My Lords, before the House begins the Third Reading of the Equality Bill, it may be helpful to say a few words about the Third Reading amendments. In line with the procedure agreed by the House, the Public Bill Office yesterday advised the usual channels that Amendment 7 on the Marshalled List falls outside the guidance in the Companion on Third Reading amendments. On the basis of the advice of the Public Bill Office, the usual channels are recommending to the House that Amendment 7, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, should not be moved. As ever, this is ultimately a matter for the House as a whole to decide. I beg to move.
I am puzzled that this amendment was rejected on the ground that it had been heard before. It is true that we voted to protect the churches, but an amendment relating specifically to Catholic orphanages has not yet been discussed. I would like the noble Baroness to explain this act to me.
My Lords, I have had the privilege of being present throughout our deliberations on the Equality Bill and I can assure the noble Lord that the issue has been dealt with. We have debated this issue twice and we have specifically addressed Catholic orphanages.
The Motion has been put that this Bill be read a third time. The House should decide on that Motion now and then continue in proper order.
Clause 10 : Religion or belief
Moved by Baroness Warsi
1: Clause 10, page 6, line 17, at end insert-
"( ) For the avoidance of doubt, a reference in this Act to any religious or philosophical belief does not include a cult."
My Lords, in Committee in your Lordships' House we had a debate that centred around exactly what was included by the protected characteristic "religion or belief". Given that this clause specifies the inclusion of religious belief, philosophical belief and a lack of religious or philosophical belief, we felt that it was important to probe the Government to discover exactly what it covers.
We have heard time and again that part of the purpose of this Bill is to simplify and codify existing equality legislation so that it is clear and easily understandable. It was therefore appropriate to have a discussion to elicit clarification from the Minister as to exactly what would be included in the definition. We were informed by the Minister that European legal obligations do not define specifically what the terms mean but that case law has determined that,
"beliefs must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, provided that the beliefs are worthy of respect in a democratic society, are not incompatible with human dignity and do not conflict with the fundamental rights of others", and are,
"beliefs as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour and not an opinion based on the present state of information available".-[Hansard, 13/1/10; col. 521.]
This guideline as to the definition of what could be included under the clause seemed proportionate.
Moreover, in Committee in another place, the honourable Mr John Mason tabled an amendment to what is now Clause 19, which has the heading "Indirect discrimination". His purpose was to put in the Bill a provision under which making a person act contrary to the doctrinal or ethical teachings of a religion or belief was also indirect discrimination. This would be in addition to the fact that religion was already included as a protected characteristic. When this amendment was debated, the honourable Dr Evan Harris spoke in opposition to it, warning that such an amendment would include beliefs such as Scientology and religious sects and cults. In response, the Solicitor-General agreed that such an amendment would muddy the waters because it would then be unclear if something should be regarded as indirectly discriminatory if it contravened beliefs that are not doctrinally or ethically linked to a religion but are nevertheless commonly held. The honourable Mr Mason withdrew his amendment on that basis.
Parliamentary debate shows clearly therefore that a reference to religious or philosophical beliefs should not include cults or other similar belief systems. It therefore seems sensible and in line with the debates in another place and in your Lordships' House that a spokesman from the Government Equalities Office attempted to distance himself from the draft code of practice published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for consultation. The draft guidance clearly states:
"Cults and new religious movements may also be religious".
It uses vegans as an example, saying that they will be covered by the legislation. It states:
"A person who is a vegan chooses not to use or consume animal products of any kind. That person", opposes,
"the exploitation of animals for food, clothing, accessories or any other purpose and does so out of an ethical commitment to animal welfare".
This person is likely to hold a belief that is therefore covered by the Bill.
We on these Benches felt that debates in another place and in your Lordships' House had shown clearly that, while there was no specific definition, the weight of case law meant that only serious and important beliefs would be included as a religious or philosophical belief for the purposes of the law. On seeing the draft code of practice, we felt therefore that debates in Parliament had come to one conclusion but that the codes of practice had carried on in another. Surely the nature of religious and philosophical belief systems to be represented by this protected characteristic was clear from these debates; to include cults and other lifestyle choices such as veganism and vegetarianism is to make something of a farce of the debates that we had.
The spokesman for the Government Equalities Office clearly felt similarly when trying to distance the Government from the draft guidance. He said:
"The Equality Bill does not change the existing definition of religion or belief and the Government does not think that views or opinions based on scientific-or indeed on political-theories can be considered to be akin to religious beliefs or philosophical beliefs. Nor was it the intention in introducing the legislation that such beliefs should be covered".
Nevertheless, we have since discovered that the Government Equalities Office, far from disagreeing with the conclusions here, had signed off the codes of practice. The inclusion of cults and vegans comes, rather surprisingly, with the endorsement of the Government, but I think that I am right in saying that Jediism does not.
I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify precisely the Government's position. While the position in parliamentary debates seems to have been one thing, is she concerned that it may cause confusion that the Government have publicly distanced themselves from the position taken in the guidance but have officially signed off that draft guidance? I am rather confused by this. I look to the Minister for clarity.
We feel that, on this issue, the Government have drifted away from what Parliament decided. If this is the case in this instance, can the Minister assure us that the guidance in other areas reflects more closely the debates in your Lordships' House and in the other place? Furthermore, if the Government intend cults to be included, can the Minister inform the House whether further guidance will be required? Does she concede that this will complicate matters further? What exactly will be included in the definition of a cult? How organised and established would a cult have to be in order to be included and to have to count? At what point would a group that has coalesced because of a common interest be defined as a cult? What about the many people who may not consider themselves to be a cult but are formed out of an objection to another group of people? How exactly is this going to work?
