Anna Soubry treats Christian concerns with "supercilious disdain"
Below is the Hansard transcript from a recent debate on a few Statutory Instruments relating to the Same Sex Marriage legislation – in particular, the Use of Armed Forces’ Chapels Regulations 2014 and the draft Overseas Marriage (Armed Forces) Order 2014.
His Grace is of the view that what's done is done, and it is now the law of the land. The state's definition of marriage diverges from the ontological reality and the historic sacrament of Holy Matrimony: the vernacular will adapt to Parliament's decree. This will not be undone. But there are loose ends (many, many loose ends) and these Statutory Instruments aim to tie up a few.
This debate is interesting for the way that the Ministry of Defence Minister Anna Soubry treats those of a Christian conscience, in this case Sir Edward Leigh (Roman Catholic) and Sir Gerald Howarth (Church of England), with utter contempt and rudeness. Those who witnessed the exchange were shocked and appalled at the Minister's arrogance. His Grace reproduces the whole exchange because context and primary reasoning are important.
The transcript is a typical Hansard version of the truth – the words are correct, but they cannot show the disdain and sheer nastiness of the Minister. For that, you need to watch the video above. Like them or not, both Gerald Howarth and Edward Leigh make sense of the world through the lens of Christianity: the Church is woven into their lives, and Christ provides their moral compass. While many may believe that compass to be skewed – or, rather, that it does not point in a ‘progressive’ direction – at least they have a moral sense. Ms Soubry is a relativist and a modernist, and in this her third career (after TV presenter, and criminal barrister) as a politician, she is being used by others to do their dirty work – in both the House and on TV. She is personally quite charming, but with a majority of just 389, she is fighting for every vote, and if that means trimming her ‘conscience’ to the secularising zeitgeist and slapping aside a few pesky Christians, that’s exactly what she’ll do.
But it may, of course, be more than that. Perhaps, as with so many of her ilk, she simply does not recognise for a second that someone who disagrees with her might be right. And certainly not a Christian.
The Chair: With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Use of Armed Forces’ Chapels) Regulations 2014 and the draft Overseas Marriage (Armed Forces) Order 2014.
Anna Soubry: It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. I turn first to the draft Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Use of Armed Forces’ Chapels) Regulations 2014. The purpose of these new regulations is to make provision for the registration of armed forces’ chapels for the marriage of same sex couples, or, indeed, for cancelling that registration. The Marriage Act 1949 dealt separately with military chapels for the purpose of licensing or registering them for marriage, and the provisions of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 reflect that separate treatment. As I shall explain, there are features of military chapels which mean that the civilian regime for marriages of same sex couples does not quite fit. I should explain that when I use the expression “civilian” I effectively mean non-military, as opposed to the civil law that guides marriage, canon law, and other marriages in relation to our churches. However, we have sought to follow the principles of the civilian regime where practicable.
I remind the Committee that we are only discussing registration of chapels under section 70A of the 1949 Act; in other words, for marriages using rites other than those of the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Armed forces’ chapels cannot be used for the marriage of same sex couples using the rites of the Church of England or the Church in Wales as there is no provision for such marriages to be lawfully solemnised. I should also make it clear that while the regulations are scheduled to come into force on 3 June this year, we do not anticipate any immediate registrations of chapels, or marriages of same sex couples in them. As I understand the position of the sending Churches, those Churches that send chaplains into the chaplaincy—and not all our Churches are sending Churches—none has announced any plans to opt in to the marriage of same sex couples. Only if and when they do so will the question of registration of military chapels arise, just as civilian places of worship can only be registered for marriage of same sex couples when the relevant religious organisations have opted in.
The first of the substantive regulations, regulation 3, sets out the requirement to consult the religious organisations that make significant regular use of a military chapel. The views of religious organisations are, of course, central to how the 2013 Act operates; however, for civilian places of worship, the scenario is one of a settled congregation that has an established interest in the use of the building in which it worships. The situation of a military chapel is different. It may well have a rapidly changing population, as service personnel and their families are posted in and out of a location. Indeed, on smaller bases where there is only one chaplain serving the community and officiating at the chapel, the denomination of the chaplain may change. Thus, the identity of a regular user needs to be determined in each case, rather than defined in advance.
