HL Deb 14 July 1995 vol 565 cc2004-22

3.17 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill renders unlawful certain kinds of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation; extends the functions and powers of the Equal Opportunities Commission to discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and for connected purposes.

There is little doubt that people who are homosexual, whether they are gay or lesbian, suffer discrimination. There is a substantial body of evidence now available to that effect. Not only Stonewall, the organisation that exists to publicise the concerns of homosexual and bisexual people, has produced evidence following a great deal of research—I shall deal with a great deal of that later—but the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (NACAB) also has evidence of widespread discrimination.

The United Kingdom, however, does not have any legislation designed specifically to tackle discrimination against lesbians and gay men. Under existing employment legislation, there is nothing illegal about rejecting a job applicant on grounds of his or her sexuality. This has serious implications for lesbians and gay men in that it clearly gives some employers the freedom to exercise their prejudice.

Prejudice certainly exists. In 1993, Stonewall published a report entitled, Less Equal than Others, based on a survey of 2,000 homosexuals and their experience of discrimination at work. Of that group, 16 per cent. of the respondents had faced discrimination at work because of their sexuality; another 21 per cent. suspected that they had been discriminated against on similar grounds; and 48 per cent. had suffered harassment at work. Experiences included ostracism, threats of being "outed", blackmail, malicious jokes, threats, and sometimes actual physical violence. Forty-nine per cent. concealed their sexuality from some people at work.

A study by an independent research organisation, the Social Community Planning Research, indicated a similar pattern of discrimination. The SCPR also surveyed a representative sample of 600 heterosexuals. One in three said that they would be less likely to hire a gay or lesbian job applicant.

Perhaps I may quote a few cases from the research that I have seen. This is some of the research from NACAB. A respondent occupied a relatively senior position in local government. He has been "out"—i.e. known as "gay" for about a year, but he has been openly told that he would not have been appointed to his previous job had it been known at the time that he was gay. He gained promotion because he had earned respect during the time that he was closeted; that is to say, when it was not known that he was homosexual.

In the second case, the CAB reported a client who had left a job which he had held for six years because he could not put up with the reaction of his employers when they discovered that he was gay. He was offered another job but was dismissed two weeks later when his new employer received his references. The employment agency also removed him from its register.

The CAB evidence also contains instances of harassment at work. There are many cases but I shall quote just one. A CAB in Yorkshire reported a client who had experienced systematic abuse and other harassment from colleagues because he was gay. He was subjected to extreme verbal abuse and several instances of intimidation which threatened his personal safety. The client did not want to discuss the issue with his supervisor for fear of causing further ill feeling. Many more case histories feature in the excellent report produced by the independent research organisation to which I referred. About two-thirds of the homosexual respondents to that survey thought that there was a great deal of discrimination against gay men and lesbians. Almost all thought that there are employers who refuse jobs to homosexual applicants or sack homosexual employees and that there are landlords who refuse to rent accommodation to homosexual couples. Being refused a job or accommodation was thought to be more common than actually being dismissed.

As the law stands at present employers are perfectly entitled to reject a job applicant because he is gay, or even to have a policy of not employing lesbians or gay men. A lesbian or gay man refused a job on that basis has no redress. By contrast, employers are not allowed to refuse to employ people simply because of their race or their sex or, in Northern Ireland, their religion.

Unfair treatment is not illegal. An employer can treat a lesbian or gay employee unfairly by, for example, refusing promotion, and the employee concerned has no redress.

Unfair dismissal is not illegal. Lesbians and gay men who are dismissed have no redress unless they have been with the employer for two years and then they may not succeed in a claim for unfair dismissal since the EAT has held that employers may dismiss gay people on the grounds of potential client prejudice, even where that prejudice has no basis in reality.

Harassment is not illegal. Employers can be held vicariously liable for sex discrimination if they do not take steps to deal with sexual harassment. The same applies to racial harassment. But it does not apply to the harassment of lesbians and gay men.

Clearly there is a need for something to be done. NACAB believes that there should be legislation against discrimination. However, when Stonewall wrote to the then junior Minister at the Department of Employment to draw attention to the results of its research, the response was that the Government did not condone discrimination but had no plans to do anything about it.

