Relevant documents: 45th and 48th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
1: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Removal of exemption for clergy under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument make such provision as is necessary to amend the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 to enable the Church of England and the Church in Wales to opt in to the provisions of that Act allowing the solemnization of the marriage of a same sex couple.(2) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1) may not be made unless it has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.(3) Subject to subsection (2), regulations under this section must be in force by the end of the period of 6 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.(4) Regulations under subsection (1) may not amend—(a) section 1(3) of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013,(b) section 1(4) of that Act, or(c) section 2(5) or (6) of that Act.”
My Lords, Amendment 1 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury. This amendment is similar, but not identical, to the amendment I moved in Committee. The changes I have made to it reflect the concerns expressed in that debate by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the briefing note I subsequently received from Church House.
Your Lordships will be aware that under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 the Church of England and the Church in Wales are subject to what is called the “quadruple lock”. The first three elements of that lock apply to all religions, but the fourth states that the common law duty of the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry parishioners does not apply and that the canon law of the Church of England does not conflict with, and is not overridden by, civil law. So those churches are exempted from the general ability of a religious organisation to opt in to perform same-sex marriages. The Church of England can change those provisions through measures, and the Lord Chancellor can make similar changes in respect of the Church in Wales with its approval. My amendment gives the Secretary of State a duty to make the sort of changes that the Church might otherwise make through measures—or the Lord Chancellor, in the case of Wales—while maintaining the quadruple lock as far as possible.
This amendment differs from the amendment I moved in Committee by virtue of proposed new subsection (4). Paragraph (a) preserves the position of canon law; paragraph (b) preserves the exemption for same-sex marriages from the common law duty of members of the clergy to solemnise the marriages of their parishioners; and paragraph (c) reserves the carve-out from the Equality Act that allows religious organisations or ministers to refuse to conduct a same-sex marriage.
I hope that your Lordships, and in particular my good friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, will agree that this is a modest amendment. It simply says to the Church of England and the Church in Wales that Parliament will not stand in their way when they eventually get round to extending the right to marry in church to same-sex couples.
I also hope that this debate will have another consequence: to send to gay people everywhere the message that our society is loving and inclusive and that there is room for everyone in it. I must tell your Lordships that the main reason I persevered with this amendment was the numerous messages of support I received from the clergy. For example, I received this email from the vicar of St Peter’s Church, Hammersmith, the reverend Charles Clapham:
“I am writing as a Vicar in the Church of England to express my thanks to you for your interventions … in the House of Lords debate, and your support for the amendment to remove (in part) legal restrictions on the ability of Anglican clergy to solemnise same-sex marriages.
You will know this is an extremely contentious issue in the Church of England at present. But I hope you will also be aware that there are very large numbers of clergy and lay people who are supportive of equal marriage, and would like to be able to conduct such marriages in our churches. As things stand, these views are not being represented by our current House of Bishops.
The response to the amendment by the Bishop of Chelmsford in the chamber … was, to my mind, disappointing, and (to some extent) misleading. The Bishop made reference, for example, to the current ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project being undertaken by House of Bishops which is exploring issues of sexuality and gender. But he did not make clear that the parameters of this project are quite restrictive: it is an educational process only, and will not pronounce on the rights or wrongs of gay marriage (as the chair, the Bishop of Coventry has made clear). So this project will not result in the bishops recommending a change in current church practice regarding equal marriage.
My own parish in west London is hardly radical: we are a very ordinary suburban ‘middle-of-the-road’ Anglican church. But we have a number of LGBT people, some of whom are in civil partnerships or marriages, amongst our most valued parishioners and worshippers. It is a matter of embarrassment (to say the very least) that we are not able to celebrate their relationships formally in church, and a frustration that our bishops are unwilling to represent our views.
So I thank you for your advocacy and support, and do hope you will keep pushing the issue”.
Writing on Facebook on 8 February, the Dean of Leicester, the very reverend David Monteith, who entered into a same-sex civil partnership in 2008, said:
“I’ve had one of those weeks where the reality of being gay in the Church of England came home. I spend a lot of time with many sceptical folks encouraging them to hang in there. I find myself often encouraging others not to be daunted and to believe that one day God’s grace might actually be seen abundantly and more consistently in God’s church. But there are some weeks when it is difficult to know that deeply realised hope in practice as well as in theory. It gets no easier as a ‘senior priest’”.
That comment from David Monteith attracted more than 100 supportive messages, such as:
“With much love and prayer David Monteith. Many people are inspired by the fact that you and others in senior posts are willing to be courageous and prophetic at such personal sacrificial cost”.
Somebody else said:
“Sorry to read this David. I have found The Scottish Episcopal Church to be a kinder place”.
Unfortunately, there are still many examples of negativity in the Church. The Lambeth Conference of bishops is to be held in 2020. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has invited “every active bishop” in the Anglican Communion, and the conference planning group is to run a joint programme for bishops and their spouses. The Lambeth 2020 website says that this is,
“in recognition of the vital role spouses play across the Anglican Communion and a desire to support them in their ministry”—
but not if they are same-sex spouses. I understand that there are three in the Episcopal Church in North America who have effectively been disinvited.
The reverend canon Simon Butler, who is the vicar of St Mary’s, Battersea, and a member of the Church of England’s General Synod since 2005, asked an important question in the debate on the Pilling report on human sexuality at the February 2014 synod:
“My question requires a little context and a large amount of honesty. I’m gay; I don’t have a vocation to celibacy and at the same time I’ve always taken my baptismal and ordination vows with serious intent and with a sincere desire to model my life on the example of Christ simul justus et peccator. Those who have selected me, ordained me and licensed me know all this. My parish know it too.
My question is this: at the end of the process of facilitated conversations will the College of Bishops tell me whether there is a place for people like me as priests, deacons and bishops in the Church, rather than persisting in the existing policy that encourages a massive dishonesty so corrosive to the gospel? For my spiritual health, for the flourishing of people like me as ministers of the gospel and for the health of the wider Church I think we will all need to have an answer to that question”.
I suspect that we will not get the answer to Simon Butler’s question any time soon. However, I hope that, by debating this amendment today, this House will send a message to the Church of England and the Church in Wales—and to the Anglican Communion worldwide—that we in this House, at any rate, think it is time that they moved forward at rather more than the glacial speed we have seen so far. This amendment is intended to help them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment and very much welcome the introduction by my noble friend, who has set out the issues extremely well. As we heard in Committee, this is about a journey that the Church of England in particular has been on, and there has been some movement. I certainly recall opposition in this House when I was hoping for agreement to civil partnerships going through. That opposition came from the Church of England too, and it delayed my civil partnership by a year, as it happens. However, when we came to the same-sex marriage debate, I welcomed the fact that the most reverend Primate spoke up in favour of civil partnerships. Therefore, there has been movement on the journey and I very much welcome that.
It is not for me to dictate what the Church of England should or should not do. I firmly believe in the right of religious institutions to have religious freedom. It is not my job as a politician to impose restrictions on the Church. Certainly, since the Committee stage of this Bill, I have received emails, some coming from the opposite camp in the Church of England. I did not realise that what I had been through was an abomination but apparently that is what it was, and no doubt that forms part of the debate in the Church of England.
However, that debate in Committee showed me that there is strong support in the Church of England for what we are attempting to do: it is not one-sided. I am aware—and my noble friend has highlighted— that many people are torn between their faith and their identity, and their ability to choose whom they love and care for. In fact, my own husband would have desired a religious ceremony. We have gone through a civil partnership and a same-sex marriage. We have actually done it three times, and I have no doubt that, if the Church of England changes its mind, he will strongly advocate a fourth—any excuse for a party, as they say. I sincerely hope that the Church will move on this issue.
I too have read the Church of England briefing about canon law and about the 1919 Act and the quadruple lock. I remember the debate on the quadruple lock but I do not recall the Church saying, “We can decide ourselves eventually”. However, that is another issue. I accept the briefing and I accept the facts—that, if it so wishes, the Church of England can do this. As my noble friend said, this is a facilitating amendment. It says that we should have no part in this decision and that it should be a decision for the Church of England. However, it also says to the world out there that this House has changed—that we are in favour of allowing people to honour and be true to their faith, and also to be true to who they are. That is why this amendment is very important.
I shall do something that I have already done, at Second Reading and in Committee, which is to quote the most reverend Primate. I thought that his words in his book were absolutely right when he talked about the importance of marriage. He went on to say:
“If fluidity of relationships is the reality of our society, then this should be our starting point for building values, because all values must connect with where people are and not where other people might like them to be”.