Regulation 4 sets out the matters to which the Secretary of State must have regard in deciding whether to make an application to register a chapel for marriage of same sex couples. I have already referred to the importance of the views of the religious organisations and congregations who use the chapel, which is covered by the first item. However, this cannot be a veto in the way the Act operates for shared civilian places of worship. In contrast to a religious organisation, the Secretary of State has a duty in public law, as owner of the chapel and as employer of the service person wishing to marry, to consider the rights of the couple who wish to use the chapel. That is spelled out in regulation 4. The Secretary of State therefore retains discretion in the matter, but that is not a mandate to overrule the views of the users of the chapel, or to take an approach to the registration of military chapels for marriage of same sex couples that our civilian counterparts would not recognise. The Secretary of State will aim to be as clear as possible about how he will exercise his discretion, so that congregations and couples know where they stand.
Regulation 4(d) deals with authorised persons, and I emphasise two points. First, the draft regulations are designed to deal with circumstances in which there is a real prospect of a marriage taking place, not speculative registration against the possibility of a future request. The availability of a person to be present at the marriage, so that it can be solemnised, is therefore a sensible factor in deciding about registration. Secondly, under section 43B of the Marriage Act 1949, an authorised person may only be appointed to a particular chapel for the marriage of a same sex couple after that chapel is registered. Regulation 4(d) is therefore formulated in terms of a person who is available, but has not yet been authorised.
Finally, the two criteria specified are exactly what one would expect in the context of the 2013 Act: that the potential authorised person is personally willing to conduct a marriage of a same sex couple, and that he or she is suitable for that role. A person who is already authorised for marriages of opposite sex couples in that chapel, under section 43 of the 1949 Act, would clearly be a good example of a suitable person to be authorised under section 43B.
Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): The explanatory memorandum states:
“The majority of armed forces’ chapels are shared by a number of faiths, who may adopt different positions towards the marriage of same sex couples.”
I do not know the answer, but are there any military chapels that are run exclusively for the Roman Catholic faith?
Later in the memorandum, under paragraph 7.3, is stated:
“A small number of armed forces’ chapels are consecrated by the Church of England under ecclesiastical law, and will not be registered for the marriage of same sex couples.”
Those chapels are not affected, but I am worried about the majority of armed forces chapels, which are shared by a number of faiths. As far as I know, only the Quakers want to conduct same sex marriages, although I may be wrong. The overwhelming majority of Christian faiths do not wish to do so, and I wonder whether they might be dragged down some sort of slippery slope into something that they do not want to do. I want to be reassured by the Minister.
Anna Soubry: I think it is true and fair to say that throughout the whole passage of the Act and in the laying of the draft statutory instruments today, it has been made clear that no religious faith will be dragged on to any slippery slope. The legislation has been carefully crafted to ensure that.
My hon. Friend referred to the Quakers—I will deal with Roman Catholic chapels in a moment—but let us be sensible about this. What is the likelihood of a Quaker conducting a marriage, whether same sex or any other, in a military chapel, given the fundamental tenet of the Quaker religion?
I understand that some military chapels are indeed Roman Catholic. As my hon. Friend knows, one of the great features of our military chapels is that they encompass people of the Christian religion from all parts of the Christian faith, allowing them to come together under the chaplaincy and worship in the same place, although at different times to recognise the different features of any particular Church within the Christian Church. I hope that reassures him. If it does not, I am sure that he will let me know. If I have not answered his question in full or I can assist further, I am more than happy to write to him.
I now turn to the draft Overseas Marriage (Armed Forces) Order 2014. The provision for marriage of opposite sex couples is available to armed forces personnel who wish to marry at home or overseas and reflects the mobile circumstances of armed forces personnel. There is a statutory basis for armed forces marriages overseas which, until now, has been the Foreign Marriage (Armed Forces) Order 1964, made under the Foreign Marriage Act 1892. There is no reason why provision for marriage of same sex couples should not also be made available to armed forces personnel overseas. This draft order will therefore enable marriage of opposite sex couples overseas to continue, but with the added ability to enable the marriage of same sex couples. It allows for marriage of same sex couples both in civil ceremonies and, where the appropriate consents have been obtained, marriage according to the rites of a religious organisation. It will apply where at least one of the couple marrying is a member of the UK armed forces, or a civilian subject to service discipline in support of the armed forces and deployed overseas, or a dependant of either of the aforementioned.
