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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene and ask her a question. How does the noble Baroness define a gay person. Is it someone who says that he (or she) is gay or who is thought to be gay? How does she define such a person?
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I would define someone who called themselves gay, as I understand the term, as someone who has a sexual preference for a member of his or her own sex. Sexual orientation is a widely understood term and one which appears in a number of agreements that I have seen in relation to non-discrimination in employment which have been signed between unions and employers. It is widely understood to cover the sort of situation to which my Bill refers.
The Bill seeks to give a role to the Equal Opportunities Commission. I understand that the EOC sympathises with the objectives of the Bill because, very often, it has been approached by individuals who claim that they are being discriminated against on those grounds. Many of our EU partners already have legislation of a similar kind.
Perhaps I may explain briefly what the Bill seeks to do. The preamble to the Bill will make it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of sexuality within employment and extends the functions of the Equal Opportunities Commission to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. Clause 1(1) applies the provisions of direct and indirect discrimination in the Sex Discrimination Act to include sexual orientation. Examples of direct discrimination would be the refusal to employ a man or woman on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Indirect discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation may include discrimination on grounds of HIV status if it is not justifiable or refusing to give promotion to a single person.
The term "sexual orientation" is not defined because it already appears, without definition, in the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993. It refers solely to a person's sexual preference. Sexual orientation, as I have already indicated, is widely used by many employers in their equal opportunity policies and has not given rise to any problems of definition.
Clause 1(3) incorporates the provision in the Sexual Discrimination Act which allows a person who has been victimised for taking action under the Act to bring a claim for discrimination. Clause 2(1) refers to the schedule which sets out those sections of the Sexual Discrimination Act which will include, if the Bill is passed, sexual orientation. The Bill extends the employment provisions of the Sexual Discrimination Act and not those parts of the Act which relate to education or to goods, facilities and services. It is essentially an employment Bill.
Clause 2(2) provides that the Secretary of State may, by statutory instrument, apply or disapply any specified provision of the Sex Discrimination Act. That provision would allow, for instance, that part of the Act that deals with goods or services to be covered for sexual orientation provisions should the Secretary of State so determine.
Clause 4 provides that the Act shall come into force six months after the Bill has been passed. So it really is a simple Bill. I hope that your Lordships will regard it as a reasonable and, indeed, timely measure.
It is a little over 100 years since Oscar Wilde stood handcuffed and in prison uniform on Clapham Junction, to be jeered at and spat upon by the crowd, with his warders conniving in his humiliation. Unfortunately, some of that ignorance and prejudice still remains and that is why we need legislation; to protect the minority of those among us who suffer from it.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, for bringing before the House this Bill, the subject of which produces a great variety of strong reactions in both Church and society. But surely it is for that reason that we are considering it today.
In a recent report produced by the Board for Social Responsibility of the General Synod of the Church of England it is said quite clearly that homophobia is a pervasive evil in society. It is of that evil that I wish to speak. But before doing so I must make two important points. The first is with regard to the definition of sexual orientation. The Bill as we have it does not attempt any definition but, I would suggest, treats all orientations
Secondly, your Lordships will know that at present the Church is involved in debate, soul searching and much prayer with regard to the whole question of homosexuality. In 1991 the House of Bishops of the Church of England issued a statement entitled Issues in Human Sexuality, which sought to encourage a full and frank discussion within the Church into the whole area of sexuality, but especially homosexuality. The position which the Church seeks to maintain at present is the traditional one; namely, that full sexual relations are to be seen as the expression of love within the lifelong commitment of marriage. A homosexual lifestyle falls short of that ideal and, as we demand a particularly high standard of the clergy, such a lifestyle is seen to be inconsistent with ordination. The Church may be accused of discrimination, the very thing that this Bill seeks to outlaw. Yet I would wish to emphasise an important distinction made by the Church. Being of homosexual orientation is neither a sin nor a bar to ordination in the Church of God. It is when that orientation is worked out in explicit sexual activity that the Church asks whether that is truly consistent with the teaching of scripture and the tradition that we have received.
