Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill — Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:23 pm on 3rd June 2013.

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Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 10:23 pm, 3rd June 2013

My Lords, like all noble Lords, I have received a vast amount of mail on this Bill and, because I sit on this side of the House, it is heavily skewed against the Bill. I suspect that the other side of the House has been fed vast numbers of letters in favour of the Bill. Why should it be that people preach to those whom they believe are already converted? Surely we ought to swap our mail to get a proper view of what public opinion is. I have had some mail and some e-mails in favour of the Bill. I would say to my noble friend Lord Dobbs that I recognise the age distinction, but the number of e-mails that I received for and against was very nearly even, so I think that there are some at least middle-aged people who share my views.

I am wasting time; what I want to come to is this. I was convinced by those letters and e-mails of the genuineness of the hurt felt by the homosexual minority in our society—a hurt which I understand is real. Of course, being a minority always generates tensions between the minority and the surrounding majority in both directions. The Government have a policy of social cohesion. Despite that, they went to their unsuspected ivory tower, looked out of the window, saw the great misty plain of social, political and religious affairs and said, “There is trouble there”. They then went back in again and disappeared from our view, and we imagined that they were making a strategic plan to solve the problem. Very soon afterwards, they emerged from the door at the bottom of the tower and said, “We’re going to do something about this”, and hope sprang in our breasts. The task before them was to reconcile the minority and the majority so that there should be equal and mutual trust, confidence and respect between the majority and the minority—between homosexuals and heterosexuals.

However, every single thing that the leaders have done since then seems to have been very cleverly calculated to stoke up the anxieties and mistrust on both sides. From that misty view from which they deduced that there was a problem to solve, did they then go out and inquire or have committees inquire into the situation as it really was and produce reports before they started to legislate? No; they came out with a Bill. There was predictable uproar because there was no consultation. My noble friend Lord Mawhinney dealt very ably with that, so I need not repeat it, but I should like to add one grace note to it. In the consultation that they have had, they have studiously avoided certain groups, as I understand from the director of the One People Commission of minority churches. He says:

“We note with sadness that not a single black or Asian representative was invited to give evidence to the Commons Committee that looked at the Bill”.

Even at that late stage, they had not woken up to the need to allay the fears of the people whose fears it is their business to allay. As a result, having started with one offended and anxious minority, they finished up with several dozen simply by ignoring the others.

Your Lordships have had plenty of theology this evening and do not need any more. We have heard it from real theologians and I have to say that I am carried and persuaded by them, but what really infuriates me is that the Bill has been brought forward in a way that has almost certainly doomed it to failure. The legislation may go into place but suspicions and anxieties have been stoked up and increased by the way in which all this has been done. There is a way in which we can go back to the beginning, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter suggested we should, and look for another route, and that is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dear, into the Content Lobby on his amendment. That may well trigger the Parliament Act but the result would be that in the next Session the Bill would come back to us and it would be open to us either to reject it or to pass it and take it through Committee. We would thus give the Government the time in between to do some real research and real diplomacy. They could make some real progress towards a harmonious solution and perhaps give the Church of England and other churches time to move a little as well. I am with the noble Lord.