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I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for his clarification. The philosophical argument will continue. There is an irresistible force/immovable object struggle going on at the moment. On the one hand, there is the proper desire to remove and outlaw all forms of discrimination. On the other hand, there is a very important question about understanding sex and gender in the community as a whole. It seems to me that, pace what the noble Lord said, this is a question not just of doctrine and liturgy but of pastoral care. As someone who has been involved in the pastoral care and, indeed, the defence of employment rights of church employees who have been in this situation, I know a certain amount about this issue. It seems to me that there are big questions about how we understand what it means to be a human being and the role of gender, and I do not think that we are quite at the end of that discussion yet.

I am more than happy, with permission, to withdraw the amendment at the moment but I am sure that I shall want to consult my colleagues and we may come back to this issue.

Amendment 10 withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed.

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Clause 8 : Marriage and civil partnership

Amendment 11

Moved by Baroness Coussins

11: Clause 8, page 5, line 27, leave out "marriage" and insert "marital status"

Baroness Coussins: My Lords, all the amendments in my name in this group are on the same small and specific point. They seek to extend the protection for married people and civil partners to single, widowed or divorced people who may experience discrimination on grounds of their marital status, and they apply only where the discrimination is in the field of employment.

I am a strong supporter of the Bill. I want to see it further improved and on the statute book as soon as possible. I am very sorry that I was unable to be present at Second Reading to flag up my concerns on this point but I believe that my amendments are simple and straightforward. They are, I believe, entirely compatible with both the strategy and the spirit of the Bill, and I do not believe that any undue delay would result if the Government were to take them on board.

The intention of the Bill is to harmonise protection and, where appropriate, to strengthen and extend protection in certain circumstances. My amendments would do exactly that by remedying one of the defects in the original Sex Discrimination Act 1975. The amendments are supported by Liberty and, in principle, by the Discrimination Law Association.

As it stands, the Bill continues the status quo and makes it unlawful to discriminate in the field of employment against married people because they are married. The Bill also, rightly in my view, extends this protection to those in a civil partnership. I cannot see any good reason why it is-and without my amendments would remain-lawful for employers or prospective employers to discriminate against single people on grounds of their marital status. For example, it is, and would remain, lawful for an employer to offer relocation expenses only to married employees, to turn down a divorced person for a job simply because he or she is divorced, or to say that single employees are not entitled to the same compassionate leave as married employees. There were many cases just like these when the Sex Discrimination Act first came into force. However, I do not have a long list of current cases and examples to quote.

I do not claim for a moment that this is the type of discrimination which is most often experienced or most contentious, or which causes the most hardship or makes the most headlines, but in my opinion this should not mean that the basic principles are discarded. After all, these days marriage discrimination is not exactly rife either.

When the Government consulted on what the Bill should contain, they canvassed views on whether the protection for married people should be dropped from discrimination law altogether on the grounds that it did not really exist any more. If we were having this debate several decades ago, we would be looking at a situation in which women would automatically lose their jobs as nurses, teachers or civil servants the

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minute they got married, but that is a thing of the past. However, my understanding is that the responses to the consultation were divided as to whether it would now be right to ditch the protection for married people, so the Government decided to keep it in just in case its absence sent out the wrong signal and perhaps had the unintended consequence of reviving this undesirable behaviour.

My argument is simply that, if there is a case for preserving the protection for married people on a just-in-case basis, it must surely follow that, even if wider forms of marital status discrimination are not common, people should still have equal principled protection under the law just in case.

I have not been overambitious in my amendments. I have confined them to the employment provisions of the Bill in order to be as pragmatic as possible. In principle, of course, I should have liked to see marital status discrimination also outlawed in the areas of goods, facilities and services for married and single people alike. It is still lawful, for example, for a landlord to refuse a tenancy to a single parent because of her marital status, but in the interests of expediency I have limited myself just to the provisions where married people already have protection but single people do not. That is just in employment.

9.45 pm

I have also tried to make the terminology as helpful as possible by using "unmarried" rather than "single" in my amendments to avoid any possible ambiguity over "single" when it refers to number rather than status. In case noble Lords might be concerned that protecting unmarried, widowed or divorced people from discrimination would open the floodgates to unintended consequences for the tax, pensions or benefits systems, I emphasise that we are talking only about the way in which employers treat their existing or prospective employees, and no wider. These amendments are no Trojan horse.

