The 17th and 18th sitting of the Equality Bill Committee

Coming towards the end of the line by line scrutiny of the Bill. Blogging the little bit of it that I have has been quite a struggle as there is so much to cover – and I simply can’t cover all of it. For those who are interested – the entire transcript of all the evidence sessions and committee sessions is on Hansard – so for those who want word by word of each moment – that’s the place for you.

The key issues in the 17th and 18th sessions were as follows.

There was an extraordinary response from Vera Baird, Solicitor General, to my Lib Dem colleague, Evan Harris’ amendment. This was all to do with the schools being exempted from protection afforded by this Bill. The problem is that this leaves in place, without change, the old laws that are in the School Standards and Framework Act. Here is a little bit of the discussion just at the beginning of this particular argument – to set the scene.

Dr. Harris: In the Bill we are dealing with the rights of people to not be discriminated against on one of the protected grounds. Section 60 of the School Standards and Framework Act arguably gives state schools the right to dismiss someone on the basis of their belief, their attendance at worship or their conduct. It is alleged by faith schools that conduct that is not consistent with those tenets, including private conduct related to sexual orientation, comes within sections 58 to 60. The Solicitor-General will know that when hon. Members debated the 2003 employment regulations, which are reproduced in the Bill, there was a long debate about the paragraph in those regulations that said that, notwithstanding the regulations, sections 58 to 60 of the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998 will apply. Therefore, this is very much a live issue; that is what the provisions say.

So you can see – hopefully – where the argument lies. We Lib Dems think that this exemption should be got rid of as it allows discrimination to continue under that older Act. And there is an ongoing argument through many of the discussions about the protection for ‘religion and belief’ where there is a fundamental disagreement as ‘the tenets and beliefs’ of some religions are discriminatory – specifically that homosexuality is wrong. Blimey – we’ve just had a religious Christian leader saying that homosexuals need to repent and change on the news – which I think illustrates the point.

The Solicitor General’s response was thus:

The Solicitor-General: The UK negotiated the inclusion of article 4(2) of the framework directive with the intention of preserving the provisions in the School Standards and Framework Act, and we are satisfied that they are compliant. That provides for future legislation to allow differential treatment on religious grounds, where that reflects national practices and where there is a genuine, legitimate and justified occupational requirement. Nothing in the Act can be used to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation, which would be unlawful in employment law.

Let me add — this is all that I intend to add — that we do not intend to override substantive education legislation in the Bill. There is no problem whatever, and we will not mend something that is not broken.

This was all she would say in response to eight key questions that exposed the very real harm that could prevail in schools if the Government’s exemption went ahead.

It is fine to disagree – the Government almost always does – but to be so contemptuous and not give a proper response I think is disgraceful and a good example of how the Government disdains real argument. When it can’t answer – it falls back on simply being rude!

Then there was then a bit of a row about scouts. The proposition was that you shouldn’t have to swear a religious oath to join – and examples are to be forthcoming from Evan Harris (which he will send to the committee) of volunteers (adult) who have been told just to take the oath but cross their fingers – as they are desperate for volunteers to run the scouts but many who would wish to are not of the right religion or are not religious. Government awaits the evidence!

An interesting discussion then ensued, based on two of Evan’s amendments. These were about discrimination in sport – most noticeably between men and women. It happens in a number of ways. For example – our women’s cricket team won the world cup – and got barely any coverage compared to what would have happened had it been the men’s team. So – it’s about the different attitude of the broadcasters. And to those who say that the broadcasters broadcast what people want to watch – the discrimination starts in the amount of women’s events compared to men’s. If you take one sport (like Olympic cycling) there are more men’s races than women’s. There is no reason for this and the consequence is that women’s cycling is secondary or perceived to be secondary to men’s cycling. There is no reason – physical or otherwise – for this discrepancy and the media broadcast what is there – so if there are less women’s events there will be less coverage.

0 thoughts on “The 17th and 18th sitting of the Equality Bill Committee

  1. Completely agree about the religion issue – the increase in faith schools under this government is harmful to children not to mention divisive in terms of community development. We need to keep religion and education separate.As for women's sport, well if we want true equality we should of course abandon men's and women's events completely and just let everyone compete against each other.That would of course mean your average Olympic team would be at least 95% male so I don't imagine it would be especially popular with female athletes, but we should remember that by splitting the genders for events we are already discriminating and thus giving women special treatment and allowing them to perform to a much lower standard."the consequence is that women's cycling is secondary or perceived to be secondary to men's cycling" This is an issue but lets be honest here – 99% of women's sports are secondary to men and they still would be if they had the same amount fo events. There are two main reasons:1. The fact that they generally perform to a much lower standard – i.e. slower times in cycling, comedy goalkeeping in football etc etc2. A complete lack of competitiveness in so many sports due to the lack of participants. Look at the difference between first and last place in most events – there just isn't the quality and depth in women's sports, and thus they aren't as interesting as there aren't as many potential winners nor is there the same drama which results from such competition.You can't really blame too mcuh on the broadcasters either. Women's sports are only ever going to be popular if the standard is high or in rare cases where the lack of athleticism and power can actually make the sport more interesting and thus sometimes compensate for the lack of quality (eg tennis). Dont' get me wrong – broadcasters should do more – not for any of the sports you suggest but for potentially popular ones such as women's football, but most women's sports will always be secondary to mens exactly because they are performing to a much lower standard and cannot compete with men. Women are only ever equal to men in events when they compete with them.Given the current system I'd certainly be in favor of women having the same range of events as men. The key point you seem to have missed is before we start introducing more events for women, the priority should in fact be to make existing women's events as rigorous as men's, especially where the rewards are the same. Just look at Wimbledon – men playing so many exhausting (and entertaining) 5 set matches, whereas a woman plays 3 sets at most, round after round and thus does only 60% of the work. Despite this they get exactly the same prize money – a cast iron genuine case of a pay gap if there ever was one! (I don't suppose Ms Harman will ever be taking action to solve it though will she?). Female athletes would get a lot more respect if they actually had to do some closer to much as the men.Finally, Lynne seems to be forgetting that even men's cricket is incredibly boring – any sport where you stop for tea or rain and go on day after day after day is quite frankly ridiculous. I'd say the men get too much coverage and the women cricketers exactly the right amount.