Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:01 pm on 21st March 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Smith of Finsbury Lord Smith of Finsbury Labour 9:01 pm, 21st March 2007

My Lords, I support the regulations and oppose the noble Baroness's amendment. This debate and the debate outside this House have, I fear, been subject to considerable misconception. In a very telling point in her speech, the noble Baroness said that the regulations would force religious believers to change their beliefs. That point is echoed in the briefing that we all received from the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, which is deeply inaccurate in a number of respects. That briefing states:

"These regulations affect fundamental freedoms and will remove the longstanding liberty enjoyed by Christians to live according to their religious beliefs".

That is untrue. No one is trying to stop anyone believing or living according to their beliefs. But where a service is offered to the public, especially where that service is sold to the public, where something is offered to be used or purchased by all, or where something is offered that is funded on behalf of the public by the Government, these regulations say, "You shall not discriminate". That is all that these regulations are saying. It seems to me that it is a very sensible set of regulations.

I make four brief points. First, discrimination is discrimination irrespective of the supposed reason or belief that lies behind it. I am puzzled by the argument that goes something along the following lines: "Because I deeply believe that I should discriminate against someone, because it is part of my religious faith, I should be allowed to exercise discrimination". I still believe that that is discrimination. It is an argument that is perhaps most elegantly put by those who say that people of faith should be able—as they put it—to manifest their belief in the actions that they take. I do not have any problem with people believing something. I do not have any problem with people expressing that belief. However, I have a problem when they put that belief into action in a way that harms or discriminates against other people in society.

I have enormous respect for the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. I worked with him in his previous inner-city incarnation on many occasions and I was delighted by his appointment as Archbishop of York. However, I have to say that on this I think that he is wrong. I say that with regret, because I believe that he knows a thing or two about discrimination and the importance of ensuring that we do not give house room to discrimination in our society.

Secondly, some people listening to the discussion tonight might be forgiven for thinking that the point of view expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, is the point of view of all people of faith and all people who take Jesus Christ as their Lord. That is not true, either. For me and many Christians, the Christ whom we look to is someone who talked about love and inclusion, who accepted and drew in the people who did not fit into the mainstream of society and did not seek to exclude them.

Thirdly, in the debate about the adoption of children—this has been well said by several speakers tonight—what should be paramount are not the needs of the organisation, but the needs of the child. If the needs of the child mean that that child is best placed in a same-sex household, then that is where the child should go.

Fourthly, there is a real issue of actual discrimination and detriment to people who happen to be lesbian or gay; such discrimination happens here and now, in our society. These regulations seek to tackle that. Gay partners are turned away from bed-and-breakfast accommodation and they are deeply humiliated if that happens. People are struck off GP lists because they are lesbian or gay. Pupils face bullying in schools either because of their own sexuality or because of the sexuality of their parents. People are too often refused equal treatment. That, to me, is wrong. Tonight, we have a chance, quite simply, to put it right.