The Government have been at great pains to stress that the Bill constitutes no threat to religious liberty in the sense of how religious organisations conduct

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themselves. I am greatly reassured by the Government’s comments and we have heard them repeated this afternoon. Nevertheless, it is an important test of the Bill that religious liberty, so defined, can stand varied tests in line with the view expressed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in the other place. She said:

“Our proposals will ensure that all religious organisations can act in accordance with their beliefs because equal marriage should not come at the cost of freedom of faith, nor freedom of faith come at the cost of equal marriage”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/2/13; col. 128.]

The Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, told us that,

“no religious organisation or individual can be forced to conduct or participate in a religious marriage ceremony of a same-sex couple. The religious freedom of those organisations and individuals is protected”.—[

Official Report

, 3/5/13; col. 939.]

I welcome those statements. It is absolutely right that no religious body or minister of religion should be compelled to choose between a readiness to act in violation of their faith by withdrawing from the provision of marriages or getting into trouble with the law.

In following through on this intention, however, it is important for the Government to recognise that marriage ceremonies are not the only relevant service that a religious body or minister of religion might be asked to conduct. Increasingly today people who marry outside a religious context come afterwards to a place of worship asking for a blessing. If Members of the Committee are not sure what I am getting at, they may go online and type in “blessings” and see a very good one on the Church of England site, which I have used in the past after a civil marriage. I am particularly thinking of the predicament of nonconformist and minority ethnic churches.

A blessing ceremony may sound less weighty than a marriage ceremony but the Government must understand that officiating at a blessing would be just as problematic for a faith community whose celebrants could not officiate at a same-sex marriage ceremony without violating their conscience as would officiating at a marriage ceremony. Doing so would involve the religious body or minister of religion authenticating, celebrating and affirming something that their conscience forbids them from doing. The provision of a blessing ceremony in such a context would involve the minister of religion and the religious body in question acting in direct violation of their religious identity. Such a religious body or minister of religion would have to decline to provide such a service in just the same way that they would have to decline to marry a same-sex couple.

As things stand, however, if the Bill becomes law, Section 29 of the Equality Act means that religious bodies that cannot perform same-sex marriage blessings will be in just as much trouble as a church that could not provide same-sex marriages, were it not for the fact that Section 29 is being amended for that purpose by Clause 2. The point that I am making, with apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who is not in his seat, has no belt and no braces whatever. It is entirely vulnerable. If the Government—

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Lord Alli: I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for giving way. I know that he will know the Church of England a lot better than I do but in order to conduct a religious blessing, let us say of a civil partnership, in a religious building, it is up to the House of Bishops and the General Synod to approve a liturgy. Without that approval there is no approved blessing by the Church. There is surely, therefore, a mechanism because if I am a priest I cannot conduct a blessing without a liturgy and, therefore, the synod would have to have pre-agreed that it was permitting the blessing, and without such a blessing it could not do so.

Lord Carey of Clifton: Yes. I thank the noble Lord for that intervention but I am referring to nonconformist churches which have liturgies that are laid down. In some cases, the very fact of an extempore liturgy is a liturgy itself. The point is whether it is done in a house or a church is immaterial. I am referring to a specific area that is not covered by the Bill. Such bodies would therefore be vulnerable to litigation.

Lord Alli: That would not be possible in the Church of England, for example, where there can be no blessing without the liturgy. That could never be the case until the liturgy is approved by the synod.

Lord Carey of Clifton: The noble Lord is exactly right but I am not talking about the Church of England because there are liturgies for blessing. I am talking about other areas of church life.

Amendment 15 addresses this problem by amending Clause 2, which already inserts an appropriate protection into Section 29 of the Equality Act with respect to marriage provision. It uses an identical form of words to extend a similar protection in relation to the provision of same-sex marriage blessing ceremonies. In amending Section 29, as Amendment 15 makes clear:

“A person does not contravene Section 29 only because the person (a) does not conduct a service of blessing for a relevant marriage, or (b) is not present at, does not carry out, or does not otherwise participate in, a service of blessing for a relevant marriage, or (c) does not consent to a service of blessing for a relevant marriage being conducted, for the reason that the marriage is the marriage of a same sex couple.”

I cannot conceive of any reason why the Government or any Member of your Lordships’ House, who agrees with the Government’s commitment to protecting religious bodies and ministers of religion from officiating at same-sex marriages, could oppose Amendment 15. It applies exactly the same principles to the increasingly important area of blessing ceremonies that seem to have been overlooked in the drafting of this Bill.

I commend Amendment 15 to the House and hope that the Government and all sides of the House will feel able to support it. I beg to move.

6 pm

Lord Deben: My Lords, this is entirely misconceived. This Bill is not about blessings. The church has a right to bless or not as it likes. In my case I am referring to the Catholic church, and not the Church of England, and you can bless without any difficulty. The idea that somehow by refusing a blessing you would be subject to the law because of this Bill seems totally fallacious. You might be subject to the law according to other

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Acts, but we have not found that, and if you want to change those Acts, no doubt that would be sensible. But really, this is otiose. That is what worries me. It seems perfectly proper that people who disagree with the vast majority of both Houses on this subject will seek proper protection in areas where one might be uncertain. However there is also a degree of courtesy—I am sorry to have raised that word because it will now dog me for the rest of my life—about not loading this Bill with all kinds of statements about how you do not want to be pressed in this or that way.

It is quite clear what a blessing is. It is something which the churches give as a generous offering to people who ask for it. There is no compulsion; they do not have to do it. If they refuse it, as they can in many cases, there is no question of there being any recourse to law. My father was an Anglican clergyman; he would give blessings in certain circumstances and not in others. That was because in some circumstances he thought they were suitable, in others he thought they were not. Nobody could, would, or should ever have taken him to court. Imagine the court case: “Well, old father, what did you do this for?” and the response, “These two people have been living with other people as well at the same time and so I decided not to give them a blessing”. On what possible basis does the court then say, “You should have given them a blessing”?

I say to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, that we have to be very careful. There is a great deal of unhappiness among decent people about the attitude of some churchmen to this Bill. Therefore, for goodness’ sake, do not let us load this Bill with all sorts of bits and pieces which are not necessary. Let us protect people where the Bill affects them. Do not let us try to protect people where the Bill does not affect them, otherwise we will be doing something which is the bane of American legislation: because there is no concept of the Long Title, you can add anything you like to any Act. You say, “If you want me to vote for this, I want you to include my bit about a bridge in my constituency”. I fear that this is precisely that kind of addition. It seeks to squeeze something into the Bill which has nothing to do with it at all.

Lastly, I will say why this is very serious. If we are to take seriously the contention of some churchmen that same-sex marriages are uniquely unacceptable, those same churchmen have to be very careful that they do not spread that unacceptability to other things. A blessing is manifestly something which the churches have used to overcome the reality of pastoral care as against the reality of doctrinal belief. It ought to stay there. The last place where it ought to be reflected is in the legislation of this House and of this Parliament. Blessing is a mechanism whereby the Church of England, for example, has overcome the fact that doctrinally it believes that marriage is indissoluble, but on the other hand it has to deal with marriage as it is. That is what blessing is. Do not, for goodness’ sake, try to muck this up by adding to this Bill something which is entirely extraneous.

Lord Pannick: My Lords, this amendment is concerned with Section 29 which is related to the exercise of public functions. Whether you give a blessing or not is plainly not a public function, it is a religious function.

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It is subject to a higher authority, no doubt, but that higher authority is not the Queen’s Bench Division, the administrative court and the Court of Appeal. It would be very damaging indeed to religious bodies for this legislation to suggest that Section 29 could apply to the exercise of what are plainly and simply religious functions.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, used the word “courtesy”. I wish to make a plea for clarity. I have said already twice during our debates that I utterly support the rights of religious organisations to take a very different view of same-sex marriage than me, as passionately as I believe that public functions need to be open to all. I regret that none of the Methodist mafia is here today—they are usually around when I need one of them—but I want to make a particular point about the nonconformist churches. We spend an awful lot of time talking about the Church of England for obvious reasons, but I do not want any of the nonconformist churches to be left in any doubt that they will be subject to some kind of compulsion when the Church of England will not be. That is absolutely not the case.

One of the reasons I wished that the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, or the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow, were here would be to confirm my understanding that—on a slightly different point—the Methodist Church, at its conference, is being asked to uphold the view that it will not bless civil partnerships. That is its right and, along with any other church, it will have the right to exercise the same judgment in relation to same-sex marriage.

I want to go slightly further; I hope that churches that take those decisions make it known publicly and loudly that that is their decision. I have spent my life very seriously observing the rights of religious people and trying not to offend them. It is not my intention, as a gay person, ever to offend somebody who holds that religious viewpoint, but I would like churches to make it abundantly clear to me, as a gay person, what their view is, so that I may lead my life in a way that does not directly offend them.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that, as legislators working on the Bill, our duty is to protect those who will be affected when it is enacted and not others. Section 28 of the Equality Act 2010 provides for a clear exemption for services provided in relation to marriage and civil partnership from the Section 29 duty not to discriminate. This will not change under this Bill. I therefore expect the Minister to confirm that a refusal to conduct a blessing of a same-sex marriage would be considered a “related service”, and thus protected under existing provisions within the Equality Act 2010. Therefore we believe that Amendment 15 in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, is unnecessary.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, for flagging this issue so that all of us can answer it with clarity. Amendment 15 seeks clarity that the refusal by a religious organisation or its representative to conduct a service of blessing of a marriage of a same-sex couple would not be considered

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unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The amendment distinguishes between the legal act of solemnisation of a marriage and a religious blessing which does not have legal effect. The amendment is intended to ensure that there is no requirement to conduct such blessings. As with the last group of amendments, we are in agreement on the aim of protecting religious organisations, and I am glad that the noble and right reverend Lord was reassured by much of the previous debate, on that matter.

As the noble and right reverend Lord recognised, the Government are determined that, in opening up the institution of marriage to same-sex couples, they will protect and promote religious freedom, as other noble Lords have said. The Bill ensures that religious organisations and their representatives will not be forced to conduct or participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies. The quadruple lock in this respect amends the Equality Act 2010 to make clear that it is not unlawful discrimination for a religious organisation or representative to refuse to marry a same-sex couple, and I remind the noble and right reverend Lord that these protections apply beyond the Church of England, as my noble friend Lady Barker made very clear.

The amendment is unnecessary because it is already covered by the Bill, and I thank my noble friend Lord Deben and other noble Lords for their support. Clause 2(2) provides that a person cannot be compelled to carry out, attend or take part in a “relevant marriage”. A relevant marriage is defined in Clause 2(4)(a)(iv) as “including any ceremony” connected with the solemnisation of a marriage of a same-sex couple according to religious rites as well as—this is most important—a religious ceremony after a civil marriage of such a couple. The existing religious protections in Clause 2 therefore apply to a blessing of a marriage, which is the same target of this amendment.

In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, explained, and I can confirm, in any event, the conduct of a service of blessing is not something on which the Equality Act 2010 bites, as being purely a religious matter outside of the scope of that Act in the same way that baptisms or the provision of communion are religious issues not covered by discrimination law. So any kind of blessing of a marriage which has no legal effect would not be covered by discrimination law and does not need protection in the way that the amendment envisages.

Lord Tebbit: My noble friend referred to Clause 2(2) which states that:

“A person may not be compelled”.

Is she able to say where in the Bill or elsewhere it is provided that a person who does not conduct a relevant marriage and so on may not be penalised in any way?

Baroness Northover: I am not sure if my noble friend was in his place for the earlier debate, but we had quite an extensive discussion. He may be interested in reading the letter that will be put together by my noble and learned friend.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords—

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Lord Tebbit: I was here for a substantial part of that debate, but not all of it. I ask a simple question: is my noble friend able to confirm that a person would not be penalised?

Baroness Northover: Yes, I can confirm that.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords—

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My noble friend is able to offer free advice on this.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Yes, it comes free. When the noble Baroness replied to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, she may have had in mind not only what was said in the previous debate but the fact that at common law, as was said in that debate, it is quite clear that for a public authority to misuse its powers punitively is itself a public law wrong. The case quoted was that of Wheeler, but there have been others such as, for example, when Rupert Murdoch was penalised by a public authority so far as advertising was concerned. It was also when Shell was penalised because of a boycott. They were cases where public authorities were doing public law wrongs, and in my opinion that would apply equally at common law so far as this is concerned.

Baroness Northover: I find it amazing that my noble friend Lord Lester knows what is inside my head when I myself do not necessarily know what is inside it, and I appreciate his understanding. Coming back to the amendment that we are addressing here, I hope that the noble and right reverend Lord is reassured by what I have said, and by what other noble Lords have said in addition, and that he will be willing to withdraw his amendment.

6.15 pm

Lord Carey of Clifton: My Lords, I am grateful for this brief debate and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that courtesy and respect are very much at the heart of what the House of Lords does and the way in which we do our business. However, as a House we have to listen to the concerns of many of the people out there; people who we know. I can assure noble Lords that I did not concoct this amendment because I was personally associated with it. I did so because of the many concerns that people have. I would differ from the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in his view that this is quite different from the Marriage Act 1949. It is not, because the people who do the blessings are doing so over the marriage itself. Nevertheless, what I gained from this brief debate is a clear assurance that people have nothing to fear. That is now on the record, particularly the view of the noble Baroness that it is unnecessary because it is covered by the Bill. With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.

