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The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords—

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we have had a contribution from the Bishops' Benches, and I am sure that noble Lords look forward to hearing from another Member on those Benches, but perhaps we could speak in some order. I call on my noble friend Lord Alli, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and then the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester.

Lord Alli: My Lords, I support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to disapprove these regulations. I sincerely urge the Government to withdraw them and to think again. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, set out very clearly and in detail what he and others consider are the faults of the regulations. My principal concern, and the one that I will address, is the role of the Church of England and other organised religions in this debate.

I find it impossible to believe that the Government—one committed to fairness and equality—should seek to allow the continued discrimination against gay men and women if those who seek to discriminate against them believe in God. What an irony: if you are God-fearing, you can weed out, discriminate and persecute gay men and women, and, if you are not, you cannot. Frankly, the exceptions in Regulation 7(3) are a joke. They make a mockery of equality legislation. My noble friends on the Front Bench should seriously reconsider those provisions.

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I believe in God and am fully prepared to put my head above the parapet. I do so to condemn those in the Church of England and other organised religions who seek to use the lives of ordinary gay men and women as a crucible in which to play out their own internal theological disputes. How can it be sensible that, on the one hand, the Church is about to appoint a gay bishop, and, on the other, it is about to sack gay staff.

We see the way in which a tradition in the Church seeks to persecute gay men and women. Even today, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford is under intense pressure following his appointment of Dr Jeffrey John as the Bishop of Reading. The fact that he is celibate is immaterial because he has a history of homosexuality. That is enough for his critics to want him out. It seems irrelevant that he might be the best man for the job.

I will take some convincing that these regulations will not be unfairly used to persecute good men and women. I fully accept the right of the Christian Church to appoint Christians to its ministry, of a mosque to appoint a Muslim, or a temple to appoint a Hindu. That is their right, and it is one that the Employment Equality Regulations protect. But I cannot accept that it is right for an organised religion to dictate that those in its employment should or should not be of a particular sexuality—no more than that they should or should not be of a particular race.

I invite noble Lords to imagine the case of the mythical librarian in an evangelical theological college. She is a Christian with deeply held convictions, but she is also a lesbian.

Do we really want to sanction regulations that would require her either to be untrue to herself or to risk losing her job? If we were to approve these regulations, that is precisely what we would be doing, and it would be shameful.

It seems to me that the Church of England, whose representations to government appear to have been influential in bringing about the addition of Regulation 7(3), is seeking to do a dangerous thing. In its support of the extension of the circumstances in which it would be lawful to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, it is effectively absenting itself from normal civil society.

Not so long ago, being a Roman Catholic in this country led to persecution and execution. When we had a Roman Catholic monarchy, the same was true for Protestants. Thankfully, we now live in more tolerant times; but the Church history of this country in the 16th century is still being played out in other parts of the world. How can we try to advocate decent civil society in other countries when we legitimise the practice of discrimination against gay men and women by religious institutions?

What is the difference between an absolute right to remove someone from their job because they are gay and an absolute right to put somebody in gaol because they are gay? Shall I tell noble Lords what the difference is? The difference is in the degree of

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prejudice in the law. This feels more like a provision dreamed up by the Taliban than one suitable for a mature democracy.

I recognise that this country has an established Church. It is represented in this House. However, I say to the Lords spiritual on the Bishops' Benches that if they try to use the privilege that they enjoy—the extraordinary privilege that we all enjoy—of law-making, by using the civil law as a means of exempting themselves or their religion from the norms and values of civil society, they will have diminished their role in society. Gay people may be a minority in society, but so too are those who actively profess a faith.

Each is entitled to protection, but not at the expense of the rights and dignity of the other. That is what equality means. Today we have the opportunity to demonstrate that this House is a modern Chamber, one that acknowledges that religion has a place in the national debate, but not a dominant or superior one.

We have the opportunity, in supporting the noble Lord's Motion, to influence the kind of society we, and others, want to live in. That society recognises and celebrates differences, and does not allow irrelevant factors to determine a person's life chances. One's sexuality is an integral part of one's identity. It is what makes us human.

