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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am sure it is quite apparent to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, that I was doing the opposite of sidestepping the issue. I notice that he is nodding his head with vigour. I was facing up to the issue and making it quite plain that this is a matter which we will have to address positively but at a later stage in the legislative programme of both Bills.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his constructive response. I can assure my noble friend that in the unlikely event of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor forgetting this point I will not be slow to remind him. On that basis I seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]

Clause 6 [Acts of public authorities]:

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 3, line 40, leave out ("one or more of the Convention rights") and insert ("a Convention right").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 4, line 9, after ("include") insert ("a person listed in Schedule (Persons excluded from section 6) or").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 23 I shall, of course, be referring to the other amendments which are grouped with this one. I would like to start by making three general points. The first point is that my amendments are not in any sense party political issues. They arose because my attention was drawn to the whole issue of the definition of a public authority by the Christian Institute in Newcastle and whether indeed the Churches were defined as public authorities under the Bill. I am therefore very grateful for the support for my amendments from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, from the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and from my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk.

I have also had much support from other Members in all parts of the House. Indeed, in my experience--I have been in your Lordships' House for 26 years--I have

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never put down amendments which so many noble Lords have asked to sign. The list closed at the number four, with many more wishing to add their names. I have had letters giving general support to the amendments from the Primate of All England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Basil Hume, Dr. Jonathan Sacks from the Jewish Church, and Dr. McDonald from the Church of Scotland. I do not think that I have ever had more support from all parts of the House and from outside than I have had on these amendments.

The second point I wish to make--it has been a recurring theme throughout the debate--is that these amendments are not in any way against human rights. They are not against the principle of the Bill. I and my colleagues supported the Bill at Second Reading. There can be no question at all--I am sure I speak for all those who have supported the amendments--that we support religious freedom and religious tolerance. The purpose of the amendments is to maintain the status quo.

The third general point I wish to make concerns the timetabling of the Bill. All of us--on this occasion I think I speak on behalf of Christians in the House--and members of other faiths have been put into a very difficult position. Let us look at the timetabling. The Bill was published on 23rd October. The White Paper was published on 24th October. In my entire experience I have never known a White Paper on a Bill to be published after the publication of the Bill itself. This is a very serious point, as I hope the Government accept.

I say it is serious because I am not a lawyer. I am a lay person. But when the Bill becomes law it will affect all of us. What do lay people do on legislation? They look particularly at a White Paper--usually it is written in terms they can understand--to see what the Bill is about. We were unable to do so in this case. That is a gross dereliction of duty on behalf of the Government. I have never known it to happen before. Re-reading, in preparation for the debate today, the introduction of the White Paper, I now see that it first saw the light of day as a Labour Party paper. Of course the Labour Party was free before the general election to publish any papers it wished. I do not know to whom I should be addressing my remarks--I do not know whether it is the noble Lord, Lord Williams, who is to reply, or the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor--but clearly the status of a party publication is very different from that of a government publication. To say that they consulted on a party publication is, if I may say so, really not good enough in the context of a very serious measure like this. That is the first difficulty into which we have all been put.

We had no definition of a public authority effectively until the Committee stage of the Bill. That seems to me unbelievable. I hope that the Government will answer the point. Did they consult when writing the White Paper over whether the Churches were to be classed as a public authority? My understanding is that no one recognised the point until the Committee stage of the Bill.

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Let us remind ourselves what the White Paper says on this subject. Section 2.2. states:

    "The definition of what constitutes a public authority is in wide terms. Examples of persons or organisations whose acts or omissions it is intended should be able to be challenged include central government (including executive agencies); local government; the police; immigration officers; prisons; courts and tribunals themselves; and, to the extent that they are exercising public functions, companies responsible for areas of activity which were previously within the public sector, such as the privatised utilities".

It is of enormous comfort, I am sure, to the Churches to be bracketed with privatised utilities. That is clearly where they fall, according to the Government. It is a very serious dereliction of duty on their part that the Government never made this clear in the White Paper. I say to myself, as an innocent party in all this, are they being disingenuous? Did they make a mistake? Is it deliberate? Is this an attempt to secularise society? I am bound to say to the Government that, as the debates have proceeded, that is what I believe is the intent behind all this. We are all being hoodwinked and the Government think we are too stupid to recognise what is happening. I find it very upsetting and disappointing.

We went through the Committee stage and then we had the Christmas Recess. A week later we come back to all this on Report. The Bill is almost through your Lordships' House before we can understand what the Government have in mind, let alone what we should be thinking about all this. It puts those of us who are not backed up by large staffs and who do not have unlimited amounts of time to attend to these matters in a very difficult position. Perhaps that is what is intended. I find it surprising if it really is.

The practical consequence is that we have not been able to debate this matter thoroughly until Report stage. I have a great deal of sympathy for my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon as the position in Scotland is somewhat worse than the position, as set out in Clause 6, for the other Churches. Clause 6, far from guaranteeing religious freedoms, makes them wide open to legal challenge. The public acts of Churches will be subject to the scrutiny of the courts in the same way as a government department or a privatised utility. What is absolutely certain is that it will create an enormous amount of uncertainty.

I turn now to my amendments. Amendment No. 23, which is concerned with the schedule, has the effect of keeping the status quo. Churches and denominations--this includes other non-Christian faiths--can continue to regulate their own affairs as they do at the present time. Public ceremonies such as marriage and internal disciplinary and theological matters are to be exempted from the convention. My second amendment concerns religious charities. Where a religious charity is acting in accordance with the religious or ethical principles set out in its trust deed, memorandum or articles of association, the charity is to be exempt from the convention. My third amendment concerns religious schools or colleges. Where a church school or other religious school or college is acting in accordance with the religious or ethical principles set out in its trust deed, memorandum or articles of association, the school or college should be exempt from the convention. The

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amendment also applies to church schools or colleges which receive state funding and also to such bodies in the private sector. Perhaps I may make it clear that where I refer to church schools or colleges I mean also those belonging to the Jewish faith and other faiths.

I can perhaps describe what I mean. I give the example of Church commissioners who own a shopping centre. They incorporate into the lease terms forbidding the sale of pornography on their premises. A newspaper vendor breaches the terms. The commissioners seek a court order that the vendor vacates the premises. In his defence the vendor cites his right to freedom of conscience and belief under Article 9, freedom of expression under Article 10 and the right not to be discriminated against under Article 14. He claims that the prohibition is not defensible and is merely an act of discrimination. What the Church believes as a matter of moral standards--that is, selling pornography--under the Bill will not be decided by the Church but by a judge. It is the secularisation of the Church's function.

Perhaps I may take the example of a Christian hospice committed to the care of the terminally ill and completely opposed to euthanasia. It is funded partly by grant aid from the local authority. It is the only hospice providing care for the terminally ill in the region. In providing care for its patients it is carrying out a public function. It is approached by an organisation which campaigns for the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia. It wants to make a presentation in the hospice. The organisation wishes to recruit supporters. For all I know, it may be thinking of perhaps encouraging some of the inmates to support what it is doing. Because it does not believe in euthanasia, the hospice wishes to prevent this. What will happen is that the matter will go to the court and a judge will decide instead of the Church.

I turn to the case of a Church school. How many times have I heard in your Lordships' House the defence of the voluntary-aided Church schools, Jewish schools, or any schools which have a Church behind them. What happens if it is wished to appoint a head to the school. In the case of a Church of England school it is said that he or she should be a communicant member of the Church of England. Then along comes someone who says, "I have been a teacher for 20 years. My classes have always come out at the top of the league tables and of all the measurements for educational success. I am happily married and have a social work qualification. I know and love children, and happen to be a humanist". Instead of this appointment being decided by the school governors--who, as regards Church of England voluntary-aided schools, will be Church of England governors, with their beliefs--it will be decided by a judge.

Perhaps the House believes that that does not really matter. But when people wake up and find what is really going on, I believe that they will be in for a very great surprise. I am not suggesting, if the Bill becomes law, that the following morning all this will happen. Nevertheless, everything that I have quoted is quite possible. I believe that this is a very serious issue indeed for the country and for your Lordships' House.

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In preparation for this debate I sought information on what happens on the continent of Europe. Now that Britain enjoys the presidency of the European Union, the Government have told us that they wish to be at the heart of Europe. So let us just look at what happens in Germany on these matters. As I understand it and as I have been advised, Germany has a written constitution. Its provisions on human rights include a general guarantee of freedom of religion. There are specific provisions covering religious corporations.

The main religious denominations have public law status, but they also have extensive religious rights that go with that status. They can even raise taxes on their own members. I am not suggesting that. Of course, there has not been the same kind of campaigning on issues like homosexual marriage and women priests as there has been in this country. But, under the German constitution, religious freedoms have been given to religious corporations and their position appears to be carefully entrenched. For instance, two decisions of the Constitutional Court in effect uphold a right to life for the unborn child. The European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated, but it is regarded as subsidiary to the German constitution.

Let us look at the position in Holland. Here again, it is perhaps less certain than it is in Germany, but it has some very real lessons for us. As my advisers have told me, once one has a Bill of Rights the whole situation takes off and is used by the courts in most unexpected ways. So, although I have quoted situations which might, and I believe will, apply in this country if the Bill becomes law unamended, it has been found in Holland that the new human rights laws have encroached where no one thought that they could. Family law is one example. In Germany human rights laws have even affected leases and tax laws as a result of the actions of the courts.

So one has to take as one's starting point the kind of situations which I believe could and will happen. The House should be under no illusion that there are organisations which will wait to test the law as soon as it becomes law. This is not some kind of academic exercise to see what is going to happen. We know perfectly well that organisations will be out to test the courts.

As a result, organisations and the Churches--not just the Church of England, although I speak as a practising member, and I know that on this occasion I speak for the Roman Catholic Church, the Free Churches, the Jewish Church and others--will have rights which they have taken for granted taken away from them.

Before we go down that path we should consider the role that the Churches have played in our history. But for the great Judaeo-Christian basis of our society, we would not be in the position we are in today. Those who talk so glibly about human rights should recognise the role that the Churches have played in upholding those human rights long before the convention was ever thought of.

Those who believe that the convention will stand as it is today should remember that when it was written in 1950 the world was a very different place. If I were a

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betting woman--which I am not--I would bet that those who wrote the convention in 1950 would be astonished by the issues that are now brought before the courts as human rights. When we debate this matter this evening we are not talking about what is going to happen in 1998 but what will happen in 2000, 2005, 2010 or 2020. It is very difficult for us to project ourselves forward to what may happen in the years ahead.

I believe that we have a duty to safeguard the beliefs that we hold dear and regard as part of our constitution and, in a very real sense, part of our rights. They are not against human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who unfortunately is not in his place, made the point very well when he said at the beginning of the debate that to be a member of the Church was not like belonging to the local tennis club. It is something quite different. It is a matter of faith and belief. It is not something for which one just signs up because one believes that one will enjoy an afternoon's entertainment. Therefore, I believe that it falls into a completely different category.

I have tabled these amendments in which I believe profoundly. I hope that the Government, if they will not accept them, will think again. If they do not think again about all of these issues, they will be overturning very longstanding institutions in this country; they will be damaging them and upsetting thousands of believers. They will do something that will be very damaging to the country as a whole. I cannot tell noble Lords how many letters of support I have received. I beg to move.

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