Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)
46C: After Clause 14, insert the following new Clause—
“Equality Act 2010
In the Equality Act 2010, after section 212, insert—“212A Expression of opinion or belief as to marriage
For the purposes of this Act, the expression by a person of the opinion or belief that marriage is the union of one man with one woman does not of itself amount to discrimination against or harassment of another.””
My Lords, I am aware that the hour is getting late and I hope not to detain the Committee for too long. The amendment would insert a new section into the Equality Act 2010 to make it clear that expressing a traditional view about marriage,
“does not of itself amount to discrimination or harassment”,
under the Act.
In our briefing to Peers at Second Reading, the Lords spiritual said that the reasonable expression of opinions or beliefs on the nature of marriage ought not, in our view, to be the subject of claims against individuals under existing discrimination or harassment provisions in the Equality Act 2010. Some recent high profile cases, which I shall not quote as they have been widely circulated, have highlighted where there is potential for risk in a workplace context. If an amendment to the Equality Act were introduced to put beyond doubt that the expression by a person of an opinion or belief about traditional marriage did not of itself amount to discriminating or harassing another, that would provide reassurance and a degree of legal protection for employers and employees and others who express their views in a reasonable way. “Reasonable” is a crucial point to stress; this is not and should not be a charter vocally to agitate in the workplace.
We very much welcome the Government bringing forward earlier in Committee their own amendment to the Public Order Act to put beyond doubt that “discussion or criticism” of same-sex or opposite-sex marriage shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred. I recognise once again the readiness of the Secretary of State and her colleagues to respond positively to the Church of England’s concerns in this area. But this on its own, while welcome as a clarification of the criminal law, is not quite enough. This amendment is the natural and logical counterpart to it in relation to civil equality law. It also follows the precedent set out by the Government that it is acceptable to write such provisions into legislation, as they put it, for the avoidance of doubt.
Some may have concerns that this amendment would give permission, as it were, to those who wish to use language or justify practices that are anti-gay or homophobic. On these Benches we are clear that we have absolutely no truck with that. As the most reverend Primate said in the Second Reading debate, such behaviour is utterly unacceptable. Indeed, I think he used the word “sickening”. This amendment is deliberately drafted in a positive way to give reassurance and legal protection for the avoidance of doubt to many who share an understanding of the churches and other faiths, and those of no faith, about what they believe marriage to be. Ministers have said on frequent occasions that this Bill is as much about freedom of religion as it is about equality and marriage. Accepting this amendment to give recognition and legal certainty to those of many of the world faiths and none who continue to hold a belief about marriage in its traditional form would be well within the grain of that understanding of the Bill.
At root, this amendment is largely about establishing cultural norms and expectations about what will continue to be acceptable in terms of public discourse about marriage. Its insertion into the Equality Act 2010 would signal that Parliament, as Ministers have often sought to reassure us, considered it to be acceptable to maintain and express the traditional understanding of marriage. As I go about the market towns and villages of the heart of England in Leicestershire, that is the view of marriage that people have grown up with and are used to understanding. We cannot expect those cultural assumptions and norms to change overnight or at the speed at which legislation may emerge.
I had an exchange with the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, in this House on 11 December last year in response to the announcement of the consultation results. During that exchange the noble Baroness said to me:
“We are not changing society. We are bringing forward changes to reflect society as it is. We are seeking to do so in a way that is respectful and understanding of different views”.—[Official Report, 11/12/12; col. 992.]
I acknowledge that, but I would beg to differ on the point about this Bill not changing society. It establishes through law new and different cultural norms and expectations, introduced at some speed. If we are to do this in a way that the noble Baroness rightly identified as being,
“respectful and understanding of different views”,
the law needs to give expression to that principle. This amendment achieves that and helps insulate against what I might call an isolating or even chilling effect for some of those who are already finding themselves somewhat left out in the cold. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am puzzled by this amendment because I cannot see any realistic circumstances whatever in which the expression by a person of the opinion or belief that marriage is the union of one man with one woman does of itself amount to discrimination or harassment. It is simply inconceivable that any court could so find. This amendment would have a real disadvantage because it would wrongly imply that the mere expression of other views might amount to discrimination or harassment, contrary to all the principles of the equality legislation.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his measured and thoughtful introduction of the amendment. We discussed much of this last week and the views of these Benches have not changed since then. We think that the equality legislation covers this point. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is right in what he said. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Royall confirmed the view of these Benches that we think that the safeguards are in place, that they are respectful and that they do the trick. I look forward to listening to what the Minister has to say, but we have not changed our view that things are already safe.
My Lords, it seems to me that adding the amendment to the Bill can do no harm to anyone and give reassurance to many. In that context, I hope my noble friend Lady Stowell will be able to give a reply that shows she understands why the right reverend Prelate introduced the amendment and why a number of us feel that he was entirely justified in so doing.
I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for introducing his amendment and also for quoting me from December of last year when I repeated the statement of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State when the Government published their response to the consultation. I actually remember what I said to him that day about the Bill, as we intended at that time, not being designed to change society but to reflect society as it is changing. I stand by that statement in response to his question that day. I hope that I can reassure him and other noble Lords that the protections already exist to allow people to express a perfectly legitimate belief that marriage should be only between a man and a woman.
I know what my noble friend Lord Cormack has just said but I think it is important for me to stress again that that is an absolutely legitimate belief. People have the absolute right to express that belief and such a religious or philosophical belief is a protected belief under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and under the Equality Act 2010 itself. I am sure from the contribution he made in earlier debates that if the noble Lord, Lord Lester, was here he would also refer to the Human Rights Act and quote,
“so far as it is possible to do so, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights”.
Perhaps more significantly in this context, Section 13 provides:
“If a court’s determination of any question arising under this Act might affect the exercise by a religious organisation (itself or its members collectively) of the Convention right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, it must have particular regard to the importance of that right”.
There is therefore no doubt at all that belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman is both legitimate, as I have said, and mainstream. I hope that from the debates we have had already on this topic during Committee, and my responses to them, I am able to reassure noble Lords. However, I will go over some of the key points again in response to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester.
Our commitment to protecting the right of people to believe that marriage should be of one man with one woman was demonstrated in particular, as he has acknowledged, by the Government’s amendment to the Public Order Act 1986, which the House agreed last week. This puts beyond doubt that offences regarding stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation do not outlaw the reasonable expression of the view that marriage should be between a man and a woman. We were able to insert this clarificatory wording in that case because it amends an existing avoidance of doubt provision. There was therefore no risk that it might cast doubt on whether the reasonable expression of other views might amount to hate crime.
However, that is not the case with this amendment. This amendment would open up uncertainty as to whether discussion or criticism of other matters, such as civil partnerships or homosexuality in general, might of themselves constitute unlawful discrimination or harassment under the Equality Act 2010. However, as I have said, we recognise and agree that there is a need to ensure that employers and public authorities do not misinterpret or misapply their responsibilities in this regard. That is why we have committed to working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to ensure that its statutory codes of practice and guidance in this area are as clear as possible. During the debate on Amendment 13 on the public sector equality duty, I undertook to write to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, to set out how the provisions contained in the Equality Act 2010 will provide adequate protections for religious organisations and individuals, and why the equality duty cannot be used to penalise those who do not agree with same-sex marriage.
I understand the concern that has been expressed by the right reverend Prelate and understand the points that have been made by my noble friend Lord Cormack. However, I do not think that I can be any clearer than I have been today, and in response to previous debates, in making the point that it remains absolutely legitimate for people to have that belief and it remains absolutely legitimate for them to be able to express that belief. The Bill as we have drafted it protects the religious freedoms of faiths that want to maintain their existing belief in marriage being between a man and a woman. I hope that, with my restating all these points, the right reverend Prelate will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her clear and thorough response. I defer of course to the legal argument of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, although I would remind him that an employee who was demoted by his housing association employer for expressing the view on his personal Facebook page that same-sex marriage in church was, as he put it, “an equality too far”, successfully brought a breach of contract claim against the employer. My contention is that he should not have been put in the position of having to do that. That is the kind of reassurance I am looking for today.
We debated this at great length last week when the same example was used on several occasions to make a similar point. As it has been raised again, I think it is worth repeating that the right reverend Prelate is quite right that it is so frustrating that somebody had to go through that process of establishing their freedom in order for it to be made clear. I regret that it was necessary for him to do that. However, the law, as it stands, did protect the man in question. I hope that the efforts that we are making with the Equality and Human Rights Commission properly to inform public authorities of the absolute rights and freedoms of people to express their religious beliefs will reduce the number of cases of the kind to which the right reverend Prelate refers.
I understand what the right reverend Prelate is trying to do and completely agree with it. However, I wonder whether he might also take away with him the issue of employees of the Church of England. The church is the only organisation exempt from the employment regulation that would otherwise prevent the church from dismissing somebody for simply being gay. It was an exemption that it argued for and received. When the right reverend Prelate talks about other employers, I say with absolute humility that it would be lovely if the Church of England could revisit that decision about being able to sack gay priests who are not active homosexuals and are not having sex but who simply identify themselves as being gay. I will listen much more sympathetically to the arguments that the right reverend Prelate puts forward when that anomaly is corrected.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, who asks, through me, whether the Church of England would revisit a number of issues and a number of stands that it has taken. I wish that the church would do that and would certainly want to play my part in ensuring that it does. I have taken careful note of speeches made around this House during the passage of this Bill and of what the most reverend Primates the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have said on this. I take his point and think it is well made.
Tomorrow evening, I will be acting as host to 50 or 60 of the world faith leaders in my garden in Leicester. We work closely together and I know how deeply concerned they are about their freedoms to follow and proclaim the traditional teachings of their faith and how much they look to their bishop, who has the privilege of a seat in this House, to do everything possible to ensure that those freedoms are underwritten by the Bill. It is in that spirit that I brought forward this amendment today. I now beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 46C withdrawn.
Amendment 46D not moved.
47: Before Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
“Review of impact of same sex marriage
The Secretary of State must arrange—(a) for the operation and effects of this Act to be reviewed two years and five years after this Act is passed;(b) for the report on the outcome of the first review to be produced and published within thirty months of this Act being passed;(c) for the report on the outcome of the second review to be produced and published within five years and six months of this Act being passed; and(d) for both reviews to be conducted by a Lord Justice of Appeal taking appropriate evidence with particular regard to the impact of this Act on civil liberties and the rates of—(i) opposite sex marriage, and(ii) same sex marriage.”
My Lords, by any stretch of the imagination same-sex marriage is something of a social experiment. Its consequences cannot accurately be foretold, certainly not in this country. Amendment 47 requires a review of the legislation to be conducted by a Lord Justice of Appeal, two years and again five years after the Act is passed, with reports published within six months of each of those two reviews. If the amendment is carried, the reviews are to focus particularly on the impact of the legislation, first on civil liberty and secondly on the rates of opposite and same-sex marriage.
The reasoning behind the amendment is that the impact of same-sex marriage on marriage rates should be reviewed, because evidence shows that redefining marriage undermines support for marriage in the wider society. I draw two examples. After same-sex marriage was introduced in Spain, marriages across the whole population plummeted by more than 20% in the following six years. It has been said that the relaxation of divorce laws that occurred at about the same time as the introduction of same-sex marriage had something to do with this fall. No doubt it did, but it could not account for the full extent of that 20% fall. Without going into the detail, the Netherlands also saw a significant fall in marriage rates after marriage was redefined there.
The focus of the reviews on the consequences of same-sex marriage for civil liberty will enable evaluation of the effectiveness of the Government’s quadruple lock. More broadly, many civil liberty concerns, some of which we have just heard again in the preceding amendment, have been raised with respect to the Bill, only to be largely dismissed by the Government and other supporters of the legislation. With the greatest respect for the Minister, I must say that we have now seen more than 50 amendments in Committee. On several occasions I would have expected words from the Front Bench along the lines of, “We will take away what has been said and consider it”, or, “We intend to review what has been said in the Chamber”, or, “I will take this away and discuss what he has said with the noble Lord”. I can think of only two examples of this taking place. If the Minister can disabuse me of the idea that only two or three amendments have received that sort of response, I will be delighted to know how many more there are.
It seems to me that the noble Baroness’s instructions are heavily annotated with, “Do not concede”. From my standpoint, and that of others who have spoken to me in the margins of Committee before this third day, it seems that the Government are putting some sort of stone wall around the Bill, and refusing to concede anything at all of any substance. Whether that is right or not—and I look forward to being disabused of that idea—I would be delighted to know that the Government are going to take away substantial parts of this discussion to review before we come to Report.
Putting that to one side, the reviews set out in the amendment will be able to consider the extent to which the Government’s assurances have been vindicated or contradicted by events. Concerns about the impact of same-sex marriage on civil liberty arise partly because of what has already happened. Again, we have just had a comment on that in the preceding amendment. Believers in traditional marriage have been punished, both in the UK under the current definition of marriage, and also internationally in those countries which have redefined marriage. We have heard the case of Aidan Smith, which has been much quoted in the last three days of Committee, and was referred to again by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester.