Many employers in all sectors have detailed written policies on equal opportunities and non-discrimination. They list all the grounds on which they will not discriminate, such as race, sex, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity and so on. The list invariably includes "marital status", not "marriage". I decided to do a quick spot check of the policy statements of three random employers in the private, voluntary and public sectors. In the private sector, I checked Marks & Spencer, whose policy uses "marital" or "civil partner status". In the voluntary sector, Oxfam uses "marital or family status". In the public sector, I looked at the policy that governs the employment of people who work here in your Lordships' House, or indeed anywhere in Parliament and the Civil Service. Yes, the phrase used is "marital status", not marriage and not just for married people, but fair, non-discriminatory treatment for everyone whatever their marital status.

Why should the law lag behind common practice, indeed best practice? How can we be content with terms and conditions for people working in the service of this House to be one thing but legislate for inferior standards for everybody else? The amendments are not anti-marriage; they are pro-consistency. They are

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reasonable, small and logical. I dare say that the drafting could be improved. The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, who kindly added her name to the amendments in support, unfortunately could not be here today. Several other noble Lords have approached me to signal their support but they could not attend or stay here tonight.

I appeal to the Government to think again about making this small adjustment which would send out a signal about a big principle. I beg to move.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, given that this is the first time I have spoken in Committee and the wide-ranging nature of the Bill, I declare my interest as set out in the Register of Lords' Interests.

The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, raises some interesting points. The amendments would make an important change to the Bill and I very much look forward to listening to the Government's response.

We tabled Amendment 55 to seek clarification on an important issue. I will, however, given the hour and my voice, be brief. My right honourable friend David Cameron has repeatedly made it clear that we on these Benches are committed to recognising marriage and civil partnerships in the tax system in the next Parliament. Support for marriage and civil partnerships does not in any way suggest criticism for those in other relationships, nor does it suggest a criticism of single parents. I am on record in your Lordships' House as paying tribute to the heroic job they do, often through no choice of their own.

However, we believe that recognising marriage in the tax system would send out a strong signal and would help to support stable relationships. This is particularly important as the evidence available demonstrates that a stable couple relationship is beneficial for a child's development. Moreover, the UK is actually unusual for not recognising marriage in the tax system at the moment. Mexico and Turkey are currently the only other OECD countries which do not.

Noble Lords will be aware that of course there are lots of different ways of recognising marriage in the tax system. We have not set out our specifics partly because they would depend on what was affordable at the time. However, should there be a change of government in the next Parliament, we on these Benches would want to enact this policy. I would therefore be most grateful if the Minister could confirm that there would be no provisions in the Act that would prevent that happening.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I very much support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Coussins. Indeed, I thought that I had put my name down in support of it. Having listened to what she had to say, and having taken my mind back to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, I can say that she makes a very good case indeed, particularly her comments on the goods, facilities and services areas. I support what has been said about all the other amendments and hope that the Minister will be able to agree with them. I see no reason why the change cannot be made, because it carries exactly the same strength of feeling as the other amendments we debated earlier today and on which we await a reply.

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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I shall be brief. I personally support the amendment, provided that it is confined to employment. Treating someone in employment less favourably because they are widowed, divorced or unmarried seems to me to be as unfair as doing so because they are married or a woman.

We had all this out more than 30 years ago when we were considering the original Sex Discrimination Bill. Reluctantly, we then came to the conclusion that we would not make the change. The problem about doing so is political-that the right honourable William Hague and the Conservative Party have decided to pin their colours to marriage to the exclusion of non-marriage. Many of the right reverend Prelates may also feel that they have to defend marriage as an institution. I am in favour of marriage and defend it as an institution, but I introduced a cohabitation Bill last year to give some protection to those who are not married-unmarried, widowed, divorced and so on.

The one very good reason to be in favour of the amendment which has not so far been mentioned is children. The fact is that if employment discrimination is permitted against single parents, whether they are unmarried, widowed or divorced, the people who really suffer in the end are the children. The major social problem of children living with a single parent, or with an unmarried non-civil partner, is a very serious social problem for which we all pay as taxpayers. It leads ultimately to going on social security and so forth. Therefore, there are compelling arguments in favour of the amendment. The main argument against it is that, if it is taken seriously, it will probably lead to hours of debate subsequently. If that were so, I would not be in favour. However, personally, I strongly favour the idea behind the amendment, provided that it is confined to employment.

