4. What recent discussions the Church Commissioners have had with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. (155328)
The Secretary of State has been generous with her time, both to Church of England representatives and me, in discussing issues arising from that particular legislation.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he take this opportunity to update the House on what progress has been made on whether chaplains will be allowed not only to decline to conduct same-sex marriages in a church, but to promote the values of traditional marriage?
During the two days of debate next week the House will have to consider a number of issues relating to freedom of conscience. It will also have to consider the amendments relating to the possibility of humanist weddings, which would completely change the basis of English marriage law from one that is building-based to one that is celebrant-based. I think it is important to remember that in Scotland, where that happens, pagan weddings and weddings in other formats are now taking place, which I am not sure we would necessarily want to see in England. Likewise, the House will have to take a view on whether having heterosexual civil partnerships will or will not enhance the concept of marriage. Those are all issues that the House will have to consider during the two days next week. The Government, as I understand it, have said throughout that they wish to see the institution of marriage strengthened. I hope that that will be the test by which the House addresses the issues over the two days next week.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that in the Church of England’s formal evidence to the Bill Committee, given orally, the Bishop of Norwich made it quite clear that the Church was perfectly happy with the existing and unamended safeguards that the Government have provided in the Bill? What damage does he think it would do to the established status of the Church of England if the bishops in the other place were to use their privileged position to try to thwart legislation that had the overwhelming support of this House in a free vote?
Members of the House of Lords, irrespective of where they come from, are Members of Parliament, and the other place is a revising Chamber and has perfectly good constitutional arrangements. The right hon. Gentleman will not be insensitive to the fact that there are still concerns about, for example, the position of Church of England or faith schools that wish to teach traditional concepts of marriage and whether they will be protected under the Bill. I am quite sure that, from the position he adopts and comes from, it must be in his interest as much as in anyone else’s that we get this legislation right.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the predicament of marriage registrars because of their religious beliefs. Is he aware that the Dutch Government have recently declared in favour of conscientious objectors? What discussions has he had with the Government to ensure that marriage registrars and their employment and conscientious beliefs are secured?
The hon. Gentleman raises another issue that I am sure will be discussed or touched on over the first two days of next week—the question of registrars who are unhappy with or opposed to conducting same-sex weddings.