Summary of the Parliamentary & Public Affairs Committee, 12th February 2013

General point

The Chairman drew the Committee’s attention to a book recently published by Edward Leigh MP “Monastery of the Mind”, in which he describes a summer-long journey around sites connected with the life of St Ignatius Loyola, and his own later experience of undertaking the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.


The Chairman had received a letter from his local MP, Harriet Baldwin outlining her reasons for voting against the same sex marriage Bill, both at 2nd Reading and Committee stage. A large number of Catholic MPs voted for the same sex marriage bill but this number may well reduce during the later stages of the Bill’s progress. Some Labour and Liberal Democrat MPS who voted against the Bill are facing enormous pressure and challenges as a result.

Baroness Knight and the LCP – 23rd January

There were four speakers at this meeting, including the PPAC Chairman and Philip Howard, another member of that Committee. The other two speakers were Professors Glazer and Pullicino. A key observation is that it is scientifically impossible to predict accurately when a patient will die. Examples were given – one of a patient who went 18 days without fluids. A member of the audience, Lord Carlile, wrote an article in the following day’s Daily Telegraph. The LCP (soon to be renamed) is predicated on a prognosis of death. Part of its protocol is to stop observations, interventions or investigations. It was suggested that the Neuberger Review should be held under the terms of the Inquiries Act 2005, with the requisite medical expertise, proper funding and proper transparency.

Amendment to the Succession to the Crown Bill

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP had brought this amendment to remove religious belief as a bar to becoming monarch. The amendment was defeated, but the Committee applauded the effort.

Ethics in the City

This initiative by the Archbishop of Westminster was discussed, following a recent article in the Catholic Herald. It was noted that profit in the right context can be a force for good.

Presumed Consent – Welsh Assembly

Organs could be taken automatically from cadavers unless families specifically withhold consent. Westminster on the other hand had previously stated “presumed consent is no consent.” The Welsh Bishops have taken up the issue and SPUC are running a lively campaign in conjunction with the Moslem community.

ECHR on Christian freedom of religion and conscience

The Committee was informed about recent decisions. They are interesting because the legal position for religious rights is slightly better that it was previously. In particular the ECHR has changed its view and no longer considers that an employee, whose religious rights were infringed, should resign and get another job. Eweida and Chaplin involved the right to wear a Christian Cross at work and Ladele and McFarlane involved objection to the endorsement of same sex relationships. Eweida won her case; the others lost theirs. The claims alleged breaches of Articles 9 (Freedom of Religion) and Article 14 (Freedom from Discrimination) of the Convention. In the Eweida and Chaplin cases the ECHR rejected the idea that because the wearing of a Cross was not compulsory in Christianity its wearing was not a “manifestation” of religion for the purposes of Article 9.1. In the case of Eweida the ECHR held the ban on her wearing a cross was not justified in a democratic society (per Art 9.2). In the case of Chaplin, a nurse, the court decided that, because she wore the cross on a chain, a ban could be justified on health and safety grounds. Thus restriction of religious freedom was not, in principle, the issue in Chaplin. With Ladele and McFarlane there was a conflict between rights (religion versus discrimination) and the court held the balance was a matter for member states to decide. Thus any member state could lawfully provide for a conscientious objection on the issue, if it so wished. However, the dissenting opinions of Judges Vucinic and de Gaetano may provide ground for further appeals. They held that Lilian Ladele’s case is “not so much one of freedom of religious belief as one of freedom of conscience – that is, that no one should be forced to act against one’s conscience or be penalised for refusing to act against one’s conscience”. They added: “although freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are dealt with under the same Article of the Convention, there is a fundamental difference between the two which, in our view, has not been adequately made out in paras 79 to 88 of the judgement”. They concluded: “we are of the view that once a genuine and serious case of conscientious objection is established, the State is obliged to respect the individual’s freedom of conscience both positively (by taking reasonable and appropriate measures to protect the rights of the conscientious objector) and negatively (by refraining from actions which punish the objector or discriminate against him or her)…instead of practising the tolerance and the ‘dignity for all’  it preached, the Borough of Islington pursued the doctrinaire line, the road of obsessive political correctness. It effectively sought to force the applicant to act against her conscience or face the extreme penalty of dismissal”.

OSCR Decision

OSCR, the Scottish charity regulator, has ruled that an adoption agency, St Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society, based in Glasgow, is in breach of the Equality Act 2010 because it expects those applying to be assessed as adoptive parents to have been married for at least two years. Even though the Act allows the charity so to act, nevertheless OSCR is claiming the right to re-interpret the Act, rather than letting a court decide, knowing that the charity cannot afford to go to law. This is of concern.

Same Sex Marriage Bill General Discussion 2nd Reading

135 Tories voted against the Bill or abstained. Messrs Leigh, Dobbin and Howarth MMPs spoke well. The composition of the Committee dealing with the Bill is weighted 14 to 4 in favour of the Bill’s supporters. The optimum time to make changes will be at the Report stage of the Bill. A Submission to the Commons will be crafted by the Vice Chairman of the Catholic Union. The President will craft a submission for the House of Lords. Unintended consequences of the legislation – eg unequal treatment of adultery (present in heterosexual but not homosexual marriages) being one such instance. An update will be given at the next meeting.