthy. It should be protected, and those who espouse it should achieve protections. That is important even if, say, 46% of respondents to the latest poll oppose this Bill. I do not know what overall public opinion is.

I would challenge the Government to test that opinion. I shall move an amendment later which suggests that, if the Government are so confident that this represents majority opinion, they should hold a referendum, given their record in other areas, such as the relatively trivial transference of sometimes quite minimal provisions to the European Union. This may

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not be relevant to this particular clause but, even if the views which I and many other colleagues espouse are in the minority—and there is some uncertainty about that—that minority deserves to be protected. Those who have been a clamant minority and who have won support during the passage of this Bill, should also be conscious of the protection of other minorities, if that is what we are.

In answer to the contention of my noble friend that the protections are adequate, let him look at some of the cases that have been brought. It is sad that there are many zealots on both sides of the argument—zealots who seek to use the law to the full for their own purposes. There are many ordinary, decent folk who find that they are the subject of litigation. Not only are they in an agony of uncertainty in the intervening period before their case comes to court, but it is also a very expensive matter. With very limited resources, they may find that they are up against very well-padded groups. That is the reality of these matters. Whatever the legislative provisions, people on both sides will push at the borders. I would urge my noble friend, consistent with the views which he and I generally espouse in respect of minorities, to look carefully to see that the tide has not run so far in one direction that there is indeed a tyranny—in this case, the tyranny of a minority.

I refer specifically to Amendment 19. I know this is not a view that my noble friend has espoused, but the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the Deputy Prime Minister, has called people like me “bigots”. I resent that because there are many people on our side of the argument of all stripes—lawyers, academics, atheists, those of all religions, straight people, gay people—we are not bigots. We are people who happen to hold a traditional view of marriage. I have not heard that the leader of the Liberal Democrats has withdrawn that assertion. I hope that he will. I have not taken it out of context. It means that he has applied a label to many of us which we thoroughly resent.

6.45 pm

In looking particularly at Amendment 19, I would focus my comments on the considerable number of people for whom marriage is a central component of their religious belief. It is first necessary for me to validate the assumption on which that amendment rests. I do so not for the purpose of conversion; of seeking to persuade noble Lords to embrace the theology—in my case a Christian one—but to demonstrate the centrality of marriage to religious belief and thus the need for faith-based views of marriage to be respected and protected as part of our respect for religious liberty. It may well be that, both in this House and outside, Christian perspective from which I speak is now in a minority.

I was saddened to see a recent leading article in TheEconomist: The World in 2013, entitled “Christianity at Bay” which predicted that secularists are increasingly gaining ground over mainstream Christianity. This is part of that same tradition and we should be wary of throwing out what we have inherited from our forefathers in terms of the underlying morality which underpins so much of the law of this country.

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Such a view which suggests that marriage is just a ceremony contains, in my view, an element of religious illiteracy. For many, marriage is a core part of their faith. Genesis, chapter 2, verse 24, says:

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh”.

In Matthew, chapter 19, verse 5, Jesus affirms the same, word for word.

I can go further as to the centrality of marriage, as traditionally understood, to the Christian faith. In years gone by, it would not have been necessary to have spelt out the importance of that. I challenge the Minister to say whether the amendment which he will be proposing covers judgments such as that in the case of Lillian Ladele. She was the Christian registrar who was effectively told by her employer, Islington Council, that she must either act in violation of her faith or lose her job as a registrar. The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege has an important Amendment 16, which covers this. Ms Ladele’s objection was based on her view of marriage which, according to the judgment, was not a core part of her religion.

“Islington’s requirement in no way prevented her from worshipping as she wished”.

The idea that you can compel someone to act in contravention of their faith regarding marriage, and yet at the same time suggest that you are respecting their freedom to worship as they wish is, in my judgment, based on a complete misunderstanding of the centrality of marriage to Christian theology. I hope that some of the bishops will make the same point.

In the belated area of concern on free speech, the Government’s factsheet on the Bill states:

“The Government is committed to freedom of expression and is clear that being able to follow your faith openly is a vital freedom which the Government will protect. … Everyone is entitled to express their view about same sex marriage – at work or elsewhere”.

That is a very welcome assurance. However, unless there are strong protections in the Bill, that will be rather vacuous and of no meaning. Far from there being assurance, there is actually a piece of legislation that threatens to put many employees with a religious conviction in a very difficult position. Section 149 of the Equality Act makes provision for the public sector equality duty, which requires public authorities to,

“remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by persons who share a relevant protected characteristic”,

and to,

“take steps to meet the needs of persons”,

from protected groups. It also requires them to,

“encourage persons who share a relevant protected characteristic to participate in public life”.

All that is worthy in itself. However, I am sure my noble friend will acknowledge the extent to which that has been abused by certain zealots and that one of the protected characteristics is sexual orientation. My noble friend will no doubt have seen the views of Aidan O’Neill QC, which I will not reiterate here.

This is not a theoretical proposition. The Reverend Brian Ross was dismissed as a police chaplain because he disagreed with gay marriage on his personal internet blog. Strathclyde police argued that he could hold his beliefs in private but that publicly expressing them

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would be a breach of its equality and diversity policy. Setting out his experience in writing for the Public Bill Committee in another place, he said:

“Just before the summer, a particular senior officer in one of the Divisions read my personal blog … and objected to my expressed support for traditional marriage as, it was claimed, it went against the force’s equality and diversity policies. I was summoned to a meeting, the end result of which has been that my services have been dispensed with!”.

Such is the quality of the protections provided under the Equality Act. This case happened before any legislation had been put on the statute book. Strathclyde police, to give the force the right to reply, said that he could not express his views in public. A spokeswoman said:

“Whilst the force wholly respects the Rev Ross’s and, indeed any employees’ personally held political and religious beliefs, such views cannot be expressed publicly if representing the force, as it is by law an apolitical organisation with firmly embedded policies which embrace diversity and equality”.

That is the same argument put forward by the Law Society in denying a platform to those who support traditional marriage.

Finally, in this context, it is surely absolutely essential that our legislation dealing with that other protected characteristic for which public bodies should also have regard—religion or belief—spells out that, in the words of Amendment 19,

“the protected characteristic of religion or belief may include the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman”.

The Ross saga, and the indignity faced by that one individual who expressed his views, would have been less likely in England and Wales with Amendment 19. I urge the Minister, in replying, to say whether she is confident that the amendment that she will move adequately protects such people and that there will be no recurrence of such outrages in future.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: I will make a very brief response to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, who I think had possibly not finished speaking, to just elucidate what was meant by a minority. Once the Bill is law, I have no doubt that the majority will accept it. However, there will be a minority who will not accept it, and it is that minority that needs protection.

I have to say that I slightly resent that the noble Lord, Lord Alli, talked about a minority being a majority and the majority a minority. Within majorities, there are minorities, even of the same group. Some will accept it and others will not. It is the ones who will not accept it who actually need protection; much as the gay community has needed protection in the past but has not received it.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 19, which is in my name and is part of this group of amendments. In many ways, what I will say will mirror some of the things said by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. The Equality Act 2010 is meant to protect against discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief. However, anyone who has read about the cases that have come to court will know that it has not always, to date, protected people with strong religious beliefs about marriage.

It is not easy to stand up for your beliefs against the might of arrogant and sometimes ignorant authority. It is not easy to risk your career prospects and your

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family’s livelihood. I know—I have been there. Lack of clarity in the law adds to the difficulty. Those with traditional views bringing discrimination claims under the religion or belief strand, usually after being mistreated for a long time, have found that their beliefs on sexual ethics were not covered. Amendment 19 would put beyond doubt that belief in traditional marriage falls under the religion or belief strand. It would not guarantee that every claim brought to court would succeed but would simply confirm that the belief is capable of being protected under the Equality Act.

Millions of people in this country passionately believe that marriage is an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman and cannot be anything else. Some believe this for religious reasons and others for non-religious reasons. Thankfully, we live in a democracy, where people are not forced to behave as if they believe something just because the law asserts it. We should all obey the laws of the land but we should also have the freedom to express our views about the fairness of those laws, particularly where they refer to dramatic social change.

When it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage, there is a real risk that people will be coerced to go along with the redefinition of marriage because there is a lack of respect and tolerance for diverse views on the matter. Other noble Lords have referred to the rather unfortunate moment in January when a draft speech issued by the office of the Deputy Prime Minister referred to people who disagreed with the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill as “bigots”. He sought to make amends for the statement by saying:

“My views on this issue are no secret, but I respect the fact that some people feel differently to me about marriage”.

