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Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 3:


Page 1, line 11, at end insert ("sections 2(4) to (7) and 7(7A) to (7C) and to").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we have now come to the last opportunity in your Lordships' House to debate this matter. I start by thanking my noble friend

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Lord Campbell of Alloway not only for the measured way in which he has spoken but for not pressing his amendment, Amendment No. 1.

I make no apology to your Lordships for returning to this matter yet again. I listened with great care to what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said. I am sure that he, like myself, has received a volume of correspondence from people from one end of the United Kingdom to another who are extremely concerned about the effect of this Bill on matters of conscience. I have received letters from people from all Churches in this country and from different denominations. I can assure the House that I speak this afternoon on behalf of thousands of people, churchgoers, who are very worried indeed.

I shall not repeat the arguments that I used on Report except to say this: this is not a party political matter. I have had support from all parts of your Lordships' House. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, telephoned me this morning to say how very sorry he is that he cannot be in his place this afternoon as he is not well.

I agree very much with what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham said: none of us supporting these amendments is against human rights or against the principles of this Bill. I am glad to say that when there was a Division on Report I had the support of three Law Lords. Although I am not a lawyer, it is a great comfort to know that legal opinion is, to say the very least, divided on the issue before the House.

I have tabled two principal amendments. Amendment No. 6 is, as has been described, a defensive measure. The amendment would operate only when someone has been taken to court. It provides a defence for that person when they are pursued in the secular courts for no other reason than their religious beliefs. Perhaps I may make it clear: Amendment No. 6 is a weaker amendment than that which I moved on Report. That amendment gave the Churches an exemption from the Bill. This amendment is a defence when someone is taken to court. Of course, I should have preferred the stronger amendment, but I accept the rules of the House and that, having divided the House on an amendment and not carried the House with me, it would not be right to return to the same amendment now.

The amendment is quite clear. It has been carefully drafted to answer some of the criticisms raised on Report, particularly on the definition of religion. On an earlier amendment the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, raised the question of how to keep out crank religions. This amendment uses wording taken directly from the Education Acts which define what is taught in religious education in state schools. Section 375(3) of the Education Act 1996 refers to the Christian and other principal religions. That was first introduced in the Education Reform Act 1988. That has been widely interpreted to mean the big six: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. The phrase "teaching and practices" is also found in legislation. I believe that if religion is respectable enough to be taught in schools it is respectable enough to be covered by this amendment and defined in that way.

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The concept of religious freedom has also been raised. The freedom to live out that belief is epitomised in the word "manifestation" which is drawn from Article 9 of the convention and the United Nations declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief (General Assembly Resolution 36/55 of 25th November 1981). The definition of "manifestation"--worship, observance, practice and teaching--is found in both the convention and the UN declaration. I hope that that makes quite clear why I have eliminated what can be broadly classed as crank religions. This is a defensive measure and is not as strong as the amendment I moved last time.

Amendment No. 15 follows almost word for word what the noble and learned Lord said the Bill meant when winding up the debate on Report. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon will recognise these words. I hope that because the amendment follows almost exactly what the noble and learned Lord said he will find it acceptable. One criticism that has been made this afternoon is that reference is made to Great Britain and not the United Kingdom. I recognise that that is a difficulty. I felt it right to confine it to Great Britain rather than the different arrangements in Northern Ireland.

We have been over this ground before. The House must decide what all of this is about. It is about conscience. At the end of the day the question is: who decides on the internal regulation of the Church? Clause 6 defines the Churches as public authorities. At the same time, all existing legislation such as employment legislation that covers church schools and other legislation that covers charities must be interpreted in the light of the convention.

If I have correctly understood the noble and learned Lord, he believes that the Bill enacts legislation to which we are already subject. All domestic law, however, will be interpreted in the light of the convention and the provisions of Clause 3 of the Bill. I believe that the reality is that it will go much further. The Lord Chancellor said in effect that we need not worry. He did not believe that a case could be produced about which there would be cause for concern. He asked me to produce such a case.

