Report on Yesterday’s SORS Committee

The Commons Committee met yesterday morning, and as this report from a leading Rt Hon suggests, the steamrolling of SORS through Parliament has begun.

Late yesterday afternoon the government chose MPs to sit on a Committee to discuss the Sexual orientation regulations. There was nothing unusual about that, save for two things.

The first was, the Shadow Attorney General had written to the government explaining that this was a complex piece of legislation, which warranted putting into a Bill so that Parliament could have proper debates about it. A bill receives time for second and third reading debates, as well as a committee stage where MPs can move amendments to help the government get it right. Instead we were given 90 minutes only in a committee on something which could not be amended.

The second was, the government insisted on the Committee sitting at 8.55 am the next day, giving MPs little time to clear their diaries and do the reading necessary. Usually MPs are given several days notice of a Committee and its membership.

Yesterday also happened to be the day of the big Trident debate. It looked as it the government hoped they could slip these regulations through without much notice on the back of the furore surrounding the Labour splits on nuclear weapons.

This morning a good number of Conservative MPs turned up for the Committee, although most of us were not members of the Committee. Any MP can attend, and if opportunity presents can also speak, but you cannot vote unless you are an official member of the Committee.

We made a number of points of order. We urged the government to delay the committee, to give everyone time to read the latest draft and to talk to constituents about it. We urged the government to have a debate on the floor of the House, given the strong interest in these regulations on both sides of the argument.

We urged the government to think again about the desirability of a Bill rather than a Statutory Instrument.

The Minister remained impassive, and the MP chairing the committee refused all our requests.

The three front bench spokespeople used up all but 3 minutes of the Committee’s time, leaving an opportunity for just one backbencher to begin a speech to set out the problems many Christians see with the regulation.

At the end of the permitted 90 minutes many MPs were frustrated that they had not been allowed to speak, and many Christian lobbyists will doubtless feel their case had not been allowed a proper airing.

Why is this government so afraid of honest debate about these issues? They had the votes to win, but they also have a duty to engage with those who disagree, or who think the objectives can be met in a better way. Sensible governments try to win arguments, as well as trying to win votes. Bad governments think the arguments do not matter, until one day the electorate think the government needs changing.

Preach it brother! Seriously though, this is a shocking use of Parliamentary procedure to ignore a proper debate on SORS. But there is a glimmer of hope. The involvement of the Shadow Attorney General in the debate means that the Opposition are not going to roll over on this – they will hopefully move to annull a dismissal vote if it comes and force a proper debate on the floor of the house.

1 Comment on “Report on Yesterday’s SORS Committee

  1. Hi Peter:

    In addition to the rather ‘unusual’ tactics employed on the fifteenth, it now appears that the full Commons vote will be held on Monday next week, rather than Wednesday.

    One can only speculate as to why this is being pushed through in such haste…but when it becomes law, as I fear the SORs will, a long-established right to free expression of religious belief will have been curtailed in the UK–a sad day indeed.

    What then? I guess believers (including Jews and Muslims) will either have to remove themselves from any situation in which they might be forced to endorse homsoexual practices–which in effect would mean removing themselves from any jobs requiring public interaction; or else ‘privatize’ their beliefs and act contrary to those beliefs by giving formal endorsement in public life to ‘homosexual practices’.

    I note that the committee which reviewed the SORs recommended even more radical impositions, such as requiring faith-based schools to give up any teaching against homosexuality, among other things.

    It’s so tragic that things have come to this; but I view it as an opportunity for believers to witness to others; we can expect militant gay groups to provoke legal cases, and I pray that such cases work to the glory of God. I pray, too, that all believers adopt a pacific, loving, yet utterly firm stance against the SORs wherever and whenever the legislation comes between them and God…

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