Yet there are many who will not accept those of homosexual orientation but who actively and openly, verbally and sometimes physically, seek to discriminate against and punish those whom they know or presume to be homosexual. The newspapers often carry reports which tell of the abuse and discrimination that many gay and lesbian people have to face solely because of their sexual orientation. The noble Baroness has already given us evidence of that this afternoon. We hear of it happening both in the community and in the workplace.
As a society we have accepted that discrimination should not take place on the grounds of gender or race. We accept that people should not face discrimination on the grounds of their disability. It took us a great deal of time to reach our present position and not without having to counter many arguments from a variety of quarters which suggested that to legislate against discrimination, to legislate for equal opportunities, was not necessary. Yet there are some who continue to face unreasonable and unwarranted discrimination, and among them I would want to include those of homosexual orientation.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, in a spirit of enquiry, I asked the noble Baroness who were to be counted as gay people in this connection. She said that it was well understood. The right reverend Prelate has
The House of Bishops has said that it is a clear, simple and fundamental responsibility of Christians to reject and resist all forms of homophobia. That includes homophobia which exists within some parts of the Christian community as well as the pervasive and sometimes violent forms of homophobia that can make life a nightmare for many gay and lesbian people in our society.
I believe that there is a problem of discrimination against those who are, or who are believed to be, homosexual. It may be that legislation is required to control that. If that is the case, then the Church is sympathetic to the broad intention of opposing homophobia, although I recognise that the practicalities and effectiveness of achieving that by legislation require very careful consideration.
If, however, the mind of the House is such that this Bill finds little support, I urge the Government nevertheless to take seriously the evil of homophobia and the devastating effects that it can have on the lives of our brothers and sisters at home, at work and in the community, and seriously to address ways in which this wickedness can be defeated.
Lord Thurlow: My Lords, I would like to express my warm appreciation of the initiative of the noble Baroness in bringing forward this Bill. I endorse very strongly what the right reverend Prelate has said so eloquently about the sin and danger of homophobia. That in fact is precisely what the Bill is dealing with. He said that it may become clearI forget his exact wordsthat a Bill is necessary. After further consideration by the Church, I hope that it will come to accept that it is not a case of legislation perhaps being necessary, but that it is really necessary to prevent victimisation.
We are dealing with a matter of justice and not of morals. The right reverend Prelate began by emphasising what he thought might be a particular difficulty and danger in relation to paedophilia. I am sure that there is no Member of your Lordships' House who would not wish to do everything possible to stamp out that horrible abuse. My understanding is that it is a misconception to bracket paedophilia with homosexuality. I understand that probably most cases of that horrible vice are exemplified by heterosexuals, so we do not want to be confused by this particular and obviously very headline-making detail.
As the noble Baroness has shown, there is evidence of very widespread discrimination in employment and of the harassment of homosexuals involving, in some cases, serious assault. There seems to be clear evidence that legal steps are needed to deter such abuse. We cannot continue to place our reliance on education. This has been going on long enough and the abuse and victimisation persist. As the noble Baroness said, six other European countries have now acknowledged the need for legislative steps and for statutory action to prevent and deter such discrimination. I understand that a seventh, Spain, is proposing to legislate. That itself is fairly strong evidence of the case for legislation.
Those of us who have enjoyed fulfilled lives and who have known especially the joy of bringing up children should have nothing but sympathy for those who are inhibited from such fulfilment. Public opinion has advanced a great deal in recent years, but needs reinforcement to counter negative prejudice. There has been considerable clarification over the past 30 years of the nature and causes of different forms of sexual orientation, including bisexuality and homosexuality. It used to be fairly generally supposed that such orientation was mainly a matter of choice in puberty and development. It is now, I think, scientifically established that it is a physiological matter in the genetic make-up of the individual. It is manifestly unjust, therefore, that a section of society should be victimised on account of a genetic situation beyond their control.
