Moved by Lord Morrow
11A: Clause 8, leave out subsection (6) and insert—“(6) The Secretary of State must, by regulations, make any provision that the Secretary of State considers appropriate in order to protect the ability to act in accordance with religious or other belief or opinion in relation to marriage or civil partnership (including the conversion of marriage into civil partnership and vice versa) and such regulations must, in particular, make provision equivalent or similar to that contained in or authorised by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013”
My Lords, I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, said. He said that it was very clear in his mind, and I suspect that it is. But neither the noble Lord nor I—nor indeed any other noble Lord in this House—will be here forever, and that is the reason for my amendment.
I feel that the tweak to Amendment 11—because that basically is what it is—ought to be entirely acceptable to the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, to the Government and to your Lordships’ House. First, it makes it mandatory, rather than discretionary, for the Government to use their order-making power to protect religious liberty. I emphasise that the protection of religious liberty is what this is about. Secondly, it pegs those religious liberty protections to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. That Act contains a series of strong protections, including the famous quad lock, which the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, referred to. I call it the gold standard. We must make sure that the religious liberties of the people of Northern Ireland are definitely protected, that there is no room for ambiguity and that it is not merely discretionary for the Government to act. We must make sure that those protections are not less than those enjoyed by the citizens of other regions of the United Kingdom.
Amendment 11 states:
“The Secretary of State must, by regulations, make provision”,
for same-sex marriage. However, subsection (6) begins:
“The Secretary of State may, by regulations, make … provision”,
to protect belief. There is no “shall” or “must” there; it is optional. Protection of religion or belief should not be left as a “maybe”, and nor should it be possible for some future Government, when none of us is around, to use the same order-making power to simply abolish such protections by saying that they no longer consider them necessary.
So my first tweak in Amendment 11A simply replaces “may” with “must”. In my book that seems rational and reasonable. I know that there are other “mays” in Amendment 11—I accept that—but it is for others to argue whether those, too, should become “must”. I am arguing that the word is essential in subsection (6) because we are talking about the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. I ask your Lordships’ House to think on that for a moment.
When the 2013 same-sex marriage legislation was being debated, many people said that their support for it was conditional—this is on the record—on the comprehensive set of protections that guarantee religious freedom, including, crucially, that no place of worship would ever be forced to take part in a same-sex wedding. I hope that the same people who said that in 2013 will reaffirm today that their support for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland is conditional on the same level of protection being put in place.
The 2013 Act gold standard brings me to my second tweak. I have borrowed phrasing from subsection (5), which requires that regulations made under that power may,
“make provision equivalent or similar to that contained in or authorised by”,
the relevant part,
“of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act”.
Again, I made it a “must” rather than a “may” because it seems very obvious to me that whatever protections are introduced ought not to be less than those enjoyed by citizens on the mainland.
I could also have invoked the Scottish same-sex marriage legislation, since Scotland, like Northern Ireland, has a system where the emphasis is on the celebrants or officials being registered to conduct marriages, not on the premises. However, I wanted to keep it simple and to trust the good sense of the Government to uphold the same standard of protection while accounting for differences in the way that our marriage legislation is framed.
In conclusion, we are doing all this in an awful hurry. We have not had time to debate the details properly, but by tying the regulation-making power to the 2013 Act, so that the provisions must be equivalent or similar, we are simply being consistent. In all the debates that took place in 2013, we at least had the time to consider these matters. We must trust that we got the balance of rights more or less right. The same balance should be afforded to and apply in Northern Ireland.
I was to trying to comment on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, and I thought I would be polite and wait for him to conclude. Just to clarify, in my earlier response I did not make it absolutely clear that the reason for the difference between “must” and “may”—although I am sure it will not affect his intention to pursue the debate—is that one is an enabling power and therefore “may” is standardly used in those circumstances.
My Lords, it is a fairly good general rule that, when we are faced with legislation that is the sort of dog’s dinner that no reasonable dog would look at—complex and everybody has misunderstandings, with comments that they cannot accept this bit or that bit—the legislation is fatally wrong. When Parliament gave devolved rule to the people of Northern Ireland, it was a clear act. Now we are saying, “If you are not using it, we are going to take it back and use it for you”. The only honest way to go about that is to repeal the Act that gave devolved government and take over in an honest manner. To do it like this is a mess—and I will oppose this mess because, in all my experience, when legislation is as complex and muddled as this, it is fatally flawed.