I understand that the Government further claim that, although they condemn all forms of discrimination, there is no need to legislate further because of the protection offered by the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978. However, that only gives protection against unfair dismissal after two years' continuous employment. Legislation on sex and race discrimination gives truly comprehensive protection against discrimination, starting at the recruitment stage. It also establishes the principle that sexism and racism are not acceptable.

The Government have argued that persuasion is better than legislation. Of course, persuasion is important. But, as the campaign on behalf of the disabled has shown, it is often not enough. Legislation plays a very important role in changing public perceptions. That is demonstrably true in the case of gender discrimination and, to a lesser extent, perhaps, in regard to race. I believe that the time has come to put legislation on the statute book that would give protection to that relatively small minority of people.

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(2) provides that discriminations defined will be referred to in the Act as, discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation". 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 3 provides that, The Equal Opportunities Commission shall have the same functions and powers in relation to discrimination … [on grounds of] sexual orientation as it has in relation to discrimination … between men and women". 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.

Yesterday I received a letter addressed to me at the House from a lady writing from Deal in Kent. She says: I am writing to you as a gay woman who has suffered discrimination as a direct result of my sexual orientation. I was sacked from my job, but have now found alternative employment. I wish the Sexual Orientation Discrimination Bill to be voted through on Friday—I will be holding a vigil in my church. With my best wishes for a favourable outcome". I too hope for a favourable outcome and therefore commend the Bill to your Lordships and ask that it be given a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Turner of Camden.)

3.29 p.m.

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 alike. While there may be a feeling in society that those who are homosexual need the force of the law to protect their rights, I do not think that the same can be said of those whose orientation leads them to seek and engage in sexual activity with children. If the Bill is to pass on to the statute book I believe that Parliament must be quite clear as to the specific categories of sexual orientation which are included.

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.

I believe that the distinction we draw is an important one. It is no sin to have a homosexual orientation. Indeed, in their statement, the Bishops say quite clearly: Homosexual people are in every way as valuable to, and as valued by, God as heterosexual people". 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 just explained that it is by no means so clear because, in the eyes of the Church of England as indeed mine, for what that is worth, to have that orientation is one thing, but to practise homosexual sex is another. Will the right reverend Prelate ignore that distinction when we come to consider this Bill?

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, I simply accept what the noble Baroness said about their particular sexual preferences, which is why I added the caveat about the relationship with children.

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.

3.37 p.m.

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 clear—I forget his exact words—that 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.

3.45 p.m.

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 Turner, and the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, have put the case for the Bill better than I ever could. I appreciate what they have said and confirm the line that they took.

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 public—merely by virtue of their having to deal with the public—must 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 point—it 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.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. He made his apologies to the House for not having his name down to speak and also for having to leave. Perhaps I may remind him that speaking in the gap is governed by the Companion to the Standing Orders, which states that when speeches are made in the gap they should be brief.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I am sorry and I apologise to the House. Perhaps I may finish simply by saying that we are dealing with the question of behaviour and provocative behaviour. All I am saying is, please let those of a different sexual orientation remember that provocative behaviour does their cause no good at all.

3.52 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I rise to speak on a subject which I have addressed on a number of occasions. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, for her introduction of the Bill. It is an important Bill and the noble Baroness has explained it in some detail. It is worthy of the consideration not only of your Lordships and the Minister but also of the wide public outside who will read it.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who has had to leave to attend another engagement. His speech was a fine mixture of erudition and entertainment, which makes him such a valuable member of your Lordships' House. I shall not follow him down some of the philosophical pathways that he indicated to us.

Perhaps I may be forgiven by the House for not going strictly through the Bill, as did the noble Baroness. I shall take a more personal line and follow the path of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, which was interesting and sensitive. It reflected a good deal of my own approach to the subject.

I claim to be a human being like everyone else. I am capable of bad temper, prejudice and insufferable behaviour, as my wife will confirm. Since I have been aware of sexual orientation—and perhaps it took longer for me to reach the age at which one can differentiate between these complicated matters than it takes today—I have never understood this particular kind of prejudice or discrimination.

