Clause 188

Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am ar 2 Gorffennaf 2009.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn


Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister 1:00, 2 Gorffennaf 2009

I beg to move amendment 309, in clause 188, page 134, line 24, at end insert—

‘(1A) For the avoidance of doubt, subsection (1) allows a person to provide gender-affected activities separately, but does not allow such activities to be provided to people of one gender but not to the other, unless it is unreasonable or disproportionate to seek to provide them for both.’.

This amendment seeks to prevent, for example, the instance where there is a sporting competition that is open to men, but there is no equivalent competition open to women.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Llafur, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 304, in clause 188, page 135, line 6, at end insert—

‘(7) Bodies responsible for the organisation of international and national-level sports competitions shall not discriminate on the grounds of gender in the provision of competition and team membership unless they are able to demonstrate that it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.’.

Sporting bodies have to demonstrate that discrimination on the grounds of gender, in the provision of competition and team membership, is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I apologise for a rather breathless arrival. The Committee that is considering how the House scrutinises Government business was meeting in another part of the House and the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), who was due in another Committee Room, and I had a race over here—he won.

We are now on sporting issues, and the point of the amendment is to probe the extent to which the Bill places a duty on sporting bodies, particularly those in receipt of public money—many are—to ensure that there is not a historical bias towards male sport. We frequently see that taking place in respect not just of participation and organisation, but television and other broadcast coverage of sport. It is most unfair and regrettable that many participants who enjoy their sport and would like to watch it find it hard to access it on television, particularly in relation to women and girls’ sport.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Ceidwadwyr, Daventry

As the proud father of three daughters, perhaps I could remind the Committee that there is, indeed, often a negative bias in relation to output and achievement? I cite the example  of the successful England women’s cricket team as exactly a case in point. There is nothing wrong with female participation in sports that have been seen, wrongly, as traditionally male.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

Indeed. I think that the hon. Gentleman won the race to mention that before other hon. Members. Given his athleticism in Committee, it is not a surprise that he was able to win that race. He has mentioned just one example—I shall not list all the examples. My purpose in tabling the amendment is to probe the extent to which the Minister believes that the Bill will require or strongly encourage sporting bodies, including those in receipt of public funds, to do their utmost to promote participation on an equal basis, where no provision or aspect of the sport prevents it being obviously less popular or less possible to do so. That seems to be a reasonable basis on which to go forward.

The new subsection can clearly only be probing because it states

“for the avoidance of doubt”.

That wording should not be put in Bills because they are not supposed to contain any doubt and where there is doubt, it is deliberate. The amendment states,

“subsection (1) allows a person to provide gender-affected activities separately, but does not allow such activities to be provided to people of one gender but not to the other, unless it is unreasonable or disproportionate to seek to provide them for both.”

The measure is about ensuring that the presumption is for providing sporting facilities for both genders, rather than simply providing them for one gender on the basis of history or laziness.

Amendment 304 is similar, but slightly different. Again, it has been tabled to probe whether the Government have a view on the subject and whether legislation has any hold on the unfairness that exists in relation to sports where there is full participation by men and women, but where international events are organised only for one gender. I shall use the example of cycling in the Olympic games because it is something that I and other people feel strongly about. How can it be that the Olympic games—I know that we do not have direct jurisdiction over the International Olympic Committee, but we must have some influence over the 2012 games—has a sport, in which Britain excels, where there is no way that a woman participant can get as many medals as a male participant? They have less chance of getting their particular type of race into the games than a male participant because there are simply more events for men.

That means that our superb women athletes such as Victoria Pendleton and Rebecca Romero can never achieve the status that some of our excellent male athletes have, because the male athletes are automatically liable to win more gold medals in events, even though there seems to me to be no discernible difference between the superb performances of both. I think that some of the women cyclists could have the accolade of being triple gold medal winning if they were given an equal chance. Does the Solicitor-General see any way in which we can in Parliament, by recognising that it is, to an extent, historical gender-based discrimination, ensure that at the Olympic games that we host there is no simple discrimination in that way on the basis of history or custom and practice?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

On the particular issue of cycling, I seem to remember—I am sure that the Solicitor-General will be able to furnish us with the facts—that the Minister for the Olympics updated the House on progress towards 2012 in relation to that very subject. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that some of the imbalance is historical. The International Olympic Committee is wrestling with the question of how to balance the events from a gender perspective while managing the overall size of the competition. I think that I am right in saying that some progress has been or is being made on that subject. I seem to remember that the Minister for the Olympics updated the House some time ago, but I am sure that the Solicitor-General will be able to state the exact position.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

The hon. Gentleman may be right. I certainly raised the issue in a question that was not reached but was answered about six weeks ago. It may have been one and the same answer or a different one.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, although I realise that there are forces who would argue against it. Some of their arguments are along these lines: more people want to watch such-and-such a sport, or more people want to watch men performing a particular sport than women. How does the hon. Gentleman answer those opponents?