That was quite generous of him but it does not alter the fact that he refers to those who differed from him as bigots. The Deputy Prime Minister is not the only one to use such trenchant terms about those who oppose this legislation. Many of us have received similar abuse for defending traditional marriage.

The Government say in their fact sheet on the Bill that they are committed to freedom of speech and that they,

“have always been absolutely clear that being able to follow your faith openly is a vital freedom that we”—

the Government—

“will protect. Everyone is entitled to express their view about same-sex marriage, at work or elsewhere”.

That is a noble and good sentiment and one that we want carried into law and protected. Everyone should be entitled to hold and express their views about this important and sensitive issue without fear of punishment. We find strong support for traditional marriage among politicians of all stripes, lawyers, academics and workers from all walks of life in the private and public sectors. We find it among atheists and people of all religions, among heterosexuals and gay people. It would be sad if such opinions were muffled or silenced by a lack of clarity in the law. Not to respect and protect their ability to hold and express their beliefs about marriage would result in a tyrannical situation where there was only one acceptable view, with those with other views pushed out or mistreated. Public space must be left for those millions of people. There have already been many occasions when people who try to speak out

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publicly in support of traditional marriage suffer for it, even while the current law is still in place. We can be sure that unless measures are taken it will get worse if this Bill becomes law.

7 pm

We should take steps to reverse the tide, here and now in this Bill. We should make sure that mainstream traditional views are properly respected and protected. Most ordinary people respect the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. This is hardly surprising. It is what the law of the land currently states, and has stated for centuries. It is the definition of marriage that predates both church and state. It is the definition of marriage in many of our different religions. It is the definition that dominates the globe. Of the 193 United Nations member states, only 14 recognise same-sex weddings. In the 35 American states which have put it to the popular vote in the past decade or so, 31 out of 35 voted to keep marriage as it is. Here in the UK polls vary between 60% support for same-sex marriage and 70% opposition to it, and they go up and down. This shows two things. First, in polling the answer depends on the questions asked. Secondly, we must agree that redefining marriage is controversial to say the least, with millions of people on either side of the issue.

Clarity in the law would help heal a clearly divided and fractured society. There is divided opinion in this House and divided opinion throughout the country. It is not a settled question; there is no consensus. Therefore, we must ensure that those whose beliefs about marriage no longer prevail are protected by the law. There is plenty of evidence of the need for explicit statutory protection. Run a quick search through Google and you will see astonishing name-calling and abuse directed at people who simply support the Marriage Act 1949.

Noble Lords might say that this is just name-calling, but history shows that name-calling often leads to violent and threatening behaviour, and worse. People who disdain those who support traditional marriage as tantamount to racists are more likely to think that they can take the moral high ground over them, and take action and do whatever they wish. They are in a position of power over such people.

We do not need to speculate; it is already happening. We heard today about the housing manager demoted by his public sector employer for describing same-sex marriage as “an equality too far”. We heard about the police chaplain who was dismissed from his voluntary post for a moderately expressed blog upholding orthodox Christian teaching on marriage. We heard about the Strathclyde police who argued that the Reverend Ross could hold his beliefs in private, but not in public. We should not be deterred from saying what we need to say in public. Strathclyde police responded to the publicity surrounding the case by saying that the Reverend Ross could not express his views in public. It is not right that we have to hide those views away. We should be able openly to debate and state what we—

Baroness Thornton: Would the noble Lord care to tell the House what he thinks is a reasonable limit to the view that that gentleman should express? For example, if one substituted the word “black”, would

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that view then be reasonable? The policeman is publicly expressing his feelings about something. What does the noble Lord think is a reasonable way to do that? What would he think if, for example, he had used “black” instead of “same-sex marriage”? It seems to me that there must be a limit to what our public servants can express and cannot express. I would be interested to know from the noble Lord where he thinks that limit sits.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: I am happy to answer that point. Any freedom of speech should be open. It should be there, but it should not be the freedom to denigrate anyone. That is the boundary. You can express an opinion, but if you denigrate other people that is wrong.

Lord Cormack: Surely the noble Lord will agree that all the clergyman in question sought to do was enunciate orthodox Christian beliefs. That is not in any way analogous to making racist comments.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. That is absolutely true. As a Sikh, expressing my beliefs in public should not subject me to harassment in any way. Clearly, some people have a problem respecting the beliefs of those who believe in traditional marriage. Rather than equality law protecting—

Lord Alli: Perhaps the noble Lord can help me understand. The Government’s amendment tries to address this issue. Does the noble Lord find the amendment deficient? I am trying to understand which part of the Government’s amendment does not deal with the issues he raises.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: The amendment is not as clear as it should be. I want it to be very precise in protecting these sorts of abuses. We will come to discuss that more fully, but I personally believe that it is right and proper to air concerns at this stage.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Does the noble Lord know that under the Human Rights Act 1998 every part of this Bill must be construed, read and given effect in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights? The convention fully protects freedom of religion, conscience, belief and expression. Does he also know that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, had a great victory in this House in writing in free speech guarantees when we debated incitement to religious hatred? Therefore, so far as the law is concerned, there is no lack of clarity. It is not a question of majorities or minorities, and nor is it a question of opinion polls. Every individual is fully entitled to free speech, including the expression of views that I would deplore. I stand to be corrected if I am wrong, but I gather that Mr Clegg did not himself put out that highly obnoxious statement. It was put out by others and was withdrawn as soon as he saw it.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. I will not go too far into the Deputy Prime Minister’s views, because he then went on to say that everyone knows his views. That was a

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little ambiguous, and did not clarify things. It is true that many of the laws of the land in theory protect us all. In reality, those laws are not very clear. The more clarification that can be brought, the better, because many ordinary people suffer. Many ignorant people abuse those laws, or are ignorant of those laws and harass people. The more clarity we can have, the better.

To give another example, when housing associations and publicly owned venues such as the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre deal with people with traditional beliefs about marriage, they should treat them with respect. Yet they were excluded. If they do not treat such people with respect, they should be open to legal challenge for discrimination. When police, schools and hospitals are dealing with staff and service users, their approach to equality should include respecting those with mainstream views.

We should amend this Bill to ensure that people who, in good conscience and without a trace of malice, believe that marriage can be only between two people of opposite sexes are not disadvantaged for those beliefs, which may become minority beliefs, as has been said. They should still be allowed to have those beliefs. Amendment 19 is necessary to safeguard freedom of both belief and speech.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, to amplify briefly what I said before, Amendment 19 is completely unnecessary because the part of the Equality Act that it is seeking to amend defines protected characteristics in order to deal with discrimination, harassment and victimisation. In relation to those protected characteristics, it is clear beyond argument that if A is treated worse than B because of his or her opinions about sexuality, sex, marriage, communism, Sikhism, Judaism or anything under the sun, they are fully protected by the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, made to the criminal law, and by the Human Rights Act and Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I am sorry that the noble Lord thinks that a Bill designed to prevent people becoming victims of unfair treatment is creating victims of unfair treatment. The fact that idiots in the public sector or private sector misunderstand it is no reason for us to have to amend this Bill to deal with such idiots. With respect, the state of the law is plain and obvious. It does not require this amendment. Were this amendment to be accepted, it would muddle up the entire concept of the Equality Act, which we took so long to get right.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: If I may briefly respond to that, it is true that the law covers a lot of things. It does not combat ignorance. The law provides equality for Sikhs, Muslims and everyone else. When an outrage by an Islamic fundamentalist takes place, very often the target is a Sikh gurdwara or a Sikh individual. You cannot combat ignorance in that way. The more clarity we put into the law and the more determination we put into upholding the law, the better it will be for everyone.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, I will address Amendment 8 in particular. At Second Reading, I said that my early life was spent in a place where religious discrimination was the norm. It is something that I

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managed to grow out of—after a very long time—and which I find absolutely abhorrent. I also explained at Second Reading why, like the noble Lord, Lord Alli, I know what it is like to suffer abuse because of one’s sexuality. It is never so dispiriting as when those two things are combined. Some of the most homophobic material that is sent to me is in the name of churches. I find that more depressing than anything else.

I was raised in a religious household and I will defend the rights of people to hold religious points of view and minority points of view. I will defend their right to preach things that I find unacceptable and disheartening. I cannot tell your Lordships how dispiriting it is to listen to some preachers and to understand from their preaching how little they think of their fellow human beings, but it is absolutely their right to do that. But it is not their right to do that and to inflame hatred and violence at the same time.