Again, if I understand correctly the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, it seems to me that one should be conscious of one's own sexuality from a very early age. In my case, it has been uniquely heterosexual. I went through a difficult adolescence as do most adolescents in that I was extremely shy and an only child. It took me a long time to settle into putting sexuality into the right context in my life. I always felt that the difficulties which face those who have a tendency to another sexual orientation—in other words, homosexuality—were 10 times greater than they would otherwise be. Therefore, I have always had enormous sympathy for the difficulties which such people face in our society.

I stuck my neck out earlier in your Lordships' House in 1985 when we discussed what I still think was one of the most deplorable pieces of legislation which the Government of that time introduced; namely, Clause 28 of the Local Government Bill. With some vehemence, and supported by others in your Lordships' House, some of whom are in the Chamber today, we attacked it without mercy. I believe that we were extremely effective. In support of the Government, I have to say that, in the interim period, their attitude towards the problems of gays and lesbians in our society has softened a good deal. Indeed, they have become a good deal more understanding. I believe that a certain amount of credit must be given to the Prime Minister in that respect because in no way has he shown himself during his tenure of office to be in any way that I can identify as homophobic. Nevertheless, there is a great deal to be done.

I do not accept that governments do not think it necessary to legislate in an area where there is such clear discrimination. It is the Government's job not to feed or encourage prejudice in whatever area. It is their responsibility to give a lead in that respect and not follow public opinion if it is slow to come round to changes in culture which, I suggest, are taking place rather more rapidly in other countries some of which are not too far away from us across the English Channel.

The lobbying groups which are now working in the field and which have advised all of us were mentioned by the noble Baroness. Principally, Stonewall, which arose out of the campaign for the arts against Clause 28 (of which I was a part), has proved itself to be the most moderate and most intelligent of lobbying groups when compared with the rather more flamboyant—to use the phrase used by the noble Lord who has just spoken—full war-paint approach to the problem. I have met Mr. Peter Tatchell. I like him as a person, but I believe that his approach is unproductive in the area. Indeed, I much prefer the approach of Stonewall because it is moderate and recognises the changes of culture in our society and the pace at which they are taking place.

However, it is quite unacceptable at this time that we should not seek to accelerate in our country the movement towards toleration of homosexuals in the workplace. Of course, part of the problem, as suggested by other speakers, is that people at large, who do not address themselves in any detail as to the complexities of the problem, confuse a number of factors. For example, they imagine that what happens in schools, sometimes unfortunately, and what happens in the Church, sometimes unfortunately, where young people are victims of behaviour which can only be described as paedophilia, is in some way inseparably linked to homosexuality. It is not. Paedophiles are not the same at all.

I have had a number of jobs in my life. I have worked alongside homosexuals of all kinds, of all levels of intelligence and with all levels of ability. But very rarely have I come across one, either male or female, who acted in a way that was detrimental to the performance of the company.

I am opposed to the Government's attitude towards homosexuality in the Army because it has been recognised in most other countries that if homosexuality manifests itself in an extreme way which is prejudicial to good Army order and discipline, it is up to commanding officers to deal with that in exactly the same way as they deal with such behaviour on the part of heterosexuals. I did my two years in the Army more years ago than I care to remember, and even at my tender young age then as a young officer I knew who the homosexuals in the regiment were. It was quite clear that if there was any problem something would be done about it, but I was not aware that there was any problem that had to be dealt with. It is outrageous that the Government should continue to support some buffoonish opinions which are put to them not only from those within the Armed Forces but also from outside. They will only have to change their attitude in time and the more they resist efforts to bring our practices alongside those of countries which have a better record of understanding these things, the more buffoonish they will appear in the long run.

I shall not go on about this. My speech is a personal one. I believe that the main problem is that most people do not understand what is involved in homosexuality. As I say, they confuse it with many things and fear arises out of ignorance and the lack of understanding. The Government in resisting the attempts to bring us into a more enlightened age—such as the Bill of the noble Baroness—are only feeding that prejudice and ignorance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, gave, I believe, an example of a homosexual, either declared or discovered, who had been removed from the employment register. I have not been present in your Lordships' Chamber to any great extent while the proposed jobseekers legislation was discussed but I understand that a person who is removed from the employment register does not qualify for jobseeker's allowance.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I interrupt for just a moment to say that the man was removed from the records of an employment agency. That is a bit different.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness as I misunderstood what she said. I am glad that she has enlightened me on that subject. However, it seems to me that to be removed from the records of an employment agency could constitute an extraordinary disadvantage. I hope that that is not general practice among employment agencies.

