Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the underlying theme of the order is to make effective the provisions of the Act in line with its main intention of simplification and consistency. The changes that the order makes fall into three broad categories.
First, some of the changes involve corrections or updates to the Equality Act 2010 itself. Article 3 makes amendments to Section 87 of the Act. Section 87 enables the Secretary of State to give directions using powers under the Education Act 1996 to require a school to comply with its duties not to discriminate against pupils under Section 85. The reason for the amendment is to refer to the corresponding Scottish legislation to ensure that the procedure works for Scotland as well as for England and Wales.
Article 4 makes changes to Section 94, which explains what is meant by various terms used in Chapter 2—on further and higher education—of Part 6. The amendment is needed to reflect concerns from interested parties that there needs to be a definition of “conferment” in the context of awarding qualifications.
Article 5 makes changes to Section 108. Section 108 prohibits discrimination after relationships have ended, and the amendment to subsection (4) is intended to replicate existing law. That is to say that even if a person becomes disabled after the relationship has ended, the duty to make a reasonable adjustment still applies. The current Act could be interpreted as meaning that the duty arose only if the person already had a disability at the time the relationship ended. The amendment puts that right.
Articles 6 and 7 make changes to Sections 132, 134 and 135. Those provisions cover, among other things, the period for calculating arrears where successful claims are made about equal pay or pensions cases in Scotland, in the case of a person with an incapacity or one involving a fraud or error. The effect of the amendment is that the five-year limit for calculating arrears may be extended if it includes time during which the claimant suffered incapacity or was induced by the fraud or error not to raise the claim, subject to a maximum reckonable period of 20 years. The amendments enable the provisions to work correctly in Scotland and reflect the existing position under the Equal Pay Act 1970.
Article 9 amends Part 9 of Schedule 3 to the Equality Act to reproduce an amendment made to Section 19 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 by the Rail Passengers’ Rights and Obligations Regulations 2010, after the Equality Act received Royal Assent. Those provisions of the Equality Act restate provisions of the DDA that provide for exceptions to the duty not to discriminate in relation to the provision of transport services for disabled people. The amendment needs to be made to ensure that, when they come into force, the Equality Act provisions are exactly the same as the existing DDA provisions which will be repealed.
To reassure noble Lords, I can state that the amendment does not in any way reduce the rights of disabled persons, but simply ensures that there is no overlap between domestic equality legislation and European transport legislation protecting the rights of disabled people in air and rail transport.
Article 10 amends Schedule 11 to the Equality Act to remove a reference to the Learning and Skills Council, which was abolished just before the Equality Act was enacted. Articles 8 and 11 update certain provisions to refer to EU law rather than Community law, as a result of the coming into force of the Lisbon treaty.
The second category of amendments is to reflect adjustments needed to the existing equality duties to reflect the introduction of new key concepts by the Equality Act. The existing gender duty, race duty and disability duty will be replaced by the new public sector equality duty in Sections 149 to 157 of the Equality Act, but not until some time after October. Therefore, the existing provisions in the Sex Discrimination Act, Race Relations Act and Disability Discrimination Act need to be kept in force for the time being. However, the existing definitions of sex, race and disability discrimination, victimisation and harassment in those Acts are slightly different to those in the Equality Act.
Articles 14 to 16 therefore update the relevant provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act, Race Relations Act and Disability Discrimination Act to reflect the new terminology. This will make it easier for public authorities to operate, as they will not need to use one set of definitions for public sector equality duties and another for all their other equality-related functions.
The final category of amendments is made up of consequential amendments to other legislation and makes up the bulk of the order. These amendments are set out in Schedules 1 and 2 to the order, which will amend Schedules 26 and 27 of the Act. The vast majority either replace references to legislation which is going to be repealed, such as the Sex Discrimination Act, with references to the Equality Act, or repeal those references if there are no equivalent new provisions. There are also a couple of provisions that will harmonise the law where previously it applied inconsistently to different protected categories. These provisions comprise amendments to the Estate Agents Act 1979 set out in paragraphs 4 to 6 in Schedule 1 to the order. Enforcement action will now be able to be taken where an estate agent is found to have been discriminatory on any protected ground, not just sex and race discrimination as currently provided for.
