House of Lords
Monday, 3 June 2013.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.
Message from the Queen
My Lords, I have the honour to present to your Lordships a message from Her Majesty the Queen, signed by her own hand. The message is as follows:
“I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the Speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament”.
Deaths of Members
My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the deaths of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, on 18 April, and of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, on 2 June. On behalf of the House I extend our condolences to the noble Lords’ families and friends.
Education: Student Loans
My Lords, the Government continue to explore options for monetising student loans and launched a sale of the remaining mortgage-style student loans in March. Any future sale of income-contingent repayment student loans would take place only if it reduced the Government’s risk exposure to the loan book, represented value for money for the taxpayer and ensured protection of borrowers.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the selling-off of the earlier mortgage book is greatly welcomed? However, the current loan book now stands at close to an estimated £40 million and no fewer than 22% of students from overseas are either not paying or have disappeared, and that involves a figure of no less than £50 million. What are the Government doing about this failure to repay by students who have taken loans, not least because if no further action is taken, that figure of £50 million will rise well into the hundreds of millions due to the recent increase in student loans?
My Lords, the Government are investigating ways of making repayments from overseas easier and of clamping down on those who evade their responsibilities, and we will introduce measures as soon as we can. It might be worth pointing out that of the total amounts of student loans, only 3% to 4% go to EU students.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that student loans in the USA, publicly subsidised but largely unregulated, are a means for the enrichment of banks and poor-quality higher education institutions that are permitted to make profits, whereas in the United Kingdom, the student loans system—designed by the Government and administered by the Student Loans Company, which the Government control—has, notwithstanding some flaws, been a source of fairness for society as a whole?
Yes indeed, my Lords, and I can only be grateful that I am not standing here answering on behalf of the United States’ system—because I do not have a brief about that. The system was set up to be as fair as possible to the students whom we wish to encourage to go into higher education if they have the potential and aspiration to do it.
My Lords, does my noble friend think that enough is done to make students aware that although they do not have to repay these loans until they have employment above a certain salary, the interest accumulates immediately? Many of them find themselves facing much larger bills than they imagined.
One of the really important things, which my noble friend touches on, is that no student has to pay these fees immediately. They start being payable once the students graduate and are in a job where they are earning sufficient money to pay them back, and the payments are then proportionate to their income. However, my noble friend is right that we need to do as much as we can to make sure that students are fully clear about the undertakings they are taking on.
My Lords, have the Government done a survey regarding one effect of student loans—the fact that students will be burdened with a long-term debt of up £40,000 after they graduate? Has it deterred children from going to university, particularly those from family backgrounds where no one has been to university before? Are the Government comfortable that we have student loans of this magnitude while in Scotland undergraduates still do not have to pay any fees at all?
The noble Lord mentions the burdensome debt that students are accruing, but I would again stress that they will begin to contribute back for what they have gained from their university education only after they graduate and are earning a salary. We will be monitoring the effect on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I would also point out that there are very generous forms of mean-tested grants for students, while many universities have instituted all sorts of bursaries to try to make absolutely sure that no student feels disadvantaged because they come from a low-income family.
My Lords, students who took out loans under the previous Government pay interest based on the base rate plus 1%—so it is currently 1.5%—whereas those who have taken out loans since 2012 will pay RPI plus 3%, currently amounting 6.3%. Does the Minister agree with the recent HEFCE report which suggests that the new financial system contributed to a 12% reduction in students entering HE last autumn?
Those figures are not holding up as the noble Lord says, because substantial numbers of students are still applying for university. There was of course an increase last year when people applied early, ahead of the new scheme, but the figures we are getting back from the higher education authorities show that the numbers going into higher education are still holding up. We very much hope that the new fee structure will not be a deterrent; in fact, it may well help many of the students whom we most wish to attract to higher education.
My Lords, given that the calculations for the new student loans scheme under the progressive tuition-fee scheme show that it would take a minimum of two to three years before the payments start to come in and therefore balance the system out, what plans do the Government have to review the new arrangements to make sure that they are on track?
My noble friend makes a valid point. We are constantly monitoring and reviewing the system to make sure that it is providing a good deal, that it is fair and accessible for students and that it is a good deal for the taxpayer. We shall be monitoring it at regular intervals to make sure that it is still doing what we hope it will.
My Lords, it is not the company but the loan book which was launched in March; the sale of mortgage-style loans is currently out for tender and we do not know how it will result. I can assure the noble Lord that we shall be looking very carefully to ensure that any company that purchases these loans provides protection for the borrowers as well as a financial repayment.
My Lords, a paper in the Library produced by the Government forecasts a major increase in defaults on student loans to 40% of the total. The two main causes appear to be non-payment by people from overseas—certainly not just Europe—and, more particularly, students not earning enough to meet the requirement to repay. Will the Government consider two options to address these problems? First, it is quite difficult to set up banking arrangements to repay from overseas. If there were standard arrangements such that someone earning dollars could automatically have a standing order to convert dollars into sterling and repay, it would make the admin easier. Secondly, could more attention be given to vocational training after which people’s pay is often higher and they get jobs more easily?
The answer to my noble friend’s last point is yes. However, his point on vocational training is slightly wide of the Question that we are discussing. Most of the loans from the Student Loans Company go to UK-based students or students from other EU countries. We have set up much more effective systems for ensuring that payments come through from bank systems and other assurances. He is absolutely right that most of the people who do not repay are those who go into very low-paid jobs. However, the percentage of students who do not entirely repay their loans tends to be higher than the percentage of the total value of the loans repaid. The cost to government will still be less than if the same money were given in the form of a grant.
Education: Part-Time University Study
My Lords, to encourage new part-time undergraduates, the coalition Government introduced non-means-tested tuition fee loans for the first time in 2012. We have asked HEFCE to continue monitoring changes in part-time demand and supply, and we are working with Universities UK on its review of part-time study, which will identify barriers to participation by prospective part-time students and offer practical advice. Our communications activity for 2013-14, including our student finance tour, will include activities specifically targeted at part-time applicants.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. I declare an interest as the president of Birkbeck. The increase of university fees in 2012 led to a dramatic downturn in part-time studies, which creates real problems. As part-time study is clearly a way forward in education, with benefits to employers, individuals and the economy, will the Government guarantee that they will implement the findings of the Universities UK review when it is published in the autumn?
First, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her appointment as president of Birkbeck. Of course, Birkbeck is one of the tremendous organisations, along with the Open University, that provide the major part of opportunities for part-time students. Certainly, we are hoping that with the introduction of loans for part-time students for the first time, that message will get through and encourage more part-timers to study. Although I cannot stand here hand on heart and agree that the Government will implement every last dot and comma of the Universities UK report, I assure her that we will take it very seriously and keep talking to Birkbeck and the OU about what more can be done.
My Lords, as my noble friend the Minister has just said, it was this Government who introduced loans for part-time students for the first time, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, will be aware. Will the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to increase awareness of the availability of income-contingent loans among part-time students, many of whom are much more cautious with their money?
My noble friend is right. I have just mentioned the student tour. We also know that the Student Room has dedicated information on finance for part-time students, and we hope that the messages that go out to the different universities and institutions that particularly look after part-time students will encourage them to take advantage of the finances that are available. He is quite right that the older students may well be more cautious, but of course most of the part-time students will also be earning in some capacity or another and therefore may feel that this is a good use of their money.
My Lords, the number of part-time students has gone down by 40% since 2010. Since it is known that many of them come from more disadvantaged backgrounds and ethnic minorities, is this policy not a serious blow to not only our universities but the prospects of greater social mobility and equality in this country?
I agree with the noble Lord that part-time study is an incredible asset in social mobility and a benefit to the community and individuals as well. With the measures that we are taking on student loans and in trying to get the message across to encourage people to study, we hope that we will be able to build on the ideas coming out of the Universities UK review.
My Lords, when did the Minister or one of her colleagues meet with Michael Russell, the Education Minister in Scotland, to discuss this matter and other matters of mutual interest? Can she tell us what matters were discussed at these meetings?
I am afraid that I personally have not met the Minister; that would be for somebody above my level of responsibility. However, I am quite sure that my colleagues at the Department for Education are regularly in contact with the devolved Administrations. We have a great deal to learn from each other in working together on these matters. Perhaps I will write to the noble Lord.
Does the Minister have any data on the proportions of men and women who go into part-time higher education? Are the Government aware of any particular obstacles; for example, for women with young children who would like to go back into education?
I do not have those data readily to hand. Of course, anecdotally, one is aware that part-time education very often appeals to women with children, to help keep their brains active when their bodies are more than active with small children. If we have data, I will write to the noble Baroness. We would hope that there would be no additional barriers to either men or women going into part-time study.
As I say, I do not have breakdowns of the numbers of part-time students in the devolved Administrations, but we are in constant dialogue with the devolved Administrations to try to ensure that we can learn from best practice. However, as the noble Lord well knows, there are different systems in different parts of the UK.
My Lords, these matters were assessed as part of the impact assessments which were published alongside the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, and our current consultation on further reforms to legal aid, Transforming Legal Aid: Delivering a More Credible and Efficient System.
Does the Minister acknowledge that it is widely regarded that the Ministry’s own impact assessment on that consultation paper does not adequately address the threat to the vulnerable and to minorities? Has he calculated the extra costs to the justice system of the longer trials and appeals which will inevitably result from inadequate representation, inexperienced advocates and self-representing litigants? Does he agree that the delays and miscarriages of justice that are likely to result will more than swallow up all the estimated savings?
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the findings of the Centre for Human Rights in Practice at Warwick University that cuts to legal aid are likely to fall disproportionately on already disadvantaged groups, such as those in rural areas, children, those with disabilities and those who are otherwise already vulnerable or marginalised? What assurances can Her Majesty’s Government give that there will be a level playing field of legal aid availability?
My Lords, when I first answered Questions on legal aid more than three years ago, the first point I made was that legal aid was a system devised to help the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. It follows that if you cut legal aid, those are the sections of society that are likely to be affected. Economic circumstances have forced cuts on my department and we are trying to make the reforms to legal aid as focused and effective as possible, while still protecting the vulnerable in our society.
My Lords, I declare an interest as someone regulated by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. Does the Minister share the widespread concern that the Government’s proposal to introduce competitive tendering for criminal legal aid services will remove choice for the consumer, remove the incentive for the provider to maintain quality and inevitably result in the destruction of hundreds of small to medium-sized solicitors businesses up and down the country?
My Lords, I am greatly reassured that somebody is regulating the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. Again, in response to this consultation, we have heard various parts of the legal profession harping on about the worst-case scenario, which we simply do not accept. We are in consultation and have put forward proposals about legal aid contracts. However, the legal professions are facing a number of changes, irrespective of what we are proposing on legal aid—a point I have made before from the Dispatch Box—and they will have to adjust to the new circumstances if they are going to survive. We are consulting with the Law Society and Bar Council, and with other bodies and individuals. We are listening and we hope to get a solution that will reflect what the Government can afford to pay on legal aid at the moment but that will also leave us with the protections for our legal aid system that many of us have taken pride in.
My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House what the rise in the cost of legal aid has actually been in this country? Is it not inevitable, if we have to find savings in the public sector, that legal aid should find savings like anywhere else?
That is no more than the blunt truth. In 2010, when we came in, a spending review took place that asked for 23% cuts across the board in my department, which at the time was spending £10 billion a year on prisons, the probation service, legal aid, courts services and staff. All five of those have had to take the burden and brunt of the cuts. It is very difficult to make decisions at this time, but we have consulted and listened and are continuing to do so to try to make sure that we end up with a legal profession able to help the most vulnerable in our society through the legal aid fund.
My Lords, I know that my noble friend is aware of the widespread view expressed during the consultation on criminal legal aid that competitive tendering on price will prove unworkable and that the proposed changes are being introduced too fast and with too little preparation. In the light of the consultation, will his department consider introducing the changes more gradually and trialling or piloting them before their more general introduction? I declare a similar interest to that declared by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.
My Lords, it is about 10 years since the Carter report had a look at this matter. It is more than three years since the previous Labour Government made cuts to criminal legal aid. The Labour Party, in its 2010 manifesto, was the only party to say that it would look for further cuts in legal aid. In that time there have been changes—alternative business structures and other changes—to the legal profession, yet we are still told that this has come as a surprise. Instead of asking for more time and putting forward arguments that are mainly scare stories, it would be good if the legal profession responded to this consultation with a productive dialogue that could put legal aid on a sustainable and lasting footing.
Of course we continuously monitor this. Some of these proposals are consultations; they are not in place at the moment. We are suggesting that the legal profession keeps in close contact with us, and also that barristers and solicitors start thinking about how best to organise themselves to function in circumstances in which money may be a little tighter than it once was. These are circumstances that many other professions and many other areas of our society have to face.
My Lords, before I answer the noble Lord’s Question, I am sure that I speak for the whole House in offering our condolences to the family and friends of Drummer Rigby. They have handled this horrific tragedy with great dignity and resolve, and our thoughts and prayers are with them.
My Lords, this country is resolute in its stand against violent extremism. As the Prime Minister has made clear, there is no religious justification for these acts, and he has stressed that al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism has taken more Muslim lives than any others. We are working with international partners and religious leaders worldwide to combat violent extremism.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that fairly helpful Answer. I would have thought that, as a Muslim, she is well placed to lead such an initiative. As we think of Drummer Rigby, I ask if the Government are aware that there have been many thousands of fatal Islamist attacks worldwide since 9/11, and that most of the victims have been Muslims? I will put the evidence for that in the Library. Secondly, if Islam is a religion of peace, could not a gathering of grand muftis and others agree to issue a fatwa against the jihadists, so that they are cast out of Islam and are no longer Muslim?
My Lords, I take the noble Lord’s point that more Muslims than members of any other community have died at the hands of violent extremism. However, I take issue with some of the noble Lord’s views. I am familiar with his views on Islam and Muslims. He premised the question by saying, “If Islam is a peaceful religion”; the Prime Minister made it abundantly clear that Islam is a religion of peace.
My Lords, is it not the case that people of all faiths and backgrounds have deplored the barbaric murder of Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich? Is there not a risk of demonising Muslims, including the 3 million Muslims in the UK, which is not the answer? Does the Minister think that it is appropriate for decent voices of moderation to be drowned out by radicals such as Anjem Choudary— discredited people—who are given a media platform on the BBC and Channel 4? Drowning out other voices does more harm than good. Does the Minister agree with the Deputy Prime Minister, who said at a cross-party interfaith event last week, “Terrorism has no religion”?
I absolutely add my voice to the words of the Deputy Prime Minister. I agree with my noble friend that one of the positives to come out of this tragedy is the way in which communities of all faiths have stood united and said that we will not be divided by the extremists who conduct these horrific acts in the way that they have.
Does the Minister recognise the importance of encouraging Christian-Islamic dialogue at all possible levels, nationally and globally? Is it not the case that the justification of jihad in the Koran could be paralleled by similar blood-curdling references in the Bible if one wanted to interpret them in that way? Therefore, dialogue should be on the basis that both sides have issues to discuss with each other.
My Lords, one of the worst things that politicians often say is, “I made a speech on this”—but I made a speech on this. It was on unpicking the arguments between religion and reason. I absolutely agree that a literal interpretation of any faith can lead to perverse results. However, I can also assure the noble Lord that, both domestically and internationally, we are engaged in a whole series of interfaith projects, which bring people from different religions, and indeed people of no religion, together to create the space and the dialogue that create better understanding.
My Lords, from these Benches we extend our sympathy and prayers to Drummer Rigby’s family and pray for his soul. Until recently, I was co-chair of the Inter Faith Network for the UK. My fellow co-chair was a very distinguished Muslim scholar and leader. I ask the Minister two things. First, as we have heard, violent religious extremism is not simply an issue for Muslims. In the Inter Faith Network we were constantly reminded, through other faiths across the world, that millions of people suffer from violent extremism, often for political purposes and not religious ones. Secondly, does the Minister agree that, while there is of course a responsibility on those of us who lead religious and political organisations, there are other factors, such as how foreign policy is perceived, that send signals and triggers to people that it is very difficult for leadership on its own to deal with? Therefore, there has to be a partnership between religious and political leaders and those who form our culture for peacefulness and a common stand against violent extremism.
I would draw a distinction between legitimate discussion of foreign policy and, on the other hand, what is clearly violent extremism. The latter cannot be justified in any way in terms of the former. I completely agree with the right reverend Prelate’s view that every religion has its extremists. I have colloquially referred to them as “nutters”. Pastor Jones is no more representative of Christianity than Anjem Choudary is of Islam.
Local Transport Act 2008 (Traffic Commissioners) (Consequential Amendments) Order 2013
Motion to Approve
My Lords, the whole House will have been disturbed and dismayed by the reports in the press over the weekend and today, relating to the alleged misconduct of particular Members of our House. Therefore, I thought I should tell the House that the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct agreed earlier today to a request from the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards, Mr Paul Kernaghan, that he proceed to investigate the three Members of the House against whom allegations have been made. Independent external investigation of these allegations is therefore in hand.
To one extent, thanks to the Leader of the Opposition when she was Leader of the House, we are in a better position than in the past. For the past three years we have had in place a clear code of conduct to regulate our behaviour as Members of this House and we have had an independent Commissioner for Standards, whose task it is to investigate whether there has been a breach of that code. I am pleased that the necessary preliminary steps to secure a proper investigation have already been taken. From this point, it is now over to the commissioner, who will make his report on each case to the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct.
The allegations made at the weekend are very serious and distressing to us all. I know that I speak for the leaders of all the parties and the Convenor when I say that they do not reflect the House that we know, or the Members who work here out a sense of public service and a desire to hold the Government to account and revise legislation—work to which I suggest we now turn.
Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill
My Lords, it is a huge privilege to be leading on this important Bill, which will make marriage of same-sex couples lawful in England and Wales. I will go into detail shortly, but I want to be clear from the outset that this Bill is not just about allowing same-sex couples to marry; it is also about protecting and promoting religious freedom. It is not often that we get to debate and decide legislation that affects people’s lives so directly. This Bill addresses things that matter to all of us: our personal freedoms, our faith in what we believe, and the acceptance of who we are and who we love. Perhaps I should declare from the outset that I am not married, and as long as George Clooney is still available I am prepared to wait. But even though I am single—and I of all people understand that not everyone wants to get married—I believe in the institution of marriage.
Like many other people, whether married or not, I believe marriage to be one of the fundamental building blocks of a strong society because of the stability, continuity and security that it promotes. I admire couples who make the big decision to marry. Marriage remains, as it has for centuries, the way in which most people choose to declare their commitment publicly and permanently to the person they love. When we hear two people exchange their marriage vows, whether in a place of worship or at a register office, we know that we are witnessing a couple commit to the kind of values that we associate with the special enterprise of shared endeavour—loyalty, trust, honesty and forgiveness. We know that through marriage existing families are extended, as is their commitment and support to new family members. We think that is a good thing, and any of us can choose to do this—unless, of course, we happen to love someone of the same sex. This Government think that is wrong, and we want to put it right. So much do we believe in marriage and its importance to our society, we want all couples, whether gay or straight, who are prepared to affirm publicly their commitment to each other and all the responsibility and joy that comes with it, to be free to marry.
Some people argue that civil partnerships have provided same-sex couples with equality already, and allowing them to marry is not needed. They are right that civil partnerships provided equivalent legal rights. Indeed, the progress made by the last Labour Government in advancing gay rights was massive, and I salute them for all that they achieved. I am grateful to the Labour Front Bench for supporting this Bill. But in 2004, Parliament did not provide same-sex couples with the equal opportunity to marriage itself; back then, we could not conceive that society would allow it. So instead a separate legal regime was established just for same-sex couples. Marriage, the exchange of vows, and all that that means, remained available only to men and women prepared to make that commitment to each other. Less than 10 years on, independent polling, all of which is included in the House of Commons Library research paper on the Bill, shows that the majority of people in this country are now ready to open up marriage to everyone. Indeed, support is growing all the time, and we are not alone; change is happening around the world.
As to my own party’s position, in 2006, at the first Conservative Party conference after he became leader, David Cameron voiced his support for marriage and equated the commitment of same-sex couples with that of opposite-sex couples. In 2010, the Conservative Party made it clear that it would consider the case for equal marriage in its document A Contract for Equalities, which was published alongside the election manifesto. In 2011, David Cameron said, to wide applause at the Conservative Party conference, that he supported same-sex marriage because he is a Conservative. This coalition Government think that now is the right time to make this change.
The Government have decided to take this step to allow same-sex couples to marry because we believe that doing so really matters. Gay and lesbian couples being allowed to marry—to join the institution that they, too, recognise as important—matters because it marks the final acceptance of who they are. Allowing same-sex couples to marry and not separating them out from the rest of society matters to families. For parents especially, it means peace of mind. A gay son or daughter will be able to aspire to the same things as their straight brother or sister and be recognised and respected equally.
Allowing same-sex couples to marry also matters to all of us who believe in the institution of marriage. Marriage, this vital element of our social fabric, stands a much safer chance of remaining important to future generations if we make sure that it reflects modern society. We believe that marriage will become nothing but stronger if we open the doors to couples who are currently excluded only because they happen to love someone of the same sex.
The Bill provides a new freedom for same-sex couples to marry, but theirs is not the only freedom that concerns us. The Bill also protects and promotes religious freedom. That is why, as well as allowing same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies—in register offices and approved premises such as hotels—the Bill takes an entirely permissive approach to religious marriage ceremonies. It will be for religious organisations to decide for themselves whether they wish to marry same-sex couples according to their rites. Some have already said that they will; these include the liberal Jews, the Quakers and the Unitarians. In this way, the religious freedom of these organisations and perhaps others in the future is promoted by this Bill. Equally, 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. The Government’s public consultation in 2012, which prompted nearly 230,000 responses and became the largest of its kind ever, was important in informing our approach. Since we published our proposals in December last year, we have discussed this permissive approach with a wide range of religious organisations, and I am pleased to report that they are generally content with the protection provided in the Bill.
The Bill has been carefully crafted to contain each element of the quadruple lock which the Government committed to last December and which I outlined to this House when I repeated the Statement by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the time. Because it is so important, I will explain the quadruple lock again. First, it ensures that the Bill states explicitly that no religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit such a marriage to take place on their premises; it provides an opt-in system for religious organisations which wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples; it amends the Equality Act 2010 so that it is not unlawful discrimination for a religious organisation or individual minister to refuse to marry a same-sex couple; it ensures that the duty on the clergy of the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry parishioners will not extend to same-sex couples, and that Anglican canon law, which says that marriage is a union for life of one man with one woman, is unaffected.
I turn now to other rights that we all have and will continue to have because they are not affected by the Bill, most specifically the right to freedom of expression. Some people are concerned that the Bill will impact on freedom of speech and that people such as teachers—or, indeed, anyone while at work—will not be able to criticise same-sex marriage. I can reassure the House that this Bill does not in any way affect the perfectly legitimate expression of the perfectly legitimate belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Teachers will be expected to teach the factual and legal position when teaching about marriage, as with any area of the curriculum, but they will not be expected to promote or endorse views that go against their own beliefs. It will be unlawful to dismiss a teacher purely for doing so.
That said, and as noble Lords would expect, the expression of personal beliefs should be done in a professional way and not in a way that would be inappropriate or insensitive to pupils, some of whom may be gay, transgender or the children of a same-sex couple. We are clear that the existing protections for teachers are sound. However, we are, of course, aware that these concerns exist. As the Minister for Sport and Tourism explained in the other place, we are continuing to discuss those concerns further with religious groups to ensure that we have done all we can to put the position beyond doubt. The same is true for employees generally and what they say about same-sex marriage, whether at work or not.
Freedom to express beliefs about marriage is not affected by this Bill. Discriminating against someone because they believe, or express the view, that marriage should be between a man and a woman only is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights also guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. At the same time, I must make it equally clear that it is not acceptable for an employee to act in an offensive or discriminatory way because of someone’s sexual orientation. It is wholly wrong to persecute someone for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. It is not wrong for someone to say that they do not believe in same-sex marriage. Some people have also expressed concerns that the religious protections in the Bill could be successfully challenged, whether before domestic courts or the European Court of Human Rights. We are confident that the protections are robust and effective, but rather than my talking about this in detail now, other noble Lords far more expert than I in these legal matters will no doubt wish to offer their views during the debate.
I turn to other aspects of the Bill and to some of the changes already made during its passage in response to our engagement with religious organisations and others. Part 1 allows same-sex couples to marry and provides the religious freedoms and protections I have already mentioned. Part 2 enables an individual to change their legal gender without having to end their marriage. Part 2 also contains an important new clause—Clause 14—added during Commons Report stage by a government amendment. This requires the Secretary of State to arrange for a review of the options and future of civil partnerships in England and Wales. With the Government’s agreement, this clause was amended to require that the review will begin as soon as practicable and will include a full public consultation. I am pleased to tell the House that the Government are already preparing for this review and will publish its terms of reference before Committee.
Other changes made by the Government in response to issues raised include fine-tuning the religious protections in specific areas, such as to protect the position of chaplains employed by secular organisations and the Church of England’s ecclesiastical law. We have clarified the arrangements concerning Scotland and Northern Ireland and made changes to improve fairness—for example, in relation to pension rights where a married partner has changed legal gender. Even though the Government have already made changes to the Bill, we continue to listen to concerns and are, of course, willing to consider further changes if necessary to make the protections clearer. Indeed, I should say that I, along with my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, my noble friend Lady Northover and the Bill team officials, with all of whom I have the pleasure of working, will be glad to listen to the concerns of Peers and others with an interest in the Bill.
I speak in support of same-sex couples who want the opportunity to marry because, very simply, this Government consider their love and commitment to be no different from that of opposite-sex couples. We believe that same-sex couples should be able to marry if they want to, and that extending that choice is the right thing to do for them and for the future of marriage. If we want future generations to support marriage, we need the institution to reflect our modern inclusive society. I know that many noble Lords will also speak in support of the Bill today and I am grateful to them, but I also respect those who disagree with me. I understand that many who do not support same-sex marriage do so on the grounds of religious principle. To them, I would point to the religious freedoms which the Bill protects and promotes and say this: no religion or faith will be required to change its doctrines or practices because of the Bill if it chooses not to.
I also understand that some noble Lords are unsure whether to support this measure for a range of reasons personal to them. We all have the right to move at different paces when faced with change, but to those who feel unsure let me say this: same-sex marriage is new and different from what we have known up to now and I am not trying to say it is not. However, this change—allowing same-sex couples to marry—will not affect the nature or quality of existing marriages or new marriages between men and women. The Bill simply extends the opportunity for that same quality to be shared by all couples who honour the institution and desire it for themselves.
The Bill is a force for good and I commend it to the House. I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion
My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for setting out the Government’s position on what is, by any stretch of the imagination, a contentious Bill.
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’, Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ But ‘glory’ doesn't mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’, Alice objected. When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less”.
I would suggest that if we substitute the word “marriage” for “glory” we get somewhere very close to the essence of today’s debate. As Humpty Dumpty might have said: “There’s a nice knock-down argument for you. Marriage means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less”.
If we move away from Lewis Carroll’s Alice and back through the looking glass, we find ourselves in a world where an ill considered Bill seeks to overturn centuries of tradition, heedless of public opinion and the views of religious leaders and blind to the laws of unintended consequences. It seeks to alter totally the concept of marriage as we have always known it, it seeks to divide a nation with an argument that hides behind the concept of equality when in reality it is about sameness, and it stands on its head all considerations of electoral mandate.
I am conscious that around 90 speakers await their turn to speak today and tomorrow so I will deal only very briefly with the essential elements of the arguments against the Bill but take, in turn, four things: the concept of the rule of the majority; the impact of the Bill on society; the flawed process that it has undergone so far; and, last but by no means least, the question of whether it is proper or appropriate to vote the Bill down at Second Reading.
First, I refer to the question of the extent to which a civilised society should accede to the wishes or the desires of a very small minority in its midst. In the debate on the humble Address on 9 May this year, an impassioned reference was made to the plight of homosexuals in Uganda and in other repressive regimes. This seemed to suggest that, if we were to defeat the Bill, this country could quickly regress to a state something approaching that in Uganda and elsewhere where homophobia is prevalent. Nothing could be more fanciful and nothing could be further from the truth. Like many other Members of your Lordships’ House, I have, for many years, championed the extension and the protection of minority rights, including homosexual rights and equality, and I have seen and applauded this country’s change of attitude towards homosexuality, from thinly veiled intolerance 50 years or so ago to a position of understanding and acceptance today.
With the introduction of civil partnerships, we have seen the legal rights of homosexual couples put on a par with those in a conventional marriage, with all the financial benefits available to both groupings. Indeed, those in a homosexual civil partnership are significantly better off in that respect than family members who live together without the benefits of such a partnership. Doubtless, we shall hear more of that as the debate progresses—more about the two sisters living together or the elderly parent and the unmarried daughter in the same household. All those are of course unable to enjoy the same financial benefits available to those in civil partnerships. In that respect, homosexual equality has outstripped equality for those in family relationships.