My Lords, I support Amendment 11 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hayward and other noble Lords, and the other amendments associated with it. The House will recall the skill with which my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston took through the equal marriage legislation in this House, and it is good to see her in her place as we debate this amendment.
Since 2013, I have, on several occasions, called for the extension of same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland, and I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Hayward has taken up the issue with such skill and determination, strongly supported by others across the House who share our particular interest in gay rights, including the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, who is in her place today.
I take a simple, unionist view. People in Northern Ireland ought not to be deprived of this human right, which is now firmly established in Great Britain. I do not think that the unfortunately named Sewel convention should, on this matter, deter this Parliament from exercising the right, which it undoubtedly possesses, to legislate in a devolved area. Before its collapse, the Northern Ireland Assembly had reached a majority view in favour of reform, and opinion polls in Northern Ireland show that public support for same-sex marriage is running at much the same level as in the rest of our country.
It should be remembered that it was this Parliament that decriminalised homosexuality in Northern Ireland, after a courageous Ulster Unionist, Jeffrey Dudgeon MBE, had brought a case at the European Court of Human Rights. That legislation in this Parliament came 15 years after gay consenting adults elsewhere in our country had ceased to be treated as criminals. Let not gay people in Northern Ireland have to wait so long for the right to marry if that is their wish.
My Lords, I support these amendments, to which I have added my name. I commend the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, who spoke about the issues clearly and in detail.
I have followed these debates for a number of years and, for me, this is a matter of human rights, on which we have clear laws. It is also a matter of respecting diversity. I have known several same-sex couples who have suffered from not being able to make a deeply felt commitment to each other through marriage. Many of these couples have deeply felt religious faiths. As I recall, at the most recent Assembly elections in Northern Ireland, a number of Members who support equal marriage were elected. I think that 55 out of 90 Assembly Members have declared that they would vote to introduce marriage equality.
Marriage equality has enjoyed clear and growing majority support among the Northern Ireland public over many years, as various surveys have shown. The recently published Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey shows that 68% of people—70% including don’t-knows—support legislation for same-sex marriage. Amnesty International has produced a well-thought-through document on this, saying that the UK Government and Parliament are in a weak position as long as the ban on same-sex marriage continues in part of the UK.
The timetable proposed will allow for a statutory public consultation in Northern Ireland and provide sufficient time for the Government to make the necessary changes to regulations. I do not accept that this is being done in a hurry. The amendment will allow for the law on civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples in Northern Ireland to be brought into line with other parts of the UK, thus addressing the Human Rights Act compliance concern raised by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank. This is an issue that we should grasp firmly now and I firmly support these amendments.
My Lords, I had occasion to take part in the same-sex marriage legislation in this House with one objective at the time, which was to balance the opportunity for people of the same sex to marry with the liberty of those of religious belief who disagreed that their Church or belief should be compelled to perform a same-sex marriage within their religious context. This was an extremely important element of that legislation.
The religious liberty exception, which the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, seek to introduce into this Bill, was embodied in the original legislation, which this House passed through a Conservative Government. It has worked in the sense that I know of only one case where somebody has alleged discrimination against a religious practitioner in relation to same-sex marriage, which did not succeed. Why has there been only one case in six years? It is because the Act, when finally passed here, struck a reasonable balance between the two different interests. The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, basically incorporate into this legislation and, by amendment, into the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, the protective provisions of our existing statute.
There are three protective provisions. First, there is no compulsion for religious entities or religious servants to perform such a marriage. Secondly, there is no discrimination if people try to get such a marriage and are refused—it cannot be the basis of any claim against the Church involved. Lastly, the religions involved should have the right to educate reasonably, with balance, their young believers in relation to this topic. The House passed that particular section and I want to emphasise one point. The provision in the previous legislation was mandatory, not discretionary. First, why should it be discretionary for one part of the United Kingdom and not another? Secondly, the text concerning the protections in Amendment 11B includes a stern phrase. It says that regulations on these protections,
“must include provision … prohibiting any person or religious body being compelled by any means”,
to carry out things that they do not want to carry out. The phrase “by any means” is not a term of art; it is one of comprehensive definition and it was introduced by the Government.
At this stage, it borders on the difficult to believe for the nation to be told that what was good six years ago should now be discretionary, without any evidential foundation, when it appears to have worked. I strongly urge the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, from a sense of balance to accept the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, and to delete proposed new subsection (6) in Amendment 11.
The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, referred to the involvement of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, in this legislation. I well remember—she might too—that after Third Reading, in the words of gratitude about the passage of the Bill, she emphasised that this very sensitive part of the new procedures had generally been accepted. Let it continue.
