Equality Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 9th November 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) 6:30 pm, 9th November 2005

My Lords, I said on Report that I was aware of the Equal Opportunity Commission's concerns about Clause 81. I was grateful to my noble friend Lady Lockwood for raising this question. That clause brings in a prohibition on sex discrimination and harassment in the exercise of public functions, through inserting a new section in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. I take the opportunity to address one of the concerns raised, which can be dealt with appropriately in this Bill. This concerns the compatibility of the exceptions to the new provision in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 with the gender directive, which will need to be implemented by December 2007. These exceptions are set out in a table of exceptions in Clause 81.

The EOC is concerned that the implementation of the gender directive may require changes to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 soon after the provisions of this Bill are brought into force. We have looked carefully at the points raised and the requirements of the gender directive, and we are sensitive to the need to minimise the disruption arising from changes required by Community law and to the need for clarity in advance.

While there is in our view no conflict between the public functions provisions of this Bill and the requirements of the gender directive, we are anxious not to create in this Bill provisions that will conflict with the requirements of the gender directive or any other existing or future community law. Consequently, we propose Amendment No. 42 to make it clear that nothing in the table will permit anything which is prohibited by any Community law relating to discrimination. We agree we should make this clear beyond doubt.

The EOC has other concerns relating to these exceptions but, as I indicated on Report, I believe the broader question of definitions and exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 needs to be looked at more deeply in the discrimination law review. The review will provide full opportunities for the deep and detailed consideration that is needed. I beg to move.