Equality Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 9th November 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour 5:00 pm, 9th November 2005

My Lords, I have put my name to this group of amendments mainly because, during the passage of this Bill, I have spoken from time to time about harassment. It is repugnant to most people that anyone should be authorised in any way to harass anyone else. But I come to this issue from a different angle from that voiced by noble Lords on the other side of the Chamber. I come at it from the standpoint of someone who is secular and a member of the Humanist Association. I do so because, while I support wholeheartedly the right of religious people to practise their religion and to proselytise, I do not believe that they have a right to enforce their beliefs on people who do not share them. Neither do they have a right to impose their way of life on people who do not share their beliefs.

As the Bill stands, in certain aspects, it could have that effect. Certainly, the Humanist Association thinks that it could, and it is particularly concerned about the effect of Clause 50(3). It says that it understands that the subsection is intended to protect the religious character of faith schools from complaints by parents of other religions or of none. Nevertheless, the wording will exempt not only legitimate religious activities of faith schools but the type of conduct by teachers towards pupils that could involve mocking or condemning their conscientious beliefs because such pupils do not share the school's beliefs. The association believes that the rights of the school must be balanced against the rights of the child.

I share that view, which is different from that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. I put my name to the amendments because I want to protect the right of those who do not have religion not to be harassed.