What are those values that the most reverend Primate talked about? They are the values that we talk about in terms of same-sex marriage. It is the Christian understanding of the core concepts of household and family, including holiness, fidelity, hospitality and love above all, because God is holy, faithful, welcoming and overflowing in love, and any human institution that reflects those virtues also in some way reflects God. When two people have entered into a same-sex marriage, they are reflecting those values.
I hope the Church of England will change its mind.
My Lords, I want to make a brief contribution. I absolutely support the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner and Lord Collins. I speak as a heterosexual pew member of the Church of England. I echo the comments made in the letters read out by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner: many of us look forward to the day when same-sex marriage can be solemnised in the Church of England. I am reminded of two friends of mine and my noble friend Lady Barker’s who chose to leave the Church of England and have their marriage solemnised in the Unitarian Church. It was a very moving event where God recognised their sincere and solemn relationship.
I completely understand the problems inside the Church of England. I am appalled that there are members of the Church who would write to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in those terms, describing him and his relationship as an abomination. That is certainly not where the Church comes from at all.
I support the amendment as a facilitator for the moment at which the Church of England and the Church in Wales want to say, “Yes, we will move it”. We will be removing one hurdle here in Parliament to make that journey faster and smoother.
My Lords, I am in favour of this amendment. I commend and congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner on the passionate way in which he introduced it, referring to the personal experiences of people who have written to him. I equally commend the contribution of my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury.
I was very fortunate to have a civil partnership with the wonderful Paul Cottingham. Before he died, on one of those chemotherapy afternoons where the head cannot quite come up from the sofa, I was stood behind him doing the ironing—this is an insight into my domestic life—because I find that it clears the mind. I looked at this man who I had spent 31 years of my life with, and who I knew did not really have much longer to live. I said to him, “Paul, will you marry me?” Without a moment’s hesitation, he looked up and said, “Today’s not a good day, sorry. No”. But what if the answer had been different? Does it matter to people like me, who are not of religious persuasion or religious belief? It matters because one has to think, “What if that were me?” What if my faith and the roots of my relationships were absolutely within my faith community? What if I were not allowed to participate with the love and support of that community? Would it matter? The answer is yes. And if I would not want to experience that in the celebration of the person I love, how dare I allow another to experience it?
I welcome the changes that have happened in this country. They actually happened in advance of public opinion, which took courage and leadership. It is interesting that all the other religions and faiths do not need the legal protection that the Church of England has been given. As my noble friend referred to, that sends a worrying signal to the worldwide Anglican Communion. It reinforces the concept that it is okay and legitimate to discriminate against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation. We have witnessed enough atrocities across the globe to have evidence of that.
The amendment is simple. It takes on board the concerns of the Church of England and it forces the Church to do nothing. It allows what I would call a free sprint, once it gets over the internal obstacles that it needs to dismount. What would it achieve? As I have said, it would send a signal that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and difference is coming to an end, as is alienation within faith communities.
Research carried out by Stonewall—I refer to my entry in the register of interests as its founding chair—should, if nothing else, accelerate the desire of the Church of England to bring forward change. One-third of lesbian, gay and bisexual people of faith are not open with anyone in their faith community about their sexual orientation. One in four trans people of faith are not open about their gender identity in their faith community. Only two in five LGBT people of faith think that their faith community is welcoming of lesbian, gay and bi people. Lastly, just one in four LGBT people of faith think that their faith community is welcoming of trans people. For no other reason than that, I hope noble Lords will give support to this amendment.
My Lords, those were extremely moving speeches. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner, Lord Collins and Lord Cashman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for the contributions they have made in the Chamber today and the moving way in which they have spoken. I thank them for sharing their personal experiences so movingly, and for the important and necessary articulation of the views they have heard within the broader Church of England in favour of movement and inclusion. I deeply regret the language used in writing to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others; it has no place in the contemporary Church.
The Church is committed to listening carefully to the wisdom of the nation, to the wisdom in our continued debate in this Chamber and to the voices of LGBTI people at all levels in the life of the church. We are committed in our public statements to the inclusion and welcome of all. I and the Church collectively remain deeply conscious of our imperfections and the journey that we still have to travel. We recognise that discrimination is still experienced; I accept the validity of the Stonewall research just cited, and it distresses me beyond words.
As noble Lords are aware, together with other Churches and faith communities across the world, the Church of England is exploring these issues in depth—and, I accept, at length. My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle chairs our pastoral advisory group, and last week brought a helpful series of pastoral guidelines to the General Synod. My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry chairs a process of exploration under the title Living in Love and Faith, which was referred to by noble Lords. Both processes are due to report to the General Synod in 2020. It is true that these proposals will contain resources for reflection. They may not contain recommendations for action but they will be followed by further work, debate and proposals to be tested by the General Synod in due course—as soon as possible, I hope.
Recently, I issued a pastoral letter with my fellow bishops to our own diocese of Oxford under the title, Clothed with Love. We are taking pastoral steps in the diocese to encourage greater inclusion and support within the Church’s existing guidelines. That letter has been warmly welcomed by many LGBTI clergy and laity, and more widely across the Church by those who want to see further change. It has led to many fruitful conversations. However, it is also a sign of where the Church is, and of the deep views held in good conscience on the issue, that the same letter has dismayed and unsettled some others who fear that the Church will change what is regarded as essential and core doctrine. The correspondence illustrates the need for further deep and respectful dialogue within the Church, and I remain committed to that.
My response to the amendment is that, as a Church, we need more time for deeper reflection and prayer; for listening, recognising the urgency of the situation; for listening to those outside and within the Church; and for developing our responses. I am grateful for the intention behind this amendment and the opportunity to air these issues in this Chamber. Nevertheless, I need to resist the amendment on two grounds, both of which have been referred to.
First, the legal powers already exist to enable the Church of England and the Church in Wales to begin to solemnise same-sex marriages should they choose to do so. That change will be registered through a change in the doctrine of marriage and therefore in canon law. It is important for the overall process that the Church is seen to make its own decisions first, and only then for those decisions to be taken through Parliament.
Secondly, the Church itself must continue its conversation and debate, and reach conclusions through the careful process of listening, exploration and discernment about the right way forward and the right time for such a move. While I am grateful to the noble Lord for his amendment and deeply grateful for the speeches that have been made, and will gladly commit to passing on to my colleagues all the views expressed here, I hope the Government and the House will resist the amendment, as on previous occasions in this Chamber.
My Lords, before the right reverend Prelate sits down, I ask for some clarification. Has he heard from those who have spoken that there is no intention or desire to ask the Church of England to proceed in a secondary place in response to this debate? We recognise the hoops you have to go through and the legal difficulties that are encountered. I just heard him say that the Church must make its mind up first; I think everybody here would agree with that. But why take so long? If the Church of England has admitted openly gay people to its ranks as priests, has the ground not already been covered? Are the essential issues not already clear? Has the agonising not already taken place? The next step is not a difficult one.
I thank the noble Lord for the question and the invitation to respond. During the time of my ministry, the Church of England has grappled with two other issues: the remarriage of divorcees and the admission of women to different orders of Christian ministry. In both cases, it has taken the Church in its processes a very long time to come to judicious conclusions. That is the way we are. Our decision-making processes are naturally set up to be conservative and to take time to implement serious change after careful thought.
To change canon law, there will need to be significant majorities in favour of such change in the General Synod of the Church of England. Therefore, I anticipate that this debate will continue into the lifetime of the next synod, which begins in 2020. The debate this morning has accurately highlighted the diversity of views across the Church and the significantly shifting diversity of view in favour of change—that is a subjective view. One of the things which impedes that change of view in the life of the Church is a fear lest it be seen to be in any way compelled to make up its mind by external forces, even if that is not the intention of the amendment—I recognise it is not, very clearly. However, that external pressure would itself be a rallying call to those opposed to change.
My Lords, I interpose briefly on the mechanisms of the Church of England. I hope that when Anglicans read this debate, they will remember that they have a duty to be in contact with their representative on the General Synod. There seems to be a discontinuity between the pew and the synod. That can be remedied only by the Church becoming aware of its own mechanisms of government. That is a complicated process and it has to be slow. If we hasten it, and push the barrow too fast, it will fall apart. The great thing about the Church of England is the width of those it includes. That means that when change is necessary, it percolates; it does not sweep. The Holy Spirit does not suddenly work through all the limbs of the Church at the same time. I hope noble Lords opposite will take in good faith the wishes of those on this side who wish to progress, but to do so in community with their fellows who have not yet changed their minds.
My Lords, at earlier stages of this Bill, I informed the House that I was brought up in a religious household. It was a nonconformist household, so in this debate I find myself very firmly on the temporal side of the House, rather than the spiritual side. As the person who spoke in the same-sex marriage debate immediately before the right reverend Prelate, I have long watched the agonies of the spiritual Benches on this issue with some interest.