We were initially rather shocked at the length of the codes of practice. I am informed that these are the draft guidance for the courts, not for everyday use. We certainly would not wish the codes to become even longer, but it is certain that more clarity is needed and I hope that the Minister can provide it today. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will not think me discourteous in saying that I think that her amendment is an oxymoron. It declares for the avoidance of doubt, but if it were enacted, although I know that it is only probing, it would increase rather than avoid doubt about the meaning of "religious", "philosophical" and "cult". Words are not like crystals, brittle, rigid and hard-edged. They are soft and flexible and convey shades of meaning that alter according to the context in which they are used.
That is especially true of words such as "religion", "belief" and "philosophical belief", derived from international and European human rights instruments and our own constitutional and legal heritage. When those words are used in legislation, they have to be read and given effect in accordance with their proper meaning and effect and they have to be read compatibly with European law. It is for the courts and not politicians to interpret and apply them. Parliament could, of course, attempt to define their meaning, but it would have to do so in a way that did not violate the fundamental human right to freedom of religion and belief. That would be a hazardous undertaking, fraught with difficulty.
Every established traditional religion was once regarded pejoratively as a cult by its opponents from other religions when it was struggling for recognition and acceptance for its beliefs and practices, whether the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, or non-theistic religions, such as Buddhism. Every organisation, religious as well as non-religious, may abuse its powers and tolerate or conceal evil and criminal practices, as recognised by Pope Benedict XVI's pastoral letter of apology to the Catholics of Ireland about the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by priests and others.
One person's religion and belief may be another's blasphemy or evil cult. According to medieval Roman Catholic doctrine, those who did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, or who contradicted Catholic dogma, or had not been baptised, were "infidels", put to death during the Crusades and the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. There is still much intolerance within and across religions of all types.
Those of us who are fortunate to live in modern democratic societies, whatever our faith or lack of it, are committed to a generous view of equality and personal liberty. The Strasbourg court explained in the case Kokkinakis v Greece:
"Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a democratic society within the meaning of the Convention. It is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has clearly been won over the centuries, depends on it".
In another case with an unpronounceable name, Leela Förderkreis EV v Germany, the Strasbourg court decided that the conception of the world of the Osho movement, formerly known as the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh movement, founded by the Indian mystic Rajneesh Chandra Mohan, based on the idea of achieving transcendence, fell within the ambit of Article 9 of the convention, even though the group was commonly referred to as a sect. Of course, that did not mean that the group had absolute rights. The court upheld the German Government's right to verify whether a movement or association carries on, ostensibly in pursuit of religious aims, activities that are harmful to the population or public safety; the Government were entitled, in Germany, to draw public attention to dangers emanating form such a group.
The UN Human Rights Committee has explained, in its general comment on the equivalent of Article 9 of the convention that is in Article 18 of the covenant, that it,
"views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community".
Concepts such as-I say this humbly in the presence of the Lords spiritual-"religion" and "philosophical belief" are not capable of precise definition and the differences between them are not clear-cut. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines as the first meaning of "cult",
"a system of religious worship especially as expressed in ritual".
It defines "religion" as,
"belief in a superhuman controlling power, especially in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship".
Buddhism, which falls outside that definition, is defined as,
"a widespread Asian religion or philosophy ... which teaches that elimination of the self and earthly desires is the highest goal".
Scientology is defined in the same dictionary as,
"a religious system based on self-improvement and promotion through grades of self-knowledge".
I have acted for the Church of Scientology, which is recognised as a religion in some European countries, such as Spain and Portugal, and some Commonwealth countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, and rejected by others. In this country it is treated at present, as a result of the decision of the Court of Appeal in Segerdal in 1970, not as a religion but as a system of philosophical belief.
The word "cult" is not in the Bill. If the reference to "cult" in the amendment is meant to make it clear that the Bill does not protect organisations and their followers who engage in criminal or anti-social misconduct, that goes without saying, whether the organisation is Jewish or Muslim, the Catholic Church or, I dare say, the Church of Scientology. Using the word "cult" merely raises the question whether those who follow a particular creed or share a common belief are entitled to be protected from discriminatory treatment because they share a common religion or philosophical belief. That involves questions of fact to be decided not by politicians or Parliament but by courts in particular cases.
For all those reasons, the amendment would not achieve the aim of its proposers, although I understand them. Whether one agrees with what is in the code is not what I am on about; I am concerned to establish that, were the amendment to be enacted, it would be a source of great uncertainty and would not fulfil the aim of its proposers. We would therefore be opposed to it.
My Lords, I have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has said. This is a personal opinion, but I regard the so-called Church of Scientology as neither a church nor a religious organisation but as an extremely pernicious organisation. Under the terms of the Bill at present, are the activities of that "church" protected, as any religious organisation is protected? Without this amendment, would that protection be a part of the provisions of the Bill? On the other hand, do the Government regard the Church of Scientology, as I do, as a cult, which would not be protected if the amendment were passed? I simply wish to know the Government's views on this issue.
My Lords, in line with what the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, has said, I think that these words are so slippery that trying to add other words simply makes the whole thing even more slippery. The way in which the words are used means that this is one of those irregular verbs: "I have a faith, you have a religion, he or she is in a cult". One person's use of a particular term may be pejorative, flattering or whatever.
I regard the original clauses as extremely odd. A reference to "religion" includes a reference to a lack of religion, "belief" means any belief and a reference to "belief" includes a reference to a lack of belief. When I studied philosophy, if you started saying that "P equals not P", you had to go back to the drawing board and begin again. If we want to regulate some religions/cults or others, this sort of Bill is not the way to do it. By adding extra words here and there, as yet undefined whether in Europe or elsewhere, we will merely make confusion worse confounded.
That indeed was my next sentence. I appreciate the spirit in which this amendment has been tabled. It is not our intention that religion or belief provisions of the Bill should extend-
The House authorities and the usual channels have admitted this amendment because it raises new business and has not been discussed before. I shall answer the amendment on that basis.
Is it not the position that it is in order not because it raises new business, which would be out of order, but because it is clarifying what might otherwise be obscure?
