Clause 203

Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 2 July 2009.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I shall be brief and not trouble the Committee too much. We have already had some debate on commencement and on when various provisions will come into force, but I thought that it might be helpful if the Minister gave the Committee a little more information. We have already discussed the age provisions, and she has made it clear that those will not come into force until the regulations with the exceptions are in place. What is the Government’s current thinking on the rest of the Bill, and is there an indicative timetable for that?

With regard to tying things together, we have just discussed clause 95, and new clause 26, which looked at the importance of guidance. It was clear in that discussion that much of the business concern will be assuaged if there is clear guidance. I seek the Minister’s understanding on when the EHRC will start its work on producing guidance, how long that process is likely to take and whether the commencement of various provisions in the Bill will effectively be tied to that guidance. It will not be helpful if clear guidance is not available when some of the provisions come into force, particularly where there are changes or extensions. I just wonder what the Government’s thinking is on that, as that would give the Committee an idea about those plans.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

We expect most of the Bill to come into force in autumn 2010. That is the earliest realistic commencement date after it is given Royal Assent. The socio-economic duty on public bodies and the public sector equality duty are likely to come into force in 2011. We have already dealt with the age discrimination provisions.

We certainly hope and expect, and will probably have to demand, that the appropriate guidance is delivered by the commission in time for people to be guided on the impact of the Bill, particularly its new aspects. A lot of the law on equalities has, of course, not changed. I am told that the aim is to publish the guidance three months before commencement. That would be excellent; there is a lot of guidance to be put together. That is the aim, and let us encourage it.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I just wish to pick up on one thing. Part of the benefit is to enable businesses and other organisations to have that clear guidance. Given, therefore, that one of the objectives of the Bill was to simplify matters and make them more straightforward, I suggest that where provisions are effectively just being carried across and there is no change in the law, getting the guidance in place first would help. It is the ability to produce more straightforward and clear guidance across the whole range of protected characteristics that will deliver the real benefit of the Bill, both to those protected by it and those organisations that have to implement it.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I can see that that is right, and we will encourage the EHRC’s aim to publish the guidance three months before commencement.

I do not know whether I need to mention that there is an oddity about schedule 20, which concerns the enthralling topic of rail vehicle accessibility that we discussed this morning. In fact, on Royal Assent, clause 179(2) will enable schedule 20 on that topic to be repealed at the end of 2010, if it is not brought into force before that date. That sunset clause is there because of the Department for Transport’s ongoing public consultation on the reappraisal of the unimplemented compliance provisions of the DDA 2005, from which schedule 20 comes. Following consideration of the consultation responses, it might be decided not to implement schedule 20, any more than the DDA provisions of relevance here have  been implemented. That is just an extra complexity, but I thought that I would mention it because someone might spot it later.

Clause 203 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 204 and 205 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Lyn Brown.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 7 July at half-past Ten o’clock.