Section 13 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 repeals the Foreign Marriage Act 1892 for England and Wales and Scotland, but not for Northern Ireland, where it is retained. This draft order replaces that regime so that it requires the couple to nominate the particular part of the United Kingdom under whose law they wish to marry, and they will be able to marry under the order if they are eligible to marry in that part of the UK.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Why does this not apply to Northern Ireland?
Anna Soubry: Because this is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, and it is for it to decide whether it wishes to introduces same sex marriage.
The draft order’s geographical extent will also be wider than the 1964 order, since British overseas territories are included in the 2013 Act, which was not the case for the Foreign Marriage Act.
The reason for the approach of nominating a part of the United Kingdom is that marriage of same sex couples by the time this instrument comes into force will be lawful only in England and Wales, and very soon Scotland, now that the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 has been enacted by the Scottish Parliament. I welcome that Act and congratulate the Scottish Parliament on passing it. The Northern Ireland Executive has indicated no intention to introduce legislation for marriage of same sex couples in Northern Ireland. I think that one day that will change as people begin to understand and appreciate the benefits of same sex marriage.
A marriage overseas, whether of an opposite sex couple or a same sex couple, must be conducted in the presence of an authorised person—a service chaplain or person authorised by the commanding officer of the force deployed overseas. The parties must give prior notice to the commanding officer, who must be satisfied that they are eligible to marry under the order. The order allows for religious rites to be used where the religious organisation agrees to the use of its rites, but specifically the marriage of a same sex couple may be solemnised only according to the rites or usages of a relevant religious organisation where the relevant governing authority has given written consent and a chaplain has agreed to solemnise the marriage according to those rites. The Act explicitly precludes the solemnisation of forces marriages of same sex couples according to the rites of the Church of England and the Church in Wales, and that is paragraph 9(4) of schedule 6.
Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): The Minister has made it clear that there will be no access to Church of England rites by those who wish to engage in same sex marriage. Presumably, the chapel at Camp Bastion, which many of us have visited, has not been consecrated and is therefore available to everybody. At the moment such chapels have Christian religious artefacts, such as the cross, so does my hon. Friend have it in mind that if those chapels are to be used for other than according to the Christian rites, the furniture there will be changed?
Anna Soubry: I do not wish in any way to insult my hon. Friend, but he may not be aware that same sex marriage in Afghanistan is illegal. So a member of the armed forces cannot get married in a chapel or any other place that might be available in Camp Bastion or anywhere else in Afghanistan. Therefore, provision for same sex marriage will not be extended to armed forces in Afghanistan. I do not know why my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough finds that amusing. I am delighted to say that same sex couples who wish to get married—
Sir Gerald Howarth: Will my hon. Friend give way?
Anna Soubry: I have not finished my sentence. Same-sex service personnel who want to get married can, of course, return to the United Kingdom. If they cannot get married in a military chapel, which is currently more than likely, they will be able to get married by going to a registry office or another place that is registered for same-sex marriages.
Sir Gerald Howarth: The Minister has chosen to be particularly personal about this, but the fact is that we are about to leave Afghanistan. What if we were to engage in military operations in another theatre in which same-sex marriage may be lawful? Will she address my concerns as applied to those circumstances?
Anna Soubry: I think I was probably a little confused by the question, which seemed to be about artefacts and so on. The provisions of the 2013 Act are absolutely clear, and I have explained them in relation to those personnel or their children who wish to get married in a military chapel. I have gone through the procedure that must take place before they can even be registered. I have also explained that none of the sending Churches have indicated they want to solemnise same-sex marriages. In many ways, what we are discussing is exceptionally hypothetical. I understand that many wish to debate highly hypothetically matters, but forgive me if I am rather more interested in the reality of the situation, and in making some progress.