I know that the Minister is fair minded and sympathetic and I know that she will do her best to meet our concerns within the constraints of her brief. I look forward to hearing her remarks. I am sure that she can do a great deal to assist progress in this area by her reaction to the speeches made in your Lordships' House today. I accept that the position as regards education is frustrating. The changes we would like to see have not been achieved. I often wonder whether teachers in schools should undertake sex education. In this regard, as with drug and alcohol problems, I believe it is better for all kinds of reasons to summon an expert from outside to offer advice on these matters. I know from my own three children who have been subjected to talks about alcohol, sex and other matters from their teachers, that they pay much more attention to people from outside the school who speak with a great deal of expertise on the subject. If we want to make strides forward in this regard we should stop teachers banging on about their own personal experiences. We can do that in your Lordships' House, but I suggest that teachers get on with their other work.

This has been an interesting debate and I hope that we shall make progress in this area. After all, there are some six or seven countries in Europe which have already recognised the need to legislate in this area. We cannot go on as we are. It would be the best possible help to encourage a better understanding among the public at large if the Government take a lead now and do not pay lip service to the lobbying, official or unofficial, of people whose attitude is only, I am afraid, ignorant and often vicious.

4.5 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, from these Benches we fully endorse the principle behind my noble friend's Bill which she has, in her usual way, outlined so clearly.

Whether the Bill would be introduced by a Labour government in precisely this form is uncertain. Should this Bill fail to be passed in both Houses, which at this stage of the parliamentary year is likely, the principle of making discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation an offence might well be incorporated by a future Labour government into a wider Bill on citizen's rights and duties.

However, raising a matter of public concern such as this in the form of a Private Member's Bill, even if it is unlikely to become legislation is, as noble Lords know, a legitimate and useful route to take. Opinion from all points of view can be voiced. We have already heard many opinions and views, perhaps rather more in favour of the Bill than I expected and rather fewer against it. However, it is a Friday afternoon. Nevertheless, if that is the case it shows that those who oppose the Bill are not taking the matter as seriously as they might.

We also hope that the Government's position can be heard as a result of this Private Member's Bill and subsequently critically examined. That is what we hope the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, who is to reply, will enable us to do.

As my noble friend said, quite apart from the overt statutory discrimination against homosexuals in the Armed Forces, which incidentally Judge Simon Brown recently said in the High Court cannot be retained for long against the tide of history, there is firm evidence of widespread discrimination at all levels and in many different occupations on grounds of sexual orientation. My noble friend outlined some of the evidence, both from the survey of 2,000 lesbians, gay men and bisexuals by the Stonewall group, and the study by Social and Community Planning Research.

An interesting finding of that independent study was that the more open people were about their sexuality the more discrimination they suffered. SCPR also surveyed 600 heterosexuals, as my noble friend mentioned. One in three of those said that they would be less likely to hire a gay or lesbian job applicant. However, two-thirds of the same group of heterosexuals said that they were in favour of legislation to prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Presumably those were the other two-thirds of the sample, but perhaps not necessarily.

There are no occupations which those with unconventional sexual preferences cannot do as well as those of a heterosexual inclination, from the most basic manual work to the most highly intellectual and creative careers and occupations. Of course I accept the caveat of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark that those who are known to seek sexual relationships with children are a different group and should be made an exception and should certainly not be employed in jobs in which they have responsibility for children. However, the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, made quite clear that that is a different group, which does not refer to the main body of people who have homosexual orientations.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, perhaps I may take the opportunity to say that when Hansard is published your Lordships will note that I did not imply that position either. I spoke about a sexual orientation, not a homosexual orientation. That attitude can be applied to heterosexuals, too. I intervene to make that position quite clear. I was grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow. But I certainly did not wish to convey that homosexuals automatically were involved in that kind of paedophilic activity. That is not the case.

Lord Rea

My Lords, I was about to say that the majority of people who commit sexual offences with children are heterosexual and not homosexual.

We are interested to hear what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark says. We shall be interested to hear what the noble Baroness says. The Government will probably say that education, persuasion and open discussion is the way forward. As we have all predicted what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, may say, perhaps we should not push the point until she so states.

