7 Lord Desai debates involving the Scotland Office

Thu 13th May 2021
Mon 15th Jul 2019
Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
Wed 28th Jun 2017

Humanist Marriages

Lord Desai Excerpts
Monday 25th April 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, that would again be premature until we see what the Law Commission recommends.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, what is it about the humanists that obstructs the Government from doing them justice? Scotland allows it; Northern Ireland allows it; the Channel Islands allow it. What is it about the humanists that means they are discriminated against in England and Wales? It is because they are not Christians?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, precisely not. The situation is that in Scotland the rules of marriage are, as I said in an answer to another question, based on the identity of the celebrant. In England and Wales, they are based on the venue where the wedding ceremony is to take place. That is a complex matter that will take time to unpick; it is not a matter of prejudice against one group—and specifically not a matter of their not being Christians.

Queen’s Speech

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 13th May 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, it has been a very good debate. I shall concentrate on the union and the constitution, but I want to connect those two things, because a solution to the union would require substantial constitutional change, especially in the status and composition of your Lordships’ House. I start with a very famous saying, that if you want to preserve something you value very much, you have to change it—you have to change things all the time. While we are all for the union, we forget that the union itself has been changing within the last 50 years.

When I arrived in your Lordships’ House in 1991, the question of the nations was not as high on the agenda as it is today. The Scottish Constitutional Convention, the big public discussion, made us all aware that there was genuine dissatisfaction in Scotland. We do not even mention the fact that Wales was integrated without any Act of Parliament, and so was Ireland. Let us start again and say: we will have a union, a different union from what we have at present, and a better union.

I have studied the history of many newly independent nations, and it is never a good strategy to answer a demand for greater independence or greater devolution by saying, “Oh, it will ruin you economically.” That argument works the wrong way. People get riled up when you think their national feeling is just a matter of pounds, shillings and pence. We have changed quite a lot since 1991. Indeed, the Labour Government of 1997 onwards legislated on devolution. The time may have come—it has come—to look at the whole question again.

When we are looking at the question of the union, we must also see that we have parliamentary reform. Many noble Lords have said today that the problem with the House of Lords is that it needs reform and recomposition. We have heard many reports on how to do that. A Bill put before Parliament by the 2010 to 2015 Government was unfortunately rejected by the House of Commons, which did not allow it time. That House of Lords Reform Bill is a good example to go back to, because a committee of both Houses of Parliament deliberated on it carefully. Lord Richard, whom I still remember fondly for his campaign for House of Lords reform, chaired it. I think we have to go back to a committee to see what kind of proposals we can get through.

It is a question not just of the hereditary Peers but of the other unelected Peers. We have to change the structure of the House not just to admit the principle of elected Members but to make the House of Lords representative of all parts of the union. That is a fundamental and important part of any scheme of union or constitutional reform we may have.

Marriage and Religious Weddings

Lord Desai Excerpts
Tuesday 30th June 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, the Law Commission review will consider the law on how and where marriages may take place in England and Wales. The terms of reference for that project have already been published and we look forward to the consultation paper and the results of that consultation.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the evidence is not only that underage marriage is sanctioned by parents, but that any woman defying parental orders can suffer violent death. We have to understand that it is not just a matter of the law of marriage but of the legal human rights of underage children, especially girls, to have protection from their families. The Government must do something about that part of the law and not just wait for the Law Commission.

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, there is an issue to be addressed with regard to what amounts to forced marriage. Since 2014 that has been a specific criminal offence, and since 2017 we have ensured that those who come forward in these circumstances receive lifelong anonymity.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill

Lord Desai Excerpts
Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
Monday 15th July 2019

(4 years, 10 months ago)

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Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 190-I(Rev)(a)(Manuscript) Amendment for Committee, supplementary to the revised marshalled list (PDF) - (15 Jul 2019)
Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown Portrait Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown
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My Lords, I join with my colleagues. I am a signatory to this amendment and rise to support it. Introducing same-sex marriage is a move that has been highly divisive in Northern Ireland. I acknowledge that, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, there are people who hold strong views concerning this. I certainly know that many in Northern Ireland believe strongly, as I do, that marriage is between a man and a woman and is the fundamental building block of our society, and therefore that the definition of marriage should remain unchanged. However, having listened to the debate and that in the other place, I realise that it seems this legislation is going to be forced on the people of Northern Ireland.

In a relatively short period, there has been an alarming abandonment of the teaching of scripture on marriage as ordained by God. This contempt for biblical marriage includes not only the abandonment of it as a divine institution but a direct attack on it in the promotion of same-sex marriage. This is spear-headed in open defiance of God’s moral law, and those who hold to the scripture view are held in utter contempt.

I do not wish in any way to be hurtful to any person, but I also have to be faithful to and express what I believe. That is why I am in this House. I was an elected Member in another place for some 25 years and was certainly known to express—genuinely, earnestly and honestly—what I believe. As a Christian minister, I believe that in Genesis, chapter 1, verse 27, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, Moses wrote:

“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them”.


This is a general statement of the creation of man in God’s image but stressing the distinction of gender. In Genesis, chapter 2, the Holy Spirit gives us further details not only of human creation but of the institution of marriage. The clear message is that God’s intention for marriage was that two human beings would come together. Chapter 2, verse 24, says:

“therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh”.

Northern Ireland people have never been consulted on whether they want same-sex marriage. One of our most fundamental social structures is being changed over the heads of those whom it will affect. It is notable that, when same-sex marriage was introduced in England and Wales, strong safeguards were included in the legislation to protect those who did not want to be forced to go along with something they disagreed with. It is vital that the people of Northern Ireland are given the same legal guarantees.

I appreciate the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, and the manner in which he has responded to the amendment. All this amendment seeks to do is address the free speech and freedom of religion concerns that inevitably arise when such a huge moral change is brought in. It will merely establish the same protections that those in the rest of the UK are afforded.

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill requires the Secretary of State to introduce regulations to legalise same-sex marriage, but the simple fact is that regulations do not allow for the appropriate level of scrutiny and debate that such a monumental change requires. There is a real danger that, with this legislation and subsequent regulations being rushed through Parliament so quickly, those who object to the new law will be forgotten about and their freedom to disagree threatened.

Those who are against same-sex marriage may feel they have particular cause to be concerned in Northern Ireland if this amendment is not accepted. Even while the law has always been in line with their view, they have seen a Christian-run bakery hauled through the courts for its decision not to support a campaign for same-sex marriage. That case was pursued by a body, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which should be protecting everyone’s freedom. Without robust reassurances, many will feel that the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland’s hostility to those with traditional beliefs about marriage will only increase. For example, many churches, as my noble friend has said, hold their services in community centres or school halls. They need to be reassured that they will not be forced to leave those premises because they hold to the biblical teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 in England and Wales states on the face of the legislation that no religious organisation or minister can be compelled by any means to marry same-sex couples or to permit same-sex marriages on their premises. It also contains explicit protections to ensure that any person who publicly expresses disagreement with same-sex marriage cannot be accused of stirring up hatred under the Public Order Act. The Government equalities spokes- person at the time, the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, said:

“A belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman is undoubtedly worthy of respect in a democratic society”.—[Official Report, 17/6/13; col. 75.]


It is vital that those who disagree with same-sex marriage feel that they are valued members of society and not in any way ostracised by the new law. I and my colleagues believe that this amendment will help that. Maria Miller, the Minister in charge of the 2013 Act, said:

“Whatever one’s view about the marriage of same-sex couples, it is legitimate and the Government will protect the right to express it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/7/13; col. 1027.]


This reasonable amendment is the least that can be done.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Lab)
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My Lords, no one can disagree with freedom of expression and the freedom of people to assert what they deeply believe in. At the same time, there is the freedom not to agree with the religion you are born under. Not all of us are Christians, and not all Christians hold to orthodox beliefs. My one concern—I can say only that it is a concern; it may be an extreme concern and noble Lords may dismiss it—is that, if there is such strong opinion against same-sex marriage in the church in Northern Ireland, if I were interested in having a same-sex marriage in a church, would I have to leave Northern Ireland and go somewhere else? Would there be a general strike against same-sex marriage by all religious bodies?

I do not know the answer to that, but I am concerned about it. This is expressed as being basically all about Christianity and its particular orthodoxies. I am not a Christian; I was born into a Hindu family, but I am an atheist, so it does not concern me. Nor am I interested in same-sex marriage—it is much too late for that. However, I am concerned to get an assurance from the Minister that, if he agrees to these amendments, there will be no compulsion on a couple in Northern Ireland to leave so that they can get married, that there will be some facilities available so that they can get what they want and have a same-sex marriage in a religious location.

Sharia Law: Marriages

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 4th July 2019

(4 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, with great respect, some of what has been said by the Council of Europe in its Resolution 2253 does not reflect the true position of marriage law in England and Wales. In particular, the reference to civilly registering a marriage is inept. It does not reflect the true position of our law in England and Wales. Civil registration per se is not a route to a lawful marriage.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Lab)
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My Lords, in the present circumstances, what is the position of triple talaq? Is it still possible for a Muslim man to divorce his wife just by saying, “Talaq, talaq, talaq”? Is the Minister aware that in India a Bill is before the two Houses of Parliament to reform the triple talaq Act? Will Her Majesty’s Government follow that example?

