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I am opposed to the new clause. But if such a change were to be made, Parliament should recognise the reality of the situation in the country, and not limit the provision to that proposed in the new clause.
Lord Goodhart: I have a good deal of sympathy with the principles underlying the amendment. The argument for this amendment is markedly stronger than for the previous one. Unlike agricultural and rural affairs, it
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My noble friend Lord Caithness has introduced an interesting amendment, and one which chimes--as it is a debate about religion that seems the correct word--with paragraphs 21 and 22 of what I think is the White Paper. It is a little confusing as to whether such documents are White Papers because although the pages are white, the covers are no longer white. I refer to the document, Modernising Parliament, Reforming the House of Lords, which was published by the Government. Paragraphs 21 and 22 address this issue. Paragraph 22 states:
I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that the Government in their White Paper have gone some way towards sympathising with the amendment. I am sure that that is what we shall hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, when she replies. I recall, when we voted on whether the Church of England should allow lady priests, turning to the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of York and asking him whether when the Division was called he would like a Presbyterian vote. He indicated that he would. As the Church of Scotland has successfully had women ministers for many years, it seemed only right that I should give him that vote. Indeed, the free churches are rightly represented here by a noble Baroness who is a minister.
It is right that the Government have acknowledged that and I look forward to hearing their comments. The Minister may be interested to hear what the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which is currently
I believe that the Bishops have played a very important role. The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, who sits on the Cross Benches, has made some very interesting speeches on moral issues. Even if one did not agree with them, one had to agree that they were made powerfully and on a well-argued case that should be heard. My noble friend the Duke of Norfolk performs a service as a kind of unpaid Whip for the Roman Catholic Members of your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, who was recently in his place, gave us an indication of the attitude of the Moslem faith to issues such as the age of consent.
All of us can agree that such contributions strengthen your Lordships' House. Therefore, it is important that my noble friend's amendment will allow the Government, in the person of the Leader of the House, to underline their commitments made in the White Paper to ensure not only that other parts of the Christian Churches in the UK are represented here, but other faiths which play a significant part in life in many areas of our country and--I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand--those of no faith at all. It is important that your Lordships' House in future represents a broad cross-section of the British people. That includes the religious persuasions of that broad cross-section.
Lord Annan: Perhaps the noble Baroness could help me and some of my noble friends on these Benches who follow the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. This whole issue about appointments committees will be discussed by the Royal Commission and we are going over the ground that we shall go over after the commission has reported. This is a fine way of wasting time and I ask the noble Baroness to express her own feelings on the issue, although I do not wish her to take a lead.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I shall reply first to the noble Lord, Lord Annan. As I cannot always get the line of sight over my right shoulder, I am not sure whether he was in the Chamber when we discussed the previous amendment. I then made it clear that the Government believe that much of the substance of the points being made is legitimately in the domain of the Royal Commission, and I emphasised that in response to the previous amendment.
However, noble Lords have raised particular issues and, as I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the Government believe it is appropriate to make full replies to those points. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that underlying some of the points is a discussion that it would be more relevant to have in the future. I am happy to agree on that and I shall make the point again in my remarks.
I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, will be encouraged to hear me say that the Government entirely sympathise with the principles lying behind the amendment. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for reading out the appropriate extract from the Government's White Paper. I am only sorry that he did not appreciate or recognise the reproduction of the "racing colours" of the House of Lords on the front cover because that was designed to be attractive to your Lordships. Obviously, it has failed in that.
Turning to the role of the right reverend Prelates, their representation ex officio clearly has its roots deep in the country's history. Those roots have as much to do with economics and politics in the past as religion. But, clearly, religion and the religious aspects of their representation have become much more prominent in recent years. However, the Government sympathise with the concerns of noble Lords who have spoken to introduce the amendment that the Bishops' Bench probably no longer adequately reflects religious feeling in this country. It is perhaps surprising that no right reverend Prelate has intervened to challenge that, but there has been agreement around the Committee that we have become a multi-faith, multi-cultural society and it is important that that is represented in your Lordships' House. As several noble Lords have said, that need not be through official representation. As has been pointed out, since the legal disabilities were removed, the Roman Catholic Church has been strongly represented by lay members, although its clergy continue to be barred by their own laws from taking an active part in this type of political activity. Similarly, as has been
However, it is difficult to think how one might achieve the understandable desire to have more official representation, at least in the present circumstances. Many denominations rotate their senior officers, sometimes even annually. Others have no central organisation to speak for them, so it might be difficult to identify who was truly representative. Some, by their very tradition and history, find it very hard to accept the kind of formal leadership of that nature that would necessarily be involved in selecting someone to represent them in this House.
As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was kind enough to remind us, the Government's White Paper asked the Royal Commission to look at this matter and try to find an appropriate way forward, particularly on this difficult issue of appointing sensible and appropriate representatives. Perhaps I may take it one step further, in the light of the Royal Commission's present deliberations, and refer to the Labour Party's submission to it, not the Government's. The Labour Party's submission, which was published early this week, states:
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