However, there is no evidence that the Government have assisted in that aim, although, as the noble Viscount said, they have a rather softer position on the topic than in the days of Clause 28 of the Local Government Act 1988.

As in other areas of discrimination, we believe that legislation in some form, however regrettable, as my noble friend explained, is the only way to proceed. First, women (who represent the majority of the population) and men (who represent the other large minority of the population) have benefited by legislation prohibiting discrimination on the ground of gender. Ethnic minorities, representing about 5 per cent. of the population, also achieved anti-discrimination legislation. Now the disabled—possibly representing another 5 per cent. or more of the population; it depends on whether one takes the working population or the whole population as one's denominator—are beginning to have their case addressed.

It is time that those of unconventional sexual orientation who make a highly significant contribution to the whole of society, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, pointed out so ably, through their work, good humour, and creativity, should receive the justice that is due to them. I thoroughly support the Motion that the Bill be given a Second Reading.

4.13 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, this has been an interesting debate on the Bill introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and it has been valuable to listen to the views expressed. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the courteous way in which she introduced the debate, and indeed to everyone who has contributed to it. It was interesting that some noble Lords have spoken previously on the subject and I believe that they speak with knowledge.

There can be little doubt that society in general has adopted in recent years a more relaxed and tolerant attitude towards homosexuality. Acceptance of the Wolfenden Committee's recommendation which ultimately led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 was of great assistance in that respect. Although the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is not in his place, I was pleased to hear that he made his maiden speech on the subject.

But there are genuine differences of view on this difficult and sensitive subject. As examples, one need only recall the recent "outing" campaign against individuals in prominent positions and the debate which took place on Clause 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. I note the concern of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, over the whole of that period but I was pleased that he thought that the Government's attitude had softened since then. However, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Rea, did not quite agree.

The Government's position is clear. We oppose unjustified discrimination against any person on grounds of their sex, race, colour, ethnic origin or for any other reason, irrespective of where that discrimination occurs, be it in a work context or otherwise. Unjustified discrimination is offensive to decent people everywhere and it is to be condemned. Everyone is entitled to equal treatment and, at work, to be assessed on merit against objective criteria, not on the basis of prejudice and stereotyping. The Government's objective is to promote a fair and safe environment by making it clear that unjustified discrimination is morally unacceptable and economically inefficient. We will continue to propound that message.

The noble Baroness's speech may have left your Lordships with the impression that homosexuals do not have any employment rights. It may be helpful to remind the House that the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 offers a comprehensive set of individual employment rights, regardless of sexual orientation, including the right not to be unfairly dismissed and the right to a redundancy payment. Anyone who feels that their rights under this Act have been infringed can, subject to the two-year qualifying period, take their case to an industrial tribunal. That applies to all employees across the board. It is substantial protection. Compensation up to a maximum of £11,000 is available for those unfairly dismissed. The length of the qualifying period for these employment rights is a matter of judgment, but the Government believe that two years strikes the right balance between guaranteeing the necessary rights of employees over the burdens on businesses. Excessive regulation damages job competitiveness and growth in employment opportunities. In addition, the Sex Discrimination Act does not single out homosexuals as a group who are prohibited from bringing complaints. Complaints of sex discrimination can be made by any person.

Perhaps it would also be helpful to draw your Lordships' attention to the recently enacted Section 154 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which makes it a criminal offence to cause intentional harassment. That was specifically introduced to penalise those who cause others alarm or distress through using threatening, abusive or insulting words, behaviour or displays, in particular when the behaviour is persistent in nature. We see no reason in principle why anyone who suffers intentional harassment in any of those ways cannot bring themselves within the protection of Section 154. An offence of intentional harassment can attract a custodial sentence and/or a level 5 fine. Complaints are a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, but we hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, will recognise the potential value of this new offence. She mentioned a particular case of harassment, I believe it was the one in Yorkshire. It is possible that it could be covered by that provision.

The key question is how to promote the message that unjustified discrimination is unacceptable. The noble Baroness argues for the intervention of the law by extending the scope of the Sex Discrimination Act to cover discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and, in support, she cites evidence from Stonewall and one other research organisation. We have read the evidence, but are not persuaded by it.