Brexit: Negotiations

Lord Desai Excerpts
Tuesday 20th November 2018

(5 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Lab)
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My Lords, I am a realistic pessimist about this. I think life is such that you do not always get the best option, no matter how hard you try. You have to choose between the second and the third best, or even the fourth best. So I am going to make a small forecast, because everything else has been said.

I reckon that, just as the challenge to the Prime Minister in the 1922 Committee has not happened—and I think will not happen—this deal will be approved by the House of Commons; it will not be rejected. I think the fear of no deal, as well as a dislike of no Brexit, are strong enough in the House of Commons for there to be a temporary coalition of enough Conservative Members plus enough Labour Members who will probably follow not their leader’s orders but their leader’s practice and defy the Whip, and I think there will be a small majority.

I think this deal, bad as it is, is the best that can be got. I think people are not foolish. They may not look very intelligent from a distance, but there have been detailed negotiations by talented civil servants. One also has to pay tribute to the Prime Minister. She has managed all this time by feigning to be a weak, indecisive person, and she has lasted longer than any of her colleagues. She did Chequers and got rid of David Davis and Boris Johnson, and ever since then she has been shedding Cabinet Ministers like nobody’s business. It is only when you find out that they have resigned that you realise that they were in the Cabinet in the first place, so it is making them famous by default. I think she has been clever. She has leveraged what men in the other place think are women’s weaknesses, and she has lasted eight years in the Cabinet—two as Prime Minister and six as Home Secretary. She has realised that this is the best she could get.

The fact that we may have a transitional period until not 2020 but 2022 is, in the long run of things, a very trivial matter. It will not look very nice now, but it will be forgotten very soon, so I say cheer up. This is what will be. There will be no no deal, there will be no no Brexit, this is the best you can do.

Queen’s Speech

Lord Desai Excerpts
Wednesday 28th June 2017

(6 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Lab)
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My Lords, the result of the election was very clear: my party won but was clever enough to leave the mess to the other side to sort out—the best of all possible worlds. But whatever my own preferences, we are where we are. Not only that, but the train has left the station and the negotiations have started. So it is not possible now to wish, as some people do, that this will never happen. It is going to happen. The question is how best the Government can achieve their objectives. That is how an economist has to think. We know the objective, so what can be done?

One of the most important things will be the budget discussion. Noble Lords will have seen the report from the European Union Sub-Committee on finance of your Lordships’ House, of which I have the honour to be a member. We have set out a number of alternatives. The figure of €100 billion is not cast in concrete. There is scope for negotiating and to show the European Union that there is a minimal amount to our obligation that cannot be calculated by our gross contribution of 12%, by the contribution net of our rebate, or by what we receive in return from the European Union after some other deduction. It could be as little as 4%. So there is a lot of scope for negotiating, and the first thing the Government should say is, “We know we don’t have to pay this much, we only need to pay a small amount, such as €20 billion. But, because we want goodwill and smooth negotiations over the next few stages, we are willing to meet half way and give you €40 billion”—something like that. That is very important, because, until we clear the budget, nothing further will be discussed. It is imperative on the part of the Government to thoroughly understand the negotiations about the budget and go in with a strong hand.

Secondly, however we interpret the results of the referendum, and whatever our preferences, it is quite clear that immigration remains a no-go area. As an immigrant, I wish it was not like that. I wish it was the other way round—I know all the arguments in favour of immigration. The nation was not afraid of immigration until after the financial crisis. Under the new Labour Government, we were the most generous country in the European Union, admitting people from an enlarged Europe. We were much more generous than Germany or France. But the atmosphere has changed and now people do not like it—and we have to do what people want us to do and not interpret that as we would like to.

Given that immigration is off the table, the other main aspect of the Brexit debate—mainly among the leaders of the Conservative Party—is the idea that leaving the European Union would release us to make lots of free trade agreements. That may be the case, but it will not be quick or easy. I wish there was a bit more realism on that so people could understand that when Brexit is done and we are free of our obligations of being in the customs union and have moved into the WTO area—supposedly in the next 18 months—it will take, on average, 10 years for any free trade agreement to be negotiated. I did not make that up: it is a fact. The free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union has taken longer than that.

So we have to be prepared for a period of uncertainty. We will not know the nature of the post-Brexit British economy for 10 years. The Government will have to prepare themselves for taking the people into their confidence and saying, “We know where we are going and we are not there yet, but we know what the costs will be and in the meantime, this is the map of where we are going”. That has not been done so far. Brexit may be Brexit, but a variety of things can happen over the next 10 years and it is imperative on the Government to come clean about what they think will happen after Brexit and before we are into the heaven of free trade agreements with the whole world.