Clause 84

Part of Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 7:15 pm ar 23 Mehefin 2009.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister 7:15, 23 Mehefin 2009

I want to raise an issue identified by the Joint Committee on Human Rights with respect to clause 84, which apparently widens the existing exemption for the curriculum. Subsection (2) states:

“Nothing in this Chapter applies to anything done in connection with the content of the curriculum.”

That appears to remove any restriction on discrimination against a pupil on any protected characteristic in respect of the content of the curriculum. That is of concern.

The explanatory notes state:

“This ensures that the Bill does not inhibit the ability” of schools

“to include a full range of issues, ideas and materials in their syllabus and to expose students to thoughts and ideas of all kinds.”

That is wider than the exemption in schedule 3 from the prohibition on religious or belief-related discrimination in the provision of services in relation to anything done in connection with the curriculum of any school. There is an argument and a debate to be had about the exemption for religion in respect of the curriculum, but I want to consider how the measure appears to be drawn more widely and seek clarification.

Current law provides the exemption for the content of the curriculum from the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. That stems from the Equality Act 2006. However, the provision is wider. I can understand that some people might argue that given that the curriculum includes religious education, there needs to be an exemption in respect of religion or belief. I am not convinced that that is required. I will not go into why, as now is not the time, but the concern is that it appears that the prohibition on discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, for example, will not apply to the content of the curriculum.

The worry is that even if one has injunctions on how the curriculum is delivered, its mere content, particularly when there is no national curriculum on religious education, for example, might lead to detrimental treatment of pupils of a different sexual orientation—homosexuality, one presumes. The issue is the curriculum itself, or the textbook, not how the curriculum is delivered. Therefore, there is already a concern that sexual orientation might not be adequately covered, even under the existing exemptions, and the catch-all provision seems to go further.

The explanatory notes state that concerns such as the one I have raised would be caught because

“The way in which the curriculum is taught is...covered by the reference to education in clause 80(2)(a)”, which states that the responsible body of a school must not discriminate against a pupil

“in the way it provides education for the pupil”.

In other words, it must

“ensure issues are taught in a way which does not subject pupils to discrimination.”

However, I am worried that that is trumped by clause 84(2). For example, a gay pupil might feel that they were being taught that they were of less moral worth because of an inherent characteristic, but they might not be able to invoke any of the protections in the Bill in the face of such a wide exemption. Given that the provision appears to cover all schools and all strands, I do not think it is required for religious schools to maintain their ethos. I would be grateful if the Minister was able to clarify her understanding of clause 84(2).