I suspect that not many of your Lordships go to Gay Pride marches but I do, occasionally. Every time I go to Brighton and have a wonderful time, there is a point when we walk up the street and there is a particular religious organisation there; its members have picked that day to come and make known their opposition to gay people. The police are there protecting them because they are exercising their right to do so.

The point at which I absolutely and fundamentally part company with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, is in his Amendment 8. He is a citizen and I am a citizen. We pay our taxes. When it comes to the exercise of public services, we should have exactly the same rights provided that we are both living within the law. I simply cannot accept the statement in the amendment that the private views of public servants should enable them to treat people differently.

Finally, something that I started to do many years ago, and still do as a private discipline, is that when I listen to or am asked to advance an argument on behalf of one minority, I run through the same argument in the name of another, completely different minority. I find it a very helpful way of getting to a universal understanding of what it means to be a human being and to treat other people with dignity. It is a discipline that I recommend to all.

7.15 pm

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, it is absolutely necessary that some of these amendments should be on the Marshalled List. They have been discussed at length today and will be discussed further. But the fact remains that there is a perception that people will be restrained from expressing their views about marriage as a result of this Bill. The correspondence that I and many others have received show that there is a very considerable concern that people will be denied the freedom to criticise same-sex marriage when this Bill goes through—I say “when this Bill goes through” because it quite clearly will go through. Therefore, it is right and proper that this House should ensure that there are proper provisions to ensure free speech. There have been instances where free speech has been guaranteed by Ministers but not carried out by people in other walks of life and other areas of employment.

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People are also concerned at the speed with which this Bill was introduced and is being rushed through Parliament. They feel that there has been insufficient public discussion of this very important Bill, which alters parts of our constitution, and that it is being rushed through and their views are not being properly taken into account. After all, we must recognise that the percentage of gay couples is 1.5% and therefore 98.5% of the population has to be taken into consideration as well. If people disagree with this Bill, they must be able to express their opposition after the Bill has been passed without fear of being dismissed or otherwise harmed by their employers or having a policeman knock at the door because they have made some off-the-cuff remark.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, we have had another interesting and informative discussion.

I wonder how much confusion there is about the fact that when we disagree with each other, that is okay; that it is okay to disagree with each other quite vehemently; and that it is all right to express those vehement disagreements. Our view on these Benches is that the law recognises that that is exactly right. It took me back to the passage of the Equality Act 2010, when the interventions of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, made precisely the point that needed to be made about the protections that existed. Those protections do exist. The fact that they are tested from time to time, and that people on both sides do silly things with them from time to time, does not mean that they are not valid protections; they are very valid protections indeed.

We believe—and the Commons agreed in its debates—that there is no need for additional protection under the Equality Act 2010. It is not necessary. There is already protection for people’s religious beliefs in law, which encompasses views about marriage. It would also be invidious, because it would make the only specific belief that has protection under this part of the Equality Act one that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. I will return to that.

It is worth saying that Amendment 19 would make a particular viewpoint on marriage, which could be held by people with or without religious beliefs, the only belief that was expressly protected from discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, elevating it above any other belief. This could have exactly the opposite effect to that intended by the noble Lord, Lord Singh, since a person who believes that the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman is wrong would also be protected. Therefore, it may do exactly what the noble Lord does not want it to do.

As I said during the debate, the Equality Act 2010 is a carefully considered piece of legislation, which balances the rights of one protected group against those of another. Sexual orientation and religion or belief are both protected characteristics under the Equality Act, meaning that it is illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their sexual orientation or their religion.

The Equality Act already takes care to provide protections for the beliefs of those with a religious

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faith, including on issues of sexual orientation and marriage. For example, guidance accompanying the Equality Bill, states:

“In the case of Ministers of Religion and other jobs which exist to promote and represent religion, the Bill recognises that a church may need to impose requirements regarding sexual orientation, sex, marriage and civil partnership or gender reassignment if it is necessary to comply with its teachings or the strongly held beliefs of its followers”.

It is completely clear that the law already exists to protect those views and their expression. Religion and belief are protected characteristics under the Act. It means that we cannot be discriminated against for holding or expressing those beliefs. On these Benches, we did not think that the government amendment was necessary, as my noble friend Lord Alli mentioned, but we understand that the Government are acting in good faith on a commitment made by a Minister in another place. Therefore, we accept that the Government are bringing the amendment forward with the best of intentions and that it certainly does no harm. If it gives people peace of mind, that is only to be welcomed.

I will not go through the rest of the amendments because I suspect the Minister will do that extremely well—and it is nearly dinner time.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this very important and helpful debate. May I say first that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, for repeating what I said at Second Reading? The Bill absolutely makes it lawful, and continues to make it lawful, for people to believe that marriage should be only between a man and a woman. It is their right to express that belief and the Bill does nothing to change that. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and my noble friend Lord Lester for what they said about the Equality Act protecting people who have a range of religions beliefs but in this context hold the belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman and are free to express that belief. It is important that I continue to make that clear.

I also recognise, however, that people are looking for reassurance and want to know that it is perfectly legitimate to continue to hold the beliefs that they have always held, and that they will not be in any way disadvantaged because of these beliefs—or, indeed, that it would be unfair for people to criticise them in any way, although clearly it is free for anybody to express an opinion that is contrary to that view.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, mentioned, the Government are bringing forward an amendment to the Public Order Act. I will speak to that in a little more detail when I take the amendments in turn. We felt that it was important for us to do this as we recognised the need for assurance and because it was possible to make that amendment to the Public Order Act without causing any detriment to anybody. We really do understand that people are looking to us for assurance.

The amendments have clearly enabled us to explore issues of conscience in relation to the Bill, and it is right that we should do so. Let me start with Amendment 5, which was moved by my noble and

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learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. He seeks to explore how the Bill could impact on those seeking appointment to a public office—such as appointment to the board of a non-departmental body. The amendment seems to be based on the premise that, should the Bill be enacted, anyone expressing a belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman might somehow be excluded from appointment to public offices.

I can reassure noble Lords that this is certainly not the case. This Bill is not about forcing people of faith to change their religious views, practices or teachings about marriage. The belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman is, and will continue to be, mainstream and entirely lawful. Indeed, the Bill explicitly makes clear that such a belief is legitimate and mainstream through the specific protections it provides to ensure that religious organisations and their representatives who do not want to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies cannot be compelled to do so.

Public appointees, like anyone else, are and will remain free to express their religious or philosophical beliefs as long as this does not affect their ability to do their job.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: The noble Baroness is making a very important point. She will know that concern has been expressed about the conduct of various authorities in the past—certain councils, certain police authorities and so on. What assurance can she give the House, in the spirit of the assurances that she is now giving, that adequate guidance will be given to these authorities so that we do not have a repetition of how poor individuals have been pilloried in the past?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am about to come to the specific examples that have been raised. I hope I will also give the noble Lord some comfort by saying that we are working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to review its guidance and ensure that revised guidance is issued. It is also looking at its statutory codes in this area. I accept, as has been pointed out by noble Lords in this debate, that we need to make sure that public bodies in particular—although not just public bodies—are clear that it remains absolutely lawful for somebody to express their belief in this way. We want to make sure that that is clear to them. The Equality Act 2010 provides express prohibition against discrimination because of religion or belief. This includes a religious or philosophical belief that marriage should be only between a man and a woman. This protection applies in relation to public appointments and to employees.

I move on to Amendments 7 and 8, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dear. I am grateful for his explanation although, on the face of it, the scope of these amendments is not entirely clear. However, it would certainly include a range of public authorities and religious organisations, and would potentially extend to commercial service providers. Like the noble Lord’s amendment in the earlier group, these amendments would effectively create two tiers of marriage—a point made, I think, by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner—with marriages of same-sex couples on a lower tier. That would undermine the

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fundamental purpose of the Bill, which, as I made clear in earlier debates, is to extend the single institution of marriage to same-sex couples.

Of course, there are circumstances in which individuals need strong and effective protection in order for religious freedom to be safeguarded. For example, a clergyman should not be compelled to solemnise the religious marriage of a same-sex couple against his conscience. We all agree about that, and the Bill provides that protection through the explicit protections already contained in the quadruple lock.

