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Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, the need for stronger, clearer, more comprehensive and more easily enforceable equality legislation is pressing. Without it, we cannot address the equality gaps that hold so many people back. I warmly welcome this Bill. I think it could genuinely transform opportunities over time. I look forward to working with Ministers-very speedily-and noble Lords to ensure we end up with a new legal framework that delivers better outcomes for all protected groups.
There are several measures in the Bill that I particularly welcome. My top three are probably using public procurement to drive forward equality as part of the new single equality duty, the provision for regulations extending protection against discrimination in access to goods and services and the inclusion of protection against discrimination by association and perception.
Disabled people often experience multiple forms of oppression and disadvantage. I know that sometimes I am not sure whether I am discriminated against because I am a woman or because I am a disabled person. Many others struggle against other forms of disadvantage arising from ageism, racism, sexism and heterosexism, so I am also pleased to see recognition of multiple discrimination in this Bill, even if it probably does not go quite as far as I would like. At the moment, it involves just two dimensions.
I am very much in favour of an integrated approach to equalities. After all, it is why I joined the first board of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Realising the vision of an integrated commission has proved an uphill struggle. We now need to replace the myriad of legislation, addressing different forms of discrimination -an even more complex task than putting together the commission, so it will not be easy. Nevertheless, great progress has been made on this front during proceedings in another place, but we still have some way to go with respect to the protection afforded disabled people, and it is now that I will turn to review these little conundrums that need to be sorted.
As the Bill passes through its various stages in the House, I hope that noble Lords will share my desire to ensure that the effective gains secured in the Disability Discrimination Act in the 1990s are not lost in translation in the Equality Bill. My major concern is that this may be the case with the public sector duty to promote
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The current disability equality duty is clear and much more directional. It says that public bodies must meet disabled people's different needs even where this involves more favourable treatment. Only by restoring this fundamental provision can we be assured that disability equality is safe within a single duty. Many public sector organisations have said how useful this format has been when drawing up their disability equality schemes, and that it has been the reason for their successful implementation. I am pleased to note that the Joint Committee on Human Rights is in full agreement on that point. Let us not reel back on this in this Bill.
I must also sound the alarm on provisions in the Bill on reasonable adjustments for disabled people. The DDA is absolutely clear that it is unlawful for a service provider to charge a disabled person for making a reasonable adjustment. The classic case that noble Lords will remember is that of Bob Ross v Ryanair, a case that the Disability Rights Commission supported back in 2004. Ryanair tried to charge Mr. Ross £18 for use of a wheelchair to get from check-in at Stansted airport to the plane. The DDA was so clear on this point that the principle of not charging was readily confirmed by the Court of Appeal. Providers of goods and services such as Mr O'Leary need this sharp clarity, which is currently missing from the Equality Bill. I have been told not to worry because the relevant Code of Practice will clarify this point. Service providers will be told it may not be lawful for them to pass on the costs of reasonable adjustments, the clarity therefore being lost. This is just not good enough. Disabled people need to know where we stand. There must be no regression.
The Bill also creates the potential for regression on reasonable adjustments for exams and in immigration, when a new exception is proposed. It could lead to disabled people with serious illnesses being denied entry to or leave to remain in the UK. They could risk being deported back to countries where conditions may be life-threatening. This is in contravention of the most basic human rights and cannot be right.
I welcome this Bill, which presents us with the opportunity to tidy up and consolidate and put equality legislation on a safer footing. The past 11 years that I have spent in your Lordships' House have been an extraordinary journey. I pay tribute to this House for the conscious choices that we made in that journey. For me, it started off pretty badly with that age of consent debate-some of you may remember. It was a terrible and at times very wounding experience. But every subsequent step that we have taken towards equality we have taken voluntarily, in this House, in partnership with the other place. We have worked together in this House for equality for women, racial minorities, religious groups, people with disabilities, the elderly and, particularly for me, the gay community. It is a journey of which I am incredibly proud but, more importantly, for which I am incredibly grateful.
In front of us now is a choice. We can build on this tradition and help the Bill find safe passage on to the statute book, or we can use the Bill as a mechanism to refight the battles of the past. I appeal to noble Lords-and I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, is not in her place-not to reopen those debates that we have worked so hard to resolve over the past decade. I ask noble Lords not to use this Bill in a destructive way but to use it to heal and not to divide.
I give notice to my noble friends on the Front Bench of two significant provisions that I shall seek, with the support of others, to add to the Bill. The first concerns civil partnerships. This week marks the fourth year since the first civil partnerships were formed; over those four years, civil partnerships have been a huge success and even their fiercest critics cannot deny the overwhelming benefits that they have brought to the gay community, gay men, lesbians and the wider community as a whole. With your help, I want to reverse the current ban on civil partnerships taking place on religious premises. It is wrong to ban civil partnerships from churches and religious institutions. Equally, it would be wrong to force churches and religious institutions to host civil partnerships against their will.
