My Lords, it is an extraordinary privilege to follow the most reverend Primate, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and my noble friend the Minister on this very difficult situation.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has said, and in a way I have even longer experience than he has, we have never had it like this—in my experience never. This is fundamental, because it means that there are very powerful influences driving these people. What are these influences? I am not sure I know. I have been a professing Christian for many years, though I am nothing like as good as the standard our faith sets. I am convinced that the standards that we have been set in that faith are very high. As the most reverend Primate has mentioned, love your neighbour as yourself is a fundamental law of Christian living and of many other faiths as well.
I was brought up in a family that was absolutely devoted to the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. I therefore knew more about the intimate history of Israel than I did about any other nation apart from our own. That gave me an understanding of human nature, and of what the Israelites came through, and what damage they experienced during their history. Fixed in my mind—and, I am sure, in those of many others who had similar teaching—is a very profound love for the Jewish people.
Anti-Semitism is a very destructive principle held in the mind, and it would be a great blessing to be able to take it out of people’s minds. That is the challenge in which the churches, faith groups and those who have no faith at all but who believe that they are able to influence others should be engaged. Any form of victimisation of a person on account of his or her faith is completely wrong and ought to be pursued with as much strength as civil society and the state can manage.
This debate is about tolerance, and there are aspects of tolerance that we ought to think about. Your Lordships will have seen the briefing prepared by the Library for this debate. It contains a contribution by a gentleman called Krish Kandiah, whom I have met. He now takes a great interest in fostering children, which is a very important life work—he is a pastor as well, but fostering is an aspect of his life. In the passage quoted in the briefing he says:
“As a foster parent, I have been told by some social workers that I should keep my faith a secret. I have been asked to raise the children in my care in an ‘ideologically neutral environment’. The views of the social workers who say things like this have little understanding of my practice of faith. Their concerns stem from misperceptions as to what faith is and how it relates to my identity”.
Reducing the possibility of children being raised in families with a profound religious faith is a very subtle way of trying to reduce tolerance. I do not understand why that is part of tolerance.
An attitude that is currently generally held is that science has dealt with everything and that religion is rather old-fashioned or something that is apt to mislead. The prevailing view on the origin of the universe and so on has an effect in that direction. The fairly recent book by Professor Lennox from Oxford called God’s Undertaker is a very mathematical assessment of the basics of evolution, and I think it shows that there is more than one possibility in these matters. I am old enough to remember Fred Hoyle, Bondi and Gold bring out their various theories, which have passed on to others. Of course, Einstein had his theory of special relativity and then his theory of general relativity. His science is not exactly about the origin of the universe; it is about the way in which the universe functions, and his theories have been capable of being checked in some way, which is important. It is rather difficult to check the theories of cosmology because of the time intervals involved. It always interests me that people are willing to think about the big bang as having achieved a great change in a mighty short time, yet they think that Genesis tries to do too much in seven days.
These matters underpin the need for tolerance in our society and the need to encourage people with particular views of which we might not approve but which they wish to promulgate and really believe. It is very important that the procedure outlined for us by the Minister works, but it has to go very deep into the minds of those who are actuated by the sort of thing that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, set out for us in great detail and extremely accurately.
I strongly support what the Government are doing and I very much deplore the extent to which tolerance has been damaged by the victimisation of faith and race. In the last few years, that has become a terrible scandal in our beloved country.