However, this part of the argument is much more about the lengths to which a society should go in order to embrace the demands from very small minorities. The utilitarian approach of Jeremy Bentham—the greatest good for the greatest number, where a simple majority carries the day—was challenged first by John Stuart Mill and then by other theological and jurisprudential writers in the 19th century. Very sensibly, it has been moderated over the years to a point where any society wishing to be thought of as civilised, tolerant and mature is judged by the degree to which it can accept minority views, even when those views fail to accord absolutely to the norms and views of the majority. However, there must come a point when, provided full equality for all under the law is guaranteed—this, I suggest, is perhaps the nub of this argument—the majority view should prevail, especially when the minority is tiny and the overwhelming majority is affronted. It is all a question of balance, wisely, and not least sensitively, applied.
The present danger of redefining marriage could well turn out to be counterproductive because tolerance can be overstretched. Look to contemporary France for an example. The similarities with this country are numerous. France has much the same population as our own, is still coming to terms with a revised role in the world, has an old and enduring national religion, has financial problems, and its leadership is questioned. Same-sex marriage has recently been forced through the French parliamentary process, with the result that mass demonstrations, and occasionally riots, have taken place in major cities in that country. Worse, the incidence of serious homophobic violence has markedly increased. I do not foresee violent street demonstrations in this country but I fear that the Bill, should it become law, could well create such opposition to homosexuals in general that the climate of tolerance and acceptance in this country that we have all championed, supported and seen flourish over the years could well be set back by decades—certainly for a long time.
Let me move on. In headline form only, let me pose a question or two. What is the impact of the proposed legislation on society? A change in the law would herald uncertainty in a number of areas, rather than certainty, and I will touch only briefly on those aspects now, confident that the other 90 or so speakers who follow me will explore some of these issues in much greater depth. Marriage between a man and a woman has been a part of life for centuries, predating nation, church and law. The lifelong commitment of a man and a woman is part of our history and culture. Evidence abroad, for example in Spain, shows that a redefinition of marriage actually undermines support for marriage in the wider society. There, marriage rates have plummeted. Noble Lords may advance their own theories as to why this has occurred in Spain and elsewhere but the facts are there for all to see and it is reasonable to conclude that redefining marriage is a contributory factor.
In the field of education very real fears exist that teachers who fail to endorse same-sex marriage could be dismissed. The Minister touched on this and other similar issues. Government reassurances that this will not be the case have been challenged as naive by leading counsel. Parents will not have a legal right to withdraw children from lessons that endorse same-sex marriage in the curriculum. The effect on schools will undoubtedly be divisive, and we should reflect on the fact that calls have already been made for children to act out gay weddings in class. I have to hand an opinion by leading counsel, prominent in employment law, who concludes that the Bill would create a duty to promote or endorse and not just to explain the new definition of marriage in sex education. Furthermore, he advises that schools could discipline teachers for failing to teach positively about same-sex marriage alongside opposite sex marriage.
Employment law is not likely to protect those who, as a matter of conscience, refuse to endorse the new law. Some noble Lords from the legal profession will want to expand their opinions on this at length. The fact that matters such as this are so strongly disputed, with leading counsel on both sides of the argument, must show that there is legitimate concern that cannot be shrugged off by mere rhetoric.
The well-being of children within marriage is a matter of very serious concern, certainly for those who accept the view that the best family grouping in which to grow up is a stable environment with two married parents, one of each sex. These and other major factors will be hotly debated today and tomorrow and they will highlight the sharp divisions that exist on almost every aspect of this Bill.
So if divisions exist—and they do—we should ask to what extent the Government have considered the totality of the problem. In a matter as fundamentally important and potentially so contentious as this, one could reasonably have expected any Government with pretentions at governing by consensus to have conducted deep and thoughtful research before drafting legislation. This Bill is hallmarked by the very lack of such an approach. A royal commission, or other similar learned group, might have been expected to call on the very best minds from the fields of theology, philosophy, sociology, jurisprudence and finance in order to take a long look at all the implications, to identify the pros and cons and to make mature recommendations. The Government did nothing of the sort. Instead, they seem to have relied on old, often partial, research and opinion that give only a fragmentary picture of the problem. There was no royal commission; no committee of inquiry; no mention of the Bill in any party manifesto prior to the last general election; no report from any parliamentary Select Committee. The Leader of the Conservative Party, questioned on Sky television only three days before the general election, declared that he had no plans for such a Bill. There was no Green Paper, no White Paper and no pre-legislative scrutiny. It was not included in the Queen’s Speech either last year or this year. However, after its introduction a few months ago, the results in the recent local elections were catastrophic. Around 450 seats were lost by the coalition parties, with all the analysis showing that the Bill was a significant factor in the swing of voters away from the main parties.
The Bill’s progress through the House of Commons was inauspicious. Back-Bench contributions at Second Reading were limited to only four minutes. The Government then delegated the Bill to a committee of 19 hand-picked MPs rather than to a Committee of the Whole House. Its membership was stacked 15 to four in favour of the Bill and not a single amendment was accepted by the Government. Committee debates were limited to only five days, in contrast to the Hunting Bill, when the Standing Committee lasted for 14 days.
The main parties announced a free vote, but there is a question mark over the freedom of that vote. In a letter signed by 15 MPs and circulated on 15 May, serious doubts were cast, citing,
“varying degrees of coercion, with threats made, for example, to an MP’s future political career or withdrawal of party support at future elections”.
Therefore, the apparent solid majority for the Bill in the other place must be considered, in part, at least, in that light.
The Government’s consultation exercise was about how to introduce the changes and not whether to do so. To put it bluntly, the results were rigged. The figures given by the Government indicated a total of 228,000 responses, with 53% said to be in agreement with the Bill and 46% against it—about even, tilting slightly towards approval for the Bill. However, that ignored two critical facts. First, the responses in favour were largely collected on the internet—anonymously, with no check as to whether the respondents were resident in the UK and no check on multiple entries from single respondents. Secondly, the Government accepted a signed petition collected by the Coalition for Marriage and arbitrarily counted it as one vote, deliberately ignoring the fact that it contained 509,000 verifiable signatures. That petition has now grown, I am told, to 660,000 signatures, although at the time of its closure there were, as I said, 509,000 verifiable signatures. Had that number of 509,000 been included, as it clearly should have been, it would have shown 83% of respondents against the Bill. That considerable public opposition is borne out by many reliable opinion polls. Some polls of course suggest the opposite but many have failed to make clear the existence of civil partnerships in posing the question to those being polled.
At this stage, I should say that since my name became linked in public with opposition to the Bill and I became something of a lightning conductor in public for all these issues, the number of communications I have received on the matter by e-mail and in my postbag falls just short of 1,000, of which 38—I counted them this morning—are in favour of the Bill and the remaining almost 1,000 are against it. I think that many noble Lords have had very similar results, if not in those numbers, then certainly in proportion.
Opposition from formal religious groups divides on the same lines. Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews of course support the Bill but we should remember that together they represent less than 1% of the religious community. The largest bodies—the Church of England, Roman Catholics, Sikhs, Muslims and others—all adamantly oppose it.
Lastly, I turn to the vote at Second Reading. Understandably, some noble Lords have queried whether it is proper to challenge a Bill in this way at Second Reading in your Lordships’ House. I fully understand that question and I recognise and support the proud and long-standing tradition in this House to take particular care over every aspect of any Bill and to give it a full and fair examination before voting. However, that holds good only in normal circumstances, and the circumstances that we face today are abnormal. I am advised by the clerks that it is perfectly proper to vote on Second Reading. The 2006 Joint Committee on Conventions affirmed that the House of Lords retains the power to reject government Bills in free-vote situations. Votes against a Bill at Second Reading are unusual but they are not unknown. Examples that closely parallel these present circumstances are the War Crimes Bill and the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, both of which occurred just over 10 years ago but both were free-vote issues without a mandate from a manifesto. The Health and Social Care Bill in October two years ago is the most recent and reliable example.
So if we can do it, and have done it, why oppose the Bill at this stage? Quite simply, I contend that the Bill is in a mess. It is ill thought-through, lacks support in the population as a whole and is likely to antagonise, or even inflame, public opinion. It has nothing to do with equality, which is already in place with civil partnerships, and it attempts to dignify an admittedly very small minority of partnerships with the description “marriage”—a term that has been understood differently for centuries.
If that were not enough, there is more. This House is asked to debate and examine a Bill that has not yet come anywhere near identifying all the consequences of change. The official government estimate of the numbers of amendments to existing legislation that would follow should the Bill become law is, in their words, at least 8,000 and they are still counting. It is no good telling me that there is provision in the Bill to take care of that, because the experience in Argentina, where similar legislation was passed in 2010, is chilling. In a paper provided by Dr Ursula Basset for the Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina, she explains the changes now being debated in that country, which passed legislation similar to that which is on the table in front of us, in order to establish a redefined civil code. She said:
“It quickly became clear that legalising same-sex marriage required a revolution to our internal law. It impacted laws regulating public order, identity, gender, rules of kinship, filiation, marriage, names, marital property arrangements, divorce, alimony, parental rights, succession, domestic violence, adoption, artificial reproductive techniques, surrogate motherhood, liberty of conscience, criminal law, tax law and employment law, among other topics. All of these subjects would need to be attuned to the gender-neutral paradigm ... same sex marriage law in Argentina has turned the law upside down—no stone has remained unturned”.
That is what we face. Were we to consider the Bill in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading without at least some of that information at hand, it would frankly be like wandering into the dark blindfold. Hard on the heels of the procedure today at Second Reading, it looks as if we may be denied the chance of properly considering the Bill in Committee, since, to date, only two days have been allocated by the usual channels.
Even worse than that, we know that as the Bill left the House of Commons on the last day before the recess the Government announced their intention to conduct an immediate review of the whole issue of heterosexual civil partnerships. That is in Clause 14, which was introduced as a manuscript amendment. How can we be expected to consider turning the law of marriage on its head without taking full account of the implications of heterosexual civil partnerships as well? If we must consider changing marriage, let it be with all the facts at our disposal, all the consequences identified, all the financial implications worked out, all the social advantages and disadvantages known, and not blunder into a legal, theological, moral and sociological minefield.
I ask that this Bill should be defeated now, and not allowed to take up valuable parliamentary time in the later stages, when so many other pressing matters demand our attention. It should be defeated. The concept should be sent back to the drawing board because this is too serious and too important a matter to be introduced on a whim and handled in such cavalier fashion. The House of Lords is the final check, perhaps the only check, on the power of the Executive. It should use that power sparingly, but, on this occasion, use it positively. I beg to move.
My Lords, we live in a civilised and tolerant society, not in Alice’s Wonderland. I am proud to open this Second Reading debate on behalf of the opposition Benches. I know that a small minority of my noble friends are against this Bill, and, naturally, I respect their views, but the majority on my Benches, alongside the shadow Cabinet, Labour’s National Policy Forum and the Labour Party conference, warmly support both the Bill and the debate, which will enable us to recognise and affirm the loving and lasting commitment of couples who love each other. They must include the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, who with his wife is today celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending them our heartiest congratulations.
I pay tribute to my right honourable and honourable friends and to those of all parties in the other place who have enabled the Bill’s safe passage. Many of them have shown considerable political courage. This is a hugely important milestone for equality, respect and dignity in our society, which rightly values stable relationships within the framework of marriage. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, for an excellent introduction to the Bill—I hope that George Clooney was listening, of course—and for making herself available at all times to discuss concerns and answer questions. From experience, I know that it is particularly challenging for a Whip to take responsibility for a controversial piece of legislation, and I know that she will do a terrific job.
In an ever-changing world where turmoil and instability are too often the norm, it is a cause for celebration when two people of either the same or the opposite sex wish to commit their lives to each other through marriage. I am the product of a happy marriage and I had the good fortune to enjoy nearly 30 years of marriage. Our aim, like that of so many other couples, was to grow old together and to support each other in sickness and in health. We had our ups and downs, but the fact that we were married increased our resolve to make our relationship work, and it was the framework within which we wanted to raise our children. Of course, I have friends who are single and who are great parents, and friends who have lived together for many years and who are wonderful parents, such as my noble friend the Chief Whip—although I am delighted to say that on Saturday, he and his partner Jill are going to be married. I celebrate that and I would like to be able to celebrate the marriage of gay friends, with or without children.
Last week, I thought a lot about marriage: not just because of the Bill, but because I was choosing a wedding dress with my daughter, Charlie. We talked about marriage, which she described as an important ritual that would enable her to make a commitment to the man she loves in front of family, friends and our community. If Charlie wanted to marry Katherine instead of Kane, would I feel any different? No, I would not, and I would want other parents to have the same joy as I in celebrating the marriage of their children, whether they love people of the same or the opposite sex.
Some people ask why the Bill is necessary when we already have civil partnerships—often, I have to say, the same people who opposed those partnerships when we introduced them in 2004. Civil partnerships were a fantastic step forward and continue to be a great source of joy and security, but some people wish to choose marriage. It has a special status in our society, both historically and symbolically, and it represents a very particular value that the state has placed on the relationship. I well understand that this Bill has caused anguish for some people of faith who have concerns either because of the impact of the Bill on their faith or on the grounds of faith. I respect all genuine concerns—although clearly not those that are rooted in homophobia—and I am sure that our consideration of this Bill will be conducted with our usual tolerance, respecting our differences. I have to say, however, that I simply do not understand those who say that equal marriage can harm or undermine marriage between a man and a woman. Surely if we value and cherish marriage, we should want all those who wish to marry to be able to do so, and we should welcome the fact that marriage would be strengthened by opening it up to more couples. Surely we should be encouraging our young people, who see the love and strength their parents draw from their marriage, to aspire to the same commitment regardless of whether it is with another man or another woman.
There has been much discussion about whether there are sufficient protections for religious organisations. Just like equality, freedom of religion is central to a human rights-based society. That is why it is vital that the Bill does not impose an obligation on any faith group to conduct same-sex marriages. The Minister has spoken in detail about the quadruple lock and we are satisfied that the protections the Government have put in place in the Bill are sufficient to ensure that no faith group will be at risk of a human rights challenge for refusing to solemnise same-sex marriage. Naturally, this House will carefully scrutinise the protections contained in the Bill for religious freedom. I welcome that, and I look forward to the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and my noble friend Baroness Kennedy, who were crystal clear in their evidence to the Public Bill Committee.
I look forward also to the contribution of the most reverend Primate to this debate. I know that the Church of England has rightly been working closely with the Government and I am pleased that there is agreement that the safeguarding of the position of canon law has been achieved and that the quadruple locks offer the necessary protection. I know that the Bishops now warmly support civil partnerships and I have read of the Bishop of Salisbury’s endorsement of same-sex marriage. Both are matters to be celebrated. I have also had excellent discussions with some right reverend Prelates in which we agreed that, from their perspective, the Bill would not result in the sky falling in or family life falling apart, while from my perspective it would not be a panacea for relationships, be they gay or straight. I also take this opportunity to send our best wishes to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York for a speedy recovery.
Naturally, I am glad that the Government have listened to the concerns of the Church in Wales that were raised by my colleagues in another place, which resulted in an amendment to ensure that the Lord Chancellor will have no power of veto over the church’s decision, should it wish in future to provide for same sex marriages. The position of the Quakers and Unitarians, and of Reform Judaism, is absolutely clear, and I am delighted that the Bill will enable them to opt in to performing same sex marriage according to their religious rites.
Last week, while thinking about the Second Reading, I watched “The Times of Harvey Milk”. I wept at what one might call a chilling reminder of the pain and suffering that gays and lesbians endured a few short years ago—their lives blighted by society’s attitude towards their sexuality. That was 1970s America, but in the 1960s in this country people were locked up or punished for loving someone of the same sex. The Conservative Government introduced Section 28 in 1988 and it was not repealed until the Labour Government came to power. We had a proud record in making progress against discrimination and in favour of equality, and I am grateful for the generous comments of the noble Baroness. As well as civil partnerships, we equalised the age of consent, ended the ban on LGBT people serving in our Armed Forces, made homophobia a hate crime, outlawed discrimination in the workplace and in goods and services, and did much more. The measures were controversial at the time but now have widespread support.
We have come a long way, but there still needs to be a cultural shift. The Bill is not only hugely important for same-sex couples who wish to marry, and for transgender people who are in a marriage; it can play a critical role in driving attitudinal change. As noble Lords are aware, 20,000 homophobic crimes are still committed in this country every year, and many children suffer homophobic bullying. They are not just children who may be growing up to be gay, but those with lesbian or gay parents. Ninety-five per cent of secondary-school teachers have reported hearing anti-gay language in their schools. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will be a useful tool in tackling these attitudes. It will not just ensure legal equality in the eyes of the state but encourage society to celebrate the identity, relationships, commitment and love that lesbian and gay people share.
There are some outstanding issues in relation to the Bill that were raised in the other place and have not been resolved. First, pension rights are the subject of considerable debate. Currently, the Bill provides for less generous pension rights for same-sex married couples than for those of opposite sexes in respect of survivor benefits. In the Commons we called on the Government to come forward with an immediate review into the implications of equalising pension rights, and we will urge them to do this in the course of the Bill.
Secondly, our Front Bench supported amendments to allow couples to have humanist marriages in England and Wales, as almost 3,000 already choose to do in Scotland. On Report in the other place, the Attorney-General raised new concerns about the amendments’ compatibility with the Human Rights Act. However, we hope to resolve these issues in Committee in this House.
Thirdly, on transgender issues, the Bill will enable individuals to change their legal gender without having to end their marriage, righting a big injustice in our society. We welcome these amendments brought forward by the Government on Report in another place to protect pension rights for spouses who change their legal gender, as a result of issues raised by my colleagues and others during the Public Bill Committee. However, we will look carefully at further amendments that may be brought forward in relation to transgender marital issues.
With regard to heterosexual civil partnerships, a matter of much debate in the Commons, we are pleased that the Government have now committed to an immediate review of the introduction of such partnerships. I welcome the fact that the terms of reference for this review will be available before Committee. There were long debates on the issues of teachers and registrars. Our views on this are clear, but it is right that these issues of great importance should be debated fully in your Lordships’ House.
I am grateful to the Government for giving extra time for this Second Reading debate and ensuring that the vote will take place at a proper time. Some in this House will vote in favour of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and against the Bill. I respectfully remind him that proposals to fragment our National Health Service did not appear in any of the party manifestos, nor in the coalition agreement. Perhaps more importantly, I refute the noble Lord’s suggestions about support for the Bill. The latest YouGov polling shows that 71% of people support same-sex marriage, including three out of five people of faith. The noble Lord also alleged that the Bill would affect divorce rates. It is true that divorce rates in Spain increased, but that was because it liberalised its divorce laws at exactly the same time as introducing same-sex marriage.
In respect of the composition of the Public Bill Committee and the allegations that its membership was stacked, the only reason that the committee was thus constituted is that the same MPs had previously insisted on a free vote across the Commons. This meant that the committee’s membership represented the very heavy Commons vote in favour of the Bill at Second Reading. In terms of e-mails and postbags, I am sure that those who are against the Bill wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, while those who are in favour of the Bill wrote to me. To that extent we should question the comments made by the noble Lord.
However, all in all, I trust that following the detailed and careful scrutiny that this House will give, noble Lords will be convinced both by the safeguards in terms of religious faith and the arguments in terms of removing discrimination and extending the dignity and joy of marriage to same-sex couples. I firmly believe that our society will be strengthened when more couples are able to choose to make a lifetime commitment to each other, and when all members of our communities are able to celebrate their identity and relationship within the institution of marriage.
My Lords, I declare an interest. Many years ago, I had the great good fortune to meet someone. She and I have loved each other ever since—that is, apart from the occasional spectacular argument, usually about driving or DIY. As the slogans on the T-shirts used to say, it happens in the best of families. It was therefore with great relief that I read the letter from the Bishop of Salisbury to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, in which he said:
“Whilst marriage is robust and enduring, what is meant by marriage has developed and changed significantly”.
There have been many changes to what constitutes marriage over the years. In 1836, there was the change that allowed civil marriage. In 1949, there was the change that made 16 the minimum age for marriage. Those changes came about because of campaigns that were run by minorities and resisted by majorities for a very long time, but they are not changes that would now be overturned.
What we are doing today does not undermine any existing or future marriage. It extends the status of marriage to gay men and lesbians who want to make a public commitment in the presence of their families and friends, and sometimes their co-religionists. It reflects the wishes of those people who today do not want just to tolerate lesbians and gay men; they want to celebrate and support them as people in their own right.
Some noble Lords say that allowing gay people to get married is unfair because it leaves other sorts of relationships, such as those of siblings, without the same legal rights as those who choose a marital status. If enabling gay marriage will be unfair to another relationship, such as that of two sisters, then existing marriage laws are unfair. I think we all understand that relationships which adults enter into voluntarily are wholly distinct from relationships which are determined by consanguinity. If family members could become civil partners, it would be really easy for a bullying parent or sibling to force a member of their family into a relationship simply in order to protect property. I do not think that any of us want to legislate for that.
A great deal has been made about the issue of a conscience clause for registrars and other public servants. I grew up in a time and a place when discrimination in public services on the grounds of religion was not uncommon. It caused resentment and divided communities. The idea that public servants should decide, according to their personal beliefs, who does and does not receive a public service is just wrong. Taxes are levied on a non-discriminatory basis and services should be provided on a non-discriminatory basis.
Some opponents of this Bill say that we should not be addressing this—not when we have these huge economic difficulties. I disagree. Discrimination always comes with a price tag. In the United States, hundreds of employers—some very small; some of the biggest in the world, such as Nike and Microsoft—are assisting legal cases in support of gay marriage. These employers need to recruit and retain the most productive staff to make their businesses competitive—and that includes LGBT staff. These businesses want their gay employees to be able to focus on their jobs, not to be dealing with the inequality that means that they and their families always have to sit at the back of the bus. If those businesses have figured out that same-sex marriage is good for business, so should we.
This is a Bill about religious freedom. As somebody who was raised a Methodist, that is something that has been important to me all my life. No religion will be compelled to offer a same-sex marriage. On the same basis, it would be wrong to deny the rights of those religious organisations that wish to extend their fellowship to gay people and their families.
There is no impediment which would prevent this House from doing its job and subjecting this Bill to the high standards of scrutiny that it would apply to any other. In doing so, Members of your Lordships’ House will think long and hard, as they always do, about what is right and in the best interests of our society.
I and many of my colleagues on these Benches look forward to joining with noble Lords from all parts of the House to ensure that gay people and their families are afforded the dignity and respect that others take for granted, and that families, faiths and communities can grow stronger together as a result.
My Lords, the initial proposals published at the end of the autumn have needed much work to get them into today’s form. Much of that work has been done through detailed legal effort and discussion. I am deeply grateful to the DCMS teams and especially to the Secretary of State for the thoughtful way in which she has listened and the degree to which she has been willing to make changes in order to arrive at the stage we have reached today.
We all know, and it has been said, that this is a divisive issue. In general, the majority of faith groups remain very strongly against the Bill, and have expressed that view in a large number of public statements. The House of Bishops of the Church of England has also expressed a very clear majority view—although not unanimous, as has been seen by the strong and welcome contribution by the Bishop of Salisbury.
The so-called quadruple lock may have some chance of withstanding legal scrutiny in Europe, and we are grateful for it, although other faith groups and Christian denominations that have written to me remain very hesitant. There have been useful discussions about the position of schools with a religious character and the issues of freedom of conscience. I have noted the undertaking of the Minister on those subjects and am grateful for what she has said. The Minister has put forward all her views today with great courtesy and persuasive effect. I join in the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in appreciation of that. I have to say that personally I regret the necessity of having to deal with the possibility of a Division at this stage on a Bill passed by a free vote in the other place.
I was particularly grateful to hear the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and agree with the proud record that was established in this area by the previous Government during the years in which they held office. If I may, I will pass on her comments with gratitude to my colleague the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York.
It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same-sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage. Although the majority of Bishops who voted during the whole passage of the Civil Partnership Act through your Lordships’ House were in favour of civil partnerships a few years ago, it is also absolutely true that the church has often not served the LGBT communities in the way it should. I express my sadness and sorrow for that considerable failure. There have been notable exceptions, such as my predecessor, the late Archbishop Ramsey, who vigorously supported decriminalisation in the 1960s. It is also necessary to express, as has been done already, total rejection of homophobic language, which is wrong and, more than that, sickening.
However, I and many of my colleagues retain considerable hesitations about the Bill. My predecessor, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, showed clearly last summer in evidence to the consultation that it contains a series of category errors. It confuses marriage and weddings. It assumes that the rightful desire for equality, to which I have referred supportively, must mean uniformity, failing to understand that two things may be equal but different. As a result, it does not do what it sets out to do. Schedule 4 distinguishes clearly between same-gender and opposite-gender marriage, thus not achieving true equality.
The result is confusion. Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated, being different and unequal for different categories. The new marriage of the Bill is an awkward shape, with same-gender and different-gender categories scrunched into it, neither fitting well. The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as a covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense, predating the state and as our base community of society, as we have already heard, is weakened. I am sure that these points will be expanded on by others in the debate, including those from these Benches.
For these and many other reasons, those of us in the churches and faith groups who are extremely hesitant about this Bill in many cases hold that view because we think that traditional marriage is a cornerstone of society, and rather than adding a new and valued institution alongside it for same-gender relationships, which I would personally strongly support to strengthen us all, the Bill weakens what exists and replaces it with a less good option that is neither equal nor effective. This is not a faith issue, although we are deeply grateful for the attention that the Government and the other place have paid to issues of religious freedom. However, it is not at heart a faith issue. It is about the general social good. Therefore, with much regret—but entire conviction—I cannot support the Bill as it stands.
My Lords, I will be brief. First, I congratulate the most reverend Primate on his speech. It was, as we might have guessed, impressive, well argued and, above all, compassionate. I thank him for that, but fear that I disagree with his conclusion.
Before I get to that, perhaps I could deal first with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear. I have a deep respect for this House. I do not share the dismissive and, frankly, offensive views of the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, on the “Today” programme, which was the first interview I heard on flying in from Washington just in time for this debate. I accept and recognise that this is an appointed House, and it is an enormous privilege to be appointed to it. However, with that privilege come limitations on what we can do. Of course we can question legislation and seek to improve it. However, in my view, we cannot defeat at Second Reading the declared will of the House of Commons when, on a free vote, it has voted by over two to one to pass this legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, expressed doubts about the voting. I was in the Commons for 31 years and the allegations he repeated sound very much like the consistent complaint made by those who have been defeated in a free vote. No party and no set of Whips would respect someone who could be persuaded by pressure to change his view on a free vote. That part of the noble Lord’s speech is frankly nonsense. I believe MPs have the authority that comes from their election and which they retain as long as they are MPs. Much is said about public opinion, and we have heard it already, but we should recognise that they and they alone are answerable to the public on this issue and not us in this House. We cannot take over that role; that is not our position. I thought that this was exactly the case some of us were putting a few months ago to avoid the prospect of two elected Houses standing side by side.
We would be profoundly wrong, if not politically suicidal, to vote against a Second Reading. However, I do not argue the case purely on those grounds—I also strongly believe in the Bill itself. Parliament should value people equally in the law and enabling same-sex marriage removes a current inequity. I believe that there are many gay and lesbian couples who want more than civil partnership, although it is something of a wonder to me to see how civil partnerships have suddenly become so popular among those I do not remember supporting them up until now. We should recognise that there are many deeply religious gay and lesbian couples, including people in the church, who want the commitment that marriage offers. This Bill, rather than weakening the institution of marriage, strengthens it, and our purpose as a Parliament should be to encourage the stability it can bring.
Just before I left Washington I had a meeting with a senior doctor who happens to be gay. Washington DC already has a law enabling equal marriage, as do other American states and they appear to have managed perfectly well. As it happens, he had not pushed for the change but he said that, quite apart from the rights of the individual, it sent out a much wider message for gays and lesbians that, in his words: “We are like everyone else”. That was the point and the message that was being put out. An obvious fact, you might say, but one that is denied by many countries around the world. It is denied by their Governments and their people and sometimes, I regret to say, by their churches. Over the past few months I have travelled to some of those countries and have seen the prejudice. I acknowledge freely the profound impact that that has had on me, which very much affects my attitude this afternoon.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, that this is my argument regarding the foreign experience and not the travesty of it which he sought to set out. I have seen equality fiercely denied in eastern Europe; in a country such as Ukraine, which he mentioned, too often politicians show their contempt for gay people and violence against them is the result. I have particularly seen equality denied in countries in sub-Saharan Africa such as Uganda. For several years there was a popular paper there whose sole purpose was to expose gay people, photograph them, give their addresses and invite the violence against them that followed. Homosexuality is a criminal offence there and of course the British first made it one, as we have in other African countries.
I am not optimistic enough to believe that our decision here tomorrow will break down the persecution, hostility and discrimination. However, it will show decisively how this country has changed, and the value we place on gay and lesbian people in our society. I believe that it will show support for the persecuted minorities around the world—and make no mistake, they exist. At home, I believe it will show the gay and lesbian community our belief in equality—I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, was a little complacent about the position on that—and, above all, their right to expect what we all expect; nothing more, but certainly nothing less. For some of us, that is a fundamental moral issue.
