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Northern Ireland can lead the way

January 11, 2007 10:12 PM

In Tuesday's House of Lords debate on equality in provision of goods and services, the Lib Dems were well forceful and united. Lord Lester, Lord Avebury, and Baroness Harris all argued for the legislation to be enacted, while former party leader Lord (Paddy) Ashdown also intervened to challenge Lord (Norman) Tebbit's defence of legally-endorsed bigotry. The Lib Dems were also by far the best represented major party, with only a quarter of Conservative and half of Labour peers present, two-thirds of the Lib Dem members of the Lords attended.

Baroness Harris, Lib Dem Deputy Spokesperson on Northern Ireland in the Lords, cited the experiences of gay people in Northern Ireland to make the point for the regulations. She said, "I have had from Stonewall two examples which may help your Lordships make up your minds about which way you will vote.

"One gay couple from Northern Ireland wrote to Stonewall recently saying why they were turned away late at night from a country hotel which they had booked months before in order to attend a sister's wedding. They found the experience utterly humiliating.

"Stonewall also says that it heard from a woman who went to see her GP, having suffered from work-related stress. When the woman mentioned her lesbian partner in conversation, she was told that she was engaging in unnatural, inhuman practices and that it was none too surprising that she would be suffering from mental distress as a consequence.

"The unnatural, inhuman practices were being perpetrated by the GP. It deeply saddens me to have to say that. It is essential that these regulations are accepted by Parliament and that Northern Ireland should lead the way towards a tolerant, caring and humane society."

Lord Avebury made a serious point through humour by asking, "My Lords, if the hypothetical person who runs a boarding house has such an objection to this particular 'sin', should they not prohibit all the other seven deadly sins while somebody is in the bedroom of their house?"