There were three more examples in very quick time. The former leader of the SNP, Gordon Wilson, was voted off the board of Dundee Citizens Advice Bureau for supporting traditional marriage. Arthur McGeorge, a bus driver, faced disciplinary action by his bosses simply because he had shared during his break time at work a petition backing traditional marriage. The World Congress of Families wanted to hold a conference on redefining marriage at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, but it was banned by the Law Society and the conference centre, because, as they said, discussing the subject of redefining marriage would be a breach of diversity policies.
Elsewhere in the world—to get the drift of where all this is going—a Christian florist in Washington state who said that she could not provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding because it was against her beliefs is being sued by the couple concerned. In Canada, a sports journalist, Mr Damian Goddard, was fired for tweeting that he supported traditional man-woman marriage. In April this year, New Zealand voted to redefine marriage, with the law taking effect from August this year. Within weeks of the vote, the charity, Family First New Zealand, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, was told by the New Zealand Charities Registration Board that it would lose its charitable status because its activities did not provide public benefit.
This is the climate that we are in. My proposed new clause seeks to have the Bill reviewed at two stages when it becomes law—assuming that it does, and I am sure that it will. I say to the Front Bench that if the Government are so very confident that there is nothing to fear and that the Bill is watertight—and I would be delighted to find that that were the case—it follows that they should have no fear of demonstrating its success by those reviews. I am not so sure necessarily that that will follow. To go out to public consultation, to go out to opinion polls as to where this goes—we have heard this debated in your Lordships’ House in the past. On the one hand, 83% of people taking part in the consultation on the Bill were apparently against it. The ComRes poll and the bulging postbags that we have heard about all seem to show that the Bill is not a very good idea. On the other hand, the polls that have been put forward by Stonewall and others suggest that the Bill is probably a very good idea. Going out to the public in those sorts of ways is not going to produce much of a result. To measure the result of the Bill at the two-year point and the five-year point, and having it done independently and with judicial scrutiny, seems to me to be the way to resolve whether it is going to work and will allay a great deal of public concern which exists at the moment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have not spoken previously in this Committee, but I am anxious to make amends to the noble Lord. When he spoke at Second Reading, someone in the public was watching the television and wrote to me complaining that my facial expressions seemed to indicate some disagreement with him. I very much apologise for that and, even better than that, I am glad to say that I have some sympathy with the principle of what his proposed new clause sets out—although I am bound to say that his remarks did their best to alienate me as I went along.
My view has always been that all Acts—or certainly all major Acts—should be subject to post-legislative scrutiny. It is one of the curiosities of this place that we sometimes, although not always, have pre-legislative scrutiny, which is doubtless of some value, but not the more important post-legislative scrutiny, seeing whether it has all worked out properly or at least as Parliament has intended. From that point of view, therefore, I have sympathy with what the noble Lord is proposing, although he did not much dwell on that aspect of it. Sadly, however, I cannot agree with the detail of the noble Lord’s amendment. A review after two years, for example, is frankly far too early for any sensible conclusion.
What is basically wrong is the process by which this post-legislative scrutiny will take place. Why do we need a Lord Justice of Appeal to carry it out? I have never heard of post-legislative scrutiny being carried out by a Lord Justice of Appeal. I would have thought that it was essentially a job for Parliament and, above all, for this House. This is what we do rather well. I find it extremely difficult to go along with the noble Lord. I cannot support him, but if he would join me in a general proposal—not just on this Bill, which would be foolish—to try to introduce post-legislative scrutiny to Acts generally then we would very much be on the same side.
Both on the detail and above all on the specifics of the way the noble Lord has set it out in this Bill, I cannot support the proposed new clause. I do not think that it adds up to what even the noble Lord really wants.
There may be differences on the detail in relation to the nature of the review and its timing—as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has said—but I hope that my facial expression as conveyed by television will indicate that I am in broad agreement with the principle of the noble Lord, Lord Dear.
I pose a simple question to the Minister in this respect. What do the Government lose by acceding to the request for a review after a reasonable interval? They have given assurances that there will be no adverse consequences to any individual and that all the litany of adverse consequences on people in this country and abroad will not come to pass because they have a watertight Bill. If they are so confident of those assurances that there is no possible harm to those who wish to express their deeply held views, why are they likely to contest this in principle?
In the past, when we have cited problems which have arisen—perhaps in Washington state, the Netherlands or in Sweden—it has been easy for the Government’s spokesman to argue: “Our position is different. We are not Sweden and we are not the Netherlands”. Let us concede that this is a laboratory experiment. We do not in fact know how watertight the reassurances that the Government have given will be. We do not as yet know what will actually happen in practice. After a reasonable interval, we can review and find out whether the assurances are indeed as watertight as the Government claim. Therefore I support the principle that there should be some form of review and I hope that the Government will accede to it.
My Lords, on these issues I do not often find myself more in sympathy with my noble friend Lord Fowler than with the noble Lord, Lord Dear—a man I admire very much. However, I am bound to say that I strongly agree with my noble friend Lord Fowler that all major legislation should be subject to proper post-legislative scrutiny. That is the job of Parliament, and as he said, this House is particularly well suited to carrying out that task.
I could not support this amendment because the noble Lord, Lord Dear, puts before us a wholly unrealistic proposition. We should not appoint a Lord of Appeal to do this. The timescale is wrong and, frankly, although I share the noble Lord’s real concerns about this Bill, which I have made plain in various interventions on Second Reading and in Committee, if this change comes about—and like the noble Lord, Lord Dear, I think that it will—it is an irrevocable change to our society. I agree with what the right reverend Prelate, who has temporarily left the Chamber, said in his speech a few moments ago. This is a real change to our society
Whatever a Lord of Appeal might say, he or she will not put the clock back. What those of us who believe firmly, strongly and deeply in traditional marriage must do is to use every opportunity that we have, as we have repeatedly been assured that the Bill will allow, to state our beliefs calmly, clearly and unequivocally, while in no sense attacking those who will avail themselves of the opportunities that the Bill will give them. That is what we must do: be positive in our defence of traditional marriage between a man and a woman. Nothing that any Lord of Appeal can say or do will begin to rival that as a way to champion traditional values.
Although I join my noble friend Lord Fowler in saying to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, that an amendment that wrote into the Bill the need for post-legislative scrutiny would certainly have my support, it probably does not need to be written in. An assurance from my noble friend would go some way to meeting my concerns in that regard. I do not believe that the amendment offers any realistic way forward.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I agree with the amendment in principle, and any defects can be rectified at a later stage. One reason why there should be a post-legislative review is that we did not have any pre-legislation. That is the great defect. In a Bill of this sort with such far-reaching consequences, there should have been pre-legislation so that all the possibilities could have been ironed out over quite a long period and then a Bill which had considered all the consequences could have been brought before Parliament. Indeed, perhaps there would have been time to put it to the people in the manifestos—or perhaps, this will be discussed later—by way of a referendum. That is one very good reason why we should have post-Bill scrutiny.
The other reason is that the Bill, although it is short, is so complicated and has such far-reaching consequences—unintended consequences—that we ought to be able to have a post-legislative review of it to see whether it is working well and, indeed, whether it should be improved. For that reason, as I said at the beginning, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dear.
My Lords, I, too, support the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on the principle of the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is absolutely right that in this amendment we can make up for past omissions—things that should have happened but have not. I am conscious that, at this moment, the Mental Capacity Act is subject to post-legislative scrutiny, which has been very successful. We have the principle already and I am sure that we have done it with other Acts in the past. The National Health Service, about which I know a bit, is simply an organ of the state, of Parliament, and it is endlessly under scrutiny. At the moment, the Care Quality Commission is going through the wringer, as we know, because people are so concerned that the regulator is not doing the job that people hoped it would.
Having listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Dear, had to say about the different cases, I find it interesting that throughout this Committee stage noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in particular—have assured us that there is no problem with this Bill because we have safeguards in both European and national legislation. Yet we hear of these cases all the time and this is before the Bill has been enacted. At least one of the safeguards that we could have is the principle laid down by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, that we should have some post-legislative scrutiny.
My Lords, in my view this amendment is absolutely unnecessary in the terms put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Dear. I think that the process that the noble Lord suggests is flawed and unnecessary. However, I am a great fan of post-legislative scrutiny and I know that the committee looking into the Mental Capacity Act is doing a splendid job. I think that every Act should be subject to pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny as a matter of course, so I would not be against post-legislative scrutiny, but I am utterly against the sort of judicial process that the noble Lord speaks of.
I say to my noble friend Lord Anderson that I find it slightly offensive that he talks of this Bill as a sort of laboratory experiment. I recognise that it brings about a profound change in our society—from my perspective, a very welcome change—but it is certainly not a laboratory experiment. I wish to put that on record.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, that his suggestion would be completely impractical. The first same-sex marriages will not take place until about a year after the Act has passed. A review in two years’ time would be completely mad. I have discussed this with the Minister and I think that there will be some standard post-implementation evaluation of the Bill, which will be very welcome, but that will rightly not take place for some time. I ask the noble Lord whether he looked at his own marriage one or two years after he entered wedded bliss. I suspect not. In same-sex marriages we tend to think about the seven-year itch, which is a long time after the two years that the noble Lord is talking about.
The thing that would interest me in 10 years’ time would be to go back to noble Lords who are currently against or have deep concerns about the Bill to see whether their views of same-sex marriage have changed. I would wager that the same acceptance that we now have on all Benches for civil partnerships—
The difference is that, whatever reasonable time one chooses, this is not about looking at the nature of marriage or the changes brought about; it is about looking at the protections that have been promised and whether or not they are effective. That is the real purpose of a review, whether it be a post-legislative review or something else, at the appropriate time.
I understand what my noble friend is saying and, as I say, in terms of post-legislative scrutiny I think that that is not a bad thing to look at. However, I point out that views of civil partnerships over the past nine years have changed profoundly and I think that we will find that views of same-sex marriage will change also. Many of the fears that people expressed at the time of the Civil Partnership Bill were very much the same as the concerns being expressed about the same-sex marriage Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, cited statistics about Spain and the Netherlands. He has his set of statistics and we have ours. I do not have my own statistics to hand. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister could, in due course, write with our interpretation of those statistics so that they, too, are on record.
My Lords, I was being slightly flippant when I asked the noble Lord to look at his own marriage. I should perhaps have talked of my marriage. If I had looked at my own marriage after one year, it would have been far too soon. In saying “mad”, I was not referring to people or meaning to personalise. I was not accusing the noble Lord of being mad but expressing a view about his suggestion that there should be a judicial process to look at the Bill in two years’ time, which is not sensible. Perhaps I should be more measured in my language. I apologise to the noble Lord.
I support the principle of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, in rather the same way as my noble friend Lord Fowler does. It would not be particularly suitable to ask a Lord Justice to do this sort of work. The sort of inquiries that Lord Justices and other judges are asked to do are usually into some specific matter in which their talent and fact-finding is thought to be of particular importance. It has been said that the results of their recommendations are often not quite as influential as the findings that they make on facts. Anyhow, post-legislative scrutiny of this Bill, as with other Bills, would be extremely valuable. It has been said more than once that marriage is the building block of our society. If you change the building blocks, that is quite likely to produce some change in the building, whether for good or bad. It would be right to have this as a subject of post-legislative scrutiny. So far as my marriage is concerned, a very significant change occurred within the first year.
I think that I recognise the sort of change that happens in the first year and from the other little ones who come along after that.
I begin by agreeing with noble Lords that the Bill, if enacted, should be reviewed, as is standard practice for any significant legislation. Whether they are for or against the Bill, noble Lords are pushing at an open door. Let me address quickly the slightly different point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dear—the argument that there have been few changes to the Bill during its passage. I point him to the comprehensive answer that my noble friend Lady Stowell gave to counter that point when the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, made it earlier.
In terms of a review of how this legislation works, we agree with the principle. I welcome the support that has come from my noble friends Lord Fowler, Lord Cormack and Lady Cumberlege, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. We would envisage post-legislative scrutiny covering issues such as an assessment of how the Act has worked in practice, which would no doubt address the kind of concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, has mentioned, should they arise. We also envisage it covering: when and how different provisions have been brought into operation; any provisions that have not been brought into force, or enabling powers not used; details of the associated delegated legislation, guidance documents or other relevant material prepared or issued in connection with the Act; and any specific legal or drafting difficulties that had been matters of public concern. That was perhaps the kind of issue that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, was talking about—for example, where litigation has resulted, as the right reverend Prelate mentioned on the last grouping.
