Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

It may be that the amendment does not go far enough-it refers only to Clause 39(1) and the need to make sure that that subsection does not apply in these circumstances. Alternatively, it may be the opposite-this amendment could be unnecessary if, and only if, the Minister can give the House an assurance that regulations will clarify that these circumstances are an example of exactly what is intended by Clause 13(2), which allows discrimination if it is proportionate to achieve a legitimate aim. I hope that the Minister can give the House an assurance that it would be safe to rely on Clause 13(2), supported by regulations. If not, I hope that the Minister will accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, this amendment would provide a specific exemption from age discrimination claims so that those involved in alcohol marketing can use only those people who are, and appear to be, over the age of 25, in compliance with relevant codes of practice. Clause 13(2) makes it clear that, in the case of age, A does not discriminate against B if A can show that A's treatment of B is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. I hope that noble Lords understood that this late at night.

Further, the Bill does not change the law with regard to age discrimination in employment. In particular, Part 1 of Schedule 9 replicates the existing law. We are not aware of any claims brought by young people who feel that they have been refused work because they do not appear to be over 25, although I realise that the aim of the amendment is the protection of young people. The Government have sought to achieve a legislative balance by setting out a limited number of general exemptions to unlawful age discrimination in employment, such as in relation to the national minimum wage, benefits based on length of service and enhanced redundancy payments. However, to avoid weakening the legislation, these are deliberately limited to broad-based employment practices of particular significance to the economy and the labour market.

When we were developing the age regulations-there will be regulations to address these issues-it became apparent that it was not possible to specify in detail every instance where age discrimination by an employer might be objectively justifiable in pursuit of a legitimate aim. I think that that is the A and B bit to which I referred. Indeed, to attempt to do so might be counterproductive, as it could inadvertently exclude

2 Mar 2010 : Column 1425

practices that could be beneficial. We therefore have Clause 13(2), which was referred to, for situations falling outside the general exceptions in relation to age and employment. Although such justification must be on a case-by-case basis, in the circumstances set out by the noble Baroness the employer is highly likely to be acting within the law, as there is a clear public interest justification in play. Indeed, the employment provisions apply to those making advertisements now and they have the protection that I have just outlined.

Current advertising regulations also contain rules that no one who is, or who appears to be, under the age of 25 may appear in an alcohol advertisement, apart from in adverts showing families socialising responsibly. Therefore, there is already an appropriate regime to ensure that suitable protections are in place to cover the involvement of younger people. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment. I should add that, when I referred to regulations, I meant existing age regulations, the effect of which is replicated and repeated in the Bill.

Baroness Meacher: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I am not sure that it is entirely clear that we will not finish up with a confusion between the current codes and this legislation. At this late hour, I am certainly not going to pursue the matter further, but I ask the Minister to take away the point that it is important for regulations to make absolutely clear the points that I made earlier.

Baroness Thornton: The noble Baroness is asking about a significant point and I undertake to write to clarify the distinction that she is drawing.

Baroness Meacher: I am very grateful for that response from the Minister.

Amendment 50A withdrawn.

Amendment 51 not moved.

Amendment 52 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

10 pm

Amendment 53

Moved by Lord Alli

53: Before Clause 201, insert the following new Clause-

"Civil partnerships

Civil partnerships on religious premises

(1) The Civil Partnership Act 2004 is amended as follows.

(2) Omit section 6(1)(b) and (2).

(3) In section 6A, after subsection (2), insert-

"( ) Regulations under this section may provide that premises approved for the registration of civil partnerships may differ from those premises approved for the registration of civil marriages."

(4) In section 6A, after subsection (3), insert-

"( ) For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnerships if they do not wish to do so.""

2 Mar 2010 : Column 1426

Lord Alli: My Lords, I shall make my contribution short as it is late and I know that others may wish to speak.

The intention behind this proposed new clause is to remove the prohibition on civil partnerships taking place in religious buildings and to put in the necessary regulations to allow religious buildings to be used to host civil partnerships.

