Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Jay of Paddington: I was responding to the particular point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that insufficient attention was paid to the amendments which had been addressed before. Therefore, I was giving a brief "preview" of the Government's position, which I shall hope to develop substantively when we come to the group of amendments to which the noble Viscount refers.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. As she went on, the noble Baroness became considerably more helpful than when she started to speak. I thought that she was far from helpful when she said, among other things, that this is a self-contained Bill and that we should not think any further than that.

I was interested in an exchange that occurred when we were last in Committee on this Bill between my noble friend Lord Ferrers and the noble Lord, Lord Richard. My noble friend Lord Ferrers said, words to the effect, that one cannot say that getting rid of the present Chamber would not have an effect. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, replied in the same column:


I would like the noble Baroness to accept, like the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that in getting rid of the present Chamber and changing the whole pattern, in future agricultural and rural affairs will be represented. I do not disagree with her that we have too high a proportion of agriculturists in the Chamber, as I believe that we do compared with the House of Commons. I simply ask that in future agricultural and rural affairs are represented. That point was made clearly, as usual, by my noble friend Lord Mackay. It is important because, as I said in my opening speech, we feel, rightly or wrongly, that we have been neglected and that is one of the many reasons for so many demonstrations.

I am sorry that the noble Baroness found it more interesting to talk and laugh with her neighbour than to listen to my noble friend Lady Carnegy. In mitigation, I must admit that I too often do that when I get bored with what is happening in the Chamber. However, it emphasises the technical and cultural differences between those from the countryside and our politicians. We are very short of agricultural politicians who have a knowledge of what is happening in the countryside.

I agree with the fact--raised by the noble Baroness--that many who think that they represent us, however, do not live in the countryside, and do not really understand what is happening. That has a lot to do with the problems that we face at the moment.

My noble friend Lord Caithness also pointed out that there is, sadly, a big difference. The difference is growing wider and wider, as I get older and older. I realise how old I am getting and that is one of the reasons why I must leave the House soon. I am sure that

13 May 1999 : Column 1309

the noble Baroness will be pleased about that. That will keep her smiling for a little longer. There is a big difference between the way in which we in the countryside think and the way in which Parliament thinks, and I regret that.

Of course, at this stage, I shall withdraw the amendment. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, but I am not sure that I agree with him. I am not sure why he is so confident that agricultural and rural interests will be represented in a future House. I can see no reason why they should be. Meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 72:


After Clause 2, insert the following new clause--

RELIGIOUS REPRESENTATION

(" .--(1) There shall be an Appointments Commission.
(2) The function of the Appointments Commission is to make recommendations to Her Majesty for the conferment of life peerages in accordance with the Life Peerages Act 1958.
(3) The Appointments Commission shall ensure that following the passing of this Act persons representing religions other than the Church of England are recommended to Her Majesty for appointment to the House of Lords under the provisions of the Life Peerages Act 1958.")

The noble Earl said: With this amendment, I hope that I am pushing at a slightly more open door. On page 28 of its submission to the Royal Commission, the Labour Party states that it believes that it is desirable to extend representation in this House to the other religions and faiths, than the Church of England, that take their place in British society. This amendment seeks to do that. It does not mention numbers--that is for the appointments commission--but it is merely concerned with the principle.

The 26 Lords Spiritual have played an important role in this Chamber but, with respect to them, as they are all from the Church of England, they do not, indeed they cannot, represent the spiritual needs of Britain. In 1995 the Anglican community was estimated at some 26 million. Only about 3¼ per cent of them were regular attendees in Church--that being some 854,000. The Catholic community was smaller at 5.7 million, but about 23 per cent of those attended regularly, giving an attendance of over 1.3 million, considerably more than the Church of England. However, they have no bishops here to represent them.