However, the timing of such a review needs to be carefully considered, with some flexibility built into the process, which is why arrangements for review are typically not set out within a Bill. In line with established Cabinet Office procedures, a memorandum will be produced containing a preliminary assessment of how the Act has turned out in reality, measured by the objectives set out during the passage of the Bill—including, for example, the protections mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. That would be part of the way in which the Act would be reviewed. It will then be a matter for a Select Committee to determine whether it wants to go on to hold a wider post-legislative inquiry into the Act. I thank my noble friends for the support they have given on the process. The convention is that a review is undertaken three to five years after Royal Assent—perhaps earlier than the noble Baroness indicated—in order to provide sufficient time for the new law to bed in and operate as intended. The scrutiny would be done at an appropriate time.
While I appreciate the intention behind this amendment, what is proposed instead by the amendment is something more complicated, as noble Lords have indicated, and not proportionate to what needs to be done, involving as it does two separate reviews and a potentially lengthy process, which would delay the answers that I am sure we would all be keen to hear. So, in essence, we are in agreement on the need for a review but not on the mechanics. That is why I ask the noble Lord to accept my reassurances and to withdraw his amendment.
I have to say that I remain a little confused about this, but at a much higher level. Everyone on all sides of the House seems to say that the principle is very good. That started with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and shortly after that by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. If the principle is right, perhaps we need not worry too much about the detail. I for one would not push the detail at all—whether it is one year or five years, or indeed whether it is a Lord Justice of Appeal or not.
I thought that those who spoke in support of the amendment in specific terms—the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Stoddart of Swindon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege—in effect all said the same thing, which is that there has been no real pre-legislative scrutiny at all. We know that the Bill came into the House of Commons at a rate of knots. For that reason alone, it is well worth while looking at the workings of the Bill once it becomes an Act of Parliament and goes through into society.
The point has been made several times on both side of the House. The Bill is so complicated and so fundamental to society—“building block” was mentioned—and there is so much concern about it outside that the argument can be carried quite easily that we need to look at its workings at some stage in the future. I do not want to get into the detail; this is something of a probing amendment in any case and I am more than happy to withdraw it at this stage.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.
48: Before Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
(1) A referendum is to be held in England and Wales on the issue of same sex marriage.
(2) The referendum is to be held on 7 May 2015.
(3) If the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is impossible or impracticable for the referendum to be held on 7 May 2015, or that it cannot be conducted properly if held on that day, the Secretary of State may by order appoint a later day as the day on which the referendum is to be held.
(4) Any day appointed by order under subsection (3) must be before 1 June 2016.
(5) Where a day is appointed under subsection (4), the Secretary of State may by order make supplemental or consequential provision.
(6) The Secretary of State must by order make provisions for the conduct of the referendum.
(7) An order under this section may not be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(8) The question that is to appear on the ballot papers is—
“At present, the law in England and Wales defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Should the law be changed to define marriage as the union of two people—whether a man and a woman, or woman and a woman, or a man and a man?”.
(9) Those entitled to vote in the referendum are the persons who, on the date of the referendum, would be entitled to vote as electors at a parliamentary election in any constituency.”
My Lords, Amendment 48 stands in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Singh, both of whom are present this evening.
If Amendment 48 were adopted, after this Bill reached the statute books there would need to be a referendum of the people of England and Wales in which a simple majority supported the redefinition of marriage proposed by this Bill before the new legislation could take effect. The proposed new clause sets out the date—of course, that of the general election, to ensure a good turnout in the referendum. In my judgment, the question is a fair and simple yes or no to the proposed change.
I readily admit that there was a time when referendums were alien to our British tradition. Those of my grandparents’ generation never got to vote in any referendums. Of course, things have changed in recent years. Leaving aside the vote on Sunday opening of public houses in Wales, there was in 1975 the Common Market referendum; in 1979 the first devolution referendums; in 1997 the second devolution referendums; in 2011 the Welsh Assembly referendum; and of course there was the referendum on PR for Westminster elections in May 2011. If the Prime Minister has his way, in 2017 there will be a further referendum on our future membership of the European Union. That proposed referendum is on a relatively complex matter. By contrast, the referendum on this Bill would be a simple choice. In my view, there is a far greater public interest on this issue than in several of the other referendums. There is a clear constitutional precedent for the use of referendums now in decision-making and clearly the Government have no objection in principle to the use of referendums.
What is it about this particular issue that merits the provision of a referendum? I give three main reasons. First, there is the magnitude of the change. In the first instance, we need to recognise the very radical nature of the change proposed by the Bill. While there is no denying that aspects of marriage have changed over the years, the basic definition that it is a lifelong commitment of a man and a woman in a potentially procreative context has not changed for millennia. Indeed, there is a very real sense in which marriage predates the state and in which our marriage laws do not so much define marriage as reflect a pre-existing definition. In that context, seeking to redefine marriage is revolutionary: first, because marriage has been defined in one way for so long; and secondly, because we are seeking to use a political means to redefine something that was not defined politically in the first place. Many champions of the limited state would suggest that we should respect the boundary between civil society and the state and not engage in such projects. However, if one is to do so, the need for a very clear mandate becomes particularly developed.
Secondly, there is the magnitude of the change in the absence of that electoral mandate. Surely no person speaking on behalf of the Government can plausibly claim that there is an electoral mandate for this change. We need to understand that there has been no mandate. It is one thing to seek to introduce a more modest change without an electoral mandate but to engage in this kind of fundamental change without such a mandate is frankly shocking. There was no manifesto commitment from any party within the coalition or from my own party without. Some have sought to point to the Conservative Party’s A Contract for Equalities as justification but that will not do. It was an entirely separate document from the 2010 manifesto, published just three days before the election and long after postal voting had begun. Moreover, that contract did not commit to redefine marriage, only to consider reclassifying civil partnerships as marriage—something that would have involved only amending the Civil Partnership Act, not rewriting the Marriage Act. Equally, during that election campaign the then leader of the Opposition told Sky News that he had no plans to redefine marriage. Of course, during the passage of the Civil Partnership Act it was made clear from the then Government’s Front Bench that that did not constitute a step towards equal marriage. Thus, the strength of particular pressure groups appears to be quite formidable.
Thirdly, there is the violation of constitutional due process. In this mandate-less context for a very far-reaching change, one would have expected the Government to tread with some deliberate care and to strive to make up for the lack of an electoral mandate by being careful to do everything very properly: conducting a number of high-quality consultations, perhaps publishing a Green Paper and then a White Paper, or perhaps establishing a royal commission. One would certainly have expected a draft Bill and some form of pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses. The only thing we got was a single and very flawed consultation process. In the first instance of that process, all submissions were anonymous so there was nothing to stop people with strong views making multiple submissions. Moreover, the anonymity also means that we have no way of knowing what proportion of submissions came from abroad, perhaps in response to a particular foreign pressure group. That should certainly be considered in light of the fact that those submissions were not made by British citizens who stand to be affected by any change in our domestic law.
Compounding the lack of regard for the electorate and the failure to bother with a manifesto mandate, the Government first intimated that the consultation would be on how, not whether, to redefine marriage. After protests, it was agreed that the first question should ask people whether they supported a redefinition of marriage. Mindful of that first question and the fact that it was answered by the Coalition for Marriage petition, the coalition asked the Government in turn whether signatories to the petition could be counted as submissions in the process. They were assured that signatories would be counted as submissions to the consultation and signatories acted accordingly. That assurance proved wholly worthless and was totally abandoned by the Government.
It does not take much to imagine the outrage of those who were so advised when the Government announced after the conclusion of the consultation that it was not counting the 500,000 Coalition for Marriage signatures that were delivered to them as submissions to the consultations. The only words of explanation provided were that of course the Government took the petition signatories into consideration but not as submissions to their consultation, and that, back to their earlier message, the consultation was never about the “whether” but about the “how”. The end result was that the Government could claim that 53% of submissions were in favour of redefining marriage.
Had the 500,000 petition signatures been included, they would have provided a far more robust source of data since each signature came with a name and an address proving that they were British resident citizens. The result would have then been 83% against. As it was, the so-called consultation carried out by the Government proved worthless and totally bogus. As if that was not enough, the Government then announced that they intended to make the changes they proposed even more radical by extending the project from the redefinition of civil marriage to the redefinition of marriage per se. Seldom can a Bill with such far-reaching consequences have been developed with such scant regard for constitutional propriety.
We come to parliamentary scrutiny, over which I will go fairly speedily. At Second Reading in another place, Members of Parliament were given only four minutes to deliver their speeches. They were in fact all whipped to attend. When it went to Committee, instead of allowing all Members to speak, vote and move amendments, which the other place had done on much lesser issues, the Bill was committed to a Committee of just 19 Members. By convention, Bills affecting the constitution—I submit this is certainly such a Bill—are debated by a Committee of the whole House. This was sent to a Public Bill Committee and the Second Reading Division was not accurately reflected in the allocation of Committee seats. Fifteen of the 19 on the Committee had voted for the Bill. Unsurprisingly, no amendments were made. The assumption was, and remains, that the Government had got it essentially right from the start. Spokesmen for the Government and the Opposition were joint cheerleaders for the Bill. Of the words spoken at Committee, 60% came from three dissenters. The Opposition moved only 15 amendments in five days of debate, 11 of them being discussed in a single 30-minute debate.
Then, in a development that beggars belief, the programme Motion on Report allocated just two and a quarter hours to debate amendments on what has been one of the main areas of debate in this House—all the conscience and religious liberty issues—but four and a half hours were given to humanist weddings and transsexual benefits. Numerous Members wanted to speak during the debate on the very vital conscience amendments but were unable to do so because there was inadequate time. Eight amendments were selected but there was time to divide on only three. By contrast, despite the four and a half hours allocated, there were no Divisions at all on humanist weddings and transsexual benefits. There were suggestions that this was a free vote, but one Front-Bencher was compelled to remove his name from all amendments on Report and there was clear evidence of substantial pressure put on Members. A cross-party group of MPs was so aggrieved about the way in which the Bill was handled in the other place that they took the unusual step of writing to Peers to highlight the problems.
Of course, it can be argued that there has also been unseemly haste in your Lordships’ House. Only two days were originally scheduled for Committee. Of those two original days, one debate went beyond 11 pm and the other beyond midnight. It was assumed that this third day would be relatively short, but it is now 10.20 pm and a number of amendments remain to be debated. Only two days have been scheduled for Report, on 8 and 10 July.
I submit that when we have regard for the way in which this Bill has been handled, it far from dignifies our constitution by affirming good practice. Surely any constitutional observer would be puzzled by the speed. Will the Minister answer this simple question: what is the reason for the hurry? Why, after all the long debate and the long period in which there has been a simple and agreed definition of marriage, is the juggernaut now rolling at such speed? What is the reason for the speed? Even Stonewall came round to support for so-called equal marriage only a couple of years ago. Does Mr Cameron have the zeal of a convert? Why is he so desperate to complete all the stages before the Summer Recess, which has run over the timetable for a number of other Bills that many would consider far more relevant and important than this? Is it because this is such a neuralgic issue for his party and for Conservative activists that he is desperately anxious to put the issue behind him, recognising that we are now less than two years from the next general election? Perhaps the Minister can give some objective reason for the hurry, which is highly unusual for any Bill.
In short, it is very clear that when we put together the three considerations that I have reflected upon today—the magnitude of the change in question, which renders a democratic mandate imperative; the lack of any democratic mandate; and the compounding of the grievance resulting from the lack of any democratic mandate because of the multiple offences of due process in the passage of this Bill—we find ourselves with a very serious problem. We can kid ourselves, pretending that it is acceptable to build far-reaching changes on this slim and shaky foundation, and proceed speedily, regardless of the consequences. However, that would surely be unwise.
It is in that context that I believe Amendment 48 is of great consequence. As I noted at the outset, if your Lordships’ House supports Amendment 48 it will not stop this Bill becoming law, but there must be a referendum that secures majority support before the law can take effect—which Amendment 59 provides for. It would be an opportunity for the people to have their say, not on the question of homosexuality but on the question of their views on traditional marriage. That will serve two purposes. First, it will compensate for the lack of an election mandate, so vital in the context of such a far-reaching and radical measure. The debate in your Lordships’ House has revealed some disagreement about the state of public opinion. Different opinion polls on this issue have been cited by my noble friend and myself. If the Government are so confident that they have the majority of the public on their side, surely they should have no fears about asking that same public to express their views. There is also the additional advantage for the Government that a referendum in favour of the Bill would cement the change in our law. No future Government would dare to be bold enough to seek to reverse that which the people had endorsed.
Secondly, it would also make up for the lack of respect for constitutional and due process that has been exhibited massively in the development of this Bill to date. As we know, the Prime Minister would like to have a referendum on our membership of the European Union. I submit that having a referendum on this marriage question is just as important if we are to address the constitutional problems that have surrounded the development of the Bill. By the European Union Act of two years ago, the Government have ensured that there will be a referendum on even relatively trivial transfers of power to Brussels—what a sense of priorities. Some might argue that this is not a constitutional issue; I completely disagree.
