Dr. Harris: Before the Solicitor-General finishesshe is coming to a summary of her conclusionsI want to deal with the question of schools. I note her point on homophobic bullying and how it is potentially different and could be treated differently from harassment on the basis of sexual orientation by a member of staff. I also note her point that a difference in treatment of a pupil by a member of staff would be discrimination.
I refer the Solicitor-General to the findings of Stonewalls 2009 teachers report, which, in respect of homophobic staff, report that more than two in five secondary school teachers and three in 10 primary school teachers have heard homophobic language or negative remarks about gay people from other school staff. Also, half of gay pupils have heard homophobic remarks from teachers and/or other school staff and 30 per cent. report that adults have been responsible, for instance, for homophobic bullying in their schools. There is then reference to some teachers being homophobic.
Does the Solicitor-General not accept that there is some evidence that does not count as discrimination, because it may not be demonstrated in differential or detrimental treatment, although it shows that there is a staff-to-pupil problem in some attitudes? Indeed, would she count as harassment the idea of children being told that gaynessand their parents, if they are gayis innately or objectively disordered and sinful?
The Solicitor-General: I do not know of a school that I have come across that talks to its children in that way as a matter of course in any event. What we are looking at is truly legislating where there is a need, not legislating where there is no need.
The hon. Gentleman refers to Stonewall, but Stonewall, as he heard, gave evidence to us only about a week ago to the extent that it has no evidence of the need to extend protection against sexual orientation harassment in schools. We will legislate if it is there, but it is not. Stonewall must be the expert, and it says it is not. I hope he will withdraw his amendment.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I have listened carefully to my hon. and learned Friends arguments, and I will support the Government on this matter. However, I want to say a word about the question of homophobic bullying, because I think she perhaps does not take it as seriously as she should.
One has to be a parent of an adolescent child who is in school to understand the reality of homophobic bullying, because to my certain knowledge it occurs in London schools. It is a paradox: for grown-ups it has become less and less acceptable to engage in casual homophobia, but homophobic abuse of the sort that one hears quite normally in primary and secondary schools, certainly in London, is something I never encountered when I was going to school.
Furthermore, physical and verbal homophobic abuse do not occur in a vacuum. They occur in a school society where gay is a common term of abuse. A child can attract the term gay for a range of activities,
Some teachers, perhaps older teachers, see that as a joke, but I believe that it contributes to an atmosphere where boysparticularly working-class and black boysfeel inhibited from exhibiting anything other than what may be described as stereotypical male education-hating behaviour.
Such an atmospherewhere gay is a term of abuse and all sorts of behaviour that we, as middle-aged, liberal, educated people, may consider normalis smeared as gay, which can be difficult for pre-adolescent boys and can lead to specific physical and verbal abuse of individuals. I believe that creates an intolerable atmosphere for many boys and some girls in our schools.
I do not accept my hon. and learned Friends assurances that legislation covers it. It is not my experience, as a parent and someone who goes into schools, that we are doing enough to say that such an atmosphere, such language and such physical abuse are not acceptable. It is all very well to talk about schools having codes of conduct on bullyingevery school in Hackney, North and Stoke Newington has a code of conduct on bullyingbut I cannot tell her that every school does not have a problem with bullying. A code of conduct is a long way from instilling in children a way of behaving.
The other day I read in the newspaper about a little American boy12 years old, good looking and charming, by all accountswho hanged himself because he was consistently abused at his school and accused of being homosexual. We cannot look at the physical act of bullying as an isolated act. We cannot understate the manner in which a toxic, homophobic culture has taken grip in many schools.
The earliest race relations legislation did not result in a wave of prosecutions, but created a climate and signalled societys attitude to such behaviour. Anything that the law can donot just to enable individuals to be prosecuted, but to create a climate and signal our attitude to such a climate in schoolswill help some very frightened and unhappy boys. They exist at this timetoday, as we speak,
Dr. Harris: That is a powerful contribution from the hon. Lady. I feel exactly as she does. My consideration of this, and agreeing with her, does not lead me to support the Government, although I am not as natural a supporter of the Government in all matters as she is.
Dr. Harris: From a sedentary position, the hon. Lady tells us that she is being effectively whipped at the moment. I am not saying that that is a form of bullying on any grounds, but I hope it does not continue as it would be a personal tragedy for her and a waste for the House and the media world if she were kept in line more often than she is.
Moving on to a substantive point, as I said, my reading of the situation, given the evidence of harassment in schools on the grounds of sexual orientation, for example, leads me to argue for a change in the law. The
That is the basis on which I would be prepared to make my stand hereand indeed others, at later stages of consideration of the Billrather than saying that because person X or a particular lobbying organisation does not support a particular proposal, for whatever reason, that should be the end of the matter. Other organisations, such as the Equality Network in Scotland, Schools Out and others, not only recognise the problemas Stonewall, which does excellent work, doesbut have a different prescription for the solution.
The Solicitor-General: As the hon. Gentleman well knows, we have evidence from all those bodiesI cannot say from the Scottish one, but we have evidence from the others. The contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington was immensely touching and very strong. Much of it would not be covered by discrimination law if we agreed to the hon. Gentlemans amendment. With greater understanding now, we appreciate that there is a sizeable problem, but we always have to remember the limitations of what we are doing. This is not the way to solve the problem.
