Freedom of Religion and Belief — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:48 pm on 16th July 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Independent Ulster Unionist 5:48 pm, 16th July 2015

My Lords, I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton for his tenacity in pursuing this issue. No one whom I have known during my 32 years in Parliament has been so consistent in his adherence to and struggle for the proper implementation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I intend to use the very short time available to me to consider whether we in the United Kingdom lead by example in respect of our own practice of Article 18 or whether we are a society where leadership is generally content to pay mere lip service. Often it appears to me that we are regularly subjected to the excitement of individualistic excesses that elevate individual selfishness above and beyond the traditional and tried practices and discipline with which I grew up.

Of course society evolves, but why does that mean that some, like the Reverend Richard Page JP, a faithful, public-spirited magistrate in Kent for 15 years and a long-respected member of the Family Court, should be officially and publicly pilloried because, as a practising Christian, he expressed to colleagues, in private, how he was able to reconcile his public duties with his Christian faith? Is there any justice in the fact that the Lord Chancellor in the previous coalition Government should seek to justify having suspended Richard Page by having imposed remedial training in a manner that is little different from the brain-washing and conditioning so beloved of totalitarian states?

Do not tell me that the environment is different. It is not about the difference between chairs and chains; it is about the impact on society. Richard Page’s persecution by Lord Chancellor Grayling began on 2 July 2014 and continues into the second year. In the interim, he is denied even the right to express his opinion to the press. So what was Richard Page’s offence that has nullified the last days of an exemplary working life? He had stated that his lawful and considered judgment that it is better for children to be adopted by both a father and a mother derived from his faith. When a same-sex male couple from Belfast sought precedence over a normal foster couple, he made a decision. Well done Richard Page—and I say that as a father and grandfather.

Where will this case lead? Back in 2010, ex-Lord Chancellor Grayling had been on the other side of the fence when he had supported the rights of owners of bed and breakfast establishments to refuse accommodation to gay couples. Perhaps I should quote the ex-Lord Chancellor at that time, but I shall not. I shall simply ask: what could possibly have induced him to change? Is the future of children less relevant than who may soil the bed linen? Where does this presumptuous and intellectually questionable logic take us in respect of the sixth and eighth commandments? Sorry, I must not mention such things as the sixth and eighth commandments. It is a good job I cannot be suspended—although some may seek to explore the possibility.

I was, of course, alluding to how we must implement our laws on theft and murder. If some intellectual snob decides to undermine them, I take it that the rest of us may be denied any right to mention our Christian or social heritage. I just do not have time to elaborate on other current matters of conscience, such as where Christian bakers are now, apparently, bound by law to promote and advocate matters that offend their Christian faith. Is that what equality is? Of course, I am protected here—unlike those street preachers in our society who the police are so easily persuaded have given offence.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us about the implementation and continuation of Article 18 within our society.