As many noble Lords are aware, a number of religious organisations would like to host civil partnerships, such as the Quakers. This House has a tradition of standing up for religious freedoms. It must be a matter for churches and religious organisations to decide for themselves but, having decided, the law should not stand in their way. I hope that I shall have the support of these Benches, both Front and Back, of the Benches around the House and, in particular, of the Lords Spiritual, in achieving this endeavour. I seek only to heal; I do not seek to divide.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I think that I invented the Civil Partnership Bill in my own Bill. As I understand it, the noble Lord is not saying that we should call it marriage; he is saying something less than that. Is that right?
The second issue that I wanted to raise relates to one class of people who are not protected from employment discrimination because of their sexuality. I also welcome the refinement of the employment regulations contained in the Bill. In crafting our legislation all those years ago, noble Lords may remember that we allowed one exemption, and one exemption only. That exemption was for the clergy. This is not an attack on the church, but I do not believe that anybody should be sacked from or persecuted in their job or vocation because of their sexuality. I understand the controversial nature of some of what I am proposing, but persecution is persecution, and we should have done away with the persecution of priests a long time ago.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: Will the noble Lord accept that the stance churches take on this matter is, if you like, sexually neutral? It is about the longstanding belief held in Christianity and other religions that sexual relationships appropriately belong within marriage-there is an equal intolerance towards heterosexual as well as homosexual sexual relationships on behalf of faith communities: it is not specific to a particular sexual orientation.
Lord Alli: I hope the right reverend Prelate will accept that you cannot sack a heterosexual for having an affair outside marriage-they are protected against employment discrimination-whereas exemption here is simply on the basis of sexuality. That is the point I am getting to.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: We do not want to prolong this, but I think the noble Lord misunderstands the way in which faith communities operate in these matters; that must be a debate for a future occasion.
I am a descendant of the sons of former slaves, and I know there are descendants of the sons of former slave owners among us. In this Chamber perhaps we can create a table of brotherhood. In this place, we do good, and we have done over the years.
and not by the colour of their skin; I would add gender, sexuality, age and disability. This Bill is all about that: being judged on the content of our characters. Judge us on who we are and the way we behave. This is an opportunity to make that dream come ever closer to reality. It is a chance to take one step in a journey together; to finish this work, in this Parliament, with
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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I shall resist the temptation to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alli, down the delicate path upon which he walked. At the outset, I would like to apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, for the fact that I was not in my place when she started her speech. I am so sorry-I should have been, but I was inadvertently delayed.
My intervention today relates to one specific part of the Bill and the effect which it may have on one company: Saga. Its business has been built on what is somewhat unattractively called a "niche market". This means that it provides a range of services to a certain group of people-in Saga's case, to more than 2.5 million people who are over the age of 50. I suppose that your Lordships would expect me to declare an interest in being over 50. Indeed, if I did so perhaps I could truncate the issue by declaring an interest for most of your Lordships, too. I do not have a financial interest to declare because, regrettably or stupidly, I have not availed myself heretofore of Saga's services.
Saga happens to be adversely affected by the way the Bill is drawn at present. People are generally happy to see special offers tailored for specific age groups, such as discounted tickets for cinemas or theatres, concessionary rates for hairdressing and so forth-as a matter of fact I found a hairdresser who gave me a reduced rate because I was over 25 or something like that. All sorts of cruises offer special discounts for the over-55s-there is another opportunity for your Lordships. Various hotel chains offer discounts to older people. The Government have followed suit, and have given enhanced ISA allowances for the over-50s. They also give public transport concessions, such as senior citizen railcards and national free bus passes. Senior citizens-and I am lucky enough to be one-would be sorry to see these benefits go. This principle is not new. It is accepted by those who provide the facilities, those who accept them, the general public and the Government, but the Bill as it stands has the effect of banning the marketing of group holidays for particular age groups.
The Government have said that they are considering making exemptions. The Explanatory Notes accompanying the Equality Bill say that exemptions may include holidays for particular age groups. Another publication, Equality Bill: Making it Work, issued in June this year, said:
what a fearful expression, but there we are. There is a great case for that. This is all good stuff, but it is difficult to imagine any reason why they should not remain lawful-unless it was in the mind of some bureaucrat looking for unjustified uniformity.
I cannot understand why these exemptions should not be written into the Bill. If they are not, on the day on which the Bill comes into force, all services which are confined to the over-50s will become illegal.
