Where were the Bishops?
The truth is even more entertaining. Only two Lords Spiritual were present, the Bishop of Bradford who voted against the amendment and the Bishop of Newcastle who voted in favour. The reason there were only two bishops in the Lords was because the Government rushed through the Report Stage in one night rather than spending a few days over it as is normal. This meant that many Lords were simply not present for a number of key votes called at short notice.
Despite the headlines claiming that the deal is done, there is still some distance to go. The Bill has to go through further readings in both Houses. There is the real possibility that at either of these points the Government will introduce an amendment to remove Lord Alli’s amendment. It is clear that there is some real doubt in the Government as to whether allowing (at this point) Civil Partnerships to be registered in religious premises is a wise move. On top of that the amendment as it stands leaves huge holes of ambiguity as to whether Church of England clergy could, of their own volition and with disregard to Diocesan authorities, register the Churches over which they have freehold for this purpose. This would make a mockery of the assurances that “no-one would be forced to conduct Civil Partnerships”. I spoke to one Bishop over the past 48 hours who expressed such a concern and there are many more across the country.
And on top of all this, with the General Election looming the whole Equality Bill could be guillotined to make it pass before Parliament is dissolved. When the vote is called, the Government essentially has to quickly come to a deal with the Opposition over what will and won’t be passed. With the Conservative front benches firmly set against Lord Alli’s amendment, it may be one of the victims in the horse-trading as this Parliament comes into its last few hours.
Definitely not time to stop praying yet.