Select Committee on Liaison First Report


Letter from Lord Lester of Herne Hill to the Chairman

My Equality Bill had its First Reading on Tuesday. The Second Reading debate has been arranged for Friday, 28th February.

The Bill results from several years of study, review and consultation under the auspices of the Centre for the Public Law at Cambridge University, led by Professor Bob Hepple QC and his team. It seeks to create a coherent and enduring framework for tackling unjustifiable discrimination, and promoting equality of opportunity in a way that is user friendly. I enclose a copy of the Bill and of the Explanatory Notes.

If the Bill is given a Second Reading I hope that it may be possible for it to be the subject of an enquiry by a Select Committee of the House to enable evidence to be taken from the various specialist bodies and interest groups.

Thirty years ago, a House Select Committee considered a private Member's Bill on sex discrimination. They heard a considerable amount of evidence on the extent and type of discrimination and produced special reports on proposed amendments and an analysis of the evidence they had taken (H.L. 81 and 104 of 1972-73). The work done by that Committee and by a Commons Committee was valuable in enabling the Government to develop policy on what became the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Subsequently, many Private Members' bills on various types of discrimination have been introduced in both Houses, but no bill has sought to tackle all the main grounds of discrimination in a single measure, and neither House has considered the issues in the round.

A Lords Committee would be able to address some of the matters addressed in the Bill that are of general interest and importance. For example, and these are only suggestions, they might take evidence and report upon the following issues: (a) whether British law should reach further than the EU equality directives which are to be implemented by subordinate legislation under the European Communities Act 1972, that is, beyond the field of employment; (b) the contexts in which it is legitimate to impose positive duties to promote equality of opportunity and treatment, (c) whether the grounds of discrimination should be closed or open-ended; (d) what the potential costs and benefits of equality legislation are to business and other; and, (e) what the potential advantages and disadvantages of employment and pay equity plans would be. On the other hand, it is doubtful whether it would be sensible for a Committee to consider whether there should be a single Equality Commission since this is already the subject of public consultation.

The great advantage of this approach would be that it would enable the subject-matter of the Bill to be investigated in the light of evidence and consultation. That would advance public understanding of the issues and assist future development of legislation in this area.

I should be grateful if my suggestion were considered by the Liaison Committee at the appropriate stage. If any further information is need I would of course be delighted to provide it.

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