My Lords, this issue raises a great deal of passion because it touches on things that we all care about: equality, human rights and our religious beliefs. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and I were invited before the committee that examined this Bill before its passage through the House of Commons. We were asked to present a legal view on the likely success of any challenge to the special protections being given to religious organisations—the churches and so on—in the Bill. We both took the opportunity to speak to legal organisations, to colleagues in the law and to people who often took different positions and different sides on many issues concerning rights. We were both firmly of the view that the protections provided by the Bill to churches, religious organisations and church ministers are strong and should reassure this House that there is no real risk of a successful challenge.
There is no obligation whatever on religious organisations to host gay marriages if they do not wish to do so. The legal position is that it is permissible but absolutely not required in law. Any requirement on a church, religious organisation or minister to conduct same-sex marriage contrary to the religious convictions of its members would violate Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The protections of that article are very strong and any analysis of the jurisprudence will show that the desire to maintain those protections is strong. The case brought by the Muslim community against the Bulgarian Government, which went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, laid down an important principle: the autonomous exercise of religious freedoms, and that exercise by religious communities, is indispensable for pluralism in a democratic society.
Why, then, is this Bill going through? It is going through because over my lifetime as a practitioner in the law we have seen a huge change in the position of gay people in our communities. It is interesting to note in this House, where the average age is above 60, that people above the age of 60 express the greatest concern about any change in the law. People under the age of 60 by and large favour this change. You have to ask yourself why that might be. I think it is because of the growing tolerance in our society and the desire to see people treated as equals regardless of race, sexuality or gender. That is something that we should cherish and see as an enormous achievement for our society.
The claim is that marriage is a union between a man and a woman by tradition, custom and practice. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, articulated it at the beginning of the debate. Of course, initially the idea was that marriage was about protecting property and making claims on children, and its purpose was to produce and provide a framework for the protection of property and in which children could be raised in a decent and wholesome way. That conception of marriage came into being before we knew as much as we now do about the human condition. We have now separated out the sexual act for the purposes of procreation from the sexual act as a source of sexual fulfilment. Even the churches would acknowledge that.
A woman or man can nowadays know for sure that they cannot conceive a child, but none of us would expect that to reduce in any way their entitlement to marry. A couple may decide to marry and enjoy what they see marriage as providing for their relationship, even if they know that they will not have children. We know those—there are many in this House—who, on the death of their partner, have gone on to marry again after the age at which they would ever have children or provide the framework for the conventional family. They do so because they want to create a special commitment to the person whom they choose to marry.
We have to ask ourselves whether some of the reasons and rationales for maintaining something are not disguising other concerns. We have changed the meaning of marriage. We have changed it intentionally to be inclusive and to make it possible for people who want to make a commitment in love to another to be able to enter into this public declaration in the way that we do. We must also remind ourselves what it is touching upon. It is touching upon the desire in most human beings to love and be loved. It is part of the whole nature of our humanity. That people, gay or straight, should want to do that—to declare it in the presence of those they consider to be their community and to be part of the whole that is our society—is surely an advance on marriage as it is currently constructed. It means that, in fact, we are enhancing rather then diminishing the meaning of marriage.
Therefore, as I close these few comments I say that, having reviewed the law, Article 9 of the European convention—which protects religions—is about the needs of community and society, and how they have to be balanced with individual needs. In doing that, the churches can have the protection that they have so earnestly sought from the Secretary of State. However, we are also strengthening our society by giving the right to marry to those who earnestly want it and want to be able to live openly and publicly in a declaration of love. I submit to the House that that has to be something that the law should support.
My Lords, last month it was wonderful to hear the general acclamation in the House for the First Reading of the Alan Turing (Statutory Pardon) Bill. It was the first time in my brief two and a half years in your Lordships’ Chamber that I have heard such a response to the First Reading of a Bill. It demonstrates how societal attitudes towards homosexuality have moved on over the past 60 years. It was brought home to me five years ago when my husband and I celebrated our silver wedding anniversary and two close gay friends invited us to their civil partnership, with a date chosen to mark 25 years of their private commitment to one another. Over that 25-year period they have been harassed and attacked, and are so cautious still that they would rather that I did not mention them by name. That ceremony was a moving event, but it was not marriage; it was a legal arrangement that helped provide them with certain protections, but it was not the commitment that you have with marriage. I support civil partnerships but believe that marriage should be available to those who want to make that greater commitment.
The core of marriage to me as a Christian—and, by the by, as a member of the Church of England—is that the commitment made by two people of their undying love to each other, through good times and bad, through sickness and health, stable and faithful, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop mentioned, is a building block of our society. I respect those for whom the theological arguments are core to their beliefs and practice but, frankly, I struggle to find those arguments expressed by Jesus himself in the New Testament. I also want to quote from the letter of the Bishop of Salisbury, who I suspect will be quoted frequently today. He says:
“The desire for the public acknowledgment and support of stable, faithful, adult, loving same sex sexual relationships is not addressed by the six Biblical passages about homosexuality which are concerned with sexual immorality, promiscuity, idolatry, exploitation and abuse. The theological debate is properly located in the Biblical accounts of marriage, which is why so many Christians see marriage as essentially heterosexual. However, Christian morality comes from the mix of Bible, Christian tradition and our reasoned experience. Sometimes Christians have had to rethink the priorities of the Gospel in the light of experience”.
He goes on to cite slavery and the apartheid system in South Africa. I would add to that the church’s view, and that of society, about contraception early in the 20th century. My noble kinswoman Baroness Stocks was roundly and publicly harassed for working alongside Marie Stopes for early contraception. Society today would be horrified if that were to be repeated.
There are other faith groups that agree that same- sex marriage is important. I briefly quote from Rabbi Lea Mühlstein, from the progressive West London Synagogue, who says:
“Judaism holds that every person was created in the image of God. It is clear to me that the divine image in all of us demands from each of us that we be treated equally before the law. As such, I am divinely obligated to respect the needs and wishes of my congregants—whether they be straight or gay, lesbian or bisexual”.
The Quakers, as ever, set the pace on this. In 1963, in their paper, Towards a Quaker View of Sex, they said:
“Surely it is the nature and quality of a relationship that matters; one must not judge by its outward appearance but by its inner worth … We see no reason why the physical nature of a sexual act should be the criterion by which the question whether or not it is moral should be decided. An act which expresses true affection between two individuals and gives pleasure to them both, does not seem to us to be sinful by reason alone of the fact that it is homosexual”.
The Quakers see God in everyone, and all commitments to relationships as of equal worth. So I am pleased that the Quakers have said publicly that they will opt into the registration arrangements and carry out equal marriage with enthusiasm.
The quadruple lock protects and facilitates same-sex marriage for religious groups. Speaking as a member of the Church of England, I hope that we might begin a debate that acknowledges the breadth of views within our church, even if the noise from those opposed to equal marriage is louder than that made by those of us who believe that love and marriage is God-given to all.
Very briefly, I turn to Clause 12 in Part 2, which rights a dreadful wrong faced by transgender people in a marriage. It has caused immense distress to those already facing the turmoil of major changes in their lives. I am delighted that these proposals now accept that changed gender status should not imperil an existing marriage.
I, like others, am concerned about voting at Second Reading. My point is that as Peers we should not be voting on whether we like or dislike the Bill. It is important that we give this House the chance to debate and amend as we see fit—a strength that this House has shown to another place on many occasions.
Our society has moved on even in the eight years since the introduction of civil partnerships. Surveys show that a majority of people welcome same-sex marriage—including, as has already been mentioned, three out of five of those with faith. It is important that we move forward to hearing that public voice. Now is the time for equal marriage. Please do not let my friends have to wait another 20 years, until their golden anniversary, before they can choose to marry.
My Lords, surely the noble Lord, Lord Dear, was correct to start his speech by saying, in graphic language, that this Bill is about imposing an entirely new meaning on a term as familiar and fundamental as “marriage”. Throughout history, in all countries and cultures, marriage has been the union of a man and a woman; and although not every married couple have or want children, the core function of the union has always been the procreation and joint care of children. Over the years, of course, there have been changes in marriage law, but throughout history there has been no change in the essential nature of the institution—the union of a man with a woman.
It has never been a matter of gays being banned from marrying. It was never even thought remotely possible that the term could be applied to two people of the same sex. Now we are told that it is unjust to treat same-sex and opposite-sex relationships differently, but surely it is no disrespect to anyone, just common sense, to point out that we are talking of two types of union which are indeed different—entirely different. From the obligation to care for any children, and to consummate the marriage or face a decree of nullity, to the commitment to sexual fidelity, with the threat of divorce on the grounds of adultery, there is no way in which the union of a man and a woman, with all these serious implications, can be compared with the wish of a couple to see their partnership publicly recognised.
I remind your Lordships of something that may have been forgotten. On 11 February 2004, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, speaking for the then Labour Government, declared from the Dispatch Box—unchallenged by any Member of the House—that,
“marriage should be possible only between people of opposite gender”.—[Official Report, 11/2/04; cols. 1093.]
He went on to say:
“The concept of same-sex marriage is a contradiction in terms, which is why our position is utterly clear: we are against it, and do not intend to promote it or allow it to take place”.—[Official Report, 11/2/04; cols. 1094-95.]
What on earth has happened to turn what was out of the question those few years ago into a great national priority? Is it because of a change in the law in other countries? If that is the case, we should look at what has happened in Spain, Holland and Scandinavia, where, since same-sex marriage has been allowed, the decline in heterosexual marriage has been precipitous.
Finally, this Bill is not just about enlarging the rights of same-sex couples; it will have a dramatic effect on others. With the Deputy Prime Minister calling opponents of the Bill bigots, with Lynne Featherstone saying they are,
“fanning the flames of homophobia”,
and with traditional marriage being likened to apartheid and slavery, there is already a nasty whiff of intolerance about, directed at those who support traditional marriage, and with freedom of conscience and freedom of speech threatened.
Let us not forget that our courts have already ruled in a number of cases, including the celebrated case of the Catholic adoption society, that the demands of equality are more important than the right of people to observe the dictates of their faith. So woe betide those working in the public service who express the view that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Each will, if not threatened with dismissal, have a torrid time being treated as bigots. Ordinary people with deep feelings about the sanctity of marriage will also be demonised as homophobic and will be very lucky if they do not finish up accused of hate crime.
For this, Mr Cameron thought it was worth picking a fight with his best supporters. It was a big mistake.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill for the reasons stated by the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in their admirable speeches opening the debate.
I much regret that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, should think it appropriate to seek to deny a Second Reading to a Bill which has received overwhelming support in the other place on a free vote. The noble Lord emphasised what he described as the majority view in the country at large. I have to tell him and others who share his views that the world out there has moved on and that for most people, particularly those under 60, the sexuality of their neighbours is neither a concern nor a threat, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said. It bemuses people that any element of unequal treatment should remain in our society simply by reference to people’s sexual orientation.
Many people outside the House listening to the debate or reading it in Hansard in due course will wonder why the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and his supporters, all of whom rightly value the institution of marriage, seek to deny the same happiness, fulfilment and status to other people simply by reference to their sexual orientation. I am a paid-up member of the married club and glad to be so. It is precisely because of the value of marriage that it should not be denied to same-sex couples. There is no question of the Bill being introduced on a whim, as the noble Lord suggested. It is being introduced on a fundamental question of principle to address a wrong that needs to be addressed.
I wish to comment on a theme which appears to drive the Bill’s opponents. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, referred to what he described as centuries of tradition and the concept of marriage as we have always known it, and the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, made similar points. This is to treat the law of marriage like the law of the Medes and the Persians which, according to the Book of Daniel, chapter 6, verse 8—the devil can quote scripture—“altereth not”. The reality is that the law of marriage in this country has altereth a lot. It has altereth a lot from time to time according to changes in social conditions and social attitudes. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, made this point in her powerful contribution to the debate.
Prior to legislation in 1907, a man could not marry his deceased wife’s sister. Prior to 1921, a man could not marry his deceased brother’s widow. Other prohibited degrees were removed in 1931. All of this information is in the valuable Halsbury’s Laws of England edited by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 allowed a transsexual to marry in his or her acquired sex even though, I remind the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, procreation is plainly not possible in such circumstances. The minimum age for marriage has been altered from time to time; the law related to the validity of non-Anglican marriages has developed over time; the law of divorce has been amended from time to time; other incidents of marriage have been the subject of change. Until case law in the 1990s when the first judgment in the modern era was given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, the law proceeded on the basis that a husband could not be criminally liable for raping his wife if he had sexual intercourse with her without her consent.
It is, therefore, simply unsustainable for critics of the Bill to suggest that there is anything unprincipled in Parliament amending the law of marriage in a fundamental manner to recognise social developments and to do it in accordance with basic principle.
I will make one other point if I may. I have provoked the noble Lord.
As we are both Benchers of Gray’s Inn, the noble Lord would have to go a long way to provoke me. Before we go any further, may I ask the noble Lord if he has taken notice of the fact that at no stage in my address did I say that because the law and custom of marriage were well established we should continue in the same vein? The main thrust of my address was that sufficient research has not been carried out into the laws of unintended consequences. Could he address that?
I cannot address every point made by the noble Lord. If he fails, as I hope he does, to prevent the House from debating the detail and the arguments in Committee and on Report, I very much hope that the House will address every point made by him. I focused on his completely unsustainable suggestion that there are “centuries of tradition” and that the concept of marriage as we have always known it is being removed. I am quite happy to try to deal with every point if noble Lords want me to make a speech of 30 or 40 minutes but I will not trespass on the tolerance of the House to do so.
I do not accept that there are unintended consequences. I will deal finally with just one suggestion of an unintended consequence made by the noble Lord and other critics—that the Bill is going to force religious bodies to conduct same-sex marriages contrary to their religious principles. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, mentioned that we both gave oral evidence on this subject to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee. I explained my view that there was no realistic possibility whatever that any court, domestic or European, would compel a church or other religious body to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony contrary to the doctrines of that religious faith. The reason is very simple: under this Bill, a same-sex couple will be able to enter into a civil marriage. Their only reason for wanting a religious ceremony would be to gain a religious benefit. All, and I mean all, case law confirms that courts will leave religious bodies to decide on the allocation of religious benefits. None of the other legal concerns raised by the opponents of the Bill seems to have any basis whatever.
I am confident that this House will give a Second Reading to the Bill tomorrow and I very much look forward to a reasoned debate in Committee on all questions of detail.
My Lords, having conducted some 400 weddings as a parish priest, making the journey with couples as they anticipate a lifelong commitment has been one of the great privileges of the ordained life. I have witnessed personally the stability, fulfilment and anchor for life for so many, which has been transformational. However, I have also observed that the open and public recognition of gay relationships that civil partnerships now provide displays many of the very qualities for which marriage itself is so highly celebrated. I speak as one whose respect for and appreciation of gay clergy is deep and who recognises in them sacrificial lives and fruitful ministries. I also recognise the need for some humility at this moment in speaking on matters of equality from these Benches. I add my appreciation to that of the most reverend Primate for the way in which the Secretary of State and her colleagues have tried to accommodate the Church of England’s concerns at every point in this process. I entirely endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and others have said about the need to continue to make progress on the inclusion of gay people in our society, and I entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has said about change and development in our understanding of the institution of marriage.
Yet I cannot support the Bill and, from the post bags of those of us on these Benches, the reasons why are shared by many who do not hold the Christian faith and by the great majority of the leaders of the other world faith traditions. I want to highlight three reasons.
First, this legislation does not resolve the decades-old debate about when undeniable differences between men and women matter and when they do not. Modern political discourse tends to recognise as public goods only things that can be equally appropriated by any given individual, regardless of difference. This involves a difficulty in entertaining notions of public rights and obligations that might pertain to one sex rather than the other, or to one sexual orientation rather than another. As Professor John Milbank has written in a paper for the ResPublica think tank:
“The risk of this exclusive focus on individual rights is that the needs and capacities of people in their specific differences, which may be either naturally given or the result of cultural association, tend to be overridden. And so it is that injustice can arise in the name of justice”.
I could not help noticing in the debate in this House on International Women’s Day the underlying assumption that women bring a special quality to the public square and that the complementarity of men and women is what enriches and stabilises society. Yet, in the realm of public discourse, assertion of sexual difference in relation to marriage has become practically unspeakable, in spite of the fact that it is implicitly assumed by most people in the course of everyday life. Equal marriage will bring to an end the one major social institution that enshrines that complementarity.
Secondly, the Bill, introduced in haste, has not allowed enough time for a weighing of gains and losses to the well-being of society. Do the gains of meeting the need of many LGBT people for the dignity and equality that identifying their partnerships as marriage gives outweigh the loss entailed as society moves away from a clear understanding of marriage as a desirable setting within which children are conceived and raised? In traditional Christian societies, the price you pay for getting married is, in principle, a heavy one—sexual fidelity till death us do part and, for some, a responsibility for the socialising and educating of children. As the ResPublica paper on this subject pointed out:
“As people become more and more reluctant to pay that price, so do weddings become more and more provisional, and the distinction between the socially endorsed union and the merely private arrangement becomes less and less absolute and less and less secure”.
As sociologists regularly observe, this gain in freedom for one generation may imply a loss for the next. Regardless of the best intentions of advocates of equality, if we detach the procreation of children as being one of the core purposes of marriage, then no social institution enshrines that purpose for the generations ahead. This is not, of course, to say that those who cannot or do not wish to have children are any less married.
Thirdly, as others have said, there is a difficulty here in the use of language. Put simply, there are two competing ideas of marriage at play in this debate. The first is perhaps traditional and conjugal, and extends beyond the individuals who marry to the children they hope to create and to the society they wish to shape. The second is more privative, and is to do with a relationship abstracted from the wider concern that marriage was originally designed to speak to. As the most reverend Primate has pointed out, this category error lies at the heart of this Bill as drafted.
In deciding whether to give this Bill a Second Reading, I have to ask myself several questions. Is it clear that it will produce public goods for our society that outweigh the loss of understanding of marriage as we have known it? Has the debate in the country and in Parliament been conducted in a way that will enable our society to adapt wisely to a fundamental social change? At a time of extreme social pressure, is this innovation likely to create a more cohesive, settled and unified society? Lastly, at this stage, is it appropriate to frustrate the clear will of the Commons on this Bill?
I have concluded that the answer to all these questions must be no and therefore, if it is the unusual intention of this House to divide at Second Reading, I shall have no alternative but to abstain.
My Lords, I shall come back to the speech of the right reverend Prelate at the end of my remarks. Like all of us, I have had a very large amount of correspondence on this subject, much of it by e-mail. Thanks to the Whitsun Recess, I have been able to reply to a great many of these—not all, but most.
My own starting point is something that I learnt many years ago as an undergraduate faced with what was, for me, a new involvement with people who were not heterosexual. I asked my grandfather, who was an extremely wise lecturer at the Edinburgh medical school, all about it. He said, “My dear boy, it is as foolish to condemn those who have homosexual proclivities as it is to condemn them for having red hair”. I have lived with that all my life and I have always opposed discrimination against homosexuals.
In the exchanges I have had through e-mail and other communications, I have identified three clear lines of argument against the Bill. The first I can deal with very briefly. There have been references to homophobia: I am afraid that some of the messages I have received actually reek of homophobia. I was reminded of some of the arguments advanced when Parliament abolished the criminal liability for homosexual conduct between consenting adults. There were those same dreadful arguments, deeply shaming, and I am very sorry that they still exist.
The second argument is one that has been referred to several times in this debate so far. The question is: does the Bill redefine marriage? It was put to me by one correspondent that:
“The Government’s plans will redefine the marriages of the 24 million married people without their consent”.
Other people have referred to their anniversaries. Last year, my wife and I celebrated our diamond wedding, and I have to say that it has been a marriage with mutual comfort and support. Is this Bill going to redefine that marriage? I cannot see how that could possibly happen. I was grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for confirming that nothing in this Bill will redefine our marriage or indeed those of the other 24 million married people in this country. One has to regard that argument as really quite misconceived. As others have said, it is not irrelevant that there is a great deal more support for the Bill among young people who are facing marriage, are about to get married or hope to get married than there is among the population generally. They do not see it like that. One has only to think of the possibility of the following happening. A young man poses the question to his intended, “Will you marry me?” and she replies, “Oh no. This Bill has made it all totally different. It’s for gays and lesbians—I can’t possibly marry you”. That is pure fantasy and I do not think we should pay too much attention to it.
The other argument that I have been rather more impressed by, and which again has been mentioned, is the question of the potential liability and difficulties for people, particularly in the public service, who find themselves, in a sense, implementing the provisions of the Bill in one way or another. A number of people, including some of those who have expressed support for the Bill, have voiced these concerns to me, and that is something that this House will need to look at quite carefully. I was very much comforted by the assurance given to us by my noble friend on the Front Bench that Ministers are considering what more might be done to allay those anxieties. I regard that as very important.
Finally, I return to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. I hope that he will not feel it is unfair if I call him my “old friend”, as indeed he is. I have come to the firm conclusion that there is nothing to fear in gay marriage and that, indeed, it will be a positive good not just for same-gender unions but for the institution of marriage generally. The effect will be to put right at the centre of marriage the concept of a stable, loving relationship. As a practising Christian, perhaps I may make the point to the Bishops’ Benches, including to the most reverend Primate, that there is every reason why, in time, the Anglican Church should come to accept that, although I recognise that it may take some time. The character of love which marriage reflects—that it is faithful, stable, tough, unselfish and unconditional—is the same character that most Christians see in the love of God. Marriage is therefore holy, not because it is ordained by God, but because it reflects that most important central truth of our religion: the love of God for all of us.
My Lords, some tend to label anyone who opposes this Bill as part of a group of homophobic bigots. Once that is said, the argument has stopped. As a Labour Peer, I wholly dismiss that—I find it insulting. I note, for example, that some key elements of the homosexual lobby, including Stonewall, have come to support same-sex marriage only in the fairly recent past. For me, there is a clear distinction between anti-discrimination, which I support, and seeking an absolute equality, which I oppose. I recall that as a young barrister I was saddened to see before the courts a trail of men whose lives and careers had been ruined by the then law. I am also glad that the legal discrimination which existed has been removed by the Civil Partnership Act. If there are deficiencies, they can be met by amendments of the Act itself to further protect same-sex couples.
Today, proponents of the Bill appear to argue on the basis of equality, but equality is not an absolute good. I am not a Roman Catholic, but saw this same false reasoning employed against Roman Catholic adoption agencies. Reasonable compromises were cast aside by zealots in the name of equality. The juggernaut rolled on. The result was that children lost out, as those caring agencies were forced to close.
In this case, the good in question is the institution of marriage, which has never yet been changed. Of course there have been changes in the law of marriage, but nothing as fundamental as this change to the institution. Marriage as traditionally defined is the union between a man and a woman. A bedrock principle, it relates to the rights of children and their need to know their identity, and is a generational bridge between the past and the future. Its fundamental position in our law is well illustrated by the number of statutes that will have to be changed if the law is now passed. The Bill seeks to make equal that which is not equal. The relationship between a man and a woman is unique. Same-sex relationships are different. Perhaps we should seek to find another name for them, if same-sex couples seek dignity. Thus there is the problem with this Bill of dealing with first, adultery, and secondly, non-consummation. In the Bill, same-sex couples are not required to take account of these criteria, but are still deemed to be married.
Some argue, as we have just heard from the noble Lord, that love between any two people is a decisive consideration: “amor vincit omnia”. However, love is not everything. The law of marriage discriminates on grounds of age and affinity: you cannot marry a parent, sibling or child, or marry someone who is already married. Why exclude these categories in the new definition? Hence, in the Netherlands, a court has endorsed a three-way cohabiting contract. In Brazil a three-way union has been allowed. Today, the borders are clear. Where, then, are the new borders as one sets out on this path? There will be increased pressures for polygamy. In short, marriage should surely not be available for everyone, even if they love one another. The state cannot lightly modify the meaning of words that have stood the test of time, as with Orwellian Newspeak.
The Government announced their proposals in March last year. There was no manifesto commitment, Green Paper or White Paper, and very inadequate consultation on the “how” and not the “whether”. There is no evidence of substantial demand, although there would be some pent-up demand at first. There is no evidence of claims that the change would strengthen the family or the institution of marriage. There is no evidence that the Government, in their haste, have examined the effects of the change in other countries. There is no evidence, either, of any serious attempt to protect conscientious objectors, teachers, social workers, registrars, foster parents, or churches which use public halls for worship.
Why the hurry? If the Government were so attached to the principle of equality, they would have changed both institutions—marriage and civil partnership—from the outset, and would not have been forced into a messy last-minute deal to ensure the passage of the Bill. This is not the way to deal with a hallowed institution that has been fundamental to civilised societies from time immemorial. A French philosopher, who was a disciple of Rousseau, once observed that our Parliament can do anything save change a man into a woman. This Government appear to think otherwise—or at least that Parliament can change traditional gender relationships.
We know that Mr Cameron likes consulting the people in referendums. Indeed, not only has he promised an “in or out” referendum on EU membership in 2017, he has enacted already for a referendum whenever there is a transfer of power to Brussels. Surely this proposed change is far more fundamental to our society than any transfer of power to Brussels. Therefore, I challenge him to call a referendum. He and his friends will put their case for yes, while many of us—Labour, Conservative and Cross-Bench—will be on the other side. Let the people decide.
My Lords, I refer noble Lords to my interests as set out in the Register of Lords’ Interests. Many erudite Members have already spoken in the debate and I know that many more will contribute later on today and tomorrow. They will discuss what is right and what is wrong with this Bill. I start from the premise that all people have a contribution to make to society, each in their different way. I respect them all as individuals and I respect their partnerships.
I am very fortunate in that I have never felt any discrimination in being a woman. When I started in public life nearly 50 years ago, it was actually an advantage to be a woman. When I entered your Lordships’ House, only 5% of Members were women. When I told my husband that I was one in a million, which I was, he was unimpressed. Also—perhaps I should not tell your Lordships this—when I first came here I received more Valentine cards than I ever had as a teenager. I do not ask for or want equality; I value being different. I do not want to be called a man or treated as a man because women are different. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester said, sometimes we bring something new to politics, to business, to discussions and to life.
As your Lordships may be aware, I have a particular interest in health and medical issues, where I have seen new specialties emerge. Initially, they were part of an existing institution or a royal college. After a while, they felt confident enough to establish and create their own specialty, as with the Royal College of General Practitioners and the anaesthetists. These royal colleges are now accepted and are respected institutions in their own right.
“Marriage” is the word that means a union of a man and a woman. Same-sex couples have a yearning for equality. Initially, they want to attach their union to an existing institution and use existing words. Marriage between a man and a woman is different from a union between two women or two men. I believe that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities should have the confidence to establish their own institution. What they lack is the lexicology to establish and name their own institution, which will be respected and accepted. I believe that, in time, LGBT people will regret attaching their unions to heterosexual marriage. Soon they will say, “No, we are different. We want be different and we need to create our own institution”. Like a flag, a motto or a name, they need to find their own terminology, their own symbols to express their rights and their different contribution to society—acknowledgment and respect for their own institution of partnership. I urge these people to be bold, to be confident and eschew the institutions of others, to build their own and be themselves. It might be sensible to negotiate with LGBT organisations to see if a solution can be found.
I do not think there is any need to be overly influenced by what is happening in other countries. We need to look at our own situation differently. It should be for LGBT communities to kick over the traces and be innovative. They should not seek to attach themselves to the institution of marriage. Their rights are assured and their love is acknowledged. Adopting an ancient word in the belief that same-sex marriage is the same as heterosexual marriage is false; it is patently different. This false premise on which the Bill is founded undermines its rationale. We should reject this flawed Bill and have a rethink.
My Lords, I understand very well the unease that many of your Lordships feel about this Bill. I was brought up in a world where homosexuality was whispered about in dark corners and any hint of its expression resulted in expulsion. Our understanding of homosexuality is undoubtedly the biggest social change of my lifetime.
My own change and understanding came about when I realised—for example, through reading the biographies of gay people—that often, from a very early age, they had found themselves predominantly attracted to members of their own sex, not just physically but as whole persons. While some people are bisexual and there is a degree of fluidity in the sexuality of others, we know that for a significant minority their sexuality is not a matter of choice but as fundamental to their identity as being male or female. That is a fact that must bring about a decisive shift in our understanding.
The question arises as to how the church and society should respond to this. Both have an interest in helping people live stable lives in committed relationships. For this reason, many of us warmly welcome civil partnerships, not just because of the legal protections that they rightly afford to those who enter into them but because they offer the opportunity for people to commit themselves to one another publicly. Personally, I take a high view of civil partnerships. The idea of a lifelong partnership is a beautiful one. I deeply regret that the Church of England has not yet found a way of publicly affirming civil partnerships in a Christian context. I wish that it had warmly welcomed them from the first and provided a liturgical service in which the couple could commit themselves to one another before God and ask for God’s blessing upon their life together. If only the church had made it clear that although these relationships might be different in some respects from the union of a man and woman, they are equally valid in the eyes of the church and, more importantly, in the eyes of God.
Sadly, too many who now say that they accept civil partnerships have done so only slowly, reluctantly and through gritted teeth. Today we are not in a situation where civil partnerships are regarded as different but equal to marriage. Rightly or wrongly, the impression is inevitably created that one form of relationship is inferior to the other, and people believe that marriage is a profounder and richer form of relationship than a civil partnership.
Most importantly, many gay and lesbian people believe this and want to enter not just into a civil partnership but a marriage: a lifelong commitment of love and fidelity, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Marriage affords legal advantages that are denied to civil partnerships, such as their legal status in many countries, but that is not the main point. The point is that those who wish to enter into this most fundamental of human relationships should be able to do so legally. I am aware that this involves a significant change in our understanding of marriage, but marriage has never had a fixed character. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, eloquently pointed out that its legal meaning has changed over the years; and no less significantly, its social meaning has changed.
For most of history, among the upper classes, marriage was primarily a way of controlling titles and wealth. Among all classes, it involved the radical subservience of women. Often it went along with a very lax attitude—by males, not females—to relationships outside marriage. Contraception was forbidden and this resulted in many children, and as often as not the wife dying young. Only in the 18th century did we get a growth in emphasis on the quality of the relationship of the couple. Now, this mutual society, help and comfort that the one ought to have with the other, in prosperity and adversity, is rightly stressed. This is equally valued by all people, whatever their sexuality.
I really do not underestimate the linguistic dissonance set up by this Bill and the consequent unease felt by many but, for those reasons that I have briefly outlined, I warmly welcome it. I believe in marriage. I believe, with the Jewish rabbi of old, that in the love of a couple there dwells the shekinah—the divine presence; or, to put it in Christian terms, that which reflects the mutual love of Christ and his church. I believe in the institution of marriage and I want it to be available to same-sex couples as well as to males and females.
Woolwich and the EU Council
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the recent European Council and also update the House on the dreadful events in Woolwich.
The European Council was called specifically to discuss energy policy and tax evasion. We also discussed the situation in Syria, prior to the lifting of the arms embargo agreed at the Foreign Affairs Council last week.
On energy policy, we agreed to continue our efforts to complete the single market in energy so that we drive competition between suppliers and force prices down. We also put down a marker to get rid of unnecessary regulation in making the most of indigenous resources such as shale gas. Europe has three-quarters as much shale as the United States, yet while the Americans are drilling 10,000 wells a year we in Europe are drilling fewer than 100. We must extract shale in a safe and sustainable manner but we have to do more to ensure that old rules designed for different technologies do not hold us back today.
On tax, to crack down on tax evasion you need proper exchange of tax information. In Europe, this has been stalled for decades because of the selfish actions of a minority of countries. I made tackling tax evasion a headline priority for our chairmanship of the G8. This has enabled us to ramp up the pressure and make some real progress. So at the European Council we agreed that there should be a new international standard of automatic information exchange between tax authorities and proper information on who really owns and controls each and every company.
On Syria, the situation continues to deteriorate. There is a humanitarian crisis so Britain is leading the way with humanitarian support. We need diplomatic pressure to force all sides to come to the table; and in recent weeks I have held talks with Presidents Putin and Obama to help try to bring that about. But we have to be clear: unless we do more to support the opposition, the humanitarian crisis will continue, the political transition will not happen and the extremists will flourish. That is why it is right to lift the EU arms embargo on the Syrian opposition. There needs to be a clear sense that Assad cannot fight his way to victory, nor use the talks to buy more time to slaughter Syrians in their own homes and on their own streets.
I regret to say that the EU arms embargo served the extremists on both sides. It did not stop Assad massacring his people, it did not stop the Russians sending him arms and it did not stop Islamist extremists getting their hands on weapons either. It just sent a signal that for all its words, the EU had no real ability to support the responsible opposition that could be the basis of an inclusive transition. That is why the Foreign Secretary and the French Foreign Minister secured agreement to lift the arms embargo in Brussels last week.
We should also be clear about the Syrian national coalition. They have declared their support for democracy, human rights and an inclusive future for all minorities, and we—not just in Britain but across the EU—have recognised them as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. The EU has agreed a common framework for those who, in the future, may decide to supply them with military equipment and there are clear safeguards to ensure that any such equipment would be supplied only for the protection of civilians and in accordance with international law.
This does not mean that we in the UK have made any decision to send arms, but we do now have the flexibility to respond if the situation continues to deteriorate. However, with 80,000 killed, 5 million having fled from their homes, rising extremism and major regional instability, those who argue for inaction must realise that that has its consequences too.
Let me turn to the dreadful events in Woolwich. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Drummer Lee Rigby. What happened on the streets of Woolwich shocked and sickened us all. It was a despicable attack on a British soldier who stood for our country and our way of life. And it was a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country.
There is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror, and I welcome the spontaneous condemnation of this attack from mosques and Muslim community organisations right across our country. We will not be cowed by terror and terrorists who seek to divide us will only make us stronger and more united in our resolve to defeat them.
Let me update the House on the latest developments in this investigation, on the role of the Intelligence and Security Committee and on the next steps in our ongoing efforts to fight extremism in all its forms.
While the criminal investigation is ongoing, there remains a limit on what I can say. Two men, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, have been charged with the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. Both are appearing in court today. There have now been 10 further arrests as part of the ongoing investigation. Two women have been released without charge, and eight men have been released on bail. The police and security services will not rest until they have brought all of those responsible to justice.
I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the work of our police and security services for all they do to keep us safe from violent extremists. Already this year there have been three major counterterror trials in which 18 people were found guilty and sentenced to a total of 150 years in prison. Much more of the work of our security services necessarily goes unreported. They are Britain's silent heroes and heroines and the whole country owes them an enormous debt of gratitude.
It is important that we learn the lessons of what happened in Woolwich. This Government strengthened the Intelligence and Security Committee and gave it additional powers to investigate the activities of the intelligence agencies. I have agreed with my right honourable friend the Member for Kensington this morning that his committee will investigate how the suspects were radicalised; what we knew about them; whether any more could have been done to stop them; and the lessons we must learn. The committee hopes to conclude its work around the end of the year.
To tackle the threat of extremism we must understand its root causes. Those who carried out this callous and abhorrent crime sought to justify their actions by an extremist ideology that perverts and warps Islam to create a culture of victimhood and justify violence. We must confront this ideology in all its forms.
Since coming into government we have made sure the Prevent strategy focuses on all forms of extremism, not just violent extremism. We have closed down more websites and intervened to help many more people vulnerable to radicalisation. Since 2011 the Home Secretary has excluded more preachers of hate from this country than ever before through our Prevent work; 5,700 items of terrorist material have been taken down from the internet; and almost 1,000 more items have been blocked where they are hosted overseas. But it is clear that we need to do more.
When young men born and bred in this country are radicalised and turned into killers we have to ask some tough questions about what is happening in our country. It is as if for some young people there is a conveyor belt to radicalisation that has poisoned their minds with sick and perverted ideas. We need to dismantle this process at every stage: in schools, in colleges, in universities, in our prisons, on the internet—wherever it is taking place.
This morning I chaired the first meeting of the Government's new task force on tackling extremism and radicalisation. I want the task force to ask serious questions about whether the rules on charities are too lax and allow extremists to prosper; whether we are doing enough to disrupt groups that incite hatred, violence or criminal damage; whether we are doing enough to deal with radicalisation in our university campuses, on the internet and in our prisons; how we can work with informal education centres, such as madrassas, to prevent radicalisation; and whether we do enough to help mosques expel extremists and recruit imams who understand Britain.
We will also look at new ways to support communities as they come together and take a united stand against all forms of extremism. Just as we will not stand for those who pervert Islam to preach extremism, neither will we stand for groups like the English Defence League who try to demonise Islam and stoke up anti-Muslim hatred by bringing disorder and violence to our towns and cities.
Let us be clear: the responsibility for this horrific murder lies with those who committed it. But we should do all we can to tackle the poisonous ideology that is perverting young minds. That is not just a job for the security services and the police, it is work for us all. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement given earlier in the other place by the Prime Minister. I welcome the Statement he has given.
I start where the Statement did, with the EU summit and the conclusions on tax avoidance. We need international agreement on transparency, transfer pricing, tax havens and other issues, so we welcome the steps forward on transparency. However, do the Government agree that we need proposals for fundamental reform of the corporate tax system to prevent profits being shifted from one country to another? Seeking international agreement is clearly the right way forward but there are measures, including measures on transparency, which could still be introduced if agreement were not reached. Will the Leader of the House confirm that Britain will act if we cannot get international consensus?
I turn next to the devastating violence in Syria, which continues unabated. I share the deep concern set out in the Statement about what is happening. The number of Syrian refugees who have fled the conflict has now reached 1.5 million, half of whom are children. As so often happens, the most vulnerable continue to pay the price for war. This is a situation where there are no good options. The question is: which is the least worst option? Despite the enormous obstacles, we believe that a comprehensive peace deal still remains Syria’s best chance of ending the two years of violence, and support American and Russian efforts to bring Syria’s warring parties around the negotiating table this month in Geneva. The peace conference is due to take place in the coming weeks but the Statement did not refer to it. I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could explain why, or perhaps give a few more details.
As the conference remains the best—indeed, at present, the only—immediate hope of limiting the violence and achieving an inclusive political settlement, its success must not be put at risk. In light of this, can the Leader of the House explain the Government’s view of the risks that lifting the EU arms embargo may pose to the prospect of any peace talks? The Government say that there are safeguards on the use of those weapons. Can the noble Lord therefore set out to the House what those safeguards are? However well motivated, is not the danger of this course of action that it will lead to further escalation, as has been illustrated by Russia’s response?
The Government are right: the international community cannot continue to stand by while innocent lives are lost. However, I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that in the action we must take, our primary aim must be to ensure a reduction in the violence. The Government tell us that the lifting of the arms embargo has provided flexibility. Given the concern in this House and beyond, can he assure us that he will come back to this House before any decision by the British Government is made to arm the opposition in Syria?
I turn to the vile murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. I join the Leader of the House, the Prime Minister, this House and, I believe, the whole country in expressing our total revulsion at this appalling act. Lee Rigby served his country with the utmost bravery and was killed in an act of the utmost cowardice. All of our thoughts are with his family and friends, and with our troops who serve with incredible courage all around the world and have seen one of their own murdered. I join the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister in singling out for special praise members of the public, and I would include Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, who intervened so bravely to try to protect Lee Rigby. We should also praise the quiet determination of local leaders and residents in Woolwich who are not allowing their community to be consumed by division and hate.
Over the past 10 days we have seen attempts by some to use this evil crime as justification to further their own hate-filled agenda, as the Leader of the House said, attempting to ignite violence by pitting community against community. However, they will fail because the British people know that this attack did not represent the true values of any community, including Muslim communities who contribute so much to our country.
Governments must do three things after such an attack, and we will support the Government on all three. The first is to bring the perpetrators to justice. We welcome the swift court appearance of the suspects. The second is to seek to bring people together in the face of attempts to divide us. The third is to learn the lessons of this attack. We welcome the Intelligence and Security Committee investigation.
We also welcome the task force on extremism. I agree with the Government that the task force should look again at issues around radicalisation and helping communities to take a stand against extremism—issues covered in the original Prevent strategy. Can the Leader of the House confirm whether the task force will be looking into earlier intervention to prevent young people being radicalised? Will he also confirm whether the task force will heed the calls from youth workers to look more carefully at the links between violent extremism and gang-related activity—something which was raised with my party by community leaders in Woolwich last week? Specifically on legislation, and in the light of recent events, can the Leader of the House update the House on the Government’s current view on the need for legislation on communications data?
Whatever the origin, and whatever the motive of the terrorists, our response will and must be the same: the British people will never be intimidated. Across every faith, across every community, this is a country united, not divided, in abhorrence at the murder of Lee Rigby. We have seen people try to divide us with acts like this before. They have failed, and they will always fail.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her overall welcome, and I associate myself very much with many of the points that she made, particularly about the awful situation in Woolwich.
On the noble Baroness’s specific questions on the Statement and the proposals on tax, our view—and it may be hers as well—is that it is best if this is done on an international basis. We can use the G8—as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is doing—the G20 and the OECD to drive that agenda forward. We need to take action. It is a global problem and it is best to address it in that way.
I agree very much with the noble Baroness’s comments about the overall situation in Syria. I think she said that there are no good options and that we are talking about the least bad option, and I very much take that point.
On Geneva 2, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary—the Government—have always been clear that we are very much in favour of a negotiated political solution, so we welcome the fact that the Russian/American talks will be taking place. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister himself has had talks with Presidents Putin and Obama to try to bring about diplomatic pressure, so that all sides will come to the table.
As for the risks of lifting the EU arms embargo, as the Statement made clear, it would be wrong to deny that there are risks with all courses of action. However, the risks of inaction are also clear to see. As the noble Baroness made clear in her comments about the numbers of those already displaced and suffering and the numbers who have been killed, the price of doing nothing is extraordinarily high.
As for the safeguards on the use of weapons, the framework agreed at the Council made it clear that any provision of arms would be only to the Syrian national coalition, and it has to be intended for the protection of civilians. There are safeguards to ensure that delivery goes to the right hands, and confirmation that existing obligations on arms exports remain in place.
As for the flexibility of the embargo, the Foreign Secretary regularly updates the House of Commons on developments. I know that he will continue to do so. Things can move fast and he needs to be able to reflect and respond to that.
On Woolwich, I associate myself with the noble Baroness’s praise for the local leaders. I agree with her about the three things she set out that we, all of us together, need to do—to bring the perpetrators to justice, to bring people together and to learn the lessons. I am grateful to her for her welcome for the new task force on extremism and, indeed, for the role that the ISC will be carrying out. She made a number of practical suggestions on points to do with earlier intervention and with violent extremism and gangs and the link between them. They are very sensible points. There is no monopoly of wisdom here and we should be open to all kinds of sensible, intelligent suggestions from people who know, and try to take those into account.
As for communications data and legislation, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister earlier this afternoon made clear that we need to have a frank debate about this issue. There is a problem—we know that 95% of serious crimes involve the use of communications data—but it needs to be addressed in a sensitive and careful way. If we can find a way of getting cross-party support to take this forward that would be desirable.
Overall, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the support she gave for the steps that the Government have taken specifically on Woolwich, and I associate myself with the tributes that she paid to the people involved in that situation.
My Lords, the Leader of the House referred to the Cameron/Rifkind discussions on the role of the ISC. Can we be assured that the ISC will not be prevented in any way from carrying out a full inquiry to report by December as a result of what the Leader referred to as the ongoing inquiries being carried out by the police? Can we be assured that the police inquiry will not stop the ISC inquiry from taking place?
My Lords, following the conversation that the Prime Minister had with the right honourable Member for Kensington this morning, I know that the ISC is able to go wherever it needs to go to carry out its inquiry. The timetable of reporting by the end of the year is the one to which it is working. If there is further information I can get to amplify that, I will come back to the noble Lord. My understanding is that the terms of reference, as it were, of the ISC have been agreed and the very clear view is that it should be able to carry out its inquiry and do its work in whatever way it thinks it needs to in order to look into the matters properly so we can all see and learn the lessons.
My Lords, I thank the Leader for repeating the Statement. Before I ask a couple of brief questions, I want to express my sentiments and those of this side of the House, as the Prime Minister did, to the family and friends of Drummer Lee Rigby. I was delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, from the Front Bench, was so forthright in her condemnation of what happened in Woolwich.
We fully endorse the need for transparency on tax matters and welcome the exchange of information between tax authorities internationally. Does my noble friend agree that it is time that law-abiding taxpayers are made aware of those who are involved in tax evasion? What arrangements are in hand to ensure that tax loopholes will be closed by legislation? With regard to the task force, it would be so nice to see representatives from minority ethnic communities being brought into it so that their contribution in trying to tackle the problem of radicalisation and terrorism could also be recognised.
My Lords, on the last point, I agree that it is important that we should draw on the widest possible experience and expertise in the way that my noble friend suggests. I am very grateful for his remarks and I know that he and his Benches share the feelings of the whole House about what happened in Woolwich. He is absolutely right to say what he said about that. With regard to transparency on tax matters, that is one of the main issues that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will be pursing at the G8. He has made it one of the three legs he is pursuing in terms of the agenda at that summit meeting. My noble friend is right that we need to keep pursuing that but in a way that recognises that this is a global problem and we need to try to tackle it across the board.
My Lords, a couple of points arise. On taxation, does this not demonstrate that, far from the European Union involvement getting in the way of global agreement, as some people might argue, points (a) to (e) in the Council’s statement demonstrate that these are very good building blocks for the G8 and that the EU’s role is very helpful. On Syria, I echo the thrust of one of the questions from my noble friend Lady Royall. The country is swimming in arms—coming from this side and indeed an escalation tit-for-tat from Moscow. How is the option of sending more arms and that degree of armed support potential for the Syrian National Coalition squaring and compatible with us wishing to be seen as an honest broker at the conference in Geneva? Maybe there is a simple answer. I would be very glad to hear it.
I am not sure I will be able to give as simple an answer as the noble Lord would like. On his first point though, he and I may be in agreement. The EU can certainly help to play a part in this, as can the G8, the G20, the OECD and all the rest. With regard to arms for Syria, I emphasise again that no decision has been taken to send arms into the conflict. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, it is clearly the case that the Government’s desired outcome, as it must be everyone’s, is that there should be a negotiated, peaceful, diplomatic solution. Lifting the embargo, we would argue, gives the Governments of EU member states the flexibility to bring pressure to bear on Assad to realise that the negotiated route is the way forward he needs to take. I agree with the noble Lord that if it is at all possible to secure that outcome that is the one we would all prefer.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement from the Leader. Obviously we join in our sense of grief with the family of Lee Rigby. In the same way as the whole country will have been shocked and felt a loss of trust in human nature at this atrocious event, I am sure that, as the noble Baroness said, we will also be reassured and have a renewed sense of trust when we see the support that has come out from all sectors of the community for the family and also the courage of those such as Ingrid Loyau-Kennett. Does the noble Lord agree that preventing future atrocities like this in the UK requires international action to improve dialogue, especially where there is widespread violence in the name of faith, which tends to slide over into our own country, often with impunity, and also supporting those resisting attacks in the name of faith or suffering such violence themselves in places such as west Africa and elsewhere?
I very much agree that there are multiple levels and stages of this. There are people born and bred in our own country who have been radicalised and we need to do what we can to address that problem. That is the focus of the work that the task force that was set up and had its first meeting today will address. We should also seek to encourage what can be done more broadly internationally to bring pressure to bear and to debate these issues.
My Lords, religion is much more important in many parts of the world than it is in England. The message that the West is against Islam is presented to the Islamic community across the world, and this is succeeding by default. Does the Leader of the House recall that British troops rescued Muslims from a secular regime which invaded Kuwait, from Orthodox Christians in Kosovo and from attacks by Orthodox Christians on Roman Catholic Christians in Croatia? Is it not about time that Her Majesty’s Government began to say, loud and clear, that on many occasions we have come to aid and support our Muslim neighbours?
I obviously agree that Britain and other western countries have made a contribution and that it is important that that message is communicated. It needs to be done in such a way that the message will have resonance. By the same token, it is extremely important that all members of local communities, whether they are Muslims, Christians or whoever, work in the way that the noble Lord suggests. They must make it clear that the fear that some people perhaps have is not based in reality, given the behaviour of this country and the West towards Islam.
My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance that the Government, in looking at tax evasion and capital being moved around, will also look at the rights of workers, many of whom are being abused by the very companies that evade taxation and then criticise our income support projects, which are there to make up those companies’ shortfalls? Secondly, will he join me in saying that not only are extreme forms of Islamophobia unacceptable, but that parents, teachers and youth workers should listen very carefully for those children who, because of what they hear at home, or because of prejudice or for other reasons, can be heard using the phrase “You’re a Muslim” as a term of abuse? It is low-level abuse but it is a problem. I remember the head of a school in Lancashire many years ago saying, “We don’t have to deal with this because we don’t have any of those children here”. However, that low-level abuse can lead to an atmosphere of hostility. I hope that the Leader will agree with me on that.
I certainly agree with the common-sense point that the noble Baroness makes, and I am sure that everyone would agree. On her first point, the particular Council meeting talked about tax, but I will make sure that my colleagues who deal with these things day to day have heard the noble Baroness’s remarks about employment rights and the rest of it.
My Lords, as part of our memorial to the late Drummer Rigby, will my noble friend assure the House that the Government remain committed to the “Prevent” strand of counterterrorism policy, and that they will ensure that it is not deprived of funding, as it has been in the past two years? Further, will he give an assurance on behalf of the whole Government that the communications data issue will be reconsidered on the merits, on the evidence and on a multipartisan basis, and on no other foundation?
I am aware of my noble friend’s strong views on the communications data point. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said this afternoon, we need to look at these issues extremely carefully, in a sensitive way but bearing in mind those facts of the sort to which my noble friend refers. On his first point, it is clearly the case that the “Prevent” strand of work that the Government carry out is extremely important. It has been successful in many ways. We will step up the focus of the Government’s work on addressing radicalisation, and we will obviously need to make sure that the agencies charged with that work are adequately funded.
My Lords, one feature that is common to the outrage in Woolwich, the attack on the French soldier at La Défense in Paris and 7/7 is not often remarked upon. The perpetrators of those acts, or at least some of them, were recent converts to Islam. Will the task force look at this phenomenon? Obviously, it needs to work closely with the responsible leaders of the Muslim community, who stand to lose the most from any increase in such racial tension as the Government, properly, try to drain the swamp. Will the Minister also look at schools, on which he is an expert, and at what is being done in some of the Saudi-financed schools and the effect on the young people there?
The noble Lord raises two very pertinent points, both in terms of schools—madrassahs—and universities, where there are clearly issues. It is right that the task force set up will want to talk to community leaders about these things, and I am sure that it will want to look into the kind of broad issues to which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, refers.
The Statement says that the murder of Drummer Rigby was a “betrayal of Islam”, and that there is nothing in Islam which justifies acts of terror. However, since 9/11 some 107,000 people have been killed and some 174,000 injured, most of them Muslim, in many thousands of attacks, the perpetrators of which claim Islam and the Koran as their inspiration. In my Oral Question this afternoon, therefore, I asked the Government whether they would encourage a gathering of great Islamic clerics—the grand muftis and the ulema—to agree to issue a fatwa against the jihadists, to cast them out of Islam and to declare that they are no longer Muslim. I regret to say that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, failed to answer that Question. Would the Leader of the House now care to do so? Surely this huge problem can be cured only from within the Muslim community.
It is clearly the case, as the noble Lord says, that the Muslim community needs to be very closely involved in everything we do to address this problem. In many of these cases, particularly in the recent case of poor Lee Rigby, it is encouraging that the Muslim community has been very clear in its condemnation of what happened. I am not sure that it is within my gift, powerful though the Leader of the House is in theory, to convene a global gathering of muftis. I find it hard enough to convene a gathering of three or four Peers in your Lordships’ House. However, I am sure that my noble friend Lady Warsi will have heard the noble Lord’s point again.
My Lords, in Northern Ireland we made progress when our Governments were prepared to talk to people who engaged in violence. In order, as the Prime Minister said, to,
“tackle the threat of extremism”,
and “understand its root causes”, should we not be prepared to have conversations with those whose actions in this country, part of the UK, we in no way condone? Talking to perpetrators does not amount to endorsing their views or their actions, but we can learn.
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made clear that in trying to address this issue he is keen to learn from a range of people. The Government already do that; they challenge people and can learn from that. However, I am not able to say whether we will be able to go as far as my noble friend specifically suggests.
My Lords, the noble Lord said that lifting the EU arms embargo in Syria has provided the basis for individual member states to exercise some influence as and when they decide to sell arms. However, was not the lifting of the EU embargo itself potentially a major instrument of influence on both sides in the Syrian civil war? Would it not have been more sensible to have made lifting that embargo contingent on the behaviour of both parties, for example at the forthcoming Geneva talks? Have we not thrown away a particularly valuable diplomatic instrument rather prematurely?
As I said in reply to an earlier question, clearly the Geneva talks are extremely important and we all want them to go as well as they possibly can. The argument in favour of the step that the French, British and other member states took last week was that the decision gives them greater flexibility. They and we are not saying that we want to take this step, but it gives us greater flexibility. We hope that that will lead to the kind of pressure to which the noble Lord refers, and to a sensible outcome at the Geneva 2 talks.
Will my noble friend confirm that, with regard to the future, there is a clear distinction to be drawn between freedom of speech and incitement to commit crimes of violence that results in such crimes, and that the latter can most certainly be proceeded against?
I agree with both points that my noble friend has made. Freedom of expression is important and we are always keen to hold on to that vital principle in our country. However, by the same token, we must be able to act against people who step across the line and incite violent extremist behaviour, and that is what the Government want to do.
Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill
Second Reading (Continued)
My Lords, we come back to the Bill. This is a Bill that divides friends, families, political parties, different faiths and, indeed, the Church of England. The problem seems to be that there are different views on what the word marriage means and what it stands for. To many it is an adjective that describes an event—not necessarily a religious event—that takes place in a register office, on a lawn, on a beach, in a hotel or, I am told, even in a swimming pool. Sometimes it is a religious event in a church. Sometimes it is the only occasion on which the couple actually go to church. Sometimes the couple already have children or have been married before or are of different religious faiths. Thus the word marriage is used by many different people to describe many different types of event.
There are also those who believe that marriage is a sacred religious ceremony and that marriage must be between a man and a woman for the procreation of children. Therefore, we have different groups of people using the same word in different contexts. That is the fundamental issue that divides us and causes us concern today.
It is a difficult issue. Was there a huge clamour for the Bill? No, it came only from a few. Most affected seemed happy with civil partnerships. Was it sensible to introduce it as a government Bill? That will be debated, I suspect, for many months. However, we have a Bill that has gone through another place and arrived in this House, and we have to deal with it.
I understand those who have strong feelings against the Bill, but I will make one important point. I understand and sympathise with those who want to get married but feel excluded by their church. It happened to me. Some 37 years ago I went to see our local vicar to arrange my marriage. I told him that my future wife was a Roman Catholic. He said that that did not matter and that we could go ahead. Then I then told him that she had been married before and had two small children. He immediately withdrew his offer of marriage and rather reluctantly offered a service of blessing. I felt upset and excluded. The Roman Catholic Church offered my wife an annulment, and said that it would then be happy to conduct the marriage. It seemed odd to have an annulment when one already had two children. Luckily, the Church of Scotland came to our rescue and we were duly married. Now the Church of England has changed its rules so that divorcees can marry. The church has evolved. It has changed its view on this and on many other issues. We now have women priests, and perhaps one day we will have women bishops.
Where do I stand in this debate? To many the Bill is welcome. We must not forget that there are a substantial number of children living with same-sex couples who want their parents to have the full recognition of marriage and the protection that that gives the family. Then we have the contrary view. To many, this Bill is divisive and unnecessary. As a Conservative, I believe in freedom and tolerance—two aspects not always very relevant in many marriages. “Compromise” might be the term most popular in my marriage, as I always seem to be the one who is compromising.
The churches and other faiths should be able to decide whether or not they want to have same-sex marriage ceremonies in their church. It should be up to them. It should not be imposed by the state. If they do not wish to conduct the ceremony, they should not be forced to. The strong and clear clauses in the Bill provide for that protection. I have listened to those who claim that the European Court of Human Rights might overrule British law. If it does, I would be delighted, as then we could all agree to leave this outdated and flawed institution that has allowed so many dangerous terrorists to remain in this country.
Therefore, I support the Second Reading of the Bill. More importantly, it would be quite wrong and highly damaging to the reputation of the House not to allow the Bill to proceed to Committee, where all the arguments for and against can be fully debated. We are a revising Chamber. We have an absolute right to send an amended Bill back to another place—but after debate, Report and Third Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, said the Bill would, “take up valuable time”. I say to the noble Lord that we have the time, and I am sorry that he has not got the time to deal with the many complex clauses and issues in the Bill.
To reject a Bill on Second Reading that has been passed by another place—however strong the opinions—would have a grave knock-on effect on the relationship between the two Houses. Rejection at Second Reading has occurred occasionally, but it is against the traditions of the House and has happened very rarely. We must give the Bill a Second Reading. If we do not, we would be seen as undemocratic and not as the guardian of democracy, which is how we are now often seen. If we did not accept the Bill, we would hasten the threatened changes to the nature and composition of the House, against which so many of us have fought for so long.
I will continue in a similar vein. Regrettably, the noble Lord, Lord Dear, is not with us. I had a number of letters from him seeking to persuade me to his view, that I should vote for what I now see as his wrecking amendment to the Bill, even though the Bill had been adopted by a very sizeable majority in the elected Chamber and, unusually, on a cross-party basis and without the normal, formal whipping taking place.
It is true that there was not any mention of this legislation in any of the parties’ manifestos, but that is not necessarily unusual. After all, as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, pointed out, we recently dealt with a major piece of legislation relating to the National Health Service and social care. There was no mention of that in anybody’s manifesto, but such a major change none the less came through to us. In many respects the changes emanating from that may have an even greater effect on society at the moment than what will emanate from the legislation before us today.
I suspect also that many of the people who may be tempted to vote with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, voted for legislation—the Care Bill—that had not been in any manifesto. I hope that they will weigh those issues up in their heads before they decide whether they move forward. Also, had the House of Lords Reform Bill come up from the Commons, even though such an attempt to move towards a more democratic Chamber had been in all the parties’ manifestos, I rather suspect that there would have been a majority of noble Lords still opposing it. Overall, we should be prepared to dismiss the argument that this is undemocratic and has not gone through the proper procedures, and move on to Committee and start to examine it.
