Thursday, February 08, 2007

Straw gets a rough ride over Lords reform

For anyone watching the statement from Jack Straw yesterday there will be a certain sense of foreboding about the upcoming Lords reform. Read the debate here as well as the House of Lords discussion here. Also see an article by Jack Straw in today's Guardian.

There was significant opposition coming from virtually everwhere. The Tories are promising no help whatever. I think they want an 80% elected chamber based on ...... counties as opposed to population. Well, well, what a surprise. The reason they aren't happy is because they don't have the huge inbuilt majority the Lords had and have found a way to get it back - by proposing the most undemocratic form of election possible - one that distorts the representationof population and is permanently skewed in favour of their party.

This is absolutley ideal for them. It gives them the luxury of campaigning for a predominantly elected chamber but also the chance to rubbish any other proposals (and I do mean any other proposals - even if the Commons were to vote for an 80% elected upper chamber they would find something to balk and quibble about).

If reform fails we will have a 100% appointed chamber. The only alternative in my view would be for a more precise plan to be introduced into party manifestos and then simply legislated for in the normal way, using the Parliament Act if the Lords are unreasonably obstructive (as they nearly usually are on these matters).

The Tory Lords are already giving fair notice that they will do all they can to obstruct the will of the democratically elected chamber with no legitimacy whatever.

Is a second chamber really worth all of this hassle?

For the moment though, the best of luck to the Government. Let this at least be achieved - that the House of Commons expresses itself on the issue.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Hobson's choice

Actually an interesting article by Theo Hobson (A pink reformation) in the Guardian's "Comment is Free".

He makes an interesting case that there are several material reasons why the Christian churches are making heavy going of the sexuality debate and fidning it difficult to adapt. Broadly speaking the reasons given include:

  • the either/or nature of the debate - either same sex relationships are equally valid or they are not - not much scope for middle ground
  • the speed of change in society's attitudes and legislation leaving little time for faith groups to adapt (I might add - especially in churches which are in a global configuration including countries where these kind of changes are only just beginning to occur)
  • the cause of LGBT equality has taken on the form of a moral crusade, again making it difficult for churches to adapt well

I think there is some merit to this view. He concludes with these thoughts:

The crisis over homosexuality is reawakening us to the question that inspired Paul and Luther. The real question is not whether homosexuality is against "Christian morality" but whether moralism is against the Christian gospel. It seems to be - but how can a church adapt to this insight? All religious groups seem to unite around a holy moral code. Can Christianity jettison the whole idea of the moral law - and remain an organised religion? The debate about homosexuality is ushering us into strange new religious territory; making us contemporary with Paul. God works in truly mysterious ways.

(For another interesting article by Theo Hobson on the Church of England and its current predicament see here -Bid a fond farewell to the English way of religion).

Some other items of interest within the debate include a letter in the Times (Face of secular intolerance...), arguing that whereas once only Christianity was tolerated (in the form of authorised Anglicanism) very soon we will end up with a similar system but in reverse i.e. whereas you used to have to sign up to Anglicanism to be able to be an MP, you'll have to sign up to secularism or else be excluded from Parliament - I think these thoughts are exaggerated to say the least, designed to show that unless you grant exemptions to allow people of faith to circumvent the law on discrimination they will portray themselves as victims to say they are being discriminated against, when in fact they are protected both in employment and in the provision of goods and services as well as being protected under the Human Rights Act.

Actually the position is this - equality before the law for all, freedom of religious practice - except where the rights of others are infringed.

One can link this to this article by John Allen in his weekly column in the National Catholic Reporter. It's al of a piece with this idea that now religious based discriminatory laws are being removed that we in this terrible slide to compulsory secularism and so on and so on (ironically it is actually this particular line of reasoning which does the most to threaten the place of faith in society).

The article is worth a read to get an insight in to what some religious folk are thinking these days:

It's not much of a stretch, for example, to imagine pastors being fined or even imprisoned for statements opposing the rights of homosexuals to marry or adopt. (As noted above, this almost happened in Sweden). States might refuse to recognize the validity of any marriage carried out by a church that refuses to marry same-sex couples. Catholic schools could face investigations for what they teach on homosexuality. The potential for conflict is virtually unlimited, once the state decides that rejecting gay marriage and gay adoption is ipso facto a form of illegal discrimination.

All of this ignores the fact that the Human Rights Act (passed by a Labour Government incidentally) preserves the freedom of speech, freedom of coscience and freedom of religion, though not of course the right to discriminate against others on the basis of your beliefs and no-one is proposig to create a criminal offence on the basis of an act of discrimination (speech amounting to the incitement to hatred of a class of citizens is, of course, an antirely different matter. The Swedish pastor mentioned had stated "that homosexuals were 'a deep cancer tumour on all of society' and that gays were more likely than other people to rape children and animals", though he was eventually acquitted (wrongly in my view) under the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights - imagine that this had been said about Jews, Muslims or any other minority group - however sincerely held or divinely inspired the prejudice in question).