New Clause 12 — Equality Act 2010: third party harassment of employees and applicants

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 16th October 2012.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 4:45 pm, 16th October 2012

Exactly. In 2006 we had a lengthy debate on all sides when we identified groups in society that had not been given a fair crack of the whip and which, if they had, could contribute so much to our economy. Clause 52(1)(a), which removes section 3 from the Equality Act 2006, removes that statement.

It is interesting that only a few months ago the European Commission, in its recent report on equality, recommended to other Governments that they follow the example of the UK and embody in legislation a vision of an organisation that can contribute towards developing a society based on equality. Here we are, taking a step backwards from what is happening elsewhere across Europe. This is not just a tidying-up exercise. It is not about creating unrealistic expectations. It undermines the legislative basis of the organisation.

At the recent conference on discrimination law, Sir Bob Hepple QC made it clear what section 3 stands for. He said that it provides the link between the promotion of equality and good relationships between groups and society, and that without it we are rudderless. That was his statement. We included the measure in the original legislation to give direction.

It is extraordinary that in the Government’s own consultation, which has been cited time and again today and which was entitled “Building a fairer Britain”, there was overwhelming opposition to the abolition of section 3. The opposition was 6:1 against removing that visionary statement from the legislative basis of the commission.

Clause 52(1)(b) repeals the duty to promote good relations between members of different groups. MPs who have been working in their constituencies as MPs, councillors or community activists will recall that it is these sections that we have used to protect individual groups against racist attacks, attacks on Travellers and against undermining and stigmatising people with mental health problems. This is the legislative base that we have used time and again to ensure that the commission can play its full role.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham said, this is the measure that we used to tackle racism in football, so it has been used in campaigns and it has been effective. We have used it to undermine the development of extremist racism in our society and to ensure that we give advice to public authorities, particularly local authorities at elections, to set standards.

It has been argued that other organisations will be available to do this, such as the Runnymede Trust and the Fawcett Society, but both of them are reliant on public funds and some of the public funds that go to those organisations are from the EHRC. The EHRC is having its grant-making cut so those organisations will not be out there to fulfil that role.

On the removal of the duty in section 10, I want to raise an issue on behalf of organisations such as DPACDisabled People Against Cuts—and the group in Scotland, Black Triangle. Section 10(5) places a duty on the commission

“to promote or encourage the favourable treatment of disabled persons.”

Over the past year we have had debate after debate on hate crime against people with disabilities. We thought we had a breakthrough with the Paralympics in raising the profile of people with disabilities and extolling what they can do if given the chance. What message does it send out that we are scrapping that duty of the commission?