The Equality Bill passed its second reading in parliament yesterday despite concerns it may burden businesses at a time of financial pressure.
Leader of the House of Commons and Minister for Equality, Harriet Harman said public bodies must “lead the way” in abolishing discrimination, adding the Bill would make Britain “fairer and more prosperous”.
She said: “When times are hard it’s even more important that everyone feels that they have an equal chance, that we all pull together because we are in the same boat.”
Conservative shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May described the Bill as “an enormous missed opportunity”, criticising many of the recommendations for being “unworkable and bureaucratic”.
She said its good intentions had been “muddled by ill-thought-out and, frankly, unworkable proposals”.
She added: “Equality is not something just for the good times. But the government has shown a complete lack of awareness of these changes of conditions.
“I do believe there are ways that we can champion fairness without penalising employers.
“People’s lives will not be changed by the provisions in this Bill but minsters will no doubt feel that they have fulfilled their obligations.”
A Conservative motion rejecting the Bill was defeated by 322 votes to 139. The Bill will now be considered in more detail by a parliamentary committee.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans group LGBT Labour attacked the Conservative Party over the amendment.
Society co-chair Katie Hanson said: “David Cameron and his Tories voting against the Equality Bill shows yet again that actions speak louder than words.
“It is shocking to see them pander to the right on the Equality Bill. They keep saying they’ve changed – this vote reminds us clearly they have not.
“The Equality Bill was welcomed by business leaders for simplifying current equality legislation while doing more to protect LGBT people from discrimination. Yet David Cameron has opposed it.”
The Bill contains a raft of measures aimed at tackling social inequality, such as forcing employers to reveal how much staff are paid.
It will extend protection against discrimination in employment, goods and services in respect of sexual orientation, trans status and age.
It will also place a duty on all public bodies to promote equality.
Many protections which already apply on the basis of sexual orientation will be extended to cover discrimination due to trans status.