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 5:00 pm on 16th October 2012.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 5:00 pm, 16th October 2012

Exactly. Amazingly, the questionnaire process has been operating effectively since 1975, and in the consultation, 83% opposed this proposal. Most people just want to get on with the practicalities of conciliation, not resort to law because of its expense and risk, and the questionnaires enable us to do that. The Discrimination Law Association offered example after example of the questionnaire’s effectiveness, but they seem to have been completely dismissed by the Government.

On new clause 12, which relates to third-party harassment, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham eloquently addressed the matter. I do not think that scrapping the duty set out in the legislation will in any way clarify matters. In fact, I think that it will cause more confusion. At least when cases are brought up with employers, even informally, representatives can point to the legislation and the duty and it is then clear what the employers have to do. Example after example has been pointed out, but I will give one that was raised with us some years ago. Black firefighters arriving at a scene were being discriminated against and targeted, so their employers had to put in place additional protections. Another example was of discrimination taking place in jobcentres. With regard to the consultation, if the Government were listening to people they would hear that 71% are opposed to these proposals.

Reference has been made to other cuts that have been made to the commission. The Minister raised the issue of the helpline, which has now been transferred to the Government Equalities Office. It only takes referrals from other organisations and does not advertise its services, so I think that the Government are effectively hoping that it will simply wither on the vine and there will no longer be a service for people.

I am also concerned—the Minister has not mentioned this—that a new framework document is now being discussed with the commission that, I think, threatens to limit its future freedom of operation. There is to be a further budget review, as I have said. If the Government are planning to abolish the commission, I would rather they came clean about it and were up front, rather than killing it off by stealth, by cuts and by undermining its legal powers. That would be more honest.

It is not the case that equalities are no longer relevant; discrimination is taking place in our society. We extol the virtues of British society but the reality is that, as everywhere else, discrimination takes place daily and has to be confronted, and we need an effective organisation to do that. If we want an effective organisation, it has to have legal powers that are set out clearly in law. This legislation will undermine those powers and make them less clear than ever before.

I think that this flies in the face of everything this House has worked for over the past generation and the joint work that has been done across parties to promote equality and give effective powers to a body and underpin them in legislation. That is now being thrown to the wind, and for what? I think that it is the result of a combination of ideology and the desire to make savings that, frankly, I do not think will be realised. The proposals will most probably cost more than they actually save. I urge the Government to think again. I urge the Liberal Democrat partners in the coalition to return to their first principles and to what they said a number of years ago. If the Government do not amend the Bill, I hope that the other House will take a role in this and stand up for equality in our society once again.