I thank noble Lords on this side of the House who spoke on this matter. As I said at the previous stage of our debate, the importance of the teachings and statements of the Church go far beyond its own confines. It is true that the stance of the Church causes the greatest hurt to its members and to people of faith, but the harm it does is general and more widespread. I have to say to the right reverend Prelate that statements to the effect that the Church welcomes and includes all ring very hollow when we debate these matters.
That said, I understand that we have to defer to the Church as a body which sits within canon law and exercises its right to proceed in ways which are not subject to the other laws of the land. I watched this debate and I talk to members of the Church of England—to members of very different strands of thought in the Church—and, as an outside observer, I think there are certain elements and traditions of faith in the Church of England that will take considerably longer than others to move forward and progress to join the rest of society in its appreciation and support of gay people.
With that in mind, I wish to ask a technical question of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner; the right reverend Prelate may also want to comment. When the same-sex marriage legislation went through, I distinctly remember that the provisions made for religions were that the governing body of any religion had to agree, in order for it to recognise and solemnise same-sex marriage. It was then up to individual clerics, congregations and parishes to agree that they would do so. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, whether his proposed new clause falls underneath that scheme. In effect, I am asking whether, were his amendment to go on the statute book, it would enable individual churches and parishioners to maintain or change their stance on the subject, as they have done in relation to the ordination of women. Frankly, if we wait for every single member of or church in the Church of England to afford to the rest of us the dignity that we enjoy in the secular world, we will wait far too long. The harm that will be done to our society by people who profess these views will be incalculable.
My Lords, Amendment 1, moved by my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester and supported by my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury, seeks to provide the Church of England and the Church in Wales with the ability, if they choose to do so, to opt in to the Bill’s provisions when it becomes an Act of Parliament. Nothing in the amendment seeks to compel either Church to do anything if they decide they do not want to or they decide they want to take this step at some point in the future. That is the right thing to do, with the state making it possible if the two Churches want to do something. We should not stand in the way of the Church and any decisions it might make in the future.
My noble friends Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Lord Collins of Highbury set out clearly why this amendment should be supported. I fully endorse all their remarks. It is a facilitating amendment and we should put no obstacle in the way so that this change can happen in future.
I have many friends who are gay and I have attended many civil partnerships and marriages. People who love each other wanting to make commitments to each other is something we should all support. The first ever civil partnership I attended was that of my noble friend Lord Cashman when he joined together with Paul. Of course, we were not noble then: it was just Paul and Michael, and Alicia and Roy. It was a lovely, wonderful day. I will never forget it and nor will Alicia. It was a wonderful time and Paul was a wonderful man.
I was brought up a Catholic in a Catholic household. I must admit that I am not a regular churchgoer, but I regard myself as a Catholic. My parents are from the Republic of Ireland, so I come from an Irish Catholic background. I have been hugely impressed with the Church of England in this House. I was always impressed by the Church and the work it did when I was a local councillor in Southwark. I always remember Reverend Shaw who ran St Paul’s, but I never met a Church of England bishop until I came into the House of Lords. I knew a few Catholic bishops but I had never met a Church of England bishop. I am hugely impressed by the work that the Bishops do in this House. They bring a breadth of experience and understanding that really helps our work.
I very much hear the right reverend Prelate’s comments. I am also impressed at how the Church of England has gone on a journey on a number of issues. In the end, things have moved remarkably quickly. I hope that discussions will take place in the Church at some point and that it can make these decisions, but I accept that that is a matter for the Church. I fully support the amendment and the intent behind it.
I thank all noble Lords who spoke in the debate, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Lord Collins of Highbury, who outlined the various challenges here. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, articulated, this amendment is in a way a message for the Church. He outlined the progress that the Church of England has made, while the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, articulated some of its lack of progress. If we were to sum it up, the message is one of leadership and determination. This will be a matter for the Church, but I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for his thoughtful explanation of the current situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, also talked about the support the Church has given to this agenda to try to move it forward. My noble friend Lord Elton talked about the message we of the pew can send to the synod in making progress in this area. But clearly, the Government have to resist the amendment. It is probably best for me to go through the Government’s position regarding what we can do.
The amendment’s aim is to require the Secretary of State, by regulations, to make changes to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act to allow the Church of England and the Church in Wales to opt in to the provisions of that Act, which allow them to solemnise the marriage of a same-sex couple, as noble Lords have said. It requires these regulations to be made through the affirmative procedure and to come into effect within six months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent.
I acknowledge that the noble Lords’ intention in trying to ensure that everyone is able to marry in a way and place of their choosing, regardless of their sexual orientation, is an honourable one; being gay does not mean that you do not have any faith. But we have been clear that no religious organisation should be forced to host civil partnerships, unless they choose to. Noble Lords made that quite clear. A number of religious organisations have chosen to opt in or to provide blessings. We hope that more will choose to do so, but it is right that, at this stage, it remains a decision for them.
However, my primary reason for objecting to the noble Lords’ amendment is quite simply, as I think the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford mentioned, that it is unnecessary. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act provides an opt-in system so that same-sex marriages can occur only on religious premises or under religious rites where the governing religious body has expressly consented. There is no requirement for these bodies to give such consent.
The Act does not include a specific mechanism for the Church of England to opt in in the same way, which I know has caused some to believe that the Government are unnecessarily tying the hands of the Church through this. However, the actual reason, as the right reverend Prelate outlined, is primarily that the Church of England already has the ability to opt in using its own devolved legislative powers. It would be inappropriate for the Secretary of State to legislate on a devolved matter.
I am pleased to hear from the right reverend Prelate that the Church of England is continuing to hold conversations on this important matter. It is absolutely vital, albeit that the pace of change is slow. It is clear that the Church, along with other faith groups, has a vital leadership role to play in influencing society and culture in communities around the world, including the way LGBT people are treated. I have had separate debates on that, as noble Lords will know. I hope the Church will consider the needs and experiences of LGBT people in its communities seriously and with the gravity and sensitivity they deserve. With those words, I hope that the noble Lord, albeit reluctantly, will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I think we all recognise that this is a very sensitive issue. One cannot fail to be moved by some of the speeches we have heard, but I am grateful to the Minister and to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for clarifying the matter at hand. I hope noble Lords feel reassured by the words spoken in the debate and that these matters are being considered carefully by the Church of England and the Church in Wales as part of the ongoing debate about the nature of marriage. I hope the noble Lord feels he can withdraw the amendment so that we do not hamper the excellent progress the Bill is making on some very significant matters.
My Lords, I think I can answer the noble Baroness with a reply to that very last point. I gave her my word during the week that I did not intend to divide the House at the end of the debate for the very reason she said. I would not wish to do anything that made it more difficult for the Bill to get through the House of Commons and become law. It is a very good Bill. I congratulate her on the way she has presented it. She sat patiently through a debate that was not directly on the main subject of the Bill, and I accept that. For that reason, I will not divide the House.
I would like to thank all my noble friends and other Members of the House who have spoken, so movingly and strongly, in favour of the principle contained in my amendment. I particularly thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, whose tone in this debate, I have to say, was different from that of his brother bishop, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, who accused me in Committee of being divisive. I do not think I have been divisive, either today or on that occasion. It is important that the House has the chance to say to the Church of England, as the noble Lords, Lord Collins, Lord Cashman and Lord Elton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Barker, have all said, that we want to see more progress from the Church of England in coming to its own decision, not at some point 10 years hence. My noble friend Lord Griffiths pointed out that five years have already passed since the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was passed.
If this is going to synod next year, I hope that will be the occasion when the House of Bishops takes a lead and wins over other members of the synod. I am not seeking to dictate or force the Church of England and the Church in Wales to do things that they do not want to; I want them to understand just how much support there is for a change of this sort. I particularly appreciate the words of the Minister, with whom I also had a discussion about this Bill during the week. Her message, that the Government support progress, is one I hope the Church will take on board very seriously. The support of my noble friend Lord Kennedy is also very important. I thank everybody who has taken part. The message from this House is clear: it is over to the Church of England to make some progress. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Marriage of same-sex couples in Northern Ireland
(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to change the law relating to marriage in Northern Ireland to provide that marriage between same-sex couples is lawful. (2) Regulations under this section must be in force within 10 months of this Act being passed, subject to subsections (3), (4), (5) and (6).(3) If a Northern Ireland Executive is formed within the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, a statutory instrument containing regulations under this section must be laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly.(4) Regulations contained in a statutory instrument under subsection (3) are subject to negative resolution within the meaning given by section 41(6) of the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954.(5) If no Northern Ireland Executive is formed by the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, a statutory instrument containing regulations under this section must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.(6) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (5) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”
My Lords, in rising to move my amendment, I will make reference to a number of different aspects, but it is appropriate on St David’s Day to start and follow a theme through my comments. That is on comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others in reference to what has changed. Since I last spoke on this amendment four weeks ago, the Welsh beat the English—damn them. I notice at this point the Welsh contingent is moving, although I tried not to offend them and to acknowledge their achievement.
