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Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Volume 834: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 3rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, this instrument was laid on 7 November 2023 and debated last Wednesday in the other place. Its purpose is to reproduce select interpretive effects of retained EU law in order to maintain equalities protections against discrimination. These protections are reproduced by making amendments to the Equality Act 2010. I thank the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for its consideration of and comments on the regulations.

It is important to make clear from the outset that the overwhelming majority of our equality law is contained in domestic legislation—the Equality Act 2010, approved and voted on by our own Parliament. The interpretive effects of retained EU law have a bearing on our equality framework in only a limited number of areas.

This instrument uses the powers of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 to ensure that necessary protections are put into our statutes. This will end the inherent uncertainty of relying on judicial interpretations of EU law and instead ensure that strong and clear equality law protections are set out in our domestic legislation. It applies across Great Britain.

The instrument safeguards and enshrines key rights and principles across a range of areas. First, it protects women’s rights: maintaining equal pay protections where employees’ terms and attributable to a single source, but not the same employer; protecting women from less favourable treatment at work because they are breastfeeding; protecting women from unfavourable treatment after they return from maternity leave, where that treatment is in connection with a pregnancy or a pregnancy-related illness occurring before their return; ensuring that women are protected against pregnancy and maternity discrimination, where they do not have a statutory right to maternity leave but have similar rights under alternative occupational schemes; and ensuring that women can continue to receive special treatment from their employer in relation to maternity—for example, ensuring that companies continue to offer enhanced maternity schemes.

I am sure that all of us in this place agree that women should not face discrimination for being pregnant or taking maternity leave. They should continue to receive equal pay for work of equal value and they should not receive less favourable treatment in the workplace because they are breastfeeding.

This instrument reproduces these principles in domestic law to ensure that women can continue to rely on these protections. It also maintains protections for disabled people in the workplace, so that they can participate in working life on an equal basis with other workers. It is of course important that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else to start, stay and succeed in work. This amendment will mean that disability protections continue to apply where someone’s impairment hinders their full and effective participation in working life on an equal basis with other workers.

Finally, the instrument maintains two protections that apply more broadly. The first maintains the status quo, whereby employers and their equivalent for other occupations may be acting unlawfully if they make a discriminatory public statement relating to their recruitment practices, including when there is not an active recruitment process under way. This ensures that groups that share certain protected characteristics are not unfairly deterred from applying for opportunities in an organisation.

The second maintains protections against indirect discrimination for those who may be caught up and disadvantaged by indirect discrimination against others, so that they are also protected where they suffer substantively the same disadvantage.

We intend that there will be no time gap and no break in protections between this law coming into effect and the removal of the special status and EU-derived features of retained EU law at the end of the year. By maintaining these important protections, we will ensure that our domestic equality framework has continuity. Importantly, these amendments do not add any regulatory burdens on business, as the legislation reproduces the status quo, meaning that the regulatory environment will not change.

I hope your Lordships will join me in supporting the draft regulations. I beg to move.

My Lords, those of us who participated in the REUL Bill debates were aware that the Government would need to safeguard important protections derived from EU case law and ensure they were retained—and do so by the end of this month. Indeed, I spoke during the passage of that legislation about my concerns for women and equalities legislation.

We do not regard the SI as controversial. Rather, the protections being restated today underline why this process is so important. People cannot lose rights that are being reasserted in these regulations. As the Minister said, they are massively important to women, protecting them through and after pregnancy, against pay inequality and from discrimination, and are crucial in providing people who have disabilities with protection against discrimination. Of course these vital protections need to be retained, and I agree with the Minister that it is also important that we give people certainty in law by restating these principles.

However, my questions are about the fact that we are getting round to restating these protections only a matter of weeks before they could have disappeared. That is a little concerning. So I ask the Minister about the Government’s wider approach to identifying which bits of important case law they wish to retain and then pass, through regulations, on to our statute book. It worries me that we are doing this a week or so before this law would fall. I just hope that nothing else will be lost in this process. Can the Minister tell us what measures the Government are taking to ensure that important decisions are taken about the interpretive effects of retained EU law? Do the Government have an equivalent to the dashboard—everybody will remember the dashboard that was mentioned during the passage of the REUL legislation—which was introduced to identify statutory instruments for European Union judgments that have an impact on domestic law? “How’s that going?” is, I suppose, what I want to say.

I am not going to go into detail about the regulations, because they are very straightforward and do exactly what we hoped they would do. It is therefore important to note that putting them on to the statute book and ensuring stability about this does not mean that the battle for equality is over. For example, the earnings gap between disabled and non-disabled people has increased. It is over half a century since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970, so I am sure the Minister will join me in agreeing that we still both have work to do in this area. This is providing us with the legislative infrastructure to do it, but we still have work to do.

My Lords, is it possible to ask a point of clarification of the Minister? I came in a bit late, so if it is not, I quite understand.

I apologise to my noble friend; she was late. Forgive me. Perhaps she could do it after the meeting, if possible.

My Lords—or my Ladies— I am grateful to the noble Baroness for speaking in this debate. I would like to recognise her work on women and equalities over many years. Britain has a proud history of justice and fairness, with some of the world’s strongest and most comprehensive equalities legislation thanks to the Equality Act 2010. By setting out these EU-derived protections in domestic law, we will ensure that our equality framework provides clarity and continues to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of people in this country.

I understand very well the spirit of the noble Baroness’s questioning. She asked about the principles that underpin our approach in this area. I seek to reassure her, and the Committee, that the Government remain absolutely committed to upholding the highest standards in equalities and ensuring that the necessary protections are preserved after the end of this year. We are using the powers in the retained EU law Act to ensure that necessary protections are put in statute.

The Equality Hub has considered over a hundred judgments and undertaken legal analysis to ensure that Great Britain maintains that history of equality, and that the necessary protections are clearly set out in our domestic legislation. As the noble Baroness knows, the REUL Act’s restatement powers are available until June 2026; that will allow the Government to keep the position under review within this timeframe. We will publish a REUL progress report in January, in line with our statutory six-month reporting requirements. The REUL dashboard—I think the noble Baroness described it as the beloved dashboard—still exists and is available on GOV.UK. It most recently had a minor update in November, but there will be the regular update in January.

I am also happy to agree with the noble Baroness that the battle for equality is far from over. With that, I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.