Dr. Harris: I do not think there is anybody on the Committee who cannot recognise the problem. I do not doubt the Governments intentions in tackling the wider issuenot just harassment, but pupil-to-pupil bullying and so forth. I have not spent long going over examples this morning or now, but it would be appropriate to do so because we are dealing with specific legislation.
My point is that the case is made on the terms of a mischief. Without changing the culture and training and without procedures being put in place, legislation is never sufficient on its own, but leaving a gap uncovered sends the message to the providers of servicesincluding schoolsthat this sort of bullying and harassment is not as serious as other forms, such as racial harassment and bullying. That message relates not to the substance, but to whether there is a legal obligation. In fact, this form of bullying is just as serious if not more so, on the basis that it is not always as universally condemned asthank goodnessracial harassment and bullying are. I accept the Governments point about the single equality duty on public bodies, which, in respect of sexual orientation, is a form of section 28 in reverse. That section was so bad that there is no reason why it should not be reversed. We will debate that later, but the Liberal Democrats do not believe that it is sufficient in these terms.
To respond to a couple of points that the Minister made on the substantive basis of the amendments, I accept that they are complex. I wanted to deal with the issue in an amendment, but it was difficult to do that in the way that the clause is laid out. I am glad that she was able to understand what was covered, and I agree that if something similar ever comes to fruition during the passage of the Bill, we will have to find a neater way of doing it.
The amendment makes the point that the provisions need to be extended. Even if we eliminate a form of discrimination and detriment that occurs in this country, we would not repeal the law even though the mischief
There is a huge gap in the provision of public services and in schools, as well as for religion and, indeed, sexual orientation. The House will need to come back to this matter. I have clearly not yet persuaded the Minister of that point, but I do not feel that there is any virtue in dividing the Committee on the complex set of amendments that I have tabled. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Application of this Part
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I beg to move amendment 10, in clause 26, page 19, line 3, leave out paragraph (a).
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 196, in clause 26, page 19, line 3, at end insert
, so far as relating to any goods or services which are not provided by or on behalf of a public authority.
Amendment 156, in clause 26, page 19, line 4, leave out paragraph (b).
This amendment extends protection against discrimination in the provisions of goods and services because a person is married or in a civil partnership.
Amendment 197, in clause 26, page 19, line 4, at end insert
(c) sex, except for any goods or services which are provided by or on behalf of a public authority..
Mr. Harper: It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Lady Winterton. I will speak to amendment 10 and my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare will hope to catch your eye to speak to amendments 196 and 197.
Amendment 10 is probing. One of the organisations that support the age discrimination legislation applying in whole to those under 18 got very excited and fulsomely supported my amendment. However, it will be disappointed when it finds out that the amendment is intended to probe and to provoke a discussion on the appropriate scope of the Bill and why the Government have taken such decisions.
For the benefit of those who do not have the clause in front of them, it is intended to amend age discrimination provisions and states:
(1) This Part does not apply to the protected characteristic of
(a)age, so far as relating to persons who have not attained the age of 18;.
The amendment would remove that age restriction. I want to make the point to the Minister that a number of outside organisations have highlighted the fact that discrimination against young people takes place. I expect that we will discuss that in more detail when we consider some of the other age discrimination parts of the Bill. Young people may experience discrimination on the basis of their age. With older people, there is what we could callfor the purpose of the debategood discrimination and bad discrimination. We say that young people should and should not do a wide range of things, and we put age limits on when they can and cannot do certain things, based on protecting them.
Providers of other services might also make judgments, aside from those statutory rules, to set age limits that they feel are appropriate, based on the enjoyment of services for other customers. For example, some restaurants and all sorts of other providers have age limits that are not necessarily to do with alcohol supply, but with the age of children in that environment, such as insisting that parents accompany their children.
I understand the sense of some of the issues raised. Some young people are perfectly capable of doing certain things at one age, whereas others of the same age might not be. The difficulty is in setting an objective test, or way of putting that into legislation. That may be why the Government have decided to exclude those under 18 from this part of the Bill. The amendments purpose is to test that and enable the Minister to set out the Governments thinking in more detail, so that it is on the record and we can probe it to see whether any of the examples given by those organisations hold water.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): I rise to support amendment 10. I, too, want to probe the Ministers thinking about the exclusion of under 18s from the protection of the Bill. The commission wishes us to probe the Ministers thinking. It strongly supports the amendment, because it believes that the clause would introduce discrimination to under-18s. It says that the amendment would bring that age group within the full scope of the proposed public sector equality duty set out in clause 143. I share the concerns of some of the organisations that have contacted me.
Mr. Harper: May I make it clear that the provision will not exclude young people from the protection of the Bill? It relates just to services and public functions.
Lynne Featherstone: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I am talking about goods and services. He used the example of a restaurant, where people want to be quiet and do not want children running around. Surely, the issue is how a child behaves; the point is that there should be no noise or running around. The clause should not provide a blanket exception for children if we want an inclusive society in which they play a full part. I am sure that many Members have been to continental Europe, where children play more of an integral part in society and behave perfectly well when taken out with adults to restaurants. I want to explore the Ministers thinking on how we are targeting an age group, as opposed to the behaviour of the individual.
On goods and services, indirect discrimination might be experienced by a child. I do not know how many members of the Committee have been into the ladies in Parliament.
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