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Several examples have been given. The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) mentioned political parties. We saw a real live example involving them when a peer who had taken the Labour Whip until the last election had it removed from him because he had happened to make a voluntary donation to a friend who was a member of another party. Some of us may have misgivings about that, but it happened, and that
individual had no recourse because he was seen to have been disloyal to the political party that he served as a parliamentarian.
I believe, as do the other Members who signed up to amendment 37, that that safeguard would not apply to religion, and we feel strongly that there is a need for protection. We are not asking for a change in the law; we are merely asking for the status quo to be reinforced. It is irrelevant to us whether the narrowing of the definition is a result of the Government's own inclination or of pressure from the European Union. The simple fact is that if sub-paragraph (8) is removed, we shall feel that the position has been clarified.
This issue has been a source of debate not only here but in the Public Bill Committee, on which I, like others, was pleased to serve. To be fair to the Solicitor-General, I should say that we were given some clarification, and some of us felt that it would go a long way towards making clear that people in organised religions would be given rights and protections. However, the Government seem to have moved in the other direction and weakened those protections, which is why I tabled amendment 37.
The strength of public opinion was demonstrated in a letter sent to the Minister for Women and Equality saying that members of many Churches and other religions-for this concerns not just the Christian community, but a number of religions-felt that if the provision were passed in its current form, it would bring about a deleterious change that would threaten to prevent those involved in organised religion from going about their everyday business.
I hope that the Government will think again and will agree to take us back to where we thought we were-or, at least, the position to which we thought they were moving in Committee-rather than taking an even harder line and restricting even further the freedom of operation of people who, in good faith, pursue their religious convictions. I tabled the amendment because I believe in freedom of conscience. I do not believe that there should be a right to discriminate against people who are, for instance, gay or disabled, but I do believe that people have a right to work with fellow members of their faith. I believe that that right should be recognised and should not be undermined by people who come in and say-as happens too often nowadays-that they want exactly the same rights as members of organised religions whose faith they may not share and whose goals they may not wish to pursue.
I hope that the Solicitor-General will consider amendment 37 carefully. It seems to have attracted support from both sides of the House. I hope that, even at this late stage-I am sure that those in the other place will give the amendment careful attention if it is not accepted here-we can obtain clarification and stop the narrowing of the rights of members of organised religions. I should be delighted, in due course, to press the amendment to a vote.
Dr. Evan Harris:
There are a lot of amendments in this group, and I know that many Members wish to speak to them, so I will be as brief as possible, especially as much of the necessary ground has been covered in the previous two speeches. While I do not agree with what the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) has said,
I certainly think that he and the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) have a right to have a debate. I also hope that the House will recognise that I have tried on more than 10 occasions to secure adequate debating time for the Report stage of this Bill. I got several assurances from the Leader of the House that there would be proper consideration and scrutiny not only of Government amendments-there are five more groups of Government amendments that we will not get anywhere near scrutinising-but of other important amendments that divide the parties, and that cannot be dealt with on Division in Committee as it is not possible for the breadth of opinion that exists to be expressed in Committee. It is nothing short of disgraceful that we are in this position now. A second day is all that would have been required for us to make sufficient progress.
I accept that the Speaker has done what he can by providing large groups that enable us to touch on a number of issues, but the Leader of the House will go down in history as having organised things in such a way that more amendments and new clauses than ever before have fallen without scrutiny in this place. The Government will find it more difficult to get their business through the upper House because of this failure to give us the opportunity to debate these matters, and that is counter-productive for the Government.
The Solicitor-General: The facts are very straightforward: no Whips from any Opposition party asked our Whips for a second day. Nobody at all from either main Opposition party has ever approached me asking for a second day either, and therefore, by default, one day has been allocated. If anybody had wanted more, they only had to ask and we would have considered their request. The letter from the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) that caused-
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. and learned Lady, but the point she is making is a debate for another day given that we now have only three quarters of an hour left. I am sure this issue will be returned to in other ways later.
Dr. Harris: I want to deal first with new clause 7-and new clause 8, which is closely related-which calls for protection from harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation in education and the delivery of public services. Protection already exists in those areas in respect of other grounds, so it is necessary also to protect vulnerable individuals on these grounds.
The key point about people in education and using public services is that they are a captive population. They cannot choose another hotel, another bed and breakfast or another retailer; they rely on public services, and in schools, they are particularly vulnerable. Therefore, all one needs to do to make the case for this provision is
to show that there is a bullying and harassment problem in those places and that the new clause will do the job in providing protection, just as the existing provisions, such as for protection from racial harassment, do their job.