When the convention was drawn up in 1950 who would ever have thought that anybody would talk about a homosexual marriage? After all, at that time practising homosexuality was a criminal offence. Now one has only to open a newspaper to see it written about every day. We are legislating not just for 1998 but for 2005 or 2020. I have my grandchildren in mind as I stand here. I am sure that other noble Lords will have in mind young people to whom all of this will apply. It is no use saying that everything is perfectly all right. I am not out to criticise the judges. All I say is that if regard is had to history, which in this case provides a guide, it will be seen that the law has been interpreted and changed and that process will go on. I cannot say how it will be changed; nor can the noble and learned Lord. Neither he nor anyone can give a guarantee to our successors.

In 1982 Canada did what we seek to do now and incorporated the convention. Over the past 10 years that country has had a series of cases concerning conscience

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which has resulted in the gradual secularisation of society. Cases are pending in Holland. If there are no cases pending in Germany it is because the German constitution has ring-fenced the Churches so that they are not subject to this matter. That was something that I tried to achieve here but lost. I believe that we are justified in being anxious. If we look at what has happened in other countries which have incorporated human rights into domestic legislation, issues of conscience have been dealt with by the secular courts. The law develops and changes. As we sit in your Lordships' House organisations are planning to challenge the Bill when it becomes law. Make no mistake about that. It may not happen this year but it will happen, as it has happened in other countries.

These two amendments provide an opportunity, first, to provide a defence mechanism for those who are challenged--but only when they have been challenged--and, secondly, to write into the legislation the kinds of safeguards which the noble and learned Lord believes are already in the Bill but not stated explicitly. This seems to me to be the very minimum that can be asked for. I should like to do a great deal more but I have not been permitted to do so. This Bill has gone through the House at a very great pace and it has been extremely difficult to keep up with it. I very much hope that when we have considered this matter today the noble and learned Lord, despite what he has said, will think again. I do not speak for myself but for thousands of people who care very deeply about their religious convictions and conscience. This is not a secular matter but a matter for religious authorities. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, I am glad to support wholeheartedly the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. At Report the noble Baroness moved an amendment which, although it had my name to it, I felt unable to support in the Division Lobby. That amendment would have excluded from the provisions of Clause 6 religious bodies. It went further than many in the Churches wished to go. In that debate I gave unequivocal support for human rights. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for quoting what I said on that occasion. I therefore abstained in the Division and no Bishop voted in favour of the amendment at Report. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for recognising my motives in acting as I did.

This amendment is quite different. It does not exclude or exempt religious bodies; rather, it provides on the face of the Bill assurances for which we have been looking. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has said, those assurances were given by the noble and learned Lord during the debate at Report. He gave us a generous and precise assurance. Since he has quoted me at some length, I hope that he will forgive me if I quote from his speeches on that occasion. He said:


    "There is a very proper concern on the part of the Churches that they should continue to be able to select for key posts in schools people whose beliefs and manner of life are appropriate to the basic ethos of the school and, if necessary, to dispense with the services of employees who subsequently fall short of providing, shall we say, appropriate role models ... I doubt whether there is any Member of

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    your Lordships' House who would want to stand in the way of the Churches, and others, in that regard. It is certainly not what the Government intend or envisage in the Bill".
I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that statement, and for the assurance he gave a little later when he said:


    "It is certainly not the intention of the Government in bringing forward this Bill or in resisting these amendments that the legislation should be used to compel any Church or person acting on behalf of a Church to administer a marriage contrary to their religious doctrines or convictions".--[Official Report, 19/1/98; cols. 1344 and 1346.]

Amendment No. 15 substantially embodies those assurances. I shall quote the amendment to show how that is so. The amendment provides:


    "Nothing in this Act shall be used to compel any minister, official or other person acting on behalf of a Christian or other principal religious tradition represented in Great Britain to administer a marriage contrary to his religious doctrines or convictions.


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