My Lords, concern has been expressed about the future of Northern Ireland. I have been very impressed by noble Lords’ concern about affairs there—it compares very favourably with the lack of interest shown by Members in another place. When these subjects were debated, there was only sparse attendance there, yet hundreds took part in the Divisions. It was quite to the contrary here in the House of Lords, which is a tribute to this upper House of our national Parliament. There has been interest on all sides.
I speak as a strong devolutionist, who feels that it is the only way forward for Northern Ireland. I live among a mixed community of nationalists and unionists, and I know exactly how they feel. I must warn that I am concerned about the deterioration of the situation on the ground in Northern Ireland at this moment. It is not getting much publicity, but I certainly sense it around the Province. Therefore, I ask all Members to treat with great caution the idea of our national Parliament imposing legislation on the people of Northern Ireland on a devolved issue that should be retained by the Assembly at Stormont.
I recognise what my noble friend Lord Empey has stated: many issues in Northern Ireland have been delayed for too long, in education, health and other areas. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, agreed with him. He is himself a great devolutionist, but he made the point, quite correctly, that we are drifting towards direct rule, which is a problem. This is a very dangerous political move for this Parliament to make, because I know exactly how the nationalist people in Northern Ireland will react. They will say, “This is the English politicians imposing English standards on the people of Northern Ireland”. That will be the reaction, and it is not a winning formula.
This form of à la carte direct rule is not the answer. We must remember that under the Belfast agreement, where an Executive and Assembly at Stormont fail, there is not just one alternative—namely, direct rule—but a second alternative of the Government calling for a new election to the Northern Ireland Assembly. That may be the way forward, and should that happen—should the Government make this decision—we should recognise that the amendments before this House have within them a conditional timescale. I hope the Minister can answer this question: if these amendments are subject to a timescale, and if—in consequence of the failure of the political parties in Northern Ireland to create a new Executive and Assembly—the Government call for new elections to the Stormont Assembly, how will that affect the timescale in these amendments?
My Lords, I was pleased to be a signatory to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, and I am grateful to him for introducing it in comprehensive detail. We have had to move at some speed, but considerable work has gone into trying to ensure that we have an amendment that is fit for purpose and delivers the intention: to bring Northern Ireland into line with the law passed for the rest of the United Kingdom.
I take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, says. Elections may be one way of resolving this deadlock and something we may have to resort to. I am not so sure that, on this issue, parties in Northern Ireland will necessarily regard this as something imposed on the people of Northern Ireland by English politicians against their will. The evidence is that opinion in Northern Ireland has moved into line with that in the rest of the United Kingdom. We are not just talking about opinion polls, but specific expression.
On that point, the noble Lord must recognise the political feeling within Northern Ireland. In one respect, he is right in his conclusion, but in another respect, he is totally wrong. Sinn Féin will certainly say that it is opposed to direct rule, and that it is opposed to matters being imposed on Northern Ireland.
I do not dispute that whatsoever. I am taking the specific issue of same-sex marriage, and on that, Sinn Féin politicians have said that they would welcome this Parliament passing a law to introduce same-sex marriage. Indeed, politicians, leaders and leading politicians of every party bar one have done so. Had the Assembly been sitting, possibly without the use of a petition of concern, it is clear that the law would have been changed. That is also a reason why in the talks, one hopes that the future of the petition of concern will be addressed so as not to block the will of the majority even within Northern Ireland, never mind externally. On this issue, parliamentarians in this House and the other place are perhaps on somewhat stronger ground than they are on the other issue—which we will come to later—in terms of the opinions within Northern Ireland.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, says, the world is changing, and it is changing rapidly. We have not even begun to discuss the issues of gender and gender definition, which are causing considerable controversy right now. However, this issue has in many parts of the world almost become a settled, recognised fact. It is not just about gay rights and the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Although there are far too many countries, particularly developing countries, where the law is way behind the reality, otherwise, the reality is that it is now accepted; it is a custom. It has moved quickly, but acceptance is pretty widespread. It is a fact: people meet people who are married and who are gay. The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said that it has happened in his own family. We have to recognise that the gay community in Northern Ireland—the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, gave personal examples of friends of his and people from his rugby club—are trapped in a situation where they can see that marriage is readily available elsewhere in the United Kingdom, in the Republic of Ireland, across Europe, but not in Northern Ireland.