As the right reverend Prelate implied, there are social grounds for requiring modesty and restraint in the public behaviour of homosexuals for various reasons but, in particular, to avoid undesirable influences on the young such as, for instance, bisexuals developing in their youth their patterns and role models. However, that is another issue and should not be confused with the problem of preventing injustice.
As the noble Baroness told us, Ministers have claimed that there is no need to legislate and have said that we should rely on education. However, as I said earlier, that seems to be invalidated by evidence of the persistence of the mischief. I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading and that the Government will give it careful and positive consideration and support.
Lord Annan: My Lords, I apologise, as I have already, I hope, to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, for being unable to be here at the end of the debate. I have been in a quandary all day, in that this morning I had to address a conference on an academic subject at Queen Mary College and thought that I would never make the debate. I found that I could, but unfortunately I have another engagement at half past four which I cannot get out of.
That having been said, and my apologies having been made to the House as well, I recall that it is nearly 30 years since I made my maiden speech in your Lordships' House in support of Lord Arran's Bill for the legalisation of homosexual conduct between consenting adults. All I can say is that the noble Baroness, Lady
I want to do something different, which is to make some modifications on ethical matters. I believe discrimination sometimes occurs not because people imagine the acts which disgust them but because of the way of life of homosexuals. In days gone by, homosexuals were discreet in public and in their workplaces, but nowadays the minority has a tendency to appear wearing what one might describe as full warpaint. I am bound to say that in that my sympathies lie much more with Sir Ian McKellen than with Mr. Peter Tatchell.
One has to ask oneself whether camp behaviour in the workplace is grounds for dismissal. It may be said that mere dislike of eccentric behaviour is not a cause for discrimination and disapproval. Many of us dislike the behaviour of certain groups in our society. I am not all that keen on the behaviour of some of the followers of rugger who imagine that it is a good joke to urinate upon the public below them at the end of a match. I am not all that keen on the behaviour of some pop group fans, but this is a free society. We have to accept that there are many things in the behaviour of others that we do not like. We have to tolerate it. That is what a free society is about: the toleration of deviant behaviour.
Deviant behaviour is one of the things which is, in some ways, most valuable in a community, but there is a problem when one comes to the workplace. For instance: lawyers, doctors. It is reasonable, up to a point, that lawyers and doctors should wear clothes which are appropriate to their calling. I am of course unutterably opposed to the wearing of wigs, but the wearing of gowns and the wearing of subfusc clothes to indicate that degree of dignity and intellect which the law naturally demands of all its practitioners, is reasonable. It is not reasonable for people, merely because of their sexual orientation, to say, "I am not going to wear that sort of thing. I am going to flout tradition".
Again, I believe that is true in the case of doctors, but to say that anyone who has to deal with the publicmerely by virtue of their having to deal with the publicmust always suppress any conceivable sign of his or her sexual orientation is going too far. I do not believe, for instance, that the ladies at the pay-out tills in supermarkets should be debarred from wearing some of the insignia of their sexual orientation. Nor do I believe that bus conductors should be so debarred merely because they have dealings with the public.
I wish to mention a particular profession because I believe that it would be very wrong to discriminate against homosexuals in that profession. It is the profession of school teachers. I owe an enormous debt to the school teachers in my schools and to the dons in the University of Cambridge who were undoubtedly of homosexual orientation although they never laid a finger upon any of their pupils. Those people were the saving of my life in the sense that they opened doors and windows not on the question of sexuality but on the brilliance of their teaching and their devotion to their pupils. Do not let us have discrimination against those men and women who do so much for the young.
The right reverend Prelate was correct to make the distinction between homophobia and the actual condemnation by the Church of certain sexual acts. That is the whole pointit is the religious outlook. The religious outlook is that Christians, if they are Christians, have to cope with that and ask, "Am I being true to my faith?". If they are not Christians, of course, that is another matter.
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