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Moved by The Lord Bishop of Leicester
95: After Clause 14, insert the following new Clause—
“Amendment of Education Act 1996
(1) Section 403 of the Education Act 1996 is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (1B) insert—
“(1BA) Nothing in subsection (1B) prevents teaching the tenets of the relevant religion or religious denomination concerning marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children to registered pupils at schools which have a religious character.”
(3) After subsection (2) insert—
“(3) For the purposes of subsection (1BA)—
(a) a school has a religious character if it is designated as a school having such a character by an order made by the Secretary of State under section 69 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (“the 1998 Act”); and
(b) “the relevant religion or religious denomination” means the religion or denomination specified in relation to the school under section 69(4) of the 1998 Act.”
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 95, and I am glad to do so after a dinner break which I hope will have had the effect of moving noble Lords to see that this amendment merits the support of all sides of the House, whatever our disagreements may have been in the many days of debate thus far.
This amendment would ensure that there is no conflict between the guidance issued by the Secretary of State on the teaching of sex and relationships education, which includes teaching on the importance of marriage, and the obligation of schools of a religious character to teach in accordance with their trusts. It will ensure that while such schools will continue to have guidance issued by the Secretary of State about the teaching of marriage as it will be defined by the Bill, it does not prevent them, within the context of sex and relationships education, in the words of the amendment, also from,
“teaching the tenets of the relevant religion or religious denomination concerning marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children”.
It is important to stress what this amendment is not about. It is not about seeking opt-outs for teachers, pupils or schools of a religious character from teaching about marriage as the Bill defines it. I, personally, would have no part in proposing that. Nor is it about seeking so-called protections for schools or teachers from the need to promote same-sex marriage. Many in this Chamber and outside, as I know from many conversations, still remain haunted by the ghosts of Section 28. To anyone who is feeling so haunted this evening, I offer the rites of exorcism. Let me be crystal clear: this amendment is categorically not about turning back the clock to those regrettable times. It is about reconciling two principles that have been the cause of many heated debates in this House: the principles of equality in marriage and respect for religious freedom. The focus of the amendment is on schools of a religious character, and how teaching on marriage will and should take place once the Bill becomes law.
An earlier version of the amendment was tabled in Committee by my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. During the debate on that amendment it was unfortunate that the substance of the proposal was lost amid extended discussions about protections for teachers and schools and freedom from coercion about what to teach. I will address some of those misconceptions shortly but for now I will ask your Lordships not to be distracted by matters that have already been gone over at length and settled. They are not any part of the aim or purpose of this amendment.
This amendment seeks to bring clarity and to resolve a conflict between what schools of a religious character are legally obliged to do on the one hand—to meet the terms of their trusts—and what on the other hand they will be legally obliged to have regard to in terms of statutory guidance from the Secretary of State about the teaching of marriage. The Bill as it is sets both legal obligations on potentially a collision course.
The substance of my case for the amendment is that without it, governing bodies of schools of a religious character will be left in a dilemma as to how marriage should be taught and may even be encouraged, through their legal obligations, to require teachers, who must teach according to the tenets of the faith, to disregard the Secretary of State’s guidance altogether. No one in this House, not least those on these Benches, would like to see a situation arise in which schools of a religious character are left in any confusion or doubt, or in which they might frame a policy about teaching marriage that ignores the existence of same-sex marriage entirely. I therefore hope that the amendment will command the support of noble Lords on all sides of this debate.
I shall not repeat in detail the points made in Committee by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. The situation can be summarised as follows. All schools of a religious character, whether Church of England, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Jewish or other faiths, of which there are several in my own diocese of Leicester, are legally required to ensure that teaching takes place in the school according to the tenets of the respective faith. Church of England schools, for example, are established on trusts that require them to provide education in accordance with the tenets of the Church of England. They are legally obliged to comply with that requirement in their trust deeds, and a failure to do so would result in the governors acting unlawfully.
As far as teaching sex and relationships education goes, all maintained schools are required to “have regard to” guidance issued by the Secretary of State for Education under Section 403 of the Education Act 1996. That guidance says that pupils must,
“learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children”.
I will clarify the point here, which is the very specific area of sex and relationships education. The principal provision of Section 403 of the Education Act 1996 requires SRE to be,
“given in such a manner as to encourage pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life”.
Section 403 then builds on that general requirement by requiring the Secretary of State of State to issue guidance on the nature of marriage, and so on, and requiring heads and governing bodies to have regard to it. We are not talking here about teaching the tenets of the religion in a general sense but in this very specific area of sex and relationships education and moral considerations on the value of family life. That is why this particular area impinges on the tenets of the religion in a way that education generally does not. That is the reason to address this situation specifically.
After the Bill becomes law, the references in the guidance will of course be taken to mean marriage as the Bill defines it, which as anyone observing these debates will surely know by now, is not exactly how the tenets of the great majority of the world faiths define it. This leaves schools of a religious character with two competing legal duties. One says that the teaching has to be according to the tenets of the faith, while the other says that they must have regard to the guidance.
Why might that be a problem? Some may wonder why schools cannot just teach both alongside each other in a sensible way. That, of course, is certainly the approach we want to see in Church of England schools. However, the crucial point is that there are strong legal grounds to conclude that the obligation to comply with the terms of the trust deeds of a school of a religious character outweighs the duty to have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance. One is a duty to comply and the other is a duty to have regard. Unless Members of the House accept the amendment and resolve the conflict in the Bill, there is nothing to stop some schools of a religious character making a decision on legal grounds to set aside the guidance altogether. I am sure that noble Lords are aware of the diversification of provision being pursued by the Department for Education and the potential for a wider range of providers to enter the system. I contend that this makes it more necessary than ever to ensure that governing bodies are not tempted to set aside the guidance in this way. The amendment will give necessary space for schools of a religious character to stay within the terms of the statutory framework and significantly reduces the risk of them declining to teach about the changed legal nature of marriage at all.
In Committee, many noble Lords, including those on the Front Benches, questioned the necessity of the amendment. I hope that I have addressed that point adequately. Others, including the noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Pannick, argued against the amendment on the basis that schools will not be compelled to teach against the tenets of the faith, and that adequate protections exist already in domestic law. Those arguments are beside the central point. Although there are protections in the Human Rights Act, it is surely the best course for Parliament to make Section 403 of the Education Act 1996 compliant with that Act, rather than making schools fall back on requiring the courts to make decisions about compliance. While Section 403 also specifies that the Secretary of State’s guidance must ensure that pupils are,
“protected from teaching and materials which are inappropriate having regard to the age and the religious and cultural background of the pupils concerned”,
that paragraph applies only to the religious and cultural background of the pupils. In a city such as Leicester, many of our schools have pupils from many different religious and cultural backgrounds learning together. The amendment is concerned with the institutional religious character of the schools.
It is clear that schools of a religious character will continue to teach about marriage according to the tenets of their faith once the Bill becomes law. The key question is whether that fact should be addressed within or outside the statutory framework. Not only do we on these Benches think that an inclusive approach is best for Church of England schools, we believe that it is in the best interests of all those who support the principles of the Bill.
The amendment is necessary, moderate and eminently sensible. I repeat that it is not about creating opt-outs and protections for church schools. It will not give licence to schools of a religious character to ignore the fact that same-sex marriage exists, or to teach it without due respect and sensitivity. In fact, it will do the opposite. It will not undermine or threaten the Bill in principle or in practice.
“It is now the duty and responsibility of the Bishops who sit in the House of Lords to recognise the implications of this decision and to join with other members in the task of considering how this legislation can be put into better shape”.
That statement came in recognition of the rapid and dramatic swing in the pendulum of social and cultural norms that the passage of the Bill has demonstrated. A wise Parliament and Government will recognise that when the pendulum swings this far and fast, there comes a moment when making concessions designed to create a satisfactory space for adjustment to the rate of change is sound politics. I put it to the House and to the Minister that much clarity and social benefit will arise from the amendment, and that the argument that it is unnecessary does not hold water. A sympathetic response from the Minister would go a long way to dispel the concerns of this Bench. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. We know that parents go to great lengths to get their children into faith schools, which are hugely popular. Some 30% of schools are faith schools. Parents value the ethos, discipline and character of the schools, which teach the importance of marriage for family life and for bringing up children. Of course, that is nothing new. It is built into our existing law. As the right reverend Prelate said, Section 403(1A) of the Education Act 1996 requires the Secretary of State to issue guidance to ensure that pupils,
“learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children”.
We know that in future the word “marriage” in Section 403 will mean both opposite-sex and same-sex marriage, so when the Bill is enacted it will change the meaning of “marriage”.
As I understand it, the amendment is designed to tackle a problem that will arise by reason of the wording in Section 403(1A) that requires more than ensuring that children learn about the law of the land. The section puts an obligation on the Secretary of State to ensure that children, I repeat,
“learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children”.
Those words are of concern because they entail more than the teaching of fact or law. They require schools to teach that marriage is valuable and beneficial for family life and the bringing up of children. As the right reverend Prelate said, it could be in conflict with the Secretary of State’s guidance.
In this amendment, we want to ensure that schools with a religious character are able to continue ensuring that pupils learn about the importance of marriage for family life, and that they are not prevented from doing so by the redefinition of marriage in Section 403 caused by the Bill. It is a modest amendment that will alleviate the concerns of many schools about the conflict that could arise, which was outlined by the right reverend Prelate.
I am sure that noble Lords will say that it is simply not needed. That argument has been used against a lot of the amendments that have been put forward. However, I was reminded of Voltaire, who said:
“Define your terms, you will permit me again to say, or we shall never understand one another”.
It is important that we understand each other, especially as legislators, and are clear about what we consider to be the law of the land.
The Government last Monday saw no harm in redefining some of their terms. Previously, we were told that it was not necessary to clarify parts of the Bill but, in Committee, the Government, generously perhaps, put forward amendments to further clarify the wording around the Public Order Act and the definition of “compel”—amendments which we consider have really improved the Bill. Our aim is not to allow schools with a religious character to avoid teaching the law of the land; as the Minister rightly pointed out,
“such schools do already teach about topics that may be considered sensitive, such as divorce, and they do so without issue”.—[ Official Report , 24/6/13; col. 567.]
But we think that all schools, including schools with a religious character, should teach the law, and this amendment has been very carefully drafted to ensure that schools will not be enabled to ignore any guidance requiring them to do so. It is not designed to prevent schools educating them about the law. On the contrary, we want schools to teach the law, to ensure that it is taught with clarity, is even-handed and, as they understand it, within the character and ethos of faith schools, without conflicting with the Secretary of State’s guidance.
My Lords, I understand the concerns that have moved the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, but I think that the amendment is inappropriate, for these reasons. Section 403, which the amendment addresses, is concerned with sex education. There are many contexts in which sex education raises religious issues, including homosexuality, contraception, and no doubt many more. I cannot understand why there is a need for a specific statutory provision in Section 403 to address the impact of same-sex marriage on sex education when there is no need for a statutory provision to address other issues that may have a religious dimension.
The right reverend Prelate referred to Section 403(1A), which, as the noble Baroness pointed out, says that the guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State must put sex education in the context of marriage and family life. But there is a very good reason why the guidance requires sex education to be put in the context of family life and marriage. That is because sex education should not be taught simply on the basis of physicality; it should be presented, as I am sure that all noble Lords would agree, in the context of responsibility and the development of relationships. Surely, if and when sex education addresses homosexuality, it should equally be taught in that same context of responsibility and other relationships and, as a result of this Bill, that will include same-sex marriage. For this amendment to be adopted would, I am afraid, run counter to everything else that we are seeking to achieve in this Bill.