The noble Lord is exactly right: it is clarifying. I had a note, which of course I do not have in front of me now, that explained why the amendment is in front of us today.
It is not our intention that the religion or belief provisions of the Bill should extend protection against discrimination to any inappropriate groups whose activities would give cause for concern. The noble Baroness is perfectly correct that there is no legal definition of what constitutes a cult, and there is unlikely to be any consensus of opinion on what one is. Nor is there a single, simple, non-legal definition of cult. Indeed, some dictionary definitions of cult could be held to apply equally to widely held systems of religious or philosophical beliefs. Therefore, in cases in doubt, the appropriate body to determine whether something is a protected religion or belief is the relevant tribunal or court. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester, whose remarks I think amply illustrate why this is the case.
It is important to appreciate that tribunals and courts will not be working without guidance. The Bill gives a broad definition of religion or belief that replicates the effects of the existing definitions in the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 and the Equality Act 2006. Domestic courts therefore already have experience of interpreting the existing definitions and the considerations that they need to take into account. Seeking to exclude certain systems of religious or philosophical beliefs as being cults would therefore not only be a new issue for the Bill but a change to legislation that has been in place since 2003 and has not caused difficulties of interpretation in this respect.
European directives that relate to matters of religion or belief do not attempt to define specifically what the terms "religion" or "belief" mean; nor does Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, case law has identified the relevant factors that need to be taken into consideration when determining if something may be considered to be a protected religion or belief. The main limitation on what constitutes a religion in line with Article 9 is that is must have a clear structure and belief system. The limitations on what constitutes a philosophical belief are that it must be genuinely held; be a belief and not an opinion or a viewpoint based on the present state of information available; be a belief as to weighty and substantial aspects of human life and behaviour, attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness of cohesion and importance; and be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others. Therefore, in terms of restricting protection to those beliefs which are not objectionable, the case law criteria would exclude most of the outlandish practices and belief systems that have been mentioned so far. For example, any cult involving illegal activities would not satisfy the criteria.
The noble Baroness asked specifically about the guidance and the codes of practice. The Government have not signed off the commission's codes of practice; the codes are out for public consultation, which is due to close next month. In order to take effect, they will need to be laid before both Houses of Parliament in due course. Whether any particular religion or philosophical belief is protected by the Bill will be for the courts to determine, having considered the criteria established by case law.
The noble Baroness mentioned veganism. It would ultimately be for the courts or tribunals to determine whether something met the definition of "religion or belief" according to the criteria established by case law. In the case of H v UK 1993, heard by the European Court of Human Rights concerning the treatment of a vegan, the court determined that veganism was capable of being construed in accordance with the scope of Article 9.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The noble Baroness referred to Jedis. The Government do not think that views or opinions based on science fiction can be considered akin to religious or philosophical beliefs. It was not the underlying principle behind drafting the definition of "religion or belief" to cover such views.
"any religious or philosophical belief", or a lack of any such religion or belief. We do not maintain a list of recognised religions or beliefs, so if there is any doubt whether something constitutes a religion or belief within this definition, that would ultimately be a matter for the courts or tribunals to decide.
Given that explanation, I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, although I am no further forward in terms of clarity. The amendment was put forward purely because the codes of practice have been published, although I understand that they are now out for consultation.
This is an extremely important Bill which has been a long time coming, yet here we are, at Third Reading, without clarity about what is included in the protected characteristics. The codes of practice are still out for consultation and will at some stage be laid before Parliament. We are approaching the end of this Session, possibly the end of this Government, yet we are still unclear about what will and will not be included. I am one of those lawyers, as I presume the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is, who would prefer lawyers not to earn off the back of uncertainty but for the public to be able to consult documentation and be clear about what is and what is not a protected characteristic. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 20 : Duty to make adjustments
Moved by Baroness Thornton
2: Clause 20, page 11, line 8, at end insert-
"( ) In relation to the second requirement, a reference in this section or an applicable Schedule to avoiding a substantial disadvantage includes a reference to-
(a) removing the physical feature in question,
(b) altering it, or
(c) providing a reasonable means of avoiding it."
In moving Amendment 2 in the name of my noble friend Lady Royall, I shall speak briefly to Amendments 8 and 10 as well.
Noble Lords will recall that the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, tabled Amendments 20A and 44A on Report. In speaking to those amendments, which he withdrew, the noble Lord, Lord Low, referred to the need to spell out what the phrase "avoid the disadvantage" means when the disadvantage is caused by a physical feature, otherwise there was a risk that the intention to reproduce the current law, which we all share, might be put in doubt. The noble Baronesses, Lady Warsi and Lady Morris of Bolton, also tabled a probing amendment on these matters in Committee.
When I spoke on Report I said that we wanted to give further consideration to the matter and, in particular, to ensure that whatever outcome we reached would deliver a consistent approach throughout the different parts of the Bill. We remain of the view that the reasonable adjustment duty, as drafted, works. That being said, however, we have listened to the concerns that noble Lords set out and have decided to act to move the matter beyond doubt.
Amendment 2 draws on some familiar concepts from the Disability Discrimination Act and sets out on the face of the Bill, in a non-hierarchical and non-exhaustive way, some key considerations that should be taken into account when the duty to avoid the disadvantage caused by a physical feature is being addressed-whether by an employer, someone providing services or someone delivering public functions. This amendment provides the clarity being sought and reinforces what already appears in the Bill.
Amendment 8 is a minor and technical amendment which ensures consistency of approach between Schedule 2 and Schedule 15. It makes clear that an association should consider a reasonable alternative method of affording access to a benefit facility or service, et cetera, where the substantial disadvantage caused by a physical feature cannot be reasonably avoided.
Amendment 10 is consequential on Amendment 60, which the noble Lord, Lord Low, tabled on Report and which added a definition of substantial to Clause 212(1). It simply adds an entry of "substantial" into the index of defined expressions in Schedule 28.
I hope noble Lords will be satisfied with this outcome of our further deliberations, and I commend these amendments to the House.
My Lords, we welcome the inclusion of this amendment, which, at this late stage in proceedings, will be useful to clarify the duty to make reasonable adjustments when there is a substantial disadvantage caused by a physical feature. Noble Lords might remember that we tabled a similar amendment to Schedule 2 in Committee; this was followed by a further amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, on Report. It was felt that these amendments would be useful to help make the duty more active and to exemplify what specific steps could be taken.
The Government, however, objected to our amendment. Although the Minister took on board that concerns had been raised about the lack of these specific steps, which used language very similar to that of the Disability Discrimination Act, she said that it,
"had been interpreted as weakening the provision ... That is certainly not the intention and is certainly not the case".-[Hansard, 19/01/10; col. 879.]
The Minister then objected to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, but on entirely different grounds-namely that it applied to services and public functions and so appeared to give credence to the idea that these steps should not also apply to other areas.
We are delighted, therefore, that the Government have now taken on board these legitimate concerns and tabled their own amendment. It was interesting to hear the reasons for the Government's change of heart at this late stage, and we welcome the clarity that the Government have now added by moving the amendment to prime position in Clause 20(4). This is a welcome concession to worries expressed both here and in another place. In our amendment, however, we included the option of providing,
"a reasonable method of providing the service or exercising the function".
Perhaps the Minister can quickly touch on why this part has been left out of the final amendment.
I turn to Amendment 8. We are glad that the Government have addressed the inconsistency here. This appears to be a sensible amendment which clarifies the steps that must be carried out to ensure that where a physical feature puts a disabled person at a considerable disadvantage, the feature is removed or reasonable alternative steps are taken.
I seek clarity on two points. First, I hope the Minister will be able to offer us some assurances that the reasonable alternative methods of access will not put too great a burden on employers. Will she offer some examples of what might be considered reasonable? As we have said throughout these debates, we think that it is of the upmost importance that all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that where a disabled person is placed at a substantial disadvantage, that disadvantage is minimised. However, we also want to ensure that such steps do not put an undue burden on employers. Secondly, and with that in mind, will the Minister say what form the guidance on this provision will take? It is very important that employers are aware of exactly where their duties lie, and what practical steps they might have to take to fulfil those obligations. I look forward to the Minister's response.
My Lords, I warmly welcome these amendments in response to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, on Report. He is abroad this week but we have worked in partnership throughout the Bill on all the disability amendments and I know that he is delighted with the outcome. We are grateful to the Minister and her officials for listening to our detailed concerns and for finding a practical solution.
The duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people lies at the heart of the Disability Discrimination Act, and it is particularly important in relation to physical barriers that prevent disabled people accessing services, receiving public benefits or enjoying club facilities. It is a matter of exclusion or inclusion. While there have been huge improvements in accessibility in the past few years, all too many providers still do not understand their duties, or blatantly choose to disregard them. Importing some of the familiar language of the DDA into the Bill to exemplify the duty is very important, and the amendments confirm that the intention is to reproduce the current law and not, as some providers think, to dilute the law. Some believe that there will be a change in the law that will make it much easier for them to disregard their duties. We welcome the language translation across.
As well as thanking the Minister, I thank all noble Lords who have helped us to secure this amendment and others in this incredibly important, integrated Equality Bill. As a result of this work, I think that the Bill is in much better shape as it leaves us than when it arrived.
We, too, welcome these amendments. Purists might say that Amendment 2 is not strictly necessary because it reflects existing case law, but it is good to make it clear in the Bill that the test is one of substantial disadvantage. For the reasons just given by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, we are delighted with the amendments.
This part of the Bill reflects the true co-operation and co-ordination across the House, with the Government listening and consideration being given to the points made from all sides, especially those of the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, on how to improve it. I completely agree that importing the language at the outset from the DDA into this Bill has been extremely important.
On the questions posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is currently consulting on draft guidance and the code of practice which will help employers to understand the requirements to make reasonable adjustments. We hope that the guidance will provide straightforward, practical examples illustrating how to comply with the law. I suspect, although I do not know, that employers' organisations had a great deal to say about the draft guidance to ensure that that is the case. As a general principle, we want employers to be able to carry out their duties under the legislation but not to be overburdened by it.
We have listened to noble Lords about the merits of providing greater clarity in the Bill and we have responded by putting the matter beyond doubt. That, accompanied by the aforementioned codes and guidance, will ensure compliance and good practice. I beg to move.
Amendment 2 agreed.
Clause 105 : Time-limited provision
Moved by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
3: Clause 105, page 67, line 27, leave out first "is" and insert "and the words ", subject to subsection (7)," in section 104(3)(c) are"
My Lords, Amendment 3 is a minor and technical amendment designed to tidy up links within the Bill. During the Bill's passage through Report, Clause 104 was amended to include a new subsection (3)(c) which contained an explicit requirement that any action taken by political parties in pursuit of reducing inequality in their representation in any elected body must be a proportionate means of achieving that purpose. The amendment contained an explicit cross-reference to the single-sex electoral shortlist provisions in subsection (7).
The shortlist provisions in subsection (7) will automatically be repealed at the end of 2030 unless their use has been extended by order. This minor amendment will ensure that in the event that subsection (7) is repealed, the cross-reference to those provisions in subsection (3)(c) would be removed at the same time and so not leave any extraneous and potentially confusing references within the Bill.
As this is the last government amendment before we conclude Third Reading, perhaps I may say a few words of thanks, but I recognise that there are more amendments to come. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the Bill from every side of the House. We have heard many considered and persuasive contributions and undoubtedly we now have a better Bill. I thank my noble friend Lady Thornton for her dedicated and committed support. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, for the knowledgeable and expert role that he has played in our debates. He has put us back on the right track on a number of occasions, for which I am extremely grateful. He has been extraordinarily self-disciplined, but that was shared by Members all over the House. I also thank his noble friends Lord Wallace of Tankerness and Lady Northover.
I have greatly enjoyed my exchanges with the noble Baronesses, Lady Warsi and Lady Morris of Bolton, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, during the passage of the Bill. They have shown commitment and have challenged the Government to explain their intent clearly. Their expertise and experience have informed our debates and our thinking on various amendments. Thanks are due to noble Lords too numerous to name who have played a very important role in our proceedings. However, I single out the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Alli, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for their suggestions and challenges, which have helped us carefully reflect on the Bill. As ever, they have defended disadvantaged groups in our society with passion and dedication.
A number of noble Lords have promoted the rights of disabled people, notably the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, who has proposed many important amendments which have been accepted, including a clarification to ensure that people have access to information in accessible formats, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, whose amendment clarifies that in meeting the equality duty, the steps involved in meeting the needs of disabled people include taking account of a disabled person's disabilities, and, of course, my noble friend Lady Wilkins.
I also thank the many individuals and organisations who have played a vital role in the development and passage of the Bill. Several thousand individuals and many hundreds of organisations have made representations. Finally, I thank the Bill team, parliamentary counsel and the officials from across Whitehall departments who have worked assiduously and tirelessly on the Bill. They have shown tremendous determination, patience and resilience throughout. Melanie Field deserves our special thanks, also Wally Ford, to whom we wish a speedy recovery. This is a good Bill. It is much better than the Bill that arrived in this House. We have had a tremendous and very thorough consideration of it in this House. I beg to move.
My Lords, taking my cue from the Leader of the House, I wish to say a few words. The Bill is a great achievement. I know of no measure as ambitious and far-reaching in any part of the world. It is the result of many years of effort, imagination and skill. New Labour's 1997 election manifesto promised to,
"eliminate discrimination wherever it exists".
The Liberal Democrat manifesto contained a commitment to enact a single Equality Act. For four years, Professor Sir Robert Hepple QC directed an independent expert review published in July 2000. It was the subject of a consultative conference. My Private Member's Equality Bill was prepared to give effect to the Hepple report and was given a Second Reading in this House on
We introduced that Bill to demonstrate that it was possible to create a coherent, user-friendly, non-bureaucratic framework, while encouraging voluntary compliance with the principle of equality without discrimination through workforce reviews and employment equity plans, and to provide effective redress. At that stage the Government responded piecemeal by introducing regulations to implement the new EU equality directives as well as the Disability Discrimination Bill setting up the Equality and Human Rights Commission and making religious discrimination unlawful. They then set up the discrimination law review in 2005 and published papers between 2007 and 2009. The Bill was at last published a year ago in April 2009. The appointment of the right honourable Harriet Harman as Minister for Equality gave the project a new energy and sense of direction and ambition. She and her fellow Ministers here and in the House of Commons have been advised and supported by an outstanding team of some 44 civil servants, if one includes legal advisers and parliamentary counsel, led by Melanie Field, James Maskell and Wally Ford. They will be cross if I do not mention all 44 but I do not think I should. I pay tribute to them for having delivered at last a Bill of which we should all be proud.
The Bill reached this House very late, with parliamentary time scarce before the general election. But, as the Leader of the House has indicated, thanks to cross-party co-operation and a great deal of hard work, we have carried out a thorough scrutiny of it and improved it in important ways. The Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and civil servants have been generous in making themselves readily available to discuss the Bill, and have been open-minded in considering proposed amendments. The Official Opposition have played a constructive role and, for the most part, we have been able to achieve consensus, drawing on the great experience of many Members across the House. Not everything in the Bill is as we Liberal Democrats would have wished, but we recognise that law reform, like politics, is the art of the possible. We hope the Bill will now pass quickly into law, after our amendments have been approved in the other place, so that it may be carried into effect by the new Government of whatever colour after the election.
My Lords, I follow the Leader of the House as well as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in taking this opportunity to support her Majesty's Government's Equality Bill at Third Reading. Those present in this Chamber today who were also present for our previous debates on the subject of equality will know that, while there have been areas of this legislation and specific amendments over which I have raised concerns, I have still broadly supported the aims and intentions of the Bill. That continues to be the case. The reason we have all spent long hours discussing this Bill is because we want a workable law on the statute book that really does something positive in the area of equality in the United Kingdom. To lose this opportunity now and scrap the Bill would be to lose something that is wonderful. It would be a great disappointment, especially when so much common ground has already been established. We have all tried to be magnanimous, meeting each other half way.
I agree that we need to avoid and reject the bigotry of fundamentalism. I recall the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, who rightly reflected that, at times, equality, human rights and freedom have become in themselves a religion or a philosophical belief. Ignoring older, established religions and preventing them from teaching their principles will in the end serve only to produce a generation that cannot see the point of equality, freedom and human rights as a religion, especially when it resembles a juggernaut crushing all other religions before it and ends up setting up a hierarchy of rights where traditional religious ethics are at the bottom. Individuals with their human rights become hermetically sealed and atomised from community belonging and responsibility, for ever echoing the playground diplomacy, "It is not fair. It is my human right to trump yours". We need to encourage a society where people are allowed to be different. Equality means celebrating diversity, and religious tradition and belief must be allowed to be part of this growing diversity.
"There are times when human rights become human wrongs".
He said that rights must not,
"become more than a defence of human dignity".
He said that when these rights become a political ideology that tramples down everything in its path, we know we have gone too far.
As the late Lord Denning once observed, the severance of law from morality and religion from law has gone much too far. Although religion, law and morals can be separated, they are nevertheless still very much dependent on one another. He said:
"Without religion, there can be no morality, there can be no law".
Our commitment from these Benches to establishing a solid and workable piece of equality legislation demonstrates that crucial interconnectedness.
As we pray in this your Lordships' House before every sitting, we say:
"Almighty God .... do most humbly beseech thee to send down thy Heavenly Wisdom from above, to direct and guide us in all our consultations; and grant that, we having thy fear always before our eyes, and laying aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections, the result of all our counsels may be to the glory of thy blessed Name, the maintenance of true Religion and Justice, the safety, honour, and happiness of the Queen, the publick wealth, peace and tranquillity of the Realm, and the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same".
As your Lordships will know, in previous debates concern was expressed about some parts of the Bill. I believe that the high level of debate and scrutiny with which this was undertaken by noble Lords enabled significant improvements to be made to those parts which seemed, in the view from these Benches and those opposite, not to be in the spirit of preserving the status quo, as seemed to be implied in the Bill.
What I and my fellow Lords Spiritual have called for is not a special role for religion in this legislation. What we want to see is freedom and equality for all, including those with religious beliefs. We must maintain the intermingling of religion, morals and law-balancing the rule of law, freedom and conscience, as this country always has done.
We have come a long way with this Bill. Earlier, in Her Majesty's Government's attempt to harmonise all existing laws on equality, I felt we had a situation such as the one Morecambe and Wise experienced with André Previn. Previn became exasperated and told Morecambe he was playing "all the wrong notes". Eric stood up, seized Previn by the lapels and menacingly informed him:
"I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order".
I believe that what we have now in the Bill is approaching the right order. This is becoming a stronger piece of legislation by the day, thanks to the discussions we have had and continue to have. I look forward to the day the Equality Bill makes it onto the statute book, and for that reason I hope that noble Lords will join me in backing this Bill at Third Reading, so that it may be sent to another place for enactment.
To err is human; to forgive is divine. I am grateful to all of those who have listened, been patient and who have actually produced the legislation that I am proud to have been part of.
Amendment 3 agreed.
Moved by Lord Alli
4: Clause 202, page 125, line 25, at end insert-
"(2B) Provision by virtue of subsection (2)(b) may, in particular, provide that applications for approval of premises may only be made with the consent (whether general or specific) of a person specified, or a person of a description specified, in the provision.
(2C) The power conferred by section 258(2), in its application to the power conferred by this section, includes in particular-
(a) power to make provision in relation to religious premises that differs from provision in relation to other premises;
(b) power to make different provision for different kinds of religious premises."
My Lords, I feel like I have arrived at a party when everyone has gone home. In moving the amendment, I shall speak to Amendments 5, 6 and 9, tabled in my name and in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger, Lady Noakes and Lady Campbell of Surbiton.
These are technical amendments to give effect to the new clauses passed with the overwhelming support of the House on
Amendment 4 seeks to seek to clarify aspects of new Clause 202. I very much hope that these amendments will give comfort to faith communities which have suggested that they will soon be forced to perform civil partnerships against their will, despite the wording in Clause 202. These amendments make crystal clear that this change in the law is entirely permissive in its approach.
Amendment 5 adds a definition of civil marriage to the Equality Bill, in line with existing legislation, and a definition of religious premises. Amendment 6 to Clause 216 brings the new measures into line with the rest of the Bill in terms of commencement date. Finally, Amendment 9 makes necessary additions to the repeals schedule, as recommended.
These amendments are straightforward and, I hope, non-contentious. I beg to move.
My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alli, that he is not alone at the party-we have not all gone home. Having spoken with some caution to his earlier amendment in Committee, I feel I ought to say briefly why I welcome these consequential amendments. This is not the moment for going back over the arguments that have been very comprehensively rehearsed both in your Lordships' House and elsewhere, but perhaps I need to point out one or two things.
Many people, Christians and others, will continue to resist any blurring of the distinction between marriage and civil partnership and will want to watch very carefully the ensuing regulations as they appear. A proper concern has been expressed, to which we may need to be alert in the future as well, about proposals to change the law on such a matter coming before Parliament without the proper consultation with major churches and faith communities beforehand. Also, it remains rather puzzling to many of us that there should continue to be a prohibition on the use of any religious service while a registrar is officiating at the signing of a civil partnership document, even though the signing might take place on religious premises. It does not do much to allay suspicions of a hidden agenda. But we are where we are, a lot of people have worked very hard to bring us to this point, and it is good to be able to meet where we have.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, for being willing to build on the declaratory provision in his earlier amendment concerning religious freedom. It has been clear throughout the discussions that the House has been motivated by a concern for equality, freedom and non-discrimination in all sorts of ways, and with seeing these in a cohesive single picture. However, the discussions have also highlighted how complex it is to balance out those three things together and what happens when different rights appear to come into conflict with each other. The present amendments ought to serve the bringing together of human freedom, equality and non-discrimination in a much better way, and therefore serve the original aim of the Bill.
In a multicultural and pluralist society, it is right to recognise the rights of different religious and other groups to approach this matter in different ways in accordance with their own convictions. In my last intervention I said that I hoped a way might be found to enable Quakers, liberal Jews, Unitarians and others the freedom to host civil partnership registrations if they wish, but not inadvertently to create an obligation on those-the majority-for whom this would be impossible. From the rather particular situation of the established Church, it would be important that any parochial or diocesan action should be consequential on church-wide policy.
Finally, we welcome the amendment which means that this clause, like most of the rest of the Bill, will be brought into force by a commencement order rather than immediately on Royal Assent. There will clearly need to be new regulations prepared to amend or replace the present Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005. Extensive consultation will be needed at this time with churches and other faiths about the drafting of the regulations. I am very grateful to the Minister for the constructive discussions between church officials and the Government Equalities Office over recent weeks. Clearly, there will now need to be very widespread consultation in order to get the regulations right.
We expect that it will be open to the Church of England and other religious communities to determine what are their own relevant decision-making bodies with authority to notify a public authority-presumably the Registrar General-if they wish to opt in to the approved premises arrangements for civil partnerships. Local applications for particular premises could only be considered when such opting-in had occurred, and would then be handled in the perfectly normal way. It would be very helpful if the Minister could confirm that this is also her understanding of what is likely to happen. In anticipation of such assurance I am content to support the consequential amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alli.
