New Clause 20

Part of Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 7 July 2009.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 12:45, 7 July 2009

I am aware of the time, so I shall speed on with the two new clauses.

We debated amendments tabled by the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats to clause 36. In response, the Solicitor-General basically said three things, the first of which related to the key area of informal discrimination in pre-employment inquiries, and how it would be difficult to enforce that practically. That was the view of many in the personnel sector. They thought that it would be an onerous undertaking to monitor.

The second response was that those who felt that they were being informally discriminated against could subsequently take action, although it was unclear how that could be taken and how much could be done in that regard. My hon. and learned Friend’s third response, which she may come back to, was that research is being undertaken. The matter was only debated on 18 June, and I do not know whether the research has found its way through to her before it comes to the Committee. However, there is research into whether such a policy would aid attitudes towards disability and help those who feel that they have been discriminated against.

I come to the matter with a clear constituency perspective. I well remember a woman who had faced a breakdown and had lost her job with the police authority. She felt strongly that what had happened to her was a clear case of discrimination. More particularly, when applying for subsequent jobs, future employers demanded to know why she had left the police authority’s employment. She felt that she was unable to get a job in the public sector  because of her original mental health problems and because the police authority had, to my mind, sacked her. She had to disclose that information.

There is a wide range of support for the new clauses. Clearly the commission is minded to support them, and we have the support of Rethink, the Terrence Higgins Trust, the National Aids Trust and the Royal National Institute for Deaf People. The Sainsbury centre for mental health, the Employers Forum on Disability and Mind have gone on record to say that there is a problem. I know that the Minister was sympathetic to the matter, but felt that it was not possible to legislate on it. However, if we are to make a difference on such an important aspect of disability discrimination, we need assurances that things can be taken forward.

I make no apology for bringing the matter back in the even clearer form of the new clauses. The question is whether it can be done. I ask the Minister to assure us on that. If she cannot do that now, can we have some clarity on Report? I know that members of the Committee will know that other national jurisdictions have legislated on this matter. The groups that I mentioned have said that there is similar legislation—as indeed there was in relation to amendments to clause 36—in some European countries. Spain, France, Italy, Belgium, Portugal and the Netherlands have already legislated, as indeed has the United States.

I hope that such legislation is the way forward. Time means that I shall have to cut my remarks to a brief introduction. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will look sympathetically at the matter, and that we can make some progress on what is often the most devastating sort of discrimination. We have seen the statistics. People with mental health problems who suffer from AIDS find that it is the informal discrimination that prevents them from getting back to work. We need to do something about it. I hope that we can do so in the Bill.