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

In the end, that is a question for broadcasters. We have already argued, I think, that broadcast decisions are broadcast decisions and should not be subject even to the positive duty, but you’ve got to be in it to win it and it is a chicken-and-egg situation, if I may use two clichĂ(c)s—I apologise for doing so. Unless there are women’s events to televise, there is no opportunity for people to say that they want to watch them. I do not think that there was any evidence that in relation to the performance of our cyclists in particular—although that is just one example—there was any distinction between the astonishing achievements of the women athletes and those of the male athletes.

Legislation is not the best way, the only way or even necessarily an appropriate way to deal with the issue, but given that we are hosting the Olympic games in this country and there is that blatant unevenness—which may be based on custom and practice or history but which is not based on watchability, participation or any of the physical differences, because the athletes are doing the same thing in each case—I just wonder whether we can use this opportunity, along with the efforts of the Minister for the Olympics, who I know is engaged on this matter, to make further progress.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

Welcome back to the Chair, Mr. Benton. I can pray in aid my own very considerable sporting prowess as a member of the Olympics Minister’s five-a-side football team for women. We played the women’s national five-a-side football team in our first match. Their average age was about 30 years younger than ours, and that was about the number of goals that they scored in the first half as well, but then they realised that we were not that serious about it, so they started to let us win and we scored about 10 goals—football is a very good sport.

I know exactly what hon. Gentlemen were saying about discrimination in sport. It is very real. I myself had to get one of the sponsors of the Redcar half-marathon to threaten to withdraw the sponsorship money because the prize money was less for women than it was for men, even though it was the same race. That was, I am sorry to say, when the Liberal Democrat-led coalition was organising it; I am pleased to say that it is now back in safe Labour hands.

I appreciate that these are only probing amendments. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon is really just seizing the opportunity to debate the issue, which is, I suppose, fair enough. The clause is about allowing separate sporting competitions where physical strength, stamina or physique are factors in determining success or failure. It is to allow for separate competitions where there is a point to that. Amendment 309 would require any organiser of a single-sex sporting competition, including, for example, a local pub, to demonstrate, if challenged, that it was unreasonable or disproportionate for them to provide an equivalent sporting competition for the opposite sex only. Amendment 304 is about sport governing bodies.

The gender directive prohibits discrimination based on sex in the access to and the supply of goods and services. Article 4(5) provides that this directive

“shall not preclude differences in treatment, if the provision of the goods and services exclusively or primarily to members of one sex is justified by a legitimate aim”.

That includes

“the organisation of sporting activities (for example single-sex sports events).”

Where men and women are both taking part in the same sport, game or other competitive activity, clause 188 allows them to compete separately. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is really quibbling about the way in which the clause will work. He is just seeking some assurance that the Government are doing all they can to ensure that the undoubted imbalance in availability of sporting opportunities is being combated.

Let me turn now to the Olympics, which is probably the hon. Gentleman’s real point. The Minister for the Olympics was also the captain of the women’s five-a-side football team. She was a master of tactics. At one point she shouted, “Vera, you are big; go to the back and stop them scoring.” She made herself centre forward—or whatever the right term is—and I said to the other teams, “You do know that she is Secretary of State and is responsible for grants to sporting organisations?” So she scored a few goals.

About a third of the 34 events across the 26 sports in the Olympics reflect some gender discrepancy. In the Paralympic sports, the figure is nearer to 50 per cent. However, over the past 30 years the IOC has made considerable strides. In 1980 in Moscow, women represented only 18 per cent. of athletes, whereas in Beijing it was 42 per cent. Change to Olympic sports is in the sole gift of the IOC, but the Minister for the Olympics is lobbying for change. She has asked UK Sport to work with the British Olympic Association and with national governing bodies to identify those sports in which gender imbalance exists.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Ceidwadwyr, Daventry

In the example that the Solicitor-General cited about the Redcar half-marathon, is it not the case that as there was no differentiation in the competition  itself—it was one race—the concern, quite rightly, was about the differentiation in the prize money between the genders? Will the Minister clarify whether such activity would be, and should be, precluded by the Bill? To add to that, I shall make the general comment, which I may advert to again in relation to age, that the more we can break down particular patterns of services or situations, the more activities we may find to make gender-neutral, or other condition-neutral, thereby confining those that are condition-specific to a minimum.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I agree. I am not sure whether the Redcar half-marathon position would have been unlawful under the current law, but happily it did not come to that. If a sponsor says they will not pay unless the terms are changed, the terms are usually changed, and that is what happened. I agree that we should make what progress we can and encourage the availability of sport to children and adults of both sexes. We should break down barriers and make it clear that things that were thought to be an impediment to sport in the past may not be so now.

For example, we used to say that girls should not play rugby. Redcar rugby club has a thriving young girls’ rugby team now. We also used to say that women should not do fencing because of the dangers. All that happens now is that a woman wears some sort of padded chest protector and they can fence just as well as the guys. In fact, sometimes women are better because fencing is a bit like ballet, which is about being dextrous and nimble on one’s feet. We need to look at each sport where there is a gender imbalance and knock away the props of bigotry that support the distinction.