Amendments 16 to 19 not moved.

Clause 2 agreed.

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Clause 3 : Marriage for which no opt-in necessary

Amendment 19A

Moved by Lord Harrison

19A: Clause 3, page 4, line 38, at end insert—

“(cc) a marriage of any couple conducted according to the usages of an approved organisation;”

Lord Harrison: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 22A and 27A. I am so sorry that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, has departed because I was reminded during the course of the debate today that one of the shorter and most interesting aphorisms of William Blake was, “Damn braces: Bless relaxes”. Given the necessity for belt and braces which has been expressed by so many colleagues, perhaps it would have been apposite today. I, too, seek a blessing for the amendment that I would like to introduce.

The amendment would allow humanists to have a wedding fashioned to reflect their humanist beliefs. It would allow those marrying to have a celebrant who is himself or herself a humanist—one of their own kind. The amendment would also allow such humanist marriages to be open to both gay and heterosexual couples, which is consistent with the Bill, for which I am a strong advocate. Indeed, it would have allowed me and my wife, who have been happily together for 40 years, to have celebrated our own commitment and unshakeable love in a marriage of true minds. This amendment is, indeed, an affair of the heart, which brings heartache to none.

This amendment is in line with a succession of reforms over the centuries that have responded to inequalities of the law, or rather to growing sensitivity to such inequalities. The modern law started with Lord Hardwicke’s Act of 1753, but since then there have been 45 items of primary legislation that are still on the statute book, 27 of them in the present reign, as well as many that have been completely repealed. Many of them widen the choice of methods by which one can marry, gradually relaxing the original rule that virtually everyone had to marry at their parish church.

Today, any Christian denomination, or indeed other religion, can register its place of worship for the solemnisation of marriage. At the most recent count in 2010, there were in excess of some 30,000 registered places of worship. This total excludes the Church of England and the Church in Wales. They range from the Methodists with more than 7,000, the Catholics with 3,600, to more minor denominations such as the Unitarians with 176 and the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion with 15. They take in the main non-Christian religions. The Muslims have more than 900 places registered for marriage while devotees of Krishna are content with but one. Then there are the spiritualists with 323 places registered for marriages and there is the somewhat bizarre Aetherius Society with one place registered for weddings, whose website proclaims that its philosophy and teachings come largely from highly advanced intelligences from higher planes of Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn, and that these cosmic masters, or gods from space, visit earth probably in flying saucers.

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Every religious taste appears to be accounted for, but as the census reminds us, at least a quarter of us have no religion. What of us? Many of us are reconciled to settle for the one size fits all civil marriage introduced in 1836 in the most significant by far of those Acts that have since vanished from the statute book. Indeed, civil marriage by registrar now accounts for two out of every three marriages. For most people, it is perfectly satisfactory, but if you want to have a ceremony that reflects your own belief, then the registry office can be very unsatisfactory.

The fundamental restriction that it may not include any religious content now under the current laws of equality and human rights means that it may not either include on the part of the registrar or any other participant any content distinctive of a non-religious belief, such as humanism—added to which, of course, the presiding registrar may in fact be an ardent Christian, Muslim, or indeed a member of the Aetherius Society.

The most significant group by far of non-religious people in England and Wales who hold a positive non-religious belief are the humanists. They find it vexing that while marriages according to all religious beliefs are legally recognised, those conducted by humanists are legally invalid. A humanist ceremony may express their profoundest sentiments and commitment to each other, but it counts for nothing in the eyes of the law. To be legally married, you have to go off to a registry office and go through a second procedure.

Moreover, the British Humanist Association finds that there is a growing demand for its marriage ceremonies. The British Humanist Association will be known to many of your Lordships for its funeral ceremonies, which are highly regarded, to the extent that they are now copied with more or less success by funeral directors and even by some clergy. Its marriages, of which it conducts more than 600 a year, are notably even more special. They express humanist values and beliefs, but are individually shaped around the commitments that the humanist couple wish to make to each other in front of their families and friends. Some of your Lordships will have seen the eloquent testimonies from couples who have had such BHA weddings and how much they mean not only to the couples themselves, and to other humanists present, but even how highly they are regarded by their religious relatives who attend. If we want to underpin the importance of marriage in these changing times, one way is to make more marriages like these humanists ones. I speak as someone who has had the joy and honour of being a celebrant and conducting such a humanist marriage, albeit informally.

In order to clarify humanism and the kind of marriage we would want, I will describe what makes it distinctive. The marriage is conducted by a celebrant who shares the beliefs and values of the couple. The celebrant spends time with the couple prior to the marriage itself to know them better and better to shape the subsequent marriage. The marriage ceremony in general reflects specific humanist convictions; for example, that there is no supernatural side to this reality and that human beings in the here and now are the source of value and meaning. These are specific non-religious belief elements. Beyond the general reflection of humanist values that underlie the ceremony, the order of service is created

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in line with the specific beliefs and values of the couple. This itself reflects a humanist conviction about the creation of meaning in human lives. The marriage is conducted in a place of particular meaning or significance to the couple.

Scotland is relevant only because it shows the pent-up demand for humanist marriages. Since they were legalised in 2005, humanist ceremonies have soared from a few hundred a year to approaching 3,000. In 2011, there were 2,846 humanist marriages, but only 1,729 Roman Catholic ones. Only Church of Scotland and civil marriages are more popular. In 2011, humanist marriages amounted to 8.5% of all marriages and 18% of all religion or belief marriages. Moreover, if one looks at the past few years, since humanist weddings became well established, the picture is striking. In the latest three years for which figures are available—2009 to 2011—the total number of marriages in Scotland has been rising again, by 1,611, with humanist ceremonies contributing 942 marriages, 58% of that increase. Humanists stand ready to boost the pattern and practice of marriage in this country.

It is difficult to think of any reason why England and Wales should be different from Scotland. I mentioned in passing that Ireland has recently legislated to recognise humanist marriages, that a similar change has occurred in Iceland, and that Norway, Ontario, Australia and New Zealand already have such humanist marriages.

In the other place, humanist marriage was strongly supported at the Report stage of the Bill but encountered an obstacle when the Attorney-General pronounced that the version of the amendment under debate there fell foul of the European Convention on Human Rights. That version mentioned humanists specifically and the Attorney-General ruled that it would give rise to claims by other non-religious belief organisations of discrimination. As it happens, the British Humanist Association has legal advice that no such claim could have succeeded. Be that as it may, my present amendment has been redrafted to be proof against any such objection and Matrix Chambers has provided the BHA with written advice to that effect.

The present draft refers not to humanist organisations but to those advancing a non-religious belief. It might be thought that this would open the field to bodies other than humanists—there have been silly scare stories in the press about Jedi weddings and the like—but in fact it is difficult to think of any other organisation with a belief system that can meet the criteria set out in the amendment.

6.30 pm

The British Humanist Association, which was set up in 1896 as the Union of Ethical Societies, has been running well established services offering humanist marriage for a long time. It trains, accredits, insures and provides continuing professional education for hundreds of celebrants throughout the country. These ceremonies attract a very high level of satisfaction—more than 95% of clients give them a five out of five rating. On the basis of extensive and impassioned testimony from couples who have had them, these weddings are profoundly valued as reflecting the beliefs of those who have been married and allowing them to have

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ceremonies devised in collaboration with the celebrant to meet their own wishes. Many are equally as eloquent about how the need to have a legal registration of their marriages detracted from the magic of the occasion. One couple wrote:

“The registry office procedure was something we had to do, not something we wanted to do. It would have been wonderful not to have to do this simply to satisfy the legal requirement as it meant nothing of significance to us and was an additional expense and inconvenience”.

Such testimony, along with the Scottish experience, shows that there is a pent-up demand for humanist weddings. Reform is supported by the public. According to a recent YouGov poll, four times as many people supported legal recognition of humanist weddings as opposed it.

It is a reform that disadvantages no one. Its cost to the public purse is close to zero. In an age of equality, it removes an unnecessary barrier based on religion or belief and it will, in no small way, strengthen the institution of marriage. The British Humanist Association has had meetings with the Government Equalities Office. I pause to thank the Secretary of State in the other place for being particularly helpful and wanting to see this legislation through when it comes here. We have had discussions with the Ministry of Justice and the Church of England. I thank colleagues from the Church of England who have had the opportunity to go into discussions with the British Humanist Association to ensure that what comes before your Lordships is appropriate and useful. The British Humanist Association tells me that it is unaware of any objection from any of them that it does not believe it has now met in the current draft. None the less, I would be very happy to consider further changes on Report. I particularly welcome the advice of colleagues from around the House so that we can look at this again, if necessary, and pursue it further.

I will conclude with a quotation from a letter from a couple from south-east London who recently had a humanist marriage:

“A humanist wedding offered us the chance to make the wedding ‘ours’, it enabled us to construct our own vows and create a ceremony that felt immediately very personal to both of us and our guests, it also portrayed exactly what marriage meant to us and how we see our marriage growing in the future ... We arranged a special ‘legal’ ceremony for the day before … our 10 minute ceremony felt rather hasty and impersonal, it certainly didn’t leave me with any feeling of having just made an important commitment to my husband. It was, as they say, a piece of paper … I personally don’t see why our [humanist] ceremony should be any less valid than any other ... our guests would attest to it being one of the most emotionally meaningful ceremonies they’ve ever witnessed, [and to] feeling like they all now play a part in supporting our relationship”.

I beg to move.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in support of my noble friend’s amendments and of this Bill. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, asked noble Lords a few moments ago to listen to the people out there. We live in an increasingly diverse society and are observing shifts in our lifetime from one generation to another. When most of us were young, it was assumed that most people were Christians—or at least claimed to be. Nowadays, among young people at least, the opposite is true, and surveys

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and polls show that the majority are not religious. Even in the census, which was very conservative, 25% of us said we had no religion. Among the under-50s, more than 40% said so.

There are, of course, those who do not welcome this move away from religion. One consequence is that among young people with no religion—I suspect among older people, too—many nevertheless have strong beliefs and commitments that are not necessarily religious but still provide answers to questions about the importance of relationships, respect for others and moral standpoints. I would maintain that most young people have strong moral commitments at the personal and social level. What for many previous generations was expressed in Christianity, many young people today express in beliefs about respect for each other, the world and future generations.

This is relevant to the amendments that we are debating. These young people, when they marry, often wish to do so in a ceremony that expresses their humanist commitments and beliefs, and their respect for other people. Just as for many religious people the idea of a wedding in a register office is a mere legal formality compared to the vows they make to each other and to God in a church wedding, so for these young humanists it is second best to settle for a civil wedding conducted by a registrar who, regardless of his faith or lack of it, is not allowed by law to give expression to any religious belief, including humanism.

The Bill is about equal marriage. It is also about equal weddings and allowing this growing segment of our population—already growing in size, as my noble friend said—to conduct their own legally recognised weddings within the framework of their own humanist beliefs and commitments. The proposal has wide support. In Scotland, as my noble friend said, humanists conduct more weddings than any religious body apart from the Church of Scotland. A YouGov poll tells us that more than half the population support the proposal, with only 6% strongly opposed and another 6% tending that way. I understand that the Church of England told the British Humanist Association last week that they would not oppose it.

The British Humanist Association was accommodating in drafting the amendments proposed at earlier stages of the Bill and in responding to suggestions made at meetings with government Ministers and officials. The difficulties that were expressed then now seem to have been resolved. The amendment breaks no new ground in being based on an organisation rather than a building: the Jews and Quakers are already in this position. The principal concern expressed by officials at Church House last week to the British Humanist Association was that the public nature of marriage should be preserved. That is something that we can surely all endorse but it does not require a registered building, only that the place intended for the wedding is known and open to all who wish to attend. The amendment specifies “with open doors” and the location for all weddings is already included in the notice of marriage required under the Marriage Act 1949.

The proposal is not for a celebrant-based system; what the amendment says about nominating registering officers is precisely what the law says about non-Anglican

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churches nominating their clergy as such. There are no implications for the safeguards for religions not wishing to conduct same-sex marriages.

I am told that Bills about marriage come along about once in a generation. Let us not, through excessive caution, allow the injustice of the present system to wait for another generation to be put right.

Lord Garel-Jones: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and the new schedule proposed in Amendment 27A.

Whenever I am asked what my religion is I reply, “I am a Church of England atheist”. I hasten to say that this is not some glib witticism, but a true reflection of my position. I do not believe in God and I am a member of the All-Party Humanist Group. However, the King James Bible, the Cranmer prayer book and Hymns Ancient and Modern are a part of my DNA. Their role in our history and their language are part of what makes our country what it is today. Consequently, when noble Lords talk about traditional marriage, I understand and respect where they are coming from.