Thankfully, the Catholic Church has well defined principles on many controversial issues that face us and we, in this Chamber, are the poorer for not having the benefit of their views on issues such as abortion. But within the Trinitarian Churches many others, such as the Scots, Methodists and Baptists have substantial numbers of regular attenders. They, too, should be eligible to be appointed here. We must not overlook the non-Trinitarian Churches whose religious communities totalled over 4 million in 1995. There must be opportunities for them.

As we approach the millennium, there is a clear and increasing need for a more comprehensive spiritual input into our lives. For many of us it is vitally

13 May 1999 : Column 1310

important already, and we could all do worse than to step back from the hurly-burly of modern day living and listen to and act upon the advice of our religious leaders.

I appreciate that the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Stanley and myself would mean that fewer than the 24 bishops of the Church of England would be able to attend, but no offence is meant to them. Indeed, I am sure that they would be among the first to agree the need to widen the representation and ability to put forward different views from the Spiritual Benches to enable us to enhance our discussions and probably improve our legislation. I beg to move.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: Noble Lords may well ask why I am breaking my own rule by participating in matters that are not agricultural, of which I have personal experience. My answer is that it is extremely difficult to be closely involved in farming without realising that something other than money makes it tick--even though most people think that that is the only issue that farmers think about.

Moreover, as we discuss the tiresomeness of our hereditary genes, I cannot but be reminded that my family fully appreciated the importance and practices of differing religions. Over the past two or three generations, members of my family have included an Anglican bishop, a Roman Catholic bishop, an outspoken Dean of Westminster, a Jewess, the first Peer to become a Moslem, and an agnostic or two or three--I look at my noble kinsmen on the Liberal Democrat Benches, most of whom I believe are agnostic.

I declare my interest. I try to be a practising Anglican although I admit to resigning as a churchwarden through a slight disagreement with a former Bishop of Oxford. The unfortunate noble Lord, Lord Runcie, who was my rural dean at the time, had to act as mediator. I fear that he did not succeed particularly well, but that was not his fault. I fear that I would have similar difficulties and problems with the present right reverend prelate the Bishop of Oxford; but that is neither here nor there. I am fortunate in having an extremely good rector in the church in Wales.

I have been brought up to realise the importance of a religious belief. That importance should not relate just to church services, far from it. I do not find most of the church services in the Anglican Church thought provoking, devout or indeed inspiring, which I much regret. Religious belief should be part and parcel of our day-to-day life, and in this case our political life, hence the amendment.

As my noble friend pointed out, the amendment ensures that that need is met and that religious leaders will have a right to a place in any reformed House. I accept that that would inevitably mean less Church of England representation, but with devolvement in Wales and Scotland I should have thought it right, in order to prevent further break-up of the United Kingdom, that the Churches of Wales and of Scotland should have representation.

Britain's cultural society is based on Christian principles. Therefore, those religious Members should be predominantly Christian, although, as I pointed out,

13 May 1999 : Column 1311

I am not banning the Moslem faith. I believe that other faiths should be represented, in particular the Jewish faith on which our own Christian faith was based.

The amendment is widely drafted to give the Government an opportunity to express any view they may have, including the view held by some of my noble kinsmen on the Liberal Benches, which is agnostic.

Lord Walton of Detchant: I have considerable sympathy with the amendment. However, the Bill is concerned with the interim House. This issue relates more to the work of the Royal Commission.

I speak as a member of the Methodist Church. We regret the passing of Lord Soper, but are delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, is now among our membership. I understand that so far as concerns the Roman Catholic Church, my friend--I speak as a supporter, as is he, of Newcastle United--Cardinal Hume would have been a Member of this House had it been possible for him to be admitted as a Bishop of Rome and not as an individual. I understand that the Roman Catholic Church would not allow the nomination of any of its bishops or cardinals to a political chamber but would have accepted their nomination as a Bishop of Rome.

I trust that the Royal Commission will bear that matter very much in mind. I urge strongly that this issue is considered by the Royal Commission, rather than debated in this Bill.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page