My Lords, I rise to give my support, not surprisingly perhaps, to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who moved this amendment with balance and moderation, even though with a quiet passion. I do not believe that the acceptance of the amendment can do any damage whatever to a Bill that is shortly to complete its passage through your Lordships’ House. We are not debating tonight the rights and wrongs of same-sex marriage as against traditional marriage or rehearsing again the arguments that we specifically add extra definitions to two forms of marriage within the Bill. In this amendment, we seek to give a degree of reassurance to those who are concerned at the enormous social change that the passage of this Bill will bring about in our country. There is no point in anyone denying that there is going to be enormous social change.
Those parents who send their children to faith schools or denominational schools, whether they be Church of England, Roman Catholic or any other faith, have a right to expect two things above all. The first is that their children be brought up and taught to understand the realities of the society in which they live. Of course it is right—and the right reverend Prelate stressed this —for guidance given by the Secretary of State to be not only received but followed. Of course it is necessary that my grandchildren—and many of your Lordships have grandchildren—should be brought up to understand that Parliament has, in its wisdom, decided to effect a major change to the social fabric of our land. But if that change is to come about with a degree of mutual tolerance and understanding —and, yes, good humour—it is important that the second requirement to which parents look should be fulfilled. Their children should be taught the basic tenets of the faith.
There need be nothing incompatible between these two aims. I believe that the manner in which the right reverend Prelate introduced the amendment showed that that is foremost among his aims and objectives and those of his colleagues on the Bishops’ Bench. There are times when we in this House can benefit from the guidance and wisdom of the Lords spiritual. I believe that tonight is one of them. The acceptance of this amendment will show sensitivity and understanding on the part of the Government. It will do nothing to damage the cause of those who believe passionately—and I respect their beliefs—in the essential not just rightness but necessity of the legislation before us. There are many who believe that it is utterly necessary. I do not share that view, but I hope that when we have finished our deliberations on this Bill, either next Monday or whenever we have to re-debate amendments sent back from another place, in all parts of this House there will be a spirit of mutual tolerance and acceptance of what we have enacted. That will call for a degree of charity on the part of us all, whichever side we have taken in this debate. If we can assist in laying the foundation for that spirit of charity tonight, as the Bill approaches its final stages, we should do so.
I warmly commend the amendment and even more warmly commend the spirit in which it was moved and I very much hope that it can be accepted without a Division by your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I have spent some time trying to understand the issues raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester in this amendment. As I understand it, the right reverend Prelate is worried about the teaching of marriage in faith schools and academies as part of sex and relationship education. He has explained his concerns and in particular the conflict that he perceives between the guidance issued by the Secretary of State and the teaching of the tenets of the religion as protected in the Bill.
I am sorry that I cannot support the right reverend Prelate on this amendment, for many of the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, outlined. I am also afraid that, if we agree to this amendment, which I do not believe is absolutely necessary, it will provide a foothold for those who are opposed to this Bill to reopen old debates and old wounds. I believe that it has the potential to be quite destructive in the hands of those who do not want this Bill to succeed.
While I cannot support the amendment, I want to put on record my growing appreciation of the new direction of travel within the Church of England. I did not know that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury would be in this place, but anybody who heard his presidential address to the General Synod cannot but have been impressed by his thoughts on the matter. He said that, after listening to our Second Reading debate, he could not fail to be struck by the,
“overwhelming change of cultural hinterland”.
“Predictable attitudes were no longer there”.
He committed the Church of England to work tirelessly against homophobic bullying in the schools that it runs and among the children whom it educates. I want to pay tribute, once again, to him for fuelling this journey which, I believe, can only help society as a whole.
I also pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. I know that this Bill is not what the Church of England wanted; it would rather that this Bill had not come about. However, the right reverend Prelate, under difficult circumstances, has navigated very choppy waters with some skill and conviction. It is not the right reverend Prelate’s amendment I fear but those who would use it against us and do the opposite of all that he wants. That is why I cannot support the amendment. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will understand that. I also hope that he will not test the opinion of the House because I, like many in this House, have no appetite to vote against him, for the reasons already given.
My Lords, I support the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Alli and Lord Pannick, particularly the compliments paid to the right reverend Prelate and the most reverend Primate for their work on this issue. I want to raise a slightly different issue. The right reverend Prelate referred to the difficult balance that faith schools have to strike between complying with the tenets of their trust deeds and having due regard to the directions of the Secretary of State. I absolutely understand that. It may be helpful to quote an Oral Question of
“My noble friend is quite right that academies are not obliged to teach sex education, although, if they do, they have to have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance on these matters. I repeat the point that Ofsted inspects for all social, moral and cultural provision in schools, and we will be ensuring that it focuses on this point”.—[Hansard, 8/7/2013; col. 6.]
I raise that point because I see a distinct parallel for faith schools with the way that religious education is taught, whereby the schemes of work that the Church of England has for covering a range of other faiths are sensitive and educational but do not promote those faiths. I absolutely see that parallel here, in that faith schools are not required to promote same-sex marriage but merely to educate pupils about it. Often we get bound up in the idea that SRE is taught only in sex and relationship education classes. However, young pupils will ask about this at peculiar times. Therefore, a school needs a policy. I have seen many faith schools’ policies on SRE that recognise that fact and all staff are empowered in that regard. Therefore, I hope that the right reverend Prelate does not press the amendment because I believe that schools of a religious character can find the protections that they need in the existing Education Act.
My Lords, this debate has moved into a different manner of speech by virtue of the gracious response of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. Indeed, if I may say so, there was graciousness on both sides. I hope that, irrespective of whether the amendment is pressed, and whatever the result of the Division might be if it is pressed, we can have an assurance from the Front Bench that the possible conflict between trust law and the directions of the Secretary of State, to which schools have to have due regard, will be given further attention. If that happens, I believe that we could have a way forward along which we could all walk. I look to the Front Bench to be given an assurance in that area, if that is possible, given the positive exchanges between the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester.
My Lords, I know that this amendment refers to all faith schools but I hope that I may be forgiven if I concentrate my remarks on the only faith schools about which I know anything at all—the Church of England schools. In doing so, I am encouraged to some extent by the report that I read of what the Prime Minister told the national parliamentary prayer breakfast, which took place recently in Westminster Hall. I wish to quote briefly from the article in the Times of
“It is encouraging that Christianity still plays such a vital role in our national life. It has had an immense historic influence in the development of our culture and institutions and it motivates British people to wonderful acts of service and self-sacrifice. We are a country with a Christian heritage and we should not be afraid to say so”.
Throughout our debates on the Bill, frequent reference has been made to freedom of speech and equality of treatment and esteem and to the fact that marriage is seen and acknowledged to be the building block of society. Family life and the bringing up of children is one aspect of marriage that will change as a result of this Bill becoming law, though its importance must remain a significant feature in our life. Ideally, the family includes a mother and father, maybe siblings, maybe uncles and aunts and, I hope, grandparents. Grandparents have a significant role in the nurturing and upbringing of children. The aim of a family should be to provide a stable and secure environment for the nurturing of children.
Church schools—and this goes for schools of all faiths—can help families by providing moral guidance and a set of standards that they seek to have upheld. This is of increasing significance in our life today when the pressures on children and family life are so enormous. We have recently had several references in this House to video games and other pressures to which children are subjected. The more we can hold on to standards that are enshrined in the values of faith schools, the better it will be for the nurturing of children. Because of the change in the definition of marriage that will inevitably follow the passing of this Bill, it is very desirable that, notwithstanding the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, these words form part and parcel of the Bill: church schools should be encouraged to teach the tenets of religion,
“concerning marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children”.
Those words need emphasis over and over again because there are many, many people beyond this House who are afraid that those principles of married life will be undermined by this Bill.
I rise with very considerable trepidation, with humility and, if I may say so, with some dubiety in relation to this issue. I come from Welsh nonconformist stock. I am a Welsh Presbyterian and my family have been Welsh Presbyterians for well over 200 years. However, I appreciate and respect the Church of England, the position that it occupies in the history of this land, its status as an established Church and all faith schools. As a lawyer or, more accurately, as a retired lawyer, my question is whether there is a point where a faith school or a body operating under any trust is entitled, if it so wishes, to go contrary to a principle that had been clearly and specifically spelt out in an Act of Parliament. The answer must be in the negative.
I do not know exactly what the circumstances might be in relation to this section under the Education Act 1996. If the right reverend Prelate is right to say that the amendment is no more than making an assurance doubly so—in other words consolidating a line that is already there—I would accept it. On the other hand, if the amendment allows the whole principle of the Bill to be endangered and imperilled, one must oppose it.
The wording of the amendment is very wide and encompasses all manner of possibilities. Subsection (2) states: “Nothing in subsection (1B)”—a reference to the 1996 Act—
“prevents teaching the tenets of the relevant religion or religious denomination concerning marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children to registered pupils at schools which have a religious character”.
Does that mean—as it seems to me that it must mean—that a teacher in a faith school could say, “Of course Parliament passed an Act in 2013 in relation to same-sex couples, but we believe that it is wrong. Everything that our church or denomination represents suggests that it is utterly wrong, and not only wrong but evil”? What does that create? That is not a licence that can be allowed to anyone who operates within the democratic principle of the rule of law and the rule of Parliament. If I am wrong about that, I apologise. If I am right, the amendment should be rejected.
My Lords, I am seeking to obey the rules of the House and not repeat things said in Committee.
Faith schools teach children. I say that because my county of Lancashire, where I chaired the Education Committee for 10 years, had the largest percentage and number of faith schools. I should point out that not all parents in counties such as Lancashire choose faith schools. They are the nearest schools, and parents cannot choose to have their children’s travel to a non-faith school paid for, whereas they could be paid for travel to a faith school. I tell the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, that that is the case. Noble Lords have referred to the fact that the option for faith school education entitled children’s travel to be paid for.
However, faith schools seek to teach the whole community, wherever they are. I have been around for so long that I remember Faith in the City, Geoffrey Duncan and those who argued that the role of faith schools was to teach the whole community in which they were located. Some of the faith schools in Lancashire had a majority of Muslim pupils, and probably still do. However, those schools taught the children. That was the issue—the teaching of the children. The confidence of those Muslim parents was based on the fact that the school would respect the views of the parents as well as teach the children about the beliefs of that community. Some noble Lords in this debate have spoken as though this legislation will create a new set of circumstances among the communities, the families and the friends of the children who go to the school. That is not the case: this legislation recognises what is happening in our communities. It may be giving a new name to civil partnerships, but those relationships actually exist now in the families, homes and communities of the children who will be in the schools.
I have tremendous respect for the aims of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. In fact, many years ago, the Bishop of Leicester gave a lecture at my wedding on the importance of marriage and education, but it was not the right reverend Prelate who is with us tonight. I have been married too long for it to be this young right reverend Prelate.