Stonewall's questionnaire survey was particularly targeted at homosexuals. Fewer than 10 per cent. of the 20,000 people to whom those questionnaires were sent actually replied. Stonewall's report does not explain why so few replied, and while a 90 per cent. non-response rate does not necessarily invalidate their finding, nevertheless one would be entitled to treat them with some caution. It is certainly the case that if the response rate were only 10 per cent. for the Government's New Earnings or Labour Force Surveys, the results would not be published. A third of respondents knew or suspected that they had faced discrimination at work. More than half said that they had never been harassed, and less than a quarter said they had avoided certain jobs to avoid discrimination.

There is additional research by an organisation called Social and Community Planning Research. Its findings, drawn from in-depth research of 735 people, is that two-thirds of respondents thought that there should be laws to protect homosexuals but some respondents expressed moral objections to homosexuality and to the behaviour of some homosexuals in public places.

Both organisations believe that their findings provide evidence of the need for legislation. I acknowledge that there are some cases where the treatment received by some individuals left much to be desired in terms of good personnel practice, but I do not think the evidence leads to the conclusion that there is widespread discrimination on the scale necessary to justify primary legislation. Rather than making the case for a change in discrimination law, the results could be said to show that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation exists but is not the widespread problem that the noble Baroness suggests. In fact, one might conclude that the results highlight a diversity of opinion towards homosexuals.

The noble Baroness also invites the House to accept the proposition that specific legislation is necessary to protect the interests of this group who follow a particular sexual orientation and lifestyle. Were one to accept this principle, then one sends s signal to every group, however small and however narrow or partisan their cause, that they, too, could be candidates for specific legal protection. We urge your Lordships to reject that approach as neither practical nor sensible.

Even if the Government were to support this Bill—and I hope that I have made clear that the Government do not—I have to say that it is unacceptable purely on the method of its drafting. We believe that there is a fundamental flaw which no amount of amending could put right, even if noble Lords had the time to do so. Obviously I am most reluctant to criticise on grounds of style, as every draftsman has his own methods. I absolutely understand the reasons why it was thought desirable to keep this Bill short by incorporating references to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. However, what is really before the House is a cherry-picking pastiche of extracts from the 1975 Act, with words and phrases being amended here and there. It would be absolutely impossible for a layman to understand his rights under this Bill without reference to another lengthy Act, which would need to be edited to cover the matters to be provided for. In the case of employment legislation, as long ago as the Workmen's Compensation Act 1925, the philosophy was that an employee should understand his or her rights without the assistance of a lawyer.

The Bill is also defective in that it fails to define sexual orientation. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark that any definition would have to protect the interests of children. Rather than go down that path, we suggest for moral and business efficiency reasons it is more important to raise awareness of the unacceptability of unjustified discrimination. Wherever prejudice supplants common sense and good judgment, no one benefits. That is the message we must get across. All of us individually share a responsibility to treat others as we would wish to be treated and to speak out against discrimination wherever and whenever it appears. There has been a welcome rise in the level of tolerance towards homosexuals in the past 25 years. We need to build on that, but not by trying to make people think differently through force of law.

The noble Baroness suggests that in the Government's eyes homosexuals are somehow a less deserving group compared with women, ethnic minorities and disabled people because we are unwilling to legislate to protect them. That is not the case. The Government condemn all forms of harassment and unjustified discrimination in the workplace. They hope that neither prospective nor existing employees would be treated unfairly for reasons which have nothing to do with their competence to perform their work. The Government's aim, as I said, is to promote a fair and safe environment for work and to ensure equality of opportunity in the workplace. They also aim to impress upon employers the need to adopt employment practices which are non-discriminatory and flexible and which will be in their own and their employees' interests.

The noble Baroness, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, also mentioned a number of other countries where homosexuals have protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The noble Baroness's contention is that the UK is out of step with standards applied elsewhere and that as a result the United Kingdom is less civilised in its approach than our EU partners and the approach advocated by the European Commission. If I understand correctly, the argument is that standardisation of treatment between countries of different social backgrounds and traditions is a sensible policy objective.

