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Brexit: Equalities Impact Assessment

Volume 787: debated on Thursday 21 December 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what equalities impact assessment they have undertaken into the implications of Brexit.

My Lords, the Government will continue to comply with their obligations under the Equality Act 2010, including carrying out equalities analyses. We have published an equalities analysis alongside the EU (Withdrawal) Bill and have provided a detailed response to points raised by the Women and Equalities Select Committee report on EU exit. We will continue to fulfil our obligations under the Equality Act 2010 as policy relating to EU exit is developed.

I thank the Minister for that response. I tabled this Question when we were informed that impact assessments were being carried out. We know that certain groups—for example, ethnic minorities, women in low-paid service sector jobs and people with disabilities—are more at risk than others from economic impacts or a loss of rights and protections. What impact assessments, rather than analysis, will be carried out to assess the impact on equality sector by sector so that we will know whether certain groups will be more at risk than others? If and when the Government introduce new legislation, will they undertake to ensure that they produce equality impact assessments alongside it?

I thank the noble Baroness for her interest in this very important issue. We take our responsibilities in this area very seriously. Of course, we do not need to be part of the EU or be bound by EU legislation to have strong equalities protection. For example, our protections against discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the provision of goods and services to disabled people all go beyond EU law. We will continue to take our obligations in this area very seriously, and the noble Baroness need not fear.

There is widespread concern about the possible dilution of rights post Brexit. Therefore, will the Minister assure the House that there will be no regression of equalities and human rights, and that, should any changes be necessary, they will be addressed solely through primary legislation?

I know that the noble Lord takes a close interest in these areas. We are very proud of our record on equalities protection. One reason for leaving the EU is to take back control of our laws. Of course, there will always be a full discussion in this Parliament if we have any plans to go further on equalities protection, but at the moment I am not aware of any.

My Lords, we had the Equality Act 2010, which was amended; we have had the very important same-sex marriage legislation; and we have had the Modern Slavery Act—the first in the world. This is all very important equality legislation which has absolutely nothing to do with the EU. Surely the issue is one of adherence and enforcement where breaches are happening, particularly on social media platforms.

My noble friend makes a very important point, and we keep these matters under constant review. Some of the statements and issues that have arisen recently through social media are of great concern, and other members of the Government are taking forward policies in this area.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the groups that have already been mentioned fear that they will be less protected without the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which this Government are removing? They are not reassured by the bundle of extracts produced by the Government—this issue appears in umpteen different bits of legislation—and they cannot see why a charter setting out their rights should not be included in the withdrawal Bill. What sort of comfort can the Minister offer them?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question but they need have no fears. The European Charter of Fundamental Rights merely codifies existing rights; it does not provide any new rights. We have set out a detailed analysis of the rights and how they will be protected in UK law. As I said, we go much further than EU law requires us to do in a whole range of areas, including equalities protection.

My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance that the blue badge scheme for disabled parking—a Europe-wide scheme—will continue?

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill takes all existing EU protections and legislation and makes them applicable under UK law. I have no knowledge of any plans to do anything with the blue badge scheme.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece referred in her question to a number of disadvantaged groups. What work has been done to see what happens when a number of these protected characteristics overlap—for example, in the case of a pregnant woman from a minority in a low-paid job? This is called intersectionality, and we know that the people affected suffer disproportionately, but it seems to have been consigned to the “too difficult” box when it comes to measuring the effects of government legislation. Can the Minister undertake to look at how these extremely vulnerable groups are likely to fare post Brexit?

As the noble Baroness is aware, we publish a detailed equality analysis for every piece of legislation proposed. We have carefully considered the question of assessing the cumulative impacts of fiscal events on protected groups, and we will continue to do so. People need have no fear that their rights will be diminished.

Does my noble friend accept that there is great concern among our young people, on whom success after Brexit depends, about a lessening of opportunities after 2020? We have had mention of Erasmus until then but not beyond. Can my noble friend assure me that this will be at the forefront of his mind as we continue our negotiations?

My noble friend makes a very good point, but again I believe that those fears are groundless. The Erasmus scheme is very good, but it is one of many student exchange schemes that exist around the world. Lots of exchanges go on and young people benefit from these greatly. We have said that we are committed to the Erasmus scheme and we hope to continue with it.

If Brexit goes ahead, which many of us still hope it will not, does that not make our adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights and our membership of the Council of Europe even more important?

I assure the noble Lord that Brexit will go ahead. We are committed to it and will be leaving the EU in March 2019. None of that will impact on our membership of the Council of Europe.

Can the Minister explain why the Liberal Democrats feel that we need lessons in equality from the European Union, which is, after all, one of the most anti-democratic outfits on the planet?

I am afraid that of all the difficult questions I get asked in this House, asking me to explain the policies of the Liberal Democrats is an impossible one.