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Leisure Industry: Turban-wearing Sikhs

Volume 759: debated on Wednesday 25 February 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking with the leisure industry to support turban-wearing members of the Sikh community.

My Lords, the Sikh community is a vital part of our vibrant nation. The Government are committed to ensuring that people are protected against discrimination because of race or religion and we always seek to balance individual freedom with our responsibilities to keep citizens safe. Legislation is in place to allow for exemptions for turban wearers where appropriate and the Government expect businesses, including those in the leisure industry, to comply with the law.

I thank the Minister for her Answer. It is indeed good that the recent Deregulation Bill sought to deal with issues of turban-wearing Sikhs on building sites and in other workplaces, but it also threw up some anomalies. A turban-wearing Sikh may help to build a new sports facility and work in that new sports facility but may be barred from membership or sporting activities in that facility—sometimes just through ignorance. The Sikh Council reports inconsistencies across the country. There may be an Olympic talent out there in the turban-wearing Sikh community who is not able to get sports training, so will the Minister undertake to have discussions with the sports organisations, the EHRC and the Sikh Council to unlock and solve these issues?

The noble Baroness is quite right to point out these anomalies. Through Sport England the Government are investing just over £1 million in Sporting Equals over two years. Sporting Equals provides expertise in encouraging more black and minority ethnic people to play sport. It has produced fact sheets with issues relevant to particular cultures and religions, including Sikhism. Of course, the Sikh Council would be very welcome to speak to Sport England and the Secretary of State would be pleased to take part, too.

My Lords, I have played cricket and rugby to a respectable level without mishap. Will the Minister remind the leisure industry and assorted health-and-safety and conformity fanatics who argue that we cannot even change a light bulb without protective clothing that the Sikh turban is not cultural headgear but a religious requirement to remind us of a commitment to ethical living, gender equality and a respect for all faiths and beliefs?

Indeed, my Lords, there is a very rich and valuable tradition, culture and religious faith behind the turban. We are aware of that. The fact that the noble Lord has taken part in those sporting activities is evidence of the fact that the turban need not be a barrier to sporting prowess.

My Lords, my noble friend is aware that the Government have made legislative concessions in the past to make sure that the religious requirements of the Sikh community are met. The classic example is the wearing of crash helmets when riding a motorbike. If it is good enough for the Government, why is it not so for some of the leisure industry? Will the Minister meet the Sikh organisation in this country with people from the leisure industry to make sure that the matter is fully discussed and that concessions are made in that respect?

My noble friend has great expertise in these areas and he is quite right. The legislation is there and it is for individual organisations to ensure that they comply with it. Sometimes problems arise because quite small organisations—leisure centres and sports facilities—may be unaware or unwilling to take the risk of moving outside the very strict legislation, so getting messages to them will be a very important factor, as will meetings with the Sikh Council.

My Lords, the Minister should tell us why the Government have not taken any action to stop this discrimination. It is discrimination. Sikhs are allowed to ride motorbikes and work in industry with a turban. Sikhs have fought two British world wars wearing turbans, not helmets. This is nothing. The Government must take action and we would like to hear what action they are going to take.

My Lords, again, my noble friend speaks with great experience of this. There is legislation in place that discrimination cannot take place on spurious grounds, so it would be discrimination under the Equality Act if the provider of a leisure centre were to require a turban-wearing Sikh to wear a safety helmet when head protection is not justified. Of course, it is sometimes a matter of balance because there are some sports where head protection is required. It is for individual sports to take that decision, but they must not debar people from sports because they are wearing a turban; it has to be on other grounds.

My Lords, health and safety is one excuse being used to discriminate against Sikhs wearing turbans. Insurance is also being cited by some leisure facilities. Given that legislation is in place, is it not important that all the leisure industry starts to act within the law and that there is consistency throughout the industry? It is unacceptable that individuals should be turned away and deprived of the opportunity of using facilities.

I agree with my noble friend; that is absolutely the case. It is probably a matter for Sport England, possibly working through Sporting Equals, to ensure that the information is disseminated. I come back to the point that a lot of these sporting and leisure organisations are quite small and may not be fully informed of all the facts and figures. We need to get that information better disseminated.

Are the Government not being rather complacent about this? The Minister told us that anomalies arising from the passage of the Deregulation Bill will mean that turban-wearing Sikhs can be involved in the construction of a leisure facility, but acknowledged that those leisure organisations may none the less ban turban-wearing Sikhs from using those leisure facilities. Surely it is time that the Government did something. The Minister mentioned the fund used by Sport England. How much of that £1 million will be devoted to issues around turban-wearing Sikhs?

My Lords, I can only apologise if I gave the impression that leisure centres can ban turban-wearing Sikhs. I was trying very carefully to say that they could not. There may be some sports that require protective headgear. For instance, in competitive riding it would be important to wear protective headgear. The noble Lord said he played cricket. Many cricketers cover their head with a smaller version of the turban—a patka—and play with that. It is important to get the message through that there should be no barriers to people wearing turbans playing the sports that they wish.