Before I come to my own amendment, I will refer to fears arising from it. First, I refer to my own comments in col. 1308 of Hansard on 1 February. I made clear then and have made clear on a number of other occasions:
“I do not want to delay the Bill or lose it at any point”.—[Official Report, 1/2/19; col. 1308.]
That is the key message I convey to the literally hundreds of people who have written to me in fear of the possibility that they may lose their opportunity for a civil partnership. As far as I am concerned, that is not in question. Actually, gay relationships and gay marriage have gained hundreds of supporters in Northern Ireland, because all the emails I have received have not only been overwhelmingly courteous but have also committed to supporting what I am trying to achieve. From whichever part of the land, they have made that clear.
In saying that and congratulating those who have organised it, I make two observations. One is that there was a fear about what the Conservative Party would do, which is based on an incorrect premise, because what I am asking this House in this amendment is a matter of conscience. People should therefore be allowed a free vote, under the circumstances. That is clear. I have also commented on previous occasions—and I come back to the message of change—that there is a clear indication that attitudes are changing markedly in Northern Ireland. This applies across all sectors of the community, and I believe it will continue. Therefore, the supposition of opposition there is also incorrect.
I say on this in conclusion that I have had some touching comments from the civil partnerships lobby. I will quote from one that clearly exemplifies the reason for this legislation, as one is tempted to forget the key element. This is a message I had from somebody in Newton Abbot in Devon, close to my birthplace. This female partner says in part of her letter,
“I am always afraid if he”—
“is late from work that something may have happened, and the knowledge that I am not his legal next of kin hurts me deeply”.
That summarises incredibly well what this legislation, as it stands, is trying to achieve. I wish all those well who will benefit from the Bill. The number of representations I have had leads me to the conclusion that so many people will have the opportunity to celebrate their partnerships that we will kick-start the economy in one go by all the parties to which we might be invited—although I note I was not invited to the celebration of the noble Lord, Lord Cashman; I will feel scorned for ever hereafter.
Regarding my Amendment 2, which relates to Northern Ireland, as I said at the start of my comments, things have changed. I concluded my speech here on 1 February by saying:
“Sooner or later, on behalf of however many people, we have to say enough is enough”.—[Official Report, 1/2/19; col. 1310.]
I believe that. I believe it sincerely, on behalf of large numbers of people, because things have changed. When we stood here on 1 February, did anyone think that England’s cricket captain would turn to a West Indian player and say:
“There’s nothing wrong with being gay”.
I praise Joe Root for his comments, which meant so much to so many people. That resonated not just with me and the gay community but the whole of this nation. I ask everybody in Northern Ireland to recognise that matters are changing.
I have paid compliments to those who lobbied on civil partnerships. The other thing that has happened since 1 February is Valentine’s Day. I pay credit to Patrick Corrigan from Love Equality and Amnesty International and the hundreds of people in Northern Ireland who, on Valentine’s Day, indicated that they wish to be in the same position as people in England, Scotland and Wales to celebrate their partnerships by marriage, as soon as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord McCrea, spoke at the last debate. He was very courteous. He came to me and I acknowledged there was a problem with flights. I therefore did not comment on his comments at the time. He said:
“Respect goes two ways. It must be given not only by those on one side of the argument but also by those on the opposite side of the argument”.—[Official Report, 1/2/19; col. 1310.]
I respect people who hold different views from me. I recognise that it is important, in any debate on whatever subject, that we respect people who hold different views. As long as they have been carefully thought through, we must respect every point of view.
But the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, made no reference in his comments to when we might make the change if we go back to a proper devolved Assembly, nor did he indicate what his view would be if that were the position, because the position has changed in Northern Ireland. I made reference previously to the series of votes that had taken place in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Finally, in November 2015, there was a majority, but there was a petition of concern against it. As I indicated in reference to that petition:
“That is quite reasonable, because that is the constitutional practice in Northern Ireland”.—[Official Report, 1/2/19; col. 1308.]
I respect that, but as the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, who is in his seat today, acknowledged in a brief intervention in that debate:
“When … the petition of concern was created, it was intended to be used so that one political party would not impose its will on another … I do not think it was ever considered the means for one community to impose its moral standards on another”.—[Official Report, 1/2/19; cols. 1313-14.]
That was one Northern Ireland representative speaking with authority. After all is said and done, the noble Lord was deeply and heavily involved in the negotiations for the Belfast agreement.
I say it is a question of time, and I ask the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, to identify when enough is enough. Brazil was not recognised as an independent nation by the Portuguese for 13 years. Are we to sit here and wait for ever until there is an Assembly? Please can he give an indication of what timescale one is talking about, because people cannot and should not have to go on waiting for ever? Just as the people who are waiting for civil partnerships will benefit from the Bill, those who are waiting for the opportunity to have a marriage in Northern Ireland want to know whether their parents or grandparents will have the opportunity to witness their marriage. They should be able to look forward to that with a degree of certainty at some point.
In my previous contribution, I referred to the possibility of people from St Malachy’s and Belfast Inst coming together in a relationship, and possibly getting married. I have yet to be told of such a combination, but it is significant that I have had a person from St Malachy’s tell me that they support the Bill. I have had somebody from my own rugby club identify as coming from Inst—a gay guy who wants to have the opportunity to celebrate his marriage. So as far as I am concerned, this is something that one needs to see at some point over the horizon.
I started by commenting that I thought time had moved on—that the times were changing and enough was enough. My own relatives have moved back to Belfast. They are constituents in the most marginal constituency in Northern Ireland, Belfast South. They have moved back to Belfast because they believe that the world is changing, and they are some of the most astonishing advocates of the changing nature of Belfast. In moving my amendment today, I hope that the people who want to see the change can and will have the opportunity to know that they and their families can celebrate what we grant to everybody else across the rest of the United Kingdom. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment, and I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, for continuing to push this issue because it is a fundamental one. It is not unrelated to the debate that we had on Amendment 1, because no one disputes the rights of religious people to determine their own rules and regulations and to determine their view. But freedom of religious belief is also about not imposing on others. That is what this debate is about today.
The debate is also about means. We get stuck into this issue because, at the moment, there are no means to ensure that we treat all our citizens in our United Kingdom in the same way, apart from pushing this sort of legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, said, if the majority of people in Northern Ireland so desire to adopt same-sex marriage, at the moment there are no means to do it. The fact of the matter is that there is huge support in Northern Ireland for same-sex marriage. I never thought that I would see the day when a referendum conducted in the Republic of Ireland would result in support for it. In fact, we have seen huge change in communities, and it is about recognising the human rights of individuals. That is what today’s debate is about.
Of course, it is not correct for me to say that there are no means for change because this Parliament has the right, as Ministers have said. I heard the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, in Committee, and I recognise that there is an issue about devolved government and devolved powers. In fact, I am sure that everyone in Northern Ireland who has been campaigning for this would rather that they won it in their own communities and their own Assembly. They would rather have that, but as the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, said, they do not know what means will be available to achieve that at the moment. They are asking for our support and encouragement, and I am certainly prepared to give that.
I agree with the noble Lord that no one wants to hinder or harm the Bill in its progress through Parliament. I certainly do not. I have had many emails from people saying that they do not want to lose their hope of civil partnership, because they have been against marriage as an institution but want to protect their legal rights; civil partnership is a means of doing that for the first time. I certainly do not want to stand in their way, but I also know of the frustration and hurt that many people in Northern Ireland feel because they cannot exercise the same right as the rest of us in celebrating a same-sex marriage.
It is about time, and I hope that this amendment will send a clear message: that our debate today is saying that Parliament must act to address this fundamental denial of equality and human rights. Parliament must act and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, said, this is about having a free vote—a vote that we can all support, across all sections of Parliament.
However, I hope that during this debate we will hear the Minister being able to address the question: if not now, when? If it is not now, will she commit, as my party will, to guaranteeing the next earliest opportunity to ensure that everyone in the United Kingdom has the same rights? We want to hear about progress and a timetable, so I support this amendment.
My Lords, perhaps I may make a few brief comments. We have had quite a number of challenges from those who have already spoken on this issue. They recognise, I think, that the Northern Ireland Assembly is the place to decide this matter, and, as a former serving Member of that Assembly, I could not agree more.
We need to keep things in perspective, because it seems to me that a number of debates are contained within one debate today. In our previous debate, about animal welfare, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, said that it would be up to the Northern Ireland Assembly to decide these issues. When asked about the position in relation to Northern Ireland, he said that it was a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly. I wondered then whether the next issue for debate would be a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly. I will repeat what I have said on other occasions in this House: give us the Assembly or give us direct rule. At the moment, we are in no man’s land, and we cannot abide there much longer. Northern Ireland deserves to be governed, just like any other region of the United Kingdom.
There was allusion to the fact that the petition of concern is the problem. Let me make it very clear: at no time did my party ask for a petition of concern to be inserted into the Belfast agreement. We believe that it is very bad government to have it and we will say that anywhere. However, it is there; ironically, at the last talks neither Sinn Féin nor the SDLP wanted it withdrawn. We believe that there is a much better way to do it.
We have to be very careful. If we start cherry picking—saying that we will do this piece of legislation but we will not do that—where will that take us? We can draw only one conclusion. When this House and the other place start to make legislation relating to Northern Ireland, irrespective of the issue—and this is where we get lost sometimes—the message will go out very clearly that both this House and the other place have given up on devolution.
I have said this before and I think it bears repeating: if devolution returns tomorrow—it is unlikely to be tomorrow, since it is Saturday, but we will take Monday—the first through the door will be my party. We will be at the head of the queue. We did not bring the Northern Ireland Assembly down, but, because of the way the Belfast agreement was constructed, one party can at any time bring the whole thing to a halt.
Let us face the elephant in the room. We were told that Sinn Féin could not continue because of RHI. But there has been a public inquiry into RHI and it will make its findings known within months or perhaps weeks—that fox has been shot. What is now holding it up? Sinn Féin has another list of things that it needs—and you can be sure that, once there is any move to bring back the Assembly, another list will appear to say we cannot have devolution because this has to be done. Remember, this is not the first time that the Northern Ireland Assembly has come to a standstill. Noble Lords will recall that there was another occasion.
Can the noble Lord give an assurance that the DUP would not block the equal status of the Irish language if it were part of a devolution settlement and the restoration of the Assembly?
That would be equivalent to the DUP asking Sinn Féin to give assurances tomorrow that it will never again bring the Assembly to a standstill. We do not know what the circumstances will be. Sinn Féin brought it to a standstill. The last time it did this was on social security issues; then, after a long delay, it caught on that this was a matter that came from London, and so it could not change it.
Does the noble Lord understand what the phrase, “equal status for the Irish language” means? Because I do not. Less than 1% of the people of Northern Ireland show an interest in the Irish language, so equal with what? More people speak Polish, Chinese or Lithuanian. Irish is very much a minimal language in Northern Ireland.
There are many occasions on which I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, but this is not one of them. I could not say it better myself. He has put it very eloquently, and he was one of the architects of the Belfast agreement. It is a flawed agreement, I might add, but it is there. It is not the best structure for good government and it is quite confusing. Even those of us who tried to work within it, and those of us who served as Ministers within it, know how restrictive it is and how complicated it can be. Indeed, when you explain to the general public, they throw their hands up and say, “And that is in the name of democracy”. They bid you well, give you a pat on the back and say, “Carry on in your own wee world”.
Let us be very careful, irrespective of how sincere people might be on any issue. The noble Lord, Lord Hayward, said something that struck me. He said that things are changing in Northern Ireland—and he might be right. I live there and have lived all my life there. In 1973, I went into politics as a local councillor and served for some 40 years—I know I do not look that age, but there you are. I went into the Northern Ireland Assembly, where I served for some 18 years, and I have been in this House for some 12 years. I have some idea of what is happening and of what makes Northern Ireland tick. Today, we say very clearly to this House: give us back the Northern Ireland Assembly and bring every issue that you wish to the table—every issue, even those I might emphatically disagree with.
I finish by saying that I was not one of the signatories to the Belfast agreement, but I had to accept it. When it was put to the people, they voted for it by a very small majority—particularly on the unionist side. As a democrat, I said: the people have spoken and I must listen to them.
My Lords, when I approach the subject of Northern Ireland, I do so with sensitivity to its troubled history and with an overwhelming conviction that devolution in Northern Ireland is very important. While it is certainly far from perfect, Northern Ireland politics has been greatly enhanced by devolution. Mindful of this fact, the point must be made with respect to the amendment before us today that we cannot start legislating on devolved matters as if we were in a direct rule situation without unsettling and potentially unravelling devolution. If we do so on this matter, a precedent will be set and then there will be pressure to do it in other areas. As the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, said, we cannot cherry pick.
Given the special value of devolution in the history of Northern Ireland, I would not want your Lordships’ House to act in a manner that created new pressures that would make the general unravelling of devolution more likely. Of course, I accept that at some point in the future there may have to be a decision to reintroduce direct rule, but we are not there yet and it would be wrong for your Lordships’ House to act in a way that does anything to revive direct rule practices, with all the attendant constitutional implications, by way of precedent.
In making this point, I should say that I have spoken to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. He regrets that he cannot be here today, but has given me permission to quote him in saying that,
“for so long as a matter is devolved, notwithstanding the current difficulties, it would be quite wrong for your Lordships’ House to pass legislation in relation to it”.
Mindful of these considerations, while today’s debate has served the useful purpose of putting these matters on record, I hope very much that the amendment will be withdrawn.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, for his amended amendment, which is helpful for the House. It addresses some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, in that it covers both the reconstitution of the Assembly as well as what happens if there is not one.
I will make one further point. I completely understand that the Belfast agreement and the devolved Assembly are very important, but there is also an issue here about human rights. It is extraordinary that one community in the United Kingdom cannot have the same human rights that are available in England, Wales and Scotland. In the debate on the previous amendment, the comment was made that it has now been five years since the same-sex marriage Act was passed. Many friends of mine in Northern Ireland recognise that things have certainly moved on, and they completely understand and echo the sensitivities about what is happening in Northern Irish politics at the moment and the deadlock around the reformation of the Assembly. But there are people there who do not have the same basic human rights as other citizens of the United Kingdom. At the very least, this amendment serves to highlight that once again.
Whether or not the amendment is pressed today, I certainly hope that the message can go back to politicians in Northern Ireland, as well as in your Lordships’ House, that this is a live issue for people who feel that they are being disadvantaged—worse than that, they cannot profess their love for one another in the way which many others can thankfully now take for granted.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly in support of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. I feel profoundly frustrated about this issue, a feeling which I think is shared by many in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, needs to appreciate that there is profound frustration.
I have some questions for the Minister. Is this an issue of human rights? Are human rights a devolved matter? My understanding is that they are not, and that is the context in which we are having this discussion—that in this United Kingdom, our fellow citizens do not have the same human rights as the rest of us. What are we going to do about that under these circumstances? It seems to me that, even if the noble Lord decides not to push this amendment, having this debate is very important because it is a legitimate way of taking forward the discussion—I am just waiting for the next passing bit of legislation on which we might be able to do the same. My experience after 20 years in this House is that when you do that, you usually get there, because the political will is here in both Houses to resolve this issue.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, for the manner in which brought forward his amendment, and the respect with which he has treated those who have different views on this subject. As I have said before, I respect and do not doubt the sincerity of noble Lords who hold different views from me, but nor do I apologise for the views which I hold with deep conviction.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, talked about profound frustration. I suggest to her that she knows nothing about profound frustration when it comes to Northern Ireland. I have been an elected representative—for 25 years in another place, for 37 and a half years in local government and for 15 in the local Assembly—and I know what it is to represent the people. For each of those posts, I was elected by the people, not chosen or given some honour as I have been for this House.
However, there is certainly a profound frustration when it comes to what is happening in Northern Ireland because, as my noble friend Lord Morrow rightly pointed out, it was one party—Sinn Féin, and Sinn Féin alone—that brought the Assembly down. Many in your Lordships’ House seem reticent to condemn or name it for pulling down the Northern Ireland Assembly. Many of these issues could once again be debated in that Assembly, because that is the debating chamber in Northern Ireland under the devolution settlement.
During every debate I have attended that has made reference to the Belfast agreement and to the devolution settlement for Northern Ireland, it has been emphasised and re-emphasised that nothing will be done by this Government or by the Opposition which would undermine that settlement. However, I suggest to noble Lords that these amendments do just that. Whenever this issue was referred to the court, it was acknowledged that it was the prerogative and the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly to debate and decide this issue.
I have been asked a question about when this will be. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, that, in this conversation with Sinn Féin, perhaps we could ask it when it is going to lift the embargo and allow the Assembly to come back into existence, because it and it alone is stopping that. Again, as my noble friend Lord Morrow said, if the Assembly were to be started on Monday morning, my party would be through the door and take its rightful place there. It is Sinn Féin alone that is blocking the Northern Ireland Assembly from coming in to sit. I cannot in good conscience have any knowledge of when the Assembly will come into existence, because I do not know when Sinn Féin will lift or remove its objection and be willing to come back into it.
Let us be quite honest. There are many very demanding issues that need to be decided. For example, people are dying because things are not happening through the health service, which is happening because Ministers are neglecting their position. Many decisions have not been made because Ministers are not there. But it is Sinn Féin alone that is stopping those Ministers from being there—it needs to be pointed to and shown up for what it is doing. There are many issues that Ministers need to decide on, but the Government have decided that no other Minister will come, that devolution must not be undermined and that direct rule will not take place. At this moment, direct rule is certainly not in the offing, and devolution is the only show in town.
While there is a possibility of the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly, I appeal to noble Lords not to close its doors and remove a major plank for the existence of the Assembly in making these issues, as was acknowledged by the court.
May I ask the noble Lord one simple question? If the Assembly comes back, will the DUP support this amendment—or this principle of allowing same-sex marriage?
I thank the noble Lord for that; it is the very point I was coming to. I said that there was another point in the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. It is a question not only of when the Assembly will come back but of when the legislation will take place. But that is what devolution is all about: deciding in the Assembly, not the understanding of this House in deciding for the Assembly. That is what the Assembly is all about. It makes the decision; when a matter comes to the floor of the Assembly, it is a decision for the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. It is at election time that the electorate decide who will be their elected representatives. I shall not dictate to this House, but I make no apology for stating that I genuinely believe, with all my heart and deep conviction, that the scriptures of holy truth clearly say that marriage is a covenant entered into by one man and one woman. That is what I believe.
Before this debate, we started with a reading of God’s word. After the reading of God’s word we prayed and asked God to guide us in our counsel according to His will. “According to His will” are His words. I know that others may suggest that they do not accept that and I accept that that is the reality. However, I also believe with all my heart that God’s word gives us authority and declares on the issue of marriage.
In a previous debate, the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, referred to the petition of concern. My noble friend Lord Morrow rightly said that it was not my party that brought the petition of concern into existence. However, in response to what was stated in the previous debate, if the petition of concern had been exercised in the Assembly illegally, it would have been overturned. But it was not exercised illegally; it was exercised in accordance with the law. Therefore, I have to say that it is for the Northern Ireland Assembly to decide this issue. This House should not cherry pick what it believes should be devolved; that was decided under the devolution settlement. I warn noble Members not to pull the rug away completely and close the door of the Assembly. Many are asking: if these issues are removed from the Assembly and its elected representatives, is there any reason why an Assembly should exist at all?
My Lords, I shall speak briefly in this debate and pick up on the point noted by the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, who said that one should approach these matters with absolute sensitivity. The noble Lord, Lord Hayward, was right to say that things have changed. Indeed, in the 2015 Assembly elections, out of the 90 Assembly Members elected, 55 declared that they would vote in favour should such a measure on equal marriage come before them. We know that polls can be skewed by the question asked, but a Sky poll in Northern Ireland indicated that 76% of the population of Northern Ireland would be in favour of same-sex marriage.
I speak in a similar vein to how I spoke earlier on the issue. This was highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lady Thornton: it is the principle of equality. If we are a union, we are a United Kingdom and all rights should apply equally across that union. I absolutely accept the principle that you cannot devolve equality or human rights and I believe we are talking about a human right. It was suggested that it should be left to the Assembly, but there is no Assembly. And when there is no action, action must be taken to address the inequality. Some have said that one cherry picks. If we look at the issue we are talking about—the right to marry in a same-sex relationship—I do not believe it is a cherry. The concept of all people being treated equally across the United Kingdom is not fruit to be picked from a tree. It is the root and the branch of democracy. It is what keeps us together.
Therefore, this is an extremely sensible amendment. I take on board what the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, said about wanting the Bill to proceed. Like him, I place on record my thanks to Love Equality and Amnesty International, and to all those who have written to me to say that they care about equality for other people in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, we have been speaking at length about the constitution and we have gone a good deal wider than the terms of the Bill. I want to heighten just one point about devolution. I echo my noble friend Lord McColl and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay on the need for sensitivity. I think the amendment goes more to the heart of doing harm than is intended. Proposed new subsection (3) states:
“If a Northern Ireland Executive is formed within the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, a statutory instrument containing regulations under this section must be laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly”.
That is a direct statement that, even if the Assembly returns, direct rule will be exercised on this devolved matter. I am sure my noble friend does not want to make a pugnacious statement, but if he proceeds with this I think he will find that he has engendered more opposition than he deserves.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, for the considered way in which he introduced his amendment. The way that he set out for the House how he has prosecuted his case was telling. In so doing, he has brought together a bunch of people with disparate agendas from very different standpoints to move together for a progressive cause that will have benefits not just for a small part of a community but much more widely. As such, it is fitting that he raised the matter in consideration of the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger.
Her Bill comprises three or four very different issues, but a thread that runs throughout it is that it looks at practices and laws—some of which have been in place for hundreds of years—assesses them in relation to our society today, which has progressed in different places at different times for different people, and finds a unifying set of laws that will enable people to move forward and make life better for individuals and our society as a whole. I invite those who observe our proceedings to listen to the contributions of all Members of the House and assess each one against that background. I say this as a Liberal Democrat. I absolutely support devolution but I do not support it as a means to abrogate human rights. That has never been what devolution is about.
I listened carefully to the words of the noble Lords, Lord Morrow and Lord McCrae, and I understand that they try to convey the complex and heartfelt views of their community. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, that if, as he appeared to do, he equates animal welfare with that of human beings, I am afraid he does not help his cause.
I thoroughly respect the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, when he says that he does not wish to jeopardise the progress of the Bill. However, with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, that I believe that her Government deserve as much respect as we can give them for trying to get the Northern Ireland Assembly back up and running, in the teeth of widespread opposition from within Northern Ireland, and that we will continue to support the Government in doing that. However, there comes a time when human rights cannot be held hostage any longer. I therefore ask her to work with those of us who seek not to cherry-pick but simply to reinforce the human rights of people who are members of the United Kingdom, and to find a way through on this and other human rights issues in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, we are debating a subject which is very sensitive in Northern Ireland. The background is that the people of Northern Ireland largely have faith, which is not a common thing in other parts of the United Kingdom. The largest faith is the Roman Catholic Church; the second largest is the Presbyterian Church, which is of Scottish background. Both those Churches—the two largest in Northern Ireland—are opposed to same-sex marriage. On the other hand, in the political scene in the Northern Ireland Assembly, as has been correctly mentioned, a majority would support same-sex marriage. So there is a division between the two main Churches on the one hand and the politicians on the other.
Why has the issue of same-sex marriage not proceeded? It is because of the petition of concern, which is part of the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland. It is wrong to have à la carte devolution, and it is a nonsense to suggest that this is simply a human rights issue. Marriage is a devolved issue for Northern Ireland, as it is for Scotland. It is not a question of the national Parliament imposing its will on a devolved state, and we must be careful to maintain the right of devolution, which I strongly support—I was involved in the negotiation of the Belfast agreement. The people of Northern Ireland—Catholic and Protestant, unionist and nationalist—must together make their own decisions on internal devolved matters.
It has been said that this has to be decided by the Northern Ireland Assembly when it is reconstituted, and I agree. However, there is the problem of Sinn Féin. I advise noble Lords that the likelihood of there being a devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland is years ahead. There are two reasons for this. First, you could not get agreement in the present circumstances of Brexit, which has caused an even greater division in politics in Northern Ireland. Only yesterday, two fishing boats from Northern Ireland were impounded by the southern Irish authorities, for the first time ever. This has caused great political bitterness overnight in Northern Ireland, and I gather that today the Dublin Government have announced that they will urgently revise the laws of their country so that it does not happen again. That is the kind of thing that is happening in Northern Ireland because of Brexit, and the sooner we get a decision on Brexit, the better—I hope that it will not be extended beyond 29 March, as some people are now suggesting.
The second reason why we cannot get an Assembly overnight in Northern Ireland is Sinn Féin. This is not simply because of reasons such as the Irish language, and so on. As I pointed out earlier in the debate, that is a minimal issue in Northern Ireland. People do not seem to realise that in Northern Ireland, every school can teach Irish if it wants—it is financed to do so, and we even finance the setting up of all-Irish schools where English is not spoken. Every effort is made to facilitate the Irish language in Northern Ireland, yet yesterday we heard that in secondary schools, the number of pupils passing A-level Irish is falling year by year. No, the real reason why we cannot get devolution in the short term in Northern Ireland is not because of the Irish language but because there will be an election in the Republic of Ireland within the next 12 months. One of the main parties in that election will be Sinn Féin, and it does not want to enter into a Northern Ireland Assembly where it would be in our Government, because it would have to make unpopular decisions which might damage its prospects in the Republic of Ireland. I do not foresee devolution being restored in Northern Ireland until after the southern Irish election.
So I say, with regret, that the issue of same-sex marriage will not be decided by the Northern Ireland Assembly in the short term. I feel that one way of resolving the devolution issue would be to address the problem of the petition of concern. However, it would be very wrong for this national Parliament to start imposing some parts of direct rule on Northern Ireland while retaining devolved powers for other matters in Northern Ireland. Some day we may have to decide to have direct rule in Northern Ireland, but I will continue to be of the opinion that devolved powers must be restored to Northern Ireland and decisions made by Catholics and Protestants working together.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, tabled Amendment 2 and my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury supported it.
To be clear at the outset, I support the amendment. It is disappointing that we find ourselves in this position, but, for me, this is about equality. It is about people in all parts of our United Kingdom enjoying the same rights. As the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, said, it is about people in Northern Ireland having the same rights as their fellow citizens in England, Scotland and Wales. I very much agree with the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that these are matters of human rights and that where we are is a matter of much regret.
One of those rights is that people in Great Britain can get married. It is as simple as that for me. I want to support people enjoying those rights elsewhere in our United Kingdom. This is not me supporting direct rule over devolution. I entirely accept that other people in Northern Ireland, other Members of this House, have a different view to me. I respect their view completely: I acknowledge it and I respect it, but I do not agree with it. I think we have to continue this debate to get solutions to move forward. I speak very much on that basis.
We have an Assembly in Northern Ireland, as we have heard, but it is not meeting. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, that the matter should be decided by the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are in complete agreement on that. The Assembly should be meeting to debate, discuss and make decisions. The amendment is intended to address an issue that needs to be resolved. It is providing for this Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly, if it is functioning, to consider regulations that would in effect bring the intentions of the amendment into effect.
As I said, I want the Northern Ireland Assembly to be up and functioning to decide these and other matters—we have heard about a number of issues that are not moving forward in Northern Ireland because the Assembly is not sitting. We need to get these issues dealt with very soon. As my noble friend Lord Collins asked: if not now, when? That is the most important thing.
We have strayed into other issues in this debate that are not necessarily part of the amendment, but I thought that I should comment on one or two of them. I entirely accept that it was Sinn Fein, with Martin McGuinness resigning as Deputy First Minister, which collapsed the Assembly. There was the issue of the renewable heat initiative. He asked the First Minister to stand aside and she would not, so he collapsed the Assembly. I entirely accept that and put it on the record.
On the issue of Gaelic, my mother comes from Connemara and spoke Gaelic when she was a child. She does not speak it any more, but she certainly did. I am always conscious that Gaelic is a language that covers not just the island of Ireland, north and south, but Scotland and parts of France. It is a language in these islands. People speak Breton in parts of Brittany, which is a Gaelic-tongue language. In Scotland, 1.1% of the population speaks Gaelic. In Northern Ireland, 10% of the public claims some knowledge of Gaelic and 6% claims to speak the language. That is higher than in Scotland, although obviously I accept that it is not a majority. I just do not see the issue with the language. In Scotland, there is legislation to protect the language. Welsh is obviously widely spoken in Wales. I think it is about protecting languages that have been spoken on these islands and in other parts of the world. We should protect them. For me, this is a key part of the language issue.
Does the noble Lord accept that in Northern Ireland, Government after Government since 1921 have financially supported and encouraged the teaching of Irish, the creation of Irish language schools and everything possible to support the Irish language? What problem does the noble Lord see with what is being done about the Irish language in Northern Ireland?
This really is very wide of the Bill.
I accept the point that the noble Lord makes; perhaps we can chat about it outside the Chamber. I accept that this is fairly wide of the Bill. I accept that Irish is spoken in schools, which is why I do not understand why there is such a problem, personally. Anyway, I will leave it there with the other issues, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has spoken in what has been quite a wide-ranging debate, and in particular my noble friend Lord Hayward for moving the amendment. I am also grateful for the conversations I have been able to have with him in the past few days on the matter.
The Government are rightly very proud of their role in demanding and defending LGBT rights. We are proud to have introduced same-sex marriage in England and Wales, for which we have legislative competence, and that the Scottish Government followed that lead shortly afterwards. Of course we want Northern Ireland do likewise and legalise same-sex marriage. The Prime Minister shares this view and has said so on a number of occasions.
I commend my noble friend Lord Hayward for his determined commitment on this issue. I know that many people—and the list is clearly growing—in Northern Ireland and further afield greatly appreciate his efforts, as demonstrated by his recognition recently by PinkNews as its politician of the year. I also pay tribute to the many others who have campaigned and shared personal and very poignant stories in support of his amendment.
Same-sex marriage is a devolved matter, as noble Lords have said. The proper and best place for it to be addressed is in the Northern Ireland Assembly, by Northern Ireland’s elected representatives. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s top priority remains to restore the Executive and Assembly at Stormont; this should be the focus. There is a need to rebuild political dialogue and she continues to encourage the parties to come together to work towards restoring devolved government, including in a recent meeting with the five parties to progress this objective.
It is important that any legislation legalising same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland is afforded a level of consultation, debate and scrutiny, using the precedents of the UK and Scottish Governments. Legislation should be developed having taken into account the wide range of views on this issue in Northern Ireland, as well as the various legal requirements. My noble friend Lord Hayward knows that we do not think that this Bill is the right vehicle for extending same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland. We have concerns about the drafting of the amendment, in particular the nature of the duty it would place on the Government.
It is not clear that the amendment would allow for all the legislative changes needed to fully implement a same-sex marriage regime in Northern Ireland equivalent to those in England, Wales and Scotland. For example, the introduction of same-sex marriage in England and Wales necessitated the amendment of more than 50 Acts of Parliament. The Government have heard the growing calls for change, and much progress has been made since my noble friend Lord Hayward introduced his Private Member’s Bill in March last year. Parliamentarians have played an important part in continuing to raise the profile of this issue, and I hope that, despite the potential disappointment that some people will feel today, everyone will have listened to the debate and the growing support on all sides of the House.
I will add one very important final point. We support the principle of my noble friend’s amendment—that it is right for same-sex marriage to be extended to Northern Ireland by a restored Executive—and we recognise that the ongoing absence of devolved government is having an impact on addressing this issue. We would encourage a restored Executive to progress legislation on this issue as one of the first things that they do. On that note, I hope that my noble friend will be content to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her remarks on this important issue, and my noble friend Lord Hayward and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for tabling the amendment. The Minister has expressed her view, and it is clear that this issue cannot be resolved easily through this Bill and at this stage. Frustratingly, we will need to show a little more patience, but I am assured that conversations are ongoing. I know that we all want to see this issue resolved. I too have had a very large postbag on this Bill, and I know that a lot of people are anxious for it to go through without further amendment. In the light of that, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment so that it does not undermine the progress we are making on the important matters on which the Bill touches.
My Lords, this has been a full and very constructive debate. First, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, if I leave the Chamber immediately after my amendment is dealt with—I will return as quickly as possible.
Secondly, somewhat surprisingly, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and others, who talked about responsibility in relation to gay marriage and equality in Northern Ireland. I do so on the basis that a legal case is coming, which may decide where the responsibility lies. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Kilclooney, Lord McCrea and Lord Morrow, that it would appear that, under the legislation, responsibility for this matter would fall to the Northern Ireland Assembly if it were sitting. If it did not fall within that remit, this House and the other place should have made that clear when preparing the legislation. So, to some extent, the problem we are in falls to us as legislators in Westminster.
I was particularly pleased by the acknowledgement by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, that things in Northern Ireland are changing.
Yes, maybe. I would quote another senior Ulsterman who the other day said to me twice that, “It has got to change”. There was no caveat. There is an acknowledgement that the position is changing in Northern Ireland.
The problems I face with this amendment have been identified by my noble friend the Minister, who has indicated the difficulties associated with the drafting. I understand the comments of my noble friends Lord McColl and Lord Elton and I certainly hesitate to comment on any legal matter opined on by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. I enter into such fields at great risk.
However, the amendment is quite specific. The amendment as I have tabled it, as I identified at the start of my comments, is to make reference to finding a solution at some point, but we have to say at some point that enough is enough. The reason that the timing is there is quite specifically to provide that, if over the next few months there is a different position in relation to government, I will be happy to put the issue back to a Northern Ireland Assembly. I have believed and still believe, on the basis of what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and others have said, that that is a reasonable way through this terribly difficult position.
However, difficulties have been identified by the Minister in relation to the phraseology and structure of the amendment. I thank my noble friend for all the assistance that she and other Ministers have given me over the past few days. We have been working enormously hard, as have her officials, to find a way that does not block the Bill but achieves what I and so many other Members of this House are trying to do, but it just does not work under these circumstances. I say that with enormous regret, because we have come very close—a lot closer than when I first tabled the amendment. I am surprised at the apparent development of a breakage in the logjam, and I am heartened by that fact.
I will be looking, as will other Members of the House, for another vehicle because I believe that the Government have made it clear that they are also looking for one. The comments made by Members from the other political parties also clearly indicate that they too are looking for another vehicle. If we can find it, it is not that far hence.
In conclusion, I understand the points and I greatly respect the position. I desire that there should be an Assembly in Belfast that can take hold of this matter, but we cannot say that it will go on for ever. I have to give due notice that in the future I will be seeking a vehicle that is correctly phrased and covers the full range of legislative requirements. If we do that, I will be pushing the matter to a vote, because I believe that that is what this House would want. Having made those comments in relation to what are sadly the difficulties associated with timetabling, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Clause 4: Coroners’ investigations into still-births
3: Clause 4, leave out Clause 4
My Lords, in moving the amendment I want to return to the issues I talked about at Second Reading and in Committee. The matter is about the involvement of coroners in the investigation of stillbirths. As we acknowledged at earlier stages of the Bill, this is a very difficult and complex subject. I want to preface my remarks with an expression of my deep gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and to the Bill team for the discussions they have had with me and the spirit with which they have accepted my probing on this matter.
Like other Members of this House, over the years I have taken part in many discussions about the NHS, litigation and investigation of medical negligence. We know it is a very complicated subject. It is at its most difficult when one tries to find a way for medical professionals to be open about things that have gone wrong—tragically wrong, in circumstances such as these.
When Tim Loughton first came and introduced this Bill to a meeting of Members of your Lordships’ House, he was the first to recognise that this was a complex subject. Nevertheless, he felt that women and families who had been in this position needed the additional protection of the involvement of coroners to investigate cases of stillbirth. Since then, I have been indebted to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for sharing with me its detailed briefings, which have gone to the department in the last couple of years. It is well known in this House, not least because of the work of a number of Members on the Conservative Benches, that in the wake of scandals there has been a great deal of work by the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives to improve practice in this area. Yet there is still more to be done.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, I will not press these amendments to a vote today; they are here to be a vehicle for this discussion to happen. In moving them, I simply ask a number of questions. The aim of all of them is to ensure that, whatever happens as a result of this legislation, the involvement of coroners—the legal process—does not, in ways that may be unintended, get in the way of women and families having fairly swift access to discussions with medical professionals about what has gone wrong in their cases. I firmly believe that, like most victims of medical negligence or poor practice, people do not want money or compensation but to know what happened and to try to stop it happening to somebody else. My efforts in this regard are to try to make sure we do not delay that process.
I make the points that I make in the knowledge that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has moved a long way, with its Each Baby Counts programme and its involvement in a number of multidisciplinary programmes to try to monitor and improve performance in perinatal deaths.
When this Bill is passed, there will be a consultation, which I hope is widespread, about what exactly the involvement of coroners should be. I simply ask that that consultation include the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and other medical professionals, because only they will be there in future at a delivery to take into account the findings and the learning of what may happen and what may come out of any coroner’s inquiry.
Secondly, I ask that there be widespread consultation on the regulations. It was perhaps the misfortune of the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, to bring forward yet another Henry VIII power at a time when this House is knee deep in them, and we on this side feel an obligation to challenge them. But again, I want to know that there will be widespread involvement of the health professionals in the consultation on the regulations.
Thirdly, the training of coroners for this new responsibility must involve professionals such as those in the royal colleges who know about medical practice specifically in this area—an area that will be new to coroners.
Finally, will this new scheme be held under review? I hope that I am wrong and I am being unduly pessimistic about it delaying not improving transparency for parents, but if it does, I want to know whether it will be kept under review so that we swiftly begin to learn. I understand from Tim Loughton and the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, that it is envisaged that the involvement of coroners will happen in only a small number of cases. Happily, there are very few cases overall, but most of those are resolved within the existing systems of disclosure within hospitals. But it would be helpful to know at this stage roughly what percentage of cases it is expected will involve coroners. We will know from the review whether there has been a shift away from the existing processes within the NHS and a move towards a more legalistic, coroners’ procedure.
I want to look at whether the existence of a new process automatically means that there is more use of it. Classically, when the Government set up tribunals for a number of different reasons, they thought that it would lead to a decrease in court cases. In fact, it led to an increase in cases full stop. That is not what is intended with this measure, and I want to keep it under review to make sure that that is not what happens. With those questions, I beg to move.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for prompting this debate on the provisions contained within the Bill relating to the coronial investigation of stillbirths. I am aware of the reservations which the noble Baroness has in relation to the scope of the power contained within Clause 4(4) of the Bill, but I hope that what I am about to say will reassure her.
The amendment, like the one we debated in Committee, would remove from the Bill an important provision that will allow for the extension to parents of stillborn babies the same transparent and independent investigation into their loss that is granted to the parents of a newborn baby whose life ends soon after birth. This power is needed because the provisions for the exercise of coronial powers are limited to very explicit duties which do not provide for coroners to undertake an investigation of a still-born baby.
As I said in Committee, we shall consult on this issue. The consultation will be wide-ranging and will seek views from a number of interested parties, including, as the noble Baroness asked, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, whose members provide crucial services to all expectant mothers. We recognise that, while there are those who are keen to see this change, there are others who have well-considered reservations, and it is important for us to hear from them.
Clause 4 provides that the Secretary of State will report on the question of coroners investigating stillbirths and, having consulted and produced that report, if the conclusion is that coroners should indeed investigate stillbirths, the Government should then move forward in a timely way. Clause 4(4) provides the mechanism to do that, with the safeguards provided at Clause 4(5) and Clause 4(6) appropriate to the changes that are in scope. I reassure the noble Baroness that, if the Government decide to proceed with giving coroners powers to investigate stillbirths and draw on the power provided at Clause 4(4), we will publish our regulations before they are laid in Parliament. This additional scrutiny will ensure that robust and well-understood provisions for changing Part 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 are brought before Parliament. Should we make such change, the Government will also undertake a post-implementation review within two years of its implementation.
The Bill as it stands provides for the enabling power to expire after five years beginning from the day on which the report is published. This would allow further amendments to the provisions for investigating stillbirths if they are deemed necessary once any new legislation has bedded in.
Finally, the powers provided for in Clause 4(4) are intended to allow the existing framework for coronial investigations to be extended to include the investigation of stillbirths. The existing provisions were thoroughly scrutinised when the Coroners and Justice Bill was debated in this House and another place. In exercising this power, the Lord Chancellor will be required to lay any regulations before your Lordships’ House for noble Lords’ consent whenever they amend the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
I hope that, in view of the reassurances I have provided, the noble Baroness accepts that the Government will consult widely before they make any decision to provide for coroners to investigate stillbirths and that, having done so, they will put to the public any legislative proposals before bringing regulations to this House and the other place for approval. I hope that, with those reassurances, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for prompting further debate on the provision in the Bill relating to coronial investigation of stillbirths. She knows that this is an issue that has touched me personally, and I much appreciate the thoughtful way she has approached this. I know that the noble Baroness is keen to see this Bill make its way on to the statute book, but she has some well-considered reservations about the merits of the proposal that coroners should investigate stillbirths and about how the powers in Clause 4(4) will be exercised. I hope that she is reassured that the Government have listened and have responded to her concerns.
I thank everyone who has taken part in the Report stage of the Bill today. I much appreciate their thoughtful input and attention to the Bill.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the statements she made from the Dispatch Box. She has gone a long way towards dealing with my concerns. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, for understanding my motivation. I will act as they wish.
At this stage, I think I may be so bold as to offer on behalf of several noble Lords around the Chamber the deepest thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, not only for bringing this Bill but for being a trooper when we all feared that she was so ill that she was not going to make it here—but she would not be defeated.
In many different ways, this has been one of those Private Members’ Bills that does the very best we can do in our Parliament, which is to pay a great deal of attention to a number of issues which are of great importance to a small number of people. This House, by its example, has shown just how wrong Sir Christopher Chope can be in another place. It is entirely possible to do good and right things in Private Members’ Bills. I sincerely hope that one lesson that might come out of this for another place is that it should look at changing its procedures to make Private Members’ Bills far less vulnerable to unwarranted attack.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and congratulate her on having this Bill under her name on the statute book.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Clause 5: Supplementary provision about regulations
Amendment 4 not moved.