‘(1) Section 403 of the Education Act 1996 (sex education: manner of provision) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (1D) insert—
“(1E) For the purposes of subsection (1A)—
(a) No school shall be under any duty as a result of the guidance issued to promote or endorse an understanding of the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children that runs contrary to the designated religious character of the school.
(b) This subsection is without prejudice to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State regarding the legal status of marriage.”.’.—(Mr Burrowes.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Conscientious objection—
‘(1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3) of this section, no registrar shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to conduct, be present at, carry out, participate in, or consent to the taking place of, a relevant marriage ceremony to which he has a conscientious objection.
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) shall affect the duty of each registration authority to ensure that there is a sufficient number of relevant marriage registrars for its area to carry out in that area the functions of relevant marriage registrars.
(3) The conscientious objection must be based on a sincerely- held religious or other belief.
(4) In any legal proceedings the burden of proof of conscientious objection shall rest on the person claiming to rely on it.’.
New clause 3—Conscientious objection: transitional arrangements—
‘(1) No person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by statutory or other legal requirement, to conduct a marriage to which he has a conscientious objection if he is employed as a registrar of marriages on the date this Act comes in force.
(2) For the purposes of this section, a “conscientious objection” exists where the refusal to conduct a marriage is only that it concerns a same sex couple, and is based on the person’s sincerely held religious or other beliefs.
(3) This section is without prejudice to the duty of a registration authority to ensure that there is a sufficient number of registrars and superintendent registrars in that area to carry out the required functions.
(4) In any legal proceedings the burden of proof of conscientious objection shall rest on the person claiming to rely on it.’.
‘(1) In the Equality Act 2010, after section 19, insert the following section—
19A For the purposes of this Act discussion or criticism of same sex marriage shall not be taken of itself to be discrimination.”.’.
New clause 5—Public sector equality duty—beliefs about marriage—
‘(1) In the Equality Act 2010, after section 149(9), insert —
“(10) Compliance with the duties in this section requires ensuring that a belief regarding the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman is respected and that no person should suffer any detriment in respect of the holding or the reasonable expression of such a belief.”.’.
New clause 6—Beliefs about marriage—
‘(1) In the Equality Act 2010, after section 10(3), insert —
“(4) The protected characteristic of religion or belief may include a belief regarding the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.”.’.
New clause 7—Legal proceedings against a person—
‘(1) A decision by a person not to undertake an opt-in activity shall not be questioned in any legal proceedings whatsoever.
(2) Expressions used in this section have the same meaning as the expressions used in section 2 of this Act.’.
New clause 8—Domestic protection for persons—
‘(1) For the purposes of this Act “compelled” includes, but is not limited to—
(a) less favourable treatment of a person by a public authority,
(b) the imposition of any criminal or civil penalty, and
(c) any legal proceedings against a person as a result of a decision not to opt-in, conduct, be present at, carry out, participate in, or consent to the taking place of, relevant marriages.
(2) Expressions used in this section have the same meaning as the expressions used in section 2 of this Act.’.
Amendment 2, in clause 2, page 3, leave out lines 21 and 22.
Government amendment 23.
Amendment 4, page 4, line 10, at end insert—
‘(1A) For the avoidance of doubt, a person does not provide a service or exercise a public function when the person—
(a) refrains from undertaking an opt-in activity, or
(b) undertakes an opt-out activity.’.
Amendment 3, page 4, line 13, at end insert—
‘(6) For the purposes of section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, no regard may be had by any public authority to any decision by a religious organisation not to opt-in, conduct, be present at, carry out, participate in, or consent to the taking place of, relevant marriages.’.
Government amendment 24.
Amendment 50, in schedule 7, page 52, line 26, at end add—
‘Public Order Act 1986 (c. 64)
42 (1) The Public Order Act 1986 is amended as follows.
(2) For Section 29JA (protection of freedom of expression (sexual orientation)) substitute—
“Section 29JA (protection of freedom of expression (sexual orientation))
In this part, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices or the discussion or criticism of same-sex marriage shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intend to stir up hatred.”.’.
This is undoubtedly a significant Bill that Ministers have said has at its heart the aims of equality and religious liberty. The amendments we will debate today will put to the test whether those laudable aims are indeed real. Indeed, the amendments, including new clause 1, which stands in my name and those of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, will at least ensure that we can take the Secretary of State at her word. She has said from the beginning that she would never introduce a Bill that encroached on religious freedom. Here is her opportunity to make good that commitment by supporting the amendments.
It will not have gone unnoticed—indeed, it was mentioned in the debate on the programme motion—that there is limited opportunity to scrutinise, debate and ensure that the new clauses enable us properly to respect the crucial issues of freedom of speech and conscience. Nor will it go unnoticed, including in the other place, that Labour Members lack a free vote, ironically denying them the freedom of expression regarding their consciences that is at the heart of the new clauses for which I, and many other hon. Members, seek the support of the House.
New clause 1 goes to the heart of one of the many serious issues regarding the Bill’s implications for freedom of speech in schools. The law requires that schools and teachers must not only relay the legal facts on marriage but promote legal understanding of it. John Bowers QC, one of the leading counsels who has given his opinion, has said that the Bill would create a duty to promote and endorse the new definition of marriage.
I do not propose to speak for long about these new clauses, or other amendments, because I have had my say, particularly in the Bill Committee, and this debate is an opportunity for other Members to have their say. However, I must point out that this issue is different from divorce or abortion, for example, in relation to the guidance provided to teachers. Teachers are required to teach about marriage and, as the guidance says,
“its importance for family life and the bringing up of children” in a way that that they are not required to teach about abortion or divorce. This issue already matters to teachers. According to a recent poll, 40,000 teachers are not happy to promote or endorse a different understanding of marriage and would risk their employment if they were required to do so. New clause 1 focuses particularly on seeking to ensure that Church schools are not obliged to promote or endorse same-sex marriage, which would be contrary to the religious ethos of their school.
New clauses 2 and 3 address similar concerns in relation to registrars. No registrar should be compelled to act against their conscience or be sacked because of their views on marriage, which are held not only by a majority of the parliamentary Conservative party but by millions of others in this country. It is important to ensure that the state should not marginalise those citizens.
If the Bill goes through all its stages here and in the other place, it will be the law of the land. Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that it would be appropriate for teachers, in the course of any lesson that covers these issues, to make it clear that it is the law of the land? What would be wrong with that?
I welcome that intervention. I am merely seeking, with the support of other hon. Members, to provide a conscientious objection clause that would not necessarily have any detrimental effect on the Bill.
This is not unprecedented. For example, section 4 of the Abortion Act 1967 allows individuals with a conscientious objection to abstain from participating in abortions. Section 38 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990—the right hon. Gentleman will remember the debate on that—allows any person conscientiously to object to participation in work involving the treatment and development of human embryos. Paragraph 2(3) of the relevant national health service regulations allows medical staff to refrain from providing contraceptive services. Atheist teachers are not required to conduct collective services or to teach religious education. Those are just a few of the conscientious objection clauses that are already enshrined in law and do not seek to go against the principle of the legislation concerned. What is appropriate for GPs and teachers should also be appropriate for registrars.
The new clauses would strike a proper balance between the right of marriage and the right of conscience. If the Bill is passed, they should not in any way hinder the ability of same sex-couples to marry. As a precondition, an appropriate number of registrars should be available. That is a reasonable proposal.
New clause 3 is even more reasonable. It is a transitional measure similar to a provision in the Netherlands, which has led the charge in legalising same-sex marriage.
I am afraid not, because I want to make progress to allow other hon. Members to speak.
Dutch registrars who were already employed before the legislation was passed are able to exercise their conscience and object. If it is good enough for those Dutch registrars, it is good enough for UK registrars. During the Bill Committee, one hon. Member suggested that people should realise that the writing is on the wall for their employment and that they should jolly well recognise that they will have to stick to the law and not exercise their own conscience, or get out now while they have the chance. That is disgraceful and amounts to serving people with a notice to quit. It means that this will be not just a marriage Bill, but an unfair dismissal Bill.
Is not the situation worse than that? In Committee, the Government, in effect, designed a hierarchy of exemptions. A Catholic surgeon is perfectly entitled to refuse to conduct an abortion paid for by public funds, but a Catholic registrar, who is similarly in public service paid for by public funds, could lose his position if he declined, out of a conscientious objection, to perform a same-sex marriage. Where is the fairness in that?
No. The hon. Gentleman and I were members of the Committee, where we had a chance to have our say. I will not give way, because I want people to be able to have their say. That is the point of this debate. [Hon. Members: “Give way!] Opposition Members are calling for me to give way, but I am not sure whether they will be allowed to exercise their conscience when it comes to voting on the Bill, or whether they are even free to get involved in this debate. They will be whipped into voting against me whatever I say or think, so I am not sure whether it is worth listening to them at this precise moment.
New clauses 4, 5 and 6 and amendment 50 seek to protect freedom of speech, which, along with freedom of conscience, we should all cherish dearly. We should cherish the fact that we are able to stand up and make our points, whether they be for or against the Bill’s principles, and that we can all—Liberal Democrats and Conservatives can, at least—exercise our conscience on the amendments. We are concerned about constituents who will not be able to do that as easily, so we need to ensure that the Bill has clarity.
The Bill has provoked undoubtedly strong feelings across the country. People from all strands and strata of society have deeply held, carefully considered and, indeed, principled views. Some have tried to say that this is an issue for the young, not the old, and for metropolitan, not rural areas, but people—whether they are young or old, or deeply religious or assertively secular—have real concerns. Polls come up with a different figure for the numbers for or against, depending on the question asked. The nation is as divided as the Conservative parliamentary party on this issue. Indeed, we have picked an issue on which our division shows that we are very much in touch with the nation.
At the very least, we need to ensure that we properly protect those who do not agree with the way in which the state wants to redefine marriage. This Bill is undoubtedly a divisive measure, but it is meant to be permissive. However, due to a lack of attention or time, it does not provide against causing further division and isolation or against ostracising the millions out there who are passionately against the principle of the Bill.
This country has a great and honourable tradition—a civilised and progressive belief that we do not censor or ostracise those who hold different views from our own. Indeed, we will defend that right however much we might disagree with those views. The new clauses ask the House a basic and reasonable question: will we stand firm in that tradition? Will we stand with the greats of our political heritage to defend the whole breadth of society, or will we consider only our own particular views, needs and rights? Tomorrow we will gather again to debate the Bill’s Third Reading and we will divide in our usual way to vote on whether we agree with its very principle. We need to ensure that we stand together, despite the Labour Whip, and provide clarity.