Finally, the marriage issue lends itself to a referendum because referendums work well only when the presenting dilemma can be encapsulated in a simple question. That is eminently the case here: “Do you believe that the definition of marriage should change from that between a man and a woman for life, to that between two people for life?”. In my judgment, the text satisfies the test for holding a referendum that it is a matter of major public concern and it is easy to understand the choice. This would have the additional safeguard that it would result from a settled view of the British people, rather than from the spurious government consultation process that I have outlined. I beg to move Amendment 48.
My Lords, I added my name to this amendment. I referred to the desirability of testing public opinion at Second Reading, but I will not detain the House for more than a few moments; the hour is late and we have had a very long exposition of the need for a referendum, and of the deficiencies of the Government in the way that this Bill has been handled so far. I endorse all that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said in that regard; the consultation process was deeply flawed and there has been an element of haste that was, frankly, not necessary.
My main reason for supporting the idea of a referendum is this: we do not know what the majority feeling is in our country on this very important social issue. All sorts of figures have been bandied around on both sides. I know no more than the noble Lord, Lord Dear, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, or any other noble Lord in this place about what the majority view of the public is in England and Wales. There is only one way to find out and that is to give them the chance to vote.
When I first came into politics in 1970 in the other place, I was strongly opposed to the whole concept of the referendum. I wish that we had never gone down that route, but we have and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has indicated that. We have had referenda on a whole range of issues and he has listed them. If it is justified—and I am not suggesting it is not—to have a vote on the opening hours of public houses in Wales, it is surely appropriate to give the people of England and Wales an opportunity of saying whether or not they really wish for the state of marriage to be changed irrevocably in our country. This is something that should commend itself to all true democrats. I very much hope that when we come to Report, the House will have the opportunity to vote on this. We will be able to test the opinion of colleagues when we are perhaps a little fresher, and, one would hope, a little earlier in the day.
It is important that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, introduced this amendment. I warmly commend it to your Lordships, not in any spirit of criticism or opposition to those who wish to be able to avail themselves of the married state. They know that I have reservations about that word, but it is going to be that word or nothing. All of us should allow the public out there to say whether or not they really want this change. A simple majority will suffice, but let them have the opportunity to pass their judgment on our deliberations.
My Lords, this amendment is also in my name. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I echo his views and those of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson.
Before I go to the substance of what I want to say, I want to make a quick comment on three days of debate in Committee in which amendment after amendment has been put forward expressing concerns relayed from the general public about freedom of expression and freedom of belief, particularly in the workplace. I agree that if all those on the receiving end of harassment in the past, of which we have had examples, and potentially in the future were lawyers with deep-lined pockets, they could address the issues much more easily. Unfortunately, most people are not lawyers and do not have deep-lined pockets and can easily be subjected to harassment. Amendments were brought to try to bring clarity and reassurance to such people but they have been brushed aside.
It is revealing to note that those supporting this legislation have focused their comments on the benefits that might accrue to the gay community, with little or no consideration as to the effects on wider society. In this House, we have a responsibility to the country to take a wider view. As regards the building blocks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, in the 1960s and 1970s it became common to take out a wall between two adjoining rooms to give more space, generally without conducting any sort of structural survey. The result was often structural damage costing thousands of pounds. The Bill seeks to change the definition of marriage, and with it the structure, meaning and purpose of the family unit, without any consideration of the consequences for the structure and stability of society and, importantly, for the well-being of children.
It is important to look at this from the perspective of both types of relationship. Let us start with commitment to care and fidelity. In both formalised heterosexual relationships and same-sex relationships there is due emphasis on commitment. Heterosexual marriage, however, also requires an unequivocal pledge of fidelity to stay together to the exclusion of others to provide a stability that is critical for children. In same-sex marriage there is no parallel requirement of fidelity. There is no religious, social or legal sanction to prevent a party to the relationship having other liaisons with others of the same sex. This devalues the importance of commitment and fidelity in the eyes of children and can only add to the “me and my” culture and the ever increasing number of children taken into what we euphemistically call care.
The bonding between parents and children of natural birth parents starts from the very moment of birth. I am not saying for a moment that same-sex couples cannot be excellent parents, but heterosexual parents have an important and early advantage in giving a desired level of stability and support to children and in helping them to adjust to, and appreciate, those of an opposite sex to their own. What I am saying is that these two distinct forms of relationships, equally respected by law and society, are inherently different, and a different form of words to describe them simply makes for clarity. To my mind, gay people demean themselves when they seek to hide their separate identity under the guise of the heterosexual term “marriage”. Gay people have an absolute right to respect for their way of life, but they and their supporters should extend the same consideration to others and their institutions.
Legislation on important social change must take into account the implications of such change. The legislation before us was not put in any party manifesto; there was no consultation on its merits. The Prime Minister David Cameron explicitly ruled out shortly before the election that he would introduce the legislation. It was effectively introduced through the back door. The electorate as a whole has been treated with contempt. Those with religious beliefs have been treated with contempt. It is true that near absolute protection has been given to the Anglican Church—not out of respect but because of the complexities of the link between church and state, making it difficult to do anything different. Other religions, including my own, have been neither considered nor consulted. We were told on Wednesday that no offence was intended in dealing with other religions; it was simply too difficult. Is complexity a valid reason for not looking at the impact of legislation on other faiths?
It is beyond doubt that the implications of this major social change have not been properly considered and the Government should withdraw the Bill for proper consultation with the electorate and affected bodies. If not, they should have the courage to allow the electorate to have a say on the merits of this legislation—through a referendum on the lines suggested in the amendment. The Bill has caused an unprecedented fracturing of society; a commitment for all parties to accept the results of a referendum and the beginning of a healing process. If, however, the Government choose to ride roughshod over the concerns of millions and ignore public opinion, they and their supporters will pay a heavy price in the coming election.
My Lords, as with post-legislative scrutiny, I have some sympathy with the principle of referendums. I am totally unlike my noble friend Lord Cormack. We came into the House of Commons at the same time, in 1970. I am slightly unusual in being a pro-European who is in favour of referendums. In my 1970 election address, I said that before Parliament decided on entry into the Common Market there should be a referendum. Conservative central office was not very happy with that but there we are; it is one of those things.
The referendum took place before Parliament had taken a decision, so that Parliament could be guided. Here we are being asked to support a referendum in two years’ time—not even tomorrow, but in two years.
Hang on! The noble Lord spoke for 20 minutes. I have spoken for one, so he might retain a little patience.
We are being asked to support a referendum in two years’ time—two years after both Houses on a free vote have overwhelmingly voted in favour of the legislation. That is the fact of the matter. All the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson—
I shall give way in a moment. All the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, were made on Second Reading. He may not like it but they were rejected massively and overwhelmingly in both Houses of Parliament. I give way to the noble Baroness.
That is most gracious of the noble Lord. I would like to suggest that perhaps the vote on Second Reading in this House was not an overwhelming endorsement. There was rather a feeling in this House that the Bill should be given a Second Reading, the other place having voted so overwhelmingly in favour of it. It was a vote in favour of Second Reading rather than anything else, and I do not think that it is quite accurate to portray it as anything else.
My Lords, I do not think that the noble Baroness or anyone else has the right to keep on going back to the votes and saying, “Although we lost by two to one, actually it really was not right. They should have taken this into account and that into account”. The fact is that those results were massive and, in my opinion, almost unprecedented for a free vote.
The only point I want to make in what is intended to be a short speech is that all the arguments we have heard so far have been put before and have been rejected. I am sorry to put it in that way—
If the noble Baroness does not mind, I am not going to give way again.
I do not think that we can or should try to double-guess what is taking place in the other place, or the process that it goes by, or the way it comes to a vote. We will get into a terrible mess if we do that. Not surprisingly, this proposal is going to be seen as a wrecking amendment in the hope, I presume, that it can be defeated when it comes to a referendum. I leave aside the dispute about opinion polls, although every poll I have seen actually appears to suggest that there is a healthy majority in favour of this proposition and not the other way around.
My major reservation is this—it is a point that was touched on by the noble Baroness—concerns the role of this House. We do valuable work checking and improving legislation. What we do not do is stand in the way of legislation so clearly passed by the other place and, incidentally, endorsed in this House. That is what the debate about the future of the House of Lords was all about: what our place was. It was not a sort of double-guessing on major things that come from the House of Commons. I do not think we can possibly defer for two years a piece of legislation that has been—I say it again—overwhelmingly passed by both Houses. We would not dream of doing that for any other legislation I can think of, saying that we would have a referendum in two years’ time, although it has been passed in this way. I do not think that we should do it now. In this case, the proposition of a referendum is misapplied and wrong.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support Amendment 48. As has been made plain throughout the debates on the Bill, marriage is a vital institution and, as such, the subject of redefining marriage touches people’s deepest feelings and beliefs. It is not a change that should ever be countenanced without a clear manifesto mandate. I know that some noble Lords have tried to suggest that it is not always necessary to have a manifesto mandate. In response to that, however, I agree strongly with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, has said.
There are some changes that perhaps it is possible to introduce without a mandate, although I have to say that it does not seem particularly like best practice unless one is responding to an urgent national security imperative. When it comes to changing the definition of something that has been defined one way for millennia and in relation to which there is a real sense that Parliament has not so much defined marriage, but rather reflected a pre-existing definition, it is absolutely imperative to have a manifesto mandate. I find it shocking that such an innovation should have been produced without one.
I know that there is a notion that the Conservative Party’s A Contract for Equalities is somehow a manifesto mandate, but I believe that that does not stand up to scrutiny. In the first instance, that document was not the manifesto. In the second instance, it talked in terms only of considering same-sex marriage, but did not make a pledge to redefine it. The change it said the party would “consider”, on page 14 of the document, was to reclassify civil partnership as marriage. That is a considerably more moderate proposal than what has been presented in this Bill. In the third instance, it was not published until three days before the election, long after postal voting had begun.
The problems associated with the failure to approach the very far reaching changes proposed by the Bill without respect for the basic rules of democracy have been greatly compounded by the subsequent disregard for constitutional due process: the lack of a Green Paper, a White Paper, a draft Bill and pre-legislative scrutiny. Of particular concern, however, has been the way in which the one consultation on the Bill was conducted. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, has already commented on that.
The sense of disregard for due process has continued during the scrutiny of the Bill. In another place, although there was a clear desire for full scrutiny on the Floor of the House during Committee, the Bill was sent to a Committee of only 19 MPs. The BBC’s Mark D’Arcy was not far off when he commented on the Committee’s deliberations as,
“a bit of a ritual. The dissenters dissent and the supporters support, and the whole thing is as mannered as a minuet danced at the court of Louis XVI”.
Huge numbers of the British population have had their beliefs overlooked. There was no mention of the Muslim population, the Hindu population, and the Sikh population during public evidence sessions. There was no mention of the ethnic minority churches. Indeed, in a joint letter to the Daily Telegraph, an alliance of pastors and elders, which includes the leadership of the UK’s biggest so-called black majority churches, accused the Government of turning their backs on traditional values to satisfy the demands of a “white, liberal elite” while ignoring growing ethnic minority communities who might otherwise be part of their core vote.
There is a clear need to intervene and correct these failings by giving the people a say through a referendum. If the Government receive a mandate for their policy through a referendum then all the other procedural failings to date would become an irrelevance. The resulting legislation would not suffer from ongoing questions about its legitimacy that would inevitably gnaw away at and undermine it. Moreover, Amendment 48 would help to redeem our reputation as a democracy committed to constitutional due process and fair play. Therefore, I strongly commend Amendment 48 to the House.
My Lords, I will attempt to be very brief, I promise that. We have a flexible and unwritten constitution, which means that proposing a referendum in these circumstances is unusual, irregular but not improper. However, in my view, it is wholly wrong. I endorse almost every word that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said in his objections to the amendment. I add that there is something strange. I do not understand why the amendment insists that Peers would be denied a vote in this referendum. It is restricted to those entitled to vote at parliamentary elections. However, that is not my fundamental objection to the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is as outraged as I am about it.
At the heart of the Bill is that we will no longer discriminate against individuals because of what they were born. If the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, believes that that is revolutionary then so be it. I would not resile from that description. We would not be considering the amendment if we were changing the law to give women equal rights with men or black people equal rights with whites. Would we throw the entire principle of equal rights into doubt in those cases by insisting on a referendum? I think not. I suspect we would find such a suggestion appalling.
I asked myself a very simple question about the amendment, as with so many amendments that we have discussed. If we were to strip the word gay or same-sex from it and replace it with black, women or, indeed, Welsh, what would happen? There would be rivers of outrage flooding throughout the country. That is why I believe the amendment to be entirely misconstrued. To discriminate against people for the way that they were born is wrong. In my view, it is indefensible. No amount of referendering could ever make that right.
I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. Together with him, I suggested this solution at Second Reading. The fact is that this bit of legislation has undoubtedly split the country. All of us have had very abnormal postbags and e-mails in this context. Indeed, I have had the biggest postbag since I proposed, promoted and got through this House a Bill to ban same-sex wards. It is quite obviously something that the public think very strongly about. It can only really be tested through a referendum because it not only makes such a difference to an institution that has been around for some thousands of years but has constitutional implications. Those are some of the reasons why there should be a referendum.