I am a little concerned, as was my noble friend Lord Deben, that a number of religious believers in your Lordships’ House may, with the greatest courtesy, have been attempting to load up the Bill. I shall concentrate my remarks on the allegation that this amendment undermines, as it were, the whole basis of the law on marriage. As the law stands, any religion may conduct legally recognised marriages so long as they have use of a registered place of worship. Any sect of any religion that can afford a building can register it as a place of worship, and then re-register it for marriages without any obstacle whatever. In effect, provided you are a religion, you get a bisque.

Putting aside the 11 main Christian denominations—the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, made reference to this—there are almost 4,500 places registered for the solemnisation of marriage by minor Christian groups, and more than 650 by non-Christian groups. Many of these, to put it as kindly as I can, are a little eccentric. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, referred to the Aetherius Society, which believes that gods from outer space visit the earth in flying saucers—and, yes, the Aetherius Society is registered to perform marriages.

This amendment simply proposes approval for organisations that, unlike religious bodies, which sail through unimpeded, meet a number of serious criteria. The first one in Amendment 22A—it is printed on the Marshalled List so I will not tire the Committee by reading it all out—makes a series of requirements. They must be registered charities of good repute, they must have been established for at least 10 years, the ceremonies must be rooted in their belief, written procedures must exist and so on. In other words, a simple visit from a flying saucer will simply not suffice for the humanist group. A serious list of terms and conditions is set out in the proposed new clause.

On the registration of buildings, to which the noble Baroness has just referred, I think this is a bit of a red herring. Any marriage needs to be preceded by a public notice—either banns in a parish church or a notice under Section 27 of the Marriage Act 1949. The amendment ensures not only that the place is known

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but that the marriage is to be celebrated under open doors. I believe, therefore, that this objection is without substance. The proposal is organisation-based in the same way that the law already recognises the organisations of Jews and Quakers. I recognise that what we, as humanists, are seeking to do is, as it were, to slipstream in behind the Bill, which I strongly support.

In conclusion, I say with respect that the two main Christian religions in our country are in some danger of falling out of step with civil society. For example, any corporation that made it clear that women were excluded from top positions in its organisation would find itself in court. Consequently, the debate about women bishops now going on in the Church of England raises a few eyebrows in this day and age. Most young married couples are involved in family planning and yet, as I understand it, the Roman Catholic Church continues to regard this as a mortal sin.

6.45 pm

Perhaps a Church of England atheist is not the ideal person to give advice to churches about how they should be coping with modern society. However, in the matter of same-sex marriage and humanist marriage, I believe that both of the main churches, and indeed the minority ones, are out of step with civil society. The noble Lord made reference to Scotland, where humanist marriages have now been legal for more than a decade and where there are already more humanist marriages each year than there are Roman Catholic marriages. I understand that it is predicted that by 2015 they will have overtaken the Church of Scotland itself.

Frankly, if I personally were in charge of marketing in any of our principal churches, I would be a little worried. However, that is, of course, a matter for them. The worrying thing for me is the way in which they have been able, with the greatest courtesy, to mobilise objections and amendments to this particular piece of legislation, which I strongly support.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: On the question of religions falling out of step with civil society, religions are there to give values to society, lasting and ethical values, on which society should be based for its own good so that responsibility and consideration of others is there. I see dangers in civil society falling out of step with that guidance.

Lord Garel-Jones: With the greatest respect, I agree except that I would put it the other way around. The danger that I see for religions, particularly the one to which I feel sentimentally attached, the Church of England, is that they will fall out of step with civil society. For example, the progress that has been made over the past 100 years in rights for women is widely supported in civil society. Therefore, as I said earlier, it seems a little odd to see the Church of England debating whether women should be bishops. It is, of course, a matter for them and for their religious beliefs.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: I apologise, but the noble Lord refers to religions—he has clarified the issue now—and gives the example of women. Women were given full equality in the Sikh religion from day one.

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It is not a question of marketing. Religions and value-based systems should not go for marketing. They are offering something, and that must not go with the tide. That is absurd.

Lord Garel-Jones: As I say, I am not the best person to be advising churches on how to handle the like. However, religions evolve and have, over the centuries, evolved along with society. I would suggest that they might be wise to do so.

In conclusion, I say to the Minister that I very much hope that she will be able to give consideration to this matter. I recognise that we are attempting to slipstream behind the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which I strongly support, and which has been strongly supported both in this House and in the other place. We also know—I think we all know this—that even with a piece of legislation of this kind, which is non-party and free vote, officials look to their Ministers for guidance. I have no doubt that if my noble friend the Minister and the Secretary of State in the other place were to suggest to their officials that they would like to find a way of accommodating humanist marriage within the Bill, they could and would do just that. I very much hope that the Government will move such an amendment on Report.

In the mean time, if I may paraphrase a lyric from Hymns Ancient and Modern, I can assure the House that we in the humanist movement,

“will not cease from mental fight”,

until we have achieved full recognition in the law for humanist marriage.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, I greatly appreciate both the humour of the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, and the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. Conversations have just been referred to. There has indeed been a conversation, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said, but it was only a few days ago and it was just with officials. There is not yet, I think, a formal Church of England view on this matter. Your Lordships should take account of that in hearing what I have to say.

Personally, I am open to this proposal. Nevertheless, I have a serious question as to whether it is right—to use the phraseology of the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones—to slipstream this into this Bill, which is about same-sex marriage. I have three reasons for seeking to avoid confusion at this point.

First, as has been recognised already, this amendment would intrude a celebrant-based recognition, or at least a partly celebrant-based recognition, into the marriage law of England and Wales. I declare an interest: according to the law of England and Wales, I am one of the persons in this Chamber who can and do solemnise marriages in the Church of England, in parish churches and, with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special licence, anywhere at any time, which is more than civil marriage allows; that is an aside. There is nothing wrong with the celebrant system—

Baroness Thornton: I thank the right reverend Prelate for allowing me to interject on the subject of the celebrant-based system. This amendment is not

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about introducing a celebrant-based system into the arrangements for humanist marriages. It is quite important that the right reverend Prelate does not develop an argument about the celebrant-based system when actually this amendment does not seek to do that. It seeks to follow the Scottish arrangements for humanist weddings.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford: I am grateful for that point of information and I accept that clarification.

The other issue I was going to put before the House is the professional quality of our registrars, and a very significant change in breaking what is a monopoly of either clergy of religious faith communities or our registrars. That sort of change needs more consultation than has taken place thus far on this issue. I repeat that I am actually open to the issue in principle but I do not think it is right to put it into this Bill.

I must confess some confusion—even Church of England bishops can be confused sometimes—at the way in which many humanists wish to have what seems to be a non-religious church. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, is assenting. For me, that is, in the words of Alice, “curiouser and curiouser”, but it will be for the House to decide whether or not to slipstream this in. There is a question mark on this Bench.

Baroness Brinton: My Lords, I would like to pick up on the right reverend Prelate’s last point about the curious distinction between a humanist celebration of marriage and one for those of us of faith. I refer back to the very important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, about those of us of faith who have been very moved by humanist funerals, where without the liturgy and the solemn elements that are very important to those of us of faith, it has been possible to absolutely capture in a particular style and format that is relevant—in the case of a funeral, for the family and friends of the bereaved, and, we hope in the future, in the case of a marriage, to the absolute wishes of the couple—in a form that is almost like liturgy. I suspect that the humanists would not like that word but it gives a sense of the importance of the act that the couple are about to go through.

The case studies that the British Humanist Association has sent through have drawn the distinction very clearly between the clinical process that can happen in a civil registry office versus the extremely moving ceremony that a humanist celebrant can create with a couple to mark the day in the way that they want. I would regret it if we picked up the French style of having to have two ceremonies. In France, of course, they celebrate both in style; weddings go on for whole weekends there, it is never just one event. But I have been very moved by the accounts in these case studies where it is absolutely apparent that the handfasting and the words that the couple have chosen mean as much to them as the marriage ceremony means to me as a Christian. If this Bill is about the coalition’s commitment to equality, and indeed the previous Government’s commitment to equality, now is the time to address this and accept that this organisation should be considered an approved organisation.

To reassure the right reverend Prelate, I know the Watford Area Humanists quite well—I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, does as well—and I

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am constantly assured of their sincerity and seriousness in not just the debate they engender locally but in understanding the role that they are performing for the rites of passage within our community for those who do not have a faith. I can think of no better organisation to be able to celebrate a marriage and I really hope that, despite the Government’s concerns, it can be looked at.

Wearing my Liberal Democrat hat, I would like to add that the party has been very clear for some time that this is something we would like to see.

Lord Elton: The noble Baroness is very persuasive and I am not at all against what is proposed. But perhaps I might intervene in the mini-debate that my noble friend had with the noble Lord, Lord Singh. The element that my noble friend has not given credit to is that whereas people in his position regard society as being the final moral authority, those in religious faiths see a higher authority but are apt not to mention the fact quite enough. We are trying to handle this in a faith where we acknowledge one leader and one saviour, and trying to reconcile what is proposed now with what he taught us.

7 pm

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, as I said at Second Reading, I am a secularist, but I accept that many people are religious. We have spent a lot of time previously talking about the necessary protections to ensure that people who are religious have their right to a religious conscience properly protected. We have spent a lot of time on that again today. I do not object to that because I accept that people feel strongly about their religion and, while I am not religious myself, I accept the right of people to preach their religion if they want to. My only objection is if there is an attempt to impose those beliefs on people like myself who do not accept them.

One of the reasons I have been a member of the Humanist Society for a long time now is because there seem to be people in that society who are concerned with human values, tolerance, good will among people, and so on, but who nevertheless do not go along with what I can only regard as the supernatural part of most religions. Also, in my view many religions, including the main ones, are often rather bad when it comes to women’s rights. Women have made enormous progress in the past century in securing equality and a lot of it has been against some of the major religions.

This amendment draws attention to the requirements many people who are not religious may have which can be met by the Humanist Society. It seems to me to be a very good idea to have the possibility of what the Humanist Society provides for people who want to have a proper ceremony when they marry. The Humanist Society has developed arrangements to train people to provide that sort of service to members of the society. My noble friend Lord Harrison has made a very strong case this afternoon and so have other people. I hope, therefore, that what he is proposing is seriously considered because we are talking about a lot of people. Far more people are non-religious than are practising religious people and therefore we have a right to be considered.

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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am a lapsed humanist. When I was at Cambridge I was a member of the most privileged club which was the Cambridge Humanists and I lapsed because it was too religious. My most memorable experience was asking EM Forster to give a lecture. He said he would give a lecture on whether Jesus had a sense of humour. I said, “That is a splendid subject”. I was just thinking that now you could not give a lecture like that. You could give one on whether God had a sense of humour. I am not sure you could give one on whether the Prophet had a sense of humour. But certainly the proposition at the time was very interesting in Cambridge.

I completely agree with the speeches in favour of these amendments for all the reasons that have been given. One further reason why I am in favour is because both the Equality Act and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights recognise the rights not only of those of religious belief but also of those of no belief, and the Strasbourg Court has repeatedly explained that in a plural society agnostics, atheists and non-believers have as much right as believers of all kinds to equality of treatment. I have no doubt that there is inequality of treatment at the moment between humanists as a belief system and others. If you look at those registered as religions, they include, for example, theosophists. It is very difficult to distinguish between a theosophist and a humanist except that one believes in God and the other does not. And Buddhists and Jainists are registered but they are not theistic religions. I believe that, in terms of equality and common sense, we must move on this, and not only because my party thinks so.

My noble friend Lord Deben said that unlike the United States we have orderly systems in this country when we legislate and I am a bit concerned that in the other place they do not seem to take Long Titles seriously. I cannot imagine that these amendments would have slipped through if this legislation had been introduced into this House because, as the Long Title says, the Bill is to make provision,

“for the marriage of same sex couples in England and Wales, about gender change by married persons”,

et cetera. It says nothing at all about the rights of humanists or anybody else. Therefore, being boring about it, this falls completely outside the purpose of this Bill. I do not want to do anything to jeopardise the coming into force of this Bill but the poor old British Humanist Association has already gone through hoops to get to the position we are in. Originally, it tabled amendments just for humanists and then the Attorney-General said, “That is discriminatory”. It quite rightly changed the amendments to include all belief systems and now I am saying that this is not an appropriate vehicle for doing so.

It seems to me that there must be movement on this and if this Bill is not to be the vehicle, then either there has to be a Private Member’s Bill with government support on this separate issue to comply with Article 9 and 14 rights or some kind of inquiry leading to action. Noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Alli, in particular—will recall that we had similar problems when we introduced the concept of religious discrimination but did not include discrimination based on sexual orientation. He, with my support, found an ingenious

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way round that with a regulation power which enabled us to deal with homosexuality as well as with religion. Although that may not be the right way forward here, the Government need to be imaginative and think of ways of giving effect to the object of these amendments without being able to support them in this Bill.

Lord Alli: My Lords, I am not a humanist; I am afraid I am a closet believer in God. But I wanted to add my support to the legislation for humanist marriage and the inclusion of this amendment in the Bill. The Bill is about equal marriage, and allowing fellow citizens to conduct their own legally recognised weddings within their own framework of humanist beliefs seems to me to be a proposal that we should support.