Finally, there is one problem and I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, has thought about it. It is that you do not want to pit married women against single women; married women against widows; or married women against divorced women. The problem about the concept of indirect discrimination is that you have to work out which group you are talking about. If you are talking about, say, single women, you have to ask whether it is right that they should be treated better or worse than married women. This is a mistake that we made in the original Sex Discrimination Bill without thinking about it, by including marriage discrimination in the first place. No one has noticed it for the past 30 years, but it is true that there are some situations in which married women might seek to have greater rights than single women. That may be an argument for not extending this to indirect discrimination, but it is not an argument for not extending it to direct discrimination.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, Amendments 11 to 15 would add marital status, including those who are unmarried, widowed or divorced, to the list of characteristics protected by the Bill. Amendments 25, 16, 39 and 46 to 48 are consequential to that. That would extend the protection offered by the protected characteristic of marriage and civil partnerships. Although I understand that the amendments are certainly not a

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Trojan horse and I recognise the careful drafting of the noble Baroness, we do not consider that such an expansion of protection is warranted.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide protection against discrimination where such discrimination exists and legal protection is necessary. If we were to extend the protection of the Bill to characteristics where there is no evidence that people encounter harmful discrimination, it would dilute the force of discrimination law. We would consider adding further characteristics to the scope of protection under the Bill if this were a proportionate response to a real problem experienced by individuals who share a particular characteristic. We have not been provided with any evidence of such problems being faced by those who cohabit or who are single.

I heard the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, and her account of her swift research, and I heard the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. However, as the noble Baroness pointed out, as part of the Discrimination Law Review, the Government consulted on whether to remove the existing marriage and civil partnership protection. We listened to the responses and considered them very carefully, as they were almost equal on whether to remove the protection or not, but some of the replies indicated that there were still instances of discrimination on this basis, mainly when an employer attempts to prevent a married couple from working together. However, there was no such evidence of any discrimination against people in other forms of marital status, including widows, widowers and divorcees.

The issue of equalising the rights and responsibilities of people who are married or in a civil partnership with those who are not is one which goes to the heart of the status in society of the institutions of marriage and civil partnership. This is not an issue that the Government are seeking to address in the Bill. For these reasons, the Equality Bill will continue to provide protection only for married and civil partners. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 55 is a clarificatory amendment to make clear that any benefits dependent on marriage or civil partnership are not discriminatory. I am glad that the noble Baroness has a clear statement of her party's policy on this matter. A week is a long time in politics, one might say. We do not consider the amendment to be necessary. The Equalities Bill prohibits discrimination against someone on the grounds of their married or civil partnership status. We believe that it is confusing to suggest, even for the avoidance of doubt, that anything done in the tax system to favour spouses or civil partners could be discrimination under the Bill, which explicitly protects marriage or civil partnership status. On the other side of the coin, treating married or civil partnership couples more favourably might be said to discriminate against an unmarried person, but as noted earlier, being unmarried is not a characteristic protected by the Bill. Therefore, it is impossible that recognising marriage in the tax system could be discrimination against an unmarried person under a provision of the Bill.

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More fundamentally, revenue collection is a public function, and we have not made discrimination in the exercise of public functions on the grounds of marriage or partnership unlawful. Finally, there are cases where being married or in a civil partnership is already recognised in the tax system, in inheritance tax, capital gains tax and for those who remain entitled to the married couples allowance. Nothing in the Bill prevents that. Consequently, we believe that the provision would have no effect. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: Has the noble Baroness any comment on the equal opportunities policy in relation to employment in this House and in the Civil Service, in Oxfam and in Marks & Spencer?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I listened with interest to those comments. It would seem that those are excellent employers and there is no reason why other employers should not follow suit. For the purposes of the Bill, however, we are content with it as it stands.

Baroness Coussins: I thank the Minister for her response and other noble Lords who have spoken. Clearly I am disappointed with the response; I do not

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share the Minister's view on this point, and I do not think that the Government's consultation exercise, as I understand it, explicitly sought views on marital status discrimination, only on the protection of married people. So I am not surprised if not much evidence was forthcoming to suggest that such protection was needed in the Bill. Although I am disappointed and do not accept the Government's view, I do not want to hold up the Bill's progress. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 11 withdrawn.

Amendments 12 to 15 not moved.

Clause 8 agreed.

Clause 9 : Race

Amendment 16 not moved.

Clause 9 agreed.

Amendments 17 to 19 not moved.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.02 pm.

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