I will be brief because such magnificent speeches have been made already from different points of view, but particularly in support of the Bill. I am generally in favour of it. I have been married for nearly 47 years—sometimes on a rollercoaster, but protected from strain on the journey together mainly because I was in a marriage. I am strongly in favour if it—and in favour of it for all, regardless of gender. I believe that there should be equal treatment before the law and, even more importantly, equal treatment before God.
On the general social good side, to which the most reverend Primate referred, research shows that marriage encourages and strengthens lifelong relationships and makes for a better society—it is particularly important for this. It is better for families and for individuals. If we accept that, surely we should do everything that we can to encourage more marriage, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, argued, rather than oppose this extension of marriage, and possibly create different groupings within it, which may bring difficulties.
I accept that equal marriage will change marriage to a degree. We would be misleading ourselves if we thought that everything would be precisely the same in future. It will not—it will change. But as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, so ably demonstrated in his contribution, there have been many changes to marriage over the generations, and this is just one on the route as we move forward. Overall, it will have a positive impact on society, and it will strengthen and encourage lifelong relationships and commitments.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, listed what he believed were the ingredients for a successful marriage. I boiled down the items he listed to two major ones. Love and tolerance are the essence, as I see it, of a successful marriage—to which, from my own experience, I would add faith. I was interested to hear the most reverend Primate say at the beginning that this is not a faith issue but concerns general social good. I would argue that that is not so and that the principal churches in the country are holding back in an area where they should be moving forward. I trust that in due course they will move forward to embrace the totality of the population who come under God’s guidance and leadership.
We should have faith that we can get this Bill right—and faith, too, that the changes will make for a better society in future. As I prayed with my wife this morning, I asked what Jesus Christ would do. If he was here today, which way would he vote, and would he cast the first stone?
My Lords, as I have studied the development of this Bill thus far, I have been profoundly alarmed by the violations of constitutional due process that seem to have accompanied it at every turn. I firmly believe, given the four recent precedents for this House rejecting a Bill approved in another place on a free vote—the two war crimes Bills, the sexual offence Bill and Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill)—which were backed by the 2006 Joint Committee on Conventions report, that it is both consistent with our role as a revising Chamber and indeed an established expression of it for us to support the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, today.
In my brief contribution, I would like to focus on three particular points. First, I would like to highlight how no Member of the other place has an electoral mandate to redefine marriage. Secondly, I will consider the shameful consultation which the Government conducted on this issue. Thirdly, I will look at how the Bill so far has not received effective scrutiny.
No Member of the other place has an electoral mandate to redefine marriage. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Prime Minister and of many Members of the other place in supporting the redefinition of marriage, but the fact is that no member of the Conservative Party, Liberal Democrats or Labour Party has any mandate to introduce this change. There was no Green Paper; there was no White Paper. It was not in the Queen’s Speech; it was not in any party’s manifesto. In certain cases, if the change is minor, uncontroversial or in response to an unanticipated security crisis, it may possibly be appropriate to bring forward a legislative change without a mandate. That, patently, is not the case with the Bill before us today, which proposes changing a key social definition at the heart of our society that has been defined one way for millennia. It is quite extraordinary to me that any Government should ever dream of making such a change without a manifesto mandate, the denial of which demonstrates no regard for the electorate.
Regardless of our views on same-sex marriage, I think that we would all agree that the consultation on the introduction of same-sex marriage has been seriously deficient. Initially, the Government said that the consultation was about how to redefine marriage rather than whether or not it was actually a good idea to do so. However, the consultation did eventually include a “whether” question after an outcry from opponents of the proposals. When the Government agreed to include the whether question, the Coalition for Marriage asked whether petition signatories could be counted as submissions to the consultation, as endorsement of the petition had the effect of answering question 1 of the consultation. It was told yes, and on this basis opponents of redefinition were not advised that they needed to make a separate submission to the consultation, and on this basis many thousands did not do so.
When the Government published their response to the consultation, they said that, while of course they would have regard for the petition, they would not count it as part of the consultation, enabling them to claim a narrow majority in favour of redefining marriage. The fact that the Government thereby excluded the views of half a million people despite the assurance that had been given has been a cause of real fury, completely alienating many people from the political process. I find it remarkable that the Government thought that it was acceptable to exclude those people from the consultation, which would have found that more than 80% of submissions were opposed to the plan, if they had been included.
It is also important to highlight the fact that the Government were absolutely firm in the consultation document that same-sex weddings would not be allowed on religious premises. Those who actually managed to get a response registered to the consultation, relying in good faith on the Government’s assurances about religious premises, found that the Government’s final proposals were radically different from those on which they had consulted. Shortly before Christmas, the Government announced a major policy U-turn: same-sex ceremonies will after all be introduced in churches as well as in civil settings.
Next, we must have regard for what happened in the other place. The Government ensured that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was committed to a Public Bill Committee, even though the serious and contentious issues involved in this Bill warranted a Committee on the Floor of the House. The Public Bill Committee was made up of 15 MPs who had voted for the legislation at Second Reading and only four who had voted against. After about 10 hours of evidence sessions, MPs went on to consider the details of the Bill for just less than 20 hours. In contrast, the Hunting Bill was considered for more than 80 hours in the Public Bill Committee. This included recommittal to a Standing Committee after one day of Report. One could go on and on about the time given to debate. At the conclusion of its Commons stages, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill had received approximately 49 hours of consideration. By contrast, the 2002-03 hunting legislation received twice as much scrutiny, being debated for 97 hours altogether. It seems clear to me that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill simply has not received the level of scrutiny in the House of Commons that is appropriate for such contentious legislation.
Finally, much more could be said about the lack of respect for constitutional due process that has accompanied this Bill on its journey so far. However, now that the Bill has reached your Lordships’ House—a Chamber that, happily, the Executive do not control to quite the same extent—there is an opportunity for things to take a different course. I firmly believe that the only failing to date was the failing to have a manifesto mandate, and it is our responsibility as a revising Chamber, in line with recent precedent and the Joint Committee on Conventions ruling, to vote no today and ask the Government to think again. Those parties committed to redefining marriage can place this commitment in their 2015 manifestos and proceed in the usual manner, if they receive the appropriate mandate.
I encourage all Members of this House to support the noble Lord, Lord Dear, not in the interest of being for or against a particular definition of marriage but in the interest of upholding and protecting constitutional due process.
My Lords, we have been told by many speakers in this debate that the Bill is all about equality. People must be treated equally and Parliament must ensure it. The first statement is reasonable; the second is not. Certainly we are all equal before the law, but a far higher authority than even anyone here has already decided that people are not equal. Some are stronger, cleverer, lazier, plainer or better-looking than others. Some people can see, while others are blind. If anyone brings a Bill to this House to change that, I will be the first in the Lobby to vote for it; but no Bill can change that.
This Bill ignores a fact well understood for centuries: marriage is not just about love. Of course, homosexuals are often very delightful, artistic and loving people. No one doubts that for one single moment. However, marriage is not just about love. It is about a man and a woman, themselves created to produce children, producing children. A man can no more bear a child than a woman can produce sperm. No law on earth can change that. This is not a homophobic view. It may be sad, it may be unequal, but it is true. This Bill is either trying to pretend that it can change men into women, or vice versa, or telling us that children do not need a father and a mother and that a secure framework for children to be brought up in is not really important any more.
There is more mischief here. A free and just country must allow its people to live according to their consciences. We may not agree with their views—that does not matter at all—but they have a right to follow them and live by them. Year by year in Britain, this right is being eroded. The Government assure us that no church and no person will be forced to act against their conscience by this Bill. Did nobody notice, in earlier debates in the other place, that the Government disallowed any amendment that would protect the right to a conscience? It was all going to be fine and dandy because nobody would be forced to do anything that they did not want to do. However, promises of this kind have been made and broken so many times that we know they are false. It is not fine and dandy. These promises cannot be alone in all the promises that have been made over all the years and proved to be false.
As long ago as 1967, nurses and doctors were told that those against terminations would not be forced to do abortions. Then what happened? They could not get a job. Only last month there were press reports of a court case brought by midwives, still fighting after nearly 50 years for the rights that they were promised and never received. Christian teachers now tell us that this Bill will force them to teach homosexuality, entirely against their conscience. Registrars will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages; in fact, several of them have been sacked already because they have said that their conscience was against doing so. That no longer seems to matter. However, to me, it matters a very great deal.
You have to close your bed and breakfast if you will not accept gay couples, although pubs can refuse to serve customers—I do not understand that. You will be sacked from your job if you wear a cross—even a teeny-weeny one. Catholic adoption agencies, as has been mentioned today, have all been closed because they no longer have the right to follow their teaching, despite earlier assurances that they would be allowed to do so. We should watch how much the law of conscience, and each person having a right to it, has been quietly, piece by piece, disappearing. This is a bad Bill, built on lies, and I shall vote against it.
My Lords, first, I take this opportunity to thank the very many members of the public who have taken the trouble to write to me on this topic. Clearly there is much to be said on both sides of the argument. Feelings and emotions are very strong in both directions. To those I have not been able to respond to by now, I apologise. However, their correspondence has prompted me to speak, as well as vote, even though so many of your Lordships are also down to participate.
Do I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dear? The degree of change envisaged in the Bill to the concepts of marriage—both contemporary and historical concepts—is far more than a mere expansion of meaning on the grounds of equality of treatment. Supportive and caring relationships between two individuals may well be as similar in same-sex as in opposite-sex unions and, of course, are to be welcomed. However, there the similarity or equality ends. Part of the traditional meaning of marriage embraces its consequences—the consequences of sexual intercourse and of procreation, to say nothing of the concepts of adultery or non-consummation. Marriage is far more than a wedding day, an exchange of vows, the honeymoon and mutual support. I know; I have been married happily for 58 years and have children and grandchildren. So I think it is a travesty of interpretation to claim that marriage under this Bill and traditional marriage are so similar as to be categorised and recorded by lexicon as the same.
What has had less emphasis in much of the discussion of this Bill is the issue of unintended consequences if it were to pass into law. Marriage rights have been abused, for example, by foreigners who seek to gain permanent right of abode in this country by contracting a sham heterosexual marriage with a resident. Is there anything in this Bill to prevent same-sex individuals from abusing these proposed new arrangements in this way, or a priest from offering his services for payment or being bribed to enable a same-sex couple to obtain a marriage, a union of convenience and thus to gain residence for both in England or Wales?
How soon might we see an individual claiming that his human rights are being denied because being married to a man does not allow him the same conjugal rights as if he were married to a woman? Therefore, he might argue, why should he not be allowed to be married both to another man and also—not alternatively—to a woman? It might not be a much greater step beyond that for individuals to argue that a threesome or foursome union would more suit their shared and mutual feelings of love and commitment. Could that, too, be called a marriage?
How much further away from the canon laws that prohibit near relatives from marriages between opposite sexes will the proposals for same-sex unions be compared and allowed to depart? Will the canon laws themselves, in turn, be challenged? Such laws do not have the same rationale in same-sex unions. Where is the equality in that? What would be the financial implications of such extensions to marriage so far as the Treasury is concerned?
Should not all of these and many more unintended consequences of this rushed and, I fear, ill conceived Bill give this House pause for thought and sound reason to discard it now? I strongly endorse the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear.
My Lords, I am a passionate supporter of the Bill. I support it because I believe in the institution of marriage, which is the bedrock of society and should be open to all. I support it because I believe in the values of the family, and the Bill will, in my view, strengthen them. I support it because I am a Conservative. Respect for individual liberty is at the core of my being and this is a Bill that will add to the sum of human freedom. I support it because I am a Christian and I believe we are all equal in the eyes of God, and should be so under man’s laws. I support it because I am one of those people who I fear were rather glibly derided by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, as being part of a tiny minority and, I think, were praised by my noble friend Lady Knight as being delightful, in that I am gay. I am in a civil partnership with somebody with whom I have been together for nearly a quarter of a century. I love him very much and nothing would give me greater pride than to marry him. I hope noble Lords will forgive that personal pronouncement, but it seems to me that my experience goes to the heart of this debate.
Of course, there are strong views on both sides which I respect and the debate today has illustrated them, but by far the most important aspect of this debate are the thousands of our fellow citizens, of whom I am one, who are not yet fully equal. The Bill is about human beings, not ideology. Although some noble Lords may disagree with me when I talk about the press, I assure noble Lords that in the main I really am exactly the same as them, except that I happen to love a man. Why should I be barred from taking part in a special institution that all the rest of you can enjoy? It seems to me that that is the nub of the matter. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, contained throughout words such as “tolerate” and “toleration”. Goodness me, this is 2013. Gay people do not want to be tolerated in this society; they want to be equal in it. My noble friend Lady Cumberlege, for whom I have most enormous respect, not least for her Trojan work on osteoporosis, talks about gay people setting up different institutions. We do not want different institutions; we want the same institutions. Provided it passes, this law will accord me, for the first time in my life, complete equality and respect regardless of my sexuality for what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, in an incredibly powerful speech, described as the character of love that I feel able to give. I hope so much that this House, which has always valued the sanctity of the individual, will allow that to happen.
My personal experience aside, there are two strong reasons of principle why I support the Bill. First, as a Conservative, I believe in human liberty. Some words of the great liberal thinker, J S Mill, with which I concur, are deeply relevant to this debate. He stated that,
“the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection”.
The state should interfere in people’s lives only where it is preventing harm; for example, banning smoking in public places or criminalising drugs. Marriage between two men or two women who love each other does not produce social harm. It is not endangering anyone. Why should the state actively stop it? That point was echoed in a recent interview in the New York Times with the daughter of that great Conservative icon, President Reagan, who was one of my heroes. As we know, he was a social conservative to his core, but he also respected individual liberty and, according to his daughter, would have supported equal marriage. Why would he have done so? He would have done so because of his,
“distaste for government intrusion into private lives”.
Patti Davis said that he and Nancy brought up their children to understand that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the idea that,
“some men are born wanting to love another man”.
That is quite right. If we respect individuality, the structure of our legal institutions must reflect that and it does not. The Bill puts that right by removing value judgments by the state, making the law neutral and allowing all those who want to make a lifelong, loving commitment to each other to marry.
The second reason I support the Bill is because of the power of legislation to change attitudes, something we have heard a little about. When I started in politics in the late 1980s, I learnt at the feet of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for whom I have the most extraordinary respect. At that time, most gay men had little choice but to hide their sexuality. Noble Lords should understand how souls destroying it can be to cover up an aspect of your life. The reason that young people can mostly live openly gay lives today is because legislation from this House and the House of Commons led opinion. The bold reforms of John Major’s Government, the repeal of Section 28 and the introduction of civil partnerships by the Labour Government were all in advance of mainstream opinion but have created a more inclusive, more liberal society by being so. This measure will have the same impact. Young gay people at school or university, battling with their consciences as well as, still too often, prejudice, will look to Parliament and see that in the eyes of the UK’s lawmakers they are treated with respect, dignity and equality. As the Prime Minister rightly put it, they will stand taller as a result of our actions. I pay tribute to his huge courage in bringing forward the Bill in the face of much prejudice and misinformation.
I conclude with this thought. The day my partner and I entered a civil partnership in 2006 was immensely special. It produced a tangible strengthening and deepening of our relationship in a way that I did not believe was possible. People sometimes ask me, “Isn’t that enough?”, and we have heard echoes of that today. Why cannot gay people be happy with what we have already been granted? My answer is that it was the experience of civil partnership which convinced me of the need to go further. If a civil ceremony can produce such a deep change in the relationship between two people, imagine what a proper marriage, morally equal in the eyes of one’s family and friends, could do. That is why I can put my hand on my heart and tell noble Lords that this measure will not undermine marriage, it will strengthen it. It will not undermine the family, it will strengthen it. I know that to be true because I have felt it. That is why I beseech noble Lords to join me tomorrow in voting to give the Bill a Second Reading.
My Lords, that is a very moving speech to follow. I have great difficulty with the Bill, over which I have anguished. However, for the constitutional reason set out by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, I shall vote for its Second Reading and for it to go into Committee.
The truth is that I cannot get my head round two people of the same sex being in a relationship defined as a marriage, however much they love each other. I hold to a simple traditional view that the word “marriage” can apply only in heterosexual relationships. I need to make it absolutely clear that, as a Labour Peer, I have always supported equality for gay men and women. I have voted repeatedly and consistently over 30 years for the developing gay agenda. I have a whole file of letters from Stonewall and others thanking me for my support as each and every measure has been brought before Parliament. I have huge admiration for Peter Tatchell’s drive and courage, and will never forget the experience of knocking on doors in the Bermondsey by-election some 30 years ago when he was the subject of a vitriolic gay-bashing campaign run by the then Liberal Party. We have come a long way since then.
My problem is over the use of the word “marriage”. I see it as distinct from civil partnership. I have no problem with the union between two persons of the same sex being given full recognition before God and being blessed in church or wherever. I have no problem with pension-splitting, inheritance tax management or anything that seeks equality with heterosexual couples, provided that we have safeguards against abuse just as we have under current marriage arrangements. Furthermore, I do not want to test the patience of the House by repeating arguments that have already been made on the need to maintain a distinction between marriage and civil partnership.
However, I need to call in aid speeches made by two Members of the other House, both leading gay rights campaigners, during the passage of the Civil Partnership Bill in 2004. The first was by Alan Duncan MP, who stated from the Conservative Front Bench, when defining the distinction between marriage and civil partnership, that,
“the two institutions are designed on similar lines, but they are designed on parallel lines; and parallel lines, as we all know, never meet. They are separate institutions for different groups of people. Gay men and lesbians are different precisely because of who they love, so the formal recognition of that love will itself create differences”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/10/04; col. 184.]
He went on to argue further that,
“the clear distinction between a civil … partnership and the institution of marriage will, in my view, be preserved”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/10/04; col. 185.]
So when he was considering that Bill he recognised the validity of the distinction that I believe in.
Then we have the comments of Chris Bryant MP in the same debate, who said:
“I do not want same-sex relationships to ape marriage in any sense—several people have used the offensive phrase—because they are different. Although the two share similar elements, they do not have to be identical, so the legal provisions should be distinct”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/10/04; col. 228.]
Later, on Report, Chris Bryant, who has led the campaign on these matters in the other House, made himself absolutely clear when he stated that,
“I believe that marriage should be only between a man and a woman”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/11/04; col. 810.]
For some reason, he has changed his mind over the past eight years but his position then is my position now. We are arguing over the use of a word—an argument that we thought was settled in 2004 when we approved the Civil Partnership Bill. Some of us want to retain the word for heterosexual unions, maintaining the distinction. Others want to fuse the two and end the distinction. The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, earlier.
I will support the Bill going into Committee. The Bill is not a manifesto Bill but a free-vote Bill, and was carried by an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons. Two-thirds of the House of Commons voted for it, one of the biggest majorities in years. It was sent to us to be scrutinised—not blocked or destroyed. It would be a complete betrayal of our responsibilities if this unelected House, where we all sit by way of patronage, was to block a Bill carried on a free vote in the elected House of Commons on the scale that it was a month ago. Our role is to revise Bills, not kill Bills, and I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, not to push his amendment to the vote.
My Lords, I happen to be gay. I was made this way. It is something I share with hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens who are worthwhile, virtuous, hard-working, responsible, loving members of society. It is also, incidentally, why I am the honorary vice-president of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. I am also a Christian and I believe in a loving, accepting, generous God who wants to include people, not reject them. I was in a civil partnership and I know that civil partnership confers nearly all the shared rights and responsibilities that marriage does, but it is not the same. It is not equality: it does not carry the same significance or symbolism and it still labels lesbian and gay relationships as somehow just a little second-class.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, spoke about the speeches made by Alan Duncan and Chris Bryant when civil partnership legislation passed through the House of Commons. Yes, some people—many people—have changed their minds since then. They have done so because of two things. First, it is because society has moved and changed. The attitude from an overwhelming range of our society, especially among young people, has moved on even since eight years ago. Secondly, the success of civil partnerships themselves has demonstrated that where loving commitment can be made and recognised it is to be celebrated and welcomed by society. Some of the things that have been said in the course of public discussion by some—though certainly by no means all—opponents of this Bill have, I fear, been mistaken, misguided and, sometimes, rather hurtful. This has reinforced my view that this change is sorely needed.
I want to make three brief points. First, quite simply, this is about love, commitment and mutual respect. It is about two people wanting to commit themselves to each other and to demonstrate the strength of that commitment to the world. This is something to celebrate, surely, not to reject; to welcome and endorse, not to sideline. To vote against the Bill is, effectively, to say that two people, two members of our human family, cannot be allowed the full flowering of the expression of their love for each other. I ask those arguing against the Bill to think for just a moment about the hurtfulness of what they are doing by saying that.
Secondly, the Bill respects the rights of religious organisations and faiths to opt out, if they wish, of any endorsement of lesbian or gay marriage. I regret that some faith organisations take this view but I would not dream for a moment of imposing on them a requirement to conduct or celebrate something they genuinely believe to be contrary to their faith. However, I beseech them in turn: please do not dare, by voting down this Bill, to impose on me the impossibility of celebrating a commitment in the fullest way that society recognises. Deny yourselves the obligation by all means, but do not deny me the opportunity.
Thirdly, this Bill is, at heart, about a simple principle of equality and equal access to the recognition of love and the standing of loving relationships. I was proud to be part of the Government who brought in so many changes for the better for lesbians and gay men and eliminated so many discriminations and inequalities. Some hurdles remain, however, and this is the highest of them. Voting for the Bill will right a long-standing wrong. It will recognise the equal dignity and worth of all our lesbian and gay citizens. It will challenge the prejudice that is still all too prevalent in our society. It will say, quite simply, that love matters and equally so for everyone. I urge noble Lords to support the Bill.
My Lords, we have heard some very powerful and moving speeches this afternoon. I heard every one of them and I found this to be a rather emotionally draining debate. I greatly respect the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, and my noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood, and nobody could have listened to their powerful pleas without being moved by them. It is therefore all the more difficult to take a different line. I find myself very much in sympathy with much of what the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Anderson, said and, above all, with much of what the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said.
There is a fundamental flaw in the Bill that arises from the manner of its introduction. Great social changes such as the abolition of the death penalty or the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on abortion have generally come about as a result of public campaigns and Private Members’ Bills in another place that have attracted the support of government. This Bill has been imposed from on high and in a way that has caused a degree of grief and anguish—I say this directly to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, who also feels grief and anguish—for many of those who believe fundamentally and sincerely that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. That is not to denigrate or degrade in any way other human relationships.
I admit to your Lordships that I was one of the very few people who voted on Third Reading in another place against civil partnerships. I did so because I wanted them to be extended according to the so-called “sisters amendment” because I believed that any two people who were in a loving relationship, whether sexual or otherwise, should be able to have the benefits that civil partnerships brought to lesbian and gay people. I have moved since those days and completely accept that civil partnerships have proved to be a good thing. I welcome that, and no one could fail to be touched by what my noble friend Lord Black said about his civil partnership.
However, true equality in a free society is an equality that protects and asserts difference. Yes, as my noble friend Lady Knight said, we are all equal under the law—but we are different. Acts of Parliament—again I quote her—cannot enable a man to bear a child or a blind man to see. There are things that we therefore have to recognise as being different. What we have to aspire to is a society in which all, whether they are different by the colour of their skin, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, are not only equal in the eyes of the law and in the sight of God, as they are, but are not discriminated against in any way for those differences. That is the state in which I wish to see our country.
I was much taken by the powerful speech of my noble friend Lady Cumberlege, who said that you cannot, without changing marriage beyond recognition, have marriage between same-sex partners, but you surely can have an institution that is the equivalent in every sense. I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Black that civil partnerships perhaps do not quite reach that point at the moment. As a Christian who was at one stage opposed, I would welcome the blessing of a union in the church—in my church, the Anglican Church. The most reverend Primate did not go quite so far in his speech as to specifically advocate that, but its logical conclusion was that that is something to which we could and, I believe, should aspire.
If we change the institution of marriage as it is at the moment, we are not making those of the same sex who become married members of an equal institution, because they cannot be. They cannot produce children. I do not say that in any critical sense but merely as an acceptance of the fact. There is a danger that because we sympathise, as we rightly do, and because we want to see the dignity of every human being on an equal footing, we are likely to vote for something that is not in the best interests of society. As a pamphlet I received put it, this is one of the most profound pieces of social engineering ever to be put before Parliament. The changing of the definition of marriage in this way should not happen without a popular mandate. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, talked about having a referendum on whether people want that change. There some logic in that plea. Certainly, there has not been any manifesto commitment, and although some brush that aside, it is a real point.
I shall vote with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, tomorrow—although I have some misgivings about having a vote—because of the plea that many of us received from colleagues in another place who said that there had not been adequate preparation and that the free vote was questionable. I know that for a fact from many who have spoken to me personally, who were rather anguished about it. I therefore will vote for the amendment tomorrow—with, as I say, some misgivings—and if the Bill is carried I will try and play a constructive part in improving it. The most reverend Primate said, just before he sat down and with much regret, that this was not a Bill that he could support. Nor can I.
My Lords, I begin by expressing my respect for the speakers who have taken different stances on the Bill, and particularly for those with whom I disagree. I accept that there are many valid reasons for Members of your Lordships’ House to put forward objections to the Bill, but I am positive that the tide of history is against the objections.
It is rather odd that I am speaking between the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester. Nearly 50 years ago, I sat in a room in Chester Cathedral taking my common entrance exam in order to go to Wrekin College, where the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was a teacher. We are in a different country to that of 1965. No Member of your Lordships’ House could then have made the speeches that we have heard today about being gay. When I took that exam, abortion was illegal, capital punishment was on the statute books, homosexual acts in private were matters for criminal law, and there was no race relations legislation whatever. We are in a much better country, and the tide of history is running in only one direction.
The Bill represents a great and noble cause—what the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, described as a moral cause. I suggest that, for a non-elected House to object to the Bill in this way, particularly after the events of this last weekend, would damage the reputation of this House.
My last point relates to the quadruple lock. I received many letters—as did all noble Lords—one of which I have one in my hand. It is from a young Christian gay man and it is in ink, so I cannot imagine that he sent it to 850 people, though some other noble Lords may have had it. In it he wrote that he was unable to reconcile his Christianity with his sexuality, and the fact that the Bill was being considered at all was helping him combine those two facets.
St Paul wrote to the Galatians that in Jesus Christ there is neither male or female, gentile or Jew, slave or free. I do not think that that was a coded message that everybody was okay except gays. It was an inclusive statement. As a member of the Anglican world, I hope that one day, before I die, I will see the Anglican Church unlock that quadruple lock from the inside.
My Lords, I associate myself closely with the previous speeches from these Benches but want to develop the discussion in a slightly different direction. I should emphasise that I am speaking in my personal capacity as a bishop and not, in any formal sense, on behalf of the wider Church of England.
I want to focus on the potential impact on the relationship between the Church of England and the state. As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, with his great list of implications for Argentina, I wanted to leap up and say, “And we have the Church of England to think about as well, on top of all that lot”. It was an issue that did not receive much attention in the debate in the other place—hardly any at all. I say at the outset that the Church of England has no right simply to maintain the status quo in our relationship with the state; nor do we necessarily wish to do so. However, the argument that there has been change, as there has been, in church-state relationships is no argument for any particular change. The weakness in the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was that all the changes in marriage that he listed were, in themselves, no argument for the particular change that we are discussing now.
The relationship between church and state has evolved and is remarkably different now from how it was in earlier ages. Often changes happen best when they happen almost naturally, in an evolutionary sort of way—that is very much how the British constitution has developed over the years. In that process, it is always important to check that the baby is not thrown out with the bathwater when a particularly striking change is being made and in this Bill, something fundamental and foundational is changing. I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, but I thought he underplayed somewhat the depth of the change that we are talking about.
To me, the clue is in Clause 1(3) of the Bill to which very little attention has been paid. I believe it is unprecedented in statute law. The Submission of the Clergy Act 1533 provides that the church must not promulgate canons that are contrary to what the Explanatory Notes to the present Bill call “general law”. Arguably, the 1533 Act also lays a certain obligation on the state not to pass laws which are contrary to the received canon laws of the Church of England. That is how establishment has worked, because to do so would put the Church of England in a very difficult position. That is why Clause 1(3), on marriage, exempts our canons from the scope of the Submission of the Clergy Act. In effect, it creates an amendment to the Act without quite saying so and therefore legally permits statute law and canon law on marriage to be diametrically opposed in future on the very basic point of who can be married to whom.
In the government documents there is an attempt to draw a parallel with divorce, although that hardly applies at all because the canons of the Church of England have never forbidden divorce. There has always been a legal permission to divorce under the canons of the Church of England, and so the changes that have happened in divorce law have never come into conflict with the canons—for the very good reason that it was always permitted in statute law. It is also there in the Old and the New Testament. Therefore, this clause is unprecedented in our legislative history.