7.30 pm

However, Amendments 7 and 8 have a much wider effect. Amendment 7 would apply to anyone exercising a function under or in consequence of this Bill, and Amendment 8 would apply in the same terms to all public authorities and those exercising public functions. Therefore, these amendments would, for example, allow a housing officer to decide who should be housed based on his or her belief. It would be quite wrong to refuse, on the basis of a personal belief, however strongly and sincerely held, to house a same-sex married couple or a couple where one of the partners was divorced and remarried. Public servants should not be able to pick and choose to which members of the public they will provide their services. However, to be clear, a housing officer, for example—

Lord Dear: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I specifically did not say that. My amendment, if adopted, would certainly not lead to the sort of conduct whereby a housing manager could decide that he did not much like single-sex marriages and therefore would not allocate a house. That was quite specifically not what I had in mind. It was that the housing manager should not be punished or be at detriment for holding those views when he stood back and said, “I don’t want to get involved in this. Somebody else should make this allocation”. That is the point I was making.

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood: Before the Minister answers that, I should like to be clear on whether the noble Lord, Lord Dear, is suggesting that it is open to a registrar who objects to same-sex marriages to desist from performing a same-sex marriage.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for his intervention but I disagree that it is legitimate for, say, a housing officer to withhold his services or, rather, to withdraw participation in an aspect of his job on the basis of his religious beliefs, although he is absolutely within his rights to express his religious beliefs at work. In an earlier debate, the noble Lord and others, including my noble friend Lady Cumberlege, raised the case of Adrian Smith. We must not lose sight of the fact that, as my noble friend Lady Barker made clear, Adrian Smith won his case. I absolutely understand the point made by noble Lords that it is regrettable that people sometimes have to go through that process in order for the law to be made clear, and I wish that that never happened. However, I am grateful that the law exists, so that somebody with a strong case that they are being unlawfully discriminated against can be successful in bringing a case, as illustrated by that example.

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In this area, it is also worth referring to another example—raised, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, but certainly by others—concerning the Reverend Brian Ross, who was a volunteer police chaplain for Strathclyde police. It is difficult to comment on an individual case without knowing the full facts but the religious protections in the Bill make it clear that belief that marriage should be between only a man and a woman is legitimate and mainstream.

The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, also appear to have the effect of elevating the belief that marriage should be between only a man and a woman over all other religious or philosophical beliefs which people hold and which are deserving of equal respect under the law. A belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman is undoubtedly worthy of respect in a democratic society. As such, it is already protected under the religion or belief protections in the Equality Act 2010 and under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is therefore unlawful to discriminate against someone simply because they hold this belief.

The determination of whether there has been unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act is always a matter of balance, depending on the facts of the case. The noble Lord’s Amendments 7 and 8 would, I believe, disrupt that balance. An employer must be able to insist that employees carry out their work in a reasonable and professional manner. If, for example, a chauffeur for a commercial car hire company arrived at a wedding and decided that he would not drive the couple because they were of the same sex, that would amount to unlawful discrimination and would leave the employer open to a claim on that basis. It would also affect the employer’s business. It is right that the employer should be able to take action against the employee in those circumstances. However, Amendment 7 would prevent the employer doing so and therefore I believe that it goes too far.

Baroness Cumberlege: I am very interested that my noble friend has touched on the commercial world. Can she comment on the Christian organisation that had its conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre banned with less than a day’s notice because the organisation’s support for traditional marriage was deemed to contravene the centre’s diversity policy?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Yes, my Lords. I would have come to that once we reached a later amendment. My noble friend Lord Waddington also raised that as an example but I shall deal with it here. Unfortunately, I understand that these cases are the subject of ongoing litigation, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment on them. However, the Equality Act protects against discrimination because of religion or belief in the provision of services. I regret that I cannot comment on that specific point but, again, I stress that the law is clear in this area.

Lord Elton: I am sorry but I am not sure that I follow the noble Baroness. The law is clear that this should not have happened. Is that right or in what respect is it clear?

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am afraid that it is not possible for me to respond directly to that question because the case is still live and subject to litigation. I hope that my noble friend will forgive me.

Amendment 8 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, seems to be aimed at addressing concerns aired here and in the other place that public authorities might overreact to expressions of belief in traditional marriage. This was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. Not only would the amendment require public authorities to treat people fairly but it would impose a specific duty in respect of this one belief, which could result in the marriage of same-sex couples being placed on a lower tier or being considered as somehow not of the same status as marriage of opposite-sex couples.

Together, Amendments 7 and 8 would allow the owner of a hotel approved for the solemnisation of marriages to refuse to host marriages of same-sex couples, and the registration authorities and even the courts would have to allow him to do so. We believe that that would be both confusing and wrong.

Amendment 9 would also require those exercising public functions to consider a particular belief about marriage, regardless of the function being exercised. This would be overburdensome and unnecessary. How would this be relevant for a person exercising parking or traffic enforcement functions or a person exercising functions relating to rubbish collection?

Another difficulty arising from both these amendments is that, by focusing on protecting a particular belief about marriage, they could cast doubt about the protection afforded to people who hold similar views on other issues, such as civil partnerships or same-sex relationships generally. Such a focus could suggest that such views were not protected by the Equality Act. The point there is basically that, if we are specific about this but not specific about other things, arguably we are then putting other beliefs in doubt.

We believe that the proper way to consider issues of protection of conscience in relation to people who exercise functions connected to marriage is to do so in each particular context: civil registration, employment, religious organisations and so on. That is what we have done. We will shortly debate the amendment from my noble friend Lady Cumberlege, which would introduce a conscience clause for civil registrars.

In the preparation of the Bill and during the debates here and in the other place, we have listened to concerns about whether the protections could be strengthened. One thing that we have done is to amend the Bill to provide additional protection for employed chaplains—for example, hospital or university chaplains—who do not wish to carry out or participate in the religious marriage ceremony of a same-sex couple.

Amendment 19 from the noble Lord, Lord Singh, seeks to amend the religion or belief provisions in the Equality Act to make explicit that a belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman is included within it. I am pleased to reassure the noble Lord that there is no need to change the Equality Act in the terms set out in the amendment. Amending the protected characteristic of religion or belief by specifying a particular belief about marriage would cast doubt, as

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I have just said, on other religious or philosophical beliefs that are also protected by the Equality Act, and could therefore lead to confusion about how the protected characteristic of religion or belief is generally protected.

Moving to Amendments 53 and 54, Amendment 53 is a government amendment, similar to one debated in the other place in Committee and on Report. The Government gave a commitment on Report in the other place that we would come back with our own amendment, and I am happy to do so now. This amendment is intended simply to put beyond doubt that the Public Order Act 1986 offences regarding stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation do not outlaw the reasonable expression of the view that marriage should be between a man and a woman, which remains a perfectly legitimate view. It is appropriate to make this amendment because there is already a similar provision in Section 29JA of that Act concerning discussions about sexual conduct or practices. The current wording of Section 29JA would not however cover discussion of same-sex marriage, and that is why we are making the amendment. It is conceivable that some people might be in doubt as to whether discussions of same-sex marriage were to be treated differently from discussions of sexual conduct and practices, in so far as those two topics are linked. For example, my noble friend Lady Barker referred to the demonstration in Brighton by a church on the day of the Gay Pride march. If the church wanted to demonstrate against same-sex marriage, it would be perfectly lawful. This amendment makes that clear. However, let me at the same time be absolutely clear and reassure the House that this amendment does not allow hate speech. If the manner in which something is expressed is threatening and intended to stir up hatred, that would still be an offence. The amendment refers to the content of what is said, not the manner in which it is said. It makes clear that that subject matter is a legitimate one for discussion and it is right to do that only because there is an existing provision covering discussion of sexual conduct or practices.

I turn briefly to Amendment 54 in the name of my noble friend Lady Berridge.

Lord Dear: Before the noble Baroness leaves the Public Order Act 1986, will she clarify that that Act relies on the definition of a public place within it and that it is therefore applicable only to the criminal law and not the civil law?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Yes, I can confirm that it relates only to criminal law.

Returning to Amendment 54 from my noble friend Lady Berridge—

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Can my noble friend confirm, so far as the civil law is concerned, that what I said about the Human Rights Act, freedom of speech and freedom of religion applies equally to the civil law?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Absolutely. I am grateful to my noble friend for making that clear and glad to confirm that he is right.

I cannot accept Amendment 54 because the drafting could give the impression that the law is not to be

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applied even-handedly, which I know is not what my noble friend intended. It also goes further than we believe is necessary. I hope she will agree with me that our own amendment meets the need.

I therefore ask my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern to consider withdrawing his amendment.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: Earlier the noble Baroness mentioned that if a chauffeur turns up at a wedding and will not take part any more because he finds that the people involved are gay, then the employer has some legitimate grounds for disciplining them. Suppose that same person had expressed a view, within the confines of his employment, that he thought gay marriage was wrong and was then asked to go on this particular trip, what would be the view then?

7.45 pm

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The chauffeur would be entirely legitimate in expressing the view, whether at work or outside work, that marriage should be only between a man and a woman. However, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, in the context of the example of a housing officer, it would not be legitimate for the chauffeur to withhold or withdraw from his employment, in terms of what he is paid to do, on the basis of that belief.His employer should be able to pursue that in a way he felt appropriate because he had employed that person to chauffeur people in accordance with the way in which such services are offered commercially.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: I am sorry but the point I am making is: if the employer had deliberately asked that person to do something, knowing it was against his conscience, what would be the view?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: He may have only one driver. It may be a very small firm and the only driver available is that driver. It is not possible for us to legislate. The employer might turn around and say that he has a team of people and that he is quite happy with that arrangement. Outside a public authority, I cannot give the noble Lord a definitive response to the kind of scenario that he is painting. It is absolutely clear that it would be legitimate for that person to express their view, but not for them to say that, because they hold that view, they therefore do not have to do what they are employed to do. I hope that is clear for the noble Lord.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: Would it be legitimate for an employer to dismiss from employment as a chauffeur someone who had expressly told him at the time of employment that he was not prepared to convey people at a same-sex marriage?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: We are now getting into so many different hypothetical scenarios—

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Before the Minister answers that question, I wonder if I can give some free advice. The answer to that question is fact-sensitive. It all depends on the terms of engagement. There are cases that uphold freedom of conscience in certain situations but no one can give a categorical answer

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without knowing the facts of the particular case. There are plenty of former judges here to nod their disagreement if what I have just said is wrong.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I think I will take my noble friend’s free legal advice and refer the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, to it. On that basis, I hope that I will be able to convince my noble and learned friend, who is also a very experienced lawyer, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I have been waiting for some time to intervene to prevent my noble friend having to answer all these questions but the priorities of the House required me to give effect to those who wanted to speak. We have had a very full debate and I thank my noble friend for the very detailed answers she has given on all the issues that have been raised. I am sure we will want to read very carefully what has been said. In the mean time, I am extremely happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 5 withdrawn.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.50 pm.

Iran: Election


7.49 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, with the permission of the House, I will repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question asked in the other place. The Answer is as follows.

“I congratulate the people of Iran on their participation in Friday’s elections, and Dr Rouhani on the result. He made some positive remarks during his election campaign about the need to improve economic and political conditions for the Iranian people and to resolve the nuclear issue. The Iranian people will no doubt look to their new president to make good on these promises.

The United Kingdom’s policy on Iran has been consistent under this Government and the last. We share international concern, documented by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran’s nuclear programme is not for purely peaceful purposes. We deplore Iran’s failure to co-operate fully with the IAEA, to uphold its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to meet the demands placed on it by UN Security Council resolutions.

The Government hope that following Dr Rouhani’s election Iran will take up the opportunity of a new relationship with the international community by making every effort to reach a negotiated settlement on the nuclear issue. If Iran is prepared to make that choice, we are ready to respond in good faith. Our commitment to a peaceful diplomatic settlement of this dispute is sincere.

I urge Iran to engage seriously with the E3+3 and urgently to take concrete steps to address international concerns. Iran should not doubt our resolve to prevent

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nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, and to increase the pressure through international sanctions should its leaders choose not to take this path”.

7.51 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Answer given in another place. The results of the Iranian presidential election are encouraging and we welcome any effort by the new president to promote greater engagement with the West. It is right that together we embrace this window of opportunity for progress, including, of course, on the nuclear issue. However, does the Minister agree that it is necessary for the Government to pursue a sort of twin-track approach; that is to say, positive engagement alongside continued and co-ordinated pressure on the Iranian Government? Has the noble Baroness or her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had an opportunity to discuss the result of the election with my noble friend Lady Ashton and to discuss progress?

7.52 pm

Baroness Warsi: I thank the noble Baroness for her questions. The election of Dr Hassan Rouhani is an opportunity for Iran to be set on a different course. We welcome the fact that this provides an opportunity. The noble Baroness will be aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, has been leading the E3+3 talks. The Foreign Secretary is in constant touch with the noble Baroness on these issues. I am not sure whether they have specifically spoken after the election. The noble Baroness will be aware that Dr Rouhani takes his position on 5 August. That will be an important moment for him to signal whether he will put into action what he has said he will. However, I agree that we are sincere in our engagement with the E3+3 process and we absolutely believe that a negotiated settlement is the way forward.

7.53 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be a bit unwise if we were too effusive about the outcome of this election but that nevertheless we should all say that we welcome that such a high proportion of the Iranian electorate turned out to vote, and that they voted for a candidate who was not the one recommended to them originally by the supreme leader? I have two questions. First, can the Minister confirm what I thought I heard that any willingness by Iran to resume the discussions with the E3+3 would be met by a warm welcome and would be unconditional—that no new conditions would be set for that? Secondly, do the Government feel that it would be helpful if the US Administration made it clear that they would be prepared to talk directly to the Iranians in addition to the E3+3 negotiations, if that was the wish of the new Government in Iran?

Baroness Warsi: It would be wrong for me to speculate as to what offer may be made by the Iranians and how the US would respond in relation to that. However, I can assure the noble Lord that the E3+3 negotiations have been held in an open and frank manner. A

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number of matters are on the table. I am not sure what the current conditions are in relation to those negotiations so I cannot answer his question directly in relation to whether any further conditions will be set before further discussions take place. However, I welcome, with the noble Lord, that over 70% of the Iranian public took part in these elections, that Dr Rouhani was elected with over 50% of the vote, and that he described his win as a victory over extremism and unethical behaviour. This is a moment when Iran could choose an alternative course.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that while it would be naive to suppose that the issues still outstanding are not grave and serious, it would be very unfortunate if, in these early days of the new political reality in Iran, we were to give the impression that we were from the outset still negative? Is it not very important to be able to demonstrate a willingness to respond and to give credibility to the new leadership? Does she also agree that if he is trying to change gear on the crucial nuclear issue it makes it all the more important that the existing nuclear powers take seriously—transparently and demonstrably seriously—their commitment within the non-proliferation treaty to reduce their own stocks and nuclear capabilities?

Baroness Warsi: I take the point made by the noble Lord. Of course we have to be positive about what could potentially flow from these election results. However, we must also remember that more than 600 candidates were disqualified during this process, of which 30 were women. We have to see this election in the context of the background against which it was held. Of course, it is right for us to respond positively to any further movements by the Iranians. That is why I said that this is a moment when Iran can choose an alternative course of action. However, there are still serious negotiations and questions on the table, and it is important for Iran seriously to engage with those E3+3 negotiations.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, is it not a matter almost for rejoicing that the Iranian people seem to have elected as their president someone who has indicated that he is at least prepared to open windows on the outside world? Should we not do everything to encourage him and the new Government, when they take office, to open the doors as well? Perhaps, following the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, this may be an opportunity for the United States to renew the approach that was made so splendidly some years ago by President Obama in his Cairo speech. Given the way in which the flawed—and much protested—election of Mr Ahmadinejad to the presidency was carried out last time, surely the lesson in this is that it is a great deal better to allow countries to sort out their own problems in their own way rather than wading in with either threats or unwise or unsustainable interventions.

Baroness Warsi: I can assure the noble Lord that on this matter we certainly do not intend to wade in with threats. However, I think he will accept that there are serious issues in relation to the proliferation of nuclear weapons by Iran. Those are matters that need to be

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discussed and Iran needs seriously to engage with them. Of course, there are also issues in relation to the human rights situation in Iran and concerns in relation to its current role in Syria. Therefore, while this is of course an opportunity, we need to be cautious about how optimistic we are.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, what advice do the Government extend either to encourage or allow engagement with differing sectors or institutions in Iran? I ask this because yesterday I launched as creator and producer a 30 minute internet-based production in Farsi under the banner of www.parliamentrevealed.org, with the assistance of the Hansard Society, which sets out to explain how and why the United Kingdom Parliament operates in the way that it does.

Baroness Warsi: That was a great plug for what the noble Viscount does. “Parliament Revealed” is an incredibly important programme. I have seen first-hand its impact in central Asia and it is certainly to be welcomed. If other countries can take advantage of that, we would support it. We can certainly say about Dr Hassan Rouhani, who has studied in the United Kingdom, that it will not be the unfamiliarity of how our system operates that will stop us from moving forwards.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the power structure in Iran is very complex. The Revolutionary Guards remain in place and, as we have seen in Syria, the supreme leader is still there. We should not expect any abrupt changes. However, do we leave the initiative entirely with the new president when he is inaugurated in August? What initiatives are we thinking of at that time to try to normalise relations? Should we not, with our allies, consider carefully the level of representation at the inauguration of the new president?

Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord is right in relation to the supreme leader’s position. He will be aware that Dr Rouhani has been one of the supreme leader’s personal representatives on Iran’s Supreme National Security Council for many years. We look forward to his actions when he is sworn in as president and whether he will show that he is willing and able to resolve Iran’s most pressing problems, including the international community’s concerns about the nuclear issue. As for whether we will step up our engagement, the noble Lord will be aware that, following the attack on our embassy in November 2011, we reduced our diplomatic relations to the lowest level, although we still have arrangements in place in each other’s capitals that allow communications between the UK and Iran. He may be aware that the Swedes and Omanis assist us in allowing those communications to take place. We must be assured, first and foremost, that our staff are secure and safe and that our mission will be allowed to carry out the full range of embassy functions before we can consider how we would step up this relationship.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords—

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: It is 10 minutes for a UQ, I am afraid, and we are out of time.

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Town and Country Planning (Temporary Stop Notice) (England) (Revocation) Regulations 2013

Motion to Regret

8.02 pm

Moved by Lord Avebury

That this House regrets that the Town and Country Planning (Temporary Stop Notice) (England) (Revocation) Regulations 2013, laid before the House on 12 April, will have a negative impact on vulnerable Traveller families.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, this order removes the restriction from the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 on a local authority’s powers to serve a temporary stop notice in respect of caravans which are used by the occupants as their main residence, where there is a suspected breach of planning control. Hitherto, a local authority could issue a TSN in these circumstances only if it considered that the risk of harm to a compelling public interest arising from stationing the caravan on the land in question was so serious that it outweighed any benefit to the occupier of the caravan of stationing the caravan there for the period of a TSN.

The Government say that unauthorised caravans can often cause immediate and significant impact on the local area and that this is no longer to be weighed against the interests of the occupiers. The order equalises the planning authority’s powers in regard to caravans used as a person’s main residence with other types of development. That is the point. Parliament has rightly in the past made a distinction between a caravan which is somebody’s home and all other types of development. There is a huge difference between stopping ordinary breaches of planning control and depriving a family of their home, with devastating consequences for their future. Not only do they become homeless, but their access to education, health and other public services is seriously prejudiced.

The Community Law Partnership deals with a great many planning cases on behalf of Gypsies and Travellers and in its response to the consultation, it said that the untrammelled use of TSNs would lead to breaches of Articles 6, 8 and 14 and the first protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 6 deals with the right to a fair hearing and there is, of course, no appeal against a TSN. Article 8 covers the right to respect for private and family life, which is obviously impaired when a person or family is evicted. If councils provide a five-year rolling supply of land with planning permission for Traveller sites—as required by 31 March this year under the CLG’s Planning Policy for Traveller Sites—and if they refrain from using these powers until those sites are provided, a great deal of unnecessary human suffering would be avoided. It would also avoid the additional public spending which is incurred in dealing with the health, social and educational problems caused by the notices.

Not a single local authority has implemented PPTS, three months after the Government’s deadline. Essex, for example, expects only to complete the preparatory

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assessment of need demanded by the policy six months hence; and no authority has identified the required five-year supply of deliverable sites. That word “deliverable” means that they should be,

“available now, offer a suitable location for development now, and be achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years”.

I would be grateful if the Minister would explain why this information, which is so crucial to the success of the Government’s strategy for Gypsies and Travellers, is not collected centrally. When a delegation from the Gypsy APPG asked Brandon Lewis, the junior Minister at the CLG, this question last Tuesday, he said that it would be a top-down approach, contrary to the philosophy of this Government. He added that it was up to local planning inspectors to deal with the failure of councils to comply with the PPTS as they saw fit.

I ask my noble friend if that means widespread rejection of local plans and random granting of appeals against refusing planning applications by Travellers. For the last 50 years we have said that the problem of unauthorised sites arises from the failure of the political system to provide adequate accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers. Governments have generally agreed that accommodation is a key factor, not only in dealing with unauthorised sites, but also in tackling the appalling educational, health and other social disadvantage suffered by Gypsy and Traveller families. Yet they have ducked the responsibility of ensuring that these problems, affecting 0.02% of the population, are resolutely addressed. On the contrary, their priority has been to make life harder for those who have nowhere to live, as this order will inevitably do.

That brings me to the prohibition of discrimination in Article 14 of the ECHR, taken together with Protocol 1, Article 1. This entitles a person to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. This combination calls into question the difference in treatment between Gypsies and Travellers, who may be deprived of their homes without notice or right of appeal, and gorgias—that means non-Gypsies—who are protected against this treatment by Section 171F (1)(a) of the 1990 Act. The JCHR has drawn attention to the risk of breaching these ECHR provisions, as well as those of Article 2 (1)(a) and Article 5 (b)(3) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

In some cases, the use of a TSN may be contrary to the public sector equality duty, particularly to the requirements in Section 149 of the Equality Act, to:

“Advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it”.

There may also be cases where, because of our adherence to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the use of the TSN may be unlawful because it would not be in the best interests of a child. Under the Health and Social Care Act, too, the Secretary of State must have regard to health inequalities in exercising his functions. Will my noble friend explain how he can do that if Gypsies, who are already at the bottom end of the scale in morbidity and mortality, are harried from pillar to post, unable to seek the medical attention that they may need?

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The Explanatory Memorandum says that the Government intend to produce guidance to assist councils in taking into account human rights and inequalities considerations and balancing those considerations against the impact of the unauthorised development on the local area. However, the guidance is likely to be so general as to be useless in enabling the council to decide whether it is safe to issue a TSN. It will hardly venture into the dangerous territory of predicting how the courts will deal with a particular set of circumstances.

Councils may be aware in general terms of the need to take account of human rights and equalities considerations in deciding whether to issue a TSN, as the consultation showed. However, the Explanatory Memorandum envisages the possibility that they may use these powers inappropriately and may then be challenged by judicial review. However, since the order has been published, legal aid for such cases has been withdrawn. Do the Government really believe that Traveller litigants in person are likely to launch judicial review proceedings?

Almost certainly, the families targeted by a TSN will end up back on the roadside, with all the disastrous consequences for their access to healthcare, education and other public services that are well known from evictions such as Dale Farm in 2011. The public expenditure costs downstream are likely to be enormous. This no doubt explains why the Government make no effort to quantify them.

Forty per cent of respondents to the consultation felt that the impact of the changes on caravan occupiers would be unacceptable—as it certainly would be when they have nowhere else to go. The government response to the consultation on the Taylor review of planning practice guidance was published in May. Will the Minister confirm that the guidance on the use of TSNs will be part of the new guidance suite that will be published before the Summer Recess? Will the guidance say that councils should use TSNs only once they have a five-year deliverable supply of sites in place? If it will not, these regulations put the cart before the horse. The draconian power to make people homeless should be invoked only after a local deficit of sites has been eliminated.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, when on 13 February this year the Department for Communities and Local Government concluded its consultation on the proposal to change the temporary stop notice system and, in effect, leave it up to local planning authorities to determine whether it is right to evict families from unauthorised caravan sites irrespective of the availability of other sites, special circumstances of health and education, or any kind of disproportionate impact, more than 40% of responses stated that the impact on Gypsies and Travellers would be unacceptable. However, six weeks or so later, on 29 March, just before the Easter bank holiday, the Secretary of State, Mr Pickles, announced that he would go ahead with measures that he unveiled just two weeks later. His precipitous move means that there will now be a complete absence of any need to consider, let alone provide, an alternative legal site if a family, even in great need, perhaps with an oxygen machine or with a heavily pregnant mother, is evicted from an unlawful site.

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Noble Lords will know that unlawful sites happen because far too few councils have made a proper assessment of site need, let alone made new council sites or approved private ones. Therefore those families—not a large number—who have been obliged to stop on unauthorised ground will be even more disadvantaged, sometimes dangerously so. Nor, if the Ministry of Justice’s proposals go ahead, will judicial review be as available as in the past.

Is this warfare between communities necessary? Is it essential that in addition to enforcement notices, injunctions and direct action, councils should be able, without any corresponding duty to provide or allow the small number of sites required, to remove whole families into a further progression of illegal stopping, and enduring a lack of facilities such as mains drainage, piped water and rubbish removal, which will further deny their children education and their sick people healthcare?

It is not as if there are not examples of much better practice. The successful pilot of the negotiated stopping system in Leeds is one of the best. Everyone took part: the council, the police, the local Traveller support group, Gypsy and Traveller families themselves and local businesses. Leeds City Council estimates that it has saved more than £100,000 so far by avoiding eviction and clean-up costs—a far cry from the millions of pounds spent in the Dale Farm disaster. It also says that access to healthcare, education and training has significantly improved for the roadside families concerned. Your Lordships will well understand the benefit of that for community cohesion and for the prospects of employment and, in some cases, life itself.

Councils need to be encouraged through the legal framework to behave like this, not discouraged. How will the Government achieve improvements? I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous answer to the question of what he thought of English civilisation. He said, “It would be a good idea”. A good start would be to drop these regulations.

8.15 pm

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on tabling this Motion, and my noble friend Lady Whitaker. They are two Members of the House who have devoted considerable time and energy to the problems of this particularly vulnerable community, and it is appropriate that we should hear from them tonight.

This is another indication of the penchant of the Secretary of State for selective indignation. For example, council tax rises are not permissible even if they are around 2%—less than the rate of inflation. However, council house rent increases can be twice the rate of inflation. Indeed, that is something that the Government do not just acquiesce in but insist on. When it comes to caravans, which can be unsightly and cause potential problems, the Government will produce regulations of this kind to facilitate their removal. On the other hand, when private houses stand empty, councils cannot acquire them or take any steps in relation to them unless they have been empty for two years, despite a very severe housing shortage.

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Different standards appear to be applied to different issues, according to what would appear to attract more popular support. However, I am pleased to note that at least the junior Minister has a sense of irony. Mr Lewis has been quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, as saying that government action to force councils to do what they ought to be doing in providing places would be a top-down approach, contrary to the Government’s policy. There will be mirth in every town hall in the country at the suggestion that this Government’s policy on local government is not one that can be described as being top down. When the Secretary of State tells councils that they ought to be collecting refuse weekly rather than fortnightly, not to mention pronouncing a range of other instructions and wishes which are then backed by the Government’s financial distribution, it is a little much for the Government to rely on their so-called localism as a defence for orders of this kind.

Looking at the consultation documentation, I was struck by some of the phraseology used. In the summary they provide, the Government refer to:

“The availability of appropriate alternative sites for caravans used as main residences will be a factor”—

a factor—

“in determining whether it would be appropriate to use Temporary Stop Notices to stop such unauthorised development”.

What are the other factors that would be involved in determining whether it would be appropriate? Factors for and factors against are not indicated at all in the consultation. The document goes on:

“Revoking Statutory Instrument 2005/206 to give councils greater freedom to determine whether to use Temporary Stop Notices may therefore encourage councils to identify land for sites to meet their traveller needs”.

That is a complete non-sequitur, in any event, but “may” is hardly a strong word to use in this context, given the implications for individuals and families—and, in particular, the impact on children.

In addition, the policy context—which the Government quote—refers, as the noble Lord has done, to the fact that,

“councils should set targets for traveller site provision based on robust evidence, including identification of sites for five years and forecasting ahead where possible to 15 years … provision”.

It goes on:

“If a council cannot demonstrate an up-to-date five year supply from 27 March 2013, this should be a significant material consideration in any subsequent planning decision when considering applications for the grant of temporary planning permission”.

As the noble Lord has pointed out, a five-year supply of land is not the same as a supply of serviced sites. Indeed it is very unlikely that simply indicating at this stage that there is a five-year supply will carry any implication that there are service sites available. In any event, councils do not seem to be providing indications that there is a five-year supply of land, let alone of particular developments which would facilitate the use of such sites by Travellers.

The consultation also refers to the penalty for non-compliance with a temporary stop notice. This has not yet been referred to tonight, but it is interesting that there is,

“a fine of up to £20,000 on a summary conviction, or an unlimited fine on indictment”,

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and that:

“There is no right of appeal against the service of a Temporary Stop Notice”,

although, as the noble Lord and my noble friend have pointed out, this,

“may be subject to judicial review”.

The question again arises—I am the third person to mention it, so perhaps the Minister would be kind enough to clarify the situation—as to whether legal aid for judicial review will be available or not. It seems unlikely that it would be available. In that case, my noble friend and the noble Lord are right to question whether the reference to judicial review offers any route at all for people faced with this notice to have access to justice and to have their case heard.

The consultation, which was fairly brief, has given results to which both previous speakers have referred. The Government’s document confirming the changes repeats that,

“where authorities cannot demonstrate that they have identified a five-year supply of suitable sites then this will be a significant material consideration in the determination of temporary planning permission”.

What other considerations would be material in the determination of a temporary planning permission? Will it not be the authority serving the notice which will determine whether planning permission is to be granted or not? If that is the case, surely the odds are significantly stacked against the people who receive the notice.

Statutory instrument 2005/206 restricted the use of notices by preventing them being issued where the caravan was a main residence,

“unless there is a risk of harm to a compelling public interest that is so serious as to outweigh any benefit to the occupier of the caravan”.

That seems a sensible and balanced approach to this issue. It is one that the Government are clearly cavalierly discarding. Of course, the Government genuflect briefly in the direction of the European Convention on Human Rights, saying:

“It will still be for local authorities to balance the impacts of using their enforcement powers against individuals … against wider impacts on the local area”.

That, again, is not much consolation on the significant issue which the noble Lord has raised.

The document goes on to state:

“The government’s aim … is to secure more authorised traveller sites in appropriate locations, to address historic under provision and meet future supply needs”.

That is a fine statement, but where is the evidence that anything is actually happening to fulfil that objective, which was announced in March 2012? What progress has been made? What steps have the Government taken to see that progress is being made, or are they simply relying on their policy without making any effort to see that it is being implemented? What financial assistance, if any, is available to local authorities to meet that obligation?

The noble Lord asked about the guidance which the Government say will be produced in line with their guidance review process. I do not understand that phrase, but perhaps the Minister will explain it. I am not aware—this may be my fault—of any government

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guidance review process. Is that a general process or is it specific to this particular case? The document states that the guidance is supposed to support local councils to assess the various matters referred to, including,

“the impact on equalities and human rights”.

However, we are at the point when the statutory instrument will become effective. Where is the guidance, when will it be issued and what will it say?

The Government are using this statutory instrument to deal with what is not a huge problem in terms of the total numbers. The numbers of unauthorised caravan sites have declined, as the consultation document shows. They draw an interesting comparison in relation to the suggestion that there is unequal treatment of different kinds of development by saying that,

“regulations prevent local authorities from using Temporary Stop Notices against unauthorised development of buildings which are being used as a dwellinghouse”.

That, of course, will remain the case. Councils cannot use a temporary stop notice for that, but can in relation to a caravan. They ignore the distinction that while a caravan is immediately a home once occupied, a house under construction is not a home until it has been completed and subsequently occupied. That is sophistry. It is a significant breach of planning law to build something which cannot be stopped in the way that the temporary use of a site by a caravan occupier would be.

This policy could bear very hard on a relatively small but vulnerable group of people, where there is no real evidence that it is necessary. Where is the evidence that there is a significant problem here? The justification for the measure is, to put it mildly, thin and little thought is given to the consequences for those people who will be moved on—to where, no one can say in the absence of alternative serviced sites. The question also arises of the potential costs of the measure. If people are evicted from a site, it may well be the case, particularly if they have children, that a cost will fall on other areas of a local authority—for example, on children’s services departments, which may have to take children into care if they are not capable of being suitably housed. That does not seem to have entered into the equation at all.

This is a Motion to express regret. I do not imagine that the noble Lord will seek a vote on it, but it is right that we should discuss it and that the Government should look again at the implications of what they are doing. It is particularly right that they should listen to the advice of two such distinguished Members of this House as the noble Lord and my noble friend, and take action to assist local councils in meeting the need for properly serviced accommodation, suitable for occupation by this quite small group, without recourse to the draconian measures which they are now implementing in this statutory instrument.