The Bill Committee heard a lot of evidence and I am not sure whether everyone has had the chance to pore over the minutiae of our deliberations. We heard from a solicitor called Mark Jones, who represents a number of campaigners whose beliefs are being trumped by equality. When asked about freedom of speech, he replied that the Bill will have an impact
I was reminded of that just three days ago—on Friday—when a street preacher in Cambridge was nearly arrested for arguing for the traditional view of marriage. A member of the public called the police and told the preacher:
“Anyone who believes in man/woman only marriage should be sent to jail. Equality overrides free speech”.
The street preacher was filmed on mobile phones and a small crowd declared that they had evidence to put him in jail. Two police officers duly arrived and were shown the evidence. A police officer listened intently to the preacher’s words. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the police went away, but it was a close call and that was before the change to the law. [Interruption.] The Minister of State may well laugh, but if he saw somebody exercising their freedom of speech and experienced that chill factor, I hope that he would stand alongside them and defend their right. I am sure that he is as concerned as others. Amendment 50 aims to avoid the extraordinary situation of somebody being criminalised for exercising their right to support traditional marriage.
I will make some progress.
Mark Jones warned that individuals without the benefit of pro bono leading counsel arguing their corner will be terrified that their careers and reputations will be swept from under them. As he said,
We do not have sight or sound of them.
I will make one final point because I want to allow other hon. Members to speak. New clause 8 and amendment 4 relate to whether the Government’s locks will apply properly. I commend the Government for doing all that they can, particularly through working with the Church of England, to ensure that the locks are adequate. The Church of England is satisfied that the Bill will do what it says. However, it shares the concerns of others that go beyond that. Large denominations such as the Catholic Church and small independent Churches are concerned that they may be discriminated against because of their decision to opt out. The Bill takes us on to new terrain, and not just with regard to the definition of marriage; there is the new terrain of legal challenge. The Government need to be as clear as possible to avoid encroachments on religious liberty.
There was apparently a great degree of merriment when my hon. Friend said that nobody was arrested in the case that he mentioned. However, that misses the point. The trouble is that most people will do anything to avoid a scene and are terrified of the police being involved in any way. There is therefore a danger of self-censorship and of people being worried about speaking up. In this country, people should not be so worried.
Will the right hon. Gentleman have a free vote? Will he be exercising his conscience? If not, I will carry on.
There is a chill wind blowing for those who uphold traditional marriage. All the new clauses and amendments tabled in my name and supported by other hon. Members would ensure that the Government mean it when they say that they support religious liberty. Actions speak louder than words. The Government have the opportunity today to use both: they can act to put the right words in the Bill.
I want to re-emphasise the point that the Bill received detailed, respectful and expert scrutiny in Committee, in contrast to the objections expressed by Government Members. I appreciated the scrutiny that Mr Burrowes gave to the Bill and we all listened to it extremely carefully. There were disagreements in Committee and there will be disagreements in the House today and tomorrow, but that does not mean that the Bill has not received the scrutiny or the time it deserves.
I am grateful that the Government have responded to the concerns of people on both sides of the debate about a range of issues, including the position of religious organisations, teachers, schools and civil registrars. I have been reassured by the responses to a number of those concerns. If anything, my view that this is a permissive and protecting Bill has been reinforced. That view was certainly reinforced by what I heard in Committee. I urge the House to look at the evidence that was presented.
Will the hon. Gentleman record his distaste at those who sought to shout down the preacher to whom my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes referred? Will he and his colleagues put it on the record that it is utterly unacceptable to intimidate people by calling the police in order to shut down freedom of expression on this issue?
I believe in freedom of speech in this country and in people’s ability to say what they want. It has been made clear that no further was action was taken in that case, and the person was not prosecuted. I believe in that and in people in this House being able to express their views, as I have said on a number of occasions.
I find the example given very distasteful, just as I find fanatics who attack British troops on the high streets of our towns distasteful. However, if we are to protect freedom of speech, do we not have to tolerate that sort of thing, unless an obvious offence is being committed?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.
I wish to draw the House’s attention to the verbal and written evidence presented by Lord Pannick, which I think addressed many of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate and other members of the Committee regarding the protections and legal status of various people in the Bill. His memorandum to the Bill states:
“The legal position is clear beyond doubt. The Bill states, in unambiguous terms, that no religious organisation or representative is required to marry a same sex couple;” and he mentions the opt-in and opt-out mechanisms. He also makes clear that:
“For the European Court of Human Rights to compel a religious body or its adherents to conduct a religious marriage of a same-sex couple would require a legal miracle much greater than the parting of the Red Sea”.
He made that point clearly and ended his submission by stating:
“For the reasons set out above, the arguments of those who oppose the Bill are not assisted by legal concerns.”
Does my hon. Friend share my surprise that some Government Members do not seem to believe the Education Secretary who, in clear evidence about freedom of speech for teachers, said:
“If I thought any legislation, however well intentioned, would make life more difficult for great teachers and great schools, I wouldn’t support it. I have complete confidence in the protection our law offers freedom of conscience and speech.”?
He said that no change to the proposed legislation was necessary.
I totally agree with my right hon. Friend. The Education Secretary made his point clearly and was put under detailed scrutiny by Government Members.
I have held conversations with members of the Church of England and the Church in Wales since the Public Bill Committee, and they seem reassured by a number of the measures put forward and the questions raised. I also point to the simple passion of witnesses such as Alice Arnold, who stated their clear wish to get married and not to have to answer questions about that ambiguously, as they do at the moment. I remind the House of the passion for equality that exists.
I regret that there have been further attempts to muddy the waters by opponents of the Bill outside the House. As I said, the debate in Committee was respectful, but matters have been raised in the press and media over the past few days that cause concern. I have received a number of confused and concerning e-mails and e-mails from people who are absolutely behind the House and the clear majority expressed on Second Reading and behind the polls that show the public’s clear support for the Bill, notwithstanding their respect for those who feel differently. I therefore feel that there is simply no need for a number of the amendments proposed, and having seen some of the evidence presented I would have thought some of them might have been withdrawn.
In relation to teachers, surely we must also think about the children of same-sex couples who could be made to feel in the classroom that the love of their parents is in some way less worthwhile and valued.
Absolutely. I agree with my hon. Friend and we heard passionate evidence from school representatives on issues of homophobic bullying and the position of LGBT staff. I believe that a dangerous precedent would be set by giving special exemptions to registrars in particular, and for state employees not to have to apply the law of the state.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way as it allows me to say what I would have said to Mr Burrowes, who did not give way but who obliquely referred to me by saying that someone said in Committee that registrars should perhaps rethink their position. The difference between a registrar and an abortion surgeon is that a registrar’s sole duty is to conduct marriage. If they are unhappy about the central purpose of their job, then of course they should reconsider what they are doing. A surgeon has lots of things to do and—hopefully—abortion is a tiny, tiny part of what they might be called upon to do. That is why the exemption is there; that is the key distinction.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I should point out that registrars have never previously been given opt-outs, including on performing civil partnerships or re-marrying divorcees, even on the grounds of profoundly held religious beliefs. There is an important distinction to be made.
Like a number of Opposition Members, I tried to catch the eye of Mr Burrowes. I wanted to ask him whether he believed that registrars should have a right not to re-marry divorcees. I believe they should not have such a right, but he did not mention it. Will my hon. Friend allow the hon. Gentleman to respond on that point now?
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate wishes to respond, but I worry about the precedent such a measure would set. Things could go further: if people with strongly held objections to marrying divorcees have an opt-out, those with objections to marrying those in inter-faith relationships might ask for one. That is an important distinction when we are talking about state employees.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the registrar trade body has not made representations to the Government to ask for such an arrangement? It is somewhat bizarre that the Government are offering the trade body something for which it is has not even asked.
Indeed—the hon. Gentleman makes a strong point.
New clauses 2 and 3 undermine the fundamental concept that everyone should be equal under law, regardless of their sexuality. Public services—we should remember that registrars perform a public service—should be available to all without discrimination. We risk undermining that concept.
If the hon. Gentleman believes it is right that the Church of England has a quadruple lock to protect its religious freedom, why will he not accept small amendments to protect people of other faiths who wish to be protected under this Bill?
My understanding from the evidence presented is that the Church of England, as the established Church in England, has special requirements to marry people who come to it. It has other statuses under canon laws. The situation of the Church in Wales is different—it is disestablished, but also has special provisions. Other religions will not be compelled by the law to marry people if they do not want to do so. As has been made clear at numerous points, the Bill is a permissive Bill that will allow those who wish, such as liberal Jews, the Unitarians, the Quakers and others, to opt in, and others to do so in time if they so wish.
I wanted to emphasise that point. I agree with my hon. Friend. Other religions can opt in if they so choose. On the other hand, they are not forced to do anything.
I probably did not make my earlier point correctly. I was speaking to the proposals that seek to protect people in faith schools. Given that the hon. Gentleman believes that a direct provision in the Bill on the protection of religious freedom is worth having and necessary, what is his objection to a specific protection in the Bill for people of belief who work in faith schools?
I once again draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the Secretary of State for Education’s statements. He has been clear about the protections that exist and how they should be applied.
On amendment 24, on the Church in Wales, I am pleased that the Government listened to the evidence presented in the Committee by a number of my hon. Friends and I, and that the Lord Chancellor will introduce legislation so that the Church in Wales can choose to allow same-sex marriages at a future point—I hope and pray it will do so. I am not entirely sure why the Government did not accept that proposal in Committee, but I am nevertheless pleased they have introduced that measure now. Many in the Church in Wales to whom I have spoken this weekend and others will be pleased with the amendment.
In conclusion, I shall address the idea that the Bill has been railroaded through and that we have not had enough time. I draw the House’s attention to the fact that opponents of the Bill took up the vast majority of time in Committee raising their concerns, which have been heard—there has been a deep degree of listening. I have responded with respect to many in my constituency who are opposed to the Bill. I have had many positive comments for the way in which I have responded, as I am sure many of my hon. Friends have had.
I draw the House’s attention to the significant international developments—in some US states and in New Zealand—since we last debated the Bill. Hon. Members would be wise to consider the celebrations and happiness in the House of Representatives in New Zealand when same-sex marriage legislation was signed. We heard the singing of love songs, and some Members of that House achieved equality. I hope hon. Members feel such happiness when we pass this Bill, although perhaps there will be no singing.
I wish to speak to new clause 6, which has 44 co-signatories and is based on a ten-minute rule Bill I introduced earlier this year. It states:
“The protected characteristic of religion or belief may include a belief regarding the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.”