I give my noble friends on the Front Bench due warning that I will oppose these regulations, and I will do all in my power to try to convince them to change their minds. This is a Government of which I am proud, but this law is a huge stain on a worthy record on equality. I have never voted against my party or Government, but in all honesty, noble Lords cannot expect a turkey to vote for Christmas, no matter how important it is in the Christian calendar.

I support the noble Lord's Motion to disapprove these regulations, and I very much hope that the Government will think again.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, on an issue of such important principle as this, I hope that many other Lords on the Benches opposite have listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Alli, has said and would put principle above party. This is not a party matter; it is a fundamental question of the freedom of gay people in our community.

I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, has been illogical about this. First, she condemned these regulations on the grounds that they will cause endless problems in the tribunal, in the interpretation of the words here such as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, mentioned several times. All of the phrases that occur in Regulation 7(3) will cause major difficulties in the tribunal and endless arguments. At the end of the day, as my noble friend says, it is likely that the whole of Regulation 7(3) will be struck down. What are we going through this for? Why create such a lot of work for lawyers in the employment tribunal, when we know what the result will be at the end of the day?

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In spite of the noble Baroness's reference to one individual who has expressed a contrary point of view, I prefer to accept the opinion of my noble friend and of the Select Committee. The article on which the employment regulations are supposed to be based explicitly rules out,


    "discrimination on another ground".

That is at the end of 4.2, and it has not been mentioned yet.

It is reasonable that differences in treatment may exist if there is a genuine occupational requirement, but, with great respect to the noble Baroness, we would not have had the minefield that she mentioned if the Government had stuck with their first thought and confined themselves to Regulations 7(1) and 7(2).

The directive envisages circumstances other than genuine occupational requirement in which difference of treatment on grounds of age—but not for any of the other characteristics mentioned—are permissible. Specifically, the directive does not allow for differences in treatment on grounds of sexual orientation, other than the GOR. Therefore, the directive cannot be held to allow the managers of employment for the purposes of an organised religion to apply either of the criteria in 7(3) of the sexual orientation regulations.

It is not an answer to say, as Barbara Roche did in her letter to Stonewall, that the expression,


    "for the purposes of an organised religion",

had a limited meaning. She acknowledged that faith schools might come under the provision. I imagine that religious NGOs, aid organisations, missionary societies and newspapers such as the Catholic Herald, the Church Times and Q-News would all be able to make a case, if they chose to do so. The exact scope of the exemption is unclear because there is no immediately relevant case law on the words,


    "for the purposes of an organised religion",

which, I believe, were taken from Section 19 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. I have been informed of two cases under the old Section 4 of the Race Relations Act 1976 at employment appeal tribunal level, which dealt with employment for the purposes of a private household. In both cases, the expression "for the purposes of" was given a broad interpretation. I suggest that it may read across into this order. In any case, it will give rise to many cases in which it will be claimed that it does.

The point is not the number of organisations that will be covered by the expression. Article 4.1 does not allow any discrimination on such grounds, contrary to the assertions of the DTI in its evidence to the Select Committee. It is certainly true that the doctrines of certain religions criticise people who are gay, but I am not aware of anything in the Bible or the Qur'an that says that employers should not hire gay people. That was confirmed by Mr Magyar of the DTI, who said, in answer to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, in the Select Committee:


    "We are not aware of any cases in which religious doctrine requires a post to be filled by persons of a particular orientation".

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Therefore, it is impossible to satisfy the tests in 7(3)(b)(i), because the doctrines of no religion say anything about the employment of people of a given sexual orientation.

The second leg of 7(3)(b) is where the nature of the employment and the context in which it is carried out are such that hiring somebody of a particular sexual orientation would conflict, as has been quoted, with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion's followers. When my noble friend Lord Russell asked Mr Magyar which part of the directive he relied on for the wording of 7(3)(a), he answered that it was in Article 4.1, which deals with the GOR, which is a different matter. If we agreed to the provision, we would allow the bigotry and prejudice of some of a religion's followers to dictate its employment policy. I think that it would be the first time in any western country when anti-gay conduct has been approved by legislation.

If the argument is that the sacred books are highly critical of gays, so they are of many other human characteristics, such as wanting something that one has not got. The exception—

9.15 p.m

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt. Has the noble Lord considered that various other members of the European Union are actually implementing this directive?


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