I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, although I did not always listen to him, when he was in office in government. He explained that we do not need to change the 1996 Act to secure the benefits that the right reverend Prelate is seeking to achieve. Some noble Lords have talked as though our schools are places where ideas are promoted. These days, even young children, and certainly 13 year-olds, will ask questions; but the idea that a teacher can go into a classroom and tell children of 13 what to think or know is pretty ludicrous. Those children are growing up in the world; they recognise it. In fact, we are recognising the world of those children who recognise it.
A 12 year-old said to me, “What are you doing in the House of Lords?” I said, “Same-sex marriage”. The child said, “Why should there be any argument about that—who is arguing?” I said, “Well—some of the people from religious backgrounds.” The child said to me, “You know, I could go off God.” That was a child in a church school in rural Essex. I said, “You really mustn’t blame God for what some of the religious followers say. It isn’t always God who is wrong; it may be their interpretation.” I hope that the right reverend Prelate will not feel the need to press his amendment and that the Minister will be able to assuage any fears he feels.
In closing, I want to say how important it is that all children in all our schools—and I am certain that the denominational schools feel this—ought to be able to love and respect all members of their communities and families. Those children know that those people are there now. Perhaps we are a bit late in recognising it.
I hope that my noble friend will be able to clarify for us the perceived conflict between the guidance and the documents—the names of which I forget—under which the faith schools have to operate. It seems to me that what these amendments ask is not the big thing it is suggested it is. Surely it must be right for church and other faith schools to teach about the world as it is and as it changes. The world is changing, but faiths do not necessarily change at the same rate or, indeed, at all. However, they are part of the world and therefore must be taught.
What is at issue is whether there can be recruiting or promoting of the particular faith—it need not be Christianity—or the particular orientation, which need not be heterosexuality. That is what is at issue. I would like my noble friend to assure us that there is a legally proof way through this which preserves the right of all faiths to explain to children what the tenets of that faith are while at the same time addressing the actual world which the children will grow up into without being in fear of being in breach of the law. I believe I am right in saying that the original concern of the right reverend Prelate was not so much with teachers as with the foundations. We have not heard so much about them, but this has to be available as a protection to the foundations of schools. In my view, it should not be phrased in such a way as to threaten in any way the intentions of this Bill.
My Lords, I support the right reverend Prelate’s amendment. Neither the equal marriage Bill nor this amendment would change the doctrinal position of religious organisations. In fact, the Bill recognises in Clause 1(3) that the doctrine of the Church of England remains that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
This amendment is about religious educational institutions, as the right reverend Prelate has said, operating within the ethos of their faith and charitable foundations, while giving due regard to the breadth of opinion on the nature of marriage, including equal marriage. It ensures a true diversity while allowing for a particular perspective to be honoured. The Human Rights Act, Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Section 403 of the Education Act 1996 may seem to preserve religious freedom or the exercise of discretion in selecting materials for SRE teaching, but the legal process proving that, if these freedoms are challenged, might be lengthy and very expensive. It is better to amend at this stage and thus resolve the conflict between different legal requirements.
The amendment will protect and promote religious freedom, and thereby enable the ongoing contribution to the common good of the religious traditions and diversities of this country. Marriage makes a great and fundamental contribution to our society. It is better that all views are included and encouraged for all to flourish. There is no homophobic Trojan horse in this amendment; rather, there is a recognition of true diversity of opinion. God willing, we will move beyond homophobic attitudes, and this amendment is one way to do that. It would ensure that true diversity is taught in a faith context and would provide formation for the almost 1 million children for whom the Church of England is responsible in its schools.
My Lords, I have sat patiently through many of our debates, but I did not speak during the Committee stage. I should like to support the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. What it seeks from us all, and particularly from the Minister who is to respond, is clarity. In passing this Bill—and I am sure that it will pass—we are actually changing the law. I do not accept some of the contributions which say that there is no need for it because the issue is covered. I do not think it is, and therefore this amendment is extremely important.
I question why so many parents, often from no faith at all, choose to send their children to faith schools. What is it about faith schools that they think their child will benefit from? Many people who I speak to will say, very sensibly, that while they themselves do not have a particularly strong faith, there is something within the teaching in faith schools that is extremely important. Into that comes marriage and the sorts of things that we talked about earlier.
To me, this amendment is about seeking clarification and whether we can still teach the religious freedoms and teach about marriage based on one man and one woman. I was grateful for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, earlier, but extremely dismayed when he said that it could be used against us. Against whom? This is an inclusive Bill. It might be something that some of us are struggling to come to terms with, but to use the argument against what is being proposed in this Bill I found deeply concerning.
Church of England schools and other religious faith schools need to know where they stand with regard to their legal requirements. I am sure that members of the teaching staff will do that in the best way that they can. If one goes further than just marriage and looks at children and the nurturing of children, one of the questions that I am sure they will pose is, “Who is my mum and who is my dad?”. I mentioned this once before in Committee in a brief interjection, because it is something that will not go away. A child is naturally going to say, “Who is my mum and who is my dad?” In same-sex marriages, that is something that will have to be overcome. People who are teaching need to be clear as to what advice is being given to them on that topic. We have talked a lot about the theory and well-being of the move towards same-sex marriages, but many of my e-mails—I am sure other people’s are the same—reflected concerns about the implications that that has for children. How will children react? How will that balance out?
Briefly, the amendment is very moderate and I do not think that it divides the House as have others, which have sought special compensation or special thoughts. It is a genuine attempt to try to get clarity on where we are and where we can go in future. I hope that the Minister, rather than giving us a no answer, as we have sadly had over many of the issues raised, will be able to enlighten and help us on the way ahead, because that is what we are after.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak. I know that it is unusual for there to be so many interventions from these Benches. I believe that one point has not yet been as fully made as it might have been. I was prompted to these remarks by listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington. I agreed with most of what she had to say, but I was led to a very different conclusion. I fully agree with her understanding of church schools and what they exist for. For that reason, I have always refused to fall in with lumping church schools in that easy category of faith schools. The Church of England schools—this is particularly true of the primary sector—exist as part of our mission to the whole community. We are there to serve the community as a whole. To that end—I speak as a former teacher, governor and chair of boards of education—our schools have always sought to hold to an integrity which involves being true to the church’s teaching and to trust law, and true to the law of the land. That is absolutely at the heart of the dual system, which has underpinned much of the education of this country for a very long time.
This Bill introduces in a novel way a potential conflict between trust law and education law. The amendment in the name of my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester seeks to reconcile that potential conflict in the Bill. That seems to me to be hugely important. I am not a lawyer, but I know that there is a recognised branch of jurisprudence which goes under the heading “conflict of law”. I also know that the study of that subject teaches that where the conflict between different laws has to be resolved, it always raises questions of jurisdiction and normally raises questions of supra-jurisdiction—a jurisdiction greater than the two parties to the conflict.
There is deep concern in this country at present about the loss of jurisdiction from the High Court of Parliament. I enter a final plea to the Minister, and to all those on the Front Benches, to consider the advantage of having a potential conflict between trust and educational law dealt with in the Bill, rather than leaving it to a jurisdiction which may well be beyond the High Court of Parliament.
My Lords, I, too, pay huge tribute to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for what he said in his first speech to the General Synod as head of the church and the Anglican communion about the changing attitude towards gays, the need to fight prejudice against homosexuals and the fact that the church looks, in his words, “out of step”. I am also grateful to him, and the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Leicester and the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, for the way in which they have considered the Bill. I have absolutely no doubt that they will ensure that Church of England schools will teach about same-sex marriages in a factual way, without any prejudice, and that they will naturally also teach about their own views of marriage, as is right and proper. I also know that they are absolutely against any opt-outs. I wholeheartedly agree that marriage is a very good thing for society and that it should be celebrated.
I understand the concerns that have been expressed about the pace of change by both the Church of England and the Catholic Church, with which I had an excellent meeting last week, for which I am grateful. It is true that it will take a while for some people to get their heads around same-sex marriage, but they will, and they will be comfortable with it. I have had several conversations over the weekend with people who have in the past expressed concern but have already changed their views. Both the vote and the debates in this House and the speech by the most reverend Primate have had a real impact on those people.
On the issue at hand, we have said throughout our deliberations on the Bill that, in our view, amendments pertaining to teaching and faith schools are not necessary. Teachers are already able to teach according to their religious tenets. That will not change, nor will the ability of faith schools to operate within the tenets of their faith. Some people, while generally accepting that point, say, “Why not give comfort to those who are concerned by putting something in the Bill?”. I understand that the right reverend Prelate is making a legal point. Others, including those on the Bishops’ Bench, want to ensure that the legal and religious definitions of marriage can be taught alongside one another in an appropriate way. I am well aware and grateful that the Bishops do not agree with those who are seeking “protections”.
I also know that the reasoning behind the amendment is to give space for schools of a religious character to stay within the terms of the statutory framework and to reduce the risk of them declining to teach about the changed legal nature of marriage at all. I warmly welcome the fact that the Church of England is clearly determined to pursue this inclusive approach for its own schools and to commend it to others. Indeed, that is exactly what should happen under the Bill as drafted, when it becomes law.
I realise that the Church of England and many in the Catholic Church would not wish to see any return to those dreadful days of prejudice but, as has been said many times, prejudice still exists. I know strong professional men and women who are still hesitant, even unwilling, to come out at work. As we do not believe that this amendment is necessary, and because we do not want to risk the way in which it could be interpreted by those who are intolerant or homophobic, I regret that we cannot support it. However, as other noble Lords have said, I hope that the Minister, while not accepting the amendment, will be able to give the necessary reassurance and clarity to the Bishops—and all Members of this House—and to those of other faiths.
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for the important statement that he issued after Second Reading and to which he referred.
During the past few months, the Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Maria Miller, and I have enjoyed some very constructive, productive and valuable discussions with both the most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelate and their officials on a range of matters. Something I valued greatly was having the opportunity to get to know Members on the Bishops’ Benches better than I had done up to that point. Our discussions included their concerns about religious freedom for faith schools, which the right reverend Prelate talked about in moving his amendment, and I am grateful to him for the very careful way that he did.
In responding to the right reverend Prelate and to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, I start by stressing that schools with a religious character provide an excellent education for their pupils, while reflecting their beliefs across the curriculum, including in sex and relationship education. We really value the work that faith schools do and I would like to make it clear that there is absolutely nothing in this Bill that affects the ability of faith schools to continue to do this in the future.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester has explained that there is a specific concern—echoed by other noble Lords who have contributed tonight—that without this amendment a potential conflict could arise between a school’s duty to teach its faith ethos and its responsibilities under Section 403 of the Education Act. I understand the importance of this issue and I can assure noble Lords that the Government have considered it very carefully. Noble Lords will have heard me say on many occasions during the passage of this Bill that we are considering this area, and we have done so with great care. However, we believe that this provision is unnecessary. Clearly, I need to reassure the House on why we have come to that view.
In schools of a religious character, teachers deal admirably with teaching about marriages that may not be recognised as such according to the tenets of the relevant faith—for example, marriages of divorcees or, for some religions, mixed-faith marriages. In order to take account of this distinction, they already interpret their duties under Section 403 of the Education Act according to their religious tenets. Faith schools must take the guidance into account when developing their policy on sex and relationship education and, in doing so, can also take into account other matters, including in particular relevant religious tenets. This is already recognised by the current legal framework.