This helps us to understand why people feel so strongly, although this is one of the questions that we have not really asked. Of course, the easy answer is that they are homophobic. That is an easy dismissal than can be made, and who am I to say that this is not sometimes part of it? I cannot say that. However, I think the reason why people feel so strongly lies elsewhere. There are two roots to it. One is that marriage is given for the conception, nurture and upbringing of children—that is what it is naturally there for, as other speakers have said. I accept that other family arrangements can successfully bring up children, but there is something naturally given about marriage in relation to children. Our society has broken that connection in many ways, partly through contraception, but to break it in this radical way needs some thought.
The other reason why people feel strongly is because, in the Bible, the marriage relationship is the primary metaphor for how God relates to the world. That is in the Old and New Testament, particularly in the Old, and that is why it is a view also held strongly by Jews and Muslims, for whom the Old Testament is a sacred book. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, who is not in his place, alluded to this, but did not pick up on the obvious fact that the relationship between God and the world is not symmetrical. It is not a relationship of sameness, but of difference within a deep bond of love. That is why, in that metaphor, if you try to take away the difference between man and woman, it does not work any more. It is partly why people of faith feel so strongly about this matter. There is something about “vive la différence”, which the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, touched on so brilliantly in her speech. There is something basic about it, something visceral, which people feel is being undermined and changed, and that is why they react as they do, even if they do not quite know how to articulate it.
How should we proceed? I have come to the view that a more radical reconstruction of the law on marriage would be the right way forward. I think it would meet a lot of the issues raised in the powerful speeches that have been made. We should consider going some way towards the continental version, which has a legal, contractual relationship that is the same for everyone, absolutely without question. Then we could develop different religious understandings on top of that. That may be a bridge too far: the Government thought so when they drew up this rather rushed legislation. Several Members in the other place drew attention to this as the logical outcome of what we should be doing. Much of what we have heard today would potentially be satisfied, amid our society’s many differences, if we separated the legal contract of marriage, which the state establishes as being the same for everyone, and the religious side. I fully accept that that would have implications for establishment but there are unintended consequences of this Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, said, and that is just one of them. It has not been thought out and if we commit this Bill to a Committee, we are almost saying that the Bill can be improved by tinkering: it cannot. What is wrong with it is just too basic. That is why, with the same regrets that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned, I shall be with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, in the Division Lobby.
My Lords, I have been in Parliament for 39 years and I cannot remember an occasion when so many individuals have sent me personal letters or e-mails so strongly opposing a particular Bill.
In my brief contribution, I want to address and focus on the constitutional position. I do so from a background of five years as the 58th Chairman of Ways and Means in another place, handling an equally controversial Bill of four clauses, which took 25 days, including three or four nights, but at least on that occasion every Member had their voice—indeed, I ended up with a vote of no confidence—but thankfully it was carried with a large majority. That is what should have happened with this Bill. This is equally controversial and it should have been handled in another place on the Floor of the House so that all Members could contribute. Sadly, that route was denied them and they ended up with what I would term as a stark Chamber-type Committee, which I think is a tragedy.
Some of us are told that we should not vote on Second Reading in the upper House. I went through the whole of Erskine May but could find no reference there as to why we should not. Furthermore, we had it confirmed by the Constitution Committee here in 2006 that, where there is a free vote, we can, if we so wish, vote against Second Reading, and that is equally acceptable where there is no mandate for the Government.
I then looked as dispassionately as is possible for a parliamentarian at how much work had been done in preparing the Bill. There has been no Green Paper, no White Paper and no royal commission. Much has been done on a whim, sadly, and that is not a good start for any controversial piece of legislation. It is made even sadder by the fact that three days before the election one of the candidates for Prime Minister stated that he was “not planning” to introduce same-sex marriage.
I therefore look now at the implications of there being a Second Reading. How many of us are aware of the thousands of pieces of legislation that will have to be amended by both Houses or of the hours that will be taken up with some further primary legislation and a huge amount of secondary legislation? We all know—do we not?—in our hearts how much attention is given to secondary legislation in either the other place or here. There will not be any real debate on those parts of the legislation.
Is that fair and just to the people of this country? Personally, I do not think so, and I say that based on my parliamentary experience. We must not forget that this House is part of the bicameral Parliament and is normally there to act as a revising Chamber. However, ultimately, in my view, it is there as a safeguard to Parliament and democracy as a whole and it carries out that role for all the people of the UK. Safeguards are not met by quadruple locks. Locks can be undone by any fiendishly good legislator anywhere in the world, and there are numerous examples of that happening.
Therefore, tomorrow I shall vote against the Second Reading. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for the considered manner in which he put forward his amendment and for the clarity and courage that he showed in doing so. As I sat here this afternoon, I said a quiet, short prayer to myself: I prayed that someone somewhere was listening to the many words of wisdom that will be spoken over these two days.
My Lords, I support the Bill and oppose the amendment, and I congratulate the Government on having the courage to come forward with this legislation.
I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Dear, said in moving his amendment and I could not understand his justification for wishing to deny the Bill any Committee discussion. If there are problems with the Bill, surely the obvious place to sort them out is through rigorous examination in Committee.
This has been a fascinating debate with some very powerful and emotional contributions. I cannot attempt to engage in a theological debate with the right reverend Prelates—I fear that as a non-practising Jewish atheist that is probably beyond me. However, treating the matter seriously, as I do, I was interested in the idea that marriage is just one specific type of union between a man and a women and that it is for procreation, if I may paraphrase slightly. I cannot help feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was right in saying that the nature of marriage has changed fundamentally since being an institution that discriminated abominably against women, giving them few or no rights whatever when it came to inheritance and even no rights over their children.
I cannot help but reflect that it has changed in relation to my own experience. I have enjoyed marriage so much that I have done it twice—and for the last time, I hope. On the second occasion, my wife wanted our marriage to take place in church and I wanted to respect her views. On that occasion in 1985, I met the rector and he was a very pleasant individual, but he said, “I’m really sorry but I cannot marry you in church because you have been divorced”. I now notice that that is no longer the case with the Church of England; it has changed its views. Fortunately, we now live in a very different society from the one that existed when marriage was first conceived. The way that society regards homosexual relationships has changed fundamentally, and we have heard some very powerful contributions about that. As I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Black, I doubted whether anyone in this Chamber would have been able to make such a contribution 10 years ago. Going back further in time, Oscar Wilde—a particular favourite of mine—while in jail reflected on the temerity of being forced to admit the nature of his relationship.
I have some sympathy with the right reverend Prelates and I would not want the Bill to undermine their right to determine who gets married in church. However, they seem to have great difficulty in determining some of their attitudes, whether on homosexuality or on whether a woman should be a bishop. They are still agonising over that with different wings of the church, but their attitudes will no doubt change over time. I think that we have now reached a point in our society where same-sex marriage is right and I do not believe that it will undermine the relationship of marriage. That is the bit of the argument that I do not understand, and I could not put it any better than the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. I usually find myself in opposition to him but on this occasion—I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber—I could not have put it any better than he did.
There has also been a lot of talk about children in marriage. I need to remind people that things are changing all the time. We now have gay couples with children—something that, again, a few years ago we would not have thought of as being a likely occurrence. Therefore, I do not believe that this legislation is going to undermine the nature of marriage, although it will not be right for every person. I have a brother who is gay. He has been in a long-term relationship over a number of years and has never expressed to me any desire to change the nature of that relationship. Therefore, marriage will not be for every gay couple, but for some it will be and the question is whether we should deny them the opportunity. I do not believe that we should. There are genuine concerns and we should ensure that we have the right to take the Bill through its Committee stage to examine very carefully whether what has been referred to as the quadruple lock will cover every eventuality. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and my noble friend Lady Kennedy say that they have looked at that very carefully, and I tend—initially, at least—to respect their view, although there may of course be other views. Therefore, I support the Bill. I am opposed to the amendment and I look forward to Committee.
My Lords, I rise to support the Bill. I want to make three discrete points in this debate, which has had so many speakers and such high-running emotion. First, despite many views to the contrary, marriage is in fact a social construct. It was not always one man and one woman. Indeed, polygamy was widespread in the ancient world, and its reasons were many. To quote from the Hebrew bible, as we call the Old Testament, Solomon was reputed to have a thousand wives. I do not know how he managed. Many people will also know the story of Jacob and how he got the wrong wife first, with Rachel and Leah.
I also want to give a bit of history, which your Lordships may not know. There was a great rabbi, Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz, who in around 1000 CE, which we call AD, was responsible for what is known as a takkanah, a legal pronouncement which is technically valid for 1,000 years. The takkanah of his that concerns us prohibited polygamy. It applied only to Ashkenazi Jews, those in Germany, Poland and Russia and so on. The Sephardi Jews—North African, Spanish and Portuguese—continued to practise polygamy in some areas, and that continued among Yemeni Jews until the 1950s and 1960s. So for us, marriage was not always just between one man and one woman, nor was it always for the procreation of children. When Rabbenu Gershom’s takkanah ran out in around 2000, 13 years ago, you might have expected a wild rush of Ashkenazi Jewish men seeking second, third and fourth wives, but because marriage is a social construct as much as a legal one, curiously that did not happen, and we would not have wanted it to.
These days we believe in marriage between two people, not more, although serial monogamy is commonplace. Marriage has changed dramatically over the millennia and over recent centuries. Divorce, which we Jews have always accepted, has become widely accepted and no longer a disgrace; married women now have property rights, although that took its time; infertility is no longer blamed only on women—it used to be a reason for divorce in Judaism after 10 childless years; and so on. Why, then, can we not change this social construct once again, while still maintaining respect for those for whom marriage is about sacrament, but cannot accept such a change? I think it is important that we do.
Secondly, I want to say something about numbers. In my congregation at the West London Synagogue—the oldest reform synagogue in the UK—where I am senior rabbi, we have about 3,000 members. We also have around 30 gay couples, most—but not all—in civil partnerships now, waiting for the day when they can marry under the chuppah, the wedding canopy, with their parents under that canopy, witnessing them make their vows. For me and my fellow reform and liberal Jews, like the Unitarians and the Quakers, this is about parity of esteem. We see no reason why gay people should not marry as heterosexual people do. We see all human beings as made in the image of God. That means gay and straight. We also believe that human beings are created with the need to seek out and look for a helpmeet in life. That person could be of the same sex, or not. Whichever it is, they deserve the right to be able to create a life together permanently and to celebrate it in marriage.
Thirdly, as several noble Lords have said, this is about righting a wrong. It is about accepting that social conditions and attitudes change and have changed. I hope that noble Lords will accept that that is true. We have heard that no court of any kind, domestic or European, would force a religious organisation to perform such marriages against their will. But those of us in religious organisations which are in favour of equal marriage are longing for the day. I expect the first days after it becomes law, as I hope it does, to consist of marriage after marriage in my synagogue, bringing joy, equality and renewed commitment to people who, until this point, have been denied it. It needs to happen soon. It is a moral imperative to right this wrong.
My Lords, social change is often contentious and, indeed, even controversial. Looking back over the past century, I have been struck by how frequently matters that aroused heated passions when debated faded into consensus once those matters were approved, as I hope this measure will be. In other words, society was ready for the change. Perhaps I may give the House a few examples.
The death penalty was abolished in 1969. In the 1970s, it was a question that lingered on in the Conservative Party—indeed, Conservative Party selection committees generally asked a question about it. One of my former colleagues in another place even offered his services as hangman. The Sexual Offences Act 1967 caused enormous controversy at the time. Even as recently as the Equality Act, some church leaders argued for exemptions that would have allowed homosexuals to be turned away from soup kitchens and hospices.
The 1928 equal franchise Act gave women equal voting rights with men. At this distance it is a little odd to look back at some of the arguments advanced at the time, in all seriousness, against that measure. I give the House but two examples:
“women have a vast indirect influence through their menfolk”;
“Woman Suffrage tends to establish competitive relations which will destroy chivalrous considerations”.
I trust that many noble Baronesses still experience chivalrous consideration from your Lordships but would venture to suggest that this can hardly be put forward as an argument for repeal of the equal franchise Act. Indeed, I know of no serious organisation today which advocates withdrawing the vote from women, making sexual relationships between people of the same sex a criminal offence or, indeed, restoring the death penalty.
I accept, of course, the sincerity with which some Christian organisations oppose this measure. It is right that the Bill should not oblige any church to carry out same-sex marriages. However, as we have just heard from the noble Baroness, there is not complete agreement on this matter among religious groups. Quakers, liberal Jews and Unitarians support the measure, and my noble friend Lord Deben, in a characteristically thoughtful article in the Tablet, reminded his fellow Roman Catholics that for over a century it has been accepted that the state has had a role in marriage and that it could and would make its own secular rules for its citizens.
The Bill has been a useful vehicle for opening a discussion on humanist marriage. An amendment on the matter was introduced in another place but was withdrawn as the Attorney-General advised that, as drafted, it was incompatible with the Human Rights Act. I understand that subsequent discussions have ensued with the British Humanist Association, and other issues relating, for example, to the definition of premises need to be resolved. I suspect that it would probably add to the challenges before us on this Bill to attempt to address those issues now. However, I hope that the Minister will assure the House that the dialogue with the British humanists will continue in the hope that this too may be addressed at some point in the future.
Finally, some quarters have criticised the Prime Minister for his personal support of this measure. They say that it is being raised at a time when the country faces huge challenges. Frankly, I find it rather refreshing that a Prime Minister beset, as Prime Ministers are wont to be, by the great political issues of the day is willing to stand up personally and be counted on a moral issue in which he believes and where there is no obvious political payoff.
I rejoice in the fact that this measure enjoys the support of all three party leaders. I confidently expect that, if it is approved, today’s controversy will rapidly become tomorrow’s consensus.
My Lords, as speaker 31 of 94 I am already beginning to feel that most points have been made; forgive me if I repeat some of them. I am a Methodist minister, and I have the privilege of leading many couples through their vows and in a great celebration, in a liturgical way, in church. I believe in marriage. I believe that marriage is the bedrock of our society and brings stability to our communities. I believe that marriage is the best place where children can be nurtured. It is for those reasons that I support this Bill.
Like all of us, I have had many letters and e-mails on the Bill. Some have suggested that of course I will agree to support traditional marriage based on biblical principles. To one of them I am afraid I replied that I hoped he would start at the beginning of the Bible at Genesis and try to find one man and one woman in a committed relationship that had been freely chosen. He would have had an awfully long read.
There has always been the suggestion that biblical principles have been used on occasion to support the subjugation of women and the primacy of men. These are things that we have had to contend with. When the Christian church began to look at its societies and move beyond Jerusalem, it had to come to terms with the fact that it was moving into different cultures. There was always the question of whether to challenge the culture or whether to adapt the faith you have received in order to cope with the culture into which you have moved.
Today, as many have said, we are moving into a different culture and we cannot rely on the old ways, simply saying that we will remain faithful to what we once knew. Equality and freedom, life expectancy, control of reproduction and a deeper understanding of sexual orientation have all affected our understanding of what marriage truly is, as have the negative principles of marital breakdown and broken relationships.
Although I would like to do so, I cannot speak on behalf of the Methodist church because it is still considering what its response will be if the Bill becomes law. However, the Methodist church has always based its moral and ethical values on the fourfold foundation of scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Twenty years ago, the Methodist church committed itself to listening attentively to the experience of those for whom a committed heterosexual relationship would not be possible. I think that we must listen attentively to the experience of today, listen to those for whom a lifelong, loving, faithful, joyful and sacrificial relationship can be achieved only in a same-sex partnership. We also have to listen to the responses that some of us have received from those who bear witness, from childcare and adoption agencies, to the value of same-sex partnerships in the bringing up of children and the overwhelmingly positive signs of good relationships.
We have to listen to the experiences of people and bring to bear our scriptural understanding to the experience which is equally valid under God. The depth and quality of relationships that have already been achieved in civil partnerships shows us that they are almost indistinguishable from the relationships experienced in heterosexual marriage. We have to bear witness to that. But we ask: why is it necessary to change if this is already provided for in our society? The one thing that is often missing is a deep acceptance that these relationships are equally valid and fruitful, and that they, too, form the bedrock of our society. They help to build up our communities. That is often missing. If it cannot be called marriage, it is seen to be a second-class relationship; we must address that. I also believe that if this is addressed in society, it may be the encouragement that the churches need in order to move into a different relationship. I long for and look forward to the time when these relationships can be celebrated within our liturgies and in our church life. I hope profoundly that it will become a reality in my lifetime. For all these reasons, I hope that the Bill progresses to further discussion and that it is passed.
My Lords, I share many of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, although I have to confess that I have spent many a sleepless night agonising over this subject: what is the right position to take? I, too, am a committed Christian and so I have looked for inspiration as to what marriage really is. The earliest reference I can find is in Genesis, chapter 2, which is often used in wedding ceremonies today:
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh”.
One flesh involves a physical and spiritual union: the joining together of the reproductive organs of a man and a woman; the potential for creating new flesh in the form of a child. Non-consummation annuls a marriage and therefore marriage is, and can only be, between a man and a woman. Marriage in the Jewish tradition was considered to be a blood covenant. They used to keep the bed sheets as proof that the covenant had been satisfied. It is a physical impossibility in a same-sex relationship for the reproductive organs to be joined together, and therefore whatever we seek to call it, it cannot be a marriage in the traditional sense. In fact, it changes the nature and meaning of marriage.
The concept of marriage was not really established by the state; it existed well before our parliamentary democracy and is an internationally recognised institution that crosses borders, religions and millennia. I do not think that we should seek to change it. If this Bill were to pass, in due course we would end up having to create a new vocabulary for words like “father”, “mother”, “husband” and “wife”. This has already been flagged in other countries.
The proposed criterion for marriage is that two people love each other. The word “love” does not appear in the official words that are used in the wedding ceremony. If we accept that love is the sole criterion, then why cannot three people love each other? In fact, some countries already accept polygamy. This question has been asked in Canada, while in the Netherlands and Brazil judges have legalised what they call a polyamorous relationship, a cohabitation agreement with multiple sexual partners.
The reason marriage is limited to one man and one woman is that it takes no more and no less to produce children. If we were to accept that love is the precondition for marriage, why should we restrict it? If there is no possibility of genetic offspring or indeed no requirement for consummation, why should not close relatives get married? If that were to happen, I can see all sorts of interesting possibilities for inheritance tax planning. We would open a Pandora’s Box. I do not believe we have looked closely enough at the unintended consequences.
Despite all the assurances that religious bodies have been given, the European courts can eventually overturn them. I am unconvinced by some of the assurances about the locks that are to be put in place. In any event, a new Government could always remove them. Equalities legislation has already seen many Christians in court, and this legislation will see many more. This Bill will also jeopardise employment and possibly criminalise those with traditional views of marriage. We have already seen cases where individuals have lost their jobs over their beliefs. There must be room for conscience. Otherwise this purported equality for the few comes at the expense of freedom of belief for the many with strongly held convictions.
The Bill purports to address a remaining apparent inequality, but it creates many other inequalities for both sexes and for homosexual couples. Couples of the same sex will have the option of civil partnership or marriage, while at the moment heterosexuals can have only marriage. I know that the Government have announced a consultation on this, despite initially blocking it because of the £4 billion price tag. Will the granting of civil partnerships to heterosexual couples strengthen marriage? I suspect that it will not. Same sex will have no definition of “consummation”. Heterosexuals do. Same sex will have no definition of “adultery”. Heterosexuals do. Same sex will not be allowed to marry in Northern Ireland. Heterosexuals can. Same sex couples will have limited countries in which they will be accepted and you cannot conduct marriages in those countries without their permission. Same sex couples cannot get married in the Church of England, but heterosexuals can. Instead of equality we will have created a whole raft of inequalities.
If this Bill is passed we will have changed the meaning of marriage to some fuzzy institution without any clear definition and in the process weakened it. It does not have public support. I am not convinced by some of the surveys that have taken place. We have all seen our mail boxes and the number of people who have written to us opposing the Bill. The public consultation took account of 100,000 comments of dubious origin and ignored 650,000 from uniquely identified individuals within the UK. We have seen that 500 imams wrote letters to the Daily Telegraph, and a group of Asian and black church leaders, representing more than 1 million people, have also written. All these comments have been ignored.
The committee in the House of Commons was skewed 70% in favour of the Bill and no amendments were accepted. Amendments made on Report did not address the concerns of the opponents of the Bill, in particular in the area of conscience and employment.
This Bill fails because it weakens marriage and creates a new institution, albeit with the same name. It will limit freedom of speech and room for conscience. It will eventually redefine roles within a family. It will have unwelcome consequences for all faiths and damaging ones for employment. It also creates new inequalities. It was not in the party manifesto and was expressly ruled out by the Prime Minister at the time of the election. The public consultation was a sham and for a change of this importance insufficient time has been given to consider public opinion and the potential consequences. We can reverse most laws that we pass in this place. This one we cannot reverse. Therefore we should take time to consider our approach carefully.
My Lords, I come to this debate with a traditional, basic approach that marriage is between a man and a woman. I am also informed by my life experience of having witnessed over the years the treatment of homosexual people in society, with adult men in jail, persecution, and all sorts of real bigotry—not just verbal bigotry and hurtful language—against such people. This really was persecution. Recently, I met a young gay Catholic man who was in turmoil about his sexuality, but he still opposed what is wrongly called “equal marriage”; it is same-sex marriage. Hurtful language is a two-way street. To be called a homophobic bigot because you take a traditional point of view is also wrong.
When I was in an elected House and despite not having the luxury of being in an unelected one, I voted for an equal age of consent for young men of 16; and I voted for civil partnerships, again on a free vote. It was my decision and my point of view. This was in the elected House. Perhaps it is not free and easy now, but there has been a big change in society and I welcome that change. I have always supported initiatives to make sure that all people get equality under the law. I maintain strongly that my record of voting for that while I was in the other House indicates that I do not have to defend myself too much.
The Government are responsible for rushing this Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned, it is not on the back of a great a wave of support for changing the agreed definition of marriage. Surely, cultural and social change in this country comes about when the mass of the public takes the point of view that it is time for change. Over a number of years the public has shown that it is time for a change in the way in which society regards homosexual people. They have been treated disgracefully for centuries and it is time that it stopped.
A number of people—more than I would have thought—have said to me that they support the principle of same-sex marriage. I also accept that there is an element of generation in this as well. It seems that younger people are the more open they are to same-sex marriage. I like to think that the moves taken by the Labour Government, supported by many Conservatives, changed society so that it is now acceptable. Peter Tatchell has been mentioned. We are a long way from the Bermondsey by-election, but I will not take lectures from small-l liberals or even large-L Liberals, even if I have a traditional point of view. I also took part in the pressure to get rid of Section 28.
These moves reflect a society that was ready for change, wanted it and had tacit support for it. Frankly, I do not broadly find that tacit support in the society that I mix in. That is where the Government bear a responsibility. They have created divisions. They have exacerbated the feelings of those who feel that this has been forced on them as a way of exorcising Section 28 from Conservative Party history. The comments and pledges made by the Prime Minister have been mentioned. My main support for society is still there.
I will not vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. I will not vote for the amendment either, because that challenges the revising nature of the House of Lords and will put at risk the future basis for us, as a House, to intervene in, revise and improve legislation. I do not believe that the protections promised to the religious organisations are valid, because I see words like “inconceivable” and “almost impossible”. No one from the Government will give the absolute guarantee that the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, will not be prosecuted—that someone will not take a case to the European Court and win it. Where is the guarantee? During the passage of this Bill, if it gets approved and goes into Committee, we will look for amendments—not wishy-washy words, but a definite guarantee that churches will not be forced to take part in this and will not be subject to prosecution.
My Lords, I have been moved and very humbled by the intensity of the letters that I have received on this subject, on both sides of the debate. I have huge respect for the conflicting and deeply felt views. I have enjoyed some excellent speeches today. The contributions of those such as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, are the best possible response to alleged mistakes by some Members of this Chamber, and to our critics.
I have also been surprised. Two of my closest friends, who are gay, are very uncomfortable with the idea of marriage. Many more, though, feel deeply insulted that they cannot share in the full rights of partnership that are accorded to heterosexual couples, and that they are somehow treated as second-class citizens. Equally, it makes little sense that a man and a woman cannot enter into a civil partnership, but that argument should not derail the express train that is currently racing through Parliament—and sometimes we all look forward to the arrival of an express train.
In my recent maiden speech, I mentioned the centenary of my godfather, Benjamin Britten, Lord Britten of Aldeburgh. When I think of his wonderful relationship with the tenor Peter Pears and, if I may put it like this, the musical children that resulted from it—works such as “Peter Grimes”, “Billy Budd” and the “Serenade”—I cannot but recall that theirs was for many years an illegal, criminal relationship, if in every other conceivable way a marvellous and inspiring marriage. Mercifully, times have changed.
In the other place, we heard dire warnings that this is only the beginning of homosexual aspiration. To many loving couples it is the beginning of the end—the beginning of the end of an inequality that they feel does not accord their love the same profound dignity as is given to men and women. Since many men and women who get married have no intention of creating children, to see marriage as instituted purely for procreation, wonderful though that is, is to take a somewhat narrow and blinkered view of where we now are in our society. This House, and indeed Parliament, must now be visionary. In 50 years’ time, probably much less, I suspect that we will look back and see gay marriage as having been as inevitable as the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women and the decriminalising of homosexual acts between consenting adults.
Among your Lordships, I would probably be among the last to have a direct line to the thinking of the Almighty, but I imagine that the love of human beings for each other would shine out radiantly as a presiding desire—transcending, and regardless of, gender or the semantics and legalese of how those attachments are formulated in contract. Finally, having admitted that I do not have a hotline to the Almighty, I now feel slightly more that I resemble a parrot because this has been said many times before. However, I must end with it. The vote in the other place was a free vote and that means, if I understand it correctly, that it has a democratic mandate that this House normally feels it must bow before. For that reason, and the others I have mentioned, I will very happily support the Bill.
My Lords, this is a fine debate and worthy of this House. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and to have listened to so many fine speeches. Like so many others, my postbag has overflowed. Most of the letters on paper are against the Bill, while the vast majority of those sent by e-mail and Twitter are in favour. So there we have it: an older generation versus the new.
The “anti” mail is clearly organised, but there is no harm in that. It does not make the views expressed any less relevant. Putting aside those letters that are clearly homophobic and written with green ink in the margin, the overriding message is the appeal to support “the traditional approach to marriage”. As a Conservative, I am rather fond of tradition but I must admit that I am at a loss to understand precisely what is meant by “traditional marriage”. How traditional do you want? As traditional, perhaps, as that well known fan of marriage, Henry VIII; or as traditional as the approach that once decreed that marriage had to be for life, no matter the outrages involved; or the more recent traditional approach that denied a divorced person the privilege of remarrying in a church. There is no traditional approach to marriage. It is an institution that has always changed over time and does not stand frozen in a single moment of morality. It moves; it adapts.
I would not have introduced this Bill at this time. There has been no great public outcry for it, not after the successful introduction of civil partnerships. It seems to me that the differences between a civil partnership and a marriage are so fine as to be almost transparent and cast no great shadow. Yet the Bill is here—the pebble in the shoe—and it has to be dealt with before we can move on. I know that it was not in any manifesto or in the Queen’s Speech, which was perhaps a pity, but this issue must be dealt with on its merits and not judged by how it got here.
What should I, as a Conservative, feel about gay marriage? I do not believe in equality—I leave that rather charming nostrum to our friends on the Labour Benches—but in equal opportunity. That is getting closer to it. At the heart of this matter is that we are all born unique and different, while at the heart of my conservatism is that no one should be discriminated against because of how they were born. I do not know any man or woman who has found it easy being born gay. I have not met a single one who would have actively chosen that route, with all its discrimination and denigration, and with the embarrassments, injustices and outright hatreds that were and still are put in the way. However, we are what we are—what we have been born—and I will not look a gay man or woman in the eye and say, “You are inferior just because you were born different to me”, any more than I would do that to someone who was black or brown, or a woman or blind. We are surely way beyond that, so despite the fact that I believe that this Bill needs more work I will be supporting its principle and doing so as a Conservative.
This brings me to my final point, on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear. I have sincere personal regard for the noble Lord but on this issue I differ with him completely. It would do great damage to this place and to the legitimacy of this House if we were to destroy a Bill that has been given such an overwhelming majority on a free vote in the House of Commons. It would make this unelected House look out of touch, irrelevant and obsolete. It would bring back from the dead all those silly and shallow things that the Deputy Prime Minister keeps muttering about us. Our duty in this House is to revise, not to ruin, and to improve rather than oppose to the point of destruction. We have fought so hard in recent months to secure the future of this House and for that reason, above all others, it would be folly to accept his amendment.
My Lords, concern for social justice and human rights are basic to Sikh teaching, and I was delighted when the homosexual community was given full protection and dignity under the law through civil partnerships. It is, however, important to remember that social equality and respect for difference is quite different from the pursuit of uniformity and sameness and the deliberate masking of difference by changing the accepted meaning of language—in this case, the accepted meaning of marriage. In this, I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
The one fact of life is that we are all different. We all differ in our physical and mental attributes, and in our dislikes and preferences. Most people form opposite-sex partnerships, giving birth to children and nurturing them in the family unit. This type of relationship, defined by the parameters of declared commitment, consummation of the relationship and social commitment for the nurture and care of the family, has long been defined as marriage. Difference should be respected. While same-sex partnerships are primarily for adult companionship, they do not share the same social responsibilities and parameters that define “marriage” in so many different religions and cultures. What I fail to understand is the pretence that marriage, with its clearly defined parameters and attached responsibilities, is the same as same-sex adult companionship when everyone outside Westminster knows there is a world of difference.