While Lord Sumption in his Reith lectures made some questionable challenges to the European Convention on Human Rights, it is arguable—and likely to be a resolution of the Court, if it has not already done so—that the right to a civil partnership and, indeed, a marriage for same-sex couples is a human right. If that is the case, if such a ruling were to be made, the United Kingdom Parliament would have the responsibility to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland have their human rights. It would be better to do it before we had such a ruling, and on the basis that there is a clear will within Northern Ireland for this to happen; and many have said that they expect this Parliament to deliver it.
My Lords, I would draw to the noble Lord’s attention the fact that assertions by English politicians about the opinions of the Northern Irish are no substitute for actual knowledge asserted by vote. It is no good saying that the polls have changed and showing how big they are, because polls—particularly in elective and political matters—are often proved wrong. I hope he will not put more weight than he already has, and in fact, I hope he will put less, on asserting—other noble Lords have done the same—that we know what the Northern Irish think and we know what is good for them, so we will do it. I am very unhappy about all of this, and I shall shut up now, because I was not able to come in for the beginning of the debate, but I am deeply unhappy about what is going on.
I think the noble Lord is misinterpreting what I said. I was quoting what had been said by Northern Ireland politicians and talking about how the Northern Ireland Assembly had voted. I am not talking about opinion polls, but about votes and the expressed views of political leaders in Northern Ireland—not my opinions but their opinions. I am simply reporting them to the House, and I suggest, on that basis, that it is not about opinion polls; it is about the clearly expressed views of political leaders in Northern Ireland and votes in the Northern Ireland Assembly when it was sitting. In that context, in a sense, the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives are asking us to pass this law.
My Lords, given that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has raised the question of whether people from this side of the water ought to be ruling on what happens in Northern Ireland, I will say something as somebody whose accent betrays them as coming from Northern Ireland.
First, it is absolutely clear from the voting record of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly that attitudes on this question have changed definitively. When the Northern Ireland Assembly was meeting, it passed, in 2015, by a majority, its wish for same-sex marriage. But this was blocked by the procedural device of a petition of concern—a device not put in place for these kinds of issues, and which in fact has been so overused that it is now being questioned altogether. We must understand that, had that device not been used, we would not be debating the issue now because it would already have been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Secondly, as I listened to the debate in Committee, a number of noble Lords said—it has been repeated again this evening—that we have to be terribly careful that we are not seen as people from this side of the water imposing a view on people in Northern Ireland, particularly, the sentiment was, on nationalists and republicans; it is quite difficult for Unionists to complain terribly about it. We need to understand how much the situation in Ireland has changed, not over the last five or 20 years, but over the last two, three or four years. There have now been referenda in the Republic of Ireland on both the abortion and same-sex marriage questions. Both have been passed and the legislation has been changed. We now have a Taoiseach in the Republic of Ireland in a same-sex relationship. It is not an issue any more.
Sinn Féin’s response, after the referendum was passed, was to say that this should now happen in the north. So, while folk here might say, “We are talking about harmonisation with the rest of the United Kingdom”, Sinn Féin will say, “We are looking at harmonisation with the rest of the island”. It has been clear that that is what it wants to see. On lots of issues that the party does not agree with it will use a different analogy, but this is clearly party policy and something Sinn Féin wants to deliver. So, I think it highly unlikely that there will be the difficulty that Members suggest—particularly that it might in some way create a degree of instability for the peace process or attitudes to the Good Friday agreement. That might have been the case five, 10 or 20 years ago; I do not believe it is now, at all, because the situation in Ireland as a whole has changed dramatically. We could go into why it has changed. It has changed because the position of the Churches and religious establishments has dramatically collapsed, north and south of the border, for reasons not totally dissociated from this element of human behaviour.
Having said that, an important case has been put by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow: that, because there are anxieties, there has to be a degree of confidence that the position of those in religious organisations, whether celebrants or members, will be protected. Whatever the legalities of the permissive use of the word “may”, there is a case for ensuring that the word “must” is used to give a degree of confidence to those who are anxious about the changes that have taken place. So, I do not have any anxiety that passing this in this Parliament will somehow create a great problem in the relationship with nationalists and republicans; they were keen to vote for it in 2015 and even more so now, post-2018. But there is a case for addressing the anxieties of those who feel that a mere “may” is not a sufficient protection for their concerns; I acknowledge and support that.
My Lords, I also very much support that, as well as what the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, said. It is not so much a matter of particular legal qualification, but it is a fact that this is a very important aspect of how people feel about the legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, said, it has worked well here, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, will find it possible to overcome the difficulties of lawyers and do what is necessary to secure this.