I will expand a little on this and I will respond specifically to the question put to me by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. “Have regard to” means just that. Having regard to a provision does not mean that it must be followed assiduously should there be a good reason for not doing so. This was made clear in the decision of the Privy Council in Barber v Minister of the Environment in 1997. Faith schools must take the guidance into account when developing their policy on sex and relationship education and, in doing so, can also take into account other matters, including in particular relevant religious tenets. A relevant faith tenet is a perfectly sensible reason in this context and one that the current legal framework recognises.
The right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Guilford and the Bishop of Exeter sought assurance that there is no legal conflict between a school’s trust deeds and its obligations in relation to the guidance. I can happily give that assurance. Faith schools must take into account the requirements placed on them by their trust deeds when determining their policy on sex and relationship education. The requirement on schools to have regard to the guidance ensures that they can take other relevant factors into account, including their trust deeds. They are required not to follow every element of the guidance but simply to have regard to it.
We are concerned that, as well as being unnecessary, the amendment could be unhelpful. As is noted in the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights following its scrutiny of this Bill, some are making the argument for clarification in this area as a way of protecting faith schools from being required to “promote or endorse” marriage of same-sex couples. We are clear that no school is under any duty to promote or endorse any particular view about marriage. I recognise what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester said about the ghosts of the past, but we have heard in our debates about the real concern that gay people still have when it seems that a duty to explain might equate to promoting gay marriage. That seems an argument against teachers being able to inform children in an appropriate way that we are not all the same.
My noble friend Lord Cormack talked about the parents who send their children to faith schools and the importance that they attach to their children being able to learn about the tenets of their faith at school. My noble friend Lady Byford made a similar point and stressed that that was the reason behind the decision to send children to faith schools. My noble friend Lord Cormack said that he hoped that we would be able to give some comfort to those who need it in the face of enormous social change, as I think he described it. I understand the point that my noble friends are making in this regard. As I hope they will remember, I acknowledged at Second Reading that we all deal with change at a different pace and it is perfectly reasonable for people to need some time to adjust to social change, but I do not think that this amendment is the way to give people comfort in order to adjust to social change.
A point that I do not think has been made so far this evening is that some parents who send their children to faith schools are gay. We should not assume that all parents who send their children to faith schools are straight couples. That is the kind of sensitive issue that we are dealing with. I understand the strength of conviction and complete sincerity of the right reverend Prelate and his colleagues in bringing forward this amendment, but I am trying to explain how complex it is in how it gets interpreted and the effect that it has on what I think we are all trying to achieve: an accepting and tolerant society in which we all understand and respect one another.
The Government do not believe that there is a need to legislate on this matter, but I note and understand the desire for additional clarity to be provided to all schools and teachers. As I have mentioned several times over the past few weeks, we have secured the agreement of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to work with the Government to review the commission’s guidance and statutory codes of practice. Perhaps I have not been as clear as I need to be that among the codes of practice that it produces there is a specific code for schools and teachers, and this guidance is about the Equality Act 2010. The EHRC will review that guidance in light of this Bill becoming an Act, so new guidance from the EHRC will go out to schools specifically to help to ensure that there is clarity around the fact that belief that a marriage should only be between a man and a woman must be respected. That is something that we know people very much want and it is something that we are very much committed to providing.
The Department for Education will also work with relevant organisations that provide advice on teaching sex education, as well as the Catholic Education Service and Church of England Education Division, to ensure that those organisations’ advice to schools makes it clear that faith schools are able to explain relevant religious tenets when teaching about marriage.
Of course I recognise that my response will disappoint many noble Lords, not just the right reverend Prelates on the Bishops’ Bench. My noble friend Lady Byford referred to concessions and I am sorry that this is not an amendment that we can accept. We have made several amendments to the Bill and accepted concessions. Changing the Public Order Act was one and the other, which we talked about on Monday, was around clarifying the word “compel”. We felt able to make those changes because we thought that it was possible to clarify and give people the greater confidence that they wanted that the protections in the Bill are robust. However, as I said at Second Reading, we would make such changes only where we were confident that by clarifying we did not introduce something else that would then call into question what we are trying to achieve.
It is on that basis and after much careful consideration within government that we have come to the conclusion that we have. I recognise that this will be disappointing news. However, by being as clear as I can about the other efforts that we will make to ensure that there is clarity in schools, I hope that this is of some comfort to the right reverend Prelate who moved the amendment and to all those who supported it in the Chamber this evening.
My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have spoken in what has been a serious and gracious debate. I know that I speak for my noble friend the most reverend Primate in expressing gratitude for the tributes that have been paid to his leadership, particularly at the General Synod, and in so many other ways. It is a leadership for which we are growing more and more appreciative, both in the church and in the nation. I thank the Minister for the care, attention, accessibility and understanding that she has unfailingly shown in the conversations that we have had leading up to this debate. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for helpful conversations in which we have been able to make clear our genuine concerns.
I think that it was Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke” who said: “What we have here is a failure to communicate”. At times in this debate it has felt a bit like that because, as those who listened carefully to what was said in support of the amendment know, what I am trying to do is to ensure that the Bill prevents faith schools from opting out of teaching about same-sex marriage. We really are on the same side of the argument and it seems at times that this message has not been heard.
I shall make some specific responses to certain noble Lords. To the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, I would say that Section 403 is the only education provision that refers to marriage and it is the meaning of that word that is being altered by this Bill. We do not need to amend other legislation, as he has suggested, because other education legislation does not deal with marriage. Therefore, the amendment does not run counter to the Bill. It says that there is room for both religious and legal understandings of marriage and that they can live alongside each other in religious schools.
I would just clarify the question that the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, put to us. The position is that there is a difference between a requirement to have regard to statutory guidance and an obligation to comply with the terms of a trust deed. The latter is an unqualified legal obligation. The former is a duty to have regard and is therefore weaker, hence the danger of some religious groups going their own way if the potential conflict is not resolved. That is the point that I tried to make.
On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, the concern is not that the Bill is changing what goes on in homes and communities but that it changes the law. We need to ensure that the new law and teaching about marriage in church schools can happily coexist. I do not believe that this amendment in any way erodes, undermines or attacks the central purpose of the Bill; rather, it strengthens it.
Having said all that, I know that it is late and that we have much more work to do. The Minister has given what I take to be an undertaking that, if it comes to a conflict, the Government recognise that the trust deed overrides the requirements of the Secretary of State’s guidance. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment. I reserve the right to consider the implications of this debate further in case we want to bring some of this back at Third Reading.
Amendment 95 withdrawn.
Moved by The Earl of Listowel
95A: After Clause 14, insert the following new Clause—
“Education: duty of the Secretary of State to provide information
The Secretary of State must provide evidence-based information to teachers on the implications of the measures in this Act for the raising of children and the promotion of family life.”
My Lords, my purpose in moving this amendment is to obtain a statement from the Government of their assessment of the impact of same-sex parenting on child development. I would appreciate a careful and thorough assessment from the Government, perhaps with the aid of an appropriate mental health professional and a statistician, to look across the research that we have currently on this issue and produce a report. In the first place, a letter to me and placed in the Library would be very welcome. Perhaps that might be the basis of further work that could also help with the support for schools that the Minister was just talking about in helping them manage this new piece of legislation.
I will try to be brief, given the hour. I thank the Minister for meeting with me at Committee stage to discuss my concerns. That was very generous of her. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, who I see in her place, for her kind words on my work in the course of Monday’s business.
A twofold challenge makes me ask these questions. First—I know that this is debatable—the Bill might give a significant, inadvertent nudge to same-sex couples and to teachers, doctors and child and family social workers. Many of us agree that marriage has traditionally been seen as the last and very important step before one starts a family. For many professionals, the Bill might seem to encourage them to think that same-sex parenting is just as good as or even better than heterosexual parenting and nudge them towards, for example, giving IVF, making placements with same-sex foster carers or adoptive parents, or teaching children that same-sex parenting is no longer problematic or debatable. For context in this, your Lordships might recall debates on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act a few years back, where the duty was removed for clinicians to ensure that those taking part kept in mind the interests of the child of having contact with the father. I fear a gradual erosion of that traditional norm that the best situation for every child is to have a mother and a father.
The second difficulty concerns research. The phenomenon of same-sex parenting is relatively new, and research only stretches back about 30 years. Typical problems are that the samples are of small numbers and too narrow, and that the duration of study was too short. Another problem is that the science is undertaken under pressure of polemic from both sides. There are people here who desperately want this to be proven to be absolutely unproblematic, and others who desperately want this to be shown to be the wrong thing to do entirely. The truth lies somewhere in between and is sometimes hard to find.
The noble Baroness has in the past alluded to research from Melbourne, Australia, the largest cohort study so far, of about 400 families with perhaps 750 children, which is now considering them at the age of 17. It is encouraging that such large cohort studies are taking place. Again, however, we need to look at these very critically, and look at the samples that they are taking. I will come to the details of what might be considered as we examine that research critically.
On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Winston, pointed to the research of Professor Susan Golombok at the University of Oxford, pointing to positive outcomes for children in same-sex parenting arrangements. That is interesting research, and I am sure that we are all grateful to the professor for perhaps the most important piece of research in this country. However, from memory —I have not looked at it for a couple of years—it is of a small sample, about 60 families, and, again, only to the age of 18. We do not know what happens to the adult children of same-sex families. The point that I am trying to stress is that it is still early days and the evidence needs to be looked at critically. I notice that people seem to jumping to a conclusion about what that research points to too soon.
Looking at the evidence matters because we are dealing with a phenomenon which our past experience suggests may be problematic for children. We know from experience that boys growing up without fathers are at greater risk of poorer outcomes than those with fathers. We know that male same-sex relationships can be of brief duration, and that unstable parental relationships are harmful to a child’s development.
Of course, there is the “common sense” argument. Many of us would think that it is just common sense to expect that children will do best if they have a mother and father. I listened with great interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, quoting a child in the earlier debate. I met some foster carers yesterday who gave me an example of a five year-old who was offered two fathers by his social worker, and his comment was, “that would be just silly”.
I will quote an academic, Loren Marks of Louisiana State University, who has written a very interesting paper assessing the evidence so far, Same-Sex Parenting and Children’s Outcomes: A Closer Examination of the American Psychological Association’s Brief on Lesbian and Gay Parenting, published in the journal of Social Science Research in July 2012. In her conclusion, she writes: “We now turn to the overarching question of the paper. Are we witnessing the emergence of a new family form that, unlike cohabiting, divorced or single-parent families, provides a context for children that is equivalent to the intact family? Even after an extensive reading of the same-sex parenting literature, the author cannot offer a high-confidence data-based ‘yes or no’ response to this question. The data are insufficient to support a strong claim either way, and thus insufficient to produce a definitive, binary statement. Such a statement would not be grounded in science. Representative, large-sample studies are needed—many of them, including high-quality longitudinal studies. Although some same-sex opponents have made some egregious overstatements and, conversely, some same-sex parenting researchers seem to have implicitly contended for an exceptionally clear verdict of no difference at all between same-sex and heterosexual parents since 1992, a closer examination leads to the conclusion that strong assertions, including those made by the American Psychological Association were not empirically warranted”.
I apologise for quoting at such length, but I hope that that may have been helpful. She goes on a bit further about specifics—the Minister has a copy of the report.