Sir Edward Leigh: We do take such matters seriously because we are talking about what are for us holy places. People who attach enormous importance to their religious beliefs—whether they are Roman Catholic or anything else—use the chapels as holy places. I agree that a same-sex couple will not come along to a military chapel and ask the local Roman Catholic padre to conduct a same-sex wedding. However, what is to stop them from creating some sort of new faith or device in order to use a chapel that is used by other faiths? Does the Minister understand that we are worried about that issue, which is important to us?
Anna Soubry: With the greatest respect, I do not think that my hon. Friend has listened to what I said. The chaplaincy is drawn from the sending Churches. Some Christian faiths do not form part of that collection of sending Churches. The idea that anyone could just concoct a new religious Christian faith and automatically have a right to the chaplaincy is the stuff of fantasy. That is not the situation and, if I may say so, it is exceptionally unlikely that it ever would be the situation because, as I explained, the group of sending Churches send people into the military chaplaincy.
I agree that military chapels are indeed holy places, but we must understand that they are used by our service personnel as places where they gather, notably when they are going into action. People who may be of no faith whatsoever come together in these communal places with a spiritual element. It is simply not the case that the only people who gather in our military chapels are those who subscribe to a faith.
I would like to make some progress and turn to the draft Consular Marriages and Marriages under Foreign Law Order 2014. Its purpose is to make provision for two people, of either the same sex or the opposite sex, to marry each other in prescribed countries or territories outside the United Kingdom, in one of our consulates, in the presence of a registration officer. Consular marriages are those through which British nationals abroad can get married in a consulate under UK law. Consulates can offer them only when there are insufficient facilities for British nationals to get married under local laws and the host state has no objection to the consulate providing the service.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office currently provides consular marriage services in six countries, all in the middle east. It also registers consular civil partnerships in 17 countries—again, where there are no facilities for British nationals to register a same-sex partnership under local laws and when the host state has no objection. The draft order will enable the FCO to offer all forms of marriage, including the marriage of same-sex couples, when host Governments do not object and local facilities do not exist. Countries or territories will be able to specify that they do not permit the FCO to conduct certain types of marriage, such as those marriages involving one of their own nationals, or marriages of same-sex couples.
As I mentioned in the context of the armed forces orders, section 13 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 repeals the Foreign Marriage Act 1892 for England and Wales and for Scotland, but not for Northern Ireland. The draft order requires the couple jointly to elect the particular part of the UK that is relevant for the purposes of the marriage, and they will be able to marry under the order only if they are eligible to marry in that part of the United Kingdom. Consular marriages in relation to Northern Ireland will continue to be solemnised under the Foreign Marriage Act 1892 and the Foreign Marriage Order 1970 and, because the marriage of same-sex couples is not lawful in Northern Ireland, only marriages of opposite-sex couples will be possible in relation to Northern Ireland.
The order also makes provision for the issue of certificates of no impediment to United Kingdom nationals who wish to marry under local law in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom when the law of that country or territory requires a consular certificate of no impediment to be issued. The order sets out a residency requirement of three days before a British national may make an application for a certificate of no impediment, and provides that the application notice must be displayed for seven days in a conspicuous place that enables objections to be made. That is significantly quicker than under current legislation, which requires a residency period of 21 days followed by a notice period of a further 21 days. The order will make the whole process quicker and simpler for British nationals who wish to marry in these countries or territories.
Charlie Elphicke: The Minister might have covered this, but will she clarify that if the armed forces chaplain or padre—call him what you will—or authorised officer decides or believes that they do not want to proceed with such a ceremony, whether or not they do so is a matter for them? Do they have full free will in such circumstances?
Anna Soubry: I am pleased to be able to make it absolutely clear that nobody will ever be forced to do anything that is against their conscience. It is perhaps unfortunate that throughout this long-running debate people seem to think that there is some intention that that happens. The 2013 Act makes it absolutely clear, with talk of quadruple locks and so on, that no one will be forced to do something against their conscience, or simply against their will. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend.
Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the details of the three orders before us. I confirm that we will be pleased to support them.
It is no secret that the Secretary of State for Defence was opposed to the extension of marriage to same-sex couples. Indeed, a majority of then Defence Ministers did not support the equal marriage Bill, and I am not sure that any of them voted for it on Third Reading, which sent a concerning message to our troops. However, I know that the Minister is in favour of the legislation and I welcomed her comments.
