Updated Thursday evening
See earlier report here.
The draft regulations were laid before Parliament on 8 November:
The Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 or available here as a PDF.
And there is an explanatory memorandum (PDF only).
Last weekend, the Independent reported Tory peers to rebel on civil partnerships in churches.
Conservative peers in the House of Lords are attempting to scupper plans to allow same-sex couples to hold civil partnerships in churches.
Under regulations drawn up by ministers, religious denominations would be allowed to open their doors to same-sex couples in the new year. But the move is now being opposed by Tory peers, led by Baroness O’Cathain, pictured,who argue that the new law would not properly protect faith groups from being “compelled” to register civil partnerships against their beliefs.
Government whips are confident that the measure will pass but Downing Street will be embarrassed at the sight of Tory peers rebelling against government equality legislation…
Today, the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee published a report (also available as a PDF) which deals with these regulations. The substance of what it says is below the fold.
Several related documents are also published by the committee:
Thursday evening update
Also today, in the House of Commons the following exchange took place:
The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
1. Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What the authority is for the policy of the Church of England that services of blessing should not be conducted in church premises for those who register civil partnerships. 
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): In its pastoral statement of July 2005, the House of Bishops affirmed that clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership. The Church of England’s response to the Government’s consultation document on civil partnerships on religious premises, which was produced earlier this year, reflected that policy and was approved by the Archbishops Council and by the Standing Committee of the House of Bishops.
Mr Bradshaw: I am grateful for that reply. Given that when the law changes to allow civil partnerships to be conducted on religious premises many Church of England priests and parishes will want to conduct such ceremonies, would it not be better for the Church of England to do what it did when it first allowed the remarriage of divorcees in church, and allow individual priests and parishes to make the decision?
Tony Baldry: In fairness, I would contend that the Church of England, led by its bishops, has to be free to determine its own stance on matters of doctrine and ethics. The Government have said that the new option to register civil partnerships in places of worship must be entirely voluntary. That means that those who think that the Church of England should opt in need to win the argument within the Church.
What the House of Lords committee said:
This instrument is drawn to the special attention of the House on the grounds that it gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.
1. The Equality Act 2010 (“the 2010 Act”) amended the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to remove the prohibition on religious premises being approved for the registration of civil partnerships. The framework for the approval of premises for marriages and civil partnership registrations is set out in the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005 (“the 2005 Regulations”). These Regulations amend the 2005 Regulations and establish the procedure for religious premises to be approved for civil partnership registrations (but not civil marriages).
2. The Explanatory Memorandum (“EM”) says that the provision in the 2010 Act is entirely permissive and religious organisations will not be obliged to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so (EM paragraph 7.2).
3. The Government ran a public consultation on the proposal which closed on 23 June 2011 and received 1,617 responses (EM paragraph 8.1). The EM says the majority of the responses were objecting to the introduction of this proposal on principle rather than focussing on the detail of the consultation which was the practical arrangements to put in place the changes to the approved premises scheme (EM paragraph 8.2).
4. The Committee has been made aware of an opinion prepared by Mark Hill QC on the Regulations and this has been made available on the Committee’s website. The Committee has also received submissions from the ‘Evangelical Alliance’, ‘The Christian Institute’ and ‘CARE’ which raise a number of concerns about the instrument, in particular whether it will achieve its intended purpose. These too are available on the website. The concerns raised by ‘Evangelical Alliance’ include:
- Many independent churches operate in buildings they do not own, and officials for such a denomination may try to register all its premises, leaving evangelical ministers in a very difficult position; and
- If a church itself is registered but the minister or congregation refuses to host a particular civil partnership, they are vulnerable to legal action by the couple concerned.
The concerns raised by ‘The Christian Institute’ include:
- That the Regulations do not offer sufficient legal protection to churches that do not wish to host civil partnerships;
- Combined with the public sector equality duty, the Regulations raise the prospect of churches being refused the right to register marriages at all, if they will not also register civil partnerships; and
- The complexities of the different types of church structure are not properly accounted for in the Regulations.
5. ‘CARE’ argue that the Regulations do not achieve the stated purpose of advancing religious liberty by enabling places of worship that do wish to host civil partnerships to do so, whilst not obliging any place of worship that does not wish to host civil partnerships to do so.