There is no evidence of majority support for this measure, even in the gay community. In an article in the Daily Mail, the well known columnist Andrew Pierce writes that he is a gay man who opposes gay marriage. Alan Duncan, the International Development Minister, who is in a civil partnership, is implacably opposed to gay marriage. David Starkey, the openly gay historian, is also opposed to the concept of gay marriage. The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who was the first Cabinet Minister to enter into a civil partnership, has openly criticised the idea of gay marriage, saying that the move to smash centuries of church teaching is “pure politics” and not wanted by the gay community, which has already won equality through civil partnerships.
There is no end of statistics which show that children’s life chances are linked to stable relationships to natural parents. If marriage is diluted to become no more than adult companionship, this will simply add to a growing focus on adult happiness to the inevitable neglect of our children, with more and more being taken into what we call care. If a committed relationship is all-important, where is the logic in not extending this to bigamous relationships? After all, there are more Muslims in this country than gays. Why discriminate against this particular religious community? Blind pursuit of unthinking equality can have unforeseen consequences. In mathematics, if you want to see where an equation is heading, you tend to take it towards infinity—look further down the line. Here we desperately need to look further down the line.
Much has been made of the so-called consultation process. Along with other members of the Inter Faith Network, I was invited to a consultation meeting and told that government policy would not be affected by our views. We are back to the world of Alice in Wonderland: sentence first, verdict after. The 87% majority against the measure has not only been ignored but turned round to claim a 57% vote in favour of the measure.
Government assurances that their lawyers see little likelihood of European human rights legislation being used to force people to act against their consciences inspire little confidence when we remember that the same lawyers said that there would be no problem deporting a certain Muslim cleric. It is in reality a measure that could well force many with sincerely held religious and ethical beliefs to either compromise those beliefs or lose their jobs. This has already happened to people like Adrian Smith, who was demoted and had his pay cut by 40% for saying—on his personal Facebook, in his own time—that gay marriages in churches would be an equality too far.
This is an ill thought-through measure that seeks to destroy a basic fundamental institution of society without any understanding or consideration of the consequences. It is a measure that has not been consulted on with the public at all and it has no mandate. For these reasons, I fully support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Singh. I totally endorse his conclusion and I will come to the reasons for that. As the 38th speaker, it is very difficult to make a constructive speech one way or the other on this issue, because all the arguments have been made not just once but many times.
What I would like to do, therefore, as briefly as I can, is to share one or two thoughts and concerns with your Lordships. Unlike my noble friends Lord Black— whose speech moved me—and Lord Dobbs, who said that they were voting the way they were because they were Conservatives, I oppose this Bill not despite being a Conservative but because I am a Conservative. There are thousands of Conservatives around the country who take precisely that view.
I am a Conservative who came into politics initially at the time of Harold Macmillan. Harold Macmillan believed that the duty of a Conservative was to conserve and protect that which was good and to replace and mend only that which had had its day or was broken. This Bill defies that principle. It is profoundly un-Conservative. Marriage is not broken. I have not heard anybody today suggest that it is. It is good and we should be seeking to conserve and protect it. Instead, this Bill seeks fundamentally to alter it.
Undeniably, throughout history marriage has changed. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, set out a whole row of ways in which the process of marriage has altered over the past 200 years. I can add to that. I am a Scottish lawyer. When I was called to the Bar in Scotland you could get married across an anvil at Gretna Green. You could also get married to what was known as your bidie-in, your long-term partner; if you had been living with them long enough you could go to the law and say, “Can you please now pronounce us man and wife?”. That was all that had to be done. Those are gone now. The form of marriage has altered.
However, one fundamental thing has never altered: marriage is between a man and a woman. Even when we heard talk about polygamous marriages, the sexual relations within those marriages were between a man and woman. That is what is fundamentally being destroyed in this Bill. It seeks within our law profoundly to alter the meaning of marriage.
Let me make one thing aggressively clear. I am not in any way anti-gay. Nobody who knows me would ever accuse me of being so. I have attended wonderful celebrations of civil partnerships where same-sex couples who are my friends have expressed their love and commitment to each other and I have rejoiced in being able to rejoice with them. This Bill is not about being pro- or anti- gay. That is a dishonest argument by those who make it, and does them absolutely no credit.
Rather—and this is my main concern—this Bill is highly offensive to many decent, tolerant and moderate Christians and to many decent, tolerant and moderate Muslims, and indeed to many others, including people of no religion at all, who see it understandably as an attack on something they hold very special and very dear and which has been held so for many years before them. They are angered by the fact that they were not consulted about this. They were not asked about it before the previous election. The consultations that have taken place have not even asked them whether they agreed with it; they were asked only whether they agreed with the way it was going to be taken forward. They quite rightly feel they have been excluded from something which matters desperately to them—not because they are bigoted or swivel-eyed, but because they are part of a culture, as am I, that believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.
This Bill does not create the much vaunted equality in marriage. It establishes two different sorts of marriage: statutory gay marriage on the one hand and what I believe will become known as real or traditional marriage on the other. When I talk about real marriage, I am talking about the marriage that people instinctively believe is between a man and a woman. Of course, Parliament is sovereign. Within its own jurisdiction it can change the legal definition of marriage. I have to accept that. This Bill may well do so. But for all its sovereignty, what Parliament cannot do is change the fundamental meaning of marriage any more than King Canute, for all his sovereignty, could order and change the running of the tide—and that indeed was the point he was trying to make when he placed his chair in the sea as the tide came in.
As a result, this un-thought-out Bill, which has not tested its own principles of equality and has not looked at all the anomalies it is creating, is going to divide our society rather than unite it; far from equalising, it is going to create discriminations. We will come on to some of those when we get to Committee. Some of those discriminations are very real indeed. Far from achieving understanding, it is already creating confusion. Far from building harmony, it will create disharmony, anger and long-lasting hurt. For that reason I will be voting for the amendment tomorrow.
I share a great many views that the noble Marquess has expressed. However, he and I came from the House of Commons. Does he not feel that when the other House passes legislation, it is perhaps wrong for us to reject it at Second Reading, and that we should go into Committee and discuss how the matter can be looked at?
I understand where the noble Lord is coming from. I say to him that, in looking at the Bill, I personally do not think that the arguments that I have made today can be cured in Committee. If they are going to be cured, we will have to start again with a new Bill, from the beginning, and get it right. For that reason, very unusually, I will be voting with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, tomorrow.
My Lords, I was anxious to participate in this debate. I will start by telling your Lordships what marriage means to me. I was married more than 17 years ago in the beautiful cathedral of St Davids in Pembrokeshire. I am a committed Christian, an active member of the Church in Wales and the daughter of a much-loved priest who worked his whole life in a deprived parish called Ely in Cardiff. When I married my GP husband, I did not have the slightest inkling that, to my astonishment and delight, I would become the wife of a clergyman; my husband will be ordained into the Church in Wales in just a few weeks’ time.
Since then, we have brought two children into the world to respect the faith in which I am immersed. My marriage and family are the most important things in my life, and if they are under threat I will do all I can to protect them. Like all parents, we want the very best for our children. We want them to enjoy every possible happiness and hope that one day they will meet their life partner and get married.
When we were married, the words of the service began like this:
“God calls men and women to the married state so that their love may be made holy in lifelong union; that they may bring up their children to grow in grace and learn to love him; and that they may honour, help and comfort one another both in prosperity and in adversity”.
We believe that this sacred contract offers the best outcomes for our children and the best place for them to raise their families, and I believe that marriage is the best place for them to do this. I want this for my children, whether they are gay or straight. In speaking for equal marriage, then, let me be clear. I believe equal marriage is in the best interests of my family and of marriage in general. I believe equal marriage is in the best interests of my faith. I believe that equal marriage is in the best interests of my children and everyone else’s children.
Some have said that allowing same-sex couples to marry will threaten the institution of marriage and rock the foundations of our society, but I suggest that the opposite is the case. We risk making marriage into a stone idol, rather than a living, life-enhancing experience, by denying it to same-sex couples. With a few exceptions, I have been deeply disappointed by the contributions to the debate from the leaders of my faith. They seem to dwell on the concept of the institution of marriage. Institutions are often dark, dull, dusty places and none can survive without being revisited and refreshed; maybe your Lordships’ House is an example of that.
I look back at the words of the preface to the Welsh marriage service, where it says:
“God calls men and women to the married state”.
Marriage is a vocation, a response to a divine call rather than a set of dusty, ancient rules. For those who celebrate their Christian faith, marriage is far more than a legal contract. Marriage is a response to God’s call to love, and I see no reason why that should be limited to being between women and men. I believe the preface of the Welsh marriage service teaches correctly. God calls men and women to the married state, and that call, if it is between two men or two women, is equally sacred, is equally a marriage and deserves to be recognised in law.
I share with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury his experience of gay families when he says:
“You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship”.
However, the failure of his and my church to recognise the vocation of these “stunning” couples as marriage is deeply troubling to many faithful Anglicans here in the United Kingdom. The response of the church to this issue reminds us of a shameful time, only recently passed, when women with stunning vocations to the priesthood were told they could not have this vocation.
I share with many in this House and in the House of Commons a growing sadness at the discrimination that the church continues to practise because of the exemptions it has secured from law. It is becoming increasingly disturbing for me to think that my faith cannot survive in our society without the need for special protection, and has become the last bastion of social conservatism. I am pleased to see that there is a correction to the original Bill that recognises the Church in Wales as a disestablished church. There is now a provision which allows the Governing Body of the Church in Wales to introduce same-sex marriage if it should wish. I hope that the more progressive forces within the Church in Wales will win this argument and that Wales will lead the way for the Anglican Church of England.
My gay friends are not beating down my door demanding that we recognise their “stunning” relationships as marriage. It is people like me—mothers, sisters, friends—who look at their relationships and recognise the vocation of marriage when we see it, and are demanding that we should recognise and celebrate their calling and not try to hide it in some dark corner by calling it something else.
This Bill has passed all its stages elsewhere. It is the will of the people that same-sex couples should have their marriage relationships recognised in law. Surveys have shown that 80% of adults of my generation or younger now support same-sex legislation, including three in five people like me, who have faith. I am deeply saddened by the thought that if my children grow up to love someone of the same gender they cannot have their love affirmed and celebrated by the church to which they belong.
My Lords, time is short and there are many speakers in this debate. Therefore, like others, I will aim to be concise. I have four comments to make about the Bill. In my opinion the process of the Bill is and has been flawed; the purpose of the Bill is misleading; the premise of the Bill is worrying; and the atmosphere created by the tabling of the Bill is potentially divisive, and I regret that.
Allow me to substantiate those four assertions. First, the process of the Bill is flawed. Little I can say here is new, but the facts speak for themselves and are important and bear repetition. A Bill such as this did not feature explicitly in any of three major parties’ manifestos at the general election. It did not appear in either of the previous two Queen’s Speeches. The formal consultation process, as we have heard, was purely on the basis of how this redefinition of marriage was to be conducted, not whether it should be conducted. At least that was how it was initially. Moreover the consultation counted only as one view the consolidated views of between half and two-thirds of a million citizens who signed the Coalition for Marriage petition, each giving a verifiable address. Only a short period was allocated for debate in the other place, where there are also doubts—and they have been expressed today—as to how free the supposed free vote in the other place was, not to mention the composition of the committee that gave cursory consideration to the Bill.
Secondly, I suggest that the purpose of the Bill is misleading. It is supposed to redefine marriage so it becomes as equal an institution between same-sex couples as it is between a man and woman. This purpose is a contradiction in terms. A redefinition of marriage cannot bring equality. The defining process of marriage is consummation, which is for the entirely practical purpose of bringing children into the world—the creation of families which have been the building block of society for centuries. The marriage of two men or two women cannot naturally bring about the purpose of marriage; legally perhaps, but naturally not.
Thirdly, I believe the premise of the Bill is worrying. It is supposed to promote the rights of a minority within our population by affording that minority a supposed equality in marriage. I have already argued that that cannot be so, but in the erroneous pursuit of that supposed equality, a Bill that is designed to promote the interests of a minority itself becomes a powerful piece of legislation that threatens the traditional interests of a majority of our population. The supposed safeguards being written into the Bill to protect the rights of many sections of our society to express the traditional view of marriage in private and in public will not be worth the paper they are written on. The inexorable march of litigation will frustrate over time whatever Parliament may, or may not, have intended.
Fourthly, I fear that the atmosphere created by the tabling of the Bill is potentially divisive. For decades there have been vigorous debates about the acceptability of homosexual orientation and lifestyles. Tempers have been raised and emotions have flowed, but whatever individuals thought about homosexual or heterosexual lifestyles, an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance has been established in all but the most narrow-minded circles. The tabling of the Bill runs the risk of driving a cart and horses through that atmosphere, which has been carefully built up, of acceptance building on previous tolerance. In 2008, I became the first chief of staff of any of the three armed services to give the opening address at the Armed Forces annual LGBT conference. My theme in that address focused on one of the Army’s six core values—respect for others. I may not personally have understood or approved the circumstances of those who were members of the Armed Forces LGBT community but I had an obligation to respect them as individuals. Such respect and tolerance are being severely challenged by this ill-thought-through Bill.
In conclusion, I soundly oppose this Bill for the four reasons I have given but if I had to pick one of them as my principal ground of objection and why I shall vote with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, tomorrow, it is the first one. I believe that the process of this Bill has, to date, been tantamount to an abuse of process which, as a member of the mother of Parliaments, I am deeply uncomfortable about. Following due democratic process and procedure is a principle that I spent the 40 years of my professional life as a soldier upholding. We fought for the ballot box against the Armalite for 38 years in Northern Ireland; we stood for democracy against communism for 44 years in Europe; we stood for the democratic right of self-determination in the Falklands in 1982 and still do; and now as a parliamentarian I am asked to accept an abuse of the democratic process, and I will not do it.
This Bill is of historic importance and in my view history will judge us poorly if this issue was thought to have been fast-tracked to the statute book without due regard to the established democratic and parliamentary processes.
My Lords, it an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and I particularly want to thank him for what he said about respect. I say to my noble friend Lady Stowell how very much I appreciated not just her speech, to which I will return in a moment, but her joke and tell her that if she can maintain that tradition in her political life, particularly in a Chamber where everybody is uptight about something else, then she has a very bright future ahead of her.
My noble friend said that she respected those in the faith community who took a different view from this Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said the same thing. I was initially warmed until I thought about it. I have been enormously privileged to spend 36 years in this building, man and boy, and I cannot count how many times I have been told I have been respected when the Minister meant that I was about to be ignored. If the Government really respected the faith community, as they say they do, then this Bill would not be here today. It was interesting that the religious freedom focus was on the 1% and not on the 99%, whereas if faith was going to be respected, the focus would have been on the 99% and not on the 1%.
My noble friend Lord Dobbs gave us a very enjoyable piece about not understanding what traditional marriage is. That got me thinking, although I have done no survey, that most of the Members of your Lordships’ House will have been married, probably most in church. Therefore we will all have acquiesced to a priest, pastor or vicar saying something to the effect that what we were going through was one man, one woman, and for this reason you leave father and mother to become one being, exclusively for life, and for procreation. Not everybody gets it right, but that is what was defined as the traditional marriage. The words are the words of Jesus, and when Jesus used them, they were the words of creation. Therefore, as a practicing Christian, I have a problem with this legislation, because I do not believe that it respects faith and the sincerely held views of those in the faith community.
It is also hard to have respect for this Bill politically. In May 2010 the Prime Minister said that there would not be any legislation. Seventeen months later he was cheered to the rafters by a Conservative Party conference when he told them that he was in favour of same-sex marriage because he was a Conservative. I will tell you something—he will not try that again in 2013. It will not happen. It is hard to have political respect and hard to have it off the back of what passed for a public consultation. Those in this House who know me well will not be surprised if I say that I was brought up on gospel stories. When I saw the public consultation I was rather irreverently reminded of Jesus turning water into wine. This Government turned half a million votes into one vote in order to get 53% in favour when actually 87% were against. Forgive me, but I cannot have respect for that sort of behaviour.
I want to say to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, something which he will never have expected me to say, and he will be encouraged to know that I am as shocked to hear myself saying it as he will be to hear me say it, for he and I go back a long way. But he was right. Major social change comes when the majority demands it. Major social and cultural change is not a product of the minority. If it is to be successful, it will be a product of the majority.
I have used up my time. For 40 years my life has been driven by Christian and Conservative convictions, and now I am led to believe that because I continue to hold those values and principles I am a swivel-eyed loon. I want to raise a flag for swivel-eyed loons, because at the very heart of our country and our party is a commitment to time-tested values and principles. It is easy to lose respect. If you lose respect you lose trust, and if you lose trust you are in big trouble—and remember, I was the party chairman in 1997, so I know whereof I speak. This Government need to focus on respect, and if they are going to do that they need to start by taking this Bill away and producing something an awful lot better.
My Lords, I shall be brief. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, has just said. However, let us agree that the Bill has the noblest of aims: advancing the cause of fairness and equality to a minority absurdly disparaged and cruelly treated, not only in centuries past but in many societies even today. However, the Bill’s aims must be addressed with forethought and wisdom, of which it shows an embarrassing deficiency at present. I, too, urge the Government to withdraw this current muddled and flawed attempt. The equality that it purports to seek is a cheapened version of spurious uniformity in glaring defiance of reality. Our gay community, talented and caring, deserves better and can have it.
I wondered when I first looked at the Bill, whether amendments could bring it up to scratch. In places, they clearly might. In Clause 9(7), for example, the Bill enables the conversion of civil partnerships to marriage, but permits such conversion to have an effective date that would be several years before the relevant form of marriage became legally possible. There, surely, is an absurd anomaly that could be rectified by amendment.
However, as I read further and, of course, before having heard the devastating critique of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, today, it became obvious that only a thorough reworking of the Bill, with a root-and-branch rethink of its proposals and their implications, could do the job. This is perhaps especially manifest in the 60-page document, laughably called Explanatory Notes, which has several explanations such as this one on page 29, which states that,
“‘husband’ here will include a man or a woman in a same sex marriage … In a similar way, ‘wife’ will include … a man married to a man”.
Such linguistic acrobatics, distorting the marital bed into a Procrustean one, are inherent in the Bill at present. They smack, not so much of Humpty Dumpty’s world—as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, implied this morning—as of the dystopias of Jonathan Swift and George Orwell. After all, Lewis Carroll was only joking; Swift and Orwell were deadly serious.
My Lords, I think by now most things have been said about the Bill. Nevertheless, I will repeat some of them because I want my views to be on record. The first thing I want to say is that the Bill is an outrage to democracy. No political party had the guts to include this measure in its manifesto. It is a measure that undermines the concept of marriage that has lasted for centuries. The Bill, as we have heard, was rushed through the House of Commons, ignoring the generally accepted rule that Bills with constitutional implications should be discussed on the Floor of the House rather than in Committee. That point was previously raised by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. Under this circumstance, this House has not only the right to return the Bill to the Commons but the duty to do so, because it does not have the wholehearted consent of the House of Commons or, indeed, of this place or the country as a whole. I want it returned to the Commons because I believe that it should reconsider its position and either delay the Bill until the next election, when it can be included in the various parties’ manifestos, or hold a referendum on the matter later this year or early next year.
Some noble Lords have said that this House does not have the right to return the Bill to the House of Commons and no right not to give it a Second Reading, but it has every right to do so—and, as I have said, it has the duty to do so, so that the whole matter can be reconsidered. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, said that there would be bad consequences for this House if we ignored a Commons Bill in this way. I have been here for 33 years and, whenever anything like this has come up, we have heard the same threat, but we are still here—and we will probably be here for a very long time yet.
Like other noble Lords, I have been inundated with letters and e-mails about the Bill, and the overwhelming majority of them have urged me to oppose it, which indeed I shall do by supporting the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dear. We have heard claims that the public are all for this Bill; we have heard all sorts of figures bandied around. My postbag and e-mails do not show that. Indeed, I well remember being told that an overwhelming number of people in the country supported AV and that it was more democratic. However, when we had a referendum on it, only about one-quarter of them thought it was a good thing. We had the same problem over regional government; when that was put to the vote, after it had been lauded by the then Government, who presumably believed that the people were for it, in the Prime Minister’s own constituency they voted against it by 3.5 to one. Therefore, we should be very careful about the claim that is being made that a large majority of the country is in favour of this legislation.
Those who have written to me find themselves in a situation where they feel that they cannot be heard. Indeed, I have to say that when the three parties agree to anything we lose our democracy. We are, in fact, in respect of this Bill, living in a one-party state, because the electorate can do nothing about it. Bills are rushed through. The major political parties believe, cynically, that since they are all in favour of it, at the next election people opposed to it will have nowhere else to go—that all the parties are in favour of it, so people cannot vote for an alternative. Of course, they can do other things, such as abstaining or voting against all those parties and all the MPs who supported the Bill. They cannot vote against Peers, of course. I will have great pleasure tomorrow in supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and I thank him for moving it.
My Lords, this Bill is promoted as a measure to end a discrimination against homosexuals, but the present law of marriage does not discriminate against homosexuals. The rights of a homosexual man are identical to mine. Subject to the laws on incest and bigamy, we are each free to marry a woman. Neither he nor I may marry another man. Our positions are identical. If it were to be held that the wish of a homosexual man to marry another man being thwarted by law was proof of discrimination, then the law forbidding polygamy would equally be proof of discrimination. Therefore, undoubtedly, we should move, on the basis of the arguments that have been put forward in favour of this Bill, towards making lawful the marriage of one man with two or more women, or a woman with more than one man.
It does not end there. The claim that the Bill merely undoes an act of discrimination is false; it is worthless and deserves no credibility. Those who support this Bill must find some other reason for it than that. If the Bill were to be enacted, it would introduce a real and novel form of discrimination. I understand that there is no definition of how a same-sex marriage would be consummated, or of what would be regarded as adultery in a same-sex marriage. Therefore, a heterosexual marriage would stand liable to annulment because of non-consummation but a homosexual marriage would not. Similarly, a heterosexual husband or wife might be found to have committed adultery, whereas a homosexual could not be found to have committed adultery. That is real discrimination. Then, of course, we would have to change the law for heterosexual marriage to bring it into line with homosexual marriage and abolish adultery and non-consummation. That would be madness.
Then there is the matter of the law of succession and its interaction with this Bill. There is, I believe, no bar to a lesbian succeeding to the Throne. It may happen. It probably will, at some stage. What, then, if she marries and her partner bears a child by an anonymous sperm donor? Is that child the heir to the Throne? If the Queen herself subsequently bore a child by an anonymous donor, which child then, if either, would inherit the Throne? The possibilities must have been discussed in the deep consideration of this Bill in government, so the Minister must know the answer. If she does not know it immediately, I am sure that her officials will be able to give it to her, because it has all been discussed thoroughly.
Finally, I must express my concern for those employed in schools and churches. Would their jobs be at risk should they question the new orthodoxy? Section 28 of the Education Act prohibited teachers from promoting homosexuality and was denounced by the liberal establishment. This Bill seems to require teachers to promote marriage between homosexuals. What will the liberal establishment say then? There must be some explanation for that.
We know already that a voluntary chaplain to Strathclyde police force has been dismissed for supporting real marriage. No doubt noble Lords have received a letter, as I have, from Ormerods Solicitors, setting out the concerns of many people over the impact of the Bill on those in the church and the teaching profession. Marriage exists not just for the convenience of couples but to stabilise society. It seems to me that this House would be wise to refuse a Second Reading for the Bill until all these concerns have been met. I underline again what has already been mentioned this evening in quoting page 29 of the Explanatory Notes to the Bill. It states:
“This means that ‘husband’ here will include a man or a woman in a same sex marriage, as well as a man married to a woman. In a similar way, ‘wife’ will include a woman married to another woman”.
Does that sound like gobbledegook to any noble Lord? It sounds not merely like gobbledegook but the reversal of the natural and normal meaning of words. It is no good my noble friend waving his hand in that peculiar gesture. That is what it says in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill that he supports. I will support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, tomorrow night.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, asked some very ingenious and challenging questions, and I know that I am not alone in looking forward very much to the Minister’s response to them.
Irrespective of my views on this subject, to which I will come in a moment, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on taking time and trouble, and displaying considerable courage, in bringing forward the amendment and arguing for it extremely well. By doing so, he has, at the very least, ensured that today’s debate is a great deal more serious and intense than it would have been if the result had been a foregone conclusion.
I may be the first speaker who has deliberately refrained from taking a decision on how I will vote tomorrow until I have heard the debate. Incidentally, I share the view that the Government’s conduct on this Bill has been pretty unedifying. In my view, it should have been brought in as a Private Member’s Bill. It has nothing to do with party politics or the governance of the state and was not mentioned in any manifesto. The consultation exercise was clearly perfunctory, to say the least, and may have been dishonest and falsified if it is true—I pray that it is not—that a petition of half a million people was counted as the expression of one view. That is the sort of legalistic trickery one normally associates with Putin’s Russia, and it would be very deplorable if it has happened here. Nevertheless, these are not the essential points on which we will vote.
I shall certainly vote as I do not believe in abstention. I am minded to vote for the Bill on the basis of two principles by which I always try to be guided. One is the liberty principle, first explicitly formulated by Mill, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, in his introductory speech. It states that in a free society the state does not attempt to constrain the liberty of the citizen beyond the minimum point required to defend the liberty of others. Therefore, if you have two potential partners to a marriage or any other ceremony and someone willing to perform the ceremony, be he or she a priest, a minister of religion, a registrar or whoever, what right does the state have to prevent that taking place? That is a very pertinent and relevant consideration.
The other principle that I always try to be guided by is the Pareto principle, which says that in any structure of social relationships, whether or not enshrined in the law, if a change can be made such that even just one person is happier and no one is made less happy, that change should automatically be made. It seems to me that if we enact this Bill, we will make an awful lot of people very happy. Some say that it will make some people unhappy, but I do not accept that that is the equivalent emotion. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and some other distinguished noble Lords who have spoken this evening, disapprove of what is going on, but disapproval is not quite the same thing. Their own particular liberties, their own interests and their own utility are not impacted, so I do not think that that is relevant.
I am minded, broadly speaking, to vote for this Bill, but I have two very serious reservations that I will put to the Minister. One of these, thank God, has been raised by many noble Lords this evening, and I will add to the list of those who have emphasised it. The other has not been mentioned at all. The one that has been mentioned is the fate of people who might lose their jobs as a result of this Bill being enacted. We should all be extremely concerned about that. What about registrars, whom no one has mentioned? As I read the Bill, registrars, unlike priests and ministers of religion, will not have the opportunity to opt out. Are they all going to be fired? Are they going to be compensated? Is a decent effort going to be made to find them another decent job? We need to know. We cannot possibly allow this Bill to go on the statute book without having an answer to those questions.
What about teachers? I also read the legal counsel’s opinion to which the noble Lord, Lord Dear, referred, so I need not summarise it. It states, very persuasively, that there is all too great a danger that teachers will lose their jobs if they continue to express the view that the proper concept of marriage is the traditional one, as we understand it. The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, went a long way to meeting me—and, indeed, the House—on this in her remarks from the Front Bench when she said that the Government intended that there should be effective protections and were prepared to strengthen the Bill to make sure that those protections were more effective. The Government were not prepared to accept amendments in the other place, but I took it that there would be a greater degree of flexibility, perhaps as a result of this debate and of the reaction in the country. If that is the case, I welcome it. If the Bill goes forward, I shall certainly refer to the earlier assurance from the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, which will be very relevant to proceedings in Committee and on Report.
The other reservation and concern on which I must be satisfied if I am going to vote against the amendment and for Second Reading relates to the issue of legal blackmail. It is all too possible that, even if the law is totally robust, a teacher or a priest who has tried to opt out, or somebody else who is, or should be, protected under the Bill, may be attacked at law by a possibly aggressive gay rights organisation. The case may go up through the courts to the Supreme Court, even to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where ultimately the protections will prove to be robust and effective. However, how can a poor individual citizen possibly face a movement with millions of pounds to spend on lawyers who would certainly not, in this case, be working on a contingency or conditional fee basis? This thing could go on for years, running up millions of pounds and totally disrupting the life of the plaintiff—or defendant, depending on whether it was a civil or criminal action, though from a practical point of view the result would be very similar. We must be assured that would not happen. Who would pay the legal fees in the case of a priest in the Church of England or another church? Churches’ money should not be spent on defending a person finding himself in that position. Someone earning £15,000 a year cannot be expected to find millions of pounds to pursue his own defence. I would need a robust answer to that question before I would be prepared to support the Bill.
My Lords, when the civil partnership legislation came to your Lordships’ House, I spoke strongly in favour of it. If it came again because there was a need for further protections or development of the legislation, I would continue to speak very strongly and passionately for it. However, I am not speaking from the place I normally sit as Convenor because my views about this legislation vary from those of the overwhelming majority of my colleagues on these Benches. It is right to make it clear that I take a different view and that I am not persuaded of the virtues of this piece of legislation.