From the outset, I want to make one thing very clear. The amendment does not-I repeat, does not-place an obligation on any religious organisations to host civil partnerships in their buildings. We have made that clear by including in the amendment the words:

"For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnerships if they do not wish to do so".

Let me take a moment to explain why I am moving this amendment. Many gay and lesbian couples want to share their civil partnerships with the congregations with whom they worship, and a number of religious organisations want to allow gay and lesbian couples to do exactly that. What stands between them is the prohibition contained in the Civil Partnership Act.

If no religious organisations had asked for this or wanted this, there would be no issue before us this evening. In the end, it comes down to religious freedom-not the technical proficiencies of my amendment, which I believe is proficient; not an attack on the Catholic Church or the Church of England, which it certainly is not; and not a timetabling issue regarding the Bill, which it clearly is not. In the end, it is all about religious freedom.

We talk a lot about religious freedom, particularly in this place, and it is a much respected principle. I know that it is deeply held; it is a conviction that I hold, too. When balanced against other freedoms, it is an extraordinarily powerful and compelling principle, for we should all respect each other's beliefs. However, religious freedom requires us to do more: it requires us to let others do things that we ourselves would not do; it requires us to allow others to worship in ways that we do not; and it requires us to respect the right to host ceremonies that we would not. Religious freedom means letting the Quakers, the liberal Jews and others host civil partnerships. It means accepting that the Church of England and the Catholic Church should not host civil partnerships if they do not wish to do so. I know that many in the Church of England and the Catholic Church could do without this issue and I am really sorry to bring it to their door. However, religious freedom cannot begin and end with what one religion wants; it has to be applied equally to the Quakers and to the Church of England, to the liberal Jews as well as to the Catholic Church.

I believe that people want religion in their lives and many gay and lesbian couples are no different. They want their civil partnership to be held in a place where they can celebrate it with the people with whom they worship. It is a simple act of religious freedom to allow the Quakers, the liberal Jews, the Unitarian Church and others to practise their religion in a way that meets their religious needs. I hope that, in that spirit of religious freedom, we can see our way tonight to allow them to do so. I beg to move.

2 Mar 2010 : Column 1427

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment. I hope very much that I am able to demonstrate my liberal views that may not have been so evident earlier this evening.

I strongly support marriage and have enjoyed 51 years of it. However, I do not see this amendment as a threat to marriage. I listened with some concern to my good friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, on the "Sunday" programme last Sunday, defending his opposition to this clause, and found him to be less effective than he usually is. I genuinely do not see this amendment as a threat to marriage. It is, as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, has said, genuinely permissive.

I am concerned that the chief executive of Stonewall has suggested that it might become mandatory in due course. However, it becomes mandatory only if this House allows it to be. I hope that this House will not do that because I entirely respect the wish of the church to which I belong, and indeed of the Catholic Church, not to allow it within church premises. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, has said, there are those from other religions, such as the liberal Jews and the Quakers, who would like to do it.

Same-sex couples can have strong and devoted relationships equal to, but different from, marriage and they may wish to have those relationships sanctified by a religious ceremony. If there are churches and synagogues prepared to do that, why should we stand in their way? They have rights to be loved and rights to have their ceremonies recognised in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Alli, has asked. It is for those reasons that I support this amendment.

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, I remain strongly supportive of this change in the law. Believe me, I would not be here at 10 o'clock at night if I did not feel very supportive. I have broken a bad curfew. I view this as a matter of compelling religious freedom and am very happy to add my name to this amendment yet again. In light of views expressed by the Government in Committee, when there was widespread support from all sides, the amendment has been carefully revised and I believe it is much better for it.

Many of your Lordships will have received supportive briefing from a range of bodies, including religious organisations, which are growing in number and feel that they should be able to follow the wishes of all their members in celebrating lifelong committed relationships irrespective of whether they are same-sex unions. Indeed, in a letter to the Times last month, a considerable number of Church of England clerics said clearly that religious denominations should be allowed to register civil partnerships on their premises if they wish.