Under the same-sex marriage Act, it is essentially up to individual religions whether they permit same-sex marriages within their faith and within their buildings or places of worship, with the exception, of course, of the Church of England. However, in respect of the statutory instrument on the use of armed forces chapels, while it is welcome that chapels can now be registered, I am a little suspicious about whether the provision is likely to lead to any registrations being approved. The Minister confirmed that, certainly at present, that was unlikely to happen. Has any work yet been undertaken on the guidelines that would be used to decide whether an application or a request for a registration would be granted? If a number of different faiths or organisations share one building, I can understand how the process would be difficult. If one faith wants to permit same-sex marriage and is happy to carry it out, but another does not, which faith trumps the other? Is there a presumption in favour of allowing a same-sex marriage to go ahead, or of allowing a faith to veto such an application?
The Minister also mentioned people of no faith using chapels, so would they be permitted to use that building for a same-sex marriage? Will she confirm whether the Secretary of State’s own views on same-sex marriage will be a factor in the decision-making process?
I am sure that the Minister is aware that the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies recently ranked more than 100 forces by their inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender personnel. It ranked the UK armed forces as joint second in being the most LGBT-friendly in the world, which I think we would welcome, although hopefully we want the No. 1 spot. However, as in all walks of life, some LGBT people in the UK armed forces come up against discrimination, harassment or bullying. I hope that our approving the order will reinforce the message that such discrimination is unacceptable wherever it is found, including in our armed forces.
We may have overlooked that issue in our discussions on the armed forces covenant, so perhaps today is an appropriate prompt for us to pay it more attention. I hope that the Committee will not mind if I read out a brief quote from Lieutenant General James Everard, patron of the Army LGBT forum and deputy Chief of the Defence Staff:
“I know the type of Army I want to serve in, and it is one where we are ‘all of one company’. We all need to care deeply about LGBT issues, until we reach the point where nobody cares about LGBT issues. This demands equality in the workplace, fairness and absolute commitment to our core Values. It is an Army where we all contribute to the greater good and are encouraged to do so to the best of our abilities. It also requires leadership, and leaders who by word and deed show their absolute refusal to accept discrimination.”
Those are wise words with which I hope no one would disagree, including the Secretary of State.
I am aware that people have deeply and sincerely held views on the matter. I would agree with the Minister that no Church should be forced into doing anything that it does not wish to do as a result of this or previous legislation. I also have deeply and sincerely held views on the issue, and I believe that it is right that we approve the orders.
Sir Gerald Howarth: I declare my interest at the outset as church warden of the Royal Garrison church Aldershot, consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester in 1863 at the home of the British Army.
Like the Secretary of State for Defence, I was wholly opposed to the legislation. I have been concerned throughout—I have raised concerns at various stages during the passage of the principal Bill—about the impact that the legislation could have on the military community, not least because of the dilemma that faces the Secretary of State, whoever that happens to be. It is helpfully set out in the explanatory memorandum to the Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Use of Armed Forces’ Chapels) Regulations:
“As a public authority, the Secretary of State”—
the Secretary of State is a human being, but for the definition, I suppose he is a public authority—
“is required, under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, to act in a manner which is compatible with Convention Rights. He must accordingly take into account, in determining whether to apply for registration, the rights of both religious organisations and their devotees, and those of a same sex couple who might wish their marriage to be solemnized in an armed forces’ chapel.”
My hon. Friend the Minister said that there is no veto. As the shadow Minister—for whom I have enormous regard, as she knows—indicated, the concern for a lot of us is that a change of leadership at the Ministry of Defence or of Government could result in a different balance and a different judgment being made. I see the Minister shaking her head, so she might be able to reassure me on that point before we conclude our proceedings. I would be delighted if she could.
The explanatory memorandum is also interesting because it talks about the consultation outcome. Paragraph 8.1 says:
“No specific consultation has been undertaken in respect of this instrument.”
It would be helpful to hear from the Minister what consultations have actually taken place. Paragraph 9 says:
“No guidance has been prepared specifically for this instrument.”