The political parties have had their say and are virtually unanimous. The Cabinet has had its say; whether that was unanimous I do not know. The wider Government have had their say. The House of Commons, albeit with a so-called free vote, has had its say, and has made a decision. The House of Lords is having its say. The only people who are not having a say—because they have never been given the opportunity—are the wider public and the people who are going to be affected by the Bill. That is why I believe that there should be a referendum.
There is another reason: I am not satisfied by the way that the Bill has been gestated. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, asked, “Why the speed? What do the Government want to go so fast for?”. As it so happens, I have a newspaper cutting here, from the Sunday Telegraph, of a very interesting article by Mr Christopher Booker. I am not going to read the whole article out, as it is a bit late for that, but I will read a part of it. He writes:
“As I recounted here on February 9, the drive to get same-sex marriage into law was masterminded from 2010 onwards by an alliance between Theresa May, the Conservative Home Secretary, Lynne Featherstone, the Lib Dem equalities minister, and gay pressure groups, led by one called Equal Love. They pushed the issue forward, not in Westminster, but through the Council of Europe, culminating in March last year with a day-long ‘secret conference’ chaired by Miss Featherstone in Strasbourg. With the public excluded for the first time in the Council’s history, it was here that—with the active support of Sir Nicolas Bratza, the British president of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)—a deadline was set for their planned coup of June 2013. If, by this date, ‘several countries’ had managed to put gay marriage into law, Sir Nicolas pledged that his court would then declare same-sex marriage to be a Europe-wide human right”.
It seems to me that that was the gestation, or part of it, of this particular Bill. It almost sounds like a conspiracy, but I do not like using that word. Nevertheless, that is the article by Mr Christopher Booker, or part of it. I think it is good for this House to have heard it, because it gives the Government the opportunity to say whether Mr Booker’s article and his findings are correct. I therefore hope that that will help the noble Lord, Lord Anderson and of course, as I have already said, I will be delighted to support his amendment.
My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive me for making a brief intervention at this stage. I am not convinced that this Bill is significantly more revolutionary than, for example, the introduction of civil partnerships. I believe it is a logical next step to take. Indeed, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, that in 10 years’ time it may well be widely, if not universally, accepted as such. I also believe that it will ultimately have a positive impact on society and social cohesion. It will make the status of marriage, which I see as a vital building block of society, available to same-sex couples and parents, and remove any possibility of their being treated in a discriminatory way by comparison with opposite-sex married couples.
A number of noble Lords have spoken of the lack of an electoral mandate, but the Bill enjoys support across all parties. As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, reminded us, it received a substantial majority in a free vote in the other place, and another large majority at Second Reading in this House. Whatever the process hitherto, the Bill is now receiving detailed scrutiny in your Lordships’ House, as indeed it should. I do not believe a referendum would be appropriate, or indeed that its cost would be justifiable. I welcome the Government’s initiative in introducing and pressing forward with this Bill, and I believe that the time is right.
My Lords, I shall be very brief, and say two things. One is that when you are losing the political argument, it seems to me that you always go for the methodology or, in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, for Europe. The second thing is that I agree with everything said about this by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. The majority supported it in the free votes. I really think that there is nothing else to add, and the referendum the amendment proposes is a very bad idea indeed.
My Lords, I wish I could be so brief, because the noble Baroness has just summed up the position very well indeed. As has been made very clear, the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, would prevent the Bill being enacted before the next general election by adding a new provision calling for a referendum in England and Wales on proposals to make the marriage of same-sex couples lawful. Indeed, the next general election would be the earliest date which is provided for by the amendment, which also provides reasons to extend it until 2016.
The Government do not believe that this is a sensible course of action, and nor is it required. The Government’s position is that referendums should be used only in issues of substantial constitutional significance. Noble Lords may recall that the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House published a report in 2010 on referendums in the United Kingdom. I was a member of the Constitution Committee at that time. The report was clear that matters of substantial constitutional significance would fall within the following proposals:
“To abolish the Monarchy … To leave the European Union … For any of the nations of the UK to secede from the Union … To abolish either House of Parliament … To change the electoral system for the House of Commons … To adopt a written constitution … To change the UK’s system of currency”.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, listed the kind of referendums that we have had, and I think they all fall within these definitions, these issues of constitutional significance. We do not believe that the amendments are appropriate or necessary. This is because while I acknowledge that extending the existing institution of marriage to same-sex couples is of huge significance and importance to those couples who are currently being prevented from marrying, and quite clearly from our debates this evening is the subject of strong feelings among those who oppose it, we do not believe that these are matters of substantial constitutional significance along the lines of those which the Constitution Committee identified.
Turning to technical matters, my noble friend Lord Dobbs pointed out that Members of your Lordships’ House would be denied a vote in any such referendum. I also note that there was an interesting point about the question, because the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 makes provision for how a question should be dealt with if it is present on the introduction of the Bill, or indeed if the wording is to be done subsequently by way of order. It does not make any provision for what would happen if a question was introduced at a later stage. Quite clearly, my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, see no role for the Electoral Commission in judging the merits of the question and reporting to Parliament, as now seems to be an accepted part in other circumstances of our arrangements on referendums.
I remind your Lordships, as did my noble friend Lord Fowler most effectively, that in spite of the opposition to the Bill—and I respect the fact that those views are sincerely held—the other place, a democratically elected House, voted overwhelmingly in favour of this Bill on a free vote. To those who seek to suggest that it was not quite so free, I say carefully as a member of the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition that on issues such as Europe, where there is a government line, trying to get some Conservative Members necessarily to support it is not always easy. I simply do not believe that, when there is a free vote, full advantage is not taken of it.
Further, this House voted by a significant majority to give the Bill its Second Reading. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, said that some people perhaps voted because they thought that it was constitutionally right to give the Bill a Second Reading, but there was nevertheless a substantial majority in this House in favour of a Second Reading and we are now doing what the House wished us to do; that is, to scrutinise the Bill. I believe that we have done that very effectively. I do not believe that anyone has filibustered; the amendments have been very properly considered. I do not propose to go into all the procedures that were adopted in the other place, because it is not really for us to do that, but I simply observe that not all the time allocated to the Public Bill Committee was taken up in their deliberations. Perhaps crucially, if those who voted in the other place are seeking election again in May 2015, they will have to account to their electors as to how they voted. That is the proper way in which our democracy works; that is where our democracy will have its proper fulfilment. People who are elected will have to argue why they voted in a particular way on this measure.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, made just as fully at Second Reading a number of the points that he raised today. Those points were effectively dealt with then by my noble friend Lady Stowell in her response to the debate, when she referred to matters such as the contract for equalities which was published alongside the Conservative manifesto. I do not propose to rehearse all those arguments again this evening.
My noble friend Lord Dobbs put his finger on it when he said that this Bill is not about numbers, but that at the heart of it is doing the right thing and ensuring equality for same-sex couples and religious freedom. The Bill also tries to give proper protection to those who have a strong religious belief. With the greatest respect, I take exception to what the noble Lord, Lord Singh, said about our not having had regard to those who are concerned about freedom of speech and religious belief. I think that there is unanimity in this House that we must try to ensure proper protection for those who wish quite legitimately to express a view which opposes marriage of same-sex partners. We have striven to reassure religious organisations and individual priests and celebrants within them that provisions are in place to give the kind of security with regard to religious belief which we believe is proper.
My Lords, I of course recognise that there are differences. The Government fully recognise that that there are different concerns within different religions, but I do not believe for one moment that they have been ignored. No religion will be obliged to conduct a same-sex marriage against the views and wishes of that religion. We have tried to build in as many safeguards as possible to do that. It is something to which we are acutely sensitive and we wish to ensure that adequate protection is given.
It is important to remember that civil partnerships were introduced to give same- sex couples equivalent rights and responsibilities at a time when marriage was not available to them. Despite the opposition at the time, their introduction led to greater acceptance and inclusiveness for same-sex couples in wider society.
History shows that undertaking important social change to extend fundamental rights to minority groups who experience inequality and social injustice is not always easy. Not all is necessarily favoured by the majority, but certainly the opinion polls that I have seen from more recent times show that there probably is a majority. I believe that providing for a referendum on same-sex marriage in this Bill would delay progress in removing a current and manifest unfairness. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
If there is a majority, as the noble and learned Lord suggests, what fear does he have about testing the real opinion of the people of this country? If he is concerned about delay, why not bring it forward, even before the date of the election? The election date was mentioned only because it would ensure a good turnout, which perhaps an earlier referendum would not. The noble and learned Lord suggested, for example, that in the past we have had referendums only on constitutional issues. Yet he supported a proposal that ensures that even trivial transfers of powers to Brussels will trigger a referendum. That is hardly consistent with what he suggests.
I know that we could go on debating this, but I will end by first thanking all those who contributed to this short debate, particularly my co-sponsors, the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Singh. To the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, I say that even if noble Lords do not have a vote on this, they do not have a vote in general elections at the moment. It is hardly illogical that noble Lords do not have a vote in a referendum on this matter. It is consistent, but if the noble Lord wishes to move an amendment and it is accepted, so be it.
It was highly simplistic of the noble Lord to suggest that gay equality is the same as black and white equality. I was a leader of the anti-apartheid movement in Europe over a number of years, because I could see no difference at all between blacks and whites, as there was in the Group Areas Act in South Africa and so on. However, in my judgment, there are serious differences between a traditional marriage and a gay marriage and it is wrong to equate them. It is naive and simplistic to suggest otherwise.
To the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, I say this: if he thinks that there will be delay, again he might suggest that the date of the referendum be brought forward. Even he cannot suggest that the Government now have a mandate for this change. No one has answered what is perhaps a key question: why the hurry? Why, after all these years when there has been no change, are the Government in such a rush? There must be some plausible reason. I cannot see any serious reason for it, but equally why are the Government so afraid of giving people a voice?
Finally, I remind the Minister that many noble Lords chose not to vote against the Bill at Second Reading—I can attest this from my own knowledge—either because of their view that the House should show restraint when there has been a majority in the other place, or because of the view that we are principally a revising Chamber. It would have been inconsistent to prevent scrutiny, but they would look again at the matter when it came to the vote on Third Reading. I am not convinced that the Government have made any serious concessions—certainly in respect of the conscience matters, although I am ready to look again at the list that the Minister gave me during an earlier debate.
If the Government have failed to make other serious concessions relating to existing and future registrars, teachers, the public sector duty and so on, then Amendment 48 will inevitably become more attractive. In the mean time I shall not press it at this stage. I shall again ask the Government to give a simple answer to the question: why the hurry? I shall reflect further on the position, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 48 withdrawn.
48A: Before Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
“The European Convention on Human Rights
In the event that the provisions of this Act are found by the European Court of Human Rights to be incompatible with the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Secretary of State shall act to withdraw the United Kingdom’s signature to the Convention.”
My Lords, back to Europe, I am afraid, and the European Convention on Human Rights. In speaking to this amendment, I am grateful to the Public Bill Office for its assistance with the wording, in order to discuss this matter. It is, of course, a probing amendment and I shall not put it to a vote.
The amendment envisages the possibility of a future ruling from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that some part of the Bill is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. I want to focus in particular on the possibility that it may rule that the opt-out provisions that protect religious groups from being forced to take part in same-sex weddings are a breach of the human rights of same-sex couples who want to get married.
Much has been said about the robustness of the Government’s legal mechanisms to protect places of worship that do not want to register same-sex weddings. Ministers, no doubt in good faith, have promised that their quad locks will prove watertight. Under their proposals, they say that no religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit that to happen on their premises if they do not opt in.
The Government must recognise that there is an appetite to see churches compelled to opt in. When an Ipsos MORI survey asked whether religious organisations should be required to conduct same-sex weddings, 44% of 18 to 24 year-olds said yes, they should. Of course, that is not the view of the Government or the majority in this House, but we keep being told how important it is that we take into account the views of young people. That survey suggests that there would be a significant demand to test the limits of the quad locks, so any concern that those quad locks might have weaknesses must be properly addressed, in particular those relating to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Strasbourg has been consistent in saying that gay marriage is not a right found within the convention, a view upheld as recently as 2012, but there are features of the convention that, in relation to the Bill, cause great unease about the future. If Strasbourg were ever to find that there is a right to same-sex marriage, the protections provided by the Government’s quad locks would be completely undermined—or I believe they would. Article 12 of the convention holds that men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family. That is the only article that explicitly refers to gender, showing that marriage is understood to be between a man and a woman. However, one of the convention’s most notable features, frequently reiterated in judgments, is that it can be interpreted according to what the court calls emerging consensus and common values in international law. It is said to be a living instrument governed not just by the wording of the convention agreed decades ago but by present-day standards. In other words, it changes its mind about what the words mean.
