Second Reading (Continued)

Part of Equality Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:56 pm on 15th December 2009.

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Photo of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Crossbench 5:56 pm, 15th December 2009

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 equality. Clause 148 says that public bodies should seek to meet the different needs of all the protected groups. Fine. But then it says this may involve treating some people more favourably than others. Noble Lords need to remember that what is permitted in relation to the more favourable treatment of disabled people is vastly different from the more limited forms of positive action permitted for other groups. If this is not made abundantly clear in this Bill, the upshot could be at best, huge confusion and, at worst, public bodies rescinding on some of their positive measures on disability equality.

I shall now hand over to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, as the usual channels have agreed that he can help me out with the rest of my speaking notes.