In conclusion, I repeat that same-sex parenting is a new phenomenon with potentially important consequences for children. I recognise that the Minister disagrees with my concern that the Bill is perhaps a cue for people to promote or encourage the notion that same-sex parenting is no longer a matter which people feel has some issues around it. I understand that. However, I would be grateful if the Minister could write to me with an analysis of the current evidence, perhaps with the aid of a statistician and a relevant mental health professional. My noble friend Lady Hollins is a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and is currently the president of the British Medical Association, so she might be able to advise on who could help the Minister to reflect on that research. I would be most grateful if the Minister could help with this assessment on the effect of same-sex parenting on child development, and I look forward to her response. I beg to move.
My Lords, my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House, which I am sure all of your Lordships will remember, was a three-minute speech on a motion put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about supporting counselling for young homeless people. That was two minutes more than I needed to say what I knew about the subject. Ever since then, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is somebody to whom I have paid the utmost attention. His consistent devotion in this House to the cause of children and their well -being is an example to us all. He never ceases or gives up campaigning for that, and is doing so again today.
I agree with him only to the extent that it is important that in future research is undertaken on the effects of the Bill and on families which will come into being when the Bill is passed. I disagree with him, because I think that I detected in what he said that he starts from a base position of belief that somehow this will be bad. I do not, necessarily. This is a very hopeful Bill, which will bring a great deal of stability to families in future—families that have not had stability until now.
It is very helpful that the noble Earl led us into thinking about these matters. I sat and thought during the last debate about how much of a change the Bill will bring about. When I was at school, nobody talked about being gay at all. If they did, they talked about it at best only in terms of a joke, but often in pretty horrible terms. Nobody in their right mind would talk about being gay—we did not. In order for people of my generation to lead the lives we felt we had to lead, we had to go away. Lots of us went off and lived in other places. That will not be an option for many young gay people in future. That is why it is so important that in the communities in which they live they, and their families are understood and accepted, and schools—including church and faith schools—will have a very important part to play.
The noble Earl is right: there is very little research into these issues, not least because not that many families have been able to take part in the research. What research there is is often seized on and used in a very partial way, either by those who take the view that I do or by those who take a more cautious approach. Professor Golombok’s work is peer-reviewed research of the highest level. She may be misinterpreted at times for different purposes, but it is the beginning of an important piece of work. It is also interesting that organisations such as Barnardo’s have begun to look at the effects of earlier legislation on children.
As ever, I take my hat off to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for having children first and foremost in his mind. I do not think that his amendment is necessary, and I do not think that the Minister will be able to accept it. However, I am glad that he has raised the issue and put it on the agenda for social researchers in future. He is right that this legislation deserves to be researched and tested just like any other.
The noble Earl has the same effect on me as Tony Benn. Whenever I listen to Tony Benn, I am always convinced. I believe him. He is amazing. When I walk away, I realise that he said the opposite thing to what I believed, and that in my view he was wrong. The noble Earl believes that children brought up in same-sex relationships will do much less well than those brought up by heterosexual parents. That is the noble Earl’s central premise, and every argument he puts forward is about proving it. On Amendment 1, he supported two classes of marriage. On Amendment 46, he contended that there was no definitive research on the subject of children in same-sex relationships, and that the arguments were finely balanced. Given that the noble Earl believes that there is no definitive research, how can he then ask the Secretary of State to provide evidence-based research as part of the guidelines on what to teach? If there is no evidence-based research, how can the Secretary of State use it to inform teaching guidelines?
“research on children who are being raised by people who are gay—either lesbian or male homosexual … There is now a large and incontrovertible body of research evidence—particularly from Professor Golombok of the University of Cambridge—which shows that on average such children do better than children who are born in the normal way of current marriage”.—[ Official Report , 8/7/13; col. 28.]
The central point is that, at worst, there is no evidence-based research. At best, it does not support the noble Earl’s premise. Therefore, I have to do what I always do with what Tony Benn says. I have to nod and smile at the noble Earl and say that while I recognise and value his contribution, it is nonsense.
My Lords, perhaps I might come to the noble Earl’s aid to some extent. I support his request for evidence-based research, and will add that the evidence presented should be tested. I am well aware of a body of research put forward to the Government during their initial inquiries before they drafted the Bill which was very seriously challenged by apparently well qualified people. The challenge was never answered or rebutted. I will happily write to the Minister about this because it should be looked into further. Where advocates of a cause commission or present research, it is as well to test it very carefully before taking it at face value.
I agree entirely with everything that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Alli. But the concern of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is about the implications of the measures in this Bill. I can see no reason whatever for thinking that it could be any less favourable to the interests of a child to be brought up by parents in a same-sex marriage than to those of a child being brought up by parents in a civil partnership. I would have thought that the stability and status of a marriage would be as beneficial to the child as it will be to the partners of same-sex marriage.
Very briefly, I shall build on the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. We are often obsessed with a view of what is normal, as if in every classroom in the land all children come from a traditional, normal background. I know from the children whom I come across daily in schools that they know from their own experience that their friends come from single-parent families, whether through bereavement, divorce, separation, kinship carers, foster parents and, yes, children of civil partnerships. Some children know that they were born by IVF and have more than two parents. The father of one child I know married the woman who had first been his mother-in-law, and later she became his step-sister-in-law before becoming his wife. That is something to do with family values in the 21st century.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, about the value of a stable relationship is absolutely key—and that is what the research should be looking at. The research quoted from Cambridge already demonstrates that there is really strong evidence in that sort of same-sex relationship.
My Lords, I am building again on the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. There is no need to attach this amendment to this Bill. The Secretary of State is already bound to provide guidance to teachers under all circumstances, and will do so with regard to this Bill in the right and appropriate manner. This is not the way to do it. The amendment is not appropriate, as noble Lords can see if they read it themselves that the research is commissioned in this Bill.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for moving this amendment and for taking the time and trouble to come to have a discussion with me, which I enjoyed very much. I echo what my noble friend Lady Barker said about his commitment to the interests of children and his dedication to that—and how he makes contributions to all our work in the House with that specific goal in mind.
In answering the debate, I wanted to make some specific points to assist all noble Lords and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in particular. I wanted to emphasise that the Bill does not change the position for children in families of same-sex couples. The Government believe that the principles of long-term commitment and responsibility, which underpin marriage, are a good basis for providing children with the support and protection that they need throughout their childhood. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has said—and we very much agree with him—extending marriage to same-sex couples will mean that children of those couples will be able to benefit from the stability of a family founded on marriage in the way in which other children benefit. We think that that is a good thing.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and other noble Lords referred to comments that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, made in the debate on Monday on concerns about the ability of same-sex parents to bring up children. Those concerns are effectively not supported by the available evidence; the noble Lord made the point that there was no evidence to support the concern that some might have. Research has shown that there is no negative impact on children’s self-esteem, psychological well-being or social adjustment if they are brought up by same-sex parents. This includes lesbian couples—the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, raised the point about there being no father figure in the family.
It is an obvious point, but important none the less, that when gay couples decide to have a child or children the decision has to be a conscious one. Therefore, it is safe to assume that, having made that decision, they will be very conscious of the needs of that child and would address of all of them. No doubt two lesbian women would ensure there were male role models to play a part in the children’s lives. The noble Earl and I discussed this when we met privately. As I said in the previous debate, I am aware that some people respond to change in different ways. However, it is important to be clear that same-sex couples will approach their decision to become parents as seriously as any other couple; perhaps more so because they have had to make that decision very consciously. The Golombok report, Growing up in a Lesbian Family, which has been referred to, supports this view. There are other reports—all of which seem to have very interesting names—and I am sure if I start trying to say them I will mispronounce them so I will not. However, there are other studies coming out of the US.
The noble Earl referred to a report by Loren Marks in the USA and quoted quite extensively from it. The American Psychological Association took great interest in that paper. It issued a statement saying that, on the basis of a remarkably consistent body of research on lesbian and gay parents and their children, it and other health professional and scientific organisations had concluded that there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to sexual orientation. Lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children.
I understand the noble Earl’s request for me to provide some analysis of the available research. I hope he will forgive me but I will be happy to write to him because I do not think that this debate justifies the use of resources to carry out the kind of analysis he has called for. I will ensure that letter is in the Library and I will copy it to my noble friend Lord Elton. I will obviously be interested to receive the letter my noble friend said he will send to me about another issue related to this debate. I hope the noble Earl feels able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and to those who have spoken in this debate. I am mindful of the hour so I will be very brief. I still suggest it is very early days in this phenomenon—the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, referred to the difficulties at present with the small number of families in this position. I am very grateful for the care with which the Minister made her response and I look forward to receiving her letter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 95A withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Singh of Wimbledon
96: Before Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
(1) A referendum is to be held in England and Wales on the issue of same sex marriage.
(2) The referendum is to be held on
(3) If the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is impossible or impracticable for the referendum to be held on
(4) Any day appointed by order under subsection (3) must be before
(5) Where a day is appointed under subsection (4), the Secretary of State may by order make supplemental or consequential provision.
(6) The Secretary of State must by order make provisions for the conduct of the referendum.
(7) An order under this section may not be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(8) The question that is to appear on the ballot papers is—
(9) Those entitled to vote in the referendum are the persons who, on the date of the referendum, would be entitled to vote as electors at a parliamentary election in any constituency.”
My Lords, the need for a referendum is important for two reasons. First, as we all know, no attempt whatever was made to consult the electorate before the last election, or through Green or White Papers, on the proposed redefinition of marriage, which millions see as an essential building block of society. Respect for the electorate demands their explicit consent for this major social change.
Secondly, many of us hoped that the wider implications of this legislation would be discussed and genuine concerns listened to in the progress of the Bill in the other place and in your Lordships’ House. Sadly, this has not happened. What is concerning about the support for the Bill is the narrow crusading zeal with which genuine concerns are either ignored or brushed aside. Many of us concerned with making ours a fairer society for all welcomed the civil partnership legislation which gave legal rights and dignity to the gay community in our wonderfully diverse society. The legislation recognised both dignity of difference and equality of respect.
The Sikh gurus from whom I take my cue taught the importance of recognising and respecting difference and the right to differ, but they also taught that all of us, men and women, are equal members of one human family. I vainly hoped that some of this sort of thinking would become evident in this debate. Sadly, those pushing the Bill, perhaps because of a collective guilty conscience over past persecution of homosexuals, looked only to the supposed wishes of the gay community with no thought for the rights of others.
Three tactics have been used as spoiling measures to stifle genuine debate. First, past persecution of gays has been used to demand unreasonable reparation from the wider community by appropriating, distorting and diluting the accepted meaning of marriage without consideration of the consequences for family relationships and the care and nurture of children.
Secondly, we have seen a deliberate misuse of language to suggest that sameness and equality—I mean equality of opportunity and equality of respect—are one and the same thing, and that to recognise and respect genuine difference amounts to prejudice and notions of superiority. The absurdity of this argument is self-evident. Cricket and football are different sports but this does not mean or imply that one is superior to the other, yet in seeking to blur difference in gay and heterosexual relationships in Monday’s debate, the learned noble Lord, Lord Lester, put forward this same spurious argument. He said:
“The attempt to define same-sex marriage differently from opposite-sex marriage while claiming that they are somehow equal would inevitably be seen by ordinary men and women in the street—and by me, as a not very ordinary man in the street, I suppose—as attempting to give the traditional view of marriage a superior status”.—[Hansard, 8/7/13; col. 16.]
I believe that the man in the street is far more discerning and would resent being wrongly patronised in this way.