The Government do not find that argument convincing. Just because people drive on the right on the Continent does not mean that United Kingdom drivers should do so here. We believe that we should respect one another's traditions and not necessarily follow them slavishly. If other countries wish to give homosexuals protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, that is their business. The Government believe that, subject only to our various international obligations, the United Kingdom should decide whether there should be legislation in this area. There is certainly no Community law about discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Even when Monsieur Jacques Delors was President of the Commission he said that the Community has no powers to intervene in respect of possible discrimination against sexual minorities.

I believe that today we have done justice to the debate on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The Government's position is that they deplore unjustified discrimination and will continue to send out the message that it is morally unacceptable, uneconomic and inefficient. There will be change in the way that homosexuals are treated only when each individual overcomes his or her prejudices and treats others with proper, due and correct respect. The Government take the view that specific legislation to outlaw such discrimination would not command the degree of public support that is necessary for it to be acceptable, given the wide difference of views held in society. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, will not agree with that view because he feels that legislation is necessary. But the Government do not.

Neither is legislation the most effective way to overcome entrenched prejudice. It amounts to a form of coercion to conform. It would add another piece of legislation to an already over-regulated society. The Government believe that the burden of proving the need for legislation rests on those making the case. Strong and compelling evidence is necessary to demonstrate that there is a substantial problem which has to be dealt with. We believe that that case has not been made. The Government prefer instead to persuade, by explaining that we all have a duty and a responsibility to examine our consciences and ensure that in our everyday dealings with one another we act fairly and put to one side the race, sex or sexual orientation of our fellow citizens. I can assure the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, that the Government will continue to encourage greater tolerance; but we do not believe that it would be right to legislate in that regard.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who contributed to this short debate this afternoon. It has been interesting and I am pleased that so many of the contributions were in support of legislation and of my Bill. Perhaps I can deal with one or two of the points raised.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark referred to paedophilia. Obviously we are all opposed to paedophilia. My information is that the term "sexual orientation" does not cover paedophilia. It was included in the Bill deliberately because it means protection for homosexuals and so forth. It is an appropriate term. It already appears in a number of equal opportunity agreements signed between unions and employers and everybody seems to understand it.

The Bill proposes a sensible approach. We are limiting it to employment because discrimination exists in employment. Though the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to the Stonewall evidence and was critical of it, there is other evidence from the SCPR and NACAB. When I was in communication with the Equal Opportunities Commission it said that it had been approached by people who believed that they were being discriminated against on grounds of their sexual orientation. It is therefore more widespread than the noble Baroness indicated.

I was grateful for the Minister's assurance that the Government believe in a policy of tolerance; they believe that discrimination cannot be condoned. Our differences are that we believe that there should be legislation and the Government do not. We believe that there is a case for legislation because discrimination is widespread and because it is not possible, unfortunately, to rely simply on persuasion.

As I said earlier, for a long while it was felt that the disabled could rely on persuasion, but it became clear over the years that some form of legislation was necessary. For many years there was extreme prejudice against women in employment. Arguments were advanced that we did not need legislation; that it would simply entrench prejudice and so forth. But we now know, because we have had equality legislation for well over 20 years, that that legislation was necessary. It had the effect of changing public perceptions as well as bringing about differences in treatment for women in the workplace, though everybody—particularly women—would probably agree that it has not gone far enough. Nevertheless, there has been a major change as a result of the legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, was not able to stay; he gave me a note of apology. His contribution was extremely entertaining. On the other hand, it seemed to rely on a kind of stereotyping which is not helpful in the present argument. I was assisted in the preparation of the Bill by Stonewall; I am a member of the Stonewall parliamentary group. It is a moderate Bill and not in line with the Peter Tatchell campaign for "outing" and so forth. It follows what I might call a moderate and mainstream attitude to the whole question. In fact, we felt that the Bill was so moderate that it would conceivably attract government support. But I gather that even if the Government supported the Bill, they do not think much of the drafting. All the more reason, I would have thought, to give the right of passage to Committee because, in Committee, amendments can be framed with a view to improving the wording of the Bill.

I wish to press the Motion today and ensure that the Bill has a Second Reading. I strongly hold to the view that legislation is necessary. I believe that the contributions to the debate in general supported that view and the view that discrimination must be dealt with and that this is the way to do it. I commend the Bill to the House.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, perhaps I may ask whether there is a quorum in the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before five o'clock.