Here she is talking about events taking place within the next three months or so, and there has been neither consultation nor guidance. When I spoke to the padre last night, he said that he certainly had not been consulted, but then of course he is sent by the Church of England. Forgive me, but I am going to be critical of the Minister, because I assume that she is personally responsible for the explanatory memorandum. On consultation, it says:
“There were over 228,000 responses, of which 53% were in favour of the proposals, and a number of large petitions which were opposed to the proposals.”
If I may say so, I think that is a deceit. It is perfectly clear—
Anna Soubry: I hope you are not suggesting that I have been deceitful.
Sir Gerald Howarth: I am not suggesting the Minister has been deceitful.
The Chair: Order. I am absolutely convinced that the hon. Gentleman would not suggest for a moment that anyone on the Committee or in this place is deceitful.
Sir Gerald Howarth: I hope you heard me say before you got to your feet, Mr Hood, that I was not accusing the Minister of being deceitful. I think it is a deceit on the part of the Ministry of Defence, for which I was a Minister until relatively recently, to suggest that somehow 228,000 responses is indicative of a majority being in favour. There were 668,000 people on one petition opposed to the original legislation. It does no service to the Ministry of Defence to issue explanatory notes that are at best disingenuous and at worst deceitful. I will pass on that, because there is a key point I wish to put to the Minister.
My hon. Friend the Minister has made it clear that those institutions in the military domain and consecrated in accordance with Christian rites will be protected. I have in mind not only the interest of the Royal Garrison church in Aldershot, but the Roman Catholic cathedral in Aldershot and the Church of Scotland church in Aldershot—three military churches. I want her to make it crystal clear that none of those are affected by the proposals and that they do not fall within the definition of “chapels”. What about the Guards chapel in Birdcage walk or the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst? [Interruption.] In respect of the Guards chapel, she says from a sedentary position, “chapel”. I am sure that it is properly consecrated in accordance with the rites of the Church of England, but we need to know. What about the church of the Royal Air Force, St Clement Danes on the Strand? We need to know their status.
We know, as the explanatory memorandum says, that there has been no consultation and no guidance has been issued. I would like to see a list—I am sure that I am not alone—of all those institutions that are used by the military that are part of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland, the Baptist Church or whatever, and those that fall for consideration under these regulations. The Minister might think that I am nitpicking, but it is the job of Parliament to hold the Government to account. When one is presented with an explanatory memorandum that says that there has been no consultation and that no guidance has been issued, we are entitled to ask questions and seek answers from the Minister.
I want to put on record that I received from the Secretary of State a letter, admittedly written in November 2012, in response to my concerns about the position of Church of England clergy in particular, which states:
“We will ensure that the need to protect the religious freedom of Armed Forces Chaplains is fully considered with their sending Churches, if legislation is brought forward as a result of the consultation on civil marriage.”
It is important that people should understand that there is that protection.
I would be obliged if my hon. Friend could say something about those who are employed by the armed forces in other capacities, beyond being chaplains and padres. What about the verger and the organist? If they are the only people available, will they, as employees of the Crown, be required to officiate at these gatherings?
Anna Soubry indicated dissent.
Sir Gerald Howarth: I look forward to the Minister putting that on the record so that we can all be crystal clear about these matters.
Sir Edward Leigh: If one of these chapels is, for the sake of argument, a Roman Catholic chapel, who ultimately is responsible? Is it the military authorities for the Secretary of State or the Roman Catholic diocese? In other words, could someone insist, through their own denomination, on having a same sex marriage in a Roman Catholic military chapel? I do not know the answer, but we need to tease them out, because the questions are important.
Sir Gerald Howarth: It is not a question of our needing to tease out these answers; we must have them. These are not matters of dancing on the head of a pin; these are serious matters and unless we address them now, they will be enacted in law and, in the biblical phrase, we will repent at leisure. I hope that will not happen.
In response to my hon. Friend, the Minister said that his concerns were the stuff of fantasy. I can only say that 20 years ago this entire measure would have been considered the stuff of fantasy, and it may well prove to be the undoing of this Administration, since neither she nor the Prime Minister, nor any of us, have a mandate for this legislation. I will only say that I am hopeful that I am reassured that at least with regard to the military, the profoundly held views of the clergy, the Churches and their devotees—whether of the Catholic Church, the Church of England or the Church of Scotland—are being taken into account, and to the extent that my hon. Friend has been able to do that, I am very grateful.
