Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill – Progress

In last week’s round-up, we reported that following a fairly brief report stage and third reading in the Commons, the Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill had passed to the Lords unamended: the Bill was given its second reading on 27 February, 27 Feb 2015 Vol 759(109) Col 1911 and committed to a Committee of the Whole House, again without amendment. Full details of the debates in these earlier parliamentary stages are available here.

On Friday 13 March, the Bill was given line-by-line consideration during the Committee stage in the House of Lords, for which a total of 19 amendments had been tabled. The debate followed prayers read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester, who as a consequence declared his interest in the Bill, [Col 841]. During the two hour debate, Amendment 1 and 6 were withdrawn and Amendments 2 to 5 and 7 to 19 not moved. All three clauses were agreed and the Bill reported without amendment.

Lord Cormack noted that Second Reading came at a rather awkward time, following the debate of the overseas aid Bill when the was only one Back-Bench speaker, other than himself, and “in effect, we have had a Second Reading debate over the last hour“, [Col 854]. In the discussion on Amendments 1 to 5 moved by the Earl of Clancarty, Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con) observed, [847]

“… it is often the case that the power of religion is thought to be harnessed for a mistaken purpose … A particular movement tries to hang on to some religion as its base because it believes that by that method it will increase its power and influence. The proper course for the Bill is for it to proceed, on the basis that there should be a majority ruling in the council. I cannot see, for the life of me, why there should be a special majority giving particular value to those who do not want prayers over those who do. Surely, equality of votes is the right way in which to go forward.”

The effect of these amendments was summarized by Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab), [Col 849]

“Amendment 1 would remove the whole of the proposed new Section 138A and would effectively remove from the Bill the whole purpose of it being here in the first place. Amendments 2 and 5 would require there to be a two-thirds majority in favour of these proposals and for the decision to be reaffirmed every year at a meeting of the council. In my opinion, that goes too far and is not necessary. If the parish or other council concerned wants to avail itself of these powers, it would have to get agreement. A simple majority is perfectly acceptable in that regard.”

Conceding that “there is a sense that there cannot be any budging from how the Bill stands at present, which is of course how it came into this House”, the Earl of Clancarty withdrew Amendment 1 and did not move Amendments 2 to 5.

Amendment 6 was moved by Lord Avebury: this would leave out new Section 138B which the Bill proposes to insert into the Local Government Act 1972. However, following the debate he concluded that “because the Bill had the support of the other place and because it is not our position to frustrate the will of the other place, which we would do if we pressed this amendment to a Division, I beg leave to withdraw it.”

Amendment 6 was withdrawn, Amendments 7 and 8 not moved and Clause 1 agreed; Amendments 9 to 19 were not moved, and Clause 2 (Powers of other local authorities) agreed; Clause 3 was agreed and the Bill reported without amendment.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill – Progress" in Law & Religion UK, 14 March 2015, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2015/03/14/local-government-religious-etc-observances-bill-progress/

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