I watched the first half of the debate yesterday afternoon and was struck by how many of the MPs on both sides of the debate were proclaiming their faith.
There was one MP who particularly struck me because his whole approach was discernibly different to the others and that was Toby Perkins MP for Chesterfield. Yes, he happened to be coming from broadly the same position I was on the whole thing, but it wasn’t that what grabbed my respect. There was something noticeably different in the way he was speaking. There wasn’t the same style of “making a point” which most of the others were doing, he was talking more gently and from a different position.
The first thing he did was to make the point that this was the second reading of the bill and not the final reading. As he said if things were constantly voted out at second reading, before committee got to change some of the detail and correct some of the flaws, nothing would ever get passed. That point is important. Many people were talking as if the bill before them was the final version which they were having to decide upon, it wasn’t. There is now the committee stage and the opportunity for amendments to be tabled.
Then he said something very important about what he believed faith wise in regards to the bill:
As a Christian, I see Christianity as a tremendously generous religion. As I have said previously, I think that Jesus Christ led the way on promoting equalities. There are any number of stories in the Bible that make it absolutely clear that Jesus stuck up for groups that had been oppressed over the years. As a Christian, I feel entirely comfortable voting in favour of this Bill.”
This is important he felt comfortable supporting the bill. We need to remember that there would have been some people voting against who were not comfortable supporting it because of their beliefs, that needs to be respected. Whilst I don’t agree with them I was happy this was a free vote and think we should see more of these votes in parliament, where MPs are allowed to vote according to their beliefs and able to represent their constituents interests without fear of recrimination from the whips. People were being allowed to vote according to conscience, and this was clearer with some than with others.
There was also a personal element to his contribution which he referred to in regard to his mother. I think this may also have influenced the way in which he spoke.
This gives the report of all the contributions to the debate and the ones relating to Toby Perkins speech and the replies he gave when giving way, (not deciding to decline to do so because “it wasn’t in his interest” as one MP did) can be found at 2pm.
In terms of my local MP Mark Lancaster he voted against the bill, which was what was expected, (statement here). I want to reiterate to anybody reading that having met Mr. Lancaster and heard his reasons for voting as he has, that he is certainly not homophobic. He agrees that the inequalities which exist in relation to transgender issues and inequalities between civil partnership and marriage need dealing with but did not feel this was the right way to go about it. Interestingly, depending upon amendments it is possible he may not vote the same way at the final reading – although I suspect he is likely to.
The other MK MP Iain Stewart was always going to vote for the bill with pride as his speech during the debate indicated. It was a speech which shows how at the end of the days enduring, faithful relationships are what people want – whatever you call it. I have to admit having met him a couple of times now I like Iain, finding him much more of the sort of Tory I can warm to to some extent – even though I am unlikely to agree with him on most things -, but I do worry that in his eagerness to support this bill he has not recognised its shortcomings.
My hope is that as we move towards the third reading that the critical, objective (?), eye of the likes of Mark Lancaster may work with the emotional understandings of people like Iain Stewart in order to see a final bill which meets the needs and concerns of the population at large and that it is debated with the sensitivity of people like Toby Perkins.
All that said my main hope is that we might see this and the whole Womens Bishops issue settled once and for all - in a way which brings about equality but also seeks to allow for compromise and where necessary real options for individuals and congregations to opt out (or in) - and that we may may be able to get on with focusing on our response to issues such as poverty. My hope is people may unite around issues such as opposition to the removal of benefit which is proposed under the welfare proposals, particularly for those effected by what has become known as “the bedroom tax” - understanding that people cannot always easily move and be uprooted, particularly if they are living in poverty to start with and around the IF campaign, which Tearfund and others are promoting.
And as ever with anything touching on sexuality or gender identity issues what I have writtenand the opinions given are entirely personal and given in my personal capacity.