It addresses the important issue of what would happen to people who believe in a man-woman marriage and goes to the heart of the concern many have about the Bill, irrespective of our views on same-sex marriage. We are told that the Bill is all about freedom, but what about the freedom of those who disagree with it? Surely their freedoms are as precious as the freedoms of the people who support the Bill. We believe that new clause 6 provides the bare minimum of protection that such people would need.
The Equality Act 2010 outlaws discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, gender reassignment and so on—it is pretty comprehensive. One would have thought that a person’s belief on traditional marriage, which may go to the heart of their most sincere beliefs, was covered by “religion or belief”. However, the evidence of all the cases I have studied and that we have seen in recent years is that it does not: there is no protection for these people. Whatever our views on the Bill, we are worried about what will happen in the workplace and ensuring protection for people who take a traditional view of marriage.
The Government have apparently done a lot of work to protect churches from being compelled to approve same-sex marriage by having to solemnise them. I give credit to the Government, although they overstate the case slightly when they say that the Church of England is now entirely happy. The Church of England briefing on Second Reading stated:
“we doubt the ability of the government to make legislation watertight against challenge in the European courts or against a ‘chilling’ effect on public discourse.”
It is important to bear in mind that “chilling” effect, something I mentioned in my intervention.
Although I understand the hon. Gentleman’s argument about the chilling effect, I think he has fundamentally misunderstood the original Equality Act. No belief—transubstantiation, the virgin birth, the resurrection or any other belief—is expressly mentioned in the Act, so to elevate this single viewpoint, which may be held by a religious or non-religious person, in the Bill is surely bizarre.
No, I do not think it is bizarre. We are at the centre of public discourse and I will deal with precisely that point. Is what I am proposing a step too far? I do not believe so, and I want to refer to recent cases. I will finish my point on the Church of England and come back to the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is serious and I want to address it.
The Church of England briefing went on to state:
“We retain serious doubts about whether the proffered legal protection for churches and faiths from discrimination claims would prove durable. Too much emphasis, we believe, is being placed on the personal assurances of Ministers.”
To be fair to the Government, they have at least put something in the Bill to protect churches, but what about individual conscience? There is not a word in the Bill about that.
I have to say straight away that new clause 6 is absolutely not a wrecking amendment. It does not stand the remotest chance of blocking the Bill, nor would it elevate or bring the law into an area wholly different from where it has been before. I want to make it absolutely clear that at 7 o’clock hon. Members can be strongly in favour of the Bill and still vote for new clause 6. Those who support the Bill but are worried about freedom of conscience should back new clause 6, because it is about an individual’s freedom in the workplace to say, “I’m sorry, but I think that marriage can only ever take place between a man and a woman.” In a moment, I will outline the case law and explain the problem.
I support the Bill, but I also have some concerns, which is why I have signed new clause 6. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to start understanding people’s sensitivities, instead of trying to impose a secular consensus on the faith organisations?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for making such a powerful speech. In the last few weeks, on a very different subject—a deportation case—we have seen another example of the courts making it clear that neither the views expressed by Ministers nor a resolution of the House are enough to persuade them, when they have taken a fixed view on a human rights point. Only legislation can pin this down.
Absolutely. The courts made that quite clear recently.
Before somebody leaps to their feet and tries to make out that we are defending people being beastly to gay people in the workplace, let me deal with this important point and make a statement of the obvious: protecting freedom of conscience does not mean protecting the freedom to be beastly to anybody. Equality law protects sexual orientation, gender, race and belief, but no one would say it provides for the right to be horrid to people who disagree with on any of these things, so there is no danger of that happening with new clause 6.
It may happen that creationism or some other belief becomes a quasi-religious belief. In fact, many people believe it is a religious belief. If I was a passionate creationist—
Let me finish. I have at least got to answer the question.
If that formed the basis of my deepest religious beliefs, I personally think it would be wrong if I was victimised in my workplace for speaking in favour of—or indeed against—creationism.
Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that quite a number of very eminent scientists believe in the scriptures and the creation?
Is the hon. Gentleman actually saying that if a teacher believes in creationism, they should be allowed to teach it to pupils in their class? That is very different from a privately held belief.
I am afraid that my hon. Friend is deliberately trying to take me down a track completely what I am arguing about. I am not arguing in favour of creationism or against it; I am simply making the point that if someone has a profound religious belief—having read the Koran or the Bible—that marriage is between a man and a woman, and if they state that on Facebook, in the classroom or anywhere else, they should be protected. That is the profound and simple point. Let us not get dragged down various alleyways and byways, because we need to do something.
It is true that people talk about controversial issues in the workplace all the time, but I think that same-sex marriage is different. It seems to many of us that if someone dares to disagree with the new orthodoxy that gay marriage is the best thing since sliced bread, they are somehow breaking a new social taboo and doing something in their workplace, particularly in the public sector, that they should not be doing. Some people say that the new clause is not necessary, but it is, because, as we all know, the tenor of debate on same-sex marriage is often characterised, I am afraid—not here, but in the public marketplace; we have heard of cases in the past —by hectoring, bullying and name calling. Given that, as I have said, most decent people will do anything to avoid a scene or do anything that risks the police getting involved, it would have a chilling effect.
No, no; the right hon. Gentleman is making a silly point. He is just trying to play games with something that is very important.
The hatred that is sometimes poured on those of us who simply believe that marriage is between a man and a woman is rather sad in many ways. We are elected politicians. We are tough enough to put up with it, and we get reinforcements from our own constituents who, by the way, overwhelmingly—certainly in my constituency —support my point of view. We are tough politicians, but what about ordinary members of the public who are picked on at work in this way for believing in traditional marriage? Some refuse to believe that this happens, but we have evidence to prove it does.
In January, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill, which was backed by a good 86 votes to 31 in the Division. I called it the “Adrian Smith Protection Bill”—I said I would come to the evidence of what is now happening in the workplace and this is it. I named the Bill in honour of a gentleman who was demoted for “gross misconduct”. This was a man with a perfect work record who lost 40% of his salary. What did he say? Was he guilty of homophobic behaviour? No; all he said was that same-sex marriage in a church was an “equality too far”, and he put that on a Facebook page. He said it on his private Facebook page, but a colleague at work took umbrage. He raised it with his superiors at Trafford Housing Trust and they pounced on it. They were up, I have to say, for some new gay rights award—nothing wrong with that—and clearly they wanted to burnish their PC credentials. They threw the book at poor Adrian Smith—just a chap with a perfect work record who had not said anything nasty, beastly or homophobic in any sense. He had simply expressed his profound beliefs.
Adrian Smith was told by his bosses that he deserved to lose his job, but that they would commute his sentence to demotion, in view of the high quality of his work. He did not have the money to take the case to an employment tribunal and—this is the important point—on the basis of existing case law, lawyers said that he would not have won anyway, because of the current state of employment and equality law. When there is a clash between gay rights and religious freedom, I am afraid that gay rights come first in our case law. Then an organisation came along that offered to cover his legal bills and, with some expert creative legal advice, he was able to take a High Court action. He won a ruling that his employers had breached his contract. The Government say, “Well there you go—he won. What’s the problem?”
The problem is that employment and equality laws were not in Adrian Smith’s favour. He won only a contract action. The Court did not have the power to give him his job back—he never got it back. It could not even give him proper compensation—he never got that either. In fact, the judge lamented the fact that he got the enormous sum of £100 for all the upset he had been caused, simply for expressing a very moderate point of view. The whole exercise cost £30,000 in legal fees, which would have been well beyond his means if he had not had the backing of campaign organisations, and he was one of the lucky ones.
The Government are refusing to recognise that they are not legislating to redefine marriage through this Bill in a vacuum. They are legislating in a culture that has been so coloured with political correctness that people like Adrian Smith—mild-mannered people expressing reasonable beliefs in moderate tones—are treated like villains. The outlandish views of the loony left of the 1980s—the views of the Lambeth councils—have now become embedded in high places. In typical leftish fashion, all those who disagree with those views are treated with hatred and contempt in order to marginalise their point of view.
My wife says that as I get a bit older, sometimes, very late at night, I get a bit cross-eyed, but if you accuse me of being swivel-eyed, Mr Speaker, I could take you to court on disability grounds. Unfortunately, many people with traditional points of view—whether on gay marriage or immigration—somehow feel that they are being marginalised in political debate. This leads to alienation and more people voting for protest parties. This is going on and we should recognise it. These people are dismissed as bigots because they object to having their marriages redefined over their heads by rewriting the Marriage Act, under which they got married, which is the most important thing in their lives.
I take that as a serious intervention, but I do not think I am myopic. There is a real sense of alienation in this country among people with traditional views. They are decent people and I believe that they have a right to feel comfortable in society, and particularly in their workplace, expressing those views and speaking out for what they believe in. I do not think that that makes me myopic at all.
Does my hon. Friend accept, however, that the real alienation, which has taken place over centuries, is felt by people in schools who are homosexual? Sexuality is fundamental to who children are, and that should be acknowledged and they should be made to feel that they have equal rights and equal value in our society.
My hon. Friend makes an obvious point, and of course we have moved on from the 1950s and 1960s. People have to feel comfortable with their own sexuality, but surely they should also feel comfortable expressing a traditional viewpoint. That is all that the new clause is trying to achieve.
If cases such as that of Adrian Smith can happen now, before the law is changed, we can be absolutely certain that there will be many more in the future. We cannot yet be sure what will happen in churches and elsewhere, but we can be sure that there will be more such cases if the Bill is passed unamended. Equality law is meant to protect all beliefs, religious and otherwise. Some people believe in man-woman marriage for religious reasons, and they have a right to that belief. Others believe in it for non-religious reasons. Both ought to be protected, but case law so far suggests that neither is. Apart from Adrian, no traditional marriage supporter who has been on either end of a legal action has ever won.
I have already said that Adrian’s victory was somewhat pyrrhic. Equality law was no help to him. He won an old-fashioned contract law claim. New clause 6 would address the obvious inequality in the law by ensuring that a belief in traditional marriage was protected on the “religion or belief” ground. It would not, of course, guarantee that a person with traditional views would win in every case. I am not suggesting that. All other considerations of equality law would still apply, as would all the other discrimination grounds. The new clause would not guarantee that a person with traditional views would win the race; it would simply get them a place on the starting blocks. That is all we are trying to do. This is a moderate, sensible measure and I hope that the Government will consider it, because we are about to create a whole new generation of victims.
