The 19th and 20th sitting of the Equality Bill. Hurrah – the last chapter – at least of the Bill Committee.
The big issue of the morning session was my amendment – well new clause – which would insert an Equality Guarantee into the Bill. The problem with the Bill is that it is very prescriptive. The protection from discrimination is delivered to strands – otherwise known as ‘protected characteristics’. As have explained before – these are things like race, gender, sex, sexual orientation and so on. What the Bill doesn’t do is guarantee equality and protection from discrimination if you fall outside of the very precise prescriptions within the Bill. Hence the Equality and Human Rights Commission lobbied for the inclusion of an over-arching Equality Guarantee.
Both Labour and Tories just picked it to pieces in terms of the minutiae of relatively small technical matters or drafting – clever dick stuff – but ignoring the key point. And as I said in Committee – the Bill lacks any real vision for equality on the wider scale. It brings together existing legislation in one place and makes some progress in terms of equality but not much. An Equality Guarantee is very similar to the Human Rights Act in that it gives overarching protection against inalienable rights. But no – how dare I suggest that the legislation might not be perfect and there be any situation or unintended consequence that would allow a Law Lord ten years down the track to make a judicial decision that would undo all the good that was intended in this Bill.
But this is exactly what happened to the Disability Discrimination Act. I am referring to what is called the ‘Malcolm’ case. Without going into long explanations – the Disability Discrimination Act came into being to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. In the Malcolm case the Law Lords made a decision that totally undermined and screwed up the entire intention of that Act. It has taken three years to sort out – and thousands of people with disabilities were put at risk by the intention of the Bill not being clear. Hence an overarching Equality Guarantee would put it beyond doubt that we all have a right to equality before the law and equality in our lives and protection from discrimination. However, the Solicitor General was absolutely confident that we needn’t worry and that such a thing was so unlikely to happen that it would be ridiculous to put such a Guarantee into this Bill. And so on. And so on……………………….
Tim Boswell (Tory) tabled a similar thing – although not so broad and over-arching – but something called a ‘purpose clause’ which basically is a statement of the intention behind the Bill so that a judge, if something one day was unclear, could look at this ‘purpose clause’ and understand the intention of the Bill. Vera Baird was more polite to Tim than myself – but equally dismissed it.
In the afternoon and very last session of the Committee there was an amendment about not inquiring of applicants for jobs as to whether they had a disability. Not unlike my anonymous job applications in theory. Disability organisations have lobbied members of the committee because their experience is that employers do discriminate against applicants with a disability – whether or not that disability would detract from their ability to do the job.
Anyway – that was it. The tradition then is that all the leads of the parties thank everyone, clerks, officials, the committee, the other leads etc etc for a wonderful debate and so on. Vera Baird summed up on the key issues that the Government has promised to consider (change) and come back with hopefully their own amendments at Report Stage which will be in the autumn session.
Solicitor-General: However, I have agreed to consider five matters: whether to include various fire and rescue bodies in the socio-economic duty, as proposed by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green; the clarification, if necessary, of the asymmetric nature of disability protection in clause 13(3); the issue around the case of Malcolm and whether we need to make the protection in clause 14 clearer; the case for representative actions; and, very recently, whether to limit the use of pre-employment disability questionnaires. That is a little survey of the work that I still have to do before we gather again on Report. I will seriously consider all those proposals.
I reminded the Minster of the DWP work on anonymous job applications too! So – quite a lot of the arguments we have had in Committee have born fruit – but not nearly enough. So there will be lots to bring back at Report Stage. The issues that the Government needs to change their mind on are things like: the gender pay gap; the issue of discrimination in the caste system; harassment in terms of homophobic bullying not being protected in the clashes with religious freedoms; gender reassignment needing to become gender identity as reassignment has been used in previous terms to indicate sex change – and this needs to be much broader; anonymous job applications and lots lots more. Some exciting new issues to come in the autumn too – as Evan and I are bringing forward the issue of Royal Accession to the Throne – where we feel and have both campaigned on – the discrimination both in the bar against Catholic accession and the tradition of females dropping back in succession in favour of younger born males.
Way to go……………………