I also believe that there is popular support for this proposal. I suspect the other place was minded to move forward with this but the Attorney-General’s advice at the last minute that the amendments as drafted would breach the European convention and put the quadruple lock at risk meant that there was insufficient time to deal with this. As with so many other issues, the ball is now in our court. I understand that these amendments have been changed to address the issues raised by the Attorney-General and I have seen and even read the advice from Matrix Chambers to support that case. There is huge support for this in my own party, in the Liberal Democrats and on the Cross Benches. I think that this House is minded to pass this and would like the Government to find a way to make this happen. The Government should put their best minds together to see whether we can get these amendments through. On behalf of those who have worked in this area for many years, waiting for a Bill to come along that will allow this to happen, I ask the Minister to look carefully at this.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, before the Minister replies to the debate, I would like to follow up the observations made by my noble friend Lord Lester. This touches on the “slipstream” argument brought forward by my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones. I must admit that I am having difficulty enough coming to terms with the Bill as it is and is likely to become, without any further amendments to it of any kind, as I made clear at Second Reading. I believe that what is proposed in the Bill will lead in due course to a fundamental alteration of the concept of marriage in the Church of England such as I have been brought up to know it and indeed as has been the case for many years.

This is clearly not the Bill for an amendment of this kind. None the less, when this matter was considered in the other place in March this year, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities—I am indebted to the Library for a briefing note on this subject—talking about the inability to hold legally valid humanist marriages in England and Wales, said that the Government would,

“consider amendments to marriage law when an appropriate legislative opportunity arises”.

The Minister felt that this Bill was “not the right vehicle” for the proposed change, and that it,

“must not be thrown off its path by attempts to make wider changes to fundamental marriage law in England and Wales”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill Committee, 12/3/13; col. 475-76.]

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Baroness Thornton: Does the noble Lord think that the humanists need to wait another 19 years for another Bill to come passing by?

Lord Eden of Winton: I am afraid that that is not the immediate problem. The problem is the impact on this legislation and whether this legislation is the right vehicle for the sort of amendment that is being proposed. That is certainly not the case; we are talking about same-sex couples getting married and the opportunities that the Bill would provide for that to take place both in a civil setting and, if the Church of England later agrees, in a Church of England setting.

Since it is indicated by the quotation that I have offered to the Committee that the Government are prepared to give consideration to the claims of the British Humanist Association, I hope that the Minister will give a clear indication of just what the Government have in mind when they say they will give consideration to these propositions.

Lord Aberdare: My Lords, I have no specific expertise on humanism and am not a humanist myself. Indeed, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, for revealing to me that what I might well be is a Church in Wales atheist.

I doubt that at this stage I can add much to the powerful and convincing arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and others in favour of these amendments. I have been very struck by what we have heard about the number of humanist weddings and the seriousness and sincerity with which they are approached, as well as by the number of other organisations that can already conduct weddings, which was explained to us by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison.

I say solely that I add my voice in support of the case that has been made, and I hope that the Government will be able to look carefully and sympathetically at it with a view to fulfilling the sincere desire of humanists to have humanist weddings recognised as legal marriages, as they already are in Scotland. I recognise that this would involve stretching the Bill rather beyond what was originally envisaged, but it would be preferable to take the opportunity presented by the Bill or find a another way of doing it rather than waiting yet another 19 years for the next marriage Bill to come along.

7.15 pm

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. I say to the noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Eden, that the amendments that were tabled in the other place and those that have been tabled here have been accepted as being within the scope of the Bill, so we are perfectly entitled to discuss them as being legitimate within this piece of legislation.

We on these Benches support Amendments 19A, 22A and 27A. I am a humanist. I am not a lapsed one, though I have veered between being a member of the National Secular Society and a member of the British Humanist Association all my life.

I also need to declare an interest in that one of my sisters is a British Humanist Association-accredited celebrant. One of the things that I would like to say to

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the right reverend Prelate, who has made very generous remarks during this debate, is that the ceremonies that my sister conducts are in every way as professional, carefully constructed, personal and beautiful as any other funeral, marriage or naming celebration that you could wish for. The standard of training and accreditation that the BHA undertakes is exceptional, and it has a commitment to ensuring that, were this to become part of our legislative framework for marriage, its celebrants would of course match the very best of the registrars. So that is not an issue here. I am very proud of my sister and her calling, and I think she has every right to conduct marriage ceremonies.

If either of my children wanted to be married at a humanist wedding service, at the moment they would have to go to Scotland, Australia, the United States, Sweden or, more recently, Ireland. In England and Wales they would have to have a civic ceremony and then a ceremony organised by a humanist celebrant with all the spirituality and commitment that they will have chosen to have in that ceremony. Their choice is restricted by—I have to say this although it might seem a slightly odd expression coming from this side of the House—the closed shop that we find in the old-fashioned rules on marriage in this country, to say nothing of the fact that they would have to pay twice for the pleasure of getting married.

This is an issue that the Government should embrace. The Red Tape Challenge, a commitment to competition and, indeed, the Minister’s commitment to equality should lead one to the view that this is an area where there is injustice and unfairness and it needs a remedy. I hope that she will accept the principle behind the amendment or, even better, accept the amendment itself, or that the Government will come forward with an amendment at a later stage that will achieve the objective of remedying this injustice. Bearing in mind, as noble Lords have already said, that it is 19 years since the previous marriage Bill, one cannot blame the humanists for thinking it reasonable not to have to wait another 19 years before this anachronism is addressed. Indeed, legal recognition for humanist marriages was given in Scotland in 2005.

Given that legal recognition for humanist marriages is the party policy of the Liberal Democrats, is supported by the Labour Party on this side of the House and by our shadow Cabinet, and was supported in the Commons by MPs on all sides, the amendment to recognise humanist weddings as legal marriages was one of the first to be tabled when the Bill received its Second Reading in the Commons. In Committee, the amendment to give legal recognition to marriages conducted by humanists and religious charities, meeting certain conditions, was introduced but fell after a 7-7 tie on the voting Committee, which was resolved against by the casting vote of the chairman—as it would be, and I accept that those are the rules. However, that shows that there is significant support for this issue.

The redrafted amendment on Report addressed all the concerns raised in Committee as well as further concerns raised afterwards by government officials, and was debated. Again there was strong support from all sides, but the amendment was withdrawn after the Attorney-General and the Secretary of State stated

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that the measure would not be compatible with the Human Rights Act and that passing the amendment could lead to a declaration from the Government to that effect. The Government published their legal arguments as to why that was so and specifically asked that the legal arguments should represent the comprehensive statement of the Government’s concerns.

The British Humanist Association has taken all of this on board and the amendment before us now addresses all the matters raised in the Government’s document. Written advice from Professor Aileen McColgan of Matrix Chambers has confirmed that the revised amendment addresses all the points of law that were raised in objection to the Government. I will not go through all the proposals now because I think that the House fully understands the issues.

It is time to stop giving reasons for not allowing humanist weddings and to give reasons why they should happen and to give proposals on how we can find a way through this. I finish with a quote from something circulated in the evidence that the British Humanist Association gave.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I wonder if the noble Baroness can explain the position on Long Titles, because it may well be that her party will form part or the whole of a future Government. On the question of Long Titles, I realise that the pass was sold in the other place, and that therefore it is quite okay for us to debate this. However, in terms of House of Lords procedure, how can the matter possibly be within this Long Title? Is not the better point that there should be a Private Member’s Bill, with government support, that deals with this as a discrete issue and that can get through speedily?

Baroness Thornton: The point that I was making at the outset of my remarks—the noble Lord is an expert at getting legislation through this House—is that if it has been accepted by the clerks at both ends of this building, in the Commons and in the Lords, then it is within the scope of the Bill. We can have discussions about Long Titles and their meanings, and indeed we occasionally do, but it seems to me that this is fairly straightforward. It is accepted by the clerks in the Commons and in the Lords. It is therefore before us and is a legitimate thing for us to discuss.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I think that I am right in saying that it is not without precedent for a Long Title to be amended in this House.

Baroness Thornton: I thank the noble and learned Lord for that remark. That is indeed the case.

I conclude my remarks by quoting from somebody who got married. He said:

“I got married twice in a week. My first marriage was conducted by someone who had interviewed my wife and me twice, at length, before the wedding; who spent hours (and several emails) exploring the key elements of the connection we wished to celebrate during the ceremony; and offered her guidance when we requested it, based on her knowledge of us as individuals and as a couple”.

Actually, that is exactly what a vicar would do—of course it is. He went on to say:

“My second wedding–to the same woman, I should hasten to add–happened two days later. It was conducted by an official who

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had met us for the first time minutes before, and was conducted with the polite efficiency of a market research interview. My first wedding was conducted by a Humanist Celebrant; my second by a registrar. Needless to say, when I think of my wedding, and the vows I committed to, the second set I gave that week rarely cross my mind. Yet it is this exchange currently recognised in UK law”.

The question that I put to your Lordships’ House is: which date do you think that couple celebrate when they celebrate their wedding anniversary?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for introducing the amendment and for explaining how important it is to humanists that they be allowed to conduct their own marriage solemnisations, according to their beliefs, by someone who shares their beliefs and in any place of their choosing, which could include the outdoors. I have no doubt that a celebration conducted by the sister of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, in the way that she described is one that would be enjoyed by those involved.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate and talked about the importance of humanist weddings being able to take place. I feel that this issue warrants a careful reply from me. I want to cover quite a bit of ground in my reply, so I hope that the House will indulge me if I am not as speedy as noble Lords might like me to be, but I think this is important.

First, it is important for me to remind noble Lords about the purpose of this Bill. It is about allowing people to marry who currently cannot marry, and the only people who cannot marry at this time are gay and lesbian couples. When we decided as a Government to bring forward legislation to allow that to happen, we decided to do so by making as little change as possible to existing marriage law. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has described quite clearly how different humanists might celebrate their weddings, so I will not go through all the details. However, it is important to make the point that humanists can marry in England and Wales. They might not be able to have at this time the wedding celebration that they would like but, even if they do not want to follow the route that the noble Baroness suggested, where some people go first to a register office and then have a separate celebration, because humanists are non-religious, they have the option, within a civil marriage at a register office, of being able to adapt that service to include vows and readings that reflect their humanist beliefs and values. Although that might not be ideal, they are not alone in sometimes having to adapt their arrangements.

Baroness Thornton: The noble Baroness needs to acknowledge that humanism is a system of belief. It is quite wrong to suggest that, because humanists do not want to have a religious wedding, somehow it is all right for them to have an adapted civil service. That is not the point here. The point is that humanists want to have a ceremony that is a humanist ceremony, based on their beliefs and their value system.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I accept that point. Forgive me if I was suggesting anything that was not respectful of what humanists are seeking to achieve. I absolutely understand the point that the noble Baroness

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is making. I was trying to explain that some people who follow a religious faith might argue that because humanists, although belonging to a belief organisation, are not religious, they have some opportunity to adapt a civil ceremony in a way that a religious person would not be able to.

Lord Harrison: The amendment sets out the conditions whereby it would be permissible in the particular case of the BHA. It should be recognised that that would be a barrier to other groups which might describe themselves as religious—as has been wrongly suggested in the press—such as the Jedi.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I understand the point that the noble Lord is making. As I said when I began, there is quite a lot for me to cover in responding to this issue. I beg the noble Lord’s indulgence to allow me to go through my response. I assure him that I will cover everything, giving this matter the justice and the seriousness that it deserves. The point I was trying to make, which has been mentioned in different debates over the past few weeks in the context of this Bill, is that, for a range of people who want to get married, not just humanists, not everyone is able to have a religious ceremony or the ceremony that they desire. For instance, we heard only the other night, when the noble Lord, Lord Martin, was speaking, about a Scottish MP, a member of the Church of Scotland, who was therefore not able to marry in St Mary Undercroft and had to go to a register office first. I am simply making the point to the noble Lord that things are not so straightforward. It is not the case that everything is okay in one scenario and different in another. However, let me move on. I was just trying to make that point.

On my original point about the Bill and allowing same-sex marriage, although it might seem a counterintuitive thing for me to say, clearly for us to allow same-sex marriage to take place is a big change, but we are able to make that change in the framework of existing marriage law.

7.30 pm

Lord Harrison: We are proposing this under the existing requirement in Section 27 of the Marriage Act 1949. We did so on the advice of colleagues from the church and also from Ministers in order to ensure that this would not require major change.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I will cover that point in the course of my response.

The point still stands—I will explain why in a moment—that in order to allow organisations to marry in the way that is covered in this amendment, although it seems like a small change, it requires a change in existing marriage law that has wider implications for our system of regulation of marriage law in England and Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and other noble Lords have referred to the contribution that my right honourable friend the Attorney-General made during the debate on Report in the other place when he made it clear that if the amendment that was being debated at that time was passed, it would make the Bill incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, is broader in scope and therefore does not raise the concern that the Attorney-General

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raised during the debate in the other place. However, at that time and consistently, the Government have been clear that the proposals put forward by the British Humanist Association have wider implications for marriage law. The Government are concerned because of those wider implications. There has been a lot of focus on the Attorney-General’s response to that specific amendment put forward on Report, and how that would have made the Bill at that time incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. However, that was not the only issue that the Government have raised, and continue to raise, about this proposal. I will explain all this in the course of my response.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am sorry to interrupt and I hope I am not being a nuisance by doing so. Is not one reason in favour of these amendments that they would make our law compatible with Articles 9 and 14 of the convention by removing a discrimination which needs to be removed?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I was trying to make the simple point that the concern that the Attorney-General raised at that time has been addressed. That amendment was very narrowly defined around humanist belief. This amendment is much broader in scope because it is not narrowly restricted just to the British Humanist Association. However, that does not remove from what is at issue for the Government: that by introducing a change this amendment would have wider implications for marriage law in England and Wales. I intend to explain this to noble Lords.

As we have acknowledged throughout our debates on the Bill, marriage is clearly an important institution and a legal recognition through which the state confers rights and obligations. We therefore need to regulate carefully the process by which we allow this important legal status to be established.

Baroness Thornton: I am very puzzled by what the noble Baroness is saying. She is now saying that there are other grounds. In the Commons—and it is on the record in Hansard—the Minister specifically said that the letter that she would send to the British Humanist Association would be comprehensive and would cover all the Government’s concerns. This amendment and the discussions that the British Humanist Association has had since then, in good faith, have met all those points. I am very puzzled as to why the noble Baroness is now leading us into what sounds like the answer, “The Government have concerns about other matters”. It seems like we will never reach the end of this.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I do not have the copy of Hansard in front of me for the debates that took place in the other place. However, I am confident that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Maria Miller, made it clear in those debates that there were other concerns about this proposal that went beyond those raised by the Attorney-General on that specific amendment at that time. In the letter that my right honourable friend sent to Kate Green, she was also clear that there were issues of principle which went beyond the narrow point that the Attorney-General raised in those debates.

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Beyond civil marriages, which now form the majority of marriages, where we give other organisations—that is, other religious faiths—this power to marry, the authorisation is subject to specific safeguards that are well established and embedded in current law. In the case of religious ceremonies—though I absolutely understand that the British Humanist Association is not a religion but a belief organisation—registration is generally linked to a particular building or, in the case of Quakers and the Jewish religion, by a longstanding arrangement that took account of the particular position of those religious organisations. Historians in this House will know that the Marriage Act 1753 recognised the Jewish faith and Quakers as having a special status, which they have retained since that time.

For every other religion except the Church of England and the Church in Wales, a building must first be registered as a place of worship, then a place of marriage. If that is agreed to, the supervising registrar attends all marriages for a year to ensure that compliance with all regulations takes place, including safekeeping of duplicate marriage registers in the relevant premises to accurately register marriages. Religious faiths have very little freedom because the integrity of marriage in England and Wales relies on this system to ensure that marriages are not registered that should not be, and that status is accurately recorded.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, would mean that eligible non-religious belief organisations could hold marriages wherever they wished and have greater freedom to appoint those who conduct and register marriages. As the noble Lord says, the amendment does not specifically define the British Humanist Association but goes wider in order to address the concerns that were raised by the Attorney-General.

I will be absolutely clear on the point that the noble Baroness was pressing me on earlier. Our concerns are not about entry to the system of marriage, but spring from opening a new route to marriage and a new system of regulation. In the course of this debate, noble Lords have expressed views on religious groups who can marry now. However, the key point is that they must all comply with the existing system in terms of their being approved. I do not suggest for one moment that there is any concern about any of the groups we may be discussing. However, the reason why the system we have is so important, and why we consider that there would be wider implications if we were to change the way in which we authorise people to marry, is because that could have an impact on things such as, for example, the way we are able to police sham marriages conducted by criminal wedding arrangers.

The noble Lord is shaking his head. I stress that I understand the reason why the amendment is drafted as it is, but because it would allow for other organisations there are implications that we need to consider.

Baroness Thornton: Are these implications deal breakers or are they administrative and technical details that could be cleared up? Is the noble Baroness going to say anything positive here?

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The responsibility I have as the Minister responding to this debate is to make clear that something which on the face of it seems quite straightforward would significantly change our marriage law. We have to consider the implications of that before a decision could be made as to whether to change this law. The system we have of registering and authorising people to marry based on religious premises has been in existence since 1898. To introduce a new system for new organisations to be authorised in a different way is a significant change. If we are going to make that change we need to make sure that we have properly considered all the implications.

Lord Alli: There is huge respect for the Minister in this House and for the way in which she has conducted the passage of the Bill. We all want the Bill to go through. However, the noble Baroness should take the temperature of the House and of the other place. There is a will in both Houses that this should go through. You see this sometimes when the Front Bench are making their response: the explanation of why it should not go through has been crafted by the Civil Service and does not feel like one any of us understand. The unintended consequence argument, the argument that it could delay the Bill and a whole range of financial arguments are the standard set of arguments put forward generally to stop amendments going through. We would be very sympathetic if we understood what was worrying the Government about this amendment but as yet I, like many others, am lost as to what it is that cannot be done in the timeframes that we are talking about.

Lord Garel-Jones: Before my noble friend replies to that, she will, I am sure, have observed that not a single voice in your Lordships’ House has been raised against these amendments. She will have observed that the right reverend Prelate, while unable yet to tell us precisely what the position of the Church of England would be, spoke with, one could say, sympathy towards the position. I think what we are all asking is that if the Ministers, both my noble friend and the Secretary of State in the other place, were to say to the civil servants that they would like to find a way of accommodating this, we know that they could it. We would really like an explanation as to why that cannot be done.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I was about to conclude my remarks in any case. I am grateful to my noble friend. The noble Lord is right that there has been a great deal of support from all sides of the House, as there was in the other place. Of course I acknowledge that but I am still obliged as the Minister responsible for the Bill to explain when an amendment is put forward that it will have a significant effect—as we think this one could have—so that noble Lords are aware and properly apprised of the seriousness of the issues at stake. While the British Humanist Association and a lot of this House feel strongly that this change should be made, there has not been the kind of consultation and proper consideration of the impact of making that change and that has to take place.

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7.45 pm

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am trying to helpful. Why can the Government not adopt the same approach as the previous Government on sexual orientation discrimination, or that of the present Government on caste discrimination, and say that there should be a proper consultation and then have a power included in the Bill to deal with this by regulations with the affirmative resolution procedure, with proper exceptions put in for things such as sham marriages?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am not in a position to offer to noble Lords today the kind of specific response that my noble friend has suggested.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: I have sat listening to this for an extremely long time. I do not have any views at all about whether humanists should have a marriage. I have heard very good reasons why they should and I have not heard any reasons why they should not. That seems to me quite an interesting point. No one has stood up and said there should not be a humanist marriage. Can the Minister at least say—and it is 7.45 pm—that she will take it away and have a look at it. Then she could come back on Report or before and say, “No, we are not going to do it”. She is not going to make any progress in the House at this moment with her arguments, because nobody is going to accept them if the Government do not go away and have another look at it.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Very briefly, before I finally sit down, of course everybody would support humanist marriages. The point is—please let me finish making this point—that it would require a change in law that would have implications that have not been fully thought through. That all said, having listening to the debate today, I will of course report back to my ministerial colleagues and ensure that they reflect further on the points made in this debate.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, I am in severe danger of letting the nice side of my character come to the fore at this conclusion to the debate. I sincerely thank those from all sides who have risen to support the amendment. I thank the right reverend Prelate for his constructive approach. I invite him to have discussions with me and the British Humanist Association himself, rather than sending an official.

I have watched the Minister struggle. I would like to struggle with her. I want to get round a table and discuss this matter and find the solution that this House most clearly needs. In the mean time, I beg leave—and give notice that I shall bring it back on Report—to withdraw this amendment, showing the nice side of my character to the whole House.

Amendment 19A withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.49 pm.

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Legislation: Complexity

Question for Short Debate

7.49 pm

Asked by Lord Bates

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the review by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, When Laws Become Too Complex, published on 16 April 2013.

Lord Bates: My Lords, in the report that we are considering, Richard Heaton observed:

“The volume of legislation, its piecemeal structure, its level of detail and frequent amendments, and interaction with common law and European law, mean that even professional users can find law complex, hard to understand and difficult to comply with”.

If Mr Heaton were an instantly forgettable Back-Bench Peer such as myself, that might be a mildly worrying but not an alarming observation. However, Mr Heaton is First Parliamentary Counsel and Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office.

Courageous though the admission may be, one might ask, if Mr Heaton finds the legislation piecemeal and hard to understand and to comply with, what hope has the classroom teacher, the doctor, the police officer, the small businessperson, the social worker, the homeowner or the benefits recipient for whom we spend our time legislating—let alone the legislators who are supposed to scrutinise the laws and the courts that struggle to interpret and apply them?

It is not just the complexity that baffles and bewilders but the volume. When Her Majesty made a historic visit to the Cabinet to mark her jubilee in December last year, it is reported that there was a forward item on the agenda relating to the Queen’s Speech. Her Majesty apparently suggested—I am not sure how constitutional it was to report this—that it should be,

“on the shorter rather than the longer side”.

At the time it was reported as a joke that everybody enjoyed, but, having read the report, I suggest that it should be seen not as a quip but as wise counsel from a Sovereign that should be heeded by her Government.

Halesbury’s Statutes is the nearest thing that we have to a statute book. At the beginning of Her Majesty’s reign in 1952, Halesburys Statutes ran to 26 volumes. This was the result of 740 years of legislating, stretching back to her predecessor King John and the Magna Carta. In the 60 years that she has been on the Throne, the number of statute volumes has increased from 26 to 74.

It is not just the number of Acts that has sharply increased but the number of pages. In 1952, the average number of pages for a government Act was 22. In 2009, the average number of pages for an Act was 122. The unrelenting rise in the volume of legislation was pointed out in the House of Lords brief. Reading the appendix at the back, one gets a momentary frisson of Thatcherite zeal when one comes to 1986-87 and sees that the tide of legislation momentarily abates, before resuming its upward course. Then one looks at the footnotes and finds that it was in that year that the Queen’s printer moved from using the A5 page size to A4.

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Of course, Acts of Parliament are not the only source of legislation. Parliament has also seen a huge increase in the amount of secondary legislation presented to it. In 1952, 29 statutory instruments were laid before Parliament. By 2012, this number had risen to 3,328. Alarmingly, the trend has seen a very sharp increase under this Government. I would be grateful if my noble friend could explain why this has been the case. In 2008, the number of statutory instruments considered by Parliament was 1,395; in 2010 it was 2,971; in 2011 it was 3,133; and in 2012 it was 3,328.

We should consider also what happens to laws once they leave this place. Every year, new legislation results in more than 30,000 legislative effects, according to the report. One area where this is felt more than most is in the tax code. In opposition, I made a little bit of a living chipping away at the then Government and pointing out that, according to Tolley’s yellow and orange tax handbooks, the volume of the UK tax code had doubled between 1997 and 2010, and had overtaken the Indian code as the longest in the world. In a spirit of cross-party examination of these issues, I was alarmed to find that since 2010, the length of the Tolley’s guide has increased, and gone on increasing, by several thousand pages. What was intended on its launch some 50 years ago to fit into a pocket would now barely fit on to a shelf.

The Government came in with very good intentions. They announced the Office of Tax Simplification to cut a swathe through this complexity. We know that complexity reduces compliance and the tax take. If you simplify the system, you increase compliance and the take. I was amazed when researching for this debate to learn that the number of staff employed by the Office of Tax Simplification is, to quote the Minister, “slightly under six”. I presume by that he means five, or perhaps four. Perhaps he will give the figure today. It compares with 25,000 HMRC staff working on enforcement and compliance.

Other measures are under way to reduce the burden of legislation. I pay tribute to the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission, whose 2013 Act was the largest Statute Law (Repeals) Act ever. It did away with 817 whole Acts, along with sections of 50 other Acts. That was a great triumph. Noble Lords will be delighted to know that the Streets (London) Act 1696, which required Londoners to sweep and clean the area in front of their house every Wednesday and Saturday between 6 am and 9 am on pain of a 10 shilling fine, has itself been swept away. However, we should not get carried away and think that we are in a libertarian free-for-all, because between 1983 and 2009, Parliament approved more than 100 criminal justice Bills and added more than 4,000 offences to the criminal code. We are still pretty heavily regulated.

I am sure that Europe will be touched on in forthcoming speeches. For every one page of directive, we produce 2.6 pages of regulation and guidance, whereas Germany produces a page for a page—logically. It would be good to know what progress the Government are making here.

There are many reasons for the increase in the volume of legislation. I will mention a few. Some cynics might suggest that Governments of all persuasions

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find it useful to focus the attention and time of Parliament on considering future legislation rather than on determining whether past legislation has done what it said on the tin. However, there are other issues. The courts have played a part, as a result of the breakdown of trust in society between government and the governed, service providers and customers, and employers and employees. We have become much more litigious. As a result, an increasing volume of legislation is going before the courts. In return, the courts are showing some reticence in passing judgment and are referring back to Parliament for clarification—and so the circle goes on.

