Equality Bill — Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 19th January 2010.

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Photo of The Bishop of Winchester The Bishop of Winchester Bishop 3:45 pm, 19th January 2010

I am grateful for the Lord Speaker's wise advice. I welcome the existing range of sub-paragraphs (a) to (f) of paragraph 11, and I welcome this amendment, not only for its detail but for the sense of the need to put down some markers that underlies it. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, would agree with me that no church school should be teaching that homosexuality is wrong or making general statements about orientation. That is not the view of the Christian churches, which are concerned about certain sexual behaviour. It is important to put that right.

I want to speak about the underlying trends that many of us, like the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Waddington, note. They are energetically represented in the correspondence that comes over my desk and, I suspect, those of my friends on these Benches and many others. There is a sense in society, if one can speak of such a thing, that non-faith or, in some of the implications of the Bill, one should say non-religious faith, is the norm. It is uncontroversial, undogmatic, unideological and how everyone ought to be. In fact, it is how everybody is, except for what is often an exaggeratedly small number in such people's minds. Those people seem to be hugely represented in the media, for instance, and, sometimes, in your Lordships' House and the other place. This non-faith is the norm, uncontroversial and non-ideological, except for the reality of an exaggeratedly small number of eccentrics. Religious faith and practice appears to be viewed in many places as abnormal, exceptional, deviant, as if it alone is ideological and controversial and, for a whole range of reasons, undesirable. Your Lordships may think that that is wildly exaggerated, but that is how very many people of faith, Christians and others, feel. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, quoted the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, who is a very distinguished man. This is how many people feel. They write to us and to others. They note cases, some of which are sub judice, and I shall not mention any of them by name.

As I watch this happening-and I come up against it in a range of places, including from time to time in your Lordships' House-it seems to be a thread that is at risk of running through the equality and diversity agenda. In fact, in my observation it does run through it; that fundamentally admirable agenda is often popularly followed out in many a town hall, in a significant element of the lower echelons of many police forces, at the more rarefied level of parts of this Bill, in Parliament, and even, if I dare say so, in some of the judgments handed down by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

My concern is for Christians, for the churches, for members of other faiths and their attempts to do what any honest believer would by not keeping their faith in some little box, only getting it out at home or with fellow believers. There is also a much greater danger for our society in that we could reach a point where Christians, and peoples of other faiths too, find it increasingly difficult to survive in the public service, and, indeed, in Parliament. A Member of the other place is reported very recently as saying that people who hold Christian views really ought to consider whether they should be working in the public services.

Lastly, there is a danger that a Government, of whatever complexion, who are coming to rely ever more heavily on faith-based social and voluntary and caring services, may find themselves making it impossible for bodies coming from a faith perspective into social service, which is often for the most deprived and needy people, to continue.

I suspect that we may come back to this next Monday. I hope that the Committee will consider the detailed issues raised in the amendment and those issues of principle and principled practice.