Let me read what Mr Smith said:
“I tried reasoning with my bosses, but they dug their heels in. I was left with no option but to go to court to clear my name. It took the better part of two years, which was a living nightmare for my family and me. In November the High Court ruled in my favour. But they didn’t have the power to order my reinstatement so I was left in a demoted job which carried a lower salary. I have now found a job with a different employer. I shouldn’t have been treated like an outcast, and my family shouldn’t have had to suffer like they did.”
All the warm words of Ministers are worthless if someone is sitting in a housing association office in Bury being told that they are some kind of villain for saying that same-sex marriage is an “equality too far”. Ministerial assurances from the Dispatch Box are no help when people are stigmatised for a sincerely held belief and struggling financially because they have had 40% knocked off their salary. They need real legal protection against the bullies. New clause 6 would give them that protection, and I hope that hon. Members will support it.
I have been moved to make a small contribution to the debate. It is important, in responding to Mr Leigh, to put on record that there are many religious people who do not recognise the caricature that he has put before the House today. They understand that the House is deliberating on what will become law if the Bill passes through another place, and that, at other points in its history, Members have had to make similar difficult determinations about what should become law. Once this measure becomes law, there will be an obligation on public servants such as registrars, and certainly on teachers, to understand this matter and to teach it as the law. We should therefore draw a distinction between the promotion or endorsement of a personal view and what is the law.
I say gently that Members will recognise that not that long ago, in deliberating on matters of race, this House made changes to its position and sought to end the discrimination of minority people, many of whom had arrived in this country in the Windrush generation. My father was one of those people, and he certainly recollected a period in his lifetime when it was commonplace for those applying for a job or housing or meeting certain public officials to encounter either the attitude or the sign of “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs”. We moved to say that that behaviour was not right. It remained racist and people had strong views on it, but legally we arrived at a position where this House declared that it was wrong.
In a sense, what we are doing here is declaring that the sort of prejudice that stops gay men and women marrying is wrong. If we arrive at a place in the coming months where we decide that that sort of prejudice is illegal, it cannot be right for any teacher to be entitled to have a separate view and to propagate such a view to children.
I am not going to give way.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough should also recall that this House deliberated for 20 years—he will know the name of William Wilberforce—on the abolition of the slave trade. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may tut, but they know that this House was split for 20 years on the issue of whether black human beings were human or chattel. There were Christians in this House who sought to suggest that black human beings were chattel, and that somehow it was a matter of conscience and we should not end the slave trade. That is why this is a noble fight and why no hon. Member should have truck with the exception that is being put forward.
It is rather disappointing to hear Mr Lammy introducing such an emotive subject of 180 years ago, but let me get to the point of the amendments.
I strongly support my hon. Friend Mr Leigh, and I want particularly to home in on two issues: education and the armed forces. First, on education, I think that there is complete confusion. To a certain extent, the right hon. Member for Tottenham put his finger on the point: those who have a view contrary to his will not be allowed to express it in our schools, without being punished for so doing.
With respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is attacking free speech, but he is professing a view of which ordinary people out there will take note. That is what is leading to the chilling effect, the intimidation—[Interruption.] It is no good Lyn Brown looking in astonishment; she should talk to some of the staff in this place and find out how intimidated they feel about expressing a view on these matters. Surely Opposition Members have also had the experience of expressing a forthright view when talking to constituents —I am not politically correct, and given my certain age, I tend to express a forthright view—and of being told that we may say such things but that they cannot do so. They tell me in words of one syllable that they fear they will lose their jobs if they articulate the same view as I express.
No, I will not give way yet.
The House ignores at its peril the chilling effect that already exists out there—although it is now okay for us to discuss immigration, thanks to the Leader of the Opposition, who has recognised that there is huge public concern and has graciously sanctioned our speaking about it in terms that, in previous times, he might have dismissed as being racist.
There are people out there who will be intimidated by this legislation. I have to say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I entirely agree with my hon. Friend Mr Brazier, who made the point that, at the end of the day, his assurances, and those of his Front-Bench colleagues, are utterly worthless. We have ceded the power of the House of Commons not to the courts of this land, but to the European Court of Human Rights. That Court will be the ultimate determinant of what is to prevail, the right of the teacher expressing a profoundly religious view or the public equality duty.
Opposition Members speak effortlessly of their belief in freedom of expression, but I am afraid that the reality out there is very different. Our constituents do feel intimidated. They fear that they will be accused of a hate crime. That, in my view, is a new and wholly pernicious development of the law.
The notion of a “chilling effect” is new to me, but I recall in the 1980s, and even the 1990s, what I would describe as a freezing effect on the lives of gay people and other minorities. At that time, the majority were at liberty to discriminate against us in employment, and in practically every other walk of life. As for speech—goodness! I recall some outrageous verbal aggression from those days. Let me ask my hon. Friend this. Does he not think that some of the legislation that has been passed over the years and to which he seems to object, historically, has actually levelled the playing field rather than going too far in the opposite direction?
I greatly respect my hon. Friend, whom I consider to be a very decent person and who has expressed her view very courteously. However, I warn her, and Members in all parts of the House, that I fear that the playing field is not being levelled. I believe that the pendulum is now swinging too far in the opposite direction. There are plenty in the aggressive homosexual community who see this is as but a stepping stone to something even further.
I will not give way, no.
“Let me make it absolutely clear that no teacher will be required to promote or endorse views which go against their beliefs. Teachers will teach the factual position that, under the law, marriage can be between opposite sex couples and same sex couples, but, as is the case now, can make clear that their faith teaches that marriage can only be between two people of opposite sex.”
We have been assured time and again that the Church of England—the established Church of these islands, of which Her Majesty the Queen is the supreme governor—is happy. Well, actually, the Church of England is not happy. The briefing that we have just received from it—also dated
“The Secretary of State for Education has a duty, under section 403 of the Education Act 1996, to issue guidance so that pupils in maintained schools ‘learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children’.”
The guidance also states, at section 1.7:
“Schools of a particular religious ethos may choose to reflect that in their sex and relationship education policy.”
Let me give another quote:
“Whilst Church of England schools will fulfil the duty to teach about the factual nature of marriage in its new legally redefined form, there is residual unclarity over how that will interact with the continuing need for schools to reflect their religious ethos in their SRE policies. There is also at present nothing to prevent future Secretaries of State withdrawing Section 1.7 of the guidance, or amending the guidance as it currently stands.”
The Church of England is concerned that teachers in Church of England-maintained schools will not be able to preach as the Bible says—that marriage can only be the union between a man and a woman—and who in this House feels that even if the European Court of Human Rights does not intervene, some other court will be on the side of a teacher who fears they cannot express their view? As Charles Moore said:
“If marriage is redefined by statute to include same-sex marriage, then a teacher who refuses to teach this as right is in breach of his public sector equality duty.”
The Minister must answer these questions—to the extent that he possibly can, of course, as I submit that he cannot answer them, because at the end of the day it will be up to the ECHR. There is complete confusion about what is actually going to happen in our schools.
Before I move on to the issue of the armed forces—
No, I will not, as the right hon. Gentleman made rather a silly intervention last time.
Let me give another quote:
“Marriage is a sacred contract between a man and a woman that cannot be redefined. We believe that marriage between a man and a woman is the cornerstone of family life and the only institution within which to raise children.
We are concerned that this radical change to the institution of marriage will impact on what is taught in schools. Muslim teachers will be forced into the contradictory position of holding private beliefs, while teaching a new legal definition of marriage.”
For the word “Muslim”, insert “Christian”: they are interchangeable here. The faiths—whether Muslim or Christian—have real concerns about the impact on their ability to teach centuries-old tradition to our children, and I fear the Government are just going to leave it to the courts to decide who will win.
I am sorry, but I will not give way.
I want to address the matter of military chapels. As Members will know, I am one of the churchwardens at the Royal Garrison church of Aldershot. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and
Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for the sterling work he did in Committee, where he raised on my behalf the concerns in the military. There are concerns about what will happen to chaplains. I understand that amendment 23 is designed to meet the concerns about chaplains, whether employed in the NHS or the armed forces, who express a view. Can my right hon. Friend the Minister confirm that that is what amendment 23 is designed to do?
I am your hon. Friend, Minister.
I have now had the benefit of having read the delegation of powers memorandum produced by the Department to deal with this issue. It says:
“Since military chapels are Crown land, used for the purposes of the State, it is necessary not only to accommodate the concerns of the religious organisations which use them but also for the Secretary of State to ensure that the interests of same sex couples who may wish to get married in such a chapel are taken into account. In relation to shared civilian places of worship, the Bill requires that in certain circumstances all of the organisations using the building must consent to its registration for marriage of same sex couples. However, it is not possible to replicate that provision as military chapels are Crown land, used for the purposes of the State. The regulation-making power is designed to offer maximum flexibility to the Secretary of State in balancing the…considerations.”
There we have it: “in balancing these considerations”. The state, in defining such matters, will surely err on the side of the legislation and not on the side of those of us with profound beliefs.
Although I recognise that the memorandum relates to chapels, what will happen to the Royal Garrison church in Aldershot if a same-sex couple want to be married in that church, which is funded by the state? Let us forget about the Royal Garrison church of All Saints, as that is a Christian church. I have four military churches in the garrison, so what will happen to the Roman Catholic cathedral in Aldershot if a same-sex couple want to take advantage of the measure to get married there? Will it be protected? Furthermore, what will happen to ensure that the chaplain is protected?
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that one of the considerations should be the pastoral care that those chaplains owe to the gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors and airmen who have openly served our country in conflict for many years now?
Yes, of course, and I am sure that they are perfectly capable of doing that, but their first allegiance is to their religion. They are men and women of the cloth and our religion is absolutely crystal clear on this point. The Church of England is clear that it does not support same-sex marriage and that is why the Government have had to go to inordinate lengths to try to preserve its position.
Let me ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of State about the other people working in the office. What about the organist? What about the choristers? If they say that they do not wish to provide their services, what will happen to them? Will they, as public employees, be subject to some form of legal action? My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but I do not think that he is in a position to give me the assurance I seek, although I will welcome his endeavours to do so. These are fundamental points about how the legislation will have a practical impact.
Let me finish, as I have spoken for 15 minutes. It is unacceptable that a measure that will have such an impact on our national life and that strikes at the heart of 1,000 years of religious and cultural tradition in this country has been restricted to a couple of hours’ debate in which we can explore its practical consequences, some unintended. I hope that the Minister has some good answers because, as he is a former serving soldier, my constituents will expect him to have them.
I rise to speak in the debate not because I have an entirely unequivocal view on the issue or because I believe strongly that either side of the argument is absolutely right, but because I can see both sides. I have deliberated long and hard before deciding to speak and how to vote, both on the amendments and on Third Reading.
My views, like those of many people in the Chamber today, are inextricably bound with my experience, as is the case with any conscience vote. I come from a large Roman Catholic family and am the third child of eight. They say that the family that prays together stays together and that is very much the case with us. We are a close-knit unit, sometimes to the point of that being overbearing, but whenever there is a crisis or something to celebrate, we are all there in droves.
A big part of my childhood was spent with my brother, who is two years older than me and he shared with us the fact that he was gay in his early 20s. He was my best friend growing up—my playmate, my partner in crime and my defender when in trouble—and I found it challenging when the announcement came because of my Catholic faith. It has been a journey in which I have had to question my faith and understanding of the world, but I believe that the experience has not only kept my faith intact but renewed and enriched it.
My children have been growing up alongside their uncle and his partner, as just that: partners in life. My children do not put titles on it, or boundaries on its meaning. They do not put judgments on its worth. They see two people who love and care for each other, and who face the joys and trials of life together.
I appreciate the intention behind the amendments and new clauses that have been brought forward, and I have studied them at length. I have heard many representations from constituents who have concerns about marriage being redefined. I have not always agreed with the constituents who have contacted or come to see me, but I hope that they feel that they have been listened to with sincerity and respect. The Bill will not serve the cause of equality if it creates intolerance on either side of the debate.
I will always fight passionately for religious freedom. I believe that our society is richer for its diversity, and enhanced by the mutual tolerance that is, for the most part, shown. I therefore contemplated the scenarios in which that freedom might be compromised by the Bill. I have spoken to teachers on the front line, both those in faith schools and those in other schools. I understand the pressures; it is always a challenge to explain the world to children in a way that promotes their understanding without shattering unnecessarily soon any illusions that they may have. I also feel strongly that however they are taught about relationships, it should be done in an inclusive and tolerant way. Children should have the opportunity to learn, as I did, what their Church’s teaching is, and what the reality is for couples, individuals and families living together, up and down the country.
My religious education—in an all-girls convent school, I might add—was thorough but balanced. We were taught the Catholic Church’s view, the humanist view, the atheist view, and the views of other faiths, and we discussed and debated issues, from abortion to euthanasia, with a broad and balanced approach. That is what I want for my children, and I believe that that is entirely possible as a result of the Bill as drafted.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does she agree—I speak as someone who supported the Bill on Second Reading—that there are concerns about some issues, including how the subject will be dealt with in schools? If the Minister cannot accept new clause 1, perhaps he can give us some assurances on the subject from the Dispatch Box, because Catholic schools in particular will want to teach what is legal, but will also want to ensure that the Church’s view is put to their pupils. None of us would want that not to happen.
I want to put on record that I will support the Bill, but I have taken on board the issue of receiving confirmation regarding faith education and having protections in place, so that people are free to learn of different views—views about Christian marriage and what the state teaches. Also, I seek clarification on protection from compulsion, which is dealt with in new clauses 7 and 8, and in Government amendment 23, which acknowledges that clarification is required in that regard.
I believe in a society and state that do not discriminate on the grounds of race, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation or religious belief. I appreciate that those rights must always be balanced, and the state has a role to play in ensuring that that balance is always struck, so I am otherwise reassured that the Bill provides for those with a religious view of marriage to practise and teach their understanding of marriage, where that is done in an open, inclusive and tolerant way. My greatest hope is that one day we will reach an understanding that we all share, and will no longer even have to engage in this debate.
It is interesting how the debate about religious freedom has moved on during consideration of the Bill. Before, the debate was very much about whether the protections being given to religious institutions were sufficient, and there was a strong claim made that those protections would be challenged or would be too weak. Interestingly, by and large, that is not the substance of the new clauses and amendments tabled today. It seems to have been broadly accepted that the protections written into the Bill are indeed substantial.
I said “by and large”. By and large, it is accepted by the religious institutions that they will not be forced to conduct same-sex marriages, which is of fundamental importance to those who, in conscience, object to the Bill, particularly religious groups. The Church of England, in its latest briefing, of which hon. Members from across the House will be aware, says:
“The ‘quadruple lock’ does, in our view, achieve the Government’s policy intentions in this area”, and that is important. The substance of the amendments tabled goes beyond the direct effect of whether religious organisations should be required to conduct same-sex marriages. It is common ground in this House that no religious institution should be forced to conduct such a marriage, and that is what the Bill achieves.
Instead, the amendments relate to the fear that my hon. Friends have expressed about whether there will be what they describe as a chilling effect, or interference with the reasonable exercise of conscience when people set out their views. Free speech is, of course, curtailed by legislation in all sorts of areas in this country. In the main, we would all agree on the areas in which it should be curtailed. We do not accept that people have the right to exercise free speech in a way that is inflammatory in respect of race relations—that is outlawed—or that is hateful. The House of Commons has passed successive measures to ensure that incitement to hatred—whether racial hatred or, most recently, hatred on grounds of sexual orientation—is outlawed, but the bar that we rightly set in that legislation was high. Members on all sides of the House of Commons felt at the time that it was perfectly proper that hatred towards gay people should be outlawed, but that reasonable comment and free speech, which may be unwelcome to people, should not be outlawed unless it actually incited hatred and violence in a way that properly brought in the province of the criminal law.
Those debates have given rise to a concern that the criminal law, or legislation, may be used in a way that steps further than the intention of Parliament. A number of cases have been cited in which public authorities have behaved in a way that hon. Friends—I think with some cause—fear has been heavy-handed, and in a way that interferes with the reasonable expression of views that may not be welcome to particular communities, but should not be classified as amounting to a criminal offence. That is my hon. Friends’ concern, and I understand it. So often, this amounts to a question of the sensible application of the law by the public authorities—for instance, by the police. If it turns out that arrests can be made, or investigations pursued, that were not merited—and one of my hon. Friends gave an example of such a case—it is not necessarily that the law has drawn the line in the wrong place; it is that the application of the law has been unfortunate.
It should not be the purpose of any legislation to prevent the expression of what my hon. Friend Sir Gerald Howarth described as forthright views, particularly in relation to schools. There is a case for the Government helping to explain what the proper balance is. My understanding is that teachers will be under a legal duty to teach the fact of the law of the land and that same-sex marriages are available to people and lawful, but they will also be able to exercise their conscience and say that the belief of the institution for which they work is that same-sex marriage is wrong.
Most of us agree that there should be limits on that freedom, and that were teachers to overstep the mark and start discussing the issue in a way that was hateful or unpleasant and that was deeply upsetting to children, something should prevent that. The question is whether that is the proper realm of the criminal law or whether it amounts to good teaching, good practice in schools and the sensible intervention of head teachers. Further clarity from the Government about what is and is not to be permitted in schools would be welcome.
My right hon. Friend is making a thoughtful and interesting speech. Mr Lammy seemed to imply that teachers should not be allowed to express a separate point of view. May we get this clear? My right hon. Friend thinks that if I am a teacher in a Catholic school and I say that same-sex marriage is wrong, I should be allowed to say that. If that is the case, why can he not accept one of the new clauses to make that absolutely clear?
I am waiting to hear what the Government say about the implications of the new clause, but I understand what my hon. Friend is trying to achieve. I agree that it is important that we have clarity in this area and I am sure the Minister will respond.
There should, however, be no doubt about the position of public employees in the application of the law of the land. It is much more clear-cut that registrars, for instance, should not be able to discriminate against people who are gay, as new clause 2 provides that they should, on the grounds that that would be to exercise their conscience. They are delivering a public service and the principle that this House has tended to apply—for instance, in relation to the provision of bed-and-breakfast accommodation—is that once the law is passed, it should be applied in an even-handed way. One has only to think through the implications of licensing an individual to exercise his or her conscience and to turn somebody away, decline to admit somebody for bed-and-breakfast accommodation or decline to conduct a same-sex marriage. One must think through the implications of other grounds on which they might decline such an application to realise the dangers of pursuing this approach.
What if a registrar were to turn down on the grounds of race an application from somebody to get married? What would we think about that? Is it the position of my hon. Friends or of any hon. Member in the House that that registrar should be free to do so? If it is not—I hear a deafening silence—why do we think a registrar should be free to do so in relation to same-sex marriage, when that same-sex marriage will be lawful, according to the Bill which we expect will be passed?
My hon. Friend has a point to this extent: for example, the bar that we set in relation to racial hatred is the highest bar of all, and when we came to the incitement of hatred in relation to sexual orientation, a lower bar was set as to the speech that would be allowed. A stronger free-speech threshold was built in, precisely because it was recognised that religious organisations might otherwise have difficulty in expressing their objection to particular attitudes. That in itself is controversial.
I return to the question that I posed. If, in the case of an application to have a wedding, it is wrong for a registrar to turn someone away on the grounds that they are black or a member of an ethnic minority, why would it be right for a registrar to turn away a gay person? That is the essence of the question and that is why new clause 2, in seeking to protect the conscience of that registrar, who is performing a public service, goes too far and opens up the possibility that we would provide all sorts of protections for the exercise of conscience, most of which—maybe not all—Members of this House would find deeply unpalatable.
I take seriously the views of my right hon. Friend and particularly welcome his comments about new clause 1. Like him, I wait to hear the Government’s response on clearing up issues of guidance. With reference to new clauses 2 and 3, he should be careful not to misguide the House on the purpose of new clause 3. It is not about turning away any couple. No same-sex couple would be turned away and prevented from having their marriage registered. The point of the new clause is to enable registrars privately to express their objection. Another registrar would have to be available to conduct the marriage. Where would the discrimination or the grievance be for that same-sex couple?
I accept that distinction from my hon. Friend. The couple would not necessarily be turned away from the register office, but that individual would have been able to object to performing that service, whereas we would not accept such an objection in relation, for instance, to race.
I urge the right hon. Gentleman not to accept the point that has just been made by Mr Burrowes, because there are plenty of local authorities where the register office has only one registrar. If that person turns the couple away, they have been turned away from the register office.
That is an interesting intervention. The hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity to speak.
In conclusion, we should not dismiss concerns about the reasonable expression of views with which the majority may disagree. Public attitudes to homosexuality have changed extraordinarily rapidly in this country. Not everybody approves of homosexuality, still less of same-sex marriages, but, as we have seen across the western world, the majority of the public now approve of homosexuality. That, in my view, has been a welcome change, and it seems increasingly clear that a majority are in favour of same-sex marriage. That trend is reflected across the western world. Since the vote on Second Reading of the Bill in February, two nations have passed same-sex marriage legislation, New Zealand and France, and last week two more states in the United States of America passed such legislation.
