MPs duty under the Equality Act 2010
Last week I asked during Parliamentary business questions if we could have a statement on MPs’ duty under the Equality Act 2010. I asked this because I have become concerned about recent, potentially discriminatory statements made in the House of Commons.
All public bodies, like the NHS and Local Councils, have a duty under the Equality Act to be inclusive and non-discriminatory and this applies to Ministers and Government Departments, too.
Recently, the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, whilst trying to defend her Government’s totally unnecessary forced academisation of schools, angrily accused us, the opposition, saying “I think they are deaf!” because we failed to be persuaded by her unconvincing arguments.
At the time I was concerned by her use of deafness as an insult – not at all in keeping with her duties under the Equality Act and particularly inappropriate given her other role as Minister for Women & Equalities.
But what finally moved me to speak out was the Prime Minister, no less, when he unleashed his inner Alf Garnett at Prime Minister’s Questions with a reference to “Poncey, foreign-sounding” pronunciation. A constituent asked me if I could check whether the Prime Minister was making an accusation of either being effeminate or a pimp?
The publication “Gay Times” questioned the use of the word “Poncey” as homophobic and inevitably, the outburst developed its ownTwitter hashtag of #poncegate.
I was aware that I would be accused of “Political correctness gone mad” when I asked the question but I believe that the more important point I was trying to make outweighed any personal criticism that I might receive. That important point was the need for all MPs to have a clear statement on our duties under the Equality Act and to strive to be non-discriminatory in all areas including in the language that we use.
However, all this was rather lost on the Leader of the House, Chris Grayling, who furiously defended the Prime Minister, saying he could not be homophobic because he had defended gay marriage. Fair enough, but that wasn’t an answer to the question I was asking.
I believe that as MPs, we have a duty to at least try to be inclusive, to not deliberately give offence, and to ensure that the language that we use is non-discriminatory. Additionally, is it too much to expect that our Prime Minister and members of his Cabinet might be more measured and dignified in their responses?