My Lords, I will say just a couple of things. First, I cannot imagine anyone except the noble Lord, Lord Alli, achieving what he has. He is one of the most indefatigable lobbyists in this House-I mean lobbyist in the good, unpaid sense-that I have ever known.
Secondly, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester was right in everything that he said. When we introduced the Civil Partnership Bill, we used civil marriage as the analogue to create civil partnership. What we are doing here is allowing a religious aspect to civil partnership, because there cannot be a religious marriage. In the longer term, one may need to look at the consequences for civil marriage in relation to religion. However, that is far beyond the scope of the amendment. The way in which this has been done, and the compromise that has been reached, is in all respects admirable.
My Lords, as I understand it, the structure of the amendment makes the change applicable only to England and Wales, because it is an amendment to Section 6 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004. Although equality and anti-discrimination issues are generally reserved to this Parliament under Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act, will the Leader of the House confirm that the subject matter of the amendment is such that it would be within the competence of the Scottish Parliament to make parallel changes in Scotland if that Parliament wished to follow the example set by this House?
My Lords, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alli, the amendment seeks to resolve some of the uncertainties remaining from the amendment that was accepted on Report in your Lordships' House. As we said on Report, we are very supportive of civil partnerships, and so were not without sympathy for the intentions behind his original amendment. However, we felt that this was not an appropriate time in the parliamentary calendar to open up complex issues that merited proper attention and scrutiny. We thought that such a change needed to be carefully thought out, consulted on and debated fully. The amendments in this group go some way towards answering our concerns, by making it clear that the right to register a civil partnership in religious premises is purely permissive, and that denominations should be able to opt in to the system as they choose. We welcome the clarity here.
However, some areas of concern remain. Those representing independent churches are worried that they still risk being left open to litigation. They are concerned that there is scope for the anti-discrimination provisions to make it difficult-or appear to make it difficult-for individual churches not to opt in to hosting the civil partnership ceremony. I understand that the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and of the Government, is that the amendment should be purely permissive. It would be most helpful if the Leader of the House could offer reassurance to independent churches.
Another concern that has been raised is that churches should not be judged for what they choose to do. Will the noble Baroness reassure church groups that not only will there be legal protection for their decision on whether or not to conduct civil partnerships, but that their decision will be perfectly permissible under religious freedom? Will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be further consultation on this issue? I ask because a number of questions have been put to us. As I understand it, the legally binding part of the civil partnership ceremony will still have to be carried out with no religious language. This creates an odd situation if the ceremony is taking place in a church. Has any more thought been given to how this might work? Will it mean that the couple have a ceremony in church with readings and hymns, but then have the civil partnership commitment using no religious language at all? If this is the case, will the minister-I mean the religious minister, not the political Minister-be empowered to perform the civil partnership, but be banned from using any religious reference at this point of the ceremony? Or will a civil registrar have to take that part of the ceremony, without having played any part in the religious sections? Are we in danger of discriminating against heterosexual couples, who must have either a religious marriage or a civil one, but who cannot combine the two?
By seeking answers to these questions, and wishing to ensure that they are addressed fully, we are in no way being negative. We welcome the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and the further clarity they bring to the amendment which was accepted on Report.
I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Thornton, and their very effective Bill team for their tireless work as this Bill has made its passage through your Lordships' House. Some areas are still subject to differences of opinion, but we have always made it clear that we wish to see the Bill on the statute book. The hard work and dedication of all noble Lords and everyone involved has meant that rigorous scrutiny has taken place and good changes have been made. We now commend them to the judgment of another place.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and other noble Lords who have added their names, on tabling this final series of amendments. We all owe him a huge debt, not least for putting these controversial issues to a vote, which was carried in his favour, at a previous stage of the Bill. I also thank the Bill team. There have been so many helpful, behind-the-scenes discussions on other issues which, perhaps because of time, have not been aired on the Floor of the House. Everyone who has taken part in those discussions is very grateful to the Leader of the House, to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and to the team which spent many hours on this. I particularly want to commend the work of the noble Lord, Lord Alli. As he says, this will definitely be-we look forward to having it confirmed-a permissive aspect and all these important areas of equality and non-discrimination will be set out clearly in the future. I support the amendment.
My Lords, any partnership between two people of the same sex is not a marriage and cannot be called a marriage because God's word does not allow that. It is in total contravention of the marriage which God ordained when he made mankind and put mankind into the world. It is totally wrong and I do not believe that any Christian church which is founded on the word of God can possibly be forced to carry out such partnerships in its places of worship. Although we are told that they will not be forced to, I fear that pressure will be put on churches to do so against their consciences, otherwise there will be a cry of discrimination. I do not believe in discrimination because of a person's orientation, whether sexual, religious or anything else, but it is wrong and dangerous to overthrow certain limits.
My Lords, Amendments 4, 5, 6 and 9 relate to Clause 202 and to civil partnerships in religious premises. These amendments make technical improvements to the provision brought forward by my noble friend Lord Alli on Report, ensuring that the provision delivers the intention debated at that time. I made it clear during the debate on Report that, while the Government were sympathetic to my noble friend's intentions, the amendment he had tabled did not entirely achieve what he had hoped for. The amendments we are considering here are welcome additions to the provision, addressing many of the concerns I raised.
It may be helpful to take a moment to clarify what these amendments would achieve. As noble Lords will be aware, it is not possible to register civil partnerships on premises which have not been approved for that purpose. My noble friend's original amendment would remove the current prohibition on religious premises being so approved. Under the current regime, it is the trustee or proprietor of premises who applies for approval. In the case of religious premises, that would leave the decision whether or not to apply entirely in the hands of those with control over individual premises. For those denominations that wish to maintain a consistent line across all their premises, that might cause problems.
