Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, today welcomed the completion of the Equality Bill through the House of Commons.
The Equality Bill sets out groundbreaking new laws which will help narrow the gap between rich and poor; require businesses to report on gender pay (1); outlaw age discrimination (2); and will significantly strengthen Britain's anti-discrimination legislation.
The Equality Bill will now progress to the House of Lords with two major amendments:
1. The socio-economic duty, which imposes a requirement on key public bodies such as government departments and local authorities to narrow the gap between rich and poor, will now also apply in Scotland.
2. Strengthened protection for disabled people against discrimination, such as restricting the use of pre-employment questionnaires about health or disability during the recruitment process.
Ms Harman said:
"I'm pleased that the Bill has completed its passage in the House of Commons, and I want to congratulate the ministerial team of equality bill ministers, Vera Baird and Michael Foster, who steered it through. I look forward to it taking its place on the statute book, following further scrutiny by the House of Lords.
"This landmark Bill contains groundbreaking provisions to narrow the gap between rich and poor, and fight discrimination in all its forms - including age discrimination.
"This Bill will make Britain a more equal place, and help us build a stronger economy and fairer society for the future."
(1) The Bill will contain a power to require reporting on the gender pay gap by employers with 250 or more employees. This power will only be used if sufficient progress on reporting has not been made by 2013.
(2) In services and public functions
An innovative, new 'Easy Read' version of the Equality Bill is being published today to help improve understanding of the concepts involved in the Bill for wider audiences. The document is available online at www.equalities.gov.uk.
Please contact the Government Equalities Office press office on 0207 276 0932.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
* The Government Equalities Office is responsible for the Government's overall strategy, legislation and priorities on equality issues. It was established in July 2007. The Office also has direct responsibility for policy on gender equality, sexual orientation, and for integrating work on race.
* The socio-economic duty previously only applied to England and Wales. The duty will broadly work in the same way in Scotland and Wales, but the two administrations will be able to issue guidance to their public bodies which takes into account their different structures and circumstances.
* The clause regarding pre-employment questionnaires addresses concerns raised by disability organisations that, because there is no restriction under the Disability Discrimination Act, there is fairly widespread use of such enquiries by employers to discriminate against people who declared a disability by not selecting them for interview or other selection stages.
* The amendment means that an employer will be deterred from asking candidates questions about their health until after they have shown they meet some of the non-health criteria of a job3. If an employer asks a question before this stage it may be found to have directly discriminated against a disabled candidate.
* Also some disabled people were being deterred from applying for jobs where employers asked about a disability. There are specified instances where the employer can make health and disability related enquiries before short-listing a candidate after an interview. These are for the purposes of:
o making reasonable adjustments to enable the disabled person to participate in the recruitment process;
o monitoring diversity in applications for jobs;
o supporting positive action in employment for disabled people;
o enabling an employer to identify suitable candidates for a job where there is a genuine occupational requirement for the person to be disabled; and
o national security vetting.
If an applicant is rejected after an employer makes an enquiry that is not permitted, the burden of proof in an Employment Tribunal will shift to the employer.
* Other amendments that will clarify the how law protects disabled people from discrimination include:
* Making clear that is within the law to treat disabled people more favourably in order to address the barriers they face;
* Making clear how disabled people are protected from being discriminated against because of issues arising from their disability.
* Age discrimination is already banned in the workplace.
* For more information on the Equality Bill, please see www.equalities.gov.uk
1 The Bill will contain a power to require reporting on the gender pay gap by employers with 250 or more employees. This power will only be used if sufficient progress on reporting has not been made by 2013.
2 In services and public functions
3 There are specified instances where the employer can make health and disability related enquiries. See notes to editors.
Phone: For enquiries please contact the above department