Anna Soubry: I will begin by responding to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough. I am sorry, but it really is the stuff of complete fantasy. We have a Roman Catholic military chapel, and we all know the views of the Roman Catholic Church on same sex marriage. The first thing we have to get is a same sex couple who are Catholics. Unless one was a Roman Catholic, one would not want to get married in a Roman Catholic chapel. Call me old-fashioned, Mr Hood, but I rather thought that one got married in a place of religious worship because one shared that religion. Military chapels, like all places of worship, are not lovely venues where one can have a fairytale marriage. I thought, in theory, that people get married there because they wanted to take their oath in the presence of God, in a place that shared their values and added that religious solemnisation to their marriage vows. If you do not share those beliefs, you go and get married in the registry office or some other venue that is licensed for holding marriages. It is quite bizarre that those who say they support the tradition of marriage seem to have completely forgotten that one of the most essential elements of getting married in a place of worship is that you subscribe to that particular faith or religion. I give way.
Sir Gerald Howarth: So why on earth are they called chapels? The whole concept of chapel is a place of religious worship.
Anna Soubry: I am not saying that they are not. I think my hon. Friend is missing the point. Let me again make this clear. We have a same sex couple who are Roman Catholics, and one of them is either a member of the armed services or is the son or daughter of someone in the armed services, and they want to get married in a Roman Catholic chapel. It is not going to happen, because, as we know, the Roman Catholic Church would have to opt in. You would have to find a Roman Catholic chaplain who was prepared to conduct such a marriage, and, as we all know, we are nowhere near that situation. That is why, Mr Hood, though I do not wish to be rude to anybody, this is the stuff of total fantasy—as is any suggestion that military vergers or organists are in some way going to be forced to participate in a same sex marriage in a military chapel. The law makes it absolutely clear.
Sir Gerald Howarth: Will my hon. Friend give way?
Anna Soubry: No, I will finish my point. The law makes it very clear that in civil law under the Act, no verger or organist could be forced to take part in a same sex marriage in any place of worship, and exactly the same provisions apply to people who might be the organist or the verger in a military chapel. I do not know how many times I have said it, but the position is that not one of the Churches which at the moment supply the chaplains—the sending Churches—has indicated that they wish to opt in to same sex marriage.
I will not dwell much further on the points raised by my hon. Friend. I am more than happy to write to him to make sure that he gets the list. There are 11 consecrated military chapels. I am completely confused and at a loss to know why it might be a problem if, by some miracle—and at the moment it would be a miracle—the Roman Catholic church in Aldershot decided to conduct same sex marriages, and why that might offend somebody from the military. Such an idea rather suggests that all members of our armed services share my hon. Friend’s views on same sex marriage. I do not think they do at all. He observes that, 20 years ago, the Act was inconceivable, and he is right. I am old enough to confirm that, but I also have no doubt whatever that, in 20 years, people will look back on these sorts of debates with complete astonishment, and they will wonder what the fuss was all about.
The clock is against me. It has been a long debate, and it has been a rather good one. I am grateful to those hon. Members who have given their support, notably the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire. The first draft instrument, the Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Use of Armed Forces’ Chapels) Regulations 2014, provides a route by which armed forces’ chapels can be registered for marriages of same sex couples in a way that takes proper account of all the different interests involved. The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire asked a number of questions, and I will try to deal with all of them. The guidelines will come out in due course. We have consulted extensively with the heads of chaplaincy in drawing up the regulations and on the guidelines that will appear.
The hon. Lady asked me about the views of the Secretary of State. It is not the Secretary of State’s views—with the greatest respect to him—that matter most, but those of the sending Churches. It is the views of the chaplains that matter most, and those of the congregations that they serve. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not saying that people of no faith use our military chapels. What I mean is that they form part of the congregation on a regular basis.