I am hesitant to speak because many of those who have spoken, and many outside, feel very passionately and sensitively about these things, and I have listened carefully to my noble friend Lady Barker, the noble Lords, Lord Smith of Finsbury and Lord Black of Brentwood, and others who have spoken strongly of their personal experience and their strong feelings and sense of hurt at times. However, others have spoken crisply and I have been sent e-mails by leaders of some campaigns advising me that any opposition to the Bill can be based only on homophobia. That is as unhelpful and unfortunate as extremism on the other side.
It is important for us to consider what is being proposed. No one disputes that it is a major change, and it is for the proponents of change to make their argument persuasively, not the reverse. I am not opposed to change, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, pointed out that there have been many changes in the institution of marriage over the years. At other times, she said, polygamy was possible. She could also have said, “and currently in other places”. In our part of the world it is illegal. The age of consent for marriage has not been the same at all times, nor has it always moved in one direction.
The noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, was not correct when he said that the tide of history flows always in one direction—would that it were so. In many parts of the world it is flowing in a very different direction and that is one of the great dangers of which we must be aware when we espouse social change of a major order. My noble friend Lord Lothian made the point—and I share many of his concerns about conflict in various parts of the world—that if one does not take the people with one in a social change, one can actually provoke reaction against it. I give one example: I am a member of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and it is clear that there is a stream against continuing with the ordination of women, which we have had since 1927. It is not at all impossible that it might be reversed; it was reversed some years ago in the Presbyterian Church in Australia. Therefore, the tide of history does not always flow in one direction, and it can be greatly disadvantageous.
The question is: what does the community want? The electorate are often much more fickle, saying one thing now and a very different thing a little while later. Have the Government made the argument? My noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston made a thoughtful speech. I noted that she said, near the end, that quite simply the love and relationship are the same and therefore should be included in marriage. I had not even finished noting it down before she said that of course the relationships were different. Both statements cannot be entirely true. In a way, her jest—sometimes the truth is spoken in jest, and she mentioned George Clooney—said a lot because it pointed out that the thought of marriage is for many people about merely a sense of attraction, the wish to be with a person and the wish for that to be permanent. There was not much sense of looking at the other components of marriage that are also important but are not necessarily a part of civil partnership. The bringing into being of children, nurturing them and bringing them up are not things of little importance.
It is therefore important to persuade, and I am not persuaded that the talk of equality is not being mistaken for sameness in the minds of some people. Yet the truth is that equality is about recognising difference, diversity and treating people fairly, not trying to ensure that everyone fits into the same institution. The Bill will not achieve what it is said to achieve for gay Christians who wish to solemnise their marriage in churches. It will not happen unless what happens is similar to what the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, referred to when he talked about those who had spoken in favour of civil partnerships having changed their minds about whether they were going to press for same-sex marriage. Could it be that we find ourselves returning to this issue again in this House in debate and in legislation because, once achieved, there would be unhappiness that all the main churches were still not prepared to accept this matter? Unless one was a Quaker, liberal Jew or Unitarian, it still would not be possible to solemnise a marriage in a church. Would we return to the issue? I fear that we would do so again and again. The arguments must be clear, thoughtful and robust. This is not the only issue of equality whereby the notions of sameness and uniformity seem to have grasped people and they no longer understand equality in any other way.
My time has gone—those who know me well know that I can speak at substantial length on anything I care passionately about. I speak not as one who is unpersuadable, nor as one who stands in the way of change if it is clearly thought through and reflected upon, but as one who genuinely feels that sometimes what appears to be a progressive move can trigger quite the opposite. We must tread carefully, thoughtfully and reflectively to ensure that we make real progress for all concerned and for our society as a whole. A lot has been said about individuals but this is a social institution for society as a whole and it must be thought through in that context.
I shall continue to listen and to think. I suspect that I shall not feel able to support the Bill, but neither shall I feel able to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, because I believe that, the elected House having spoken, it is our job to consider, reflect and debate upon the Bill in public where our society may see it, and in that way contribute to the further discussion of the Bill.
My Lords, to my mind, the evidence is quite clear. Marriage is a human construct and the romantic idea of marriage as a beacon of stability does not stand up to scrutiny. Rather, as views about what is socially acceptable have changed, so have the boundaries and parameters of marriage.
The freedom to marry in the United Kingdom used to be confined to Anglicans. Over the centuries, it has been extended to Catholics, Jews and Quakers, to all other religions, and to those of no religion at all. Divorce no longer requires an Act of Parliament and women now have equal status in a marriage.
More than 80% of people in Britain now agree that homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society. What should be, and always has been, the yardstick when it comes to marriage is what is socially desirable; we should then decide what the function of marriage should be—not the other way round. That is one of the many reasons why I support this Bill. I want to offer two more.
The first is a practical argument, based on my long time in business. In 2007, I resigned as CEO of BP because of the lengths I went to in order to hide my sexuality. I thought that coming out might threaten the company’s commercial relationships and my career. I will never know if those fears were justified, but they are no way to do business. People are happier, more productive and make more money for their company when they feel included and they can be themselves. As a business leader, I want people to focus all their energies on their job, not on hiding part of who they are. Inclusiveness makes good business sense and giving gay couples the freedom to marry will eliminate one more barrier to inclusion. If it helps them to be themselves in the workplace, it will represent another step towards the meritocracy to which we all aspire. Gay marriage is a matter of strategic importance for British business.
The second reason comes from my personal experience. I grew up in a climate of fear, where homosexuality was illegal. My mother was an Auschwitz survivor and advised me never to trust anyone with my secrets. I avoided discrimination by simply keeping quiet. Young gay people today live in a different, more tolerant world but they still worry about discrimination, marginalisation and how their families and friends will react. One of the most effective ways to dispel this stigma is through the provision of role models. If I had seen gay men in legally recognised public relationships of the sort my parents were in, I would have found it easier to come out and I would have been a much happier person.
We must not lose the plot. The Bill enables same-sex couples to be married by civil and—only if they provide their consent—religious authorities. At critical points in history, this House has recognised the need to adapt to changes in society. That is the source of its strength and the reason for its longevity. I intend to vote against the noble Lord’s amendment.
My Lords, the first thing I must say is that I have absolutely no choice about how I vote on this issue. The principle of marriage being a union between a man and a woman for life is sacred, and the role that it plays in binding together families and nurturing children is an indispensable part of the fabric of our country. That has always been one of my core beliefs and I cannot desert it now. I really do believe that if this Bill were to become law, untold and unforeseen damage would be done to our country and to how we see ourselves.
This issue is not like a debate and a vote on the National Health Service, on our nation’s defence or even on the structure of your Lordships’ House, important though those matters undoubtedly are. As far as I am concerned, this is a change that we should not even be contemplating or debating. The fact that we are is a very sad indicator of just how far our country has lost its moral compass or perhaps of just how wide now has grown the gulf between the people and those who govern them. I feel sure that millions of people share my beliefs and concerns to a greater or lesser extent and that, if this measure goes through, their belief in what their country stands for and the role of your Lordships’ House will be severely damaged.
If this proposal has genuine merit, what harm can voting against its Second Reading at this time honestly do? The worst that can happen is that the Bill will be delayed, giving time for government, all the political parties and the people in the country to think the matter through carefully. It can then be put forward again properly in a fair and honest way at the next general election, which is now not very far away. That is the worst that could happen.
But what is the worst that could happen if we allowed the Bill to pass its Second Reading without having thought carefully about all its ramifications, and without a proper political and national debate, which of necessity must be thorough and will take some time? I say that that would prove to be a disastrous course of action and one that we must set our faces against.
I beg noble Lords not to be bamboozled or seduced by the argument that says, “Just vote for the Second Reading and all your concerns will be ironed out at the Committee stage”. Once your Lordships have agreed to a Second Reading, the game is lost; they have sold the pass. A question of principle becomes a war of attrition in which the Government almost always prevail. Noble Lords should remember that they will constantly be told, “Well, you voted for it at Second Reading”.
The role of this House, and its legitimacy and relevance in the world today, are constantly being questioned—not, I hasten to add, by me. I have the utmost faith that this House will always do the right thing at the right time. However, these questions still hang over us.
Let us be honest: there is no desire or support for this Bill in the country. This is surely the moment to demonstrate our relevance, our understanding and our purpose in a way that will earn the undying gratitude of many immediately and, I believe, the vast majority of the British people when they come to understand what really was at stake. I will certainly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, tomorrow.
My Lords, we have heard some stirring speeches today. No one doubts their sincerity and commitment. I particularly want to thank the Minister for the way she contributed to the debate in her opening speech, and the tone she set. That tone has been followed throughout the day. I also want to thank the noble Lords, Lord Black and Lord Smith, for their personal testimony of what it means to be homosexual, and the noble Lord, Lord Browne, as well. We need to hear those kinds of stories and take them into our system, so that we can think more about them in the days ahead.
In three weeks’ time my wife and I will celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary. I know that some Members of this House can claim to have served longer in the marital stakes than we have, but whether we have been married for just a few months, for as long as I have or for longer—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has the edge on me—all of us can say that along with the joy, the difficulties and some tragedies that happen to us on the way, marriage is at the heart of human love and society.
Those of us who were married according to the Book of Common Prayer will recall the preface to the wedding service:
“And therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly”.
Although addressed to the couple, the words can bear the broader meaning that nobody should take marriage lightly or indifferently. It is the view of many people that, sadly, this has happened and is happening. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, in his brave speech, gave voice to that. We are treating it all too lightly.
The Conservative Party knows that if the intention to widen marriage to include same-sex couples had been put in its manifesto, it would not have been in a position to form a coalition. Discussion of this fundamental building block of society—we have all described it as that—has been thwarted at every turn. There has not been a proper debate, and the consultative process has been a shambles because, right from the outset, the Government have made it clear that the consultation has never been about whether same sex couples should marry, but how it might be achieved.
That is now behind us, but there is a proper question that has come through our debate today, and it is one that I have heard from same-sex couples. They ask, “When you talk about celebrating married love, why can't it be for us as well?” That is a very important question that we need to face up to. Those proposing change usually argue, as they have done today, in terms of equality. But with respect, we are told that those in same-sex relationships already have parity with marriage through civil partnerships, which give them equal rights. Equality is hardly the right term to use when comparing same-sex couples with those who are married, not least because marriage is not, and has never been, viewed in terms of sameness, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester mentioned earlier, but of difference—the difference of male and female, which creates and nourishes life.
Of course, marriage does not have to include children, but in the majority of cases it does. It is a procreative institution. This is the major and crucial difference between marriage and civil partnerships. This point has not come across as powerfully as it should. Those of us who are resisting change are not doing so because we are cussed or bigoted, but because of the fundamental principle that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. We should not fall into a trap. We have heard once or twice that morality is on only one side of this debate; it is not. Those of us who disagree are morally concerned about the issue as well.
I will end by making this point. I have no doubt whatever that should this Bill pass, marriage as we know it will be weakened and diminished. I do not believe that redefining marriage to include same-sex couples will strengthen it, as the Home Secretary has declared on several occasions. Recent research in countries where the marriage of same-sex couples is already a reality shows the collapse of traditional marriages alongside same-sex marriages. When we vote on the Bill tomorrow, we need to bear this evidence in mind. We shall all follow our consciences, of course, but I shall keep faith with the institution of marriage as I have experienced it and as I have taught it. Therefore, I will vote for the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dear.
My Lords, it seems to me that one of the difficulties we have when faced with something that appears to be so new is that we cannot quite imagine what it must have been like when something like this happened in the past. However, there is a direct 19th-century parallel to the debate we are having here. It was the argument about the right of a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister. That battle was horrendous. The Table of Kindred and Affinity, that schoolboy refuge from boring sermons, specifically forbids such a union. It is the same chapter of Leviticus that condemns gay sex, and it called marriage with your dead wife’s sister an abomination. On that basis, your Lordships’ House stopped reform from 1835 right up to 1907. Last week, I reread the arguments of those who scuppered the reform, and I fear that I have heard them all again today. Your Lordships then complained about rushed legislation. They said that it would be the end of marriage and that it would encourage incest. They hinted at polygamy. They said in particular that for 2,000 years such an outrageous thing had never been contemplated, and yet, once passed, that most controversial of Acts was wholly accepted. The Church of England revised the Table of Kindred and Affinity so that what was once an abomination is now holy matrimony.
It was the science that did it. Once we understood consanguinity, we distinguished between relationships that were genetically dangerous and those which were simply culturally arguable, and so it is with gay marriage. Once we understand scientifically that some people are solely attracted to their own sex, we realise that homosexual practice is not heterosexuals behaving badly, but gay people behaving naturally. That automatically means that the state can no longer exclude this minority. As a result, in my lifetime we have moved from criminalisation almost to equality. Today, we have the chance to complete that journey, to accept the science, and to allow civil marriage for all.
This is civil marriage. State marriage has diverged from church teaching for more than 150 years; some would even say since Henry VIII rigged the rules to his own advantage, but that would be an embarrassment to some Members of this noble House. As a convert Catholic, I have chosen to accept that Christian marriage is about procreation, that it is indissoluble, and that there is no such thing as divorce. Yet, as a parliamentarian, I cannot demand that non-Catholics should accept that definition. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, has reminded us on other occasions, marriage is owned neither by church nor state. Otherwise, I have to say to the noble and right reverend Lord that I am worried about the basis of his theology. It seems to be stuck in an earlier age. There are no echoes of René Girard, one of the greatest theologians of our time. There is no word from Dom Sebastian Moore, not a touch of James Alison. It remains a theology that has not come to terms with Freud. In that it is a precise parallel with the 19th-century bishops who spoke here in that debate and who, like Samuel Wilberforce, had a theology that could not admit of Darwin.
There are, of course, those who say, “Why can’t these homosexuals make do with civil partnerships?” That is entirely to miss the point. Civil partnership is a means of protecting legal rights. Marriage is a public affirmation of love. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, says that marriage is at the heart of love. He is saying that this House should say to homosexuals that they may not express their love in that way. Married for 37 years, I find that offensive. As a parliamentarian, I cannot say that to fellow citizens. I cannot accept a society that will not go that far.
I wonder whether the noble Lord would allow me to say that my argument was built on a very unsatisfactory Bill. We need to send it back to the country so that we can have a proper debate on it. The noble Lord talks about the changes to marriage. Of course there have been many changes, but there has not been a change to the fundamental fact about male and female. I think that all the theologians, stretching back, would agree with me.
All I would say to the noble and right reverend Lord is that he is asking for us to go back to have a debate that he has already concluded. He has said that it cannot change this basic fact. I am suggesting that we have to accept that major social changes do not happen when the majority have aligned themselves. Major social changes have almost always happened when a minority have stood up for what they believe to be right and put it to the public, and in the end have proved that they are right.
I suggest that many of those who talk about civil partnerships were not terribly notable for their support of them at the time. I voted against civil partnerships because I thought that they were a fraud. The Government told gay people that it was marriage and straight people that it was not. I can now, in good conscience, vote for a truthful statement of a necessary reform and for a Prime Minister brave enough to promote it. I hope that this House will not repeat its 19th-century error. I hope that understanding will break through our misgivings and Christian charity through our doubts, and that the House will have the strength to say yes to this Bill.
My Lords, this Bill is about human rights and, as one citizen wrote to me, the creation of a society,
“where citizens are equal both in rights and responsibilities”.
In other words, this means equal citizenship for lesbian, gay and transgender couples. In the words of an LGBT carer, cited by Barnado’s, which supports this Bill in the interests of children, despite the fears expressed by a number of noble Lords,
“this is an opportunity to take away yet another barrier to equality, removing something that makes our families different to straight families”.
I would like to cite and pay tribute to a colleague of mine at Loughborough University, who has been at the forefront of the battle for equal marriage, Professor Sue Wilkinson, and to her partner, a former colleague of mine, Professor Celia Kitzinger. They married in Canada when Professor Wilkinson was based there, only for their marriage to be automatically deemed a civil partnership in this country when she returned. That for them was not equality. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, has explained extremely well why it was not equivalent. They wrote:
“As long as marriage is open only to heterosexuals, and civil partnerships only to lesbians and gay men, the British government is maintaining a symbolic separation of straights and gays, and sending out the clear message that our relationships are of less value to society than heterosexual ones. This is insulting, demeaning and profoundly discriminatory: an affront to social justice and human rights”.
I thus congratulate the Government on legislating to remove this affront.
In doing so, however, the Government risk creating a new source of injustice: the denial of the right of access to civil partnerships for same-sex couples. The announcement of an early review of civil partnerships is therefore welcome. I very much hope that that review will lead to their extension to same-sex couples, not their abolition. The Government Equalities Office published a document challenging some of the myths around the Bill. It states:
“MYTH: There is no difference between civil partnership and marriage. REALITY: There are some small legal differences … But for many people there are important differences in the perception of and responsibilities associated with these separate institutions”.
In the interests of those same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike for whom these differences matter, it would be a backwards step to do away with civil partnerships.
When the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, questioned Ministers, the Secretary of State had some trouble in understanding why some straight couples might prefer a civil partnership over marriage. The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, who is not in his place, explained:
“There are a number of people, particularly women, who do not perhaps share your enthusiasm for marriage and think that marriage oppresses women. None the less, they would like the benefits of a civil partnership and find it rather peculiar that they would not be able to have the benefit of this relationship when same-sex couples can”.
I have to confess that I was one of those women who chose not to enter what I saw as a patriarchal institution, even if the likes of George Clooney were available, which of course he was not. However, I might well have welcomed the possibility of a civil partnership—particularly with Mr Clooney. The committee also questioned Ministers about the costs argument that they had advanced. The Minister for Pensions cited a figure of £3 billion to £4 billion, but later indicated that this figure referred to the cost of total equality in public service pension schemes. Of course, the Bill does not end discrimination in pension schemes, an issue that was raised in the Commons. Could the Minister now provide a more accurate and focused estimate of the cost of extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples?
In the time available, it has not been possible to go into the Bill’s details or raise issues such as the legal recognition of humanist weddings, which I would support in principle. To finish where I began, I believe that this Bill represents an important step for human rights and equal citizenship. I therefore hope that your Lordships’ House will support its basic principles when we come to vote tomorrow.
My Lords, I regret that I cannot wholly follow or agree with the noble Baroness. Many speakers today have pointed to the social changes of the past 50 or more years. I do not, however, believe that progress is either automatic or linear. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that the proponents of change must justify their case to the full.
I regret very much that the fine old English and French word “gay” has, in my lifetime, been appropriated by a small but vocal minority of the population. The result is that it can no longer be used in its original and rather delightful meaning. Now, under the pretext of securing equality, Her Majesty’s Government are proposing to change the meaning of marriage. It is surprising that the leaders of the Conservative Party, who might be expected to uphold traditional values, should lend themselves to this attempt. My noble friend Lord Dear and others have pointed out the constitutional and procedural defects of this Bill, so I will not repeat them. I do however agree with those who have identified unintended and unanticipated consequences.
After these criticisms, I will try to be constructive. Civil partnerships are already recognised in and defined by law. Surely the whole country should regard them as being an honourable status not to be entered into lightly but rather with the intention of permanence, as several noble Lords have already argued. Why should civil partnership be considered a second-best choice or a “make do”, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, put it, which somehow must be promoted to equality with marriage? Those who are in or who propose to enter civil partnerships have a responsibility to live in such a way that their status deserves as much respect as that of married couples.
I conclude that the whole matter has not been adequately considered. It urgently needs further and deeper thought. We should not be rushed off our feet just because some other countries have already legislated for same-sex marriage or because the Bill may be needed to cement the coalition. There is ample evidence that public opinion, including medical opinion, is against the Bill. I therefore support my noble friend Lord Dear and will vote for his amendment. I commend his courage and thoroughness.
My Lords, I got a phone call last week from a former colleague of mine, whom I had not heard from or seen for some time, asking if I would come to his same-sex wedding. I said, “Yes, when is it?”. He said, “As soon as you lot have passed the Bill”. I said, “We might not pass it”. He said, “Well, you’ll vote for it won’t you?”. I said, “No, I won’t”. He said, “Well, you can’t come to the wedding then”. I said, “You’ve just exercised extreme prejudice against me. Why are you doing that? You’re pleading that you want this in order not to have prejudice, and now you’re prejudiced against me because I’m saying that I’m going to vote against it”. Then he said, “It’s not you we want, anyway, it’s your wife—she’ll really make the party rock. Can she come instead?”. I said, “Yes, of course she can. You had better write and ask her. She’ll agree”. They did and she is going.
I said, “By the way, is this anybody I know?”. I thought it might be another member of the team. “No”, he said, “We’ve been together for eight years, but he’s someone you don’t know”. I said, “Good luck”. He then said, “Tell me, really, why you aren’t in favour of this”. I said, “I’m not in favour of it because you’re going to create a series of new minority sectors in the community. You think that you’ve been underprivileged and that you can now get to a point of parity, but you’re going to be like the animals at the end of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. You’re all going to be equal, but some of you will be much more equal than others. And what are you going to ask for next? This is the way it’s going”. He said, “It’s very unfair”. I said, “Look, my concern here is that this is introducing a new division and a new disturbance into British society at exactly a moment when we ought to be putting all of that behind us and getting on with being one nation, trying to sort out the dreadful problems we’ve got without worrying about creating new sub-divisions—and you are a sub-division that will cause a major rift in society”.
I base that view on the fact that I have had a vast number of letters, as my noble friend Lord Naseby said. I think I have had 393 and only three of them have been in favour of this Bill. One of them, which I thought was very sweet, was from a lesbian Christian society. Another, which was absolutely amazing, was from a major research organisation, stating that homosexuality was good because it was an essential part of the evolutionary process for the human psyche. I am still trying to work that one out. As for the rest, everything has been a heartfelt expression of the anxieties that people have over what this will mean for them.
I live in West Sussex, where we have a very strange situation. On the border of the diocese of Chichester, we have two villages called Eartham and Slindon. They are a case study in how the British public reacts. Eartham is a Catholic community and Slindon is Protestant. On one day each in the past 450 years, the populations of those two villages have got up, presumably had a good breakfast and gone out with the express intention of massacring the entire population of the other. They both failed, but they had a very good go at it. The point is that two villages can hate each other to that extent on religious principle and do it for so long.
We have now at last got it sorted out. The tragedy of Slindon and Eartham is the first thing that strikes you when you walk into them: there are no war memorials for the First World War. That is serious. If you do not have a war memorial in a village, it means one of two things. It usually means that somebody in that village was executed for desertion and, therefore, the village is suffering from shame and shock and will not put up a war memorial. In Slindon and Eartham there are no war memorials, but not for that reason. The reason is that when you look at the names of the people who died there—a lot died at the first Ypres—the same names appear on the Catholic and Protestant registers. They are not the same people. They are brothers divided by their religion, which is shocking. That they can live together, go to war together and die together, but not be remembered together, is an outrage. I hope that the right reverend Prelates in front of me will give some serious thought to the possibility that there is a wonderful opportunity for the Church of England to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War next year by setting about a systematic correction of all the missing war memorials in the country to include the 304,000 people who were led out by Protestant priests to face the firing squad. It would be a very nice gesture after this interval of time, and it is way overdue.
We have here an extremely unquiet and disturbed community, which is expressing grave anxiety over what it has. We have heard today that there are real reasons why we have not thought about this long and hard enough. I will wholly support the noble Lord, Lord Dear, in his vote tomorrow, and hope that we will get down to some serious thinking to put it right.
The one word I have not heard enough of today is “marginalisation”. There is a real prospect of marginalisation coming in here. I am particularly unimpressed by the story of the Australian sexual equality board, which received a complaint from the two opening batsmen of the Australian women’s cricket team saying that they had been dropped because they were the only two non-lesbians on the team. They wished to complain, whereupon the board wrote back and said, “If you think that this board exists to look after the interests of a couple of straights like you, you have got another think coming. We exist only for the sake of looking after the gays”. That is marginalisation. The board then rather spoilt the argument by saying, “In any event, ladies, neither of you scored enough runs to be worth bothering with”.
My Lords, seven years ago, this House considered the late Lord Joffe’s Bill on assisted dying for the terminally ill. I had been here only a couple of years and found it quite hard to make up my mind. I could see that the key was whether the safeguards were sufficient or whether, in the urge to be copper-bottomed, they had become too complex. I looked forward to Second Reading, because I expected the arguments for and against, and the merits and inadequacies of the various safeguards to be brought out fully. I was shocked when this House refused a Second Reading. It seemed to me that we had refused to do our job. That is how I feel about the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, as he knows; he was kind enough to tell me in advance of his intent, and I told him that I could not support it.
As this debate has very eloquently shown, the Bill arouses strong feelings on all sides of this House, as did the assisted dying Bill. I believe that there is a majority in this country in favour of this Bill, though a much smaller majority than was in favour of the assisted dying Bill. I believe that on assisted dying, the majority is now greater than it then was. I hope that when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, presents his Bill, we will not make the mistake we made seven years ago.
However, there is a big difference between the two Bills. This is a government Bill that has passed through the House of Commons. In his eloquent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Dear, made four arguments to support his thesis that the procedures so far have been undemocratic. First, he said that the Bill had been in nobody’s manifesto and was not in the coalition agreement. What new doctrine is this? Would we have abolished capital punishment if it had been a requirement that it should first be in somebody’s manifesto? Would Lord Jenkins, in his remarkable tenure at the Home Office, have introduced the society-changing reforms—wholly to the benefit of society, in my view—if they had first to be in the Labour manifesto? They were not in the Labour Party’s manifesto. I do not think absence of a reference in a manifesto proves that this is undemocratic and I would be surprised if students of Burke were to think that.
Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Dear, argued that the Public Bill Committee was skewed in its membership and that its discussions were curtailed. Possibly—I do not know—but it seems a very odd reaction to such a criticism to say that we should be denied any Committee stage. If the Committee stage was too short in the Commons, let us put that right in this place. Thirdly, he argued that the public consultation was inadequate or in some way defective. I do not know about that but let us explore that in our detailed discussions on this Bill. Fourthly, he said that Members of Parliament were under pressure from the party hierarchies and therefore it was not truly a free vote, to which I can say only that Members of Parliament, like Members of this House, are grown-ups. They make up their own minds.
Let us remember that in the other place they face the electorate back in their constituencies and if they are thought to have got it wrong they may pay for that and realising that may affect how they vote. It comes pretty oddly from this place, where we are not exactly paragons of democratic accountability, to accuse the other place of an undemocratic procedure in this case. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, will withdraw his amendment or, if he does not, that the House will not support it.
My Lords, like many of your Lordships, I am thoroughly unhappy with this Bill. Bearing in mind the large number of speakers on this matter, I shall be brief. In my 32 years in your Lordships’ House—I am sure I do not look that old—I have never experienced such a large mailbag as I have had on this Bill, not even for the Hunting Bill. I have had only nine letters in favour of this Bill but those letters were written with sincerity—I have no doubt in believing that. Each one was completely different and had a balanced and lucid argument. The letters against the Bill were nearly all virtually identical.
I really have struggled with this issue. At first I would have followed the noble Lord, Lord Dear, into the Lobby, should he press his amendment to a vote, but two further matters occurred to me. First, your Lordships sit here in this highly privileged position to hold the Government to account, to look at legislation and to improve it where necessary, bearing in mind always that the convention is that the elected House—the other place—should prevail over the unelected Chamber. This is a matter of considerable constitutional importance. It is the way in which we make democratic decisions. I have personal experience of wrecking two Bills at Second Reading—it was enormous fun—the Boxing Bill and the late Lord Diamond’s Peerage Bill, but they were both Private Members’ Bills and they were fair game. This is a major government Bill. We should at least give it a Second Reading. If we do not, we will deserve to be targeted by the critics and opponents of our very existence and that of this House. Our task is to improve this Bill, no matter how imperfect and unsatisfactory we believe it to be, by amendment and balanced argument on its passage through this House.
Secondly, I have listened to the views of many young people, the majority of whom I believe do not consider this Bill to be an issue. On the television programme “Question Time” recently, support for this Bill by young people was clearly demonstrated. Those young people are the next generation. We should listen to them and take their views into account. They have a completely different view of homosexuality and a high degree of toleration for what to many of my age is the elephant in the room. I can quite understand homosexuality as a fact of everyday life, but I find it extremely difficult to accept it as the norm. That is the way that I think—that is me. However, an awful lot of water has flowed under the bridge in the many years that I have been privileged to spend in your Lordships’ House, and things in society have changed vastly over that time. All these matters will continue to change. That is life—that is the way that things go on.
In opposing this Bill, I believe that I should be legislating for the lives of those of a younger generation who will have to live with the consequences of my actions, and I do not feel comfortable with that. However, when the Prime Minister and Mr Clegg refer to this Bill as being a move to create equality, I really object. Heterosexual couples who choose not to be married to one another for their own reasons should be able to join in a civil partnership, should they so wish, and as civil partners they should be able to enjoy all the same financial and legal benefits as those in same-sex civil partnerships or, should this Bill become law, same-sex marriages. That would be equality.
Finally, I have the utmost respect for the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and I congratulate him on his tenacity. However, I can neither support nor oppose him, and I shall abstain on his amendment.