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Equality Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:39 am on 9th June 2009.

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William Fittall: Perhaps I can endorse what has been said from the perspective of the Church of England. There is no doubt that this is a substantial narrowing of the present exemption, which talks of

“for the purposes of an organised religion”.

The narrowing is considerable, particularly under paragraph 8. The Government have a difficulty because they are bringing together various strands of discrimination and, in relation to some strands, the present exemptions are narrower than others. For example, exemption can be necessary in relation to gender, because the priesthood, bishops, rabbis and imams are confined to only one gender—that is quite a narrow restriction. However, there are other areas where we need a bit more scope than the provision provides.

The fundamental difficulty is that, if a religious organisation is imposing a faith requirement on a particular post—we have a lot of posts where we do not—and saying, “You’ve got to be an Anglican, a Roman Catholic, or whatever it might be”, we will, particularly for representational or pastoral roles, want people to lead lives that are consistent with the teaching of that particular Church or faith. Our conviction is that the provision does not allow for that. You might believe that some of our rules and disciplines are wrong, but our view is that that is a matter of religious liberty—a matter for the Church of England, Roman Catholics, the Jews or whoever.

We are not seeking carte blanche, but if a religious organisation is employing someone in a role for which you have to be a member of that faith, it is reasonable that restrictions—whether they be on marital history or whatever—can be part of the requirements. I think that the provision would prevent that.