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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: May I add a further point to answer the Minister’s question? The phrase “proportionate means” in sub-paragraph (6) was not in the earlier regulations on sexual orientation. Of course we do not want to argue that we should have disproportionate freedom, but it must be asked what the effect of this measure will be. This is a situation in which once complainants have established a prima facie case, the onus of proof is put on the defendant, which would be the religious organisation. Effectively inserting a requirement that someone has to prove that that is necessary—which is what the religious organisation  would have to do—would make this a higher case. In effect, you have provided that for priests, bishops, imams and so on, that would be okay, but we are saying that there is a wider range of jobs.

My director of ministry at Church house has a big representational role. He is not out there teaching the faith, but he is involved in organisation and selection of people for ministry. The director of communications for the Church of England has a representational role, and it would not be credible for him to do his job if he had been married three times and caused a scandal, or if he were a campaigning member for gay rights in a sexually active relationship. Given the Church of England’s position, that would not be consistent. Taken together, I think that sub-paragraphs (6) and (8) make it more difficult for us to impose our requirements. If that is not deliberate, perhaps we could discuss the matter further.