Attitudes are changing fast, but there are people who do not agree. It should be possible for them to disagree reasonably, but not in a way that is hateful or goes beyond the bounds of the proper exercise of free speech. That is the balance that we need to strike. My hon. Friends should remember that if a child in school is gay, just to hear that their teacher disapproves of homosexuality is, believe me, tough enough to hear. Their teacher is free to say to them that being gay is wrong or that homosexual conduct is wrong and the House is asking for a licence to enable that teacher to say that, but do not underestimate how difficult that will be for the child to hear. We must take care that in providing these protections for the exercise of conscience, we do not do a great injustice and allow the continuation of language and attitudes that have caused a great deal of unhappiness for a long time.
Order. May I point out to the House that there is much interest, but it is only right that there should also be an opportunity for those on the Front Benches to set out their position? There is a balance to be struck. I am keen to accommodate everybody and I am in the hands of the House. Members need to help me to help them to help each other.
Throughout this debate I have made a practice with my constituents of arguing that whatever our views we should express them with respect and sensitivity. In that context it is a pleasure to follow Nick Herbert, who made his case very well.
The speech made by my hon. Friend Catherine McKinnell was a model of how to put that case in a balanced way and without causing offence while, at the same time, arriving at a conclusion. I congratulate her on doing so.
Sir Gerald Howarth refused to give way to me because my previous intervention, he claimed, had been “silly”. I must say that to be called silly by the hon. Gentleman, given the speech he made, brings to mind an expression involving pots and kettles. I do not believe that my intervention on Mr Leigh was in the least bit silly. If the argument is that a person can exercise religious conscience by teaching in any way, right across the spectrum, then it would be perfectly reasonable, were the get-out clause to be introduced, for a science teacher to teach creationism. I can think of a dozen more examples where that could apply.
The fact is that we have a national curriculum. We teach bodies of knowledge that are specified and known. There is the opportunity, certainly in faith schools—I am sure the Minister will confirm this later—to say, “This is the legal position on same-sex marriage, but the Church’s teaching is this.” It seems to me that the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Aldershot are covered by that statement, as I am sure will be confirmed. In fact, he was—unintentionally, I am sure—slightly disingenuous. He read out a statement from the Church of England indicating that a future Government could of course repeal that or change the regulations. That applies to all legislation. It could be argued that no legislation should be passed because it might be changed in future.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I meant no slur on him. He and I have worked together, not least on the Armed Forces Bill many years ago, and I have great respect for him—after all, he has a splendid surname. The principal point made in the Church of England submission was that there is “residual unclarity”. I am not sure whether “unclarity” is a word in the dictionary, but we know what is meant.
I am glad the hon. Gentleman has sought to give that clarification, but in fact it has not in the least changed the argument I am making. I think that that argument is disingenuous.
I will finish with another point the hon. Member for Aldershot made. He chose to introduce into his speech the old chestnut of political correctness. Political correctness, as far as he is concerned, seems to be anything he does not agree with. If someone does not agree with him, it is because they are pursuing political correctness. He referred to conversations he has had with constituents. I accept that his constituency is dramatically different from mine, but I must say—I am sure that other right hon. and hon. Members will agree—that it is very rare that constituents ever complain to me about political correctness. In the handful of conversations I have had on that, usually at election time and in heated conversations in the town centre or on a doorstep, I have asked, “What exactly do you mean by political correctness?” I will not quote some of the responses I have had, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that when people use the term as a defence, it usually means they are unable to use inflammatory or incendiary language when discussing some subjects. It is a very easy phrase to use as a defence, but I find that it is often applied to protect people from being penalised for holding grotesque views.
I regret that the hon. Gentleman decided to accuse me of being silly. I decline to enter into any kind of tit-for-tat discussion, other than to say that I do not think that he proved his case with his speech or enhanced his argument by making it.
I will make a short contribution, in the same vein, I hope, as the last three. I pay tribute to Catherine McKinnell for her extremely helpful and sensitive contribution and to my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert. I hope that those listening to the debate will draw some obvious conclusions: not all gay people take a strict view that everything in this set of proposals is absolutely perfect and that there are no questions; not all straight people think that the Bill is a terrible abomination; not all Christians share the view of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church or the Church of England; and not all people who do not have faith might not have problems with the Bill. I hope that we have got across the message that the debate is much more complicated.
I have three relevant interests. First, I have struggled with the issue of sexuality since I was a teenager, like my hon. Friend Stephen Williams. I remember that at school it was not an easy issue in the slightest. Everybody knew that there were gay people at school, but it was never taught or spoken about formally. Secondly, I am chair of the board of governors of a Church of England primary school. Thirdly, I am a trustee of a Church of England secondary school. We have excellent teachers who do their jobs very well, but I have to say that there is still some nervousness.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport very courteously appeared before the Joint Committee on Human Rights last week. She knows that there is still some nervousness that the safeguards are not yet sufficient, and that nervousness is still felt by the Church of England formally and by the Roman Catholic Church. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs was very fair when he said that he, too, is looking for some reassurance that teachers will have the protection of being able to get the balance right and to teach that God loves everybody irrespective of their sexuality, whether they are 11, 14 or 17, but that the Church should be able to say not that homosexuals are sinners but that it takes a different view on who should be married and that civil partnerships or unions are fine but same-sex marriage is not.
There is still a lot of prejudice to confront. Only yesterday a member of a church in my constituency told me that anyone who is gay is defective. We still have to challenge that sort of prejudice, which thinks than an individual can do something about being gay and that it is easy to deal with. I am just asking for a little reassurance—or perhaps more than a little—from the Minister on the issue of guidance for schools. The churches do not yet think that we have the necessary protection, so I am sympathetic to the amendments, although I have not signed them. I hope that the House will take them seriously.
I might be the only Member in the House who was a primary school teacher when section 28 was in force. I am concerned that in this debate we are thinking much more about the conscience rights of teachers, rather than the rights of children. In my class there was a child who was being brought up by same-sex partners, but I could not talk about her family because of section 28. We must ensure that the rights of children being brought up by same-sex partners are as protected as teachers’ rights of conscience.
I absolutely share the hon. Lady’s view and am grateful to her for that prompt. I was here when clause 28 was being debated and opposed it on the record, including in Committee, where I served with my hon. Friend the then Member for Roxburgh and
Berwickshire, now Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope. We opposed it and spoke and voted against it. I understand exactly that hope. It is absolutely important that we do not prevent the discussion of homosexuality and different sexuality in the context of a loving and supporting school. I absolutely share her perfectly proper view and believe that I have always been as consistent on that position as she has.
My second question is about public officials. I have not signed new clause 2 but I have signed new clause 3, with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Down is also sympathetic. There is a difference between saying to somebody, if this Bill is passed, “The law of the land says there are same-sex marriages and you can’t expect to be a public official and not carry them out”, and expecting somebody who is currently a registrar, having taken the job not knowing that there would ever be same-sex marriages, to perform them. The transitional new clause is a good one, and I ask the Government to accept it, or something along those lines.
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I voted against Second Reading and the programme motion because we wanted to test these and other issues. Is he aware that if the new law were extended to Northern Ireland there would be a big difference between new clause 2 and new clause 3, because new clause 2 would lead to people being asked about their religious beliefs during recruitment?
That is why I ask the Minister to look at this issue. We do not yet necessarily have the right balance.
We must have free speech. People may still be arrested because of, or quizzed about, what they say. People should be able to say that they think that homosexuality is wrong or right and whether this Bill is appropriate. Although the Committee did a good job, as has another Committee in taking evidence, out there in the real world a lot of people think that there is not yet sufficient protection for people in expressing their views. I hope that Ministers will give thought to that to see how we can better protect the freedom of speech that people wish for.
First, let me say unequivocally that I am opposed to same-sex marriage, as most Members will know; it is not a secret. I am here to speak on behalf of the many millions of people with religious views who also oppose it. Specifically, I want to speak to new clauses 3 and 4.
New clause 3 deals with marriage registrars. As Stephen Doughty said, there have been similar changes to the law in lands across the whole of Europe and, indeed, all over the world, so precedents have been set. In Holland, protection of the religious views of registrars on same-sex marriage is enshrined in the law. The Dutch courts recently ruled that registrars should not be compelled to solemnise same-sex marriages against their conscience if they were employed as registrars before the law was introduced. A month or two ago, Fiona Bruce and I went to an event in Portcullis House where people on a panel gave their legal opinions. One person said that marriage registrars would not be covered by the new law, while the other two people said that they are covered. We are very conscious of the Ladele case. The Church of England has produced a paper in which it is very clear about its position on marriage registrars.
I want to talk about the importance of freedom of speech for all. Unless an amendment such as new clause 4 is made, freedom of speech could be unduly restricted. It is difficult to be comprehensive about the circumstances that may give rise to a breach of freedom of expression as a result of such detrimental treatment. However, there is a real danger that a teacher, for example, might be accused of discriminating against a person because he or she has expressed a view against same-sex marriage. There is a risk that employees might be limited in their freedom of expression inside and outside the workplace because their criticism of same-sex marriage could be considered to be unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation under the Equality Act 2010. This is a particular danger in the context of education, where a teacher may criticise same-sex marriage inside or outside the classroom and be found to have discriminated as a result. These are very important issues that we must be concerned about.
We dealt with this in some detail in the Bill Committee, and I recognise that it is one of the principal issues that has been discussed today. It is already clear that someone can express a view—a personal opinion—to which no one would have any objection, but if they did so in a way that bullied or stigmatised, or in any way went beyond what is reasonably acceptable, they would be going too far. This is no different from many of the issues that teachers deal with every single day. On all those issues, yes, we issue guidance, but we never do anything as prescriptive as putting into primary legislation certain rights and responsibilities that would be unacceptable in any other field.
The hon. Gentleman and I clearly have a difference of opinion; he will not be surprised about that. In the Bill Committee, we heard that in a poll 40,000 teachers had expressed concern about this. We cannot ignore that number of teachers.
The danger is made more real in the light of the case of Stewart v. Cleveland-Guest (Engineering) Ltd, where the court interpreted
“discrimination on the grounds of sex” as including some conduct that would fall into the category of “harassment”. Therefore, by analogy, the use of so-called offensive language may be held to amount to sexual orientation discrimination. Moreover, under EU anti-discrimination law, the European Court of Justice held in the case of Firma Feryn that offensive statements may sometimes amount to discrimination. John Bowers QC has raised similar issues in his advice to the Coalition for Marriage. Members heard the same legal opinion expressed in the Bill Committee, as I did in the seminar that I went to with the hon. Member for Congleton.
The Secretary of State has responded to these concerns by saying that her clear understanding is that
“discussion or criticism of same sex marriage would not be ‘of itself’ discrimination under the current law.”