I also believe it would be proper for this sort of regulation-making power to be subject to consultation in Northern Ireland. If, as we have just heard, the position is that people there wish for this, consultation will show that. It is extremely important that what is proposed has the merit of being supported by consultation in Northern Ireland itself.
My Lords, I have no doubt whatever of the sincerity of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, or of anyone else who has spoken in support of his amendment. I trust he will acknowledge that there is no lack of sincerity among those who speak on behalf of the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Morrow. He said that the world is changing. A number of Members of your Lordships’ House have had a religious vocation in life. When it comes to my religious belief, while we say that the world is changing, the word of God on which I base my belief says that although,
“Heaven and earth will pass away … my words will never pass away”.
It does not change with the passing of time.
The point that my noble friend Lord Morrow has brought before the House is very serious. I see the clear wording in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, and I come back again to the word “may”. When I was in public life, as a councillor for 37 and a half years, and as an elected representative in the other House for 25 years, a lot of emphasis was placed on putting “shall” and “must” into legislation. When “may” was put in, it was drawn to the attention of the governing party in those years that this did not create certainty. The amendment says that the Secretary of State “may” make a provision that the Secretary of State considers “appropriate”; in other words, “may” at the whim of the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State, irrespective of who it is, decides not to give that protection, there is no protection, according to this legislation, should it be passed by your Lordships’ House this evening.
That is a very serious matter with serious implications because it gives the idea that this is discretionary, not mandatory. I therefore honestly have to say that many of my colleagues would have no confidence in the manner in which this has been presented at this time. I have listened carefully to what other Members of this House have said and I believe they acknowledge that there is a problem here. Acknowledging the problem is one thing, but if it goes into legislation and the wording is not changed, that is what we are left with. Then, of course, it goes to a court. What did Members of the other House really mean when they put down the word “may”? Did they simply leave it to the discretion of the Secretary of State or did they say that it went deeper than that?
Protecting religious freedom and religious belief in the United Kingdom is vital. We cannot lose our religious freedom, our civil and religious liberty, which was fought for and which people died for. I do not believe we should hand it away. Therefore, I make a solemn appeal to Members of your Lordships’ House. Forget about who tabled the amendment; forget that it is my noble friend Lord Morrow. Think carefully about what it means. I appeal to the House to accept that what he says is a protection that must be given to people of religious belief in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, for the way he introduced this amendment and for addressing the comments made by the noble Lords from the DUP. I am sure the Minister will repeat the assurances he gave. All noble Lords are right; there has been a considerable shift over time in what society thinks about these issues. I do not think Northern Ireland is any different from any other part of the UK in that regard.
As a general point, in Monday’s debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, spoke of her recent marriage. As Members of this House from all three political parties, and quite possibly the Cross Benches, have done, she took advantage of the same-sex marriages Act that this House passed under the superb guidance of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell—who could forget her descriptions of her relationship with George Clooney? Members of this House have taken advantage of that legislation and we congratulate them on their marriages.
I struggle with the idea that something that has been fundamental to my life—a marriage of 40 years—should not be available to colleagues who choose to love somebody of the same gender as them. I also struggle to understand why somebody who lives in Northern Ireland should be treated any differently from somebody who lives in any other part of the UK on their ability to marry and share their life with the person they love.
The amendment from the House of Commons was deficient in some ways, but the fundamental principle was that there should be equality in the law across the UK on or before
In the other place, the Minister’s colleague the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, John Penrose, confirmed that he sympathised with the amendment, but said it had deficiencies. I will come on to those. He voted in favour of it, with that statement that it was both politically and legally impractical. The changes required are those that bring it in line with current England and Wales legislation and deal with the practicalities of when it can be delivered.
Consequential policy issues arose. For example, the original amendment did not address issues such as pensions, the conversion of civil partnerships and gender recognition. The replacement clause picks up on those and prompts the Secretary of State to consider them when making regulations. As has been heard in your Lordships’ House tonight, the original clause did not address issues related to freedom of religion and religious expression, allowing religious institutions to opt in, rather than being compelled to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
The Government—I hope the Minister will confirm this; I expect him to—and the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, have been very clear that any legislation relating to Northern Ireland will mirror the legislation already in place in England and Wales and will address the very concerns raised by the noble Lords, Lord McCrea and Lord Morrow. Extending the period in the legislation will give Ministers and their officials time for a little breathing space to engage with relevant stakeholders and get to grips with those issues. That is the right way forward.
