British Equality Bill: Update on Legislative Developments

In the United Kingdom, a Parliamentary Public Bill Committee has begun the process of scrutinizing the Equality Bill which was published on 24 April 2009. The Equality Bill seeks to simplify the law which, over the last four decades, has become complex and difficult to navigate, by replacing nine different acts and 100 other measures in a single act. 

Aside from unifying existing legislation, the Bill, introduced by Minister for Women and Equality, Harriet Harman, contains a number of progressive measures, including:
• Socio-economic duty: a duty on public bodies to consider what action can be taken to reduce socio-economic inequality;
• Gender pay gap reporting: a Minister may, by regulations, require employers with more than 250 employees to report on the pay gap between men and women;
• Age discrimination ban: a ban on all forms of age discrimination, extending the ban from discrimination in employment to cover the receipt of goods and services;
 Positive action: a provision allowing employers to take positive action to increase opportunities for those from under-represented groups.

The Bill Committee’s work began with two evidence sessions on 2 and 9 June.  The cross-party Committee will now scrutinise the whole Bill before making recommendations and proposing amendments to the House of Commons at Report Stage.  The Bill will then proceed to Third Reading in the Commons before progressing for consideration in the House of Lords, expected sometime in the autumn.

Since the publication of the Equality Bill, ERT has been working towards securing improvements and amendments which would make the final legislation more comprehensive, progressive and consistent. Throughout this work ERT has been guided by the Declaration of Principles on Equality (the Declaration).   

The Equal Rights Trust response to call for written evidence

On 19 May 2009, ERT responded to the Bill Committee’s request for evidence by welcoming the Bill’s attempt to establish comprehensive legislation and address some inconsistencies, but drawing attention to some key gaps and inconsistencies in the legislation. ERT, drawing on the Declaration, focussed on three areas which were viewed to be of primary importance:

1. Unprotected grounds: As it stands under clause 4 of the Bill, protection from discrimination only applies to age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. ERT expressed concern about the failure to protect people who are discriminated against because of characteristics other than those listed in the Bill. In accordance with Principle 5 of the Declaration, ERT proposed the adoption of a ‘test-based approach’ to permit courts to safeguard new protected characteristics.
2. Multiple discrimination: The failure to protect people who face discrimination because of more than one characteristic from indirect discrimination and harassment. ERT said that the failure to protect against these harms represented a ‘missed opportunity’, something which was taken up in its response to the government consultation on multiple discrimination.
3. Positive action: The decision to make positive action permissible. ERT proposed that positive action where necessary to address past disadvantage should be required and made a duty on employers.

Equal Rights Trust response to multiple discrimination consultation

ERT also responded to the government consultation on Multiple Discrimination, calling on the government not to limit protection to cases involving only two grounds, saying that fears of undue burden on employers were unfounded given the current duties under British law.  ERT also called for the provisions to be extended to include protection from indirect discrimination and harassment, citing the number of cases already brought under British law which had involved these types of discrimination.

To read the Equality Bill, click here.

To read ERT’s full submission to the Bill Committee, click here.

To read ERT’s full response to the Multiple Discrimination consultation, click here.

To VOTE FOR EQUALITY and sign the Declaration of Principles on Equality, click here