Does my hon. Friend believe that if a teacher were taken to court and said that the Secretary of State has suggested that they should be protected, the court would find that sufficient?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we need this protection, and it must be enshrined in legislation by this House to ensure that it means something. We cannot just depend on an interpretation that some people might have.
The Secretary of State continued:
“This would only happen if the discussion or criticism took place in an inappropriate manner or in a context which resulted in discrimination against, or a detriment to, a particular pupil or group of pupils.”
She said that the same is true of discussion or criticism of same-sex relationships generally, and concluded:
“Nothing in the Bill affects people’s ability to hold and express their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
However, this assurance fails sufficiently to protect freedom of expression, as my hon. Friend suggested.
Perhaps we should go further. For example, is there protection of freedom of speech for preachers who fundamentally believe that the scriptures teach that such things are wrong?
My hon. Friend is right: we desperately need that protection.
Other questions are likely to arise, such as whether the expression of a view on the superiority of opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage will be regarded as resulting in detriment to a particular group of people—namely, those who are homosexual or who are raised in families in which the parents are in a same-sex marriage. The answer is quite possibly yes. There is therefore likely to be a chilling effect on freedom of speech in particular contexts. The case of Smith has already shown a marked move in that direction. He was, as Mr Leigh said, deemed to have discriminated against same-sex couples after he wrote a comment on his Facebook wall. Surely hon. Members do not intend there to be such a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
One of the ways in which this can best be addressed is by putting the Secretary of State’s reassurances in the Bill.
I am sorry but I cannot.
That can be done via new clause 4, which would ensure that freedom of expression is protected by stating that discussions of same-sex marriages cannot be regarded as unlawful discrimination for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. I commend the new clause to the House and ask Members to support it.
Much of this debate has revisited the issues that we discussed on Second Reading, but we need to put that into context. On Second Reading, I voted against same-sex marriage, as did many colleagues, but the House voted for it. It is in the interests even of those who voted for it and want this Bill to be passed that that we get this right.
As my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert correctly stated, the Church of England acknowledges that the quadruple locks that the Government have introduced will give protection not only to the Church of England but to other faith groups. We are grateful for that. The Government have delivered on what they said, which is that no faith group will be obliged to celebrate same-sex marriages if they do not wish to do so.
The new clauses seek to ensure that down the line, if and when the Bill is passed, we do not find ourselves in situations that no one would want. The Government have tabled further amendments and I am grateful to them for amendment 23, which will protect ministers of religion employed by secular organisations, such as hospital and university chaplains, who do not wish to carry out same-sex marriages from claims being made against them personally under the employment provisions of the Equality Act 2010.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to reflect on two issues between now and when the Bill goes to another place. First, on the guidance given in schools, if the Bill is enacted, Church of England schools will, of course, fulfil the duty to teach about the factual nature of marriage in its new legally redefined form. However, there is uncertainty about how that will interact with the continuing need for schools to reflect their religious ethos in their sex and relationship education. All we are suggesting—there should not be a great divide on this—is that in order to ensure that schools can continue to teach an understanding of marriage that is consistent with their religious foundations, this Bill should amend the Education Act 1996 to ensure that any guidance issued by the Secretary of State must take account of the religious character of the school. That is not asking for much, but it will give clarity and I hope that my right hon. Friend will reflect on it.
No, because others want to get in.
My right hon. Friend the Minister, who supports the Bill, will not want it to have unintended consequences six or nine months or a year down the line. That would not help anyone.
Secondly, reasonable expressions of opinions or beliefs on the nature of marriage ought not to be the subject of claims against individuals under existing discrimination or harassment provisions in the Equality Act. As my hon. Friend Mr Leigh has pointed out, some high-profile cases have highlighted the potential risk in the workplace, and I do not think that any hon. or right hon. Member feels comfortable about the details of such cases. All we are suggesting is that if the Equality Act were amended to put it beyond doubt that someone’s expression of an opinion on or belief in traditional marriage did not of itself—I accept entirely that context and the way in which views are expressed are important—amount to discrimination or harassment of another, that will provide reassurance and a degree of legal protection for both employers and employees who express their views in a reasonable way.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will agree that those suggestions will ensure that the Bill, if enacted, will not cause division in the country—nobody wants that—and that it will work. I hope he will not say that everything is covered, but that he will reflect on today’s contributions and that, when the Bill goes to another place, he will give the specific clarity and reassurance needed to help improve the Bill, from anyone’s point of view, if it is passed.
I have about five minutes to make a 10-minute speech, so I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not take any interventions. I wish to discuss protection from compulsion and the meaning of “compelled”. I would have liked to have spoken to new clause 7, on protection from legal proceedings, and amendment 4, but time is against me.
The Government have sought to reassure religious individuals and organisations that they will not be required in any circumstances to conduct same-sex marriages if they object to them. Clause 2 provides one of the main ways in which the Government have sought to make good on that reassurance by giving protection from compulsion. The term “compulsion” is, therefore, central to the protection provided by the Bill for religious individuals and organisations, and constitutes one part of the Government’s widely publicised quadruple lock.
At first sight, the term might appear wide-ranging and comprehensive, which is what the Government would have us believe. However, in reality, the protection may be very narrow in scope, because there is no definition of “compelled” in the Bill. This omission creates uncertainty and potentially limits the scope of the protection afforded by the clause. Although the recognition that protections are necessary is welcome, the Bill does not adequately address the problem. Without further clarification, this may turn out to be not much of a lock at all.
New clause 8 and amendment 5 are identical, but they relate to different parts of the Bill. They would clarify the meaning of “compelled” for the purpose of clause 2 and thus ensure that the lock provides the intended protection. The need for clarification was made all the more pressing when the Minister said in Committee that the word “compelled” was
That made it unclear from where, if anywhere, the word “compelled” has been borrowed. Apart from the Civil Partnership Act 2004, in which the word is used but the scope is much narrower than in this Bill, the obvious source was section 8 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1965, which uses the term in a similar way to this Bill.
If the word was not borrowed from the 1965 Act, perhaps we should consider other sources from which it may have been borrowed. According to case law, which is limited, compulsion seems to provide protection only from the imposition of criminal penalties—for example, individuals are protected from being compelled not to incriminate themselves. Clause 2 as drafted, therefore, may not provide protection to religious individuals and organisations from civil legal penalties; may not prevent public bodies from treating religious organisations less favourably if they decide not to opt in to providing same-sex marriage; and may not protect religious organisations from the threat of other legal actions, such as judicial review, if they decide not to opt into same-sex marriage. For example, a religious organisation could be refused contracts, denied the use of spaces such as halls or denied funding in an attempt to compel it to opt in to providing same-sex marriages. The protections in clause 2 may in reality be narrow in scope and provide relatively little protection.
The Minister has made it clear that the Government intend to provide greater protection than mere protection against criminal penalties. Indeed, in Committee the Minister said that clause 2 would have the effect of
“preventing any type of conduct that would have the effect of forcing a person to do something protected under that clause…The imposition of any penalties on or subsequent unfavourable treatment of a religious organisation or individual in order to compel that organisation to opt in to same-sex marriage is already unlawful under the Bill”.––[Official Report, Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Public Bill Committee,
The assurances are welcome: it is comforting to know that that is the Government’s intention. However, clause 2 does not seem to provide that level of protection.
I would love to speak at further length on this issue but, given the time and the fact that at least half a dozen more Members want to speak to this group of amendments, I will move to a conclusion. I could go through a long list of areas that need to be adequately addressed. I urge the Minister to accept new clause 8, but if he does not do so I hope we will be allowed to test it in the Lobby, because even people who support the Bill—my position is clear—want to ensure that such fundamental protections are in place.
I rise in support of new clause 5, which says that
“no person should suffer any detriment in respect of the holding or the reasonable expression” of a belief in marriage as that between a man and woman.
My hon. Friend Margot James has reminded the House of the hatred, abuse, aggression and, indeed, the discrimination that she and others have suffered. That was wrong, so it is with humility that I ask her to bear in mind that others who take a contrary view to hers on the Bill may also find themselves subject to discrimination.
The question is this: should there be space in public life for people who hold to the current definition of marriage? That is not a theoretical question. The case of Adrian Smith has already been discussed. I will not go through it again, because time is short, but I remind hon. Members that he was a dedicated local authority housing officer who then worked for a housing association and was very well thought of. He served everyone, regardless of their situation, but he lost his job because of private remarks on his private Facebook page, and he is now doing charitable work in Africa because his job was taken away from him. Catherine McKinnell said in her excellent contribution that she hoped that people will be dealt with in an inclusive and tolerant way. I say to her, with great respect, that I hope she would want such inclusiveness and tolerance to be given to people such as Adrian Smith, who did not receive it.
I say to colleagues on the Government Benches that unless we get the legislation right, this issue will run and run until 2015 and will keep coming back. I gently remind colleagues on the Opposition Benches that no less a campaigner for homosexual rights than Peter Tatchell supported Adrian Smith. He did not agree with his views, but believed passionately in his ability to state them and thought it wrong that his job was taken away, as was that of Rev. Willie Ross, the chaplain to Strathclyde police. It is such things that we must guard against.
I want to start by paying tribute to Mr Burrowes. Although I disagree with him passionately on every element of the Bill, I none the less enjoyed sitting on a panel with him at a school in his constituency to tackle the problem of homophobic bullying in the area. I pay tribute to the work that he has done on that issue.
I understand that many people of religion disagree fundamentally with every element of the Bill. I hope that one day they will be amazed that they ever held those views. Some have said that the Church used to support slavery and that it no longer does. A better analogy might be the Church’s attitude to the role of women and, for that matter, women in marriage 100 years ago, compared with its views today. For those who have a strong a religious bent, I note that the Church of Scotland has voted today to allow homosexual clergy. I think that Churches will change and I do not want to lock them in so many ways that they are not able to do so.
I and my hon. Friends believe that equality under the law is a vital principle. The Equality Act 2010 is a subtle and intelligent piece of drafting which ensures that people’s religious belief is as protected as their sexual orientation. I worry about some of the new clauses and amendments before us, because they would upset that balance.
Hon. Members have referred to the chilling effect of what they call “political correctness” and of this kind of legislation. I say simply that if they look around the world and listen to the experiences of many gay and lesbian children in schools, they will see that hateful speech is alive and well. That is why a gay or lesbian child is six times more likely to commit suicide than a heterosexual child. We need to take seriously the fact that the language that people use merely because they oppose same-sex marriage adds to that sense of hatred and unpleasantness. To make the point, one has only to mention the names of Stuart Walker, who was burned to death only a few years ago for being gay, and Jody Dobrowski, who was murdered not far from this House.