We often refer to amendments passed in this House as a victory for common sense. With the majority of MLAs and Members of Parliament having backed the extension of same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland, tidying up this amendment to address the points and concerns raised is not just a victory for common sense but a victory for love.
“I wanted her to know that Lyra and I had a right to be treated as equal citizens in our own country. Surely that’s not too much to ask?”
I have heard comments on a number of issues tonight. I do not make a habit of quoting scripture, but I will tonight; I think it is important to do so. I quote 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 7:
“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance”.
The majority by which the other place made its decision was quite significant—a majority that my party can now only dream of. It is a reminder that, had the Executive re-formed in the past, this matter would have been taken forward in Northern Ireland. That is the important part to stress, but we cannot overlook what has arrived from the other place.
I will touch on a number of the issues raised, because it is important to do them justice, but I will do this slightly the wrong way around. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, raised the issue of religious protection and religious freedom. He is right to do so, because there needs to be an understanding among all faith-based groups in Northern Ireland that they will not be compelled to act against their faith, their religion or even their opinion.
However, I come back to how we seek to move this forward. The question centred around the words “may” and “must”. I need to drill down into that to make sure this is fully understood. The words “may” and “must” are not about the protections or the fundamental realisation of them. Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. That is not in doubt, not debated and not disputed, and will not be in any way eroded by anything we do here today—full stop. It is important to remember that all the legislation will comply with that and ensure we move that forward. Absolutely at the heart of this must be a belief in Northern Ireland that faith-based groups will not experience some sort of prejudice because they express their faith in fashions which do not recognise the situation today.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said only the other day, she would not wish to get married somewhere where she did not experience that love. Marriage is not a confrontation with other religions or an attempt to undermine them. Marriage is not an attempt to do any of those things at heart. It is, at heart, about love; that is the important thing we need to stress.
I thank my noble friend Lord Hayward for moving forward in this fashion. I commend his speech to the House; he has done most of the heavy lifting that I would have had to do. He has done justice to the task of addressing a number of technical deficiencies. It will be important to recognise how these will play out in Northern Ireland. This is an issue where we need to be as careful as we can be.
I need to stress that I do not have any concerns with Amendment 11 as now drafted. The dates in there will be a challenge—I put that front and centre—but we will meet those deadlines, by hook or by crook. I apologise to the officials who we will look to for this, but I am making that commitment. The reason the timelines are as they are is to recognise that this is not straightforward. When we looked at some of the aspects of same-sex marriage and civil partnership elsewhere in these islands, we recognised that they carried challenges to other pieces of legislation, which needed to be addressed. That is why we need a timeframe of nine months post Royal Assent. The amendment necessitates that we move faster than that. However, this is the truth of it, as we recognise some of the stumbles and challenges which have been experienced elsewhere in this kingdom and learn from them. It is important to draw on the experiences in Scotland, England and Wales, which should help us. Addressing the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, I say that it is important to stress that we are looking at an opt-in process. One would not be compelled to act against one’s faith or strongly held beliefs.
I am aware that this provision will not be welcomed in every quarter of Northern Ireland, just as it was not welcomed in every quarter of Scotland, England or Wales, but, as other noble Lords have said, time has moved on. It is time to move this one on. A message is being sent to Northern Ireland. I wish this had been done in Stormont; it would have been stronger had it been done there. I would much rather not be standing here doing it, but it needs to be done. We are acting on a very clear instruction from the other place, having recognised that the instruction required certain adjustments, for which we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. On this basis, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, will recognise that we are not seeking to undermine in any way the religious freedom or the conscience of anyone in Northern Ireland who holds a faith dear. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, will not press his amendments, and that we can move forward with Amendment 11 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hayward.
My Lords, I have listened very carefully to what has been said around the House this evening. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It was remiss of me at the beginning not to thank the staff of the Bill office for their assistance. They have been very busy of late—I suspect they are busy all the time, and this is just a normal day for them—but they were very gracious and helpful.
Some noble Lords, including the Minister, have quoted other people. I had intended to say more, but I am not going to. I am not going to say his name, because he does not come from the same side of the political spectrum as me, but I want to quote one of our well-known politicians, known to everybody in this House:
“In Northern Ireland, we have a tendency to look at who is saying something rather than what is being said”.
I trust and pray that, tonight, your Lordships’ House will not be guilty of the same. It is my intention to test the opinion of the House on this matter.
Amendment 11 agreed.
Amendment 11B not moved.