Thirdly, as we have heard this evening, statistics have been used to confuse debate. A small survey—the Cambridge survey—has again been quoted. It is said to have found that some children do better with gay parents. Perhaps that is so, but why ignore a much larger and more extensive survey of 3,000 people conducted by the University of Texas over a number of years on a random population which included interviews with children who had grown to become adult? It showed that the children who flourish best, measured in categories such as education, employment status, depression, crime, welfare dependency and drug misuse, are those who spend their entire childhood with their biological mother and father. All other family arrangements did significantly less well. The worst outcomes were in children brought up by their mother in a lesbian relationship. Are we doing our children any favours if we simply refuse to look at such studies?
Following concerns I voiced in Committee, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from the government office. At the bottom of a politely phrased letter was a note that a copy of the letter would be placed in the Library. I welcomed this as genuine discussion, wrote a response and sought to place that in the Library. I was told that only the Government can do that. So it was not genuine debate but another attempt to promote a narrow, government view.
In summary, the electorate as a whole has been treated with contempt, not only because of an absence of consultation prior to the previous election, but because of a continuing reluctance to consult on the merits of the issue after the Government took office. Worse, the very meaning of the word “consult” has been redefined to limit it to discussion on an already agreed course of action. The express concerns of religious communities have also been almost totally ignored. One of the supposed safeguarding locks is, in fact, an open opt-out door: an open invitation to opt out of clearly defined religious practice in a way that can only promote division and dissent.
It is beyond doubt that the implications of this major social change have not been properly considered either in this House or in the country. The Government should withdraw the Bill for proper consultation with the electorate and affected bodies. If not, they should have the courage to allow the electorate to have a say on the merits of the legislation in a referendum on the lines suggested in the amendment. The man or woman in the street should be allowed to give their views on a measure that affects all of society. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have not spoken before this evening, mainly because I have very much wanted to listen to what other people had to say. However, I really feel rather annoyed about this amendment. Why on this particular Bill? In the past year or so, we have sat through legislation from this Government on an enormous range of issues: welfare, employment law, foreign policy intervention and so on. Has there been any pressure for a referendum on these issues? No, there has not. However, we now have the opportunity, at long last, of producing legislation to try to and put right the discrimination which gays and lesbians have suffered for many years. We are aiming to do that, and we are doing it. We have voted in favour of the Bill, in this House and in the other place, with an overwhelming majority. The law is now absolutely clear: it says that the marriage of same-sex couples is lawful—I repeat, is lawful. Yet this amendment suggests that a referendum be held on
“At present, the law in England and Wales defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Should the law be changed”,
et cetera. By the time we reach October, the law will quite clearly not be the same as indicated in this proposed new clause. It will have changed because we will have voted to change the law to make the marriage of same-sex couples lawful.
I listened with amazement as the noble Lord who moved the amendment suggested that somehow or other that was not popular. In my view, this legislation is very popular, particularly with younger people. Perhaps much older people have some doubts about it but, generally speaking, younger people are all in favour of it. I was pleased that after the Second Reading debate, when I looked at my computer, I had messages from all sorts of people, including younger people, saying, “Well done, well done”, about my speech. We do not need a referendum. We should throw this amendment out. It is not worthy at all. Why should it be in the Bill? The amendment is entirely discriminatory, and I urge your Lordships to oppose it.
My Lords, I note, with respect, that the noble Lord who introduced the amendment says that the arguments were not considered in the Commons. What I think he actually means is that they were considered; it is just that he does not agree with the conclusion that both Houses came to. That tends to happen in a democracy. We make our decisions on the basis of the arguments. I do not think that one can argue for a referendum on the basis that one disagrees with a decision. There is not a great deal of difference, frankly, between what we are debating now and what we debated in Committee.
I leave aside the wording of the question that would be put, which seems to say, “The present law is excellent, or are you one of that band of eccentrics who thinks that it should be changed?”. I am not sure that the Electoral Reform Society would totally agree with such a question being asked in a referendum. However, my objection is much broader than that.
I am not opposed to referenda on constitutional issues. My Government made a mistake back in 1972; we should have had a referendum before we went into the Common Market. I am glad that Mr Cameron is promising a referendum after his negotiations on Europe and before the matter comes to the Commons after the next election. What I cannot support is holding a referendum after a Bill has gone through both Houses of Parliament and after our extensive discussions in both Houses. The Bill has been approved by massive majorities. There is no question about that. It is not on the margins; there have been massive majorities for the Bill. That is particularly the case for Members of Parliament because it is they who, at the next election, have to answer to their constituents. That is what parliamentary democracy is about.
You cannot have a situation whereby legislation in Parliament goes through the Commons and the Lords and then we have a referendum on it. It makes complete nonsense of the role of Parliament and of parliamentary democracy. One of my underlying concerns about some of the opposition to this legislation is that we are going against our fundamental beliefs in parliamentary democracy and the role of this House. This House, at this stage, should not be considering an amendment of this kind. Its only purpose can be to wreck the Bill as a last chance to ditch it, and we should not have any part in it. Therefore, with respect to the noble Lord, to whom I have listened previously, and again now, I am totally unconvinced by his argument.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Fowler is making rather a meal of it. I can think of only one justification for having a referendum, and that is to allow the Prime Minister to get off the hook on which he has impaled himself by bringing forward this Bill in the first place. Everybody knows that the Bill came forward to Parliament in a most disreputable fashion. We have gone over this many times, so I will say it in a sentence or two. Three days before the election, the Prime Minister said that he had no plans to bring forward such a Bill; there was no reference to it in any party manifesto; there was nothing about it in the coalition agreement; and there was no proper consultation. The result is that UKIP is having a field day—
The trouble is that my noble friend has not listened to the end of my argument, which is that as a result of the Prime Minister’s behaviour, UKIP has been gleaning Tory votes throughout the country. If we do not do anything about it, at the next general election UKIP will no doubt be making hay as a result. I suggest to my noble friend that the only real justification for having a referendum is to help the Prime Minister by removing the whole issue from the public arena well before the next general election.
My Lords, listening to the little exchange that has taken place in the past few minutes between two distinguished noble friends who are members of the Conservative Party led me to think about whether an alliance between UKIP and the Tory party—which, of course, has been mooted—might be regarded as a same-sex marriage.
Leaving aside that little bit of private grief in the Conservative Party, I agree with every word that has been uttered by my noble friend Lord Fowler and will not repeat it because I could not say it as well as he. Like many people in this country, I have great admiration for Lord Singh. We hear him on the public radio from time to time, and he utters very wise words—mostly. However, I say to the noble Lord that, regrettably, on this occasion he has let us, and himself, down. I invite him to reflect upon whether the proposed amendment is a proper use of the debating procedure of your Lordships’ House; what he said sounded to me awfully like a Second Reading speech.
In order to ascertain whether that would be a justified comment, I spent some little time looking at the noble Lord’s biography and bibliography to see what other issues that he has suggested would be suitable for a referendum because they have an ethical or moral component. There are none: this is special pleading. I urge your Lordships to reject the amendment on that simple basis.
My Lords, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the Constitution Committee, of which I was then a member, recently produced a report on referendums. We said that there are significant drawbacks to the use of referendums, essentially for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. Our advice to the House was that they should be confined to fundamental constitutional issues. This is not a fundamental constitutional issue. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that helping out the Prime Minister, if he needs help to get off any hook, is not a fundamental constitutional issue.
My Lords, I, too, do not want to help the Prime Minister, but let me say that I am most grateful for the Prime Minister’s help. He has shown huge personal courage in bringing forward this Bill, for which many of us would want to pay tribute to him.
Perhaps I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Singh: a December 2012 MORI poll showed that 73% of people agree that gay people should be allowed to marry. On
Not, my Lords, of insulting the people, who have never had a chance to speak on this and whose views are rather uncertain. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, has set out his litany of votes and I cannot gainsay that in any way, but I can certainly gainsay him on the polls which have been taken. If he is so confident about the view of public opinion, he should have no hesitation about going forward and agreeing to this referendum. Indeed, it is something which was discussed last Friday in the other place. The Foreign Secretary was really quite lyrical about referenda. Perhaps I may remind him of what he said:
“That is why every Member of the House who is a true democrat can and should unite behind the Bill”— this was a referendum Bill on the EU—
“It is about letting the people decide … Ultimately, it would be up to the voters to decide, and that is the essence of democracy”.—[Hansard, Commons, 5/7/13; col. 1191.]
Certainly there is no constitutional objection to referenda on the part of the Government. I concede that referenda have mostly been held on constitutional issues, although there are examples in our history of referenda on issues that were manifestly not constitutional. The first referendum that I was aware of was in relation to the opening of public houses in Wales. Even those who want to stretch their imagination could hardly suggest that the opening of public houses in Wales is a referendum issue.
I follow the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and I adopt what he has said. This was an amendment which I broadly put forward myself in Committee. The only difference is that, having listened to the objections then, such as that it was just a delaying device and 2015 would be too late, the noble Lord has brought the date forward to 2013. However, I am not convinced that the wording is as it should be. As was said in Committee, it should probably be left to the Electoral Commission, which is the normal pattern. But I think that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, did a great disservice to the amendment which has been put forward by distorting it in the way that he did, as if the current position is perfect and only some zealots wish to alter it: do you agree with the zealots or not? I think that this wording is fairly reasonable, and the only reason I object to it is that I think that it should come from the Electoral Commission and not be on the face of the Bill.
The basic argument for having a referendum is the fact that the Government have no mandate for this—certainly no mandate from the people. The commitment was not included in the 2010 Conservative, Liberal or Labour manifestos. The subsidiary argument is the speed of the passage of this Bill. Not only was it not mentioned in the manifestos, not only did a number of the relevant pressure groups not come to this view in respect of gay marriage until a year or two ago, but there has been an unholy haste about this Bill which is difficult to understand. It is rather as if there has been a mass conversion equivalent to that of, say, an African tribal leader who mass converts many of the members of his tribe.
Noble Lords have suggested that there have been occasions in the past when legislative changes have been made without a mandate. That is true, of course, but none has been as fundamental as that set out in the Bill before us today. Although laws defining marriage have changed incrementally over the years—the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, gave a whole series of those—nothing has been as fundamental as this one: changing the basic definition of marriage. I suppose that a case could be made for an exception to the electoral mandate principle if it were apparent by other means that there was consensus in public opinion.
I concede that there have been majorities in both Houses, but there is no clear consensus in public opinion. It depends very much on the question that has been asked. Opinion polls have been fairly evenly divided. Some have suggested that there is a majority against, some that there is a majority in favour. If further proof of the absence of consensus were needed, however, let me quote from the Government’s own analysis of their consultation process:
“Overall, views were divided. Of the 228,000 responses to the consultation, 53% agreed that same-sex couples should be able to have a civil marriage ceremony and 46% disagreed ... However, these figures do not take account of those petitions we received, which were universally opposed”.
Moreover, the need for a referendum set out in my speech in Committee was compounded by other failures of due process. I shall not repeat what I said in Committee regarding the failures of due process during the passage of the Bill. I have made the point that the Government are not against referenda in principle.
One argument advanced in our earlier debate was that it would not be appropriate to have a referendum when the Bill was passed with such a clear majority in another place. That, however, as the noble Lord, Lord Singh, has properly pointed out, misses the point. No one questions the majorities, the facts are there. If the referendum is opposed in order to make good the lack of any mandate, the votes of MPs on this issue are not relevant because there was no electoral mandate at the time for an issue which is manifestly a fundamental one.