Sir Edward Leigh: We are just trying to be reassured. We are entitled to that and I do not think that our concerns need to be treated with arrogance and disdain. The position on armed forces’ chapels, as we know from the explanatory memorandum, differs from that of civilian religious buildings. They are, with some exceptions, owned by the state and not by the religious organisations. I am not suggesting for a moment that the Roman Catholic chaplain in Aldershot is going to agree to conduct a same sex marriage, and for the Minister to belittle my arguments by suggesting that is ridiculous.
All I want to ask is this: we are discussing a building that is owned by the Secretary of State. We have a current Secretary of State, but the Secretary of State may change. There may be a change of Government with very different views. Could there be a situation in future whereby a Secretary of State who is wholly committed to same sex marriage could say to this Roman Catholic chaplain, “I am sorry, you do not own it, the diocese does not own it, I own it and therefore if somebody could find a minister of some sort or some religion to use this Roman Catholic chapel for same sex marriage, you must obey me”? Will the Minister absolutely reassure me that that will not happen? And will she not treat our arguments with supercilious disdain?
Anna Soubry: That is not surprising because, with great respect to my hon. Friend, sometimes these fanciful, hypothetical situations are so bizarre. The answer, of course, is no. How many times do those of us who supported the 2013 Act have to make it clear that clergymen are not going to be forced to marry people of the same sex any more than—
Sir Edward Leigh: I am not asking that.
Anna Soubry: Once again, interrupting when I have not even finished the sentence is not helpful—any more than any church can have some other minister. The idea that a Roman Catholic military chapel could have some minister from another faith forced into it to marry people—for goodness sake. Why on earth would a couple want to be in that situation? They would not want it. I really think a touch of reality is required.
Gemma Doyle: I am trying to get to the bottom of how the decision will be made. If there are two different faiths using one building or chapel and one wants to permit same sex marriage and one is opposed to it, how will the decision be arrived at? Given that the decision will be up to the Secretary of State, and we know the current Secretary of State’s views, what would that decision be?
Anna Soubry: The hon. Lady makes a good point. Those are exactly the sort of tussles that absolutely could be seen as a difficulty. When the guidelines are fully drafted, that is exactly the sort of tussle that will be resolved. That is a completely different point from the one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough. He was talking about a Roman Catholic chapel, as opposed to the majority of chapels that are shared by a number of faiths. That is the difference, and the hon. Lady makes a good point. I hope that in due course the guidelines will make it clear.
Charlie Elphicke: Will the Minister give way on that point?
Anna Soubry: No—I am not being rude, but I will not give way because I do not know where I have got to in my closing speech. I do not know whether I got to the second draft instrument.
The Overseas Marriage (Armed Forces) Order 2014 is essential to allow not only the continued ability for armed forces opposite sex couples to marry, but the ability for armed forces same sex couples to be afforded the same right to marry while serving overseas in countries or territories which have not objected to the marriage of same sex couples. At the same time, however, it recognises and ensures that the necessary protections are in place for religious organisations and their chaplains who have not opted in to the marriage of same sex couples.
Charlie Elphicke: Because of the great religious sensitivity of these matters, I am not convinced that they should be left to a tussle in the guidelines. I really feel they should be in the instrument and it should be a settled matter, so that the House and everyone outside the House knows where they stand.
Anna Soubry: My hon. Friend knows that the undercurrent, in fact the heart of the Act as it went through, was the absolute desire of everyone not to force anything on anybody against their conscience. I have absolutely no difficulty in saying that that will continue through guidelines and so on. We know, though some of us may find it a little odd, that many people object to same sex marriage, and their views are respected and enshrined throughout the legislation, the statutory instruments and, in due course, the guidelines. I hope that that tolerance and generosity might be reflected by those who continue to oppose same sex marriage.
Finally, the third draft instrument, the Consular Marriages and Marriages under Foreign Law Order 2014, is essential to allow not only the continued ability of the FCO to marry opposite sex couples in a small number of consulates overseas, but also to offer this service to same sex couples in countries where there is no equivalent local service available to British nationals and where the host Government have no objection. The instrument also allows the FCO to modernise its procedures for issuing certificates of no impediment required in some countries for British nationals to marry under local law. I commend these instruments to the Committee.