It is also necessary to ensure that there is no undue infringement of free speech, however. I hope that hon. Members will accept that I am always sensitive to arguments about that, which is why my proposed definition of harassment in relation to sexual orientation is, even for schools, slightly narrower than the existing provision for sexual orientation harassment in employment, as it requires both a violation of dignity and the creation of an environment that is
"intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive".
"Discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation...becomes an important issue for secondary schools...The main problems experienced by LGB individuals include: harassment and bullying...insulting and degrading treatment during classes...Fellow pupils may threaten or subject LGB pupils to verbal and physical abuse in the classroom and on school grounds".
"Stonewall found that of the 1,100 lesbian and gay people interviewed in 2007 for The School Report:
Almost two thirds...of young lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying. 75 per cent. of young gay people attending faith schools have experienced homophobic bullying."
The idea, promulgated by the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), for whom I have a great deal of time otherwise, that the solution is for parents to choose schools where pupils will not be harassed is astonishing. Would he make the same argument about racial harassment-that argument could be made, too? That is otiose and odious in principle, but the idea that this provision should apply in areas where there is no choice of school, or that people who are vulnerable to harassment should have a smaller choice of schools because they have to avoid the schools where harassment takes place, is bizarre. In the Public Bill Committee I asked the representatives of religious organisations whether anything in the way in which they deliver the curriculum, be it on religious education or anything else, amounted to the creation of an environment that was hostile, degrading, threatening or offensive, and they said that there was not. They said that that was not part of what they do, so I do not think that this provision will in any way hinder what faith schools can do. In fact, it is not about faith schools; it is about all schools.
Andrew Selous: I speak as a governor of a voluntary controlled state school in my constituency. Is it not the case that all schools, faith schools or otherwise, take all bullying and all harassment extremely seriously? None of them is negligent about it, so why do we need a new provision? Is this not dealt with already?
No, it is not, because protection from harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation is not available in school as it is in employment. If schools had policies sufficient to ensure that this was not a problem,
as the hon. Gentleman and I agree they should, we would not be turning to the law. However, the evidence that I have just set out for him, which is well established, is that young people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual or who are perceived as such do experience harassment. It was found that 97 per cent. of pupils hear other insulting homophobic remarks such as "poof", "dyke" and so on, and less than a quarter-23 per cent.-of young gay people have been told that homophobic bullying is wrong in their school. It was the hon. Member for Forest of Dean who seemed to say that this was about faith schools. I am not making that point, because this is about all schools, as it is a current problem for all schools.
John Mason: I am against all bullying in all schools, as I am sure all other hon. Members are. The hon. Gentleman has cited high figures for certain types of bullying, but does he accept that there are high figures on almost every other kind of bullying too? The level of bullying faced by religious people is potentially even higher than that faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Dr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman will see that new clause 9 contains a provision to extend protection from harassment on the grounds of religion, on an even narrower definition in order to preserve the free speech that is even more greatly engaged there. It would not make provision in respect of an "offensive environment" because people can easily be offended, as I understand it, on the grounds of religion. So that is not an argument for not having the protection. The argument for having the protection is the mischief that exists. That is a view-I am not going to go into more evidence, because we need to move on-supported by not only the EHRC, but the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Paragraphs 114 to 118 of its thick report on this Bill, which contains 112 recommendations, clearly stated that it wanted protection against harassment to be extended to the sexual orientation ground and indeed to the transgender ground-the gender identity ground, which does not currently exist in schools for a similar reason.
David Howarth: I have had extensive contact over the past few years with organisations that deal with bullying. Their evidence shows that homophobic bullying is second in incidence only to bullying on the grounds of appearance.
Dr. Harris: We recognise that there is a problem. This is protected ground in employment. Why should vulnerable people in school not have the same rights to protection on the grounds of harassment that people have in employment? The Equality and Diversity Forum also supports the provision of protection from harassment in schools and public services.
I accept that new clause 9, which deals with religion, is more controversial. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has not expressed an opinion, so I would not seek to divide the House at this stage on the question of harassment on the grounds of religion. I would point out to hon. Members, however, that the definition there is narrower and, of course, protection already exists in employment. It seems to those on the Liberal Democrat Benches that there should be some protection in schools.