I believe that we should respond to these representations positively. I ask noble Lords to join me in supporting Amendment 53 and, should there be a vote on the new clause tonight, I urge them not to vote against a key equality measure that would benefit many men and women in this country.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment. I shall be brief but I do want to speak this evening as I was unable to speak in Committee because of my other responsibilities in your Lordships'

2 Mar 2010 : Column 1428

House. As a Back-Bencher for the purpose of this amendment, I hope that it will find favour with my Front Bench and that it will confirm that we have a free vote on this, otherwise clearly I shall be in a bit of trouble tomorrow.

I was proud to have joined my Benches and other parts of the House when the amendment to secure religious freedom was successfully pressed to a vote last month by my noble friend Lady O'Cathain. Amendment 53, as other noble Lords have said, is about religious freedom-the freedom of religious organisations to allow civil partnerships to take place on their premises and thereby be linked to some form of faith-based commitment. Most importantly, the amendment, in the revised form tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, makes it clear that it preserves the freedom of religious organisations not to allow civil partnerships on their premises. No new rights and no new duties are created by it.

I know that some noble Lords accepted the provisions of the Civil Partnership Act only on the basis that civil partnership was a way of conferring a range of civil rights on same-sex partners. But the truth is that civil partnerships are about relationships and commitment. In turn, as my right honourable friend David Cameron said at our conference last autumn, these things are the bedrock of our society. For some, that commitment is enhanced and deepened by an element of religious ceremony.

I believe that if at all possible when making law we should also make people happy. The ability of churches to host civil partnership registration and a service of celebration in some religious form side by side could undoubtedly make some people very happy. I hope that the House will support the noble Lord's amendment.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I fully support the amendment, first and most importantly because, as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, said, religious freedom is indivisible. If the Church of England claims it for itself, it ought to allow it for others. Some people have suggested that it undermines marriage, but on the contrary, it strengthens marriage. The real enemy in our society is promiscuity not permanent, stable, faithful relationships. These strengthen marriage.

Some people might say that it is possible for people to register their civil partnership legally and then move on to other premises for a religious ceremony. But for people entering into civil partnership, as for those entering into marriage, the business of making the commitment and vows that bring about the marriage or civil partnership is the significant act. Those who are religious would like the act that they see as religiously solemn performed in a religious context using religious words. I believe that this strengthens marriage rather than undermines it. I hope that your Lordships will support it.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford: My Lords, one of the difficulties in the Church of England, other churches and other faiths is that we are in a society that is preoccupied by rights and choices and that anything we tend to say will appear ungenerous. This is particularly so in the context of the especially generous remarks

2 Mar 2010 : Column 1429

made by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, who kindly smiled in our direction during most of his speech.

While I agree with almost everything and wanted to say "Amen" and even "Hallelujah" occasionally to what has been said before, nevertheless the House is a legislating Chamber. When considering changes to the law we need to be clear what they are meant to achieve and what in practice they will achieve. A phrase that has occurred during this debate this afternoon and evening has been, "unintended consequences". That is all the more important when dealing with legislation such as the Civil Partnership Act, which has been operating for just over four years. As far as I know there have been no practical difficulties so far.

As we have heard, some religious groups wish to provide a religious context for same-sex couples seeking to register a civil partnership. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, they can already do so by way of making provisions for a service in a meeting room, synagogue or chapel before or after the civil partnership has been registered elsewhere. They cannot have a one-stop shop that provides for marriage ceremonies or civil partnership ceremonies within a religious context.

10.15 pm

If they want to, runs the argument, why should the law prevent them? The fundamental difficulty that many churches and faiths will have with this argument is that we, like the Government and the courts, have been quite clear ever since civil partnerships were introduced that they are not the same as marriages. It is true that they confer nearly all the same legal rights. However, it was because civil partnerships remedied long-standing injustices for gay and lesbian people, who had for far too long been the victims of discrimination and prejudice, that many people in the Church of England were able to welcome their introduction as worth while-a worthwhile addition to the civil law, even though, as is common knowledge, we continue to have very lively debates on issues of human sexuality.

