Schedule 12

Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 7:45 pm on 23rd June 2009.

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Further and higher education exceptions

Question proposed, That the schedule be the Twelfth schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I rise to raise one point about the schedule, which is listed on the amendment paper as amendment 270. Amendment 270 has been starred and has not been selected. It seeks to insert—

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman cannot debate a non-starred amendment.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

On a point of order, Lady Winterton. I am quite happy not to refer to the amendment, but I want to raise the point that I wanted to make as I would have raised it anyway in the schedule stand part debate. What I was seeking to do by tabling the amendment was to raise the fact that I wanted to ask a question about the schedule. I do not see how I can raise a question about the schedule if I cannot raise it in the schedule stand part debate. If you do not want me to refer to the amendment paper today, I am more than happy not to refer to it.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

The hon. Gentleman can speak on the schedule as long as he does not refer to amendment 270 in any way.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

In schedule 12, there is a provision on page 202 that I would like to draw to the attention of the Committee. I believe that there has been a serious omission in relation to the provision of further education. Previous legislation was always very clear that the words “only in so far as it was necessary” existed in the equivalent of paragraph 5(1)(b) of schedule 12 to this Bill. After the words “it does so” in paragraph 5(1)(b) of schedule 12, the words “in so far as it was necessary” would have been included, before the words

“to preserve the institution’s religious ethos”.

In brief, therefore, the absence of those words—“in so far as it was necessary”—seems to amount to a widening of the exemption here and it is not clear whether that was ever presaged in any consultation and it is also not clear what the original intention of paragraph 5(1)(b) of schedule 12 was. I think that the statutory instrument concerned was No. 437, which provided regulation 21b in the old formulation, and was disapplied,

“in so far as it is necessary for an institution to give preference in its admissions to persons of a particular religion or belief in order to preserve that institution’s religious ethos.”

I understood that to mean that there must be a necessary causal link between preferential admissions and preservation of ethos. The words from SI No. 437 are just not there now in schedule 12 and therefore there is a significant reduction in protection for people who may now be discriminated against.

I could give background information about Roman Catholic colleges, but I do not think that I need to as I think that I have made my point. I have made it to give the Minister an opportunity to say whether she thinks that there has been a lessening of the protection and, if so, what the justification for that is. If she does not think that the protection will be lessened, I would be grateful if she could clarify why not, given the significant change between the version of the provision in the schedule and the one in previous regulation.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office 8:00 pm, 23rd June 2009

We have returned to the 2003 regulations; there is no change from those. Preference may be given to a child of the same faith in order

“to preserve the institution’s religious ethos”.

The test is objective, not subjective. There is a clear causal link between giving preference to a child and the preservation of the school’s religious character. There is no lessening of the protection.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 12 accordingly agreed to.

Clause 90 ordered to stand part of the Bill.