Other noble Lords objected to the idea of having a referendum simply because they considered the redefinition promoted by this Bill to be a self-evidently good thing and recoiled at the idea that it should be subject to a vote. If it was, of course, such a manifestly good thing, why have so many colleagues come to this realisation so speedily and at such a late stage? Had this vote been taken three years ago, it would not have had those majorities—perhaps not even one or two years ago, so it is not such a manifestly good thing.
Another argument advanced by the Minister, and advanced earlier in this evening’s debate, was that referenda should be preserved for constitutional questions. Apart from the fact that Parliament is completely free to apply referenda whenever it sees fit, the key point is that the marriage Bill raises important constitutional questions. I refer to the implications for the establishment of the Church of England, as explained by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester in his important Second Reading speech. Moreover, Aidan O’Neill QC in his legal opinion on the Bill suggests that it risks partial disestablishment. The Government have made this a constitutional question by disregarding due process and by conducting a consultation which, in my judgment, was a bogus consultation that ignored many of the questions, because the majority were, in fact, against it.
To conclude, it is increasingly common to hear politicians express their profound concerns about the disconnect between political institutions and their passionate commitment to reaching out and listening to the people. This is an opportunity to do so. My judgment is that there is profound discontent and not just among the older generations on this issue.
I am still waiting to hear from the Minister why there is such unprecedented haste in pushing through this Bill. There must be some good reason, or some reason behind the reason, which I would like to hear. We should not seek to kid ourselves that we can proceed on this basis and expect anything other than unhappy consequences. Rather than this being a law that was developed in a proper way and that rests on a constitutionally appropriate foundation, everyone knows that it was pushed through without proper regard for constitutional convention. There was certainly no mandate and there has certainly been substantial haste, as yet unexplained.
To date, the Government have not provided any compelling reason for not supporting a referendum. If they believe that the tide of history over the past year or two since their damascene conversion is on their side and they have no constitutional objection to it—I cite the two referenda in general and the rather lyrical references to referenda in the speech of the right honourable Foreign Secretary last Friday—they should have no hesitation in providing for a referendum so that the people can decide on this issue.
My Lords, I have always looked forward to the wisdom of the noble Lord and of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and it is nice to see them disagree with one another and disagree so well. It is often the case that the Minister gets to the Dispatch Box and says, “Well, this amendment is not suitable but perhaps we can get something else”. I think that there should be some consultation with the people. For everyone arguing that this is a democratic process, which should therefore be good enough for the people, we should remember the problems that this generation and generations before us have had. In Northern Ireland, we had a Government who kept saying, “The majority rule and forget about the minority or about consulting with the people. We are the ones who will push through the legislation and that will be the end of it”.
I just point to several such matters. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, will recall that the Scottish people were the first in the British Isles to get the poll tax. That was because of a democratic decision in the other place, even though some MPs, including me, said at the time, “You’re creating a rod for your own back”. However, it was not until the poll tax came to the rest of the United Kingdom that people readily acknowledged that we were wrong. The argument that it goes through both Houses and that is the end of it and people have to accept it, is nonsense. We could be creating very serious problems. Noble Lords should bear in mind that it is normally the case that the Opposition question the Government, if that is what they want to do. However, the Opposition are supporting, not questioning, the Government on this legislation. That is where I feel that there should be some consultation.
Noble Lords will recall that the last time that the Labour Party and the Conservative Party got together, it was when the Conservative Party supported the then Labour Government in going into Iraq and seeking to remove Saddam Hussein. At the time, the Liberals said that there was a feeling out there in the country that this was wrong. Ever since then, we have been asking ourselves whether or not it was the right thing to do. I am on my feet not because there needs to be a referendum but because we need to find some way of consulting the people about the difficulties that we have got here. We are not passing a complete piece of marriage legislation. The Government have been shrewd enough to exclude the Church of England and the Catholic Church and to say, “We are not forcing you to do this”. Therefore we are not getting a piece of marriage legislation in the normal sense of the word. Of course the dates are down here in the amendment, but amendments can be changed or replaced by something more suitable to the Government and ultimately to the House. Let us find a way of consulting the people about what we are putting through both Houses.
My Lords, I rise briefly to thank my noble friend for alluding to the research that he did and for his support on my previous amendment.
I will look with great interest at the research to which he refers. He also gives me the opportunity to reflect on the Minister’s reply with regard to research in this area. I perhaps should have pointed out that the Loren Marks research was initially a criticism of a conclusion produced by the American Psychological Association two or three years previously. She wrote that particular paper from a critical point of view on its conclusion that all the research so far pointed to there being no problems with same-sex parenting. That was why she wrote that paper. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the American Psychological Association should come back and be very critical of her research, so I would not take the association’s damning criticism too much to heart. I think that Loren Marks is well worth reading and listening to.
I offer my sincerest congratulations to my noble friend on bringing forward this amendment at this late point in the Bill. From a man of faith representing one of the great religions, it is absolutely right that we should be hearing a very conservative point of view regarding the family. It is very important that there are these strong, conservative voices, deeply steeped in religion, to stand up against us modern people, who are much less rooted in tradition and more flexible. It is very important that people such as him stand up on these occasions and put a strongly conservative point of view, even at this late stage in the Bill. I wish that he had been here when we were discussing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and that we had heard his comments then on the removal of the assumption that it is in the best interests of children for fathers to be involved in their lives. Again, I recall the Good Childhood Inquiry report, produced by the Children’s Society and the Church of England a few years ago. It highlighted that, with increased rights and freedom of choice for adults in the 20th century, which so many of us welcome, the downside for children has often been that parents’ greater choice has meant that many more children grow up with their father no longer in their family. I think it is very helpful to have my noble friend’s voice here.
My Lords, perhaps I may deal briefly with this in bullet form. The point that has just been made about parenting is totally irrelevant to what this Bill seeks to achieve, and it is certainly irrelevant in terms of the amendment before us, to which the noble Lord, Lord Singh, did not really speak. When he does, I think we would be interested to hear why, under subsection (9), on those who would vote in the referendum, he would exclude Members of your Lordships’ House.
We keep hearing about public opinion as if somehow it is divided—no, it is not. Every poll that has put the question in a neutral way has produced a very clear result. What is remarkable about opinion is not that it is divided but how consistent it has been. As Lewis Baston has written in the latest issue of Total Politics:
“A typical result for a neutrally worded question is support somewhere in the low- to mid-50 per cent range and opposition in the mid-30 per cent range”,
With that consistency, there is really no need to consult. The position is quite clear.
In terms of holding a referendum anyway, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, pointed out, at the end of the previous Parliament the Constitution Committee produced a very thorough report on referendums, weighing the arguments for and against, and concluded that if they were going to be held, they should be not only on constitutional issues but fundamental constitutional issues. Not only is this not really a constitutional issue; it certainly does not qualify as a fundamental constitutional matter.
It is essentially a matter of social policy. Parliament has legislated on significant social policy before. This would be on a par with abortion and divorce, which, as I recall, were not manifesto commitments and not issues on which anybody was really suggesting that there should be referendums. So if we are going to start saying that we should have referendums on social issues, there are wider implications. We would need to consider it very thoroughly before we went down that route. There is absolutely no merit in the amendment before us and I hope that we do not pursue it.
My Lords, you have to hand it to the people who do not like this Bill. They really do not like this Bill and they are fighting it right to the very end, and that is what this is about. They are perfectly within their rights to do that, and I particularly enjoyed the heartfelt plea of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, in this debate.
I am not going to repeat all the arguments that have been made. I simply refer your Lordships to the noble Lords, Lord Fowler, Lord Pannick and Lord Norton, my noble friend Lord Alli and my other noble friends who have spoken in this debate. They are absolutely right.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Martin, that actually the votes were free votes. This was not a question of the Government and the Labour Opposition. They were free votes. There were Members on all sides—
The noble Baroness knows very well the answer to that question. All the votes about the principle of this Bill were free votes in both Houses. We in the Labour Party made it completely clear that we would whip on two issues only, which were issues of public policy to do with teachers and registrars, and that is what we did. We have been completely clear, open and honest about what we were going to do.
As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said, the fundamental issue here and particularly in the Commons—the democratic House—is that all those MPs have to go back and face their constituents about this issue. They will have to face them every week about this issue. So they would not have voted on a free vote for this Bill had they not felt it was the right thing to do. That is exactly what they should do.
Frankly, the idea that noble Lords in this House are somehow pushovers or sheep to be led through the Division Lobbies is completely absurd, as this debate shows. If I might repeat what I said in Committee, this amendment is a nonsense and the House needs to reject it.
My Lords, Amendments 96 and 134 seek to provide in the Bill for a referendum on marriage of same-sex couples, to be held on or after
It will come as no surprise to the House that the Government are unable to accept these amendments. We do not believe it is a sensible course of action, nor is it required. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Singh, said in moving his amendment, and I recognise his strength of feeling on this issue. As he knows, he and I do not agree on the principle of the Bill. Nevertheless, I profoundly respect not only his view but the depth of feeling with which he holds it.
There are one or two points that I wish to take up on this matter. There was one practical matter to start with. The noble Lord almost suggested that it was a conspiracy that the Government could put my noble friend Lady Stowell’s letter into the Library, but somehow his could not be. That is just the way the House operates. However, what I can say is that the Government can place documents in the House Library and if the noble Lord would like me to, I am happy to place a copy of his reply to my noble friend Lady Stowell in the Library, and would be pleased to do so if he feels it would be helpful to the debate.
I was not saying that it was conspiracy. It was my ignorance about the proceedings and the way the House operates. I was happy that there was a way of debating something, and then I found a block. You cannot do that.
I know that the noble Lord did not say it was a conspiracy. I think that he used the phrase that it was blocking off debate and almost suggested that it was done deliberately. It was not. As he indicated just now, these are the rules of the place, but if he wishes a copy of his reply to be put into the Library, we will certainly arrange for the Government to do that. The noble Lord is nodding assent to that proposition.
The letter which my noble friend Lady Stowell sent to the noble Lord relates to issues about consultation. She noted, for example, that the British Sikh Consultative Forum issued a formal submission to the consultation on equal marriage and that government officials met representatives from the Sikh Council UK as recently as
What is the meaning of consultation when you talk about a course previously decided on? That, in my view, is not consultation. My other point is that I have spoken to all those groups that have been mentioned. They were totally opposed to the legislation, but that is not reflected.
My Lords, there will always be situations where there are disagreements. Nevertheless, it has been the case that efforts were made to engage with not just the Sikh community but with other communities. It is a fundamental part of the Bill that the Government readily recognise—indeed the official Opposition readily recognise too—that there are religious organisations and faith communities which do not believe in same-sex marriage. That is why an important part of the architecture of this Bill is to give protection to these faiths. That is an important part that has come out of the discussions and the process that have brought us to where we are today with this Bill.
It was also suggested that the Government had somehow been impervious to argument. It is worth reminding the House that, as part of the whole process, the Government listened to what the Church in Wales said and produced an opt-in procedure. There has been additional protection for chaplains employed as members of staff. We added ecclesiastical law to the measures not affected by the Bill. We have clarified that marriages of same-sex couples are void when the couple are aware that their religion has not opted in. We have ensured that the consent of a governing authority to opt in to same-sex marriage does not automatically fall if the governing authority changes.
