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We were very anxious in making all of our recommendations that Acts of Parliament should be understood not only by lawyers--in fact, better understood than lawyers are sometimes capable of doing because of the ambiguities so often found in legislation--but clearly understood also by all the users of legislation and all those who were subject to it or who needed to enforce it as laymen. That was the main reason underlying our desire to declare the intention of Parliament so far as possible in general terms through purpose clauses, statements of principle and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said, by giving aid to the interpretation of Acts of Parliament. It was with those thoughts in mind that we recommended purpose clauses--I hope not in too limited a way, although looking back over the many years since we reported we might have put the matter forward in a more general way.
In relation to the Bill, the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, would be very helpful Clause 1 goes straight into a definition of the convention rights. Surely it would help users of the statute to be told at the outset what is set out in Amendment No. 1. In particular, and with deep respect to him, I have to disagree with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway that purpose clauses should come at or towards the end of a Bill. Clearly their value comes if they are put at the beginning. All such purpose clauses that I can remember over many years in parliament and in your Lordships' House have come at the beginning of a Bill or the beginning of a part of a Bill. Sometimes it is necessary to have more than one purpose clause in a Bill which is widespread in effect and has several different parts dealing with different matters. So far as this Bill is concerned, I believe it is a valuable way of starting the Bill and I warmly support it.
I now come to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. I have not always agreed with him but I have always respected his sincerity, and do so today. He referred us to Articles 9 and 14 of the convention, which are set out in the schedule. It seems to me that both those articles give protection to religious attitudes in a very broad way. I do not propose to read them because they have already been referred to by the noble Lord; but, if noble Lords will be kind enough to refresh their memories of the contents of those two articles, they will see that freedom of thought and various other matters, including religion, are set out. It is not just a Christian religion; any established religion would benefit in the same way in our courts when the convention comes to be applied in them.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, raised one matter which, I confess, took me a little by surprise, regarding the ordination of women. I shall be interested to hear the Government's response on that point. We have a Sex Discrimination Act, but in all the discussions that took place in the Church of England on the
We have had a valuable discussion and I do not propose to trouble your Lordships further, except to say--I hope I am not out of order in doing so--that at about eight o'clock on Wednesday evening I am committed to opening a debate on purpose clauses and statements of principle.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he accept that I do not know what the Renton Committee intended but that I quoted verbatim from its report? Secondly, of course I realise that purpose clauses come at the beginning of a statute. What I was suggesting--and my noble friend misunderstood because I put it badly--was that they should be discussed at the end with the Long Title because the Bill might be amended during the course of discussion.
Lord Browne-Wilkinson: My Lords, I believe that I am the only speaker so far who is likely to have to construe this Bill. Your Lordships are being asked to consider what is possibly the most important constitutional Bill for some time. I do not believe that our time is usefully spent discussing the technicalities of statutory interpretation. Speaking purely for myself, the first amendment seems to clarify what is self-evident anyway; it does no harm and may do good. As to the religious amendments, those are matters which occur later in the Bill. May we please get on with the substance of this important Bill and not discuss minor technicalities?
The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, perhaps I may comment briefly before we move on. In the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, we are discussing matters to which we shall return in later amendments, but I should like to make two brief responses. To the noble Lord who spoke after the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, I should like to say that of course the Churches are deeply supportive of the human rights movement and of this Bill, and I shall say more about that in a moment. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, made clear, there are times when there is a conflict between rights.
The ordination of women was mentioned both by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, and the noble Lord, Lord Renton. My understanding is that when that measure was introduced an exemption was obtained for it from the Sex Discrimination Act. There were clauses in the measure which required that exemption, notably the clauses that allowed parishes not to receive the ministrations of a woman ordained priest.
In relation to the more general point made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who referred to the Church of England as "by law established", my understanding, as far as I have any of that particular phrase, is that it does not mean that the Church of England is founded by law or upon law--it was founded by Jesus Christ--but is by law given certain responsibilities, such as the responsibility, within certain constraints, to marry any who in the parish present themselves for marriage, and certain opportunities, such as the opportunity of bishops to be present and to speak in your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord referred to the difficulty that might be raised by canon law being in some ways subject to this Bill. This matter has been raised by the General Synod and was discussed in its standing committee, where I strongly made the point that by history the Church of England had been given certain freedoms in relation to law and that for this Bill to take those freedoms back, as it seemed to be doing, was to reverse history and to put the Church of England in a difficult position. My understanding is that the Government have heard that comment from the Church of England and will respond to it in due course. We await that response with great interest.
The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, Amendment No. 1 is grouped with Amendment No. 2. It was formerly grouped with Amendments Nos. 3, 5, 53, 70 and 75, but they are now grouped separately; I therefore do not attend to those amendments but to Amendments Nos. 1 and 2.
Dealing first with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, the Government have reflected carefully on this matter since Committee stage but continue to believe that there is nothing to be gained by including a statement of purpose in the Bill, as the amendment seeks to do. We believe that the purpose of the Bill can be readily understood from the scheme of the Bill, which is well understood, as was demonstrated in Committee. The Bill provides a clear and coherent scheme by which the convention rights are to be given further effect in our domestic law. The purpose of the Bill is obvious: it is to enable convention rights to be asserted directly in our domestic courts. The medium of achieving that is, among others, Clause 3, the interpretative principle that, so far as possible, the courts are to construe primary legislation and subordinate legislation compatibly with convention rights. I agree also with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that in any event it is not appropriate to have an exception in a purpose clause.
I turn now to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel. The more appropriate place in your Lordships' discussions today for considering these matters is no doubt when we come to consider the amendments to Clause 6 and, in particular, Amendments Nos. 23, 24, 26, 27 and 72. My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel looked ahead to Amendments Nos. 40
As my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel explained, his amendment is not about Article 13 or the provision of remedies; it is about the implications of the Bill for the Churches. I do not want to say a great deal about that in the debate on these amendments because we shall be debating those subjects in some detail later.
Looking first at the detail of my noble friend's amendment, it appears to me that the declaratory statement inserted by the amendment about the purpose of the Bill is not to apply where religious law and institutions are concerned. However, because the noble Lord has not tabled any amendments giving substantive effect to his exemption, his amendment to Amendment No. 1 does not achieve anything, unless it is intended to cross-refer to the provisions which would be inserted in the Bill if the amendments tabled to Clause 6 by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and others were to be carried. It would not affect the position in the Bill where the Churches, to the extent that they are a public authority, are subject to the requirement to comply with convention rights.
More generally, the Bill provides for a wide interpretation of the term "public authority" because we want to provide as wide a protection as possible for the human rights of individuals against an abuse of those rights. There is an exemption for Parliament so as to protect the principle of parliamentary sovereignty; but nothing in the proceedings on this Bill has so far convinced us that it would be right to create any further exemptions. We must remember that the purpose of the Bill is to enhance the basic human rights of the people of this country. The idea that those rights should not be available in matters of concern to the Church is one to which I, and no doubt others, find it hard to subscribe. However, we shall be debating those matters in more detail later and therefore I confine myself to those observations at this stage.
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