Three years ago, in the case of Schalk and Kopf v Austria, Strasbourg ruled against an Austrian same-sex couple who were arguing that the convention must be adapted to fit in line with apparently changing social views on same-sex marriage. At the time, the court was not persuaded that social attitudes had changed enough for same-sex marriage to be regarded as mandatory. It interpreted the right to marry in Article 12 as being limited to unions of persons of the opposite sex. It justified its ruling by reference to the fact that there is no European consensus in support of gay marriage.
However, the court left open the potential for future claims on the basis of Article 12. I quote from the ruling:
“Regard being had to Article 9 of the charter, therefore, the court would no longer consider that the right to marry enshrined in Article 12 must in all circumstances be limited to marriage between two persons of the opposite sex. Consequently, it cannot be said that Article 12 is inapplicable to the applicants’ complaint. However, as matters stand, the question whether or not to allow same-sex marriage is left to regulation by the national law of the contracting state”.
So the current position of Strasbourg, and the current European climate, is that Article 12 does not impose an obligation to grant same-sex couples the right to marry. However, clearly that could change and, if it did, the whole legal landscape would change with it. In that new legal landscape, the so-called quad locks could look pretty obsolete, especially for the Church of England, which, as an emanation of the state, has a duty to marry anyone in the parish.
Aidan O’Neill QC has issued a written legal opinion calling into doubt many of the assurances that we have heard from the Government. He points out that, even under Strasbourg’s current agnostic stance on same-sex marriage, once the state introduces same-sex marriage, the court imposes a stricter burden on that state. He says that,
“differentiation in treatment between opposite sex and same-sex marriage would be subject to particularly strict scrutiny by the Strasbourg court and the offending state would have to show particularly convincing and weighty reasons to justify any such a difference in treatment”.
So we cannot be sure that the court will be happy with the difference in treatment enshrined in this Bill, whereby a same-sex couple are much less likely to be able to get married in a church than an opposite-sex couple.
Regarding the future approach of the court, Mr O’Neill also says that,
“it has to be acknowledged that this is an area in which rapid developments have taken place in the jurisprudence of the court, such developments being justified by the court on the basis that the convention is a ‘living instrument’ and that there has been a shift in current European consensus on this issue. Should the court detect further shifts in the European consensus then doubtless we can anticipate further changes in its case law”.
Some say that the Article 9 right to freedom of religion would protect religious freedom in any clash with Article 12. However, the recent ruling against the registrar Lillian Ladele shows only too well the European court’s unsympathetic approach to religious beliefs about marriage.
Aidan O’Neill has put his professional reputation on the line by providing a written opinion expressing grave reservations about this Bill in relation to Strasbourg. We do not know whether he personally supports the Bill or not—although I understand that he is in a civil partnership—but his measured views about the risks generated by this Bill should not be ignored.
The Church of England keeps being prayed in aid in support of the quad locks, but in its briefing paper it said that it doubts,
“the ability of the Government to make the legislation watertight against challenge in the European courts”.
What about the hundreds of other denominations and religions, including the Sikhs, of which many are deeply unhappy with the position? The Catholic Church has strongly criticised the quad locks, as have many smaller denominations that submitted memoranda to the Public Bill Committee in the other place. As these are people whose fundamental liberties are at stake, we really should pay more attention to whether they are satisfied with the protections that we are offering them.
If Strasbourg ever finds that there is a right to same-sex marriage, the protections provided by the Government’s quad locks would be severely undermined. Even if it does not, the refusal of churches—especially the state church—to solemnise same-sex marriages could still end up being ruled on by the European Court of Human Rights and the court will take a more interventionist view regarding differences in treatment of same-sex couples within England and Wales once same-sex marriage is legal here.
If this shift in Strasbourg jurisprudence takes place, all the ministerial assurances in the world will in fact be worthless. We should take a long, hard look at what else could realistically be done to safeguard the long-term position of the churches. It matters a great deal to these people. As the House knows, I am not religious, but I think that we should do everything that we can to protect the civil liberties of religious people and, indeed, of others. In the face of the evidence of risk, ministerial assurances are really not enough. I look forward to hearing whether the Government have really considered the unpredictability of the European court and what that could mean for the future, and what we can do about it. I beg to move.
Briefly, my Lords, the noble Lord speaks of the need to protect religious freedom. I am sure that everybody in this Chamber absolutely agrees with and espouses that. However, knowing the noble Lord’s view of the European Convention on Human Rights and his view of the Bill, it seems that he may be a little torn, if I may put it like that. In a way, he is using the Bill as a vehicle to withdraw the UK’s signature to the convention. He does not like the Bill, as has become apparent—
As a matter of fact, I am not opposed to the European Convention and the European Court of Human Rights. After all, I am old enough to have been around when the convention was drafted and signed by this country. I supported it then and, indeed, as long as the court does its job and does not try to increase its influence and powers, I remain in favour of it.
I beg the noble Lord’s pardon. My entire hypothesis seems to be wrong, so I will merely say that I do not believe that this amendment should be accepted because, in any event, we should not withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it is an entirely unlikely happening because the Bill as it stands does not offend against any element of human rights, freedom of speech or freedom of religion.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his amendment, which gives us a further opportunity to set out yet again how we believe that the European Convention on Human Rights supports rather than threatens the religious protections in the Bill. The noble Lord indicated in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, that he is not opposed in principle to the European Convention on Human Rights, but I know that he has expressed some concerns about the development of the jurisprudence of the court. I am not sure whether he took part in the debate last Thursday when the House had an opportunity, during a debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Lester, to consider these human rights issues.
The Government have made it clear why we do not believe that there would be a reduction in the protection available to religious organisations and individuals as a result of the Bill. I am happy to repeat those assurances. Indeed, I have sought to do so in the previous debate in replying to the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has said it again. There is unanimity in this House on the wish to secure the protection of religious organisations and individuals.
Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right to freedom of religion. Any attempt to compel religious organisations to solemnise marriages that they consider to be doctrinally impermissible would quite clearly be an interference with their right—and indeed the right of their members to religious freedom. I believe that the religious freedoms contained in this Bill reinforce that protection.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, suggests that if Strasbourg finds that there is a right to same-sex marriage, religious organisations would be forced to conduct such ceremonies. We do not believe that to be the case. Under this Bill, we will be providing same-sex civil marriage ceremonies, but the protection of Article 9 would mean that a couple could not force a religious organisation to marry them according to its right purely because they want a religious ceremony.
It is also worth noting that after many years since the introduction of civil unions for same-sex couples in a number of countries that are members of the Council of Europe, including the United Kingdom, there has been no decision of the Strasbourg court holding that there is right to a civil union, in other words to any legal relationship at all for same-sex couples.
Clause 2 of this Bill provides clear protection for individuals and religious organisations who do not wish to conduct or participate in a religious marriage ceremony on the grounds that it is the marriage of a same-sex couple. The case law of the European Court of Human Rights is equally clear that the question of whether, and if so how, to allow same-sex marriage must be left to individual states to decide for themselves. I simply believe that it is inconceivable that the court would require a religious organisation to conduct same-sex marriages in breach of its own doctrines. We believe the position is clear—and indeed has been strongly supported by a number of our most respected legal minds. In his written submission to the Public Bill Committee in the other place, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said:
“For the European Court of Human Rights to compel a religious body or its adherents to conduct a religious marriage of a same sex couple would require a legal miracle much greater than the parting of the Red Sea for the Children of Israel to cross from Egypt. The Court unanimously decided in Schalk and Kopf v Austriain 2010”—
the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, also referred to this case—
“that there is no right to same sex marriage under the European Convention on Human Rights. It is in the realms of legal fantasy to suggest that the Court would impose an obligation on a religious body to conduct such a ceremony, especially when civil marriage will be available in this country for a same sex couple and when Article 9 of the Convention protects religious beliefs and practices”.
Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, followed that up and confirmed his position in the oral evidence which he gave to that committee.
I briefly note the practical effects of the amendment. It would be extraordinary for a Secretary of State to be required, as this amendment would envisage, to act unilaterally to withdraw the United Kingdom from the convention without further reference to Parliament—although I accept that the noble Lord said it was a probing amendment. Furthermore, to make such a decision contingent upon the outcome of a court case dealing with unknown and unspecified issues would be equally extraordinary, particularly if the successful challenge related to a technical matter which could be readily remedied by legislation passed in Parliament.
Before I conclude, I refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, in a previous amendment, when he read a newspaper article which suggested that there had been some secret conference involving my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Theresa May, my honourable friend Lynne Featherstone and the Council of Europe. I understand that this secret conference was an event attended by 300 people, invited by the Government of the United Kingdom, when the United Kingdom held the presidency of the Council of Ministers. Nicolas Bratza, who was then president of the European Court of Human Rights, spoke for five minutes. I am informed that the text of his speech is on the court’s website. He made it clear that the court’s case law had left the issue of gay marriage to be decided by national authorities.
Not just in this debate but in a number of debates during Committee we have sought to give reassurances that the protections for individuals and religious organisations are very real. I would hope that having had the opportunity to have this debate, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am most obliged to the Minister for his reply—both to the assertions of Mr Booker and to my own amendment. In relation to his reply, of course I accept his assurances. The problem is that throughout my life—it has been quite a long one—I have seen government assurances come and government assurances go. The European Court of Human Rights now has powers, translated into British law, which are very wide indeed. Some of its decisions in private and other cases have not been very friendly towards the Government and this country, if I might say that. We really do not know what will happen once the Bill is passed.
I read the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, to, I think, the Commons committee. Of course, in talking about miracles, it would have been thought miraculous in 1950 when the European convention was signed that we would have a Bill before Parliament suggesting that there should be single-sex marriage—but here we are. We are discussing it and I have no doubt that Parliament will pass it. I hope that the safeguards in the Bill will be upheld and not undermined by the European court. If they are, if I am still here—which is doubtful—I shall come back and remind noble Lords of that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 48A withdrawn.
Clause 15 agreed.
Schedule 7 : Transitional and consequential provision etc
Amendments 49 to 53
49: Schedule 7, page 50, line 23, at end insert—
“(1) Section 25 (void marriages) is amended as follows.
(2) At the beginning insert—
“(1) A marriage shall be void in any of the following cases.”.
(3) The existing wording of section 25 becomes subsection (2) of that section; and, at the beginning of that subsection, for “If any persons” substitute—
“(2) Case A is where any persons”.
(4) For the words after paragraph (d) substitute—
“(3) Case B is where any persons knowingly and wilfully consent to or acquiesce in the solemnization of a Church of England marriage between them by a person who is not in Holy Orders.
(4) Case C is where any persons of the same sex consent to or acquiesce in the solemnization of a Church of England marriage between them.
(5) In subsections (3) and (4) “Church of England marriage” means a marriage according to the rites of the Church of England.”.”
50: Schedule 7, page 53, line 10, at end insert—
“After section 49 insert—
“49A Void marriages: additional provision about same sex couples
(1) If a same sex couple knowingly and wilfully intermarries under the provisions of this Part of this Act in the absence of the required consent, the marriage shall be void.
(2) In this section, in relation to a marriage of a same sex couple, “required consent” means consent under—
(a) section 26A(3), in a case where section 26A applies to the marriage (but section 44A does not apply to it);(b) section 26A(3) and section 44A(6), in a case where section 26A and section 44A apply to the marriage;(c) section 26B(2)(b), in a case where section 26B(1), (2) and (3) apply to the marriage;(d) section 26B(4)(b), in a case where section 26B(1), (4) and (5) apply to the marriage;(e) section 26B(6)(d), in a case where section 26B(1), (6) and (7) apply to the marriage.”.”
51: Schedule 7, page 53, line 45, at end insert—
“( ) After subsection (5) insert—
“(6) If, for the purpose of any provision of this Act, a relevant governing authority has given written consent to marriages of same sex couples, the validity of that consent is not affected only because there is a change in the person or persons constituting that relevant governing authority.”.”
52: Schedule 7, page 54, line 19, at end insert—
“After section 13 insert—
“13A Void marriages: additional provision about same sex couples
(1) If a same sex couple knowingly and wilfully intermarries under the provisions of this Act in the absence of the required consent, the marriage shall be void.
(2) In this section “required consent” means consent under section 1(3).”.”
53: Schedule 7, page 54, line 22, at end insert—
“Public Order Act 1986 (c. 64)(1) Section 29JA of the Public Order Act 1986 (protection of freedom of expression (sexual orientation)) is amended in accordance with this paragraph.
(2) The existing provision of section 29JA becomes subsection (1) of that section.
(3) After that provision insert—
“(2) In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, any discussion or criticism of marriage which concerns the sex of the parties to marriage shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.”.”
Amendments 49 to 53 agreed.
Amendment 54 not moved.
55: Schedule 7, page 55, line 11, at end insert—
“32A For paragraph 13(2) of Schedule 27 to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 substitute—
“( ) In subsection (1), for the words from “solemnized” to “shall”, substitute “a man and any other of the persons mentioned in the first column of Part I of the First Schedule to this Act, or between a woman and any other of the persons mentioned in the second column of the said Part II,”.””
