Reply to Jack Straw

270 days after the April Bomb, and after 1000 days of inaction by New Labour, OutRage! publishes a 10-point reply sent to the Home Secretary, demanding progress.

For the personal attention of:
The Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, MP,
Home Secretary.

The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP,
10, Downing Street.

The Rt. Hon. Dr. Mowlam, MP,
Minister for the Cabinet Office.

19th December, 1999.

Dear Mr. Straw,

Government Action for Freedom from Discrimination

Thank you for your informative letter dated the 22nd November in response to the OutRage! fax sent on the 21st July to the Prime Minister, (from whom we have had no direct reply).

I shall relate this reply to the numbered questions in our original enquiry.

1. Legislative reforms

What legislative reforms on gay issues is the Government currently prepared to support?

Your letter restates the Government’s commitment to equalising the age of consent and to the repeal of Section 28, (though with no indication of any timescale); and refers to the Home Office recommendations on Sex Offences to be published next year, (also with no indication of timescale for the enactment of legislation).

  1. Is this the full extent of the proposed reform?
  2. Can you indicate timescales for Sex Offences legislation?
  3. What plans does the Government have to end discrimination against homosexuals in asylum, employment, housing, insurance, partnership and pension law and practice?

2. Section 28

By what legislative mechanism and in what timescale does the Government expect to honour its pledge to repeal Section 28?

Your letter does not mention that the repeal is the subject of Section 68 of the Local Government Bill, (which has already received its second reading).

  1. Given the delays and constitutional problems which have beset the equalisation of the age of consent, why has the Government included the repeal of §28 in a Bill introduced in the Lords, (in the knowledge that this not only gives the Lords a veto but also precludes application of the Parliament Act to ensure that the will of the Commons prevails)?
  2. If, as seems quite likely, the Lords successfully oppose the repeal of §28, does the Government intend to reintroduce a repeal Bill in the Commons in 2001, (with the consequence that, if again opposed in the Lords, repeal of §28 could not then occur until 2002)?
  3. Can you and the Prime Minister give your firm assurance that §28 will be repealed no later than 2002?

3. Sex Education

What is the Government’s intention with regard to placing a legal obligation on schools to provide honest, nonjudgemental information about gay issues (including but not limited to gay sexuality and gay ‘safer sex’), rather than leaving these to the arbitrary whim of individual schools?

We fully agree with your assertion that sex education should be taught not in isolation, but integrated where relevant with the rest of the curriculum, (including PSHE, English, and History).

We will welcome receipt of the promised DfEE guidance document on bullying, (still awaited), and will study it with interest.

We are greatly disappointed, however, that the new PSHE guidelines, while obviously well-intentioned, surely pave the way to hell by being nonstatutory.

  1. We have a copy of the May-July document QCA/99/405, (Part 2 of which is a draft, nonstatutory framework for PSHE, which, despite repeated enumerations of acceptable diversity, avoids any mention of sexuality: e.g. for Key Stages 3 & 4, “national, regional, religious and ethnic identities within the UK and the need for mutual respect and understanding”). We should be grateful to receive a copy of the definitive document which –we assume from your letter– now exists.
  2. Is there any valid reason that it would not be possible to make these “guidelines” compulsory?
  3. Do you agree that making the “guidelines” compulsory would protect the interests of vulnerable lesbian and gay pupils, so that their needs would not be left to the discretion of individual schools and teachers?

4. Antigay violence

Why is the Government promoting antigay violence by avoiding equal action against it?

We note with interest your statement that courts can (optionally) pass higher sentences on perpetrators of homophobic attacks.

  1. Do you have any statistics which demonstrate the frequency with which the courts pass such higher sentences in practice?
  2. What research has the Home Office done on the issue of homophobic bias in the Criminal Justice System?
  3. Does the Government acknowledge that the problem of institutional homophobia is no different from that of institutional racism?
  4. Is the Government taking the same action to eradicate institutional homophobia from the court, prison and probation services as you mention for the police service?

