Legislative Scrutiny: Equality Bill (second report); Digital Economy Bill - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents


In this Report, we return to two issues raised in our autumn 2009 report on the Equality Bill: employment by organisations based on religion or belief and school admissions.

Employment by organisations based on religion or belief

The Bill as introduced (and as passed the Commons) permitted a requirement to be of a particular sex, sexual orientation, marital or partnership status or not to be transsexual to be applied to employment for the purposes of an organised religion, but only if it could be shown to be a proportionate means of complying with the doctrines of the religion. The Bill also included a definition of what constituted employment for the purposes of an organised religion. Both of these qualifications have been removed in the House of Lords and the Government has stated that it will not try to restore them when the Bill returns to the Commons. The original wording of the Bill would have ensured that statute law accurately reflected case law, in the light of the Amicus judgment. The Lords amendments run the risk of generating uncertainty about the law and may mean that this provision does not comply with the relevant EU directive.

We also note further issues concerning the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and question why sections 58 and 60 of the former Act are exempted from the Equality Bill.

School admissions

We do not find persuasive the argument that it is necessary to allow faith schools to discriminate in their admissions on grounds of religion and belief in order to avoid a breach of the parents' rights under Article 2 Protocol 1 of the European Convention. Another argument is that discrimination is necessary in order to maintain the distinctiveness of religious schools and so maintain the plurality of provision which, it is argued, is required by both Article 9 and Article 2 Protocol 1. This argument is weakened by evidence which suggests, in relation to Church of England schools, that plurality of provision has been preserved even where those schools do not have faith-based admissions criteria. It carries more weight in relation to other faith schools, however. In consequence, the exemption permitting faith schools to discriminate in their admissions on grounds of religion or belief may be overdrawn in this Bill.

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