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Baroness Young: My Lords, I put my name to the amendment, although I am not a member of the Church of Scotland nor a Scot. However, I understand the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, and I understand the same point which arises in Amendment No. 12, to which I have also attached my name. As the noble and learned Lord said, this is in no sense a party political matter.
The noble and learned Lord clearly set out the history behind the 1920 Act. My reason for supporting the principle of the amendments--and I hope that the Government will agree to them or bring forward their own amendments on Third Reading if these are incorrectly drafted--is that I have been advised that Clause 6 is in conflict with the 1921 Act. Clause 6 classifies the Church as a public authority when it performs public functions. The result is that the freedoms which were enshrined in the 1921 Act will be restricted by the Bill before us. The Convention on Human Rights will override the 1921 agreement.
I understand that that came at the end of a great deal of difficulty for the Church and was a final settlement. It is wrong that it should be overturned in this way. I have every sympathy with the concerns of the Church of Scotland. At the end of last week, I was able to talk to Dr. McDonald of the Church of Scotland. I am sympathetic to all the points that have been made and I believe that we are agreed that the Church is directly affected by the Bill which amounts to the secularisation of what have previously been matters for the Church.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, as regards my party and others, I believe that Amendment No. 8 is a matter of conscience. Two of the names in support of Amendment No. 12 are members of this party. However, speaking for myself and not for the party, I must express anxiety about the amendment. I do so largely for the reason expressed by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill in discussing Amendment No. 2.
I welcome the acceptance by the Church of Scotland, expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, that in its capacity as a public authority it will be subject to the Human Rights Bill, except in respect of the discipline of the Church courts as regards matters of faith. It is extremely unlikely that, in acting as a public authority, the Church of Scotland will find it is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 9 of the convention, set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill, is extremely broad and gives great width to religious bodies and organisations. The Church of Scotland is asking for exemption for its courts from the limitations in Article 9(2).
I accept that if the Church of England has a similar exemption, the Church of Scotland will also have that exemption. But the real problem is that if exemption is given to the Church of Scotland or, as we shall be debating later, to the Church of England, I am extremely concerned that it is opening the door to other religious bodies, some of whose practices in some cases are unquestionably contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.
I do not object to an amendment which simply has the effect of preserving the constitutional separation of the Church of Scotland from the state without weakening the application of that Church to the European Convention on Human Rights. If the Government believe that they are able to table an
Lord Dean of Harptree: My Lords, I wish to express support for the case which has just been put so very powerfully by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon. I do not belong to the Church of Scotland but I do declare a non-financial interest as a lay server in the Church of England. I assure my noble and learned friend that the fears which he expressed about the possible effect of this Bill on the Church of Scotland are shared equally by the Church of England and I believe are shared by all other established Churches in the land.
I am sure it is agreed generally that people have human rights which should be protected, particularly against abuse of power by the state or its agencies. But of course, there are also duties. Rights and duties are two sides of the same coin. Equally, institutions have rights as well as duties. In our nation, institutions are essential to our general health. They provide stability, continuity and succour for individuals and families. Indeed, they are a powerful protection for people against undue influence by the state.
When we deal with Churches, we are dealing with a special type of institution because they are concerned with the spiritual needs of people and their religious freedoms. Churches could not possibly function effectively without membership conditions, rules and the means to uphold them. They are autonomous bodies; they have run their affairs over the centuries within the law; and there is a strong feeling, which I believe the Government recognise well, among all the Churches that the Bill as drafted could mean that the essential privileges and beliefs of the Churches could be undermined.
I am absolutely certain that the Government have no intention whatever of doing that. But I must suggest with great respect that, in the debate so far on this subject, nothing has been said which has effectively stilled the fears expressed by the Churches. I realise that this amendment deals with the Church of Scotland and my noble and learned friend has described the position. In regard to the Church of England, there is an equally strong case. That is an established Church and I rejoice that it is. That is good for both the Church and the state. But certainly in the case of the Church of England, Parliament already has effective control. Many of the measures which are passed by the Synod must be approved by Parliament. If Parliament does not approve those measures, they are null and void. In my recollection, that has happened on a number of occasions during my time in Parliament. That is not by any means a dead letter. Therefore I suggest that Parliament has ample opportunity, when it scrutinises Church legislation, to satisfy itself that the legislation is compatible with human rights.
As my noble and learned friend mentioned in his opening remarks, there have been many clashes between the Church and the state over the centuries. It has never done anybody any good. I suggest that we should wish to avoid creating a new potential for friction and conflict which could arise from this Bill as drafted at present.
I realise that the Government have tabled later amendments which may deal with this point and I shall look forward with great interest to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, explain the purport of those amendments. However, I hope that the Government will at least accept the spirit if not the letter of this and allied amendments. I suggest that they can do so without in any way undermining the principle of the Bill and I very much hope that they will do so.
Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I yield to no one in my admiration for the Church of Scotland. I was brought up in it some while ago. However, I must confess that I do not adhere to any of its doctrines or beliefs. I speak as a total neutral in this religious matter.
I recall that Lenin was greatly attracted to the democratic practices of the Church of Scotland, although I do not imagine that he followed them very closely in his political activities. But it is those democratic practices of the Church which are attractive to such an unbeliever as myself.
However, the amendment worries me. We are dealing here with a Bill which is intended to extend, expand and safeguard human rights. I believe that everyone in this House agrees that that is desirable. But here we have a situation in which a body is trying to limit that extension of human rights.
I wonder what the Church of Scotland fears. Knowing many Presbyterians as I do, I cannot imagine that they would, in the Church, wish to do anything which limited human rights. Therefore, why are they fearful? In what way are they limited and confined? I cannot see it at all. The Church, by its very nature, must be compassionate--even Presbyterians are occasionally compassionate--and it must have regard for human rights. I believe that with the best of intentions this amendment is mistaken and I sincerely hope that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will advise against acceptance of the amendment.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, perhaps I may deal very briefly with this matter because I have a subsequent amendment, Amendment No. 24, which encompasses all religious bodies and which is obviously linked with this amendment. I do not anticipate what I shall say on that amendment which I propose to move.
However, this amendment is wholly requisite. It is not in fact met by Amendment No. 46, which was tabled, I believe, this morning. It is right to say, for the assistance of the House, that Amendment No. 24, which is concerned in its general application with all religious bodies of all creeds recognised as such in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, was tabled on 3rd December. In the wake of that fact serious discussions ensued between representatives of the General Synod and the Home Office. As a result,
I do not wish to detain your Lordships for much longer, but it is most important that similar negotiations and discussions, with a view to establishing a satisfactory arrangement--that is, far more satisfactory than that suggested in Amendment No. 46--should be undertaken between now and Third Reading. Alternatively, some such assurances should be given today. I do not want to mislead the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, but when we deal with Amendment No. 24 I shall be looking most carefully at the detail, the nature and the extent of such assurances that are given before deciding whether or not to divide the House.
As regards the Church of England legislation, I have to point out that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has sent a message of congratulation and gratitude on the initiative taken as regards Amendment No. 24. I hope that a similar course of discussion can follow the very powerful initiative of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon today.
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