5. Joined-up Government

Why is there no effective coordination between Government Departments at Ministerial level?

The opening paragraph of your letter states that we requested a coordinated Whitehall response. In fact we went further, lamenting that there had been no evidence of any coordination of policy between Government Departments on the removal of anti-L/G/B/T discrimination, and urging the appointment of a capable individual with sufficient “clout” to be effective. – This point was urged emphatically: yet your reply does not even allude to it.

  1. Do you and the Prime Minister agree that disparate policy on L/G/B/T issues between Government Departments is confusing for all?
  2. How do you propose to achieve effective coordination, if not as we suggested?

6. Delivering sensible, pragmatic, unembarrassed sex education

Can you confirm that Clare Short’s sound advice will be taken up by the Home Office and the DfEE, and be incorporated in future legislation?

Your mention of PSHE focuses on bullying, but carefully avoids discussing the content of sex education lessons.

  1. Will gay and lesbian sex be included on a par with heterosexual sex, and addressed in an honest, factual, nonjudgemental manner? This should include not only the biological mechanics, but also recognition of relationships, friendships, and family groupings. – I assume you are aware of the October ruling by the Law Lords (Fitzpatrick versus Sterling Housing Association) that gay relationships do constitute a family relationship.
  2. When will the Government act to ensure that HIV prevention in schools includes, as a mandatory requirement, information on safer sex for lesbian and gay pupils?

7. Representative Consultation

Could we please have your agreement that a broad cross-section of the L/G/B/T community will in future be included in all Government consultations on issues relating to sexuality and sexual equality?

We do not dispute your statement that the Home Office Sexual Offences Review currently in progress is “open and inclusive”. Our concern is generic, not confined to this one issue.

  1. Will you give your firm commitment that all future legislation affecting L/G/B/T issues will involve representative consultation with the L/G/B/T community at all stages, and not exclusive meetings with one privileged group to the exclusion of others?

8. Police Homophobia

Will you now bring forward legally obligatory regulations to root out homophobia in the police and other services, with the same vigour that racism is now to be eradicated?

We welcome your assurance of the Government’s desire to eradicate homophobia within the police, and the review of the selection process to remove discriminatory practices. We were particularly interested to learn of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 1999.

  1. Please could you send us a copy of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 1999?
  2. With regard to the equal opportunities policies which you state are now being pursued by the police, and given the fiasco of the European Court of Human Rights ruling in February 1998 that South West Trains were under no legal obligation to enforce their own policy of nondiscrimination: what guarantee is there that these policies will be implemented and enforceable?

9. West End Central / Ian Farmer / Bomb warning

No reassurance was obtained on specific issues regarding the police. … Your explanation on these three points would be appreciated.

Your letter omitted any reference to these items.

  1. What progress (if any) has been made in investigating the allegations of harassment and intimidation of lesbian and gay officers at Soho’s West End Central police station; and the arrest of Ian Farmer at London Pride (July 1998) and the subsequent mishandling of his complaint?
  2. Can you give your assurance that, in the event of any future threat (whether terrorist or other) to L/G/B/T citizens, appropriate public warnings will be given to the whole L/G/B/T community through the national media?

10. Action, not Words — Designated Minister for Gay Issues

We would urge you as a priority to address this disastrous deficiency by assigning responsibility to a competent, dynamic and committed individual, who is empowered to ‘kick ass’ and get things moving.

Your letter omitted any reference to this proposal: and our concern remains undiminished.

  1. If the electorate in New Zealand and Germany can vote transexual MP’s and mayors into office, the British Public can accept “out” gay ministers in the Cabinet, and the Government’s stated intention to abolish discrimination is genuine, what is the obstacle to appointing a coordinator to ensure that Government Departments progress consistently and uniformly towards this goal?

We should be most grateful to receive your point-by-point response to each specific question raised in this letter.

Thanking you in advance, I remain

Yours sincerely,

John Hunt.