Accordingly, Amendment 4 adds a new subsection (2)(b) to Section 6A of the Civil Partnership Act, which would enable the regulations setting out the approved premises regime to provide for applications for approval in relation to religious premises to be made only with the consent of specified people, but that regime would not have to apply to all denominations. As new subsection (2)(c) makes clear, the regulations would be able to make different provision for different kinds of premises, so would allow those faiths or denominations that want to have a consent mechanism to have one, and those that do not could leave it up to those in charge of individual places of worship. So the right reverend Prelate is absolutely correct about the process and about the fact that the new regime would allow denominations that do not wish to host civil partnership registrations to exercise control over the use of their places of worship. I hope that will reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Paisley.
I also assure the right reverend Prelate that there would be extensive consultation before these powers are used. We want to engage all interested parties, including people of all faiths and denominations, to make sure that the regime that is put into place reflects the position that each one wants to take. As my noble friend has said, his intention is to create an entirely voluntary regime, and these amendments would allow the Government to tailor it to the requirements of different denominations with different organisational structures and different views, as we have heard today, on whether they would wish to take advantage of it.
I make it clear to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that there is no question of the proprietor of a religious premises, or a religious organisation or anyone else, being liable for discrimination for deciding not to host civil partnership registrations on their religious premises. It is unlawful to conduct civil partnership registrations on premises that are not approved for that purpose. It is not possible to bring a claim for discrimination for failing to do something which is unlawful. There is no obligation on the controllers of religious premises to get them approved, and since seeking approval is neither the provision of a service nor a public function, for the purposes of the Equality Bill, there is no scope for a claim for discrimination being brought for failing to do so. With this in mind, I can be very clear that no amendment is required to cover this possibility. Indeed, to introduce such an amendment would be counterproductive in that it would imply that the Bill's provisions cover this and other matters to which they do not currently extend.
The noble Baroness asked about religious language and about how things would work. My Lords, it would work very much like it does for marriage, where a couple go to a side room, such as the vestry, to sign the register. A civil partnership registrar will still be required to officiate the signing of the register, and it is correct that there can be no religious service during the civil partnership registration.
I am most grateful to the Leader of the House. This is about the exchange of vows, and maybe it is just too technical. Maybe this is the sort of thing that will be covered in the consultation.
My Lords, I think it is too technical, and it is precisely the sort of thing that will be discussed during the consultation. The noble Baroness mentioned the possibility of heterosexual couples who are not currently allowed to wed in a church being discriminated against. It is up to the churches themselves whether or not to allow heterosexual couples to get married. For example, some individual churches within the body of a Church do not wish to marry couples who have been divorced, but that is entirely a matter for the churches themselves.
I turn to the remaining elements of Amendment 5. Subsections (3)(b) and (3)(c) are needed because this clause now includes a reference to civil marriage and religious premises. It is therefore necessary to define what is meant by these terms. The definitions are the same as used elsewhere in the Civil Partnership Act 2004. Amendment 6 to Clause 216 brings the commencement arrangements for Clause 202 into line with the rest of the Bill, ensuring that the clause can be commenced in an orderly fashion when supporting regulations are ready. Finally, Amendment 9 simply adds the provisions in the Civil Partnership Act repealed by Clause 202 to the list in Schedule 27 of the legislation repealed by the Equality Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, asked about Scotland. As he suggested, this provision applies to England and Wales. If the Scottish Parliament wishes to do something, that is entirely up to it.
I conclude by saying that the Government welcome these amendments, which address the concerns expressed by a number of religious organisations. I appreciate the comments made by the right reverend Prelate, and I am delighted to hear that constructive discussions between the various organisations have led to a broad, supportive consensus on these amendments. As I said on Report, we need to continue to listen to views from the widest possible range of religious organisations and from others with an interest when we consider the implementation of these provisions. As I have made clear this afternoon, full consultation will be needed to ensure that the regime for the approval of religious premises for civil partnerships is workable in practice for all faiths and denominations.
These new amendments will help to achieve such a workable solution. However, noble Lords will also recall that I said on Report that this is an issue of religious freedom and religious conscience; so, should the will of the House be tested on these subsequent amendments, the Government will allow a free vote.
My Lords, I very much welcome the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester and thank him for welcoming these amendments. I felt, however, that he was beginning to set out his position in any negotiations on the regulations. Perhaps we can leave those comments for a different time.
All we have ever sought to do through the amendment is to allow people of faith who want to hold civil partnerships in their religious buildings to do so. It is as simple as that, and no more difficult. We have not tried to go through the back door to allow a parish church to sue the General Synod. We had a very simple objective, which I hope we will have achieved. When I say "we", it is a real case of the Back-Benchers talking to the Front-Benchers. I ask all three parties and the usual channels to think more carefully about what those of us on the Back Benches have to say and to make it a little easier for us to intervene in our debates, because we, too, have a contribution to make to this House and it often feels as though we are not heard. I suspect that this debate will move on to a debate on the regulations, which I await with interest.
Amendment 4 agreed.
Amendment 5 agreed.
Clause 216 : Commencement
Amendment 6 agreed.
Schedule 3 : Services and public functions: exceptions
Amendment 7 not moved.
Schedule 15 : Associations: reasonable adjustments
Moved by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
8: Schedule 15, page 194, line 33, at end insert-
"( ) Section 20 has effect as if, in subsection (4), for "to avoid the disadvantage" there were substituted-
"(a) to avoid the disadvantage, or
(b) to adopt a reasonable alternative method of affording access to the benefit, facility or service or of admitting persons to membership or inviting persons as guests.""
Amendment 8 agreed.
Schedule 27 : Repeals and revocations
Amendment 9 agreed.
Schedule 28 : Index of defined expressions
Moved by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
10: Schedule 28, page 239, line 3, at end insert-
Amendment 10 agreed.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.