There are other drivers. The 24-hour news culture demands that something must be done every day. There are also a huge number of lobby organisations, such as trade unions, trade bodies and charities, all of which are well resourced and able to demand changes in the law to suit their particular concerns.

We should have one thing uppermost in our mind. Every time we add a law or a regulation, we incur a cost—not only monetarily and legislatively but morally. The more we legislate for what people should do and the less we trust them to behave as good citizens, the more we take away. Parliament is creaking at the seams as it seeks to digest the fruits of a burgeoning statute book and, almost 800 years after Magna Carta, the flow is increasing, not reducing. This is bad for the country, bad for business, bad for people and bad for Parliament. It is time to turn the tide, and I hope that the high calibre of contributions that will follow mine will help reverse the process.

8 pm

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Bates for this debate. I confess that, since I entered this place in 1998, I have been what some might call obsessed by excessive law-making and excessively complex law-making. That obsession has its roots in my earliest days in the law. I started in a country town solicitor’s practice in 1957. As I went around the local magistrates’ courts, within months it was blatantly clear to me that we already had a system of law that was way beyond the understanding of the normal citizen. Indeed, the lay magistrates had great trouble as well. That realisation led me to get a headmaster to allow me to teach bored 15 year-olds in his school in the 1960s. I found that they were not bored by the law; they were quickly enlivened and engaged. That in turn led me to set up the Citizenship Foundation in the 1980s with the financial support of the Law Society, and so it goes on.

We must not forget the late, lamented David Renton. Lord Renton was a lovely man who presided over a very thorough review of all this in 1975. When he asked me to give the Statute Law Society’s annual lecture in 2001, I spoke on excessive law-making. It is a massive, profound problem, and it is rather depressing that there are only 10 of us present in this debate, and six of those are speakers. Maybe it is because we follow on the heels of the sex debate, but it is depressing, because it is of the hugest, profoundest importance to us all.

We heard some vivid statistics from my noble friend Lord Bates. The statistic about the creation of 4,000 new criminal offences in the space of 16 years—far

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more than in the previous 1,000 years of our island history—is a warning. We would be more worried were we to know just how many of those laws have ever been implemented, which nobody does know. I enthusiastically congratulate Richard Heaton and his colleagues on their report,

When Laws Become Too Complex

. It is a brave report for the parliamentary draftsmen to produce, but it is from the horse’s mouth. What is more, it is a warning to us not to too easily blame the draftsmen for the situation we are in, which I am afraid we sometimes do too eagerly. It is not their fault. I think this report will answer anybody who doubts that.

Other Members of the House are perhaps aware that on 9 May the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee produced a report, Ensuring Standards in the Quality of Legislation. To me, it is striking that neither report refers to our failure to contrive a system of legislation that contains that volume and complexity. I suspect the parliamentary draftsmen felt they had to hold back from criticising the functioning of Parliament as such. I shall go on to talk about the manifesto theory of government, by which we are plagued, and the use of the guillotine in the other place.

I will quickly read to the House what I thought was the sage nub of When Laws Become Too Complex. In the foreword, Richard Heaton writes that,

“we should regard the current degree of difficulty with law as neither inevitable nor acceptable. We should be concerned about it for several reasons. Excessive complexity hinders economic activity, creating burdens for individuals, businesses and communities. It obstructs good government. It undermines the rule of law”.

That last point is crucial: it undermines the rule of law. If we contrive a system in which the average citizen feels put upon by the law, resents the law and feels outside the law in the sense of any engagement with its passing, then that is all bad and it is too true of today’s society.

I quote again from the foreword:

“Good law is necessary, effective, clear, coherent and accessible”.

I want to talk about two of those characteristics, because I agree with that list of criteria. I start with effectiveness, because I do not believe that we can have effective laws if they are not fairly and equally implemented and enforced. As a lawyer in his 54th year, I can tell your Lordships that you would be scandalised if you knew both how uneven the enforcement of the law is, and how in some very important respects the law is not implemented at all. It is getting worse. We must address that, and part of doing so is to properly resource the law implementers. I was at the Charity Commission today. It was given huge responsibilities by the Charities Act 2006, and given many more since. What has happened? It has sliced its personnel, including its most senior personnel. How on earth can that commission do the job we force on it if we take away the resources it needs to do so?

Turning to accessibility, it has two aspects, does it not? First, there is the citizenry’s understanding of the laws by which they are supposed to lead their lives. Secondly, there is the question of access to legal advice when people need it. We cannot blather on about equality before the law if we leave poor people in the lurch when they desperately need legal advice. I am

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afraid that with the cuts in legal aid this has happened, and it is getting worse. I understand the problems of austerity, but I believe that if we constantly refer to the rule of law as the bedrock of our civilisation, we cannot then deprive needy citizens of essential advice when they are in deep trouble.

The issue of broad understanding of the law brings me back to the Citizenship Foundation and the few other organisations that seek to give pupils in our schools some broad understanding of the complex society of which they are supposed to be citizens and, most of all, the processes of the law, in terms of both its creation and its implementation. I am informed by the foundation’s chief executive, Andy Thornton, that over the past two years the number of schools that carry out schematic citizenship education has dropped by two-thirds. We need to be on our guard, because it is hopelessly hypocritical of us to go on about equality before the law and all the rest of it, yet not to give our young citizens any opportunity to come alongside and feel that it is their law, giving them an understanding of the law that is, of course, broad rather than detailed. In our time there is a huge problem of political disconnectedness, and we must deal with that.

I turn now to the component of necessity in the list of five criteria, and return to the number of laws we put before this place and the use of the guillotine. The guillotine has become a scandal. A quarter or a third of the Bills we see here have never been considered on the Floor of the Commons. That is a scandal. It is the primary House, for goodness’ sake. I ask the House to consider figures from the House of Commons office, showing that the effectiveness of the Commons in holding the Executive to account is now so enfeebled that over the past 11 years only six votes of over 3,000 went against the Executive. What sort of democracy is that? What sort of effectiveness is that? Here, I may say, we defeated the Government more than 500 times in the same period, and we are the inferior House.

Lastly, I make the point that we as legislators need more help. We cannot have these big, complex Bills without a Keeling schedule. We have not got the time to spend two days in the Library looking it all up. I hope that we will remember that as well.

8.09 pm

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Bates on raising this important and timely Question. In the time available, I want to focus on a number of points arising from, or prompted by, the useful review by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.

As the report acknowledges, and as my noble friend stressed, legislation is complex both in its form and in the manner by which it becomes law. The complexity is multifaceted and is an impediment to members of the public—indeed, anyone, as my noble friend stressed—wishing to make sense of our law.

Like my noble friend, I want to focus on the volume of legislation and the problems with the means by which we enact it. As we heard, there is by common consent too much legislation. We generate too much law as a result of a “something must be done” mentality and by individual Ministers wanting to get through

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their own big Bills. Until we get the Government to accept that sometimes more legislation is part of the problem, not part of the solution, we will continue to overburden Parliament not only with too much legislation, but rushed legislation.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said of criminal law:

“For too many years now the administration of criminal justice has been engulfed by a relentless tidal wave of legislation. The tide is always in flow: it has never ebbed”.

The problem is not just quantitative but also qualitative. There is not just more law, but more complex law, especially where one is dealing with regulation. This creates problems for Parliament. There is more complex legislation, but there is no commensurate increase in the time and resources available to deal with it. There is a finite number of Members available to sit on committees. There is only so much time available for the different stages of Bills.

There is also a problem with government in how it views Parliament and the legislative process. This is acknowledged in the report, which states on page 27:

“The legislation secretariat within the Cabinet Office is working with Parliamentary Counsel to promote learning within departments about legislation and the legislative process”.

That is a pretty stark admission that government departments are not well versed in the legislative process. Officials and parliamentary counsel do not always appreciate one another’s difficulties, but it is not simply a case of each needing to understand the other: there is a need for officials to understand how Parliament works. I have been pursuing this for some time. There is still a considerable way to go in educating officials about the significance and the processes of Parliament. The replacement of the National School of Government with Civil Service Learning has not necessarily enhanced the capacity for such learning. Given that, it will be helpful if my noble friend the Minister can explain what steps are being taken by government to ensure that officials who advise Ministers are fully aware of the importance of Parliament and the legislative process as well as the difference between the two Houses.

The legislative process is also flawed. There has never been a “golden age” of legislation, and the present procedures actually have some benefits over what went before, but they remain inadequate. Let me adumbrate what in my view needs to be done.

The way in which we undertake legislation, frequently by amending earlier legislation, makes for some complex and impenetrable Bills. One means to aid parliamentarians is that referred to by my noble friend Lord Phillips, which is to produce Keeling-like schedules—he referred to Keeling schedules, but it is more appropriate to refer to Keeling-like schedules—showing how the proposed changes affect extant legislation. Where they have been produced, they have been enormously helpful. I think there is a strong case for arguing that where most of the clauses of a Bill amend legislation, and where that particularly is one or two Acts, the expectation should be that the relevant department will produce a Keeling-like schedule. Perhaps my noble friend could take back to his colleagues the value of such schedules.

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It would also aid Parliament and act as a valuable discipline on government if Ministers were required to publish with a Bill the purpose of the measure and the criteria by which it can be assessed to determine if it has fulfilled its intended purpose.

More generally, pre-legislative scrutiny should be the norm and not the exception. I welcome the number of Bills submitted for pre-legislative scrutiny in this Parliament but would like to see the use of such scrutiny taken further. As we have heard, there needs to be a joint legislative standards committee as recommended by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the other place. Such a Joint Committee would oversee the application and effectiveness of a code of legislative standards. I know that the First Parliamentary Counsel has doubts about the value of such a Joint Committee, but my view is that it would ensure consistency and provide a useful discipline for government.

I also commend another recommendation of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, namely that there should be agreement between Parliament and government as to what constitutes constitutional legislation. This builds on the report of the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House that there needs to be a distinct process in government for identifying and dealing with measures of constitutional significance. The position of government at the moment, namely that measures of constitutional significance should be treated in the same way as all other Bills, is unsustainable and, indeed, dangerous in terms of ensuring adequate consideration of changes to our constitutional framework. Not surprisingly, I endorse the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s endorsement of the test I produced when I was chairman of the Constitution Committee, namely the two P’s test: does a measure affect a principal part of the constitution and does it raise an important issue of principle? If both tests are met, it should trigger special consideration.

We also need to look beyond the process of passing a Bill into law. For too long, both Ministers and Parliament treated legislative success as Royal Assent. That was the end of the process. We should be treating success as when an Act of Parliament achieves its intended purpose. We now have post-legislative review, which I greatly welcome, but we need a committee on post-legislative scrutiny. In this House, we have now established ad hoc committees to undertake post-legislative scrutiny of particular measures, which again is a great step forward, but a dedicated post-legislative scrutiny committee would ensure that nothing fell between the gaps and serve as a body for ensuring best practice in departments in undertaking post-legislative review.

Those are but some of the things that need to be done. We are making some progress. Having clearer Bills will be a major step forward. Having fewer Bills will be an even greater one.

8.17 pm

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Bates and endorse enthusiastically not only what he said but what has been said by my other two colleagues who have contributed to this very timely debate.

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I want to take up the point made by my noble friend Lord Phillips about the context and the consequence for the public of some of the work that has been undertaken for this report. In doing so, I refer to the Audit of Political Engagement published recently by the Hansard Society, of which I am a vice-chair, which I think is extremely important and, in some respects, encouraging. Mostly, however, it is discouraging. Mostly it says that people are disengaged for some of the reasons to which my noble friends have referred. However, in a number of ways there is new engagement and increased engagement. For example, 42% of the public say that they would like to be involved in national decision-making—up 9% compared with the previous year—and 47% agree that Parliament holds government to account, up from 38% last year. Fifty-five per cent agree that Parliament debates and makes decisions about issues that matter to them, up from 49% the previous year. But most important of all, 55% of the public agree that politics and government seem so complicated that,

“a person like me cannot really understand what is going on”.

That is the critical consequence of the complexity to which this excellent report refers.

I want to refer to one or two of the examples given in the report. Incidentally, the authors of the report show that they are masters of complexity. I am not allowed to wave about my visual aid but page 16 sets out the legal effects of the Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Act 2004. I do not understand how that got past anybody seeking to reduce complexity.

Mr Heaton’s foreword to the report is extremely salutary. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I refer again to his absolutely critical paragraph. He says:

“Excessive complexity hinders economic activity, creating burdens for individuals, businesses and communities. It obstructs good government. It undermines the rule of law”.

That is the context in which we should look at this issue. I pay tribute to the work that has already been done, I understand, as a result of this activity by the parliamentary draftsmen. I shall refer to one particular example of the way in which they have looked at this issue: gold-plating, which my noble friend Lord Bates spoke about briefly. Gold-plating has been around for a long time and I congratulate the Government on seeking to deal with it. When I was responsible for agriculture for my party in the other place, I recall looking at a number of directives as they emerged from Brussels, then looking at the regulations as they appeared in the United Kingdom.

I was not at all surprised to read in this document that in 2003 there was an average “elaboration ratio” for the UK of 330%. In an extreme example, directive 2002/42/EC consisted of 1,167 words in its original English text, but resulted in 27,000 words of implementing regulation in the UK. I recall talking to a previous Minister of Agriculture shortly before that, who told me that he got so fed up with the gold-plating going on in his department that he instituted a format for reviewing every directive that came from Brussels. Alongside it, his civil servants had to put what they proposed to add and the resulting consequences in

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terms of length and complexity. He or one of his Ministers then had to tick off and approve the sequence as acceptable.

The most significant thing he told me was that within three days of losing office, the civil servants abolished the system that he had instituted, because they were so pleased with the way in which they could add excessive requirements to what emerged from Brussels. It is a well-known fact that throughout the other member states of the European Union, directives, for example on abattoirs that I was concerned with, were a matter of reducing responsibilities at a more local level, but in the United Kingdom everything was centralised and imposed much more rigorously.

As has already been said, pre-legislative scrutiny is an extremely important way in which we should take responsibility for removing unnecessary complexity. It should be absolutely explicit at the outset that one of the responsibilities of a Joint Committee is to reduce complexity in draft legislation. I am an enthusiastic supporter of Joint Committees—I sat on several of them—because MPs and Peers educate each other when we sit together. As my noble friend Lord Norton has said, it is also true that both Houses have been asked to think carefully about improving the quality of legislation, most recently by the Select Committee in the other place, but before that the committee chaired with such distinction by Dr Tony Wright. Our own Leader’s Group, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, looked hard at this and made a substantial suggestion, which I am afraid has so far not been implemented in this House. It is about improving the quality of legislation and recommended a legislative standards committee in recommendation 16 of its report. Sadly, that has not been pursued, which is a great pity.

I have one simple, practical suggestion to make. Again, I am not allowed to wave my visual aid, so I shall have to ask the Minister to look at it later and take it seriously. In preparing a recent draft Bill with assistance from Members of the other two parties in the other place, my extremely able and far more technically competent assistant Alex Davies, found it was quite possible to put the Explanatory Notes alongside the clauses. That one small step, allowing you to read across from Clause 9 to what Clause 9 actually means, would be hugely more accessible to the general public—indeed to professionals and those in business outside this House—than the present arrangements. With draft Bills, government Bills, Private Members’ Bills and secondary legislation, the Explanatory Notes can without great difficulty be side-by-side with the appropriate part of that legislation.

That is a very practical suggestion which I give to your Lordships’ House. I will sell it to the Government for only a penny, but I would like to make sure that the credit is not given to me, but to my extremely able assistant. This is a timely debate. What is so interesting about it, referred to by the three previous speakers and me, is that we in this House could do more to improve the situation. It is not just a question of passing the buck to the professional parliamentary draftsmen. It is not even just a government responsibility, it is the responsibility of the two Houses of Parliament to make our legislation more accessible and less complex.

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8.26 pm

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I add my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for this debate. I gather that he has taken the Minister away from the Countryside Alliance summer ball and me from a farewell to the Fabian Society office where we have been for 80 years, but we shall forgive him. There is, of course, a difference between legislative burden and legislative complexity. I do not think that the former is the problem, it is the latter that is the subject for today.

We must remember that for consumers, legislation is about making roads, offices or homes safer, safeguarding children from danger or preventing consumers being ripped off. So we must stop the idea that legislation is a burden. It is not a burden to consumers if it means that they do not die from carbon monoxide poisoning, if children are protected or provided with decent schools, or if consumers have access to an ombudsman when a service or product goes wrong. It may be that some legislation should have stayed, such as cleaning the path outside our doors. I am not certain that that was the right one to get away. However, let us drop the idea that legislating is bad: it needs to be done, done well, and for a specific purpose.

Today we have heard a good debate, and along with others, I welcome the report—with the exception of one small line—and its analysis of an important area. Of course, it does not propose solutions for us, so I will take time to suggest a couple for the Government to think about. First, however, perhaps I may say that my one difference with the report, which echoes what has already been said, is the idea that the public is a new—and it uses that word—audience for legislation. On the contrary, in answer to the question, “Who is the user of legislation?”, I was going to use the word people. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, used the word citizenry, and the noble Lord, Lord Bates, talked about small businesspeople and shopkeepers. Absolutely: surely, they are the real users of legislation.

The rest of us—legislators, judges, lawyers or advisers —are basically intermediaries, or maybe implementers. If we hold that in mind, which is what others have said today, our laws will be better drafted and understood. It is notable and, for me slightly regrettable, that the Good Law guidance produced in April by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, boasts that it is talking to,

“lawyers, the judiciary and legal educators”,

but it makes no mention of the general public. It is beginning to listen to users through a project run by the National Archives, but that does not feel core to its work. Surely if the Cabinet Office wants, as it states, to write laws that “can be readily understood”, then users ought to be one of the drivers of a new approach?

I turn to the report. As we know and has been said in the debate, unclear law often arises out of either unclear policy or perhaps an overhasty reaction to events. Even before drafting starts, it is important for politicians and policymakers to engage with relevant experts to ensure real clarity in thinking and in writing, including those who know the subject concerned and those in bodies such as the Law Society who have a wealth of experience in interpreting Parliament’s words. It also means not bringing clauses here, as is happening today in this House with the Energy Bill, before consultation on them has been completed.

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There are some “to dos” or “to be thought abouts” that are ripe for government discussion and perhaps for cross-party attention, especially given that the quality of legislation and its scrutiny should be of concern to government as well as opposition. First, always set out the objective—or, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, the purpose—for each Bill whereby it is clear what it is meant to achieve, and drafters and legislators can check that it achieves those objectives and the reader knows what it aims to do.

Secondly, unless there is a very good reason or emergency, always have pre-legislative scrutiny, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and others have stressed. We have witnessed the success of where it has happened, for example in the Defamation Act, on which the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and I spent a good few hours. Such pre-legislative scrutiny ensures that a Bill’s drafting really provides for the Bill’s clearly stated objectives.

Thirdly, endorse the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s recommendation last month that,

“the Government should publish the reasons why a bill has not been published in draft and cannot therefore be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny”,

where that is the case.

Fourthly, do not introduce “Christmas tree” Bills. Some of us spent a long time dealing with the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which was actually five different pieces of legislation.

Fifthly, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, said, do not revise existing Acts wherever you can but try to start from scratch. Some of us here, including my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe and I, spent a long time on the Financial Services Bill, which was hung on to another Bill and sometimes left us none the wiser as to what it was seeking to achieve.

Sixthly, please think of the audience. It is interesting how a Draft Consumer Rights Bill should end up being 104 pages long.

Seventhly, do not try to legislate for 25 years hence. Here I do not blame the Government, but there was an interesting amendment to the Succession to the Crown Bill, not in the name of the Government, that tried to deal with what happened if a child yet to be born of the current Prince William turned out to be gay, have a gay marriage and then had a child. Trying to write such legislation was unnecessarily complicated 25 years off.

Eighthly, we should implement another recommendation of the Commons Select Committee, that there should be a code of legislative standards.

We have all heard that this subject is a matter for this House, perhaps even more than the other place, given how much time we spend on scrutiny. It is a matter for government as well as for opposition and I hope that we can move forward. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

8.34 pm

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Bates for the opportunity to debate the important matter of complexity in law. The report is part of parliamentary counsel’s good law programme,

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which aims to improve the quality of legislation by identifying ways to improve further its drafting, reduce complexity and make the law more accessible.

I have sympathy with my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury who previously spoke of never-ending “cascades of legislation”. Indeed, my noble friends Lord Bates and Lord Norton of Louth spoke of volume. However, this is clearly a long-term trend, as demonstrated by the statistics cited in the report. In 1959, Parliament agreed to 1,163 pages of primary legislation. By 2009, 50 years later, the figure had doubled to 2,247. That is why the report by the parliamentary counsel is timely and will help us to understand why the statute book has grown so much. I am mindful also of what my noble friends Lord Bates and Lord Tyler said about Europe, and I am pleased that the Government are committed to ending the so-called gold-plating of EU rules.

I can assure your Lordships that we do not find ourselves in a unique situation in the United Kingdom. Expanding statute books and complex laws are a problem encountered around the world. Parliamentary counsel’s report helpfully cites examples of some European countries that have set up processes, or even whole ministries, dedicated to simplifying legislation.

I am very conscious of the eight-point plan of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. Indeed, the Government are currently considering the report by the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee on its inquiry into standards in legislation, and we hope to respond to this next month.

A number of noble Lords raised the question of a standards committee. My right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons has said that it is not clear exactly what it would add to the processes we already have, whereby Bills are often published in draft for consultation and scrutiny. Nor is it clear at what stage a legislative standards committee would be involved. It would add another layer of process, duplicating the efforts of other committees that already examine both the policy and the drafting. However, the point has been made by noble Lords tonight, and we will need to await the response next month.

We should be clear that a conversation about good law is not the same as a conversation about policy. This issue should not be clouded by partisan politics about the merits of policies in specific Bills or orders. Parliamentary counsel’s report aspires to “good law”, which is defined as,

“necessary, effective, clear, accessible and coherent”.

This is a sentiment I am sure we share across all sides of the House.

This Government are committed to legislating in a better way. While there is always more that can be done, in recent years we have taken a number of steps to tackle complexity in legislation. Parliamentary counsel are now drafting legislation in plainer language. My noble friend Lord Bates raised secondary legislation, and we do seek to stem the tide. The Red Tape Challenge is taking stock of unnecessary regulations, and the “one in, two out” rule is limiting the new burdens that can be imposed. This Session, we will be publishing the draft deregulation Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny by Joint Committee. The purpose of this Bill

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is to remove a raft of unnecessary burdens on businesses and individuals. I trust my noble friend Lord Bates will approve of that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, referred to the National Archives. It has greatly improved its website,, which 2 million people a year use to access the statute book. I agree with the noble Baroness: we are talking about people—our fellow citizens—who wish to be more engaged with seeing what is on the statute books. It is a good move. Within government, we have been working to increase the capability of Bill teams and make sure we learn from previous lessons. I hope this will go some way to reassuring my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, although perhaps not in full, but this includes best practice on how to engage with Parliament. The Legislation Secretariat in the Cabinet Office and parliamentary counsel run a regular “lessons learnt” exercise, and we need to continue with that. Obviously, where there are gaps in knowledge, we need to fill them.

This Government want to give Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise legislation in full. If we are to achieve better legislation, we need to tap into the wealth of expertise that exists in Parliament, particularly in your Lordships’ House. To this end, more legislation is now published in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny, a point made by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. In the previous Session of this Parliament, 17 Bills or measures were published in draft, more than ever before. Of those 17, six were scrutinised by Joint Committees, again more than ever before. This Government have also continued the practice of providing post-legislative scrutiny memoranda, usually five years after an Act has been passed. This is a useful opportunity to take stock of legislation and consider how it has worked in practice. In the other place, committees have started to make use of these memoranda and publish post-legislative scrutiny reports. These are valuable and I hope that this activity will continue and increase.

In the previous Session, at the instigation of the then Leader of the House, and on the recommendation of the Liaison Committee, your Lordships’ House appointed the first dedicated post-legislative scrutiny committee, to look at adoption legislation. Two more such committees have been established in this Session to consider mental capacity legislation and the Inquiries Act 2005.

Of course, there is always more that can be done. The parliamentary counsel report found that users of legislation often expect it to be more complex and more difficult to use than it actually is. Clearly, there is a challenge for the Government and Parliament to be more open and accessible. To this end, the Government are already reviewing—I hope this will be music to many of your Lordships’ ears—Explanatory Notes, which should help make legislation more accessible to the lay reader.

I now turn to Keeling or as my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth described it, “Keeling-like”. We will also consider whether there is scope to provide “as amended” texts of Bills more frequently, for example as we did for part of the Education Act 2011. By reaching out to users of legislation, we can assist them, allay some of the concerns and give people the confidence to use the statute book, which we all want.

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There is no single cause for overly complex legislation. The report acknowledges that sometimes complexity can be introduced by the drafting. Parliamentary counsel have made great progress in their use of plainer language and are committed to drafting effective legislation that is easier to navigate and understand. However, complexity can be added to legislation at all stages of the process, not just in the drafting. The good law programme is looking at the way in which policies are taken from inception to the statute book. It is not a finite project and it will not present all the answers any time soon, but it has begun a dialogue about how we can improve legislation and shows the Government’s willingness to work with everybody to improve the quality of the legislation produced.

Sometimes complexity can be the product of a robust scrutiny process. There is an understandable tendency for Parliament to seek further safeguards and more assurances in a Bill. Each instance is no doubt for a good reason, but in total these can add to complexity and result in laws which are hard to use. The growth of judicial review has also had an impact. As a result, the Government may draft cautiously or include more detail on interpretation and intention. As such, further legislation, occasionally fast-tracked, may be required following a court case, which again can add layers of complexity.

Throughout this process, we in government and Parliament often forget who makes use of the statute book. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and my noble friend Lord Bates in a lengthy list mentioned this point. It is not just lawyers and judges; small businesses, charities, volunteers and consumers, to name only a few, also use the statute book. A new small business does not have a large legal department to rely on and must itself deal with the legislation. Overly complex law hampers enterprise, deters entrepreneurs and adds to the general weight of red tape. There is, therefore, a strong economic case for good law, to which my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury referred. There is also a strong moral case. Citizens should have ready access to the laws of the land which set out their rights and responsibilities. When the law is too complex and inaccessible, it can be held in contempt by the public, again a point highlighted by my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury. It also diminishes respect for the rule of law, which is necessary for a civilised and well functioning society.

The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel’s report represents the start of a collaborative process that will need to include parliamentarians, lawyers, the judiciary and academia to understand and tackle what are often long-standing problems. It is self-evident that Parliament has a crucial role to play in forming the laws of the land, but Parliament and the Government need to work in partnership to create better laws. Your Lordships’ House has a strong track record in scrutinising and, indeed, improving legislation. As a revising Chamber, it has an important role in ensuring that the legislation it passes is necessary, effective, clear, accessible and coherent.

I am conscious that I have not answered fully, or indeed some questions in their entirety, and I will write to noble Lords to ensure that there is a full record of

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what has been asked. However, I am grateful to all the noble Lords because this debate forms part of a dialogue, and I have taken away a great deal that needs to be considered. We have made a good start, but there is always more to do to ensure that legislation is proportionate and appropriate to its aims, and that the statute book is accessible and understandable.

8.46 pm

Sitting suspended.

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

8.49 pm

Relevant document: 4th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Clause 4 : Opt-in: marriage in places of worship

Amendment 20

Moved by Lord Curry of Kirkharle

20: Clause 4, page 5, line 33, at end insert—

““recognised” means recognised according to the ordinary customs and usage of the organisation and in the event of a dispute between the members over which person or persons are recognised for the purpose of giving consent for the purposes of this section, the Secretary of State shall consult all members of the relevant religious organisation to determine which person or persons are recognised, and this shall include power to order a ballot of members in which a quorum of 66 per cent shall be required and recognition shall be determined by a majority vote;

“members” means those whose names have appeared on a formal membership roll kept by the relevant religious organisation for a period of at least 12 months prior to written consent being given, and if no such roll is kept, then the members shall be deemed to be those who have attended worship at the place of worship for a majority of services of worship during the 12 months prior to written consent being given.”

Lord Curry of Kirkharle: My Lords, I am deeply concerned about the potentially divisive nature of this Bill. Mention was made a number of times at Second Reading and has been made again in the two days when we have been considering amendments of the serious potential for unintended consequences. We need to consider this very carefully indeed. There is a huge risk that faith communities and church congregations find themselves in dispute as a consequence of this Bill where no dispute existed previously.

Given the strong differences of views on same-sex marriage, there is enormous scope for minority elements within congregations to seek to register premises for same-sex weddings against the wishes of their denomination or majority. The vague drafting of this clause leaves too much to chance. Under the Bill as drafted, it is not clear what “recognised” actually means. What does it mean for members of a religious organisation to recognise an authority that is competent to give consent on this issue? Who are the members of a religious organisation? It is impossible to catalogue the variety of ways in which churches and religious bodies identify their membership. What mechanisms are local authorities and courts to use in attempting to address this question?

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The governance arrangements that exist within different churches can be quite complex and sometimes unclear. Some churches may require a member to have fulfilled a formal process. Some will use written lists. Others will use an electoral roll. Even these lists might not reflect the number of people in attendance at any meeting. Some churches are structured in such a way that it is considered best not to have a formal system of membership. Church structures are very complicated. It is possible for the situation to become confusing, with claim and counterclaim being made about who possesses authority to speak for the organisation in binding its membership to conducting same-sex marriages.

There will be huge pressure on churches which do not want to opt in. Local authorities may be strong advocates of same-sex marriage and may happily take the consent of a liberal faction as being binding on the whole organisation. It is necessary to set out clear statutory principles to handle inevitable disputes. Local authorities must hold the tools to assess or reject applications to register a building for same-sex marriages, but the local registry office that receives the application has no legal basis on which to determine an application.

It could be very easy to register the church for same-sex marriages, just by the proprietor making an application accompanied by something that seems to show consent. Consent may be given by a wing, a faction, a sub-committee of a denomination, but that does not mean they are representative or legally and morally competent to give consent. It is not clear what constitutes evidence of consent? Under the Bill, a letter is sufficient, but given the internal complexities involved, have the Government considered any additional requirements to verify the issue of consent? Is there any guidance on the consequences of the local authority wrongly approving an application?

It is unrealistic to expect that all local authorities will have a grasp of the internal politics and structures of every religious body. Without a clear framework they will not have the ability to ascertain who exercises the proper legal responsibility for such decisions within each of a wide range of churches with their innumerable variations of governance, locations, interests, hierarchies and systems.

The purpose of Amendment 20 is to define “recognised” and “members” and the consent that would apply to issues on registering buildings, filling gaps in the Bill and reducing the potential for problems down the line. It promotes consistency across the boundaries of different local authorities. It provides mechanisms for achieving clarity when there are opposing claims about who is legally able to speak on behalf of a particular church or faith organisation.

The amendment makes it clearer whether applications are in line with the respective church’s typical decision-making methods. Because of the sensitivities involved, in the event of an unresolved dispute, Amendment 20 would require the Secretary of State to become involved and therefore establish a uniform approach across central and local government. The Government have created the problem by their drafting, so they should take ultimate responsibility for solving individual problems that may arise.

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If it is evident that proper processes have been ignored or deliberately manipulated, the Secretary of State should have the power to order a ballot of church members, as set out under the amendment. In such a ballot, a majority vote of two-thirds would be required to authorise the religious body to either opt in or opt out of the same-sex marriage registration system. This, of course, may come with its own complications, which is why it is so crucial to attempt to define in statute what constitutes membership.

Two words have been repeated again and again in debate on the Bill: “divisive” and “discriminatory”. It is possible that, despite reassurances, if the Bill is introduced, it will create more discrimination than it seeks to solve and cause divisions where none existed before. The amendment proposed by the Minister—Amendment 21—is helpful but it needs to go further. I hope the Minister will give this amendment very serious consideration.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: My Lords, I rise to speak in favour of Amendment 22, which is in my name. Very detailed consideration has been given to the impact of this legislation on the Christian and Jewish religions. However, no consideration whatever has been given to the difficulties that may arise for other faiths. Can the Minister enlighten the Committee as to why members of other faiths, each more numerous than the Jews, are being treated as if they did not exist? Was this omission inadvertent or was it thought that newer faiths in this country were less important? Either way, the less than favourable treatment of other faiths, including my own, appears to contravene both the Equality Act and human rights legislation. It seems that some minorities are more equal than others.

The substance of my amendment is best understood through a little story, which is true. An opinion pollster knocked on the door of a house in Birmingham and asked, “Do you belong to an organised religion?”. A man in a turban responded, “No, I’m a Sikh”. Sikhs do not easily submit to authority. The day-to-day management of each gurdwara is by democratically elected committees. There is no hierarchy of authority in the Sikh community other than the democratically elected Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in Amritsar, which, after years of deliberation in the middle of the last century, produced what we call the Rehat Maryada—the Sikh code of conduct, which gives definitive and universally accepted guidance on Sikh marriage, defined as the union of a man with a woman.

I head the Network of Sikh Organisations UK—the NSO—which is the largest umbrella body of Sikhs in the UK, with over 130 affiliated members. Its purpose is to facilitate co-operation between gurdwaras in promoting Sikh values and living true to Sikh teachings. However, neither it nor any other organisation in the UK has any authority to vary the Sikh Rehat Maryada. Amendment 22 is necessary to make this position absolutely clear to the relevant authorities.

9 pm

Baroness Barker: My Lords, I have been listening with great care to many of the arguments which the noble Lord, Lord Singh, has made during this debate, not least because his is a voice that has not been heard

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for very long in this House. I will take away and contemplate at greater length his statement in one of our earlier debates that it is not the job of religious organisations to adapt to modern society.

I listened very carefully during our deliberations on Monday, and the noble Lord, Lord Singh, indicated that he spoke for all Sikhs. I asked some other people what they thought about that. They said that in many ways, the organisation is as he described in that different gurdwaras do have some autonomy, although there are common principles around which members of the Sikh faith coalesce.

However, there is one group, called Sarbat, which is a lesbian and gay Sikh group. It takes a very different view of this legislation from the one that has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Singh. It is not my job, or the job of this House, to determine who is right and who is wrong. However, I do think it is for this House to note that there are different opinions within his religion, which is not surprising as there is a great variety of opinions within the religions to which many of us belong. I wanted to put that on record, and this seemed like an appropriate point to do so.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: I did not say that it was not the job of religions to go along with society. Religions are formulated and their purpose is to give a sense of moral direction to society that, being human, we sometimes lose. It is to remind us of basic values, such as concern for others before concern for yourself. That should not be subject to public opinion, which today is becoming very much about “me and my rights”. Looking to others is very much a part of religion.

As to the other aspect of fringe groups within the Sikh religion, there are such groups. I am talking about the tenets of the Sikh religion as enunciated in the Guru Granth Sahib, the teachings of the gurus, and the code of conduct derived from that. That is the code which 99.9% of Sikhs follow.

Baroness Barker: I do not wish to enter into what I think is something of a distraction. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Singh, about the role of religion. I merely make the point that the rest of us do not live in a moral vacuum. The rest of us also subscribe to values, some of which are very strong and which he would be familiar with and would share. I simply wish to point out that within his faith, as with all faiths, there are different shades of opinion, and I think the House should be cognisant of that.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: Again, I have not for a moment said that the rest live in a moral vacuum. I simply stated what religion is all about, because that seems to have been lost in this debate. Very often the debate is religion against society, and it is not that.

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, I will address the amendments moved by the noble Lords, Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Lord Singh of Wimbledon, in a moment, but I start by speaking to government Amendments 21 and 51. Government Amendment 21 specifies the relevant governing authorities for giving consent to same-sex

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marriages according to the rights and usages of the Jewish religion. It replaces the provisions currently in the Bill with a definition that reflects the current arrangement for the Jewish community.

During the Committee evidence sessions in the other place, Sarah Anticoni of the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ Family Law Group referred to drafting issues which it had brought to the Government’s attention. This amendment is the result of discussions with the Board of Deputies of British Jews about those drafting issues, and the Government are very grateful to the board for its helpful and constructive contribution to the completion of this amendment, despite representing a wide range of views on same-sex marriage.

The Marriage Act 1949 already provides a definition of “secretary of a synagogue” in respect of the registration of Jewish marriages. This is because the Jewish religion already has specific provisions for its marriages in the Marriage Act which date back to 1753. This amendment ensures that the new provision in respect of the relevant governing authority reflects the modern structure of the Jewish community.

Government Amendment 51 provides that, where a governing authority has given consent to marriages of same-sex couples, that consent will not be affected purely by a change in the person or persons constituting that governing authority. Where a governing authority provides consent and thereby opts into conducting marriages for same-sex couples, a change in the person or persons who make up the authority will not render the consent void, negate it or remove it. The consent will still stand. However, this does not prevent the new governing authority from revoking the consent and deregistering the building, but this amendment makes clear that that would not happen automatically.

Amendment 22, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Singh, provides a specific reference to the governing authority of the Sikh religion in relation to opting into same-sex marriage. I assure the noble Lord that no disrespect is intended towards the Sikh religion, or towards any other denomination or faith that is not specifically mentioned in the Bill, and that this amendment is not needed.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: It may be that no disrespect is intended, but disrespect has been taken and many people are extremely upset about it. I still do not know why the omission occurred. Was it inadvertent or was it deliberate?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I apologise if any disrespect has been taken; it was certainly not the intention. A general reference to the governing authorities of religious organisations other than the Church of England, the Jewish religion and the Quakers is already included in the Bill—not by specific reference, but it is covered. The governing authority for the Sikh religion would be covered by this and would enable the members of the Sikh religion to determine who would be their relevant governing authority for the purpose of consenting to same-sex marriage.

The Government do not think it desirable to specify in legislation the governing authority for any particular religious organisation. That is properly a matter for

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the members of the religious organisation themselves. For the Government to seek to prescribe this would be an inappropriate interference in the internal governance and autonomy of religious organisations, which should be free to decide, and indeed change, their decision-making arrangements for themselves.

I think it was reflected in what the noble Lord said that he is trying to replicate the specific reference that the governing authorities of the Jewish religion and the Society of Friends—the Quakers—have within the Bill. However, as has already been indicated, they are both in a different position, given their particular treatment under the Marriage Act 1949, which arises from arrangements put in place hundreds of years ago to reflect their particular circumstances at the time. They have long had different arrangements under marriage law and therefore their governing authorities are already specifically referred to in the Marriage Act. In line with that treatment, specific reference must be made to their governing authorities in this Bill. This is not required for other religious organisations, where the relevant governing authority should be determined by the members of each organisation. Indeed, my own religious denomination, the Church of Scotland, which has places of worship in England, is not referred to in this Bill—for the very good reason that there is no historical reason why it should be.