Let me deal, if I may, with caste discrimination. This has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Forest of Dean, so I shall not spend too much time on it, but it is clear that there is a problem. If even one person suffers discrimination, let alone a small percentage of people from that background, it makes sense, now that we have a Bill-after 12 years-that gives us the opportunity to make it a protected ground, to seize the moment. If there is not a problem, such a provision will not be used. To come back and have to await further primary legislation is not seizing the moment, if 12 years can be described as a moment. The problem with the Government saying that there is no evidence is that, in their attempt to find evidence, they consulted only 19 organisations-a figure that is narrow by anyone's terms-all of which were organisations that condone the caste system. It was therefore not a surprise, as we said in Committee, that they said that there was not a problem.
The Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance has done the research and its report shows-I would say that that was good evidence-that caste discrimination is rife in the UK, with more than half of those from traditionally lower status Asian backgrounds finding themselves victims of prejudice and abuse. How can we test this in the courts if there is no basis on which to do so? I do not know why there is a sudden threshold of x many thousand, but even if there were that threshold, I think that it has been met.
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the hon. Gentleman also concede that one of the problems is that people of lower caste who are discriminated against in opportunities, housing, jobs and a whole range of other things are often very isolated and very poor, and have no access to lawyers or to any independent advice? Putting something in the Bill would at least offer the opportunity for making a serious case on behalf of people who are suffering in silence with no obvious access to any kind of legal redress.
Dr. Harris: I agree. It would be a great pity if we did not take the opportunity to tackle the problem in the Bill. I do not think that it is an ever-growing list-there are not lots of extra grounds. This is one specific ground where there is clearly potential for harm and evidence of discrimination and harassment.
New clause 18 is an important new clause that would seek to define clearly in statute, and not just in case law, that discrimination against someone on the grounds of a manifestation of their sexual orientation-such as sex outside marriage, which is the only option that gay people have-is discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. That was made clear in the Amicus case, but, as we heard, there is doubt about this because the hon. Member for Forest of Dean asked that question in respect of the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald. It is a live question and many organisations told us in evidence that they thought that they would be allowed to discriminate, not on the grounds of sexual orientation, which is not allowed, but on the grounds of sex outside marriage.
Let us be clear that that is discrimination, because the proportion of gay people who can meet that condition is zero and the proportion of heterosexual people able to meet that condition will always be more than zero, because they can get married. That is discrimination on
the grounds of sexual orientation. The Minister said in Committee that she agreed that it was. Making it clear in the Bill will solve all the problems of people believing that they can get away with using such behavioural conditions to get around the ban on sexual orientation discrimination. It will also prevent religion being used as a proxy for such discrimination, by someone saying that one cannot be an orthodox, or proper, member of whatever the religion is if one's private life does not comply with the requirement to have sex only inside marriage, for example.
New clause 19, which is supported by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and is therefore important, asks simply that discrimination by association and perception, which is barred in case law, be expressly covered by the Bill. That would help carers and people who are perceived to be members of protected groups.
On the subject raised by the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Stroud, it was useful that the hon. Member for Forest of Dean said from the Conservative Front Bench that we have to comply with the EU directive. Indeed, we were supposed to do that when we passed the 2003 employment regulations. The trade union Amicus and others took the case to the High Court, before the Bill, to argue that the exemption that we are talking about was too wide in respect of sexual orientation. Although that case was lost, the judge said that it would have to be read narrowly.
A complaint was then made to the European Commission, by the National Secular Society, I believe-I declare my interest in that respect-that the 2003 regulations did not faithfully comply with the directive because the exemption they gave was wider than the exemptions envisaged in article 4(1) and (2). It is clear from what has been revealed that the Commission has found that the exemption is too wide, and requires the Government to narrow it-or perhaps it requires them to clarify the matter. If they would place the reasoned opinion in the Library, there would not be the current opacity and secrecy, and we would be able to see clearly why they do not believe that this is a narrowing.
There should be no doubt that unless someone is involved in liturgy, proselytising or other activities set out in the schedule, they should be protected from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. It is wrong that people doing youth work who are employed by a religious organisation should be drummed out of their jobs because of their sexual orientation, or be made to be celibate.
John Mason: The hon. Gentleman uses the term "drummed out". Does he accept that there is a difference between recruiting someone and dealing with them in the way mentioned by the hon. Member for Stroud when they have changed their position once in employment?
"a genuine and determining occupational requirement".
Sexual orientation is not a genuine and determining occupational requirement for youth workers, secretaries or care takers. Religious organisations can say that it is, and I support them in this, in respect of
"leading or assisting in the observance of liturgical or ritualistic practices of the religion,"
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