Equality bill clears parliamentary hurdle


The government’s equality bill has cleared its first major hurdle in the Commons, despite Conservative opposition.
The bill, which will streamline existing equality laws, includes measures to make it easier for someone claiming discrimination to prove they are disabled; ban discrimination against carers; and extend protection in housing and employment.
During the second reading debate, Theresa May, the Conservative shadow minister for women, criticised the bill’s “unworkable and overly bureaucratic proposals”, which showed a “complete lack of awareness” of the recession.
Fellow Tory MP Eleanor Laing warned the bill could damage the job prospects of disabled people and other minorities, because employers could “find a way of not employing a person who might in future bring a case against them”.
And Conservative MP Philip Davies said the bill would have “a chilling effect on employers, who will feel pressured into taking someone from an under-represented group”.
But Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone said her party believed the bill did not go far enough, and equality should be considered “in every action” of the government “and in every future piece of legislation”.
She also said her party was “disappointed” that the bill continued to define disability according to the medical, and not the social, model.
Labour MP Roger Berry said the bill had been “almost universally welcomed”, except by the Conservative party.
He said the bill should retain the “distinctive aspects” of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), including the principle that different treatment was necessary to produce equal opportunity for disabled people.
He said it should also plug gaps in existing legislation, such as the Ministry of Defence’s exemption from the employment provisions of the DDA.
Vera Baird, the solicitor-general, said: “I do not want a world in which disabled people have to rely on anyone’s altruism to be treated well at work; I want them to have good rights.”
She said it was “quite amazing” that the Conservative party would try to “vote down” the “undeniable moral rights” of disabled and older people.
A Conservative amendment calling for the bill to be thrown out was defeated by 322 votes to 139.
The bill will now be considered in detail by a committee of MPs.