“Intolerance, injustice and unfairness” have been bred in the place of tolerance as society obsesses about rights and equality, a former Home Secretary has said.
Watch Lord Waddington’s speech
He highlighted cases which showed some of the “monstrous” ways public bodies have already acted in the name of equality, including the suspension of a nurse who offered to pray for a patient.
He also mentioned the “preposterous case” of a care home which had £13,000 of public funding withdrawn after staff refused to question the elderly residents about their sexual orientation every three months. The funding was later restored after the home threatened legal action.
The proposed regulations would require public bodies to adopt equality targets and Lord Waddington said: “I fear that all this setting of equality objectives threatens to accelerate the marginalisation that Christians are already experiencing.”
The Peer also highlighted the difference between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.
And he referred to comments from the current Home Secretary who said equality had become a dirty word and that the Government wanted to move away from the equality of outcomes approach. Lord Waddington questioned if that sentiment was being followed through in the proposed regulations.
Lord Waddington, who was Home Secretary 1989-1990, said the “obsession with rights and equality has driven tolerance out of the door and bred in its place intolerance, injustice and unfairness”.
He continued: “Surely it is time that we stepped back and asked ourselves some very serious questions about where we are going.
“It is certainly time that we made sure that in legislation there is protection for those with deeply held religious beliefs and who want no more than to be able to continue to follow tenets of their religion that only a very few years ago virtually all of us accepted as wholly unexceptionable.”
In his comments on equality of opportunity verses equality of outcome, he said the former is where “one is trying to extend the freedom of people to make the most of their talents”.
But equality of outcome means “allowing the state to try by rules, regulations and bureaucratic means to iron out differences in performance so that endeavour and achievement are not rewarded”.
The Peer said Home Secretary Theresa May had pointed out that “while people expect fairness, there should be no seeking a world where everyone gets the same out of life regardless of what they put in”. But, he asked, “how does what the Home Secretary has said fit in with what is in store for us?”.
Lord Waddington asked Baroness Verma, the Government minister responding to the debate, to “recognise that there is great concern about all these regulations”.
In response to Lord Waddington’s points, Lady Verma said he was “not the only one who has raised them”. She said she would take them back to the Government.
The Baroness also commented that she agreed with Lord Waddington “that we must not get to a place where some citizens feel that they are not part and parcel of the society that we live in and that they cannot freely practise their form of belief or religion, as long as it does not have a negative impact on those around them”.
Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath commented that while “in general, I am proud of what we achieved in equality legislation”, he was aware that sometimes, “of course, there is excessive zeal, sometimes there are instances where people have made mistaken judgments and it is fair to raise those issues”.