Churches thwart rights move in Lords

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Plans to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law suffered a setback last night when church leaders forced a Lords defeat on the Government.

The churches had complained the Bill could affect their right to refuse to marry same sex couples, non-communicants or divorcees. It might also affect church schools' rights to refuse to employ people who did not practise their particular brands of religion.

In a move almost certain to be overturned by the Government in the Commons, peers voted by 168 to 131 for a "conscience clause" which would allow them to continue to operate as they do now. The amendment was moved by Baroness Young, the former Conservative leader in the House of Lords. Afterwards, she said it was a victory for religious freedom.

"It shows the independence of the House of Lords working in practice - an all-party alliance voting against the Government. If a Conservative government had brought this measure forward, it, too, would have been defeated. So we hope that the Government will listen," she said.