My Lords, this is the last amendment that we shall consider at any length in this Committee. However, it is rather an important amendment and it is in the nature of a probing amendment, as I will make clear as I proceed.
When the Marriage Act 1949 was passed, Section 1 set out the prohibited degrees in a way that said, “A man shall not marry,” and then a column of positions of a woman whom he could not marry, and “A woman shall not marry,” and another column of men of different positions that she could not marry. If Section 1 had stayed as it was then it would not apply to same-sex couples.
In the Civil Partnership Act 2004, as I said in my speech at Second Reading, the intention was to produce for people who were in same-sex relationships a legal position as like marriage as possible. In order to do that, Section 1 of the Marriage Act had to be amended so that instead of expressing it in these columns it did it by way of relationships. That was done in the Civil Partnership Act. Section 1 of the 1949 Act was also amended so that the Act no longer proceeded on the columns but went on relationships as the Civil Partnership Act did.
When the 1949 Act was passed, as I said, there was no question of it applying to same-sex marriage. I strongly believe that the same-sex couples marriage which this Bill introduces is different in important respects from opposite-sex marriage. In particular, opposite-sex marriage includes as one of its purposes—not its only purpose—the natural procreation of children. That is not a purpose of the same-sex couples marriage for reasons that are obvious.
The second point I want to make is that I have heard same-sex couples marriage described as gay marriage. That is not correct. The correct description is same-sex couples marriage and I can see nothing in the Bill that suggests anything to do with sexual relationships. Therefore it is perfectly open for people in same-sex marriages to have a completely platonic relationship. That raises the question of the applicability of the prohibited degrees to same-sex marriage. I want to raise the question of whether prohibition requires reconsideration in relation to same-sex marriage. It is one thing to have it for opposite-sex marriage but does it require reconsideration in respect of same-sex marriage?
In introducing the Bill, my noble friend said:
“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”.—[Official Report, 3/6/13; col. 938.]
That means all. Obviously if someone is married already there is no possibility or freedom to remarry, but subject to that kind of consideration the general assertion is that all couples should be free to marry. Therefore we have to look at the prohibited degrees which are prohibitions on couples who may wish to marry. One such couple—to take an example—is brothers. I know of no love which is more widely commended than brotherly love. There is nothing to suggest that brothers cannot love each other perfectly properly and in such a way as to be willing to commit to each other in the full sense with which my noble friend used the expression in introducing this Bill, unless of course it has some relationship to what the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, was talking about later—earlier—today. Yes, I am getting confused. At 11.40 pm it is not surprising.
Earlier today she raised the question in relation to civil partnerships but I raise the question more fundamentally in relation to marriage and same-sex marriage in particular. At present I do not understand why it should be closed to all of the present prohibited degrees. I would like to know to what extent the Government have previously analysed this position and have reached a conclusion on it because as yet I have seen no discussion of this particular aspect in any detail. It is an important aspect to my mind, and I think it has a bearing on how some people in our society view the provision for same-sex couples marriage. A lot of people—we have heard it today once or twice—refer to it as gay marriage. That is restricting the scope of this Bill in a way that is not justified by the terms of the Bill itself.
The importance of the fact that ordinary marriage—what I will call opposite-sex marriage—has as one of its purposes the natural procreation of children is that the institution is there to offer protection and safeguards to children. When it works properly it is a very effective safeguard for children. As I said the other day, the state has not shown the ability to protect children to anything like the same extent as a well functioning marriage.
I received in connection with this Committee stage a request to make it clear that I am against homophobic bullying in any way. I certainly want to make that abundantly clear. The function of ordinary marriage—the marriage of opposite sexes—includes protecting the children against any form of bullying and any form of homophobic bullying, and preventing them taking part in such bullying. We all know that children are quite quick to notice differences between their circumstances and those of other children, perhaps in the same class. That is often a source of improper bullying of one kind or another. I make it clear that I regard one of the functions of opposite-sex marriage as protecting against all forms of damage to the children.
The noble Baroness on the opposition Front Bench referred, in the context of another amendment, to the presumption that when a child is born to a married woman the other party to the marriage is parent of the child. That presumption is set aside in this Bill—an important fact that must be taken into account. In opposite-sex marriage the three ways in which children of the marriage can be produced are by natural procreation, IVF or adoption. In same-sex marriage it will be by IVF or possibly full sexual relations, which according to the Bill may constitute adultery—which is slightly unfortunate from the point of view of the child being produced. According to the Bill, that child will have no relationship with the marriage at all. Of course, the other method is by adoption.
Same-sex marriage, as the Bill makes plain, does not embrace children in the same way as the natural child is embraced by the marriage of opposite-sex couples. All of this has a bearing on the relationships that are prohibited—the prohibited degrees. At the moment I can see no reason why brothers and sisters should not be able to have a same-sex marriage if they felt that they wanted to. A noble Lord pointed out earlier that of course you can end a relationship only with a divorce. That is absolutely true. The marriage relationship would be over and above the relationship between sisters or brothers. If they decided to end the marriage relationship that would be sad, but it can happen with same-sex and opposite-sex couples and it is sad whenever it happens. However, it could happen. One would not wish to contemplate that as happening very often, but of course it is certainly a possibility.
Against the background that all couples who love one another are able to marry—that is what we want—I find it difficult to see why brothers or sisters who are willing to marry should not be able to do so. The Bill needs to consider a little more carefully than it has done this provision raised by the noble Baronesses on the Front Bench in their amendment for no presumption in favour of a child born to a woman in a same-sex marriage. That child is left without any marriage connection at all as far as I can see. That seems to me highly unfortunate. Although it is important to consider the rights of adults in relation to same-sex marriage—that is what the Bill is primarily about—it is extremely important to think about future generations and the relationship with children as well as the prohibited degrees matters that I mentioned. I believe that the prohibited degrees were first inserted into the marriage institution for the primary reason of protecting against inbreeding with normal procreation. These reasons, of course, do not have any place in same-sex marriage, and therefore I think we need to look at the justification, if any, for the prohibited degrees, at least in their present form. I beg to move.
My Lords, in all the time that I have been in your Lordships’ House, I have enjoyed and loved the way that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, has often weaved a sticky web of legal mischievousness around issues that we have had before us, and so he has done this evening. I look forward to the conversation that the two learned Scots before me are about to have on this issue.
My Lords, I welcome the interesting debate that my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay has generated. He is right to challenge us to consider it and I can indicate at the outset, although I will say more, that the Government do not feel able to support his amendment. It would permit siblings of the same sex to marry, and I assume that that could include uncles and nephews, grandfathers and grandsons and mothers and daughters. The Government do not feel able to accept the extension of marriage to close relatives. Clearly, as my noble and learned friend indicated, the origins of this go back to concerns about the need to prevent incest and potential inbreeding.
However, it is also fair to point out that, in terms of procreation, not all marriages, even heterosexual ones, are contracted for the purposes of procreation. It would almost be a logical extension of the argument that when an opposite-sex couple are past a certain age, or the woman passes a certain age and is incapable any longer of having children, perhaps the degrees of affinity regulations and prohibitions should fly off. Even just saying that indicates the real sensitivity around this and how it is difficult to readily accede the point being made by my noble and learned friend.
Before returning to some of the substance of his argument, I note that my noble and learned friend indicated in his opening remarks that he seeks by this amendment to restore Section 1 of the Marriage Act 1949 to what it was before the Civil Partnership Act 2004 amended it. It is important to point out that the 2004 Act created one gender-neutral list setting out the prohibited degrees of relationship. The amended Marriage Act makes it clear that no person can marry any relative listed in Schedule 1.
I am not founding my argument on this point because it is a technical matter which no doubt could be addressed. But in reverting back to the original Section 1 of the Marriage Act 1949, the amendment does not lead to any change in the relevant schedules, so that certainly could lead to confusion, although no doubt my noble and learned friend could do something about that if he wished to persist with this and bring forward amendments to the schedules as well. Paragraph 17 of Schedule 27 to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 replaced the two separate lists. Under the amendment, that single gender-neutral list would still stand and would need to be repealed and the original wording restored.
I have sought to indicate that the Government do not accept the principle of what my noble and learned friend is trying to achieve. He referred to platonic relationships. If this Bill is passed, it will be open to individual couples, whether of opposite sex or of the same sex, to determine whether to engage in sexual activity and to consummate their marriage. Couples are not required to consummate their marriage; there is only an option for opposite-sex couples to apply for an annulment if one party applies to have the marriage annulled on that basis.
On the point about two brothers being able to marry, as I indicated, the Marriage Act sets out the relationships of people who cannot marry each other. The Government want to ensure that same-sex couples are able to marry under the same provisions as opposite-sex couples. The provisions in the Marriage Act on prohibited degrees of relations are already capable of applying to same-sex couples and therefore no change from what was put in place for civil partnerships is required.
My noble and learned friend referred to the debate we had earlier on the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. In my response to that I referred to tax issues. To be fair to my noble and learned friend, he did not use that argument. His argument was based more on grounds of principle. Nevertheless, the proposal would have consequences in terms of tax. However, I also think—I made this argument during that debate—that there are power relationships within families. Who is to say that pressure could not be brought to bear on a brother to marry another brother if it was thought that that would best serve his inheritance interests? You cannot tell what goes on in families. That is why my noble and learned friend is absolutely right to talk about the need to protect children. We are not necessarily talking about infant children or children under the age of 16, but within families lots of power can still be exerted when children are young adults or even older. While concerns about incest and inbreeding clearly lie at the heart of the prohibited degrees of marriage, there is also a recognition that within families powerful relationships can often be at play.
As I indicated, this amendment would allow father and son, mother and daughter, uncle and nephew, aunt and niece to marry. We think that the pressure is more relevant at an intergenerational level than at a sibling level, although that is not to say that it could not occur at a sibling level. Therefore, we should be very cautious about going down that road. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Alli, referred to civil partnerships in this connection. We believe that the nature of marriage is one which people recognise as being different from the relationship that exists between two close members of the same sex of a family. For these reasons, I ask my noble and learned friend to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, if I had an answer, I would be happy to withdraw the amendment. The point I am making relates, for example, to brothers. The idea that this is something to do with pressure is ridiculous because, as we know, pressure is exerted in families far beyond same-sex relationships, and that has to be dealt with somehow. There are plenty of laws relating to undue pressure being put on people to get married or otherwise. What I am talking about is the marriage that was described by my noble friend at the beginning, where people love one another and wish to undertake the responsibilities of marriage.
I can understand that there are different considerations for different parts of the prohibited degrees, and that is why this needs to be considered. However, I have a feeling, and I may be entirely wrong—
I thank my noble and learned friend for giving way. Does he accept that if a man at, say, the age of 60 wished to marry his sister who was aged 60, where procreation and therefore inbreeding was not possible, the rules on the prohibition of close relationships should be set aside after a given age, if they love each other and want to make that commitment? Is that his argument?
This is a justification for same-sex marriage that has been put forward. That is what I am talking about. I said in my speech at Second Reading—I invited correction but so far that has not come—that the reason for the prohibited degrees applying across marriage generally is because the natural procreation of children was a central purpose. I quite understand that people far beyond the age of childbearing are subject to the rules, and if George Clooney does not hurry up, you never know what might happen. The rules are there because a central purpose of opposite-sex marriage is the normal procreation of children, and therefore the rules are put generally to the whole lot. That does not apply to same-sex marriage at all.
The idea of pressure is just as likely to occur in relation to people who are not directly related. Parents, particularly in some situations, try to persuade their daughter to marry X for reasons of their own rather than hers. That kind of pressure is something that has to be looked at. However, I do not see why such pressure should be particularly rife between brothers at full age and thus perfectly entitled to consider what they want to do. I cannot see that it is a reason for cutting brothers out. So far, I have not heard any reason that contradicts the general statement of principle which was made when introducing same-sex marriage into our law.
At midnight it is not suitable to press my amendment, but I think that this needs to be considered, and I would like to hear more about it before Report. On the technical point, what we have done is amend the statute and the schedule that works in accordance with the statutory provision. It does not matter because I can easily alter it, but the amendment was tabled with assistance, as noble Lords will understand. I do not say that they necessarily got it right, but I think it is right. Anyway, if it is wrong, I can easily put it right; it is a very technical point and my noble and learned friend has accepted that. However, the essential point needs to be considered carefully and I would like to hear more about it by Report. In the mean time, at one minute to midnight, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 55 withdrawn.
56: Schedule 7, page 56, line 6, at end insert—
“39A After section 26 (harassment) insert—
“26A Discussion or criticism of same sex marriage
For the purposes of this Act, and for the avoidance of doubt, discussion or criticism of same sex marriage shall not be taken of itself to be discrimination or harassment.””
My Lords, I am conscious of the fact that a pumpkin will shortly come into your Lordships’ House. I would simply reflect that Amendment 56 is a freedom of speech amendment and sits closely to Amendment 46C, moved and debated in this Chamber by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. In fact, one is the obverse and reverse of the other. Had the time been different, I would have tried to distinguish between them, but having regard to the similarity of the amendments and the fact that we have already had a full debate on Amendment 46C—and particularly because of pumpkins in the air—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am afraid I have to ask the noble Lord, in view of the fact that he has spoken to the amendment, if he would please move it before withdrawing it, in order to give noble Lords a chance to address it if they wish
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am particularly grateful to him for drawing comparisons with the amendment that was put down in the name of the right reverend Prelate earlier this evening. I agree with him that it is very similar and the response and arguments that I would have made to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, are similar to those which I have made at length on several occasions in Committee.
I will take this opportunity to make a couple of points. First, I hope that if this Bill is to become an Act—and I certainly hope that it will—we arrive at a point where it is accepted that the law allows marriage of same-sex couples, and it is possible for us all to respect differences of view about whether marriage should be between a man and a woman. Although the noble Lord, Lord Singh, is no longer in his place, I take exception to his assertion earlier that we have brushed aside concerns about freedom of speech in Committee. I have been happy to respond comprehensively to the debates we have had on that matter. I take on board the serious concerns that people have had in this area, and hope that I have been able to offer reassurance to noble Lords.
By the same token, I was a little perturbed by the comment that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, made earlier about me not responding with any real scope for consideration of the debates that have taken place in Committee. As my noble and learned friend will be responding to the final amendment and this will be the last time I am on my feet in Committee, I point out that in addition to the list of amendments I referred to in response to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that we have already tabled to the Bill, during debates at Committee, I—or my noble and learned friend—have committed to respond to noble Lords on a range of different issues.
This is not an exhaustive list and I am sure we may have other meetings with Peers on other topics. I have, for example, already agreed to have a meeting with my noble friends Lady Cumberlege and Lord Elton to discuss registrars. On the amendment earlier this evening about religious freedom for faith schools, I said that this was a matter that we continue to consider. In the debate earlier today about transgender matters, I said that I would write to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, about her particular point. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, my noble friend Lady Barker and I will probably meet to discuss that again. On the public sector equality duty and the definition of “compel”, we have agreed to write in detail to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, about the points she raised. I add, because it was not mentioned during the debates last week, that I have already had a meeting with my noble friend Lady Berridge and the Secretary of State has already met the noble Baroness on that matter.
On humanists, I said that we would reflect further. On presumption of parenthood, I said that I would write in great detail to set out what is proposed in that very important area, which my noble and learned friend has just referred to again. On reviewing of the Act, which was an amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dear, earlier today, my noble friend Lady Northover responded comprehensively. While there were differences in approach, it was clear that we were very committed to seeing the need for a review of the Act in future. On the debate about pensions, as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, was gracious to acknowledge in his response to me at the beginning of today’s debate, I took the time to speak to the Pensions Minister before the debate took place today.
I say all that because I want to put on record that we are listening, we continue to listen and the debates will continue. I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that he will withdraw his amendment on freedom of expression.
Amendment 56 withdrawn.
56A: Schedule 7, page 56, line 6, at end insert—
“39A Section 149 (public sector equality duty): after subsection (9), insert—
“(10) Compliance with the duties in this section requires ensuring that a belief regarding the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman is respected and that no person should suffer any detriment in respect of the holding or the reasonable expression of such a belief.”.”
I appreciate how late it is, and will be brief, but I do want to move Amendment 56A, which relates to Part 2 of Schedule 7, on the last page of the Bill. As I reflect on tonight’s debate, I would say to the Government that this may not be as simple as it seems. The reality is that, despite the repeated assurances of certain noble Lords, the United Kingdom has repeatedly been found to be in breach of its obligations under the convention and, more recently, under the Human Rights Act.
Along with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I would say to the Minister that there is both courage and common sense in considering the Bill again and in bringing it back on Report with amendments. I have heard the Minister’s comments on that and have seen government amendments. I asked the question that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, asked at Second Reading. However, I did not get any response to any of my questions at Second Reading—a matter on which a number of noble Lords commented to me.
More remains to be done and I am pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, say that the door is open. However, I would like to see something rather than just ex post facto post-legislative scrutiny. We need more than that because there is an expectation in this House that the Bill will become law and I want to place on record that I was somewhat concerned at the earlier tenor of the debate. I understood that the process in this House was to raise issues in general at Second Reading, to put amendments in Committee and hear a government response, and to revert to unsolved issues on Report. Otherwise, surely, there would be no point in anything other than Second Reading and wherein would lie our scrutiny function? I would also like to place on record, in response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the fact that I and, I think, several other noble Lords have received a letter signed by a significant number of Members in the other place, saying that although it was broadcast as a free vote, it was not quite as free as it was made out to be.
The Bill as drafted is not limited in its consequences to the issue of conducting same-sex marriages, et cetera. It does not ensure that there can be no detriment to an individual or organisation in their interactions with a public authority, because it does not deal, in this context, with a Section 149 issue and does not deal with the risk of the attribution of discriminatory action against persons with a protected characteristic; namely, sexual orientation. I want therefore to speak very briefly about individuals who, for reasons of conscience, feel unable to promote same-sex marriage in the way that the law, currently, would appear to suggest that they might have to do.
Teaching sex and relationship education tends to be something which is asked of teachers who do not specialise in the topic but may be mathematicians, physicists or historians. SRE has to be taught and some staff must teach it. The risk for a teacher is that, directly or indirectly, something they say may be interpreted as relating to the subject matter of the Bill and may be interpreted as discriminatory by pupils of a homosexual orientation. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, was right when he said earlier that teachers of course have to act as professionals. They can develop rules; for example, that in their classroom no teacher or pupil can be asked a personal question. However, the reality is that a classroom of 30 or more teenagers is not the easiest place to operate. There may be pupils who see an opportunity to embarrass a teacher by asking repeated questions, by making suggestions or by their conduct generally as the teacher tries to ensure that all the children are kept safe, that there is no bullying and that the children actually learn. Teaching is not the easiest occupation.
We even have to take into account that a teacher may have to face what may be a mischievous, but nevertheless damaging, allegation of discriminatory behaviour which is completely unwarranted. We know that there are mischievous and unfounded allegations of sexual abuse of children in schools. I know that that is a difficult issue to introduce in this context but we need to be aware that working in the classroom is not as simple as some noble Lords appear to think it is.
Finally, it is my belief that this amendment, or a similar one, could be introduced to prevent the adverse and unintended consequences to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, referred earlier. It would provide protection against detriment resulting from the operation of Section 149 for any person holding conscientious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman. It would not permit homophobic action, but it would provide a balancing between these difficult and sensitive competing rights.
My Lords, I think we have debated this issue, like a number of others, over and over again, so I do not wish to detain the House for any longer than is necessary. However, I want to say that this is a good Bill and a balanced Bill. As the Minister said, there is some work to do before Report, but this is the last amendment in Committee. I put on record my thanks, and I am sure the thanks of many Back-Benchers, to the Front-Benchers of both parties for the way in which they have conducted this stage of the Bill. It does them credit, and this House too.
My Lords, I shall address my remarks to the actual amendment, which is about the public sector equality duty. This amendment seeks to place an express requirement on public authorities to protect individuals who hold a view that marriage should be between a man and a woman under the public sector equality duty. This amendment misunderstands what the public sector equality duty does, and I am slightly surprised that the noble Baroness would suggest it. It is a duty to:
“have due regard to the need to:
Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct that is prohibited by the Act:
Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a characteristic and those who don’t:
Foster good relations between people who share a characteristic and those who don’t”.
It is not a duty to compel or ensure certain actions by a public body, as Amendment 56A would require. However, that due regard applies to religious belief in the same way that it applies to sexual orientation. No other beliefs or specific issues are singled out for special consideration under the public sector equality duty. Singling out one particular belief above any other risks undermining the equal balancing of protections for religious organisations and other protected characteristics, which is specifically enshrined by this duty. We suggest that this amendment is both unnecessary and potentially damaging to the protections—
My Lords, I did not deliver the speech I had intended to deliver, given the lateness of the hour. I therefore ask the noble Baroness whether she is aware of the increasing jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice, which indicates that in balancing individual rights and rights which affect such issues as discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, the courts actually give a greater measure of discretion to the state. It is therefore important that the state acts to protect individuals. I can make that argument at greater length if colleagues wish me to do so, but that is the point I ask the noble Baroness.
I thank the noble Baroness for those comments, but there is nothing that she has just said that would take me away from the view which I have just expressed, because this is domestic law. I add that I think the Government team which has handled this Bill, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, has done a brilliant job in taking it through Committee. I look forward to the next stage.
My Lords, I have listened to many amendments in Committee. Like the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, I worry that it would be a great pity if someone in a local authority stated publicly that the most important thing to them was marriage between a man and a woman, and that somehow they were threatened with the loss of their job, but the local authority would not step in to try to defend them. I know it is late in the evening, but I have been here for the best part of the day, and if the Chief Whip will allow me—
I am sorry about that. I am behind the times. I worry, and I reflect on some of the cases. In one case it was not a local authority but a government agency—namely, a housing association—which disciplined someone because they had left a crucifix on their van. It was claimed that offence would be given to other drivers if that type of thing continued. I share the worries of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, for her further amendment regarding the public sector equality duty. It is similar, although not identical, to Amendment 13 in the name of the noble Baroness and that of the noble Lord, Lord Singh, which the Committee discussed at length last Wednesday. I certainly do not intend to rehearse all the points that were made then. I undertook, following that debate, to write to the noble Baroness on a number of points that were made in that debate—I think that that suggestion was made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben—and to circulate the letter to all those who took part. I also indicated that if the recipients of that letter wished to follow it up with a meeting, I would more than happy to do so. Certainly, if there are any further points arising out of the contributions to the debate that have been made this evening which require to be covered by that, I shall do so.
The amendment is couched in different terms from Amendment 13 and would have a slightly different effect but, again, the Government believe that it is unnecessary and potentially harmful. As we discussed last week, the public sector equality duty places a duty on public authorities to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination because of, among other matters, religion or belief. Where this is relevant to the exercise of their functions, public authorities are already required to have due regard to the possible impact of their policies on people who believe that marriage should be between only a man and a woman. The amendment is therefore unnecessary.
However, the amendment is also potentially harmful—the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, was right to say that this is our domestic legislation. The amendment would mean that public authorities would be required to consider this particular belief about marriage, giving precedence to it over all the other beliefs to which they are required to have due regard whenever they take a decision, regardless of the context and the relevance to the decision.
Moreover, the public sector equality duty is a duty to have due regard. It is a duty to think; it is not a duty to act or to achieve a particular outcome. The amendment goes far beyond the duty to have due regard. It places a duty on a public authority to ensure that the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman is respected, and to ensure that no one expressing such a belief will suffer any detriment. That is of course a desirable outcome, but it is not clear to me how any single public authority, or indeed all public authorities working together, could ensure that that would happen. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn. It was in one of our first debates that my noble friend Lord Lester made the point—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Alli, then quoted it back—that you cannot legislate against some public authorities or some individual doing a daft thing; “idiotic” may have been the word that he used. Mention has been made of the case of the housing officer who lost his job for something that was put on a public website, when in fact the law actually protected him. When the case went for judicial review, the judge put it on the record that, had he taken the matter to an employment tribunal, he would have had more substantial damages than he was able to get under a judicial review. The law has worked. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Martin, that I think that we all get very frustrated sometimes when daft things are done, but we believe that the Bill ensures that those protections are in place. I do not believe that the way to deal with those occasions where public authorities have not applied the current laws properly is to start trying to meddle with the equality protections and to risk unintended consequences. Rather, we should address them by doing what we can to ensure that public authorities understand the nature of the requirements on them and what they mean in practice.
That is why, as I explained on Wednesday and as my noble friend Lady Stowell has also explained, the Government will work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to ensure that its guidance for public authorities is as clear as possible, in particular by making it clear that the equality duty cannot be used to penalise an organisation or individual for opposing same-sex marriage and indeed that to do so would be unlawful. I also remind the Committee of my commitment given last Wednesday that we will address issues relating to the equality duty when we respond to the Joint Committee on Human Rights before Report.
On behalf of my noble friends Lady Stowell and Lady Northover, I thank noble Lords for the kind words that have been said. I thank all Members of the Committee, because we have had some very important and worthwhile debates. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, has received the further reassurance on this issue that she has sought. I therefore ask her to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, in withdrawing this amendment, I also express my appreciation to the Front Bench for the way in which they have conducted the debate. I reserve the right to bring this matter back, not in multiple amendments, but in an amendment on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 56A withdrawn.
Schedule 7, as amended, agreed.
Clause 16 : Orders and regulations
Amendment 57 not moved.
58: Clause 16, page 12, line 37, leave out paragraph (a)
Amendment 58 agreed.
Clause 16, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 17 and 18 agreed.
Clause 19 : Short title and commencement
Amendment 59 not moved.
Clause 19 agreed.
Bill reported with amendments.
House adjourned at 12.22 am.