I want to deal with the new clauses and amendments. New clause 1, to which many hon. Members have referred, is fundamentally ill-conceived. I do not doubt that some people are concerned about what teachers will be able to teach in schools. However, some of the understandings of teaching that I have heard this afternoon are completely misplaced. Sir Gerald Howarth, belted knight that he is, elided preaching and teaching. My fundamental point is that not much teaching should be preaching. That is the experience in every religious school in this country. Such schools want people to embrace the central understanding of every religion, which is that conscience trumps everything else. If that is the case, why would they want people to adhere to a line or to be indoctrinated? They would not. They want people to learn how to understand the facts and the world in which they live so that they can make good decisions for themselves.
The Education Act 1996 states very clearly:
“The Secretary of State must issue guidance designed to secure that when sex education is given to registered pupils at maintained schools…they learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children”.
I do not think that anybody disagrees with that. Secondly—and this is vital to the point that some hon. Members have made—it states that pupils must be
“protected from teaching and materials which are inappropriate having regard to the age and the religious and cultural background of the pupils concerned.”
Therefore, the Act already embodies precisely what new clause 1 seeks to achieve.
Where new clause 1 fails is that it undermines the next bit of the Act, which states:
“In discharging their functions under subsection (1) governing bodies and head teachers must have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance.”
The new clause would make the Secretary of State’s guidance completely and utterly irrelevant.
The guidance is extremely balanced. It states:
“Within the context of talking about relationships, children should be taught about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for bringing up children. The Government recognises that there are strong and mutually supportive relationships outside marriage. Therefore, children should learn the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society. Teaching in this area needs to be sensitive so as not to stigmatise children on the basis of their home circumstances.”
That applies equally to children who are gay or who have gay family members and to those who grow up in a religious background and do not want to be stigmatised on the basis of their religion.
I say to those who support new clauses 2 and 3 that everybody should be equal under the law. How can somebody who turns up at a register office be told that the registrar will not marry them just because of their sexuality?
I will not give way to the hon. Lady if she does not mind. I would normally be very generous, but there is not much time.
A registrar is there solely to register that which is lawful. They are paid by all taxpayers, not just by some taxpayers. If Parliament decides that same-sex marriages are lawful, how can it be right for somebody to be rejected? Why do we not introduce a clause that says that sextons, who are public employees, can refuse to bury suicides, or that a registrar can refuse to marry a divorcee? Of course we have never done that, because we believe that everybody should be treated equally under the law. How can we say that commercial enterprises, such as bed and breakfasts, cannot discriminate in the provision of goods and services, but that the state can discriminate in the provision of marriage services? I hope that hon. Members will think twice about supporting those new clauses.
Likewise, hon. Members should think twice about supporting new clauses 4, 5 and 6, which would effectively drive a coach and horses through the Equality Act 2010. I say to Mr Burrowes that there is a fundamental misconception about how the Act works. It does not protect the individual belief within religion; it protects the religion. It is not transubstantiation that is protected, but Catholicism. It is not a belief in the afterlife that is protected, but Christianity. It would be invidious to introduce any special provision that breached that.
I will not, I am afraid, because we are very short of time.
I gently suggest to hon. Members that the language that is used in some of the new clauses and amendments comes far too close for the liking of many people to a repeat of section 28. That did damage and we do not want to see it again.
I urge Members not to drive a coach and horses through the equality legislation, which treats everybody equally, regardless of their religion or sexuality.
The Government have listened extremely carefully on Second Reading, in Committee and today to the concerns that have been expressed. We will do everything that we can to provide the safeguards that are necessary to meet colleagues’ concerns, where those concerns are justified.
Time is short because I believe that my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes wants to speak at the end of the debate, so I will quickly go through a few of the issues that have been raised. I ought to start by speaking to Government amendment 23, which will provide further protection for chaplains, such as hospital and university chaplains, who are employed by secular organisations. We made a commitment in Committee to look at that matter again and we have accepted that something further can be done. If the possibility of a marriage conducted by a chaplain is a benefit to employees offered in the context of that employment, a refusal to conduct such a service by a chaplain for an employee could conceivably fall foul of provisions in part 5 of the Equality Act 2010. We have therefore tabled amendment 23, which I believe puts the issue beyond doubt.
Amendment 24 addresses a point raised by Chris Bryant about the Church in Wales and places a statutory duty on the Lord Chancellor. Once he or she is satisfied that the governing body of the Church in Wales has resolved that the law should be changed to allow for the marriage of same-sex couples according to its rites, he or she “must” by order make such a provision. That meets a commitment made in Committee and is a simple amendment that gives the Church in Wales the reassurance it sought.
Let me turn to education, faith schools and new clause 1. I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate for his speech, and hope to provide him with some reassurance. As he knows from Committee, no school or individual teacher is currently under a duty to promote or endorse a particular understanding of marriage, or would be as a result of the Bill or any revised future guidance. There are two clear reasons for that. First, the guidance is to secure that pupils
“learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children,” not to secure that teachers promote or endorse any particular view of marriage—in a sense it is the difference between explaining and promoting. Secondly, teaching in this area should always be balanced and sensitive to pupils’ backgrounds, which for many will be reflected in the school’s ethos. Guidance contrary to that ethos would not meet those criteria.
If Members want further reassurance, I draw their attention to Lord Pannick, who I think is universally recognised to be an expert in this area. He said that it is “inconceivable” that a teacher could be lawfully disciplined for explaining to a child of an appropriate age that the law allows for same-sex marriage but that many religions—or indeed the teacher—do not believe in it. Finally, I draw the House’s attention to evidence given to the Committee by the Secretary of State for Education.
However, it is clear from the number of hon. Members who have signed new clause 1 that many remain concerned about the level of protection for teachers. Although I am confident that the existing protections are sound, I am aware of concerns raised by the Church of England and mentioned by many hon. Members. With that in mind, I commit to the House that we will take the issue away and discuss it further with religious groups with whom we have been engaging throughout this process. We have been in close contact with all of them, and will consider all available means—including an amendment if necessary—to put the issue beyond any doubt in the other place.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate for tabling amendment 50, which amends the Public Order Act 1986. We debated it at some length in Committee, and since then we have been thinking further to try and meet the concerns of many colleagues. Regrettably, the wording used in the amendment could—no doubt entirely unintentionally—give the impression that this aspect of criminal law is not to be applied even-handedly, and for that reason I cannot accept it as it stands. The provision is already there, however, and we fully understand the concerns and will work to table an amendment in the other place to try and satisfy them.
Let me turn briefly to marriage registrars, although the news is rather less promising. We debated the issue at length in Committee and I am afraid my views rather hardened as the debate went on. I do not believe it is appropriate or right to allow marriage registrars to opt out of conducting same-sex marriages either permanently or on a transitional basis. Like it or not, they are public servants who should carry out the will of Parliament, and allowing exemptions according to conscience in my view sets a difficult precedent. Furthermore and crucially—this is important—the consultation with the national panel for registrars revealed absolutely no concerns whatsoever about conscience, and it would be unusual for the House to pass a new clause if the national representative body did not ask for such an exemption.
On new clause 4, I know that some Members continue to have concerns that employees and organisations will risk action being taken against them under the Equality Act if they express the view that marriage should be only between a man and a woman. However, discriminating against someone because they hold such a belief, whether for religious or philosophical reasons, is unlawful under that Act, and I am happy to place that on the record.
The case of Adrian Smith has been mentioned by a number of Members. He won his case in the end but his award was so small because he failed to bring the case within the time laid out in the employment tribunal. We looked into the case carefully in Committee, and the judge made it absolutely clear that had Adrian Smith applied in time, there was every reason to suggest that the tribunal would have been able to award him “substantial compensation”. The fact that the case was not brought in time led to that particular result.
I believe that Adrian Smith had to find £30,000—or it was found for him. What happens to poor people who suffer that type of discrimination and do not have that money?
That example shows the danger of trying to make law on the basis of one individual case, particularly when—as in that case—the litigant failed to apply and follow the relevant legal processes, making it difficult to take further action on that basis.
On amendment 3 to new clause 5, the important thing about the public sector equality duty is that it is a duty to think, rather than to achieve, a particular outcome. It could not possibly be used to justify an act of discrimination because of a belief by a public authority. New clause 6 seeks to make it explicit that the belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman may be a religious or philosophical belief, and that is indeed protected by the Equality Act 2010. Philosophical beliefs are protected if they are genuinely held, and we are entirely confident that the belief that marriage should be only between a man and a woman meets those criteria 100%.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate would like a few minutes to wind-up the debate, so I will finish where we started. We ran through all these issues in Committee at some length and we will take note of the will of the House tonight and listen to it carefully. Where we find a need to act, we will take action.
I appreciate there is limited time for a debate on serious issues, and what I believe is a consensus across the House—to ensure that religious liberty, and liberty in general, is properly protected. I welcome the recent good news: after weeks of toil in Committee we now have progress from the Government on new clause 1 and an undertaking given to the House that they will take away and seek to amend any guidance. That will ensure, as my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert properly said, that the Bill is crystal clear and that we understand the balance, and further clarity is welcome. I recognise that as I am sure does the whole House.
New clause 1 is not objectionable in any way and I encourage all hon. Members to read it and see that we are trying to make it clear that no teacher should be obliged to promote or endorse a view of marriage that is contrary to their belief or, as in the new clause, to the ethos of the school. I welcome that undertaking from the Minister and do not wish to take up the House’s time by pressing new clause 1 to a vote. I also welcome the Minister’s assurance that he is concerned, as are a number of hon. Members, to ensure that we have freedom of speech not just for Members but for our constituents, and that he will work on amendment 50 and the Public Order Act 1986.
This has been called the live-and-let-live Bill, but we must ensure that it is not a live-and-let-live Bill only as long as someone agrees with the state’s redefinition of marriage.
On the basis of the assurances that have been given, I will not press new clause 1 to a Division. However, on new clause 3, on registrars, there is a tradition and a precedent for conscientious objections. I therefore wish to press new clause 3 to a Division, along with new clause 6, which was signed by my hon. Friend Mr Leigh. Equality legislation did not give justice to Adrian Smith, who had to rely on contract law. We need to ensure that the Equality Act 2010 is fit for purpose to protect belief in respect of marriage. Finally, I wish to press new clause 8 to a Division. It will ensure that the Catholic Church and others will not be compelled—we need a clear understanding of “compelled” so that they are not discriminated against for their decision to opt out of same-sex marriage.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (