Jo's response to our questions
By Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett
On 24th June, we wrote to Jo Swinson and Ed Davey asking them for their views, as candidates in the party leadership election, on a number of questions that will be of special interest to humanist and secularist members of the party.
Ed's team tells us that we should have his response over this weekend.
In the meanwhile, here are our questions, and Jo's response:
"What are your views on the following existing party policies, and what priority would you give to achieving implementation of them?"
RELIGION IN STATE-FUNDED SCHOOLS:
- "Ending religious discrimination in selection of students, and in employment (except for employees mainly responsible for providing RI);
- "ensuring that all schools have non-confessional Religious Education, avoiding Religious Instruction and covering all major religious and non-religious viewpoints;
- "abolishing compulsion on schools to hold acts of collective worship;
- "allowing students and staff to opt out of RI and acts of worship and providing students with suitable alternative activities;
(GE 2015 Manifesto; The Role of Faith in State-Funded Schools, Spring 2017)"
I support Lib Dem policy and the proposals to ensure that religious schools with state-funding are open, inclusive, and welcoming of pupils whatever their faiths and beliefs. In no other part of public life would it be acceptable for an organisation to provide a state service and discriminate on religious grounds - and I do not believe it is appropriate in education. Our policy ensures that faith schools can continue to provide the high-quality local education parents want and support, while ensuring that staff, parents, and pupils are able to make their own decisions about faith and belief.
"Strengthening local authority powers to tackle illegal, unregistered schools.
(Every Child Empowered, Spring 2018)"
Education is essential not just to individual children but society as a whole, and it is essential that education is appropriately regulated to ensure that children are safe and learning in line with best practice and national guidelines. I support strengthening local authority powers - enabling them to protect children in their local areas.
"Legal recognition of humanist weddings
(GE 2015 & 2017 Manifestos)"
Duncan and I had a beautiful humanist wedding in Glasgow in 2011. They have been allowed in Scotland since 2005 and the Humanist Society Scotland is now the biggest marriage provider in the country. I wholeheartedly support extending this to England and Wales and I'm pleased to see the upcoming Law Commission review on marriage rules. I'll be pushing to ensure that the proposals end up including humanist weddings.
"Legalisation of assisted dying, with rigorous safeguards, to allow terminally ill people to die with dignity and at a time of their own choosing.
(Medically Assisted Dying, Autumn 2012)"
I support Liberal Democrat policy, which would enable people with terminal or severe, incurable and progressive physical illness to request assistance to end their own lives. The recent death of Geoffrey Whaly, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease two years ago, is a prominent reminder of how strongly many people feel about the need for legislative changes in this area. The fact that 43 people from the UK died at facilities in Switzerland in 2018 shows the lengths people are going to in order to die with dignity. The fact that approximately 300 suicides in England each year involve individuals who are terminally ill shows the lengths that people will go to when dying with dignity is not an option. For these reasons, I support a change in the law with rigorous safeguards and full parliamentary scrutiny. This is a highly emotive and personal issue and it is vital that MPs are given sufficient time to consider all information available to them.
"Outlawing of caste discrimination.
(Expanding Opportunity, Unlocking Potential, Autumn 2014; GE 2017 Manifesto)"
I had a great amount of respect for the work Eric Avebury did to push for progress on caste discrimination. When I was Minister I secured a Government consultation on outlawing caste discrimination, despite very strong Conservative party opposition. Unfortunately, this was as far as I was able to progress the issue at the time. It remains a priority for me and I was proud to stand in 2017 on a manifesto which called for it to be outlawed. Like any form of discrimination based on inalienable aspects of an individual, it is completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated in a modern democracy.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND
"Disestablishment of the Church of England.
(most recently in 2001 General Election Manifesto, pp.37-39)"
I believe that the UK (and more specifically, England, the only part of the UK with a fully-established church) is a society that is increasingly diverse, with people holding many faiths and none. I cannot see how privileging a single religion over the many held in our community is tenable in the modern age. Perhaps the biggest wake-up call on this should be the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 which legally precludes the Church of England from conducting same-sex marriage - making it illegal for any Anglican marrying somebody of the same sex to marry in their own church. That simply should not be acceptable.
INTERNATIONAL FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND BELIEF
"Commitment to international freedom of religion and belief, including opposition to blasphemy and apostacy laws.
(Freedom of Expression in Europe and Beyond, Spring 2016); GE 2017 Manifesto)"
I condemn the attempts we have seen around the world by people of many religions and none to limit religious belief and either harm or legally constrain those who would disagree. Whether we're talking about the Uighurs in China, the case of Asia Bibi in Pakistan (a Christian prosecuted under blasphemy laws), the Yazidis under ISIS, or atheists and agnostics in Iran, we can see that religious persecution is alive and well across the globe. Liberal Democrats should always campaign for the preservation and promotion of essential human rights, and make use of the UK's soft power to change the positions of governments where we see human rights, including freedom of religion and belief, being flouted.