Amendments set out in paragraphs 44 to 47 of Schedule 1 to the order affect the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. These will enable school adjudicators, when making a decision, to take into account the non-discrimination duties of a governing body or local authority in relation to all the protected characteristics applicable to schools, not just duties related to sex, race and disability, as is the case now.
To sum up, the overall effect of the order is minor and technical, and there are only minor substantive effects. However, it completes the process started by the Bill. The Merits Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments have considered the order and neither committee wishes to draw any issue to the attention of the House. This order is a practical sign of the Government’s commitment to bringing the Act into force. I ask the Committee to consider it for approval.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her remarks and welcome her to her position as Minister with responsibility for equalities and women’s issues in your Lordships’ House, although obviously this is not the first time that the noble Baroness has spoken on these matters, as only last week she replied to our excellent debate on women. I am aware of her excellent record and long experience of working for the enhancement of women, and especially her record of service to women in her own party, so it is good to see her in what I regard as a very important post.
I am pleased to say that we on these Benches agree with the order. It is largely a technical instrument to ensure that existing legislation continues to work well when the Equality Act commences. As the noble Baroness said, it makes minor amendments and repeals other primary legislation relating to the Act, which brings together nine separate pieces of legislation into one single Act. That simplifies the law and reduces the burden on business by making it easier for firms to comply with discrimination legislation. It will also help many individuals to deal with difficulties that they may experience relating to any form of discrimination.
The core provisions of the Act are due to come into force in October, so it is important that we deal with these matters now. I am pleased to say that I followed the Equality Bill as it made its way through your Lordships’ House and saw it become law. We now have a strong and robust piece of legislation that will allow people to lead their daily lives in a way that shows tolerance and fairness to all. The whole of our society should welcome that. Also, I am proud that the previous Labour Government were able to produce such an Act, but of course with the co-operation of all the parties in the House.
Although this is a comprehensive Act, much guidance will need to be given by the Government Equalities Office and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I am sure that the Minister will be able to confirm that these guidance notes will be available so that everyone can ensure that the Act is fully understood and that the publications will be there to assist all to appreciate the workings and the intentions of the Act.
A press release issued by the GEO in recent days stated:
“The first wave of implementation of the Equality Act will go ahead to the planned October timetable following the publication of the first commencement order in Parliament …. This will pave the way for the implementation of landmark provisions to protect disabled people from discrimination and tackle the gender … gap”.
That sums up the Act perfectly and is what the order is about. We on these Benches welcome the order as it is another step along the road to the full implementation of the Equality Act in the coming months. I thank the Minister again and I wish her well in her new role.
My Lords, this is one of those times when there is not much to say, and I shall be quick about saying what little there is to say.
Basically, there is nothing to disagree with here. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, said, it carries on the previous Government’s good work in many fields. It brings everything together in one Act, or tries to. The law here, good and well intentioned though it was, was a bit like a cat’s cradle and thus occasionally became a dog’s dinner, if I am allowed to double my metaphors; there was so much legislation that crossed over. Everyone who is involved in any part of this area of the law should welcome this approach. Not only is there nothing to disagree with here, but hopefully we shall carry on in this way.
I thank the Committee for this short but quality debate. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Gale for her kind welcoming remarks. I also pay tribute to the wonderful work that she has done in this area. I assure her that there will be several pieces of guidance. Five summary guides were published on 5 July, and a further set of quick-start guides will be released over the summer.
I welcome my noble friend’s comments. We all want to ensure that we can make society as equal as possible. Wherever we find discrimination against any group that we are able to eradicate, we will do so. This piece of legislation is a tool to help us achieve that.
On that note, I hope that we shall have no problems in passing the order. The Equality Act 2010, which went through this House just a few months ago, has momentum, and I hope that with your Lordships’ approval, we will see the benefits of it soon.
My Lords, as we are waiting for the next business, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes.