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The Duke of Norfolk: My Lords, I was asked by my noble friend to second this amendment and I readily agreed. Having heard her excellent speech, I am delighted to follow her. All that these amendments seek to do is to say that the religions of Europe--the Church of England's religion of Christianity and the Roman Catholic religion, of which I am a part, Judaism, the Jews in their synagogues and the Moslems in their mosques, are all working for Europe for the past 2000 years. Are we now to say that they must take second place to a human rights convention which started in 1950? We believe that these religions must be left untouched. They have their own credentials, ethics and morals and they should be excluded from the Bill. In no way should this Bill be allowed to curb them. If the Government do not agree to these amendments the situation will be a most dangerous one.

9.15 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for tabling this amendment and speaking so powerfully and ably to it. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for the amendment that he has tabled. Both amendments introduce issues of great importance which your Lordships' House has already debated this afternoon in considering the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel and, more recently, the amendment relating to the Church of Scotland tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon. I listened with great sympathy to that debate. I did not intervene in it. Having heard the

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contribution of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about the differences between Scotland and England, I am relieved that I remained silent during that debate. Nevertheless, the issues are very similar.

It is quite clear that the churches and other faith communities are profoundly concerned to support human rights in general. Indeed, we supported this particular Bill. The most reverend Prelate the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg in 1993 and emphasised the support of the Church of England for the basic principles of this Bill. That was echoed by the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Lichfield when he spoke at Second Reading. He is sorry that he is unable to be here this evening; he wanted to be present to speak to these amendments.

Let us be in no doubt that the Churches support the principle of human rights which, as has already been said, were conceived within them and nurtured by them. They are inseparable from our convictions and beliefs, but we do not know what may be included in future. Within human rights, mention has already been made of the great change of scene that has taken place over more than 40 years.

The concerns of the Church of England were expressed by the secretary general of the General Synod in a letter to the permanent secretary of the LCD. I can do no better than quote from that letter. He stated:


    "Our anxieties arise particularly at the interface between the right to freedom of religion, coupled with the public rights and functions of the Churches on the one hand, and the other rights enshrined in the Convention on the other. We are anxious not to escape our proper obligations under the Convention but to be assured that the Convention and the new Bill cannot be used to require us to act in ways contrary to our religious principles and beliefs, or the beliefs underlying Church bodies".

That is written with particular reference to the Church of England, but, of course, it applies to other Churches and other faiths.

The Government have begun to take note of the deep concerns of the Churches. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for the great care and attention that they have given to our concerns, and to their officials for the careful work that they have done.

I shall add to what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, when indicating particular areas of concern. It is clear that the clergy of the Church of England will be regarded, when undertaking public responsibilities, as part of a public authority. That will relate, for instance, to marriage. There are all sorts of discussions at the moment about the whole matter of marriage. There is a good deal of debate as to whether marriage necessarily involves those of the opposite gender.

It is at the moment enshrined in legislation that Church of England clergy have the duty to marry those of the right age within their parish who present themselves for marriage. What happens if two people of the same sex present themselves for marriage and require that they should be married by the local vicar? How will he be protected in those circumstances? Could

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they not bring an action under the convention to say that they had a right to marry? Article 12 of the convention expresses that matter and states:


    "Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family".

Is it not possible that under that right a same sex couple might present themselves to a vicar and say, "Under the convention you have to marry us"?

That is an indication of the kind of matters that concern us. There are others relating also to divorce. Church of England clergy are not required to marry those who are divorced, but is that the case for those of other Churches, or might they find themselves being approached by a couple, one of whom is divorced, with a requirement that they should be married?

There is a further group of issues which does not necessarily relate to clergy but to other organs and people within the Church. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, gave some examples. Perhaps I might add to those. What would be the situation of a Church adoption society that had as part of its policy that it did not give children for adoption to same-sex couples, and did that on the grounds of religious conviction? That belief could also be backed by logical argument. Where would they stand?

The noble Baroness gave the example of the head of an aided school. Could a requirement in a job advertisement, say, for the head of a voluntary-aided school, specifying communicant membership of the Church of England, be ruled as breaching the convention? Those concerns apply not merely to the appointment of such people but to their dismissal. The governors of a voluntary-aided school might feel that certain kinds of behaviour were not in accord with the beliefs and practices of the Church which their trust deed represented. For instance, the head might be involved in an adulterous relationship. The governors might feel that that was not in accord with the ways of the Church which that head was representing to the children. Might those governors be open to accusations of discrimination or unlawful action under the convention? Those are some of the Church's practical concerns.

Another set of concerns relates to the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate. Your Lordships will be aware that the Church of England allows the ordination of women to the priesthood but not to the episcopate. Might it be possible that the General Synod would be open to the accusation of acting not in accordance with the convention because it did not include bishops among the groups to which women could be ordained? I am pleased to say that, after discussions with the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Home Office, that matter is to be resolved by Amendment No. 46 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. It is not merely a particular concern about the ordination of women; it is a more general concern about the right of the General Synod to introduce measures and the degree of control which Parliament would be taking back were it to subject General Synod legislation to the provisions of the Bill. However, I believe that when we reach Amendment No. 46 we will find that our concerns have been met.

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There are issues of great importance and considerable concern. We shall listen to the Government's reply with great attention.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I rise to offer firm support to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and other speakers. Two issues are involved. The first relates to whether the Bill, unamended, would be damaging to the interests of the Churches and the other religious bodies. Secondly, if that is so, whether those interests should be subordinated to other priorities. There is no doubt about the first issue. The Churches and the other religious bodies, including our Jewish friends, are certain that the Bill will damage them. No one can tell me that anyone knows better than the Churches about their own interests. It would be ludicrous to suggest otherwise.

That leads to the question: how important is Christianity today? I submit that this is still a Christian country. It struggles along with plenty of other interests, but I like to believe that it is a Christian country. I hope and believe that Mr. Tony Blair would say that his is a Christian Cabinet. I believe that he is the most explicit Christian we have had as Prime Minister since Mr. Gladstone. We have had many good Christian Prime Ministers, including some now in this House--I refer to the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan--but we cannot improve on Mr. Blair as an explicit Christian. I believe that he, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Home Secretary and two other Cabinet Members are members of the Christian Socialist movement. Does that mean anything or is it merely a form of words? I cannot believe that such a Cabinet would be proud to go down in history as having defied the united religious conscience of this country.

I have high and sincere esteem for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, particularly since he compared himself to Cardinal Wolsey. In the Catholic Church we genuflect in front of a cardinal--we treat him with that peculiar deference. However, I remind the noble and learned Lord about another cardinal--Cardinal Newman. What did he say? He said, "If I am asked to drink to the health of the Pope and to conscience, I would drink them both, but I would drink to conscience first". If I am asked to drink to the health of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and to conscience, I would drink to both with enthusiasm, but I should drink to conscience first. As I said, I offer strong support for the amendment.


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