Equality Bill

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Dr. Harris: I beg to move amendment 299, in clause 195, page 138, line 39, at end insert—
‘(ee) regulations under Clause 145 (power to specify public authorities) if they do anything other than add bodies to the list under Schedule 19’.
An affirmative resolution of both Houses is required if the list of public authorities is narrowed.
I do not know whether the Minister was tempted to deal with this amendment in the previous debate, but it is a simple request to the Government to ensure that any proposal by a future Government to remove a list of public authorities from the list of public authorities affected by the positive duty would require a debate in both Houses. Removing an organisation from such a list is different from merely adding new organisations, for example, as they are created.
I believe that there is precedent in other legislation for recognising the distinction between removing such an important obligation and adding another organisation to the list of organisations bound by that obligation. Will the Minister consider that point?
Mr. Boswell: I simply add that it would seem likely that such an organisation would be being removed in circumstances of some heat or controversy. Otherwise, how would the Government have got round to thinking of removing them? I think that that reinforces the point that the hon. Gentleman is making.
Dr. Harris: Indeed. On that basis, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
The Solicitor-General: Actually, we envisage using that power only when an organisation or authority does not exist. For instance, we had to replace the entry for the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority with an entry for the Greater London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. That is really all that we envisage the power being used for. It would clog up parliamentary time in a fairly unhelpful way to require affirmative procedure for that type of change.
Should a future Government seek to emasculate the public sector duty, by removing wholesale lots of bodies from schedule 19, people would then pray against the relevant regulations to prevent that from happening and expose the issue. Given the overall ambience in the Committee, it does not seem as if anybody will do that anyway.
Dr. Harris: I admire the Minister’s faith in future Governments. She said that the amendment is clearly not intended to apply to organisations that no longer exist. If that point needs to be pursued, their lordships are good at that, so when the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments gets going, it might wish to consider whether there is room for a narrower amendment to deal with the mischief—although it might never occur—of the wholesale removal of an existing authority. Clearly, the negative procedure exists and one could pray against, but that is not the same as draft regulations having to be affirmed—otherwise, we would not have that procedure. However, given what she has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 195, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 196 to 198 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedules 26 and 27 agreed to.

Clause 199

General interpretation
Amendments made: 89, in clause 199, page 141, line 43, after ‘“Employer”,’, insert ‘“deferred member”,’.
See explanatory statement for amendment 65.
Amendment 90, in clause 199, page 142, line 2, at end insert—
‘( ) Nothing in section 26, 30, 79, 85, 90 or 95 is to be regarded as an express exception.’. (The Solicitor-General.)
This amendment would clarify that a provision specifying when a particular Part of the Bill, or Chapter of a Part, does or does not apply is not to be regarded as an express exception.
Clause 199, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 200 and 201 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 28 agreed to.
Clause 202 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 203

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Harper: I shall be brief and not trouble the Committee too much. We have already had some debate on commencement and on when various provisions will come into force, but I thought that it might be helpful if the Minister gave the Committee a little more information. We have already discussed the age provisions, and she has made it clear that those will not come into force until the regulations with the exceptions are in place. What is the Government’s current thinking on the rest of the Bill, and is there an indicative timetable for that?
With regard to tying things together, we have just discussed clause 95, and new clause 26, which looked at the importance of guidance. It was clear in that discussion that much of the business concern will be assuaged if there is clear guidance. I seek the Minister’s understanding on when the EHRC will start its work on producing guidance, how long that process is likely to take and whether the commencement of various provisions in the Bill will effectively be tied to that guidance. It will not be helpful if clear guidance is not available when some of the provisions come into force, particularly where there are changes or extensions. I just wonder what the Government’s thinking is on that, as that would give the Committee an idea about those plans.
The Solicitor-General: We expect most of the Bill to come into force in autumn 2010. That is the earliest realistic commencement date after it is given Royal Assent. The socio-economic duty on public bodies and the public sector equality duty are likely to come into force in 2011. We have already dealt with the age discrimination provisions.
We certainly hope and expect, and will probably have to demand, that the appropriate guidance is delivered by the commission in time for people to be guided on the impact of the Bill, particularly its new aspects. A lot of the law on equalities has, of course, not changed. I am told that the aim is to publish the guidance three months before commencement. That would be excellent; there is a lot of guidance to be put together. That is the aim, and let us encourage it.
Mr. Harper: I just wish to pick up on one thing. Part of the benefit is to enable businesses and other organisations to have that clear guidance. Given, therefore, that one of the objectives of the Bill was to simplify matters and make them more straightforward, I suggest that where provisions are effectively just being carried across and there is no change in the law, getting the guidance in place first would help. It is the ability to produce more straightforward and clear guidance across the whole range of protected characteristics that will deliver the real benefit of the Bill, both to those protected by it and those organisations that have to implement it.
The Solicitor-General: I can see that that is right, and we will encourage the EHRC’s aim to publish the guidance three months before commencement.
I do not know whether I need to mention that there is an oddity about schedule 20, which concerns the enthralling topic of rail vehicle accessibility that we discussed this morning. In fact, on Royal Assent, clause 179(2) will enable schedule 20 on that topic to be repealed at the end of 2010, if it is not brought into force before that date. That sunset clause is there because of the Department for Transport’s ongoing public consultation on the reappraisal of the unimplemented compliance provisions of the DDA 2005, from which schedule 20 comes. Following consideration of the consultation responses, it might be decided not to implement schedule 20, any more than the DDA provisions of relevance here have been implemented. That is just an extra complexity, but I thought that I would mention it because someone might spot it later.
Clause 203 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 204 and 205 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Lyn Brown.)
3.43 pm
Adjourned till Tuesday 7 July at half-past Ten o’clock.
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