8.30 pm

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend for securing this debate. Like other noble Lords who have participated in it, I, too, acknowledge his great commitment in furthering understanding of, and tackling and highlighting, some of the issues faced by the Traveller community in

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particular. I also thank other noble Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for their contributions. Both they and my noble friend have raised valuable and thought-provoking comments. However, unlike my noble friend, I do not believe that there is a case to regret this change. Indeed, I welcome it as part of empowering local councils to take effective action against unauthorised sites.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, talked about a recent meeting, to which my noble friend also referred, with Brandon Lewis, who is now charged within the department with taking forward the agenda for Travellers. I would say, in defence of my honourable friend, that he has taken to this particular task with great aplomb. He has met with the APPG and is in listening mode, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, pointed out.

Just as an aside, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, mentioned my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Mr Eric Pickles, talking about approaches to local government. This underlines our Government’s commitment to localism. I, for one, as a former local councillor, actually welcome his intervention on matters such as ensuring that councils take up the good practice of weekly bin collections. Certainly in my 10 years in local government, including my time as cabinet member for the environment, I never found the idea of fortnightly collections resonated with any part of the borough and, indeed, boroughs across London either. However, if that is the case in the noble Lord’s area, I stand corrected.

I will set out from the beginning that the Government are totally committed, I assure my noble friend, to respecting the rights of Gypsies and Travellers, improving socio-economic outcomes and indeed reducing prejudice, which does exist. I encountered this at first hand in my own ward in local government. The Traveller site in Merton was actually in my ward, which itself could be regarded as a very prosperous part of the borough. Nevertheless, it was an eye-opener for me. I visited the site, which was a permanent site, and I worked with the local Traveller community there. I totally hear the points made and I think it is important for government at local level to ensure that there is correct representation for Travellers, because quite often they are not aware of the avenues open to them to make appropriate representations. It is incumbent on us, through our localism approach, to ensure that councils create those avenues and ensure that they are made fully available to all Traveller communities.

As we all know, the majority of Travellers abide by the law and planning procedures. It is only a small minority that may at times seek to set up on an unauthorised site, and that does, unfortunately, damage the reputation of the wider community. However, I highlight also the work undertaken thus far at the DCLG. For example, in April 2012, the ministerial working group looking into Gypsies and Travellers published a progress report, which included 28 commitments from across government to help outcomes for Gypsies and Travellers. These included promoting the improved health outcomes for Gypsies and Travellers within the structures of the National Health Service and encouraging authorised sites that have the backing of the local community.

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Indeed, £60 million has been made available through the Traveller pitch funding and the new homes bonus. I sought an update on progress in this regard and, by 2015, as part of this scheme, we are seeking to have in place 628 new pitches and 415 refurbished pitches across the country. Another recommendation of the ministerial working group was preventing hate crime, increasing the reporting of incidents and challenging the attitudes that underpin it.

In terms of specific progress, in education, for example, the Department for Education has already recruited virtual head teachers in three areas—Kent, Bradford and Cambridgeshire. In health, the Department of Health’s commitments mainly concern improving the evidence base on Gypsy and Traveller health and using the reformed health system to improve the commissioning of health services from April. The new legal duties as regards health inequalities will be a key lever to improve access to and outcomes from health services. Gypsies and Travellers are one of the priority groups on which their inclusion health programme is focusing.

The commitments made by the Home Office come out of the cross-government hate crime action plan, published in March 2012. This plan is currently being reviewed in order to assess progress and respond to new and emerging issues. Of course, I encourage all noble Lords—as they do; and I am sure that my noble friend will—regularly to ensure that progress is made on these initiatives and to hold the Government to account, as is right. In the Ministry of Justice, another department that I represent from the Dispatch Box, the National Offender Management Service, has started to collect statistics on Gypsy and Traveller prisoners, which, over the long term, will demonstrate outcomes. I am glad that I have been joined by my noble friend from the DWP because that department’s commitment to include Gypsies and Travellers in its internal monitoring systems will be met with the introduction of universal credit.

These ambitions are also enshrined in our planning policy for Traveller sites. This sets out up front that the Government’s overarching aim is to ensure,

“fair and equal treatment for travellers, in a way that facilitates the traditional nomadic way of life of travellers while respecting the interests of”

the community at large. As is the case with all communities, our planning policy asks local councils to plan to meet their objectively assessed needs for development in a way that is consistent with planning policy as a whole. Our policy promotes private-site provision and requires councils to identify and update a five-year supply of deliverable sites, and consider them against needs, as part of their local plan. Legislation requires that local plans take account of this policy. From March this year, where a local planning authority cannot demonstrate an up-to-date supply of sites, that should be a significant consideration in any planning application for temporary permission.

I can therefore reassure my noble friend that we as a Government have been absolutely clear that authorised site provision is key in planning effectively for travellers. When we look at issues such as health and education, some of the unauthorised sites are often not located in

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a way that is reflective of the needs of the local community and the needs of the Traveller community in terms of the provision of local services. In turn, sufficient, well planned and well managed sites are important in improving educational, health and integration outcomes for Travellers.

In support of this, we have provided £60 million Traveller-pitch funding through the Homes and Communities Agency to provide for new and improved sites. Similarly we are working closely with the Planning Inspectorate and Planning Advisory Service to promote high-quality plans, including in respect of Travellers. We are also seeing good progress towards local plan adoption, given that seven out of 10 local councils have already published their plans.

However, let me turn to matters related to enforcement against unauthorised Traveller sites, which caused my noble to raise this debate and to which he referred. While recent figures show that the number of unauthorised caravans has fallen—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham; only 14% are now on unauthorised land—the Government continue to hear about the problems associated with unauthorised Traveller sites and with long drawn-out and costly enforcement and eviction proceedings. Unauthorised development related to caravan sites often happens very quickly because caravans are mobile. Unauthorised provision is by definition inappropriate provision that often raises public health and safety concerns for those living on those sites, as well as for the surrounding community. Our policy makes clear that local councils should seek to reduce the number of unauthorised sites and make enforcement more effective. Intentional abuse of the planning system by a small minority of Travellers who set up unauthorised developments leads to tension, undermines community cohesion and damages the integrity of the planning system.

To ensure the legitimacy of the planning system, we have already introduced stronger enforcement measures through the Localism Act 2011 to enable local councils to deal robustly and effectively with retrospective and misleading planning applications in relation to all forms of development. Removing limitations on the use of temporary stop notices will further empower local councils to take appropriate enforcement action locally. As with other enforcement powers, temporary stop notices can have immediate effect. In most cases, the previous regulations prohibited local councils from using temporary stop notices against caravans used as a main residence. The new regulations simply remove this restriction and enable the local planning authority itself to determine whether the use of temporary stop notices is a proportionate response to the breach of planning control and safeguard valuable local areas.

The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, also highlighted specific cases and issues. It is down to the local authority to use these powers. I am confident that local authorities consider individual cases before they make a judgment call on whether to proceed. The change will encourage Gypsies and Travellers to apply for planning permission through proper channels, enabling full consideration of individual proposals, and result in better quality and more appropriate site provision for Gypsies and Travellers. I assure my noble friend that in exercising

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these powers, the local council as a public authority must have regard to its duties and responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, including to facilitate “the gypsy way of life” with regard to the Traveller community. In particular, it will need to consider whether taking such action could simply lead to displacing the occupants onto the roadside or onto other unauthorised sites which could potentially be less suitable. Again, I reiterate the point that local authorities acting responsibly within their legal requirements and obligations should make the decision which is right for the Traveller community and right for the community as a whole.

Perhaps I may pick a few other specific questions which were raised during the debate. My noble friend raised the issue on the guidance on temporary stop notices, a point also made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, in relation to legal aid. We confirm that the guidance on the use of temporary stop notices will be published in the summer, as part of the wider review of planning guidance. On the issue of no right of appeal against temporary stop notices, and also whether issues of legal aid are being tackled, temporary stop notices expire, as has been acknowledged during the debate, after a period of 28 days. Local councils will have to consider their duties under the equalities and human rights legislation in determining whether the use of a temporary stop notice is appropriate. In some cases, compensation may be claimed where temporary stop notices are served inappropriately.

I can also assure noble Lords that the Government’s proposed reforms to legal aid and judicial review are designed to ensure that those who can afford to pay, do so, to ensure that legal aid is not funding cases which lack merit, or which are better dealt with outside the court, and to target the unmeritorious cases which congest the courts and cause delays. Nothing in the Government’s reforms will prevent those who have arguable claims from having their claims heard. Indeed, the whole reforms are intended to protect the most vulnerable in society.