Equality Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 9th November 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) 4:00 pm, 9th November 2005

My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to enable the commission to support proceedings alleging that domestic legislation is incompatible with EC law in equality between men and women, or EC legislation combating discrimination on grounds of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. This covers provisions under Articles 13 and 141 of the EC Treaty, such as the Equal Treatment Directive, the Equal Pay Directive and the race and framework directives based on Article 13.

As the Bill is currently drafted, the commission will be able to provide assistance only where the proceedings relate wholly or in part to one or more of the equality enactments. These, as noble Lords will know, include all the domestic legislation prohibiting discrimination, such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976, as defined in Clause 33 of the Bill. There is therefore no provision for the commission to support an individual alleging, for example, that they have been disadvantaged by other GB legislation which they believe to be incompatible with EC equality and discrimination law. However, that is less extensive than the powers that are currently available to the Equal Opportunities Commission as a result of case law. As some noble Lords know very well, about 10 years ago a case was brought and won by the Equal Opportunities Commission. It concerned the adverse impact on women of certain employment legislation provisions that required two years continuous employment for full-timers to qualify for unfair dismissal and redundancy payments but five years for part-timers, who are of course mostly women. The courts were asked to consider whether those provisions were compatible with community law. The Law Lords found for the Equal Opportunities Commission, which had brought the case for a judicial review, but expressed the view that individual claimants should bring their claims not by way of judicial review but before an employment tribunal, supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission.

If we do not amend the Bill in that way, the new commission will not be able to support an individual bringing a similar case. That would mean that the new commission would have fewer powers than the Equal Opportunities Commission, which, as the House will know, has never been our intention. This amendment will enable the commission to do this to support a case in which an individual alleges that they have been disadvantaged by other legislation that they believe to be incompatible with EC equality and discrimination law. I commend the amendment to your Lordships' House and beg to move.