Current Affairs

Equality Bill to be debated today in House of Commons

Jessica Geen December 2, 2009
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The Equality Bill has reached the report stage and will be debated in parliament today.

This stage follows four weeks of debate by a committee and will allow the House of Commons to consider further amendments.

It has been carried over from the last parliamentary session. The third reading usually takes place immediately after the report stage.

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell accused the government of “cutting short the democratic process” by allowing only one day for the bill to be debated. He said that concerns about the bill could not be addressed.

But Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said: “It is incredibly rare that a bill is debated for more than one day at this stage. The civil partnerships bill was all done in a day.”

Tatchell, along with groups such as Schools Out and Liberal Democrat equalities spokeswoman Lynne Featherstone, have criticised the bill for a number of “grey areas”.

These relate to harassment protections for gay people, trans protections and whether the public sector equality duty applies to schools.

The government has said gay people are already protected from harassment due to direct discrimination laws and that there was a duty for schools to continue the existing ban on discrimination.

On trans protections, it said protection was available for people and school children who were proposing to undergo gender reassignment, or who are perceived as being trans. Trans campaigners have said this does not give enough protection to the many people who live as trans but are not receiving medical treatment.

As exclusively revealed last month, Stonewall are planning to get an amendment tabled which would allow civil partnerships to be held in religious buildings.

Summerskill said: “The amendment will be tabled in the House of Lords, which will happen at the very earliest next week. But our understanding is it is likely to happen in the very first week after Christmas.”

It is thought the amendment will be tabled by Lord Waheed Alli, who is gay. Stonewall expect cross-party support, citing the Liberal Democrats as possible allies, but have said the amendment may face resistance in the Lords.

The bill is designed to strengthen and harmonise existing equality protections.

It will extend protection against discrimination in employment, goods and services in respect of sexual orientation, trans status and age and will also place a duty on all public bodies to promote equality.

One controversial measure in the bill would involve auditing companies with over 250 employees to ensure women are being paid equally.

The Tories have said this is too drastic and should only apply to firms which have been found guilty of breaking equal pay laws.

Another measure proposed means that the final decision on awarding government contracts could be given to firms with the highest numbers of female or ethnic minority employees.

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