I hope that I have satisfied the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon that the Minister for the Olympics is doing her best. As I started to say, she has been asking for support from the British Olympic Association and the national sport governing bodies to identify and try to bring on those sports where a major gender imbalance exists, and where we could realistically achieve changes by 2012. The IOC acknowledges that it is in transition and that there is a job to do to move itself further toward equality. The hon. Gentleman has rightly raised the issue, but I invite him to accept that it is being dealt with in another area and that it would not fit into the Bill.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister 1:15, 2 Gorffennaf 2009

I am grateful to the Solicitor-General. I restrain myself from speaking about my own sporting prowess, which extended only to playing the Minister of State, Government Equalities Office, in a chess match 20 years ago when I played with a team in Liverpool and she played for Formby Ladies. She was better than me, but I was fortunate enough to win through a swindle. But that makes the point that there are some sports, of which chess is one, where there is no reason why women should not play. It should be promoted more as a sport, but that is a different issue.

In brief, I am grateful for the Solicitor-General’s response, particularly her acceptance that there is a need for the Government to do what they can to put pressure on and work with the British Olympic Association, Sport England and other national sport governing bodies to make the IOC recognise that there is a difference  between having a medal event that is only for men because generally only men do it, and having more medals for men than women in a sport where there is no basis for that any more because the levels of achievement and athleticism are identical. I hope that we will be able to take this forward on a cross-party basis outside this Committee with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I wanted to raise a constituency issue that relates to subsections (5) and (6) about selection criteria for sport based on nationality or residence. I wanted to check whether what is happening in this case is lawful. If it is lawful, it is still quite mad, but we should establish whether it is actually lawful. This is a cross-border issue. I ask the Committee to forgive me for troubling it with this matter, but it goes directly to subsections (5) and (6).

The Gwent Football Association is trying to enact a new ruling that will prevent players—when I say “players”, I am referring to young children, those eight years old and above—who live in England from continuing to play in the East Gwent league, which they are currently able to do. I have 53 children in my constituency who are currently able to play junior football in the East Gwent league, but it is proposed by the Gwent FA that they will not be able to do so come the autumn. They will be able to start playing at under six, but when they get to eight they will not be able to play for one of those Welsh clubs if they live in England. The particular club I refer to is Chepstow Garden City junior football club.

That matter was raised with me by the chairman of Tidenham parish council, and as the Solicitor-General would expect, I raised it today with the Gwent FA and have also written to the Minister in the Welsh Assembly Government who deals with sport, but I just noticed that the clause states that the subsection applies only when

“selecting one or more persons to represent a country, place or area or a related association, in a sport or game”.

What does “represent” mean in such cases? The football club is Chepstow Garden City. Chepstow is a town in Wales, but the area that it covers—its environs—stretches to both sides of the Welsh border. People who live in my constituency in Sedbury, Beachley and Tutshill very much look to Chepstow as their nearest town. It is the place where they shop and work. It seems perfectly sensible that children who live in the areas where Chepstow is the closest town would look to it, and to that particular football club, to play football.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Ceidwadwyr, Daventry

My hon. Friend’s argument is very cogent—it is not as if the East Gwent Association was required to select people to play for Wales or even for the local community when they came from across the border. The issue is simply whether they can participate in the sport.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

That is exactly my point. If someone is representing their country—Wales, for example—it is sensible to require a connection with it and that someone is born or lives there. But it strikes me that this rule is  completely mad. [Interruption.] Children would be able to play in Welsh schools football and could play in Cardiff, their parents could play for senior football clubs in Gwent, but a rather silly rule has been picked for junior clubs.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Llafur, Bootle

Order. I am sorry to interrupt, but there is too much background noise.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I am grateful, Mr. Benton.

May I ask the Minister what “represent” means? Based on the admittedly limited facts that I have been able to furnish, is what Gwent FA is doing lawful? If she confirms that it is, I contend that it is not sensible. In a letter that I have written to the club I have urged it to allow some common sense to prevail, so that the 53 children already registered with that football club and their brothers, sisters and friends who want to play for it can continue to do so. Given that we coincidentally happen to be considering clause 188 at more or less the time I was alerted to the problem, I would be grateful to explore what the law says on the subject.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

Of course, my legal advice is usually incredibly pricey, even when I do not know the answer, which is the situation now. I am really not sure. I have not looked at it in sufficient depth to venture a view. The hon. Gentleman will have to contend that it does not represent the area. The difficulty might be whether it is a related association. The discrimination, as it were, which is licensed in the clause, allows for the selection of someone to represent either a place or a related association in a sport or game of a competitive nature. My first instinct was that it was lawful—if mean—to do what the club had done, but it is probably a question of fact whether the club represents the place where it is, which it might, or is a related association. So I think the hon. Gentleman needs to contend that it is not lawful because it does not represent the area, and see what comes back.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I am grateful to the Minister for that advice. I will prevail upon Gwent FA to see sense. If it fails to do so, I might pursue my line of argument and persuade the club that its actions are unlawful, or that it does not wish to risk the issue turning into a battle. I am grateful for the Minister’s advice—provided to the Committee for free.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 188 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 189 ordered to stand part of the Bill.