Significantly, on Report on Monday—and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, commended the Government for this—we introduced an amendment which gave extended meaning to the word “compelled”. We also brought forward an amendment to change the Public Order Act to clarify that criticism of same-sex marriage is not a hate crime. On other issues, for example on humanist weddings, the Government have been prepared to listen. There were amendments earlier today on fast-track procedure for gender recognition, and a technical, though important, amendment to reflect the absence of a legislative consent Motion from Northern Ireland for overseas marriages in consulates or Armed Forces bases. On a number of these issues the Government have listened and made appropriate amendments to the Bill.
It has also been said that the use of referendums in the United Kingdom remains very much the exception in our constitution. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, and indeed myself, were members of your Lordships’ House’s Constitution Committee when we looked at the issue of referendums. I do not think that I am betraying any secrets—it comes through in the report—that we thought referendums should be the exception. However, the genie was out of the bottle and therefore if referendums was going to be used the report clearly stated that they should be on matters of substantial constitutional significance. It gave some examples: to abolish the Monarchy; to leave the European Union—the subject of the debate in the House of Commons last Friday; for any of the nations of the United Kingdom to secede from the UK; to change the electoral system for the House of Commons; and to change the UK’s system of currency. While I recognise that what we have been debating in your Lordships’ House on this Bill is a matter of profound social policy, I do not think that by any stretch of the imagination it could be described as a matter of substantial constitutional significance. We acknowledge that what we are doing is a significant change to marriage law, and I recognise that many are uneasy about the proposals, but I say again that this is not a significant constitutional matter.
I do not want to intrude on Conservative Party discussions between my two very distinguished noble friends with distinguished Cabinet careers—my noble friends Lord Fowler and Lord Waddington. However, the Conservative Party indicated in A Contract for Equalities, published alongside its election manifesto, that it would consider the case for same-sex marriage. Again, the point made by my noble friend Lord Fowler that this matter has been debated in the elected Chamber. Quite apart from being passed by a substantial majority in this Chamber, it was significantly passed by a very substantial majority in a free vote in the elected Chamber.
I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Martin, who was, of course, a very distinguished Speaker of the other House. He reminded us of the poll tax in Scotland. The noble Lord and I live in Scotland. I tread very carefully and sensitively with Conservative noble friends here, but the Conservative Party did not exactly reap electoral dividends from what it did with the poll tax in Scotland. I think the Conservative Party would be the first to accept that its electoral performance since the poll tax has not exactly been an example of how you can ignore what the people say and get away with it.
I make the point that, at the time, both the noble and learned Lord and I would have said to Conservative Ministers, “Please consult with the people”. They would have found that the people clearly said, “No way do we want this”. They would then not have got into the difficulties they did when it got to the rest of the United Kingdom.
The point is that under our constitutional, democratic architecture, Members of Parliament make their judgments, cast their votes and then answer to the electorate. That is the appropriate way in which we go about these matters.
The Prime Minister was mentioned. Anyone who has heard the Prime Minister talk on this issue knows that he does so from real conviction. It is a great credit to the Prime Minister that he has had the courage to give leadership on this issue and that this Bill has got to where it is today.
Support has also been reflected in recent opinion polls. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth referred to that. I remind your Lordships of a House of Commons Library research paper on this Bill. Here is a summary of polls on same-sex marriages offering a two-way choice: October 2011, ComRes—51% support;
However, I make the point that numbers are not everything. This Bill is about putting right a wrong. We believe in the importance of the institution of marriage. We wish to ensure that gay and lesbian couples can be part of it in the same way as opposite-sex couples. We want to get on with that, and therefore I ask the House to reject this amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, for the graciousness of his response. I also thank noble Lords who spoke in favour of this amendment: the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Waddington, and my noble friends Lord Martin and Lord Listowel. They put the position perfectly, although I was a little concerned to be called a “conservative”. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. He did not respond to any of the specific concerns raised, but in many ways the manner of his response exemplified the concerns that I raised earlier; my thanks again to him. It is late, I sense the mood of the House, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 96 withdrawn.
Schedule 7: Transitional and consequential provision etc
Amendments 97 to 105 not moved.
Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston
106: Schedule 7, page 55, line 32, at end insert—
“(ab) after the definition of “ecclesiastical district” insert—
““England and Wales legislation” has the same meaning as in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013;”.”
Amendment 106 agreed.
Amendments 107 and 107A not moved.
Clause 16: Orders and regulations
Amendments 108 to 111
Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston
108: Clause 16, page 13, line 32, leave out “or Registrar General”
110: Clause 16, page 14, line 4, at end insert—
“(aa) the first regulations under section 9(1);
(ab) the first regulations under section 9(2);”
111: Clause 16, page 14, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) an order under section (Marriage according to the usages of belief organisations);”
Amendments 108 to 111 agreed.
Amendment 112 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 113 to 118
Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston
113: Clause 16, page 14, line 6, leave out from “2” to end of line 7
114: Clause 16, page 14, line 7, at end insert—
“(d) an order under paragraph 2 of Schedule 2;
(e) an order under paragraph 27 of Schedule 4.”
115: Clause 16, page 14, line 7, at end insert—
“(f) an order under paragraph 9(4) of Schedule 6.”
117: Clause 16, page 14, line 9, at end insert—
“(za) regulations under section 9(1) (except for the first such regulations);
(zb) regulations under section 9(2) (except for the first such regulations);”
118: Clause 16, page 14, line 12, leave out paragraphs (b) to (d)
Amendments 113 to 118 agreed.
Amendments 119 to 123 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Moved by Baroness Northover
123A: Clause 16, page 14, line 19, at end insert—
“(4A) The provision that the Secretary of State may make in any relevant instrument includes provision enabling the Registrar General to make regulations by statutory instrument (with or without the consent of a minister of the Crown).
(4B) But the Secretary of State—
(a) may not make enabling provision which gives the Registrar General power to require a fee to be paid or power to set the amount of a fee; and
(b) may not make other enabling provision unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that the provision is necessary in connection with administrative matters relating to functions of the Registrar General or functions of superintendent registrars or registrars.
(4C) Regulations made by the Registrar General under any enabling provision are subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
(4D) But that is subject to any provision in a relevant instrument about the kind of Parliamentary scrutiny, if any, to which the regulations are to be subject.
(4E) In subsections (4A) to (4D)—
“enabling provision” means provision made under subsection (4A) enabling the Registrar General to make regulations;
“relevant instrument” means—
(a) regulations under section 9(1) or (2), or
(b) an order under section (Marriage according to the usages of belief organisations)(4).”
My Lords, Amendment 123A replaces government Amendment 123, which, as I explained to the House on Monday, the Government were considering withdrawing and have just done so.
To give a little background, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee reported on this Bill in its fourth report of the Session. We are most grateful to the committee for its comments and recommendations, to which we responded in a series of amendments that the House debated on Monday. One of the recommendations of the committee was that regulations made under Clause 9, which deals with the conversion of civil partnerships, should be made by the Secretary of State rather than the Registrar-General and should be subject to the affirmative procedure on first use because it was not clear that all such provisions would be purely administrative in nature.
We were happy to accede to this recommendation but were also conscious that, in the future, the Registrar-General may need to update her administrative procedures. To require regulations to be made by the Secretary of State regarding such matters would be overly bureaucratic and break with the convention that the Registrar-General makes regulations relating to her functions that are purely administrative. For example, the Registrar-General already makes regulations, without any parliamentary procedure, prescribing the detail of marriage and civil partnership registration, the duties of those responsible for registration and the forms to be used.
We therefore proposed through Amendment 123, which has now been withdrawn, that the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor could make enabling provision for the Registrar-General to make regulations relating to administrative matters. We continue to believe that such sub-delegation is the appropriate way of dealing with these administrative details. However, as the chairman of the committee, my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester, helpfully highlighted to us before Monday’s debate, the amendment had been drafted in a way that would allow the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor to sub-delegate in respect of any of their order-making or regulation-making powers in the Bill.
While it was never the Government’s intention to use the proposed power in such a far-reaching way, and the use of the power was limited in any event only to where it was in connection with administrative matters relating to functions of the Registrar-General, superintendent registrars or registrars, we accept that it would not have been appropriate to move the amendment with such concerns outstanding. That is why we have tabled Amendment 123A, which is more restrictive as to the circumstances in which the Secretary of State may sub-delegate regulation-making powers to the Registrar-General. Its effect is that there are just two provisions where the Secretary of State can now exercise such a power.
The amendment states explicitly that sub-delegation may occur only where the Secretary of State considers that it is necessary in connection with the administrative functions of the Registrar-General, superintendent registrars and registrars under Clause 9, concerning conversion of civil partnerships to marriages, and Amendment 90, concerning marriage by belief organisations—if the Government in future decide to allow such marriage. We consider that the sub-delegation of regulation-making powers to the Registrar-General is necessary and appropriate in these two contexts, but it must be subject to clear restrictions. In particular, there is no power for the Secretary of State to sub-delegate provision as to fees.
Amendment 123A also makes it clear that the default position is that any delegated regulations made by the Registrar-General would attract the negative procedure, unless varied by the Secretary of State in the event that she felt that this was justified because of the nature of the particular regulations. I can assure noble Lords that any regulations of the Secretary of State’s sub-delegating powers to the Registrar-General will be put before Parliament for scrutiny.
The chairman of the committee has written today to confirm that the committee is content with the revised amendment; I am pleased about that. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this amendment is a measured and appropriate response to the committee’s concerns, which delivers our policy intention while ensuring that there can be no inappropriate use of the powers. It is extremely nice to end Report on what I hope is a constructive and consensual basis; I note that many noble Lords left the Chamber as I started. I commend Amendment 123A to the House.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that very clear exposition of this very sensible amendment. I am pleased to say that we will, of course, support it.
Amendment 123A agreed.
Amendment 124 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 17: Interpretation
Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston
125: Clause 17, page 15, line 27, at end insert—
““superintendent registrar” means a superintendent registrar of births, deaths and marriages.”
Amendment 125 agreed.
Clause 18: Extent
Amendments 126 to 133
Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston
126: Clause 18, page 15, line 34, leave out “section” and insert “sections (Marriage according to the usages of belief organisations) and”
127: Clause 18, page 15, line 38, leave out “section” and insert “sections (Marriage according to the usages of belief organisations) and”
128: Clause 18, page 15, line 38, at end insert “and paragraphs 4, 5, 10 and 11 of Schedule 6”
129: Clause 18, page 15, line 40, leave out from “(3)” to end and insert “do not apply to an amendment or repeal or revocation made by this Act”
130: Clause 18, page 15, line 42, at end insert—
“(5A) Subsection (5) is subject to subsections (6) to (8).”
131: Clause 18, page 16, line 1, leave out “But”
132: Clause 18, page 16, line 5, at end insert—
133: Clause 18, page 16, line 5, at end insert—
Amendments 126 to 133 agreed.
Clause 19: Short title and commencement
Amendment 134 not moved.
In the Title
Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston
135: In the Title, line 4, leave out first “and” and insert “for permitting marriages according to the usages of belief organisations to be solemnized on the authority of certificates of a superintendent registrar,”
Amendment 135 agreed.
Amendment 136 not moved.