One might say that one solution would be for Saga to cater for under-50s, as well as the over-50s, and then it would cover everything. However, it would then be catering for a market in which it has no experience. Presumably the price to those who are in the market in which it does have experience will go up, as the company will have to accommodate the costs of participating in a market in which they have little or no expertise.
Your Lordships may be pleased to know that Saga understands older people. This is not an advertisement, it is just a fact. It insures many drivers who are over 100; the oldest lady taking Saga's insurance went to Italy to celebrate her 100th birthday recently. That is quite something-there is hope for your Lordships and all of us yet. That is the market which Saga insures, and in my view it is wrong,-indeed, unbelievable-that it might find itself on the wrong side of the law after the passing of this Bill, just because the Government say this is an equality Bill, and therefore everyone, apparently irrespective of the arguments, must be equal.
I wish to ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House whether she will be good enough to bring forward an amendment to the Bill which will make it perfectly clear that providing special facilities for people who are in the over-50s age group will not be an offence. It seems so obviously sensible and reasonable-characteristics in which the noble Baroness abounds so fully-that I very much hope that she will agree to do this.
Baroness Afshar: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for introducing the Bill. I declare an interest as a commissioner of the Women's National Commission, which agrees wholeheartedly that the Bill is necessary, although it may not be sufficient.
Much has been said about tackling the root causes of gender inequality. There is a vast amount of academic literature which already addresses the root causes of gender inequality. I have previously put its ideas forward in this House. The root cause is the fact that women are seen as inferior bearers of labour. That is because they offer domestic labour free of charge and therefore, when they offer the same labour in the marketplace, it is considered to be unskilled. I am well aware that the consideration of wages for housework is not likely to be acceptable, so perhaps we should move on from root causes to giving women rights. If we do not have rights, we cannot exercise those rights. It may be that when we have rights, their exercising is complicated, but without them we are nowhere. I am very grateful that we are at least being given the opportunity to be treated equally by employers, and that the responsibility for transparency rests with employers, and not necessarily with employees.
I particularly welcome the inclusion of religious discrimination in the Bill. I declare an interest as the honorary president of the Muslim Women's Network
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However, I have lived, very sadly, through an intense period of Islamophobia. More than once I have been asked to choose between being a Muslim and being British. I did not choose to be a Muslim; I was born a Muslim. I chose to be a British person. I regard it as a huge privilege to have been allowed to be a British individual. Had I lived in Iran, I think my fate would have been rather different at this stage of my life. I am grateful to be British but I cannot be British by choosing not to be a Muslim. Therefore, when the adherents of a faith are, as a category, unprotected by the law, perhaps we need to take action. This bridging action is most welcomed by Muslim women who, as has been repeated, are the group that is least likely to access equality.
It is important to bear in mind that, for those who practise their religions, the provision of facilities such as a prayer room or clean washing spaces is not an unusual requirement. It will not particularly hurt the employers, and it would help Muslim women to see themselves as welcomed in the workplace as Muslim women. I very much welcome this inclusion.
I would like to see these provisions extended more to the informal labour market, particularly part-time workers. Given the welfare provisions as they stand, most mothers of children under the age of three do not have easy access to full-time free childcare. Therefore, they cannot offer full-time employment. They can only work for the hours when their children are being looked after. The majority of women who are suffering are part-time workers in the informal sector. They are, as yet, not included. However, I heed the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and I would not press this. I hope that, at some point, these views will also be considered.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, who made a very important speech which merits rereading after the debate. I add the ritual acknowledgement that there is a certain lack of gender balance on these Benches-exactly the opposite of the government Front Benches, as was pointed out earlier. You cannot win.
I also thank the Leader of the House for her introduction to the debate, which was particularly helpful and gracious. I was grateful for her assurance that there was no proposal to abolish Christmas. Given her duties in the House this week, she may also be grateful that Christmas is not being abolished this year.
During the course of this debate and consideration of the Bill, there will be expressions of concern on behalf of churches and faith groups. We have already heard something of that. Indeed, I have engaged in it a little with the noble Lord, Lord Alli. The first point that he raised is worthy of discussion but he would
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I express some regret that the religious aspects and reservations have come to the fore too quickly. So much of the Bill stands in the broad stream of Christian and Judaeo-Christian ethical thinking: the dignity of the individual created in God's image; the care for the stranger in the midst in the Old Testament; and the transcending of cultural and racial barriers in the New Testament, such as when St Paul spoke of the Church as being open to Jews and Greeks, slaves and the free, male and female, because Jesus Christ was Lord and saviour of everyone without partiality. Such ideas received a strong puff of wind in the Enlightenment. What we are discussing today can be seen as part of a great historical movement towards greater equality in society that includes the development of democracy, the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, free access to education and healthcare, and so on. We can all be grateful for the benefits of these huge advances in society and the dignity and rights of individuals.
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