At the moment, however, civil partnerships are not in substance or in form same-sex marriages. There are some countries that have already introduced the possibility of marriage between people of the same sex, and no doubt some of those sympathetic to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, favour that direction of travel. I do not, nor does the majority of churches and faiths in this country. But if people want to argue for that, they are entitled to do so, and it is a debate that we can have. That debate ought to take place in the synods, the convocations, the councils and so on, and the churches as well. The point is simply that we should not muddle up a debate about civil partnerships with a debate on same-sex marriage.

What is proposed here means that it would still be unlawful for a religious service to take place while a civil partnership registrar was officiating at the signing of a civil partnership document. Yet the signing of the document could occur in a place of worship if that place of worship had successfully applied for approval. That seems rather odd. Does it mean that the civil partnership registrar would have to turn up at the

2 Mar 2010 : Column 1430

place of worship, conduct the legal part of the business, and then withdraw so that the religious ceremony could take place? Or does it mean that the local minister of religion would be appointed as a civil registrar and would be allowed to preside at the civil partnership formalities so long as he or she did not lapse into any "amens" or anything religious in their own place of worship until that part of the event was over?

Secondly, I want to refer to what a previous speaker said about Stonewall. The suggestion is that this would simply be an available option open to those religious groups that had chosen to avail themselves of it. While I am confident that that is the intention of those who introduced this amendment, I am not so confident about the intentions of others. Let us assume, with the noble Lord, Lord Alli, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that this is the spirit in which we go forward. Who, then, would have to apply for the place of worship to be approved for the conduct of civil partnerships? The amendment talks of there being no obligation on "religious organisations". But I am left unclear what "religious organisations" means in this context. In the case of an independent chapel, a synagogue or a church in the Congregationalist tradition, it would presumably be for that local church to apply. But in the case of the Church of England or the Methodist Church, or one of the other larger churches, would the legislation enable the denomination as a whole to decide whether to accept or decline the option, or perhaps to allow local variation? It is not clear from the legislation as drafted how that would work. Certainly, there has been no discussion with the main denominations about this. So there must at least be a question mark over whether the necessary framework could be put into place by regulations when the enabling legislation itself has been drafted at such speed and with no opportunity for discussion and reflection.

I am conscious that for those who see this as a simple matter of choice, rights and religious liberty, what I have said may have sounded too cautious and tentative. However, when Parliament introduced civil partnerships just a few years ago, it drew a clear distinction between the new legal status and marriage. One of the ways it underlined it was by ensuring that registrations could not take place on religious premises or include a religious ceremony. Religious groups that wish to offer blessings and ceremonies on the day of the civil partnership are already able to do so.

My concern is that the amendment would create a muddle in an area that, because it touches on civil rights and religious freedoms, needs complete clarity in the interests of all concerned. I hope that the noble Lord will be willing to withdraw the amendment for a fuller discussion to take place on this matter.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Before the right reverend Prelate sits down, I am puzzled by his reference to discussions in the synods and congregations of the churches. That seems a good idea, but how can it have any meaning unless the amendment has been passed and the debate is about something that could happen?

2 Mar 2010 : Column 1431

The Lord Bishop of Bradford: I fear that once the decision has been made, it has already happened. If noble Lords wish to get the church or other churches to move with the legislation, I hope they will realise that it would help to engage them in discussion in the process of reaching a decision.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I hardly need say that I fully respect the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and all those who have supported him. For my part, I cannot support an amendment that blurs the distinction between civil partnership and marriage, particularly when we were all assured when the Civil Partnership Act was going through Parliament that the distinction was crucial and would be maintained, not least by keeping civil partnerships within the secular field. In saying that, I am paraphrasing the remarks made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, on 12 May 2004 at col. GC140.

I am not at all impressed by the argument that all we are talking about is allowing bodies to conduct civil partnerships within their religious premises, with the new clause making plain that no obligation is placed on religious organisations to register civil partnerships. If this amendment were carried, it would only be a matter of time before it was argued that it was discriminatory for a church incumbent to refuse to allow a civil partnership ceremony to take place when the law allowed it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page