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Sexual Orientation (Goods and Services) Regulations

Volume 450: debated on Thursday 19 October 2006

19. When the Government expect to lay before Parliament the Sexual Orientation (Goods and Services) Regulations. (95023)

We made clear earlier this month our intention to implement the sexual orientation regulations next April. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equality has just set out, we will lay the regulations before the House in good time for them to be debated and approved so that they can come into effect on that date, alongside the regulations on religion and belief.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that, subject only to the very limited doctrinal exemption that the Government already propose, the sexual orientation regulations must apply in full to all organisations, religious or otherwise, including adoption agencies, charities, general practitioners, housing trusts, nurseries and youth groups, because the principle of equality before the law must take precedence over the views of a vociferous religious minority which, however sincere, is fundamentally opposed to that important principle?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we must provide effective protection against discrimination for gay, lesbian and transsexual people. It is right that we take the time to consider the more than 3,000 responses that we have received on the matter. As I am sure he and other hon. Members are aware, there are passionate views on each side. It is only right that we take the time to consider properly such a complex issue, so that we provide protection against discrimination in a way that is effective and appropriate and which gets the balance right so that people are able to hold religious views and beliefs.

I reiterate the call for the regulations to be published in draft form before they are laid in Parliament. That could lead to a much more sensible and rational debate when the time comes. I cannot emphasise too strongly my agreement with the words of my colleague the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). Any excessive exemptions granted in the regulations would undermine the principle that Parliament has adopted.

I hear exactly what my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) have said. It is important that we have a proper debate that involves people who hold views on both sides of the argument and that we can discuss matters openly and honestly with each other. My first priority is to have the regulations implemented in April. In the consultation, passionate views were expressed on both sides, some of which, I fear, are completely misleading—for instance, the thought that the regulations would in any sense force Churches to marry gay people or schools to promote a homosexual lifestyle. It is 100 per cent. inaccurate to suggest that that might be the case, but given the nature of the responses to the consultation that we received, it is only right that we take our time to analyse them properly. If